Sunday, March 15, 2009

The NYT can't tell socialism from capitalism

The NYT ran an article the other day about the supposed evils of water privatization in Chile, replete with all sorts of boilerplate platitudes against capitalism (“[the] market can regulate for more economic efficiency, but not for more social-economic efficiency”), and it's pretty emblematic of the lazy way in which the Times throws around the words "free market."

The article focuses on a town called Quillagua, which is (apparently) the driest town in the world – which makes you wonder, maybe humans shouldn't actually be living there in the first place?

But anyway, the bizarre thing about the town's history is that there's really not much in it that could be justifiably pinned on the free market. Here're some bits that directly relate to Quillagua:

That prosperity first began to ebb in 1987, when the military government reduced the water to the town by more than two-thirds, said Raul Molina, a geographer at the University of Chile. But the big blows came in 1997 and 2000, when two episodes of contamination ruined the river for crop irrigation or livestock during the critical summer months.

An initial study by a professor concluded that the 1997 contamination had probably come from a copper mine run by Codelco, the state mining giant. The Chilean government then hired German experts, who said the contamination had a natural origin.

Chile’s regional Agriculture and Livestock Service, part of the Ministry of Agriculture, refuted those findings in 2000, saying in a report that people, not nature, were responsible. Heavy metals and other substances associated with mineral processing were found that killed off the river’s shrimp and made the water undrinkable for livestock. (Drinking water for residents had been transported in for decades.)

Codelco, the world’s largest copper miner, rejects any responsibility. Pablo Orozco, a company spokesman, said that the river water had been bad for years, and that heavy rains around the time of the contamination episodes had briefly swelled it, sweeping sediments and other substances into the water.

First of all, the fact that a "military government reduced the water to the town" seems to me like an argument against public stewardship of water, not for. And then there's the doozy about "the state mining giant," which, in addition to being an offender in Chile, is a global giant, presumably doing similar things across the world. Which leaves me wondering why in the hell the Times thinks that (according to the article's title) "Chilean Town Withers in Free Market for Water." Am I missing something, or did the Times just characterize a military government and a state mining company as the free market?!

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