Privatization and Passivity

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Kenya Jones fills a bucket with water at a vacant house in her east side Detroit neighborhood. Jones has been without water at home for a month because her landlord has not paid the bill. (National Geographic)

Privatization will be the evaporation, not only of our water supply and other natural resources but also of whatever democracy there is left to fight for. Will we do something before it’s too late?

The word ‘private’ is ubiquitous: private sale, private offering, private community, and private communications. Privacy is so sought after – is that because we have so little of it? Are we willing to privatize our resources: our water, our earth and minerals, etc. because we have been socially conditioned to venerate all that is private…. is it our secret pleasure to want to ensure that, if need be, we too can avail ourselves of the privileges that come with privacy or are just indifferent or passive?


Nearly 19,500 people living in Detroit have had their water service interrupted since March 1. The Water and Sewage Department began cutting of residents who missed their payments. Detroit has the highest “big-city rate” in the nation, 40% of Detroit live in poverty. Half of all Detroit water customers were behind on payments, owing a combined $90 million and yet General Motors and the city’s two sports arenas also owe millions in unpaid water bills but their water was not turned off.

Charity Hicks, founder of the Detroit People’s Water Board said, “”This is a test being looked at by cities across the US – even the world,” Charity says. “We will not let water be used as a weapon to remake the city in a corporate image. We will re-establish what it is to live in a democracy, with a water system that is part of the commons, that affirms human dignity and that ensures everyone’s access.” One woman said she got involved in the water battle after she received a $600 water bill for one month and yet Detroit has access to our nation’s largest fresh water supply.

The Guardian wrote: “The targeting of Detroit families is about something else. It is a ruthless case of the shock doctrine – the exploitation of natural or unnatural shocks of crisis to push through pro-corporate policies that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance…. and that. The water shut-offs are a way to make the balance-sheet more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.”

As utilities that were once services have now become authorities (in Detroit children are being removed from households that have had their water cut-off) at what point do we challenge our passivity? Supporting a policy that ensure the basics of food, shelter and environmental dignity for all, a policy unaffiliated with a political party, a big foundation or non-governmental organization, the Living Income Guaranteed can be implemented within our existing infrastructure. We don’t need to build a new waterworks, the one we have works fine.

Further reading:

In Detroit, Water Crisis Symbolizes Decline, and Hope

Thousands March for Water Rights in Detroit

Detroit’s Water War: a tap shut-off that could impact 300,000 people



Consumer or Creator?

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A great many cons have been played on the unsuspecting majority of the world throughout our history. Great cons have had the means and the opportunity to exist because an exchange takes place. Conspicuous consumption is one such con: in exchange for not stopping the con, the conned get a semblance of stability, identity, or predictability – but only for a while.

Conspicuous consumption is the premier myth driving the engine of our economy. An amalgam of emotionalism, excess and impulsiveness, conspicuous consumption rests upon mountains of research and decades of well-funded social psychology that have created the collective acceptance that we are primarily consumers of life, not creators of life.

We have been studied and dissected like no other species. Conspicuous consumption adapts, it is a changing art of artifice, from badges of status to experiential luxuries and ‘alternative’ lifestyles and did you know that today’s consumers are “different” from consumers of  ten or fifteen years ago? “Consumers today place a greater premium on connoisseurship, quality, and authenticity than on status.” (Luxe Redus, Boston Consulting Group)

Perhaps it is our malleability and uncertainty as a collective that causes our vulnerability to marketing. On the flip side, why can’t our malleability and vulnerability be the starting point for a different choice – a choice that, if we would only decide, would never allow a world where 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation and where one in six people do not have access to clean water?

How did we fall for the con that freedom is the freedom to choose products? Such freedom  becomes compulsion, where a $1200 handbag and bags like are now coveted by women in the big cities because it shows others that “someone loves me this much.” (This from a Deloitte’s analysis that also found that the world’s 75 largest luxury goods companies generated nearly $172 billion in sales in the most recent fiscal year. A 13% gain over the previous year.)

This great con of modernism is looking shabby these days and as this era winds down the next con is in waiting in the wings – the ‘post consumer’ society, with it’s transhuman bright lights and big cities. So, what is growing and gaining strength – is it conformity to consumerism or is it the challenge to consumerism?

Today most luxury buyers, “detest the old values conveyed by the word luxury—the idea of ostentation or the evidence of conspicuous consumption, for instance—yet they do want to treat themselves, to enjoy fine products and experiences for their own sake, and to share those products and experiences with family and good friends.”  55% of global consumers surveyed by Neilson claim they are willing to pay extra for products or services from companies that contribute to social or environmental causes. Can this positive trend be redirected toward intentional spending to rescue real people who are really dying, right now?

The Living Income Guaranteed would provide the basic foundation so that everyone can, at minimum, live a decent life. Finally, a new definition of luxury.

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