We’ve written about bottled water previously but only recently came across an interesting video about it over at YouTube. It’s part of the Story of Stuff project. It’s not a comprehensive ‘last word’ on the subject, of course, but it’s sufficiently engaging, well-produced and thought-provoking for us to pass it on here:

However almost as interesting as the video itself are the reams of comments that have been left about it. Looking beyond the rather offensive, ‘flaming’ tone of many of them, there’s a stereotypical mini-debate threaded throughout. It’s about the ability of the market to produce optimal outcomes for people and for the environment versus reliance upon greater regulation via state intervention to achieve much the same ends.

This issue is something I’ve touched upon for about the past decade or so (I first read about it in David Wallace’s 1995 book on Environmental Policy and Industrial Innovation). It’s the old ‘deregulation versus revisionism’ debate. It dates back to the 1980s at least – and particularly to Reagan and Thatchter’s views on the subject, specifically that ‘excessive’ regulation by the state was hurting business and enterprise at the time. Essentially, proponents of deregulation consider that unfettered market forces will pretty much sort everything out, to put it bluntly. By contrast, revisionists argue that regulations – and their associated targets and milestones – actually spur beneficial innovations that would otherwise not appear in a totally ‘free’ market.

It’s truly surprising how many times this heavily polarised debate resurfaces – particularly in the States. By now, especially considering the emphasis the Stern Review put upon climate change as the biggest ‘market failure’ in human history, you’d think there would be a bit more understanding of the need for regulation-driven innovation alongside just ‘pure’ market forces. Sadly, it seems not!

Update (15/11/2016): Featured image added from this source.

Duncan Thomas

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