[Marxism] The insanity that is capitalism

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Mar 27 18:02:14 MDT 2009

Eli Stephens wrote:
> ...In order to achieve that 15%
> cutback, each of those 13 different providers will have to decide
> separately how to do so, either by passing ordinances in the case of
> the municipal providers, or by charging higher rates for excessive
> usage in the case of the private companies.

I disagree with your criticisms of this approach, Eli.

The South African version of this argument, which emerged on Tuesday 
from the Supreme Court of Appeals in a lawsuit pitting a socialist 
community group against a capitalist company running Africa's largest 
municipal works, in Johannesburg, is quite similar.

The left position is for a national standard of a free minimum 50 liters 
of water per person per day (the High Court agreed last April but the 
Supreme Ct knocked it back for Soweto to 42 for strange reasons we can 
go into later). The left position is for a high price paid for excessive 
usage by rich people, not only to redistribute funds but also to 
generate conservation (and hence build fewer dams like the Lesotho 
Highlands Water Project which supplies Joburg). The capitalists - like 
Suez, which ran Joburg Water from 2001-06 - want to maximise profits 
which often means higher prices for poor people and lower prices for the 
rich (this is quite typical!), so as to maximise water consumption and 
'get the prices right' according to short-run costs.

The state of class struggle in a given city is often reflected in 
whether after the nationally-mandated free first block of water (usually 
25 liters/person/day averaged for a family of 6) the next block goes up 
very high, or rises gradually.

That arcane fight over convexity in the tariff curve is one of the main 
reasons SA has more urban social protests than anyplace in the world per 
person, in my view. The new movie Flow captures it pretty well, if these 
details bore you.

The point is, each site of struggle comes up with a different answer to 
the question of how water is used. That national minimum is helpful and 
it would be terrific if the national state mandated local states to 
price water so rich hedonistic users get nailed for excess use, and then 
also we'd have national to local cross subsidies.

But I don't think we should be TOO fixated on the institutional form of 
its delivery. Actually there's an argument called 'subsidiarity' that 
helps us to say, a municipality should be the site at which some of 
these decisions would be made because its the most logical site of 
delivery, so long as the basic principles I mentioned above are 
respected (via national laws).

By the way, our socialist movements in the townships basically demand 
the free water for poor people and higher priced water for rich people 
because these are proto-socialist ways of arranging life.

There's a contrast with the much smaller - but still influential - group 
of autonomist and anarchist comrades, who don't ever see a socialist 
state emerging and who instead want to mainly protect the right of 
ordinary people to steal water from whichever state they're going to be 
up against, hence the 'bypass' or 'destroy the meter enjoy the water' 
slogans remain the central strategy in these comrades' repertoire.

If anyone wants, I've written quite a bit about the struggle-economics 
of water here, and elsewhere and I can send more offlist.


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