When There Are No Property Rights...

There is this a sort of enviro-socialist vision that everything would be better if everyone owned the world's natural resources.  Here is what happens when "everyone" owns something, in this case underground water (via the Washington Post)



I am actually surprised some are doing as well as they are. I had always heard anecdotally that the Ogallala was falling steadily, but by this map it appears stable.

You could probably create the same map that looks even more dire for the stability of ocean fish populations, another resource with no property rights.


  1. Mark Cancellieri:

    The biggest problem is that regulators won't allow prices to rise high enough to eliminate shortages. It's basic economics, but they insist on continuing their failed command-and-control policies.

  2. marque2:

    Not sure what to do about aquifers. I own a piece of land and drill a well, if I suck too much, I am actually sucking out my neighbors water. But there isn't any really free market way for my neighbors to address this, so it ends up as a free for all.

  3. Earl Wertheimer:

    Of course the maps ignore some of the largest sources of fresh water in North America - The Great Lakes.
    There is no shortage of fresh water. It's just in the wrong places...

  4. marque2:

    Or people choose to move to the wrong places, frequently on government promises.

    The problem in California for instance, is the government promised to take care of our water needs, then got all eco, and haven't really improved the water infrastructure in CA in 30 years. 70% of our water flows to the sea.

    And for conservation - we are forced to conserve constantly even in good times - and then in good times the water agencies issue more water permits, not thinking that if we are already conserving, it will be hard to conserve 25% more in bad times (eg I already have low flow/low water use everything, and low impact landscaping, now that there is a drought, what can I do to save more) which is why this drought we are only saving about 5%

  5. CapitalistRoader:

    Living on the Front Range, for the past 30 years I've heard nothing but dire predictions of the Ogallala Aquifer drying up. Wikipedia for example:

    Depletion is accelerating, with 2% lost between 2001 and 2009 [not in citation given] alone. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall...Some estimates indicate the remaining volume could be depleted as soon as 2028.

    Which is in complete contrast to the clickable map in the Washington Post article:

    The Northern Great Plains Aquifer's water level is being recharged by 4.954 millimeters per year.

    [The Ogallala Aquifer comprises the vast majority of the Northern Great Plains Aquifer.] Is this just another example—like global warming— of scare mongering by government agencies, for the purpose maintaining/increasing their staff and budget?

  6. vikingvista:

    They could pay you not to drill, or they could buy your land, or they could ask you to limit your use, or they could form a society of aquifer users with bylaws regulating use then ask you to join. If you decline, they could enlist bankers, insurers, suppliers, or customers to discriminate against those who threaten the future productivity of aquifer users.

    When the only well-defined property rights are a great expanse of surface access, market solutions are difficult, but as the problem becomes m more realistic, market solutions become more tenable.