A Libertarian Viewpoint on Water (Part I) with Peter L. Nelson, P.E.

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Peter L. Nelson, P.E., joins The Water Values Podcast to discuss a novel approach to water and water rights. Peter teamed up with Professor Walter Block to write Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers. Peter and I spent nearly 40 minutes discussing privatization, and we barely scratched the surface of the subject! Take a listen to hear a listener-requested topic from a subject-matter expert (Also - if you have questions for the second phase of this interview with Professor Block and Peter, please email me or submit them via the Contact Dave function).

This episode also features our regular Bluefield on Tap segment where Reese Tisdale of Bluefield Research joins us to discuss the implications on industrial water users and water utilities of the announced withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.

In this session, you’ll learn about:

  • Why Peter believes privatizing water resources is the most efficient approach to water use
  • The basis of Peter’s water rights paradigm
  • How Peter would approach privatizing water rights
  • The anticipated difficulties in privatizing water rights
  • State-level issues when looking at privatizing water rights

Resources and links mentioned in or relevant to this session include:


Sorry – no transcript this week. Let me know by emailing me if you miss the transcripts!

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4 thoughts on “A Libertarian Viewpoint on Water (Part I) with Peter L. Nelson, P.E.

  1. Nathan Page

    Hello. Thank you doing this podcast, great topic for the times. I listened to part I of the Libertarian Viewpoint on Water episode today. Like you said in the podcast, you have really just scratched the surface of this Libertarian/free market idea in regards to water rights, but the big question that kept coming to my mind is; who or what entity would advocate for the non-economic aspects of the natural ecosystem? and by ‘non-economic’ I mean the pieces that do not provide any short-term return on investment. Who would have the patience/foresight/selflessness to invest in the longterm economic returns that would be necessary to ensure natural ecosystem integrity? My concern is that human nature is to make short-term investments, to amass wealth as quickly as possible, and to ‘provide a better life for their children’. All of this, without regards to potential adverse effects to the delicate balances of our life-sustaining natural ecosystems. Let’s take bees as an example. What happens to the world’s food supply if the bees go away? Done, game over, right? OK, so how many capitalist investor types are lining up to put their vast fortunes into saving the bees? (honestly I don’t know, but I’m guessing not many). To make that investment at this point does not make sense to an individual investor considering the short timeframe upon which they expect to see positive returns (and besides, while the threat to bees is real at this point, there sure are still a lot of them around… and if there really is a problem I’ll be dead and gone by the time it really matters…) Your guest Peter made the comment that he considers himself to be an ‘evolutionist’, which I assume, as it applies to the Libertarian water market idea, essentially means survival of the fittest (or the richest). I’d love to be wrong about this, but I can’t think of a scenario under his proposed system in which the non-economic aspects of our natural ecosystems are preserved. Keep in mind that it is all connected. We can (and do) take a lot for granted (bees for instance), but in reality the ‘non-economic’ cogs in the machine are vital to the mechanisms that drive our economy. A tiny baitfish might seem insignificant, but its existence ensures the survival of countless species going up the food chain. Could one of those species be a prized ‘cash cow’ for some investor? Perhaps. So, are there private entities out there that want to take on these stewardship roles? What do they get for it? Or are these roles perhaps better filled by government agencies? I don’t know, but I’d love to hear it discussed. Thank you!

    1. Dave McGimpsey Post author

      Thanks for listening, Nathan — you raise some good points. I’ve long struggled with externalities that result in market inefficiencies and how to best overcome them. Great food for thought. Thanks again for listening and providing your feedback!

  2. Kevin Kluge

    Hello Dave,
    I love your podcasts (though I’ve yet to figure out how to leave a great review on iTunes). Keep up the great work.

    I listened to part one on water privatization and if you are looking for questions for part 2, I’d have a suggestion. While the notion is always interesting, what is always lacking is how to realistically get from there to here. I’ve been in water planning almost 20 years and throughout that time natural resource economist have always claimed that all will be solved with pricing solutions and the market place. As time goes on, this idea seems less and less realistic. (Granted, there are a few isolated examples.) It’s as if they were on the other side of the galaxy from the water planning establishment and we had a worm hole through which we can see and hear them, but they are still light years away.

    My suggested question for the 2nd podcast: what is a specific transition that would shift water to a private commodity, who specifically would have to change, and who would be impacted? The closest specific roadmap to markets that I’ve read is Zetland’s All-In-Auctions. My apologies to the authors - I know that I won’t be able to read the book before the next podcast. Thanks to all for your work for water.

    1. Dave McGimpsey Post author

      Kevin - thanks for listening and much appreciate you taking the time to let me know what you want to hear in the next interview. Great points you raise and I’ll be sure to explore them in Part II.
      Thanks again and best,

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