Monday, July 26, 2010

Sending freedom down the drain

One of the dangers of having read Angelo Codevilla's "ruling class" essay is that I'm starting to think of things a little differently than I used to.

Take, for instance, this Wall Street Journal piece on--of all things--shower heads:
Gene Goforth sells showerheads—big ones, like the Raindance Imperial 600 AIR. Selling for as much as $5,457, it has a 24-inch spray face, 358 no-clog channels and a triple-massage option. "You can just stand under it, and it helps your psyche," says Mr. Goforth, who has one in his home.

Now, Mr. Goforth is in a lather over the federal government's tough new line on water-hogging showerheads, part of a new effort to enforce energy- and water-use regulations. "Leave my shower alone," Mr. Goforth recently wrote in a letter to the Department of Energy.

Regulators are going after some of the luxury shower fixtures that took off in the housing boom. Many have multiple nozzles, cost thousands of dollars and emit as many as 12 gallons of water a minute. In May, the DOE stunned the plumbing-products industry when it said it would adopt a strict definition of the term "showerhead" in enforcing standards that have been on the books—but largely unenforced—for nearly 20 years.

Industry response has been fast and furious. "It was not the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to regulate the bathing habits of Americans," wrote Frederick Desborough, vice president of California Faucets, a Huntington Beach, Calif., manufacturer, in a letter to the DOE in June.

The showdown is a challenge to President Barack Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, as they try to cajole—or compel—Americans to use water and energy more efficiently. Mr. Chu, a self-described "zealot" for energy efficiency, says he crawls around in his attic in his spare time installing extra insulation.

A 1992 federal law says a showerhead can deliver no more than 2.5 gallons per minute at a flowing water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. For years, the term "showerhead" in federal regulations was understood by many manufacturers to mean a device that directs water onto a bather. Each nozzle in a shower was considered separate and in compliance if it delivered no more than the 2.5-gallon maximum. But in May, the DOE said a "showerhead" may incorporate "one or more sprays, nozzles or openings." Under the new interpretation, all nozzles would count as a single showerhead and be deemed noncompliant if, taken together, they exceed the 2.5 gallons-a-minute maximum.

Before reading the "ruling class" essay, I probably would have paid little attention to this article--except to wince at it. Like many women who don't always wear their hair extremely short, I find that the "energy efficient" showers just make it harder to rinse shampoo out of the hair--which means I take longer showers than I used to. How much energy is really being saved, if lots of people are doing the same thing?

I had similar thoughts when we purchased this house, and received all of the "owner's manuals" on every part of it. The house had "energy efficient" toilets, the plumbing brochures proudly proclaimed. But in order to use these "water saving" toilets, the manufacturer warned, it was necessary to flush more often during normal use--not "flush more often" as in after each use, which civilized people do anyway (but which, apparently, has become the kind of wasteful habit enlightened people look down on), but "flush more often" as in, if you're still a Neanderthal-type who actually uses toilet paper, you might need to flush two or three times during each use.

But these kinds of things do make sense, if we remember these ruling class rules:
  1. Average Americans can't be trusted to run their own lives.
  2. Left to their own devices, average Americans are wasteful drains on the planet.
  3. Only the ruling class knows how people must live.
  4. The ruling class grows in size and power by creating more policies governing the way everyone else lives, and by increasing the size and power of the regulatory agencies who create, study, and enforce these policies.
  5. The point of outlawing certain shower heads, or regulating toilets, is as much to increase the power of the lawgivers and regulators as it is to save energy. Even if the energy savings are minimal, or are erased by energy use by big corporations or other groups which use energy much more than the average consumer does, it does not matter, so long as the point is to tell Americans how to live and to increase the power of the people who do that.
Now, are some common-sense conservation matters good to take? Sure, if people do so by choice. There are plenty of good, Christian-stewardship-minded reasons not to install the shower head equivalent of a SuperSoaker in one's home. But voluntary energy-savings measures aren't going to meet the ruling class's main goal, of increasing their own power. Government mandates, complete with fines for non-compliance and other coercive measures, are the way to go to achieve that goal.

Frederick Desborough wrote to the Department of Energy, ""It was not the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to regulate the bathing habits of Americans." But Mr. Desborough might be wrong about that. A people free enough to make consumer choices without extensive government regulation in place isn't a people easily controlled by mandates, committees, councils, policies, and Cabinet-office rules.

It's not that wasting gallons of water is a great idea--but letting Congress regulate American's bathing habits--or light bulb options--or a million other tiny petty day-to-day consumer decisions--is slowly sending freedom down the drain.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Mr. Desborough here. Please click on the link to watch today's Fox Business News 7-26-10.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Desborough again, you may have to copy and paste the link into your browser to open it up.

Hélène said...

This reminds me of something I read once where some famous multi-millionaire actress was being interviewed about her environmental habits. She encouraged readers to do what she does when she takes a shower: set the timer for three minutes and then get out. I was very annoyed when I read that! The two things that make my showers longer are shaving my legs and washing/conditioning my hair. However, I am sure she goes to some beauty salon and gets her legs waxed so she doesn't need to shave, and she probably has a personal stylist who will wash/ condition/ style her hair several times a week. She is so out of touch with reality that she expects everyone else to do as she does, even though we are probably conserving more overall than she.

LarryD said...

I guess it's time for the industry to redefine what a "showerhead" is...

amanda said...

And then to expand your thinking even further on elitism please read what Anchoress posted via Bookworm:

it took my breath away.

Red Cardigan said...

Mr. Desborough, thank you so much for commenting here! Since Yahoo has replaced the video (as they usually do after a certain amount of time) I'd like to direct anyone who hasn't seen it to go here:

What Mr. Desborough points out in the interview above is that this regulation isn't just going to affect "luxury" showers. If you have an elderly parent living with you, and you install a permanent hand-held shower head attachment, the new rules appear to require that the *combined* water use can only be 2.5 gallons per minute--which would appear to limit the output of each portion of the shower (standard shower head and handheld attachment) to no more than 1.25 gallons per minute.

But remember, our ruling class knows better than we do how we should be using our water. Right?

Deirdre Mundy said...

Wasting water's not a good thing, BUT really, what counts as 'waste' varies a lot by area of the country, or even municipality. Some of us have virtually unlimited water supplies, so that a 'drought' is when the farmers have to water their crops instead of letting God do it.

For others, there's very little water...

So national shower-head regulations don't make SENSE. This should be happening at the municipality level, and we should be doing it through pricing-- so that more than a certain base level of water would be more costly per unit. Then homeowners could decide how much they wanted to spend on their water bill and buy fixtures accordingly.

Why is it OK to tell someone they can't have a luxury showerhead, and then build water-hogging golfcourses (or solar farms!)in the desert?

If a guy in a water-plentiful region wants a nicer showerhead, why shouldn't he have it?

It's time for a return to subsidiarianism--taking care of everything at the lowest, rather than highest level..... We'd get laws that were fairer, easier to repeal AND that made more sense for most Americans.

c matt said...

Great point Dierdre. In Houston, lack of water is usually not a problem - abundance of it often is!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

When we discuss health care, conservatives often assert that if people don't have to pay anything for medical care, then they overuse a limited resource, increasing the burden on taxpayers. This is, in my seldom humble opinion, correct.

Every parent knows the frustration of children not turning out the lights when they leave a room. After all, the monetary cost of electricity doesn't hit them at the moment, it hits their parents when the bill arrives some weeks later.

So, when it comes to water, and energy, these things are not free, but the cost doesn't hit the user at the moment of use. When we had to carry water in buckets or jugs from communal wells, springs, rivers, our ancestors were terribly conscious of the need to not waste a drop. But when you can open a tap and it runs endlessly, freely one might say, we think nothing of it.

I really have no problem with subjecting $5000 multiple nozzle contraptions, designed for use by as few as one person, as a single showerhead.

Now, should the government be regulating these things at all? Unless we can find a way to put a price on the use of water and energy, a price each user feels at the moment of use, perhaps we have to. I concur that so-called "water saving" toilets simply have to be flushed two or three times. The real solution, which would make us safer from earthquakes and major terrorist attacks, is to eliminate flushing into the sewer system entirely.

There are finely tuned technologies which would collect the waste, keep it at heat and humidity about the same as the Amazon rain forest, with the right mix of bacteria, and break it down in half an hour. Twice a year, sanitary, odorless fertilizer gets thrown on the garden. It would take a major government effort to put such technology into use, starting with, relaxing zoning codes enough to allow people to try it.

I don't think crying "liberty" really answers the questions facing us. There is a role for government, just as there was a role for a primitive village council in determining that people should stop throwing their garbage right out the window... but it needs some flexibility, humility, and constant reconsideration.

Aaron said...

Ayn Rand explained this well in 1957 (though I'm sure she wasn't the first):

"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against---then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed not enforced nor objectively interpreted---and you create a nation of law-breakers---and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

I especially like the bit about 'beautiful gestures.' There are people out there violating the laws every day: digging through the history of the tax code for proof that we're not really required to pay federal income taxes; buying everything from drugs to toilets from online overseas sources to get around the regulations; or selling raw milk to each other by pretending it's pet food. And as long as you keep your head down and keep your lawlessness small and personal, you can usually get away with it. But try to make a 'beautiful gesture' and they'll come smash you, because they can't afford to have everyone doing it.