For many, if not most of our loyal readers, this post is going to seem rather uncouth and out-of-place. If so, please find humor in my misery.
This post is about “number 2″. Sort of.
While one-third of America was watching NFL league championship games on Sunday, I was dry-vaccing my basement and hauling 3 gallons of what is euphemistically called “gray water” at a time up the stairs to dispose in a working exit portal. On Monday, I forked over $311 to Mr. Rooter.
As I watched the polite and business-like technician snake the maze of pipes under my basement floor, I thought back over the past several years. How many times have my sons yelled, “Dad! Toilet is plugged!” All the hours I’ve spent blistering my hands on the wooden stick of a plunger. It dawned on me that rather than a quick fix, my actions might have been more akin to a Civil War cannon attendant ramming the charge into the barrel.
My twin sons are juniors in high school and our home is just a few blocks from the local high school. During the fall tennis and spring baseball seasons, it becomes the de facto after-school hangout for the respective teams. That means all manner of large, athletic types with extremely healthy appetites ramble through the house. That also means there are many options for finger pointing!
How do I, an avid conservationist, explain to my sons that the real culprit is a law, passed in 1992, that has saved hundreds of millions of gallons of water? That law, the Energy Policy Act, mandated that all new toilets manufactured in the U.S. reduce the amount of water used to 1.6 gallons or less per flush. Most existing commodes at the time used between 3.5 and 5.0 gallons.
In my neck of the woods (Michigan), the law created a rampant black market in Canadian toilets.
Today, twenty years later, as a dad and homeowner, I get the angst of the libertarians who fought the more recent Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that required changes to light bulbs. The new light bulbs save electricity and money, but still do the job, so to speak. I can’t say the same for the 1.6 gallon toilets.
The proverbial “mercy” flush in my household refers to having mercy on our plumbing. With my sons and their friends now trained to flush multiple times during their ‘library time’, I’m sure this household isn’t achieving the water conservation standard assumed by the authors of the 1992 bill. Any savings I enjoyed pre-teenagers have been eaten up by investments in every new fangled plunger known to man, bottles of Draino, and numerous plumber emergency calls. The magnetic Mr. Rooter business card is on our fridge, just below the one from our local pizza parlor.
Before anyone outs me from the water-closet as a faux environmentalist, I’m not calling for the repeal of the two-decade old Energy Policy Act. In 18 months, my problems will be downloaded to a couple universities. Rather, I want to remind everyone that public policy can inconvenience the daily lives of Americans and cause mere frustration to outright anger.
We face greater problems today and some potential solutions could impose much greater inconvenience in our lives. Good public policy leverages free market innovation to minimize or eliminate those inconveniences. I’m confident with common sense and forethought, we can tackle the biggest problems without interrupting the daily flow of our lives (pun intended).
For another take on the old law, read this piece at the Ludwig von Mises Institute by Jeffrey A. Tucker