Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Stink Of Politics

Via Paul Krugman:
I see that some commenters on my traffic externalities post are speculating what Republicans would say about sewers if they didn’t already exist. Well, we don’t know about Republicans, but we do know what The Economist said, in 1848, about proposals for a London sewer system:

Suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions; they cannot be got rid of; and the impatient efforts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation, before benevolence has learned their object and their end, have always been more productive of evil than good.

Sewers are socialism!

It wasn’t until the Great Stink made the Houses of Parliament uninhabitable that the sewer system was created.
Here's Wikipedia's fascinating entry on The Great Stink, well worth reading:

One commenter weighs in:
There's a better one, a debate in the English parliament about feeding the Irish during the potato famine; the argument settled around personal responsibility and survival if the fittest; one million men women and children died of starvation; I wonder where Hannity and Oreilly would have come down on that debate.
Which we discussed a while back here. Commenter Michael Symes also has a great comment about the sewers of Paris:
"It was the gradual creation of an effective bureaucracy which brought an end to all this filth and disease, and the public servants did so against the desires of the mass of the middle and upper classes. The free market opposed sanitation. The rich opposed it. The civilized opposed it. Most of the educated opposed it. That is why it took a century to finish what could have been done in ten years" Adapted from John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards - The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.
plus ├ža change...

Commenter slingshot says: Conservatives support sewers!! Consevatives love a "sanitary, efficient" sewage disposal system. As long as it's privatized, unregulated, overpriced, and unresponsive to the 99%.  He's right, and as proof, see this post about the lack of public sanitary infrastructure in libertarian pardises like Guragon and Dubai.

I would also add that basic sanitation, access to better nutrition, and hand washing to prevent the spread of infection have done more to enhance human health and well-being that all of the great high-tech and pharmeceutical medical "innovations" over the past fifty years. I'm not against innovation or research, but don't forget diminishing returns - spending more and more to get back less and less. A cynic might conclude that today's medical innovations are just designed to prolong suffering.

Oh, and by the way - six in ten people on earth currently do not have access to a toilet. Progress!

ADDENDUM: Happy 200th Birthday to a Mapmaker Who Changed the World (Atlantic Cities)
In 1854, there was an outbreak of cholera in the London neighborhood of Soho, one of many mid-century epidemics to strike the English capital, then the largest city in the world.

But this episode was different. An English physician named John Snow — born two hundred years ago today — decided to plot the cases on a map of the neighborhood. In doing so, he identified a contaminated well as the source of the illness, founding the study of public health, and changing the design of cities forever.
See also John Snow's data journalism: the cholera map that changed the world (The Guardian)


  1. Ya can't be serious. A fancy prototype of a toilet machine requiring all sorts of high-end doodads, and costs 5 cents per use... is directed at the world's poor?! How much is one gonna cost to make? 10,000 dollars? Of course, they never say. If you throw in the nice rotating solar panel, it might be more.

    When you can build a nice composting bucket toilet for a few bucks and scrap lumber. And use the compost on the fields after 2 years; or put it in the orchard if it bothers you.

    Let me put it this way. The world is divided into two sorts of people: those who shit in drinking water, and those who don't. I vote for the latter.

  2. Oh and so nobody bitches I peddle negativity, here is the best in depth stuff on toilets I have seen anywhere.

    In a nutshell: for cities, we need vacuum systems. For rural areas and small towns, we need composting toilets.

  3. Permaculture principles - why flush away all that phosphorous and fertilizer? We actually turn it into fertilizer here - Milorganite. We don't have urine-separating toilets yet.

    Systems were in place to deal with this four thousand years ago in India and yet we a high-tech solution now? Something else is going on here. Anyway, I included that article mainly for the statistic.


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