“You’re Showering Too Long!” Barks Our Federal Nanny
Comedy wouldn’t be funny if there weren’t a kernel of truth in it. Remember the 1996 Seinfeld episode based on the problem with the new, low-pressure showerheads that couldn’t rinse the shampoo out of Kramer’s hair? That led him to contact some Yugoslav black marketeers so he could buy and covertly install a high-power showerhead instead. (Naturally, that one proved to be much too powerful.)
Twenty years ago, Americans were already feeling the effects of nanny state regulations on their use of water and things have been getting steadily worse in that respect. That’s because it’s now almost impossible to keep politicians and bureaucrats from doing what so many of them love to do: dictating how Americans live.
In 1994, Congress mandated that showerheads deliver no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute – hence the Seinfeld script. Why this busybody rule? Because some people with political influence maintain that we’re using too much water and it’s up to the government to prevent that.
Consider the argument advanced in this recent Washington Post article: If 20 percent of our shower water is wasted, “you’re talking about over 200 billion gallons, in a world where gigantic states (California) and megacities (Sao Paulo, Brazil) are suffering from drought and water scarcity problems are expected to become still worse in the decades ahead.”
When I was a child, I was often told that I had to eat food I didn’t want “because of the starving people in China.” With similar illogic, we’re now being told that we must not use too much water because of the dry conditions in some places. The problem with the argument is obvious: using less water where you are won’t magically make more water available for the dessicated farmers of California or the thirty inhabitants of Sao Paulo. (Nor would more food appear in China depending on whether I ate the broccoli.)
Sadly, illogic almost never stops a determined nanny stater from making laws or regulations to mandate this or prohibit that. The Environmental Protection Agency is famous for such behavior. It has often tried to rewrite the law to expand its power (although not always successfully) and now has pushed the envelope further with a grant to fund a study on how to monitor the length of time that hotel guests spend taking showers.
According to this EPA document, “The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers. This device will be designed to fit more new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.” (Several University of Tulsa researchers have landed $15,000 for this effort.)
Oh good – more data for the bureaucrats to analyze. And after the analysis? In his article “How We Destroyed Indoor Plumbing” for The Freeman, Jeffrey Tucker gives us a good idea of the path they’ll take. “You can see where this is going. Study the issue. Test the plan on hotels. Extend it to new construction, apartment buildings, then homes. Enforce the rules. This is the trajectory, and to believe it can happen is not paranoia. In fact, the regulations on toilets, showers, washing machines, water heaters, and dishwashers are numerous, onerous, and truly awful.”
Regulating how much water we use is but one front in the ongoing offensive waged by Nanny State officials in their campaign to control us. There will never be a point at which they will say, “We have done all that needs to be done.” Pandora’s Box has been opened and they will always find new ways to improve society according to their visions.
Mostly, they accomplish their goals through the ceaseless expansion of administrative law, which Professor Philip Hamburger correctly identifies as the chief method the Nanny Staters use to control people. (I have written about his superb book Is Administrative Law Unlawful? here.)
Needless and counterproductive as many administrative regulations are, the preliminary question should be whether the politicians and bureaucrats really have any legal authority to make them. Ours was supposed to be a government of limited powers, with the central government having very few, carefully defined ones. Telling people how much water (or anything else) they’re permitted to use is far beyond the scope of our government as it was originally conceived.
Suppose that someone had asked, say, Ben Franklin right after the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, “I read here that Congress is to have the power to regulate interstate commerce — does that mean that politicians could pass a law putting limits on the number of candles I burn or the amount of soap I use?” Franklin would have replied, “Of course not. Keeping the flow of commerce among the states regular does not confer any authority to dictate personal choices.”
If Franklin were here today to see the unchecked, arrogant power of politicians and appointed bureaucrats, he would no doubt say it’s time for another revolution.
Article originally published on Forbes.com.