Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Those Crappy Crappers

Toilets are not a pleasant subject, but economist Jeffrey A. Tucker, writing over at the Mises Institute, describes in disgusting detail why Federal government has made sure that we can never entirely forget about them:

The true origin of the mess was . . . back in 1994, when Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. This act, passed during an environmentalist hysteria, mandated that all toilets sold in the United States use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. This was a devastating setback in the progress of civilization. . .  The result is an entire society of poorly working toilets and a life of adjustment to the omnipresence of human feces, all in a short 15 years. Thanks so much, Congress! . .  [Prior to 1994], it was just assumed that toilet manufacturers cared nothing at all about wasting water. Surely there was no rationale at all for why they consumed five gallons per flush as opposed to 1.6 gallons. This is just capitalist excess and down with it!

Well, think again: there was wisdom in those old designs. The environmentalists didn't account for the present reality in which people typically flush twice, three times, or even four times during a single toilet event. Whether or not this ends up using more or less in the long run is entirely an empirical question, but let us just suppose that the new microtanks do indeed save water. In the same way, letting people die of infections conserves antibiotics, not brushing teeth conserves toothpaste, and not using anesthesia during surgery conserves needles and syringes.  Here is the truth that environmentalists do not face: Sometimes conserving is not a good idea. There are some life activities that cry out for the expenditure of resources, even in the most generous possible way. I would count waste disposal as one of those.
I am firmly in the, ahem, bowels of Mr. Tucker's camp.  I recently moved into my first home of post-1994 vintage, and dealing with the puny 1.6 gallon toilets that came with the house was a nightmare.  I was employing the plunger at least once every day! (and not solely due to my own "toilet events", to use Tucker's term)  I finally broke down, did some online research, and settled on a replacement toilet (the Toto Drake) that has been great (at least for a 1.6 gallon model), but it's been alot of expense and disgusting work to carry out the replacements, and I still have one more to go.  It's maddening that in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave", we can't use whatever dad-blamed plumbing fixtures we want.

It may seem like a small thing, but the same principle is at work in the bailouts, in public ownership of the car makers, in healthcare, in cap-and-trade, and in every arena where government inserts its meddling fingers.  When the guys with the guns start calling the shots because they "know better", efficiency and freedom are compromised, prosperity is reduced, and civilization suffers a setback.  

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