Hydraulic Despostism Redux

When the world was young, dinosaurs roamed free, and Mr. Obama and myself were young a common historical concept was current that all educated people knew: Hydraulic Despotisms. Once upon a time there were said to be empires where the central government controlled a strategic commodity. Usually water. By directing water friends could be rewarded and enemies punished. And since water was scarce ot cost vary little. If one province was parched and produced nothing, well a friendly province could use the extra water to produce much more. No net cost to the empire, but a huge incentive to the provinces.

We viewed this as a more primitive system where people were subjects, subject to the power and whims of an emperor intent on farming wealth from his human sheep. Of course,  we were equal citizens under laws that applied evenly to all in a system of mutual respect and freedom. I miss that belief. I especially miss the inculcation of attitudes and ideals that tended to make a just society more real.

Now the Brown administration in California has decided to allocate no water at all to some areas of the Central Valley. Coincidentally, areas which do not support him.  A frisson of recognition thrills my body. Mr. Brown has a classical mind.

In a more sophisticated manner we have Obamacare.  If it stands under its own weight, the health of the people will depend on where the President sends the hospital money and medical education dollars. Also there is an incentive to keep things scarce so that needs respond instantly. To oppose the government is, currently, to be audited. To oppose the government will eventually be to grow ill.

I am so old I can remember when ‘1984’ was not considered an instruction manual.


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