Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The New “Water Barons”: Wall Street Mega-Banks are Buying up the World’s Water

A disturbing trend in the water sector is accelerating worldwide. The new “water barons” — the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires — are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace. By Jo Shing Yang, Global Research May 22, 2014
Water Image courtesy of Marlon Felippe via Wikimedia Commons
Familiar mega-banks and investing powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Macquarie Bank, Barclays Bank, the Blackstone Group, Allianz, and HSBC Bank, among others, are consolidating their control over water. Wealthy tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush and his family, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other Filipino billionaires, and others are also buying thousands of acres of land with aquifers, lakes, water rights, water utilities, and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world.
The second disturbing trend is that while the new water barons are buying up water all over the world, governments are moving fast to limit citizens’ ability to become water self-sufficient (as evidenced by the well-publicized Gary Harrington’s case in Oregon, in which the state criminalized the collection of rainwater in three ponds located on his private land, by convicting him on nine counts and sentencing him for 30 days in jail). Let’s put this criminalization in perspective:
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens owned more water rights than any other individuals in America, with rights over enough of the Ogallala Aquifer to drain approximately 200,000 acre-feet (or 65 billion gallons of water) a year. But ordinary citizen Gary Harrington cannot collect rainwater runoff on 170 acres of his private land.
It’s a strange New World Order in which multibillionaires and elitist banks can own aquifers and lakes, but ordinary citizens cannot even collect rainwater and snow runoff in their own backyards and private lands.
“Water is the oil of the 21st century.” Andrew Liveris, CEO of DOW Chemical Company (quoted in The Economist magazine, August 21, 2008)
In 2008, I wrote an article,
“Why Big Banks May Be Buying up Your Public Water System,” in which I detailed how both mainstream and alternative media coverage on water has tended to focus on individual corporations and super-investors seeking to control water by buying up water rights and water utilities. But paradoxically the hidden story is a far more complicated one. I argued that the real story of the global water sector is a convoluted one involving “interlocking globalized capital”: Wall Street and global investment firms, banks, and other elite private-equity firms — often transcending national boundaries to partner with each other, with banks and hedge funds, with technology corporations and insurance giants, with regional public-sector pension funds, and with sovereign wealth funds — are moving rapidly into the water sector to buy up not only water rights and water-treatment technologies, but also to privatize public water utilities and infrastructure.
Now, in 2012, we are seeing this trend of global consolidation of water by elite banks and tycoons accelerating. In a JP Morgan equity research document, it states clearly that “Wall Street appears well aware of the investment opportunities in water supply infrastructure, wastewater treatment, and demand management technologies.” Indeed, Wall Street is preparing to cash in on the global water grab in the coming decades. For example, Goldman Sachs has amassed more than $10 billion since 2006 for infrastructure investments, which include water. A 2008 New York Times article mentioned Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and the Carlyle Group, to have “amassed an estimated an estimated $250 billion war chest — must of it raised in the last two years — to finance a tidal wave of infrastructure projects in the United States and overseas.”
By “water,” I mean that it includes water rights (i.e., the right to tap groundwater, aquifers, and rivers), land with bodies of water on it or under it (i.e., lakes, ponds, and natural springs on the surface, or groundwater underneath), desalination projects, water-purification and treatment technologies (e.g., desalination, treatment chemicals and equipment), irrigation and well-drilling technologies, water and sanitation services and utilities, water infrastructure maintenance and construction (from pipes and distribution to all scales of treatment plants for residential, commercial, industrial, and municipal uses), water engineering services (e.g., those involved in the design and construction of water-related facilities), and retail water sector (such as those involved in the production, operation, and sales of bottled water, water vending machines, bottled water subscription and delivery services, water trucks, and water tankers).
Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Peak Meat? The World eats 7 times more meat than we did in the 1950

By 2050, the human population will be 9 billion. Can the meat machine keep up?, by Gwynn Guilford and Ritchie King

Planet Earth is a giant food machine. It's done an impressive job cranking out sustenance for the masses, often aided by human ingenuity. Innovations like factory farming or pesticides have helped it keep up with the planet's booming population, even as it leapt from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7 billion today.

But by 2050, the population will jump to 9 billion (pdf). The question is, can the machine continue to keep up?

The answer is: not really. Already, demand for food is straining the planet's ability to produce it, as the Earth Policy Institute highlights. Meat production has increased more than 600% since 1950, and demand certain types of meat are already taxing the limits of the Earth's ability to produce them:

Consider the case of beef. Farmers around the world have overstocked grasslands to keep up with demand, as EPI points out. But there's simply not enough grass to feed as many cattle as hamburger fans demand. The supply squeeze is reflected in North American beef prices, which have spiked due to droughts that dried out grassland. As a result, US herd sizes are the smallest they've been in 60 years (paywall).

A similar situation is afflicting fish. The planet can't replace them at anywhere near the rate at which we eat them. Around 85% of the world's fish populations are overexploited or altogether exhausted. Fisherman globally are traveling farther and trawling deeper than ever before, only to end up with smaller catches.

Other livestock aren't immune. Those animals that are easier to farm--chickens, hogs and certain fish--also need to be fed. As a result, demand for grain is rising:

Read the full article here.

The Commodity Picture insight

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why Are Diamonds More Expensive Than Water ?

We found this great article called "A Tale of Two Theories" By Ron Baker and wanted to share it with our readers.
Adam Smith was confounded. One of the greatest economic and social thinkers in the history of ideas struggled with the so-called “diamond-water paradox.”
None of us would be able to live beyond a couple of weeks without water, yet its price is relatively cheap compared to the frivolous diamond, which certainly no one needs to stay alive.

Most people resolve this paradox by replying the supply of diamonds is scarce compared to water. But this theory lacks explanatory power. If it did, those drawings by your kids on your refrigerator would be worth a few mortgage payments. Just because something is scarce does not make it valuable.

The Labor Theory of Value

Karl Marx had a theory, too. The labor theory of value still wields enormous influence over our present-day concept of value and price. Marx explained his theory in Value, Price and Profit, published in 1865:
"A commodity has a value, because it is a crystallisation of social labour. The greatness of its value, or its relative value, depends upon the greater or less amount of that social substance contained in it; that is to say, on the relative mass of labour necessary for its production."
This sounds reasonable, but if Marx’s theory were correct, a rock found next to a diamond in a mine would be of equal value, since each took the same amount of labor hours to locate and extract.
If you have pizza for lunch today, under Marx’s theory, your tenth slice would be just as valuable as your first, since each took the same amount of labor hours to produce.
One glaring flaw in Marx’s theory was it did not take into account the law of diminishing marginal utility, which states the value to the customer declines with additional consumption of the good in question.
The Marginalist Revolution of 1871
Fortunately, three economists developed the theory of marginalism and created a revolution: William Stanley Jevons from Great Britain, Leon Walras from France, and Carl Menger from Austria.
There were forerunners to the marginal theory, but it was not until these three came together that the theory was accepted as valid in the economics profession. The idea that all value is subjective seems obvious is retrospect, given how consumer preferences and tastes can change on a whim.
So what made this new theory so revolutionary? As Menger explains in his book Principles of Economics, written in 1873:
"Value is…nothing inherent in goods, no property of them. Value is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being. Hence value does not exist outside the consciousness of men…[T]he value of goods…is entirely subjective in nature."
Value is like beauty—it is in the eye of the beholder. This theory has enormous explanatory. Philip Wicksteed, a British clergyman, wrote scientific critique of the Marxian labor theory of value in 1884, where he explained:
"A coat is not worth eight times as much as a hat to the community because it takes eight times as long to make it….The community is willing to devote eight times as long to the making of a coat because it will be worth eight times as much to it."
Still, cause and effect is confused constantly on this principle in businesses to this day. I remember taking a wine tour of Far Niente in Napa where the guide was explaining how one particular vintage had to be bottled by hand, which was why it was more expensive—due to the extra labor this entailed.
I could not help thinking: No, you are willing to invest in the labor necessary to bottle the wine by hand because some customers find it valuable (and delicious!) enough to cover the extra labor costs.
Why Are Diamonds More Expensive Than Water?
The German economist Hermann Heinrich Gossen developed what is known as Gossen’s Law: The market price is always determined by what the last unit of a product is worth to people.
While the first several gallons of water may be vital for your survival, the water used to shower, flush the toilet, and wash the dishes is less valuable. Less valuable still is the water used to wash your dog, your car, and hose down your driveway.
On the other hand, the marginal satisfaction of one more diamond tends to be very high.
If water companies knew you were dehydrated in the desert they would be able to charge a higher price for those first vital gallons consumed, and then gradually adjust the price downwards to reflect the less valuable marginal gallons.
Since they do not possess this information—the cost of doing so would be prohibitive—the aggregate market price for water tends to be based upon its marginal value.
Old Fallacies Die Hard
Thomas Sowell explains in his book, Basic Economics, how the economics profession finally overcame the labor theory of value:
"By the late nineteenth century, however, economists had given up on the notion that it is primarily labor which determines the value of goods. This new understanding marked a revolution in the development of economics. It is also a sobering reminder of how long it can take for even highly intelligent people to get rid of a misconception whose fallacy then seems obvious in retrospect. It is not costs which create value; it is value which causes purchasers to be willing to repay the costs incurred in the production of what they want."
That all value is subjective is difficult for many business people to accept, but it does explain how we humans spend money.

Ron Baker

Founder of VeraSage Institute

Here is a link to him and the article.

The Commodity Picture insight