Mises Daily Articles
Three More Attacks on Civilization
Thank goodness we've got a global marketplace where banned and nearly banned products can be purchased with a click. This is how I obtained a box of Savogran Trisodium Phosphate, which sounds like an explosive but is really just a cleanser that was in every dish-washing soap until last year. It is made of phosphorous, an element from bone ash or urine that was discovered in Germany in the 17th century. It is also the reason that dishwashers once cleaned dishes perfectly, leaving no residue or spots.
Remember the old Calgon commercial that showed food falling off plates and glasses left gleaming at the end of a wash? That was phosphorous at work.
It is still a must in commercial establishments like restaurants and hotels. But 17 states have already banned the product for consumers, causing most all makers of the detergent to remove it from their products, which vastly degraded their value. The detergent makers saw the writing on the wall and this time decided to get out in front of the regulatory machine, anticipating a federal ban before it actually takes place.
Most consumers are clueless as to how sometime in the last year, their dishwashers stopped working properly. They call in the repairman, who fiddles with things and announces a fix. But it is not fixed. The glasses are gritty and the plates often need to be rinsed again after washing. Many households have bought new machines or resorted to just running the dishes through twice.
The creation of phosphorous-free detergent is the real reason. As Jonathan Last explains in the Weekly Standard, the antiphosphate frenzy began in Washington State, which was attempting to comply with a Clean Air Act mandate that a certain river be swimmable and fishable. This was a problem because tests found inordinate amounts of phosphate in the river. As part of the effort to comply, the state banned phosphates from detergents. That was in 2008, but the way politics works these days, the banning spread to state after state — again with the backing of federal law.
Now, it is clear that the law's proponents knew exactly what the results would be. It would increase dishwasher use and even end up leading people to abandon dishwashers altogether, and either solution leads to much more water and energy use. In other words, even by the goofy environmentalists' own standards, this is no savings. It might end up in the reverse.
Studies since the ban have even shown that phosphorous reduction in the Washington State river is entirely due to a new filtering system and, further, that it turns out that the phosphorous in the river was not even a problem in the first place!
Of course the facts don't matter. Our conveniences, like clean plates and the machines that make them so, must be sacrificed to the false gods of environmentalism. One of the great innovations in human history must be reverted because governments are enthralled by the witch doctors of Mother Earth. Thus must mankind take yet another step back on the path of social progress. And to heck with your fetish for clean things!
A similar impulse is driving the new attack on ice makers. Jeffrey Kluger writes in Time Magazine a typically hectoring piece that claims that one way to save the earth is to
buy a couple of ice trays. To the long list of human inventions that are wrecking global climate — the internal combustion engine, the industrial era factory — add the automatic ice maker.
Of course we don't use ice makers for completely arbitrary reasons. It is because it is a pain in the neck to carry a full tray across the room, spill a bit here and there, and then balance it carefully in the freezer. And then when you take it out, your fingers stick to the trays and you have to break the tray and dump the cubes into something and refreeze what you do not use, and then the cubes stick together and so on. That's why we use ice makers.
But, still, the Department of Energy hates them. And so it has warned all makers of freezers that it will lower the energy-compliance rating of any freezer that keeps them. Or, another way to make a freezer with an ice maker is to degrade the refrigerator and freezer itself, leaving most of the energy use for the ice maker.
This whole model forgets a perfectly obvious point: having an ice maker often means that you have an ice dispenser on the outside of the fridge, meaning that you do not have to open the door to get your ice. This is surely an energy saver. Having to open the freezer far more often only ends up wasting energy, which is another reason for the ice maker in the first place (saves on electrical bills).
Here again, facts don't matter. If there is something you like, something that makes your life better, you can bet that some bureaucrat somewhere has targeted it for destruction. Saving the planet is the most convenient excuse around. Time Magazine would contribute more to "saving the planet" by putting an end to its print publication.
We can see where this is headed. Just as people hoard old toilet tanks and old washing machines that actually use water to wash clothes, so too people will now have to hoard their old refrigerators because they work. We are becoming like the Cubans with their 1950s-model cars, holding on to them for dear life if only to preserve some elements of civilization in the face of government attacks.
Now let's talk drain openers. Everyone knows that the best chemical drain opener is lye, or sodium hydroxide. It is wicked stuff that cuts through grease, hair, or just about anything else. It will burn right through human flesh and leave terrible scarring. But for drains, nothing else compares.
Now that less and less water is flowing through our homes (thanks to regulatory attacks on water use), and the water we use is ever more tepid (thanks to regulatory attacks on hot-water heaters), it is no surprise that clogged drains are ever more common, thus making lye an essential household chemical.
If you can get it. The mainstream hardware stores have stopped carrying the stuff. So have the grocery stores. When I asked around, I thought I would hear stories involving liability for injuries, but no: instead, the excuse is the drug war. It turns out that this stuff is an ingredient in the making of methamphetamine, and hence it too is on the regulatory hit list.
Fortunately you can still buy it through Amazon, but how many people know this? How many people are buying liquid drain openers only to discover that they don't actually work? Surely millions are doing this. So far as I can tell, there is nothing but hush-hush about the strange disappearance of lye-based crystal drain openers from our shelves.
So there we go: we must also live with clogged drains, so that not even the pathetic drizzles of tepid water that come out of our faucets can flow down the drain, and we must stand in pools of bacteria-breeding water as we take our short, cold showers. It's back to the 19th century for all of us!
In these three examples, we can see the model at work: Puritans and paranoids work with bureaucrats to unravel all the gains that markets have made for civilization. And they do this not with persuasion or an attempt to convert us to their primitive faith. Instead, they do it by force, driving us back to the compost pile, the river for cleaning, and, eventually, having to hunt and gather for food that we take back to our caves, which serve as domestic environs for those lucky enough to survive their regime of coerced poverty.