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Yes, Nolan Finley, you do in fact have a right to water

by: Eric B.

Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 17:11:00 PM EDT

Nolan Finley decided to write something about the Detroit water shutoffs. It's something that, like a lot of what Nolan Finley writes, did not in fact need to be written, but he doesn't understand that so went ahead and wrote it anyway.

We start with the headline.

There is no right to free water

Well you do have a right to free water if you live in Michigan. The reason why you have a right to free water is because, if you are a resident of Michigan, you have rights of ownership over water. If you want to do something with the water -- drink it untreated -- then you have the absolute right to free water. And, by the way, if you live in the country and have a well, you don't pay anyone for access to the well water. You pay to have the well sunk. The water is yours for free.


Eric B. :: Yes, Nolan Finley, you do in fact have a right to water

Water is not a human right. It’s a human need.

Air -- specifically oxygen -- is also a human need. Does Nolan Finley argue that access to breathable air, without which you'd die in minutes, is a human right? I guess we'll find out once someone has figured out a way to make money off selling clean air to people who live in shitty neighborhoods.

Ever since Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden, people have devoted most of their energy and labor to meeting the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter. It’s the origin of work — you’re hungry, you’re thirsty, you need some decent threads and a roof over your head, you have to get up in the morning and do something constructive.

"Decent threads," a phrase not heard since 1986, are not human need. Depending on the climate you live in, you may require clothing to keep the weather off you, but nice clothes are a want, not a need.

There will be a lot of folks in the streets of Detroit Friday afternoon challenging that truth. The legion of lefties in town for the Netroots Nation gathering have scheduled a march to protest the water shut-offs underway in Detroit as inhumane and a violation of civil rights.

Netroots Nation actually has nothing to do with Detroit's water shutoffs or the horrible face it is giving the city. But, what's a pointless slur among friends.

Fully half of the water customers in Detroit don’t pay their bills. Advocates of free water for all blame the city’s 38 percent poverty rate for the high level of delinquency.

Well, the water has been free all along so people who advocate for it are advocating for the literal, legal truth. I mean, even poor people get to enjoy the rights of ownership.

But nearly all of those with incomes below the poverty line receive public assistance. That’s money provided by their fellow citizens to help them pay for their basic needs — food, water, clothing, shelter.

This sounds an awful lot like there is broad societal agreement that people have a right to food, water, clothing and shelter. If that broad soceital agreement didn't exist, then we wouldn't provide people with resources to acquire them.

And yet barely 50 percent of Detroiters pay their water bill. Meanwhile, up to two-thirds of city residents pay to keep their cable or satellite television service current. And 72 percent do the same to maintain their cellphones.

What he's really talking about here are the costs associated with making sure that the water that the water department delivers to your home is treated to prevent the spread of waterborne pathogens. People are choosing to spend money on cable Tee Vee rather than for the chlorine treatment for their otherwise free water. While you can make a good argument that this is a poor choice, what this means is that several decades ago, a social contract was drawn up by which the city decided to treat everyone's water and charge them by the gallon for it. It doesn't mean that people don't have a right to free water, because that social contract doesn't undercut the fact that even poor people own the state's water.

It’s not a stretch to guess the reason delinquency rates are lower for cable and cellphone service is that the cable and telephone companies cut off customers who don’t pay their bills. The Detroit water department hasn’t done that much, until now.

Cable and cellphone service, as Nolan Finley has so ably demonstrated, are not human needs. Without water, you die in days. Without cable television ... well, I haven't had cable for five years.

So instead of using what resources they have to cover their needs, many water customers instead have chosen to service their wants. That’s what happens when people are conditioned to think someone else is responsible for taking care of them.

No, that is not what happens when people are conditioned to think that someone else is responsible for taking care of them. That is what happens if people don't take seriously that you might shut off their service.

In Detroit, the someone else is the half of residents who do pay their water bills, and this year were hit with an 11 percent rate increase that was largely necessary to cover the unpaid bills of scofflaws.

8.7 percent, actually.

Since the cut-offs began, more customers are paying up. The overwhelming majority of households hit with a shut-off are settling their debt to get the water flowing again, suggesting they could have been paying all along. The desperate cases are being offered a variety of assistance programs to make sure no one who truly can’t pay for water is shut off.

If he'd thought this through, he'd realize that the first sentence of this paragraph conflicts with his assertion that people don't pay bills when they are conditioned to think that someone else will take care of them.

This is not a humanitarian crisis, as the Netroots entitlement nation proclaims. It’s a necessary forced reordering of priorities.

That's a very strange way of looking at things. When we have major storms that disrupt water service, we generally regard this as a humanitarian crisis and charities take donations to get water to the affected area to minimize the hardship. If you extend this line of thinking to, say, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, then we wouldn't have sent supplies to the people stuck there on the grounds that the storm was Mother Nature's way of reordering their priorities.

Water, food, clothing, shelter were never bestowed on us because we exist. It costs money to purify water and deliver it to homes. That’s why early on people began forming communities to share the cost of meeting that common need, and others.

The first two sentences are the truest thing he's written on this. It does cost money to treat water and deliver it to homes. The water itself, however, is otherwise free.The last sentence is not true. Water treatment didn't become a thing until we figured out the Germ Theory of Disease, thousands of years after the fit cities were founded.

Charitable minded citizens have never objected to helping care for neighbors who are unable to care for themselves. But they understandably don’t have much appetite for carrying on their backs those who choose to indulge their wants before their needs.

While potentially true, this doesn't nothing to diminish the fact that the people of Detroit own the water and have a right to it. He could have done the rest of us a favor and spared us an ill-informed lecture on rights and needs and wants and deleted the entire column up to this paragaph ... and then, realizing that this is mostly self-evident, just finished the job.

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Short version:
Finley is a moron, trying to make this a freeloading liberals (the poor) versus responsible conservatives (people like him) meme. In reality, people--many of them absentee landlords and business owners--quit paying because there was no penalty for not doing so, not because their priorities are cable TV and cell phones. The poor decided that taking the past due water bill to social services to get it paid was pointless, because the city didn't care if you paid anyway, so why bother? People don't pay their property taxes in Detroit either--will he tackle that one next?

The city government is dysfunctional, but in Finley's eyes, like all of Detroit's woes, it must be the fault of those scruffy poor people.

"People don't pay their property taxes in Detroit either--will he tackle that one next?"
Good topic, but he'd screw it up, just like he screws up everything else.

Greetings from Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future!

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