The Incredible Thing is that This is Incredible to So Many American Catholics

The Incredible Thing is that This is Incredible to So Many American Catholics May 20, 2015

Periodically, thousands of people too poor to pay their water bills get their water shut off, as is happening in Baltimore right now and happened in Detroit last year.

People (including a huge number of Catholics) who do not understand the Church’s teaching cheer for this, because at bottom, they believe that man was made for the laws of economics and not the laws of economics for man. They believe, just like abortion-supporters, that there are things more important than the right to life (in this case, money) and they believe that property is an absolute right and not (as the Church teaches) subordinate to the universal destination of goods.

The Church, being full of common sense, says otherwise, to the complete incredulity of a disturbing number of Catholics:

484. The principle of the universal destination of goods also applies naturally to water, considered in the Sacred Scriptures as a symbol of purification (cf. Ps 51:4; Jn 13:8) and of life (cf. Jn 3:5; Gal 3:27). “As a gift from God, water is a vital element essential to survival; thus, everyone has a right to it”.[1009] Satisfying the needs of all, especially of those who live in poverty, must guide the use of water and the services connected with it. Inadequate access to safe drinking water affects the well-being of a huge number of people and is often the cause of disease, suffering, conflicts, poverty and even death. For a suitable solution to this problem, it “must be set in context in order to establish moral criteria based precisely on the value of life and the respect for the rights and dignity of all human beings”.[1010]

485. By its very nature water cannot be treated as just another commodity among many, and it must be used rationally and in solidarity with others. The distribution of water is traditionally among the responsibilities that fall to public agencies, since water is considered a public good. If water distribution is entrusted to the private sector it should still be considered a public good. The right to water,[1011] as all human rights, finds its basis in human dignity and not in any kind of merely quantitative assessment that considers water as a merely economic good. Without water, life is threatened. Therefore, the right to safe drinking water is a universal and inalienable right.

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  • Petee

    Very good find, must say I didn’t know it was in there. I’d extend it to food, but I’m a freedom-hating socialist.

    • chezami

      Whoa! Let’s not get crazy. Next you’ll be saying people have a right to shelter from the elements and health care.

      • Michael Francis James Lee

        STOP THE MADNESS, Mark!

  • Peggy

    I’ve worked in public utilities for years. Every state has regulations that prohibit or delay disconnection for failure to pay. At some point, the spigot has to turn off. Otherwise, the business can’t keep going; it will have to consider: raise prices to others, lay off employees, or cut back its own expenses elsewhere. I don’t know whether those are “laws” of economics, but they are economic consequences of a firm not being paid for its services and goods. Not all utilities are major publicly traded corporations.

    • Gunnar Thalweg

      Since collecting, purifying and distributing water requires equipment (thus, investment capital) and labor, does my inalienable rights to water include undeniable demands for others’ investment capital and the labor of others?

      I understand the church’s teaching that water not a commodity like any other, but the church’s teaching also demands that workers are worth their pay and to respect others’ property.

      • chezami

        Yes, but the Church places property rights behind the universal destination of goods:

        “Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable: ‘On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone’.” – Compendium

    • Dan C

      So many briliant minds dedicated to affirming the filthy rotten system of economics that assures deprivation.

      There must be a better way.

      • Peggy

        “filthy rotten system”…? economics is the study of scarce resources not a “system”…we try to understand and explain decisions of economic agents….to help individuals, govt, and businesses to make the best decisions among options.

        • Marthe Lépine

          A part of economics is the study of scarce resources, another the study of how the various systems are working… But there are also parts of economics that are supposed to study the ways of improving those systems. Economics are not just a distant observation of what is going on in order to keep a record of it, with absolutely no moral implications.

          • Peggy

            Yes, normative v positive economics. What is and what should be are 2 different Qs. Economists have different answers to the latter, but should be able to agree on basic facts…yet, we don’t get there really….too politicized a field in many regards.

      • BHG

        Quite possibly–what’s your suggestion? Tearing down a filthy rotten system does no good unless you have something to replace it.

  • Peggy

    Put out a rain barrel if you can’t pay the utility. Buy bottled water at the store. Install a tank. Dig a well. There are a variety of options that will differ whether one is urban, suburban or rural..

    • Petee

      it’s good we have you here to dictate to others what the others should do.
      1: where is this rain barrel going?
      2: where is the money coming from to buy bottled water?
      3: where is the tank going to go?
      4: where am I going to dig a well?
      5: who are you again?
      8 million new yorkers want to know.

      • Heh. I live in NYC, too, and i was wondering how that “dig a well” thing was going to work.

  • Peggy

    3rd post by me. Sounds like politically motivated shut offs in some more conservative county areas…but not in the city where there is greater poverty and greater nonpayment….?

    No businesses shut off…so, did they make arrangements to pay?

  • sbark

    The article does mention that there are programs to help people who are having financial difficulties as well as discounts for the elderly. Since the writer didn’t investigate with any of the individuals who had their water shut off, it’s hard to say what is the real issue. Is this an issue where the assistance programs are inadequate? Is the issue that the people can afford their water bill but haven’t paid? Is the problem that people qualify for assistance but don’t know to ask?

    I haven’t seen any signs that anyone is cheering for keeping water away from the destitute. Do you have any examples of this cheering?

    • Dan C

      Their is a Patheosi named Shiffer that had no sympathy for the Detroit folks. She is pretty cold on it. And cheered on.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      It seemed like the biggest issue was that large companies had been allowed to go delinquent without shut offs, while the individuals on the poorer end of things we the ones being shut off. But I don’t see any cheering.

      • anna lisa

        When my husband worked for a company that traded bonds for most of Wall street, they were delinquent according to their contracts all the time. I was actually a little relieved to see that, like a curtain was pulled back for me. It made me understand the big picture better.
        I never want to behave with such a filthy attitude as the good old boys on Wall Street.
        Fu^^k that.
        Two wrongs don’t make a right.
        Be Merciful before all else…
        Die trying.
        Even the poor can behave like the grasping rich.
        God sees through every motive.
        Work is a prayer when it is ordered to justice.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          It’s a fact of our world: purifying water costs money. It takes equipment, which must be made and maintained by someone. It takes electricity, which must be generated by equipment, which must be maintained and created (And maintaining the equipment in a power plant is a job that requires risking life and dealing with dangerous equipment DAILY). The pipes and pumps to bring the water to homes must be bought and maintained. Even if the water is free, the infrastructure needed to provide it, especially in large cities, isn’t. So where does the money come from? People need water (look at what happens when a natural disaster damages a city’s system and the water isn’t safe). The water company or city needs to pay for the equipment and maintenance–paying wages to people so they can feed, shelter and water their families.
          Any solution has to work within that framework, because that’s the framework we have right now. We can change the framework, but we still need a solution now if injustice is happening.
          This isn’t necessarily a direct response to what you said, just me noodling on it a little more than yesterday.

          • anna lisa

            Rebecca, What you just wrote is perfectly logical. It makes more sense than simply turning a blind eye to poverty and pandering to it like we need to turn our brains off when someone says that they are poor. Remember in the story of Helen Keller, how her parents felt so desperately sorry for her that they let her do whatever she wanted? She behaved like a feral animal. She lost her human dignity by allowing her most basic instincts to rule her behavior.
            –And then the game changer–her marvelous, enlightened, *firm* teacher stepped in.

            What keeps going through my head is something Eileen (Philly area) wrote:

            “Low expectation, is *soft* bigotry.”

            People who enjoy getting a little lump in their throat and mist over while saying “The poor! The poor!”–give their true motivations away if they shut you down for pointing out that some of them aren’t actually poor in the real sense, or that a certain percentage of them actually don’t like hard work.

            The angry ones are on a soap box–NOT in the service of the poor–but in the service of their own need to feel morally superior. They hide behind the true cases of poverty, and use them as a front to make a tent big enough for any and all who wish to make themselves at home there. Why?
            It must make them feel magnanimous, but they are allowing their pride to fool them.

            I guess if the government can keep printing money, and keep manipulating the world economy the way they have, we can just keep ushering people into that tent, lest we disturb the precarious top that keeps spinning and gyrating which the whole first world watches with abated breath.

            But there’s one really huge, terrible problem:

            EVEN if this precarious economic system *was* sustainable, there is a fundamental heresy embedded in the subtle, counterfeit altruism of telling a man it’s not his fault that he doesn’t work. He may not be able to find work in his preferred field, but he can work at *something* diligently, even if it’s not his first choice, or even if it’s part-time for a charitable nonprofit, while he continues to look for something he prefers

            God made man to work–not as a punishment– but as a gift, that we might share in His creative genius. God mandated that we work *before* the fall. ( The disabled have their work too, they are the contemplatives who intercede for the world!) Real work IS poetry. We don’t need to indulge the poets who won’t support their families. Anything or anyone who would provide a man with an excuse, and enable him to grow soft or indolent is guilty of a grave heresy,

            …and also guilty of:

            “the bigotry of low expectations”

            • Sue Korlan

              For a while during the recession there were 6 unemployed people for every unfilled position, and that only counted the people still looking for work and not those who had given up in despair. I don’t know what the numbers are now, but they’re inaccurate because they don’t include the people who aren’t actively looking for a job any more even if they don’t have one.

              • anna lisa

                Today while my husband and I were driving down the main street of where we live, my husband pointed out that a lot of the plants didn’t look pruned and there are some weeds growing. We have lot’s of parks and public outdoor spaces. There is no community vegetable garden for school children like I’ve seen elsewhere. It seems to me that there are so, so, so many community oriented projects that able bodied welfare recipients can contribute to society and earn vouchers for their work. If those projects were also being worked on by volunteers that aren’t getting back a voucher, and there was a certain amount of prestige in doing that work (through media PR etc.), nobody would need to know if you were simply doing humanitarian work or helping to feed your family. It must eat a man alive to sit at home, and receive a check without giving anything back to anyone.

                • Sue Korlan

                  Yes, work is good for the soul as well as the pocketbook. You could try to start community gardens in your town and see what happens. If even one person who didn’t otherwise have employment joined the effort, it would be worth all the work it took you to get it started.

  • anna lisa

    My old hometown was really community minded. There were all kinds of groups that would put on events/projects that would benefit the community. There were community vegetable gardens, and even something called “Bloom-a-thon”, where a bunch of people would show up on various days throughout the year to weed and plant flowers in public places. It was just volunteers who would get together. Those flowers brought so much joy to so many people. They were a little crowning touch on the town, and helped people to take a lot of pride in where they lived.

    Rather than just not paying their bills, if the recipient isn’t disabled, maybe there should be a way that people can gain vouchers by doing just a little community minded work each month, so that there is a win/win situation. I think this would shift the psychology of the situation, and instill a “we’re all in this together” mentality.

  • caroline

    In California, water shut off might yet happen to everyone, rich or poor, if they surpass their quotas.

    • sez

      I don’t know if they can do that. When I lived in SoCal – renting an apartment – the water bill was paid by the property owner, by law, because somebody once refused to put out a little fire, due to their water bill, so the whole place burned down. At least, that’s what an apt manager told me. So, considering that there are more poor people who rent, and “the water must be free to renters”, I don’t know how they can shut it off. Of course, if the governor overrides that law due to the drought… but I sure wouldn’t want to have to battle an insurance company over an apartment fire!

  • Pete the Greek

    I don’t think anyone should starve because they can’t pay for food, nor die of thirst because they can’t pay for water.

    Here is a question, and meant in all seriousness: Are we allowed to draw a distinction between “can’t pay” and “won’t pay”? Or must we never remove services from anyone for any reason?

    • Marthe Lépine

      And how about remaining homeless because they cannot pay rent? This whole matter is where the obligation to pay a living wage comes in. The rich have an obligation to share their wealth by creating jobs that pay a living wage. If everything we have is ultimately given to us by God, the fact that some people have more money, or have the talents that allow them to make more money, means that their ownership of their wealth is not unconditional. There is nothing wrong with profit, but the part of a business’ profits that is not necessary for re-investing is nothing else than the legitimate “pay” that wealthy people are entitled for putting their money to work. Granted, it can be substantial because those people have put efforts into earning that money first, and then are expected to put that money to work for society, e.g.they could be said to have to work twice as much for those earnings. However it does not mean that they are the ones who are exclusively entitled to the profits. As was usually taught in early economics studies, production requires three “factors”, capital, raw materials and work. No one of those three factors is entitled to benefit from all the gains. Maybe a better definition of equality could in fact be that those 3 aspects of a business should be considered as being of equal importance.Then there is no justification to keep squeezing more work for less pay from the workers, and keep trying to obtain the materials and other components of the goods being manufactured at lower and lower prices in order for the ones who own the capital to get the lion’s share of the benefits.
      Going from there, a better distribution of resources and incomes would ensure that every one of the parties involved can justly obtain the basic necessities of life, which are a fundamental right of every person: food, water, clothing, a roof over their heads, education. There should not be any question of whether a person can be deprived of those for the reason of not having the resources to pay for them. Actually, water services should in fact be the responsibility of the civil authorities and paid for by taxes.
      I realize that the above views are quite foreign to the US culture… but that is unfortunate.

      • Pete the Greek

        “I realize that the above views are quite foreign to the US culture.”
        – I realize that you didn’t seem to understand the point of my post and went on a rant about a totally unrelated topic. I’ve grown used to that on this page, though.

    • St. Paul and the Holy Spirit drew such a distinction in Sacred Scripture: “[W]hen we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

  • Na

    so are the environmentalist who refuse to allow Californians access to water also hatefilled killers?

    Of course, no one takes any joy in having another persons water shut off. And, of course, no one’s water is shut off unless they have refused to pay the bill for years. And, of course, this terrible economic system has layer after layer of direct assistance programs and charities. And, of course, no able body person has so little money that they can’t afford to pay a water bill for a full year. But none of that really maters because Christianity has been subsumed by individualistic humanism. We are a product of our age. We preach rights without responsibilities. We preach human will without any reference to dignity.

    St Paul said “if you do not work, you will not eat”. Just as God gave creation to all, he gave the dignity of work to each able body person. Those able body people who do not work and demand that others provide for them….insult themselves and steal from the truly needed.

    • Marthe Lépine

      This interpretation of St Paul’s writing has been debunked a long time ago, and not just by Mark. Plus, for able bodied people to work, there has to be people willing to share their wealth in order to provide jobs for all, instead of going out of the country to exploit cheap labour. When people are not able to work, and to work for living wages, they do have the right to demand the necessities of life for free.

      • Na

        oh please share your debunking knowledge with me. If you refuse you will be perpetually responsible for my ignorance and all of its ramifications for all eternity.

        Funny I didn’t know the amount of wealth in the world was fixed number. Perhaps we should fire all of the government bureaucrats who make a living calculating GDP each quarter. What is the point of counting a fixed quantity over and over again that is merely being shifted between different jars.

    • “so are the environmentalist who refuse to allow Californians access to water also hatefilled killers?”

      There is a difference between restricting water used for lawns, pools, and car-washing, and cutting off the water used for drinking and hygiene.

      “And, of course, no able body person has so little money that they can’t afford to pay a water bill for a full year. ”

      To the contrary, I know someone who works his fingers to the bone and still doesn’t have enough to pay his water bill, for over a year now. I know it is easy to blame “the able body [sic] people who do not work,” but there are many, many able-bodied people who are working very hard, and still don’t have enough money cover basic living expenses.

    • chezami

      Hatefilled killers? The voices in your head are talking to you.

      Paul is not writing the First Epistle to the Americans. He is telling those in the household of faith to not sit around waiting for the parousia but to work so that they can contribute to the common good.

      Jesus addresses our responsibility to those outside the household of faith: “Give to him who asks”. Period. No litmus test on being “deserving”. Meanwhile, the Church is clear and you are wrong. The right to property is not absolute. The universal destination of goods takes priority. Precisely *why* water is being rationed in California is that the common good demands that human life comes first and secondary needs such as Nestle profit come second.

      Its funny how, when people are defending the indefensible, they attribute all this violent “hatefilled killer” language to the people who demonstrating their error. Lawyers call it “pounding the table.”

      • Na

        water is being rationed in California because of nut job environmentalists who believe the “right” climate is the exact moment Al Gore was born.

        “Give to him who asks.” Period. Really? I am sure if I send you my address, you will quickly forward a big fat check. Right? I mean God doesn’t want anyone to consider circumstances, context, consequences, or opportunity cost. Christianity is just about obeying not utilizing gifts God has provided?

        • chezami

          Water is being rationed in California because there is a drought.

          “Really?” Yes. Really. It’s right there in Matthew 5. “The gospel takes away our right forever to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” – Dorothy Day.

          • Na

            Ok…so why haven’t you sent me a nice big check yet? Maybe deep down in your heart, you don’t really believe that prudence is a vice either.

            Environmentalist care more about the smelt fish than the poor.

      • ManyMoreSpices

        He is telling those in the household of faith to not sit around waiting for the parousia but to work so that they can contribute to the common good.

        I’m constantly amazed that anyone thinks this is a good argument. The argument being that Paul objected to not working because you think Christ is about to descend from Heaven, but was cool with general sloth. It like you’re imagining that this conversation took place:

        Thessalonian: “Hey Paul, help us out. We’ve got a problem. Some people in our community aren’t working.”

        Paul: “That is a problem. What’s their excuse?”

        Thessalonian: “Well there are two excuses really. Half of these folks say that Jesus is about to return, so there’s no point in working.”

        Paul: “That’s absurd. Tell them to get to work, and if they don’t work they don’t eat. How about the other half?”

        Thessalonian: “Oh the other half’s just lazy.”

        Paul: “That’s fine. As a matter of fact, let those guys cut to the front of the chow line.”

  • We had an analogous case in New Zealand a year or two ago. A woman – very poor, Polynesian, very fat – relied on some sort of powered breathing-assist machine. Her problems were certainly exacerbated by bad family practices. Her power bill was left unpaid for six weeks or something – I forget the details. I think it was claimed that the family didn’t even know about it. Power company pulled the plug. She died in a few hours.

    Now when you apply for power, you are supposed to tick a box saying that you have medically-critical equipment connected to the power.


    • johnwhytenz

      I know the case with the woman, I was working in an electricity call centre (Genesis) at the time.
      What wasn’t widely reported is that she died two hours later, but nobody in the family called an ambulance, called the power company back to say the machine was in use, they sat and sang to their auntie until the inevitable happened. (there is a discussion about whether the lady mentioned it to the contractor who came out to perform the disconnection, and I’ve always been inclined to believe the contractor who said no mention of the machine was made in his discussion with her on site).

      It was always the law that you couldn’t turn the power off if electricity was necessary for someones health, but this fact was widely repeated in the days following the incident and the power companies bent over backwards to inform their customers of this.

      What then happened was a number of chronic bad debtors of the power company I worked for promptly claimed they had medical equipment of a similar sort and promptly ran up power bills without trying to pay for them. It reached the point that the power company hired private investigators to investigate the equipment at their 100 worst outstanding customers in this category. 99 of them were found to have no such devices, nor any evidence that there ever were any. The remaining 1 customer slammed the door on the investigator and threw things at him out the window.

      A majority of these customers were not poor and downtrodden, they were intelligent persons who had the money to pay (of the 99, over 80 paid their arrears in full when disconnection day arrived later on) so devising a system to help those most in need without being taken advantage of is complex.

  • More than a year or two ago – eight years ago, apparently:


  • Na

    perhaps the catholics who support these policies realize that no one is going to be seriously harmed for a lack of water and there has to be a way to get people’s attention. Worse comes to worse and you are really thirsty, go to a library, school, mall, police station or hospital. My goodness it is illegal to deny anyone healthcare. I am sure they provide anyone with water who needs it.

    shouldn’t we be celebrating that the “thug” baltimore police officers have been reigned in? Of course, this has led to 19 shootings in just two days. But we feel good about ourselves and I am sure all the protestors and commentators will be just as angry.

  • BHG

    Good points, Mark. Your proposed solution?

    • Joseph

      If the government requires payment for the infrastructure, increase income taxes and take it out of that. Or some other tax, like capital gains tax. That would ensure that the infrastructure gets paid for without getting into the situation where people lose their access to water for *non-payment*. For years, money for the water infrastructure has been taken out of other taxes here in Ireland. Unfortunately, the government here is taking a lot of cues from the US and is moving towards the same system where, inevitably, water will be restricted to those who can pay directly for it.

  • JmcBoots

    Free water for everyone!! Let those evil 1-percenters pay for the infrastructure that collects the water, gets it purified and to our houses! And why do we even need that all the western civilization infrastructure anyway? It was only created to support evil capitalism. Why don’t we ditch all that evil and live like the folks in India, or Africa, or South America? Stupid America….

    • chezami

      The voices in your head are talking to you. You should have that looked at.

      • JmcBoots

        For a “Catholic” man, you sure spend a lot of time putting people down with baseless attacks.

        • chezami

          Physician, heal thyself.

  • Shawna Mathieu

    As someone who’s been in dire financial straits and, at one time or another, have dealt with shut-off utilities, let me explain why “just go to a charity and get help” does not instantly fix the problem. What I’m describing are things I’ve observed with charities for food and health care.
    1. Charitable organizations are limited by the amount of funds that are donated to them. If they don’t get enough donations, they have to shut down. When I was given lists of charities that helped people pay bills, it was not uncommon to find that 1/4 to 1/2 of the listed charities either no longer existed or no longer provided utility assistance. They’re almost all staffed with volunteers, and if they don’t have volunteers on hand, they can’t help people efficiently or at all.
    2. Charitable organizations usually have restrictions on who they help, and how much they can help. Some restrictions I’ve seen are race, family size, involvement in and with the organization, immigration status, etc.. Many can only help with slightly overdue bills, can only help with bills under a certain amount (under $100) and many DO NOT help with already shut off services.
    3. It is NOT easy to apply for aid. Many of these groups are located in areas of town that are not easy to reach, especially if you don’t have a vehicle or have a disability. Several require standing in line for hours, starting before sunrise. Many have restrictions as to how many people they can help per day – 10 seems to be common. Sometimes you’re given a phone number and are told to call at a certain time of the day – the first X many people to call in get services. Again, most have limited budgets, so once they’re out of money for the week or the month, that’s it – no more help.
    4. Many organizations require large amounts of paperwork and quite a bit of documentation before you can be considered. They don’t always communicate what they need before you arrive, and if you’re missing some form of documentation, you’re out of luck.
    5. it is VERY rare to be able to get the bill paid and services turned back on in one day. The usual procedure is to arrive in the morning, wait in line, be given an application to fill out and return along with required paperwork. You’re told to come back in a few hours. A few hours later, you return, wait for a long time for an interview. Frequently, you do NOT know right away whether or not you will get help, and you will have to return or call back in order to find out. For obvious reasons, cash is not usually disbursed – either you’re issued a voucher that you take to the utility company, or the charity contacts the company and pays the company directly. If your utility has been shut off, you will have to wait until the payment makes its way through the system AND someone has been dispatched to physically turn the service on – which can taken 12-48 hours.
    6. Many organizations have limits on how often they can or will help people. Some will only help a person or family out once in a lifetime. Some can only help once or, at most, a few times a year, so you’re out of luck if you have chronic financial problems. Very, very, VERY few organizations are able to help people make long-term changes to their situations.
    Many people commenting here seem to be mystified why people let their bills go unpaid so long. Well, there are a couple of reasons. People rarely are letting every single one of their bills go unpaid – they are usually forced to play “musical bills”, letting some go while they pay others. This leads to late charges that jack up bills even more.
    People do ask friends and families for help – it is frequently limited. It is embarrassing and humiliating to do so, and it is ten times worse once the bill has been shut off. Getting help from a faceless charity and asking strangers for help is even worse, mostly because of the attitudes our society gives to the poor – they’re being lazy, shiftless, it’s all their fault, they’re taking money from the taxpayers, etc. etc. etc. All that shame makes it rather hard to get help.
    People need to keep these issues in mind before they just blithely throw off “oh, people can just go get help from a charity” as the instant fix. These groups don’t exist in a vacuum – they need your support, whether with your time or with donations.
    Groups don’t get a lot of funding or volunteers because, frequently, the same people who complain about how they “don’t want their tax dollars” going to government programs to help the needy don’t donate to charities either. It’s rather interesting that the poor donate their money and time more readily to charities than the middle and upper class. They’re aware of how critical that help is.

    • Petee

      thank you for that Shawna.

      “It’s rather interesting that the poor donate their money and time more readily to charities than the middle and upper class.”

      this has been my observation also. panhandlers are never seen on park avenue here in nyc. they know better.

    • WORD. Exactly right.

  • kirtking

    How a list of exactly what should be free to all persons, as their right? It appears the list is housing (including utilities), food, clothing, education, including college, medical care. I am sure I have missed something. But your interpretation of the laws of economics is in error. You no more change the laws of economics than you change the laws of gravity. You can defy them, at a cost. Now, what is the cost going to be and should that be imposed on society?

    • ivan_the_mad

      “I am sure I have missed something.” You have – neither the Church nor Mark said it should be free. The Church does teach us that “the right to safe drinking water is a universal and inalienable right”.

      • ManyMoreSpices

        I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how anyone can force you to pay for something to which you have an inalienable right. If you have an inalienable right to something, no one can ever deny you access to it, regardless of whether you pay for it. If they could deny you access to it for the reason that you didn’t pay, that right would be… alienable.

        Now as the recipient of the fruits of someone’s labor (clean water delivered to your home), you have a duty to pay for it. But if you fail in that duty, the response can’t be to turn your water off. Because that’s an inalienable right.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Indeed. Failure beyond one’s control is one thing, but failure ostensibly within one’s control (e.g., being a spendthrift) is another matter. I’m not sure what the best approach is for the latter case, but I’d err on the side of not denying one of the prime necessities of life.

          • A strategic network of somewhat inconvenient public fountains should reduce the death toll to zero while keeping the deterrent effect that shut offs have to treat debts seriously.

            In my own case, my local library and my local supermarket both have water fountains within a mile or two of my house. Detroit and Baltimore may not be so richly blessed with publicly available water sources but nobody seems to be doing the work to actually investigate. I wish that they did.

      • What’s being missed is that Mark is either misapplying the teaching or doing an uncharacteristically bad job at explaining his position.

        What is being shut off is water delivered to your residence or place of business. To access the water system, you need to walk to the nearest public water fountain and stock up there. Whether there is a public fountain within reasonable distance is a question that none of these stories seem to cover. I suspect that few have to travel as far as women in the 3rd world routinely do to access their local water but I personally pass no definitive judgment on the morals of the actions taken to shut off delinquent payers in the system until I actually know it is so.

        In the case of Detroit, half of the delinquent accounts settled right after the shut off notice was issued. This is not a bad thing. I cheer when people who have the resources to pay their bills actually pay their bills.

        Of the others, setting up a payment plan stopped shut off proceedings and the water company essentially was happy to provide no interest loans until the delinquency was paid back. I would be surprised if Baltimore is any different.

        So given those details, why the high dudgeon? Why is access to water sufficient to survive falsely equated to water delivery to your residence without paying for the convenience? It is the former that should not be shut off while the latter is what is being shut off.

  • The Catechism Compendium of the Social Doctrine document is not quite on point or at least your use of it is not on point. In both cases, Baltimore and Detroit, the water is being shut off by the state, not a private company. I haven’t yet examined the case of Baltimore but in Detroit, so many people neglect to pay their water bills that the cost for water is double the US average because deferred maintenance over a period of decades has made the system so leaky.

    I suspect that the problem is a divergence in the used definition of the term access. Everybody has access to the water system. Nobody is denied access because they are not the right ethnicity or belong to the wrong party. Clean water is universally accessible in these US jurisdictions.

    If there is any fault to be laid generally, it is that too many Catholics are trusting the state to rationally pursue its delinquent accounts. In both Baltimore and Detroit, the large delinquencies that should be pursued first are being pursued last. This is a legitimate issue of political favoritism. Had the big payers been called to account first and consistently, there would be less need to pressure the delinquent poor in order to relieve the non-delinquent poor from carrying their load.

    • Joseph

      It’s actually much worse that the State is shutting off the water. Water is a human right… because it’s a basic need (not a want). The fact that the State is engaging in depriving citizens of a basic need is a real problem. The cost for water should be included in an income tax, never as a separate charge or levy.
      Corporations in control of water would be much worse. They would have cut the water off a long time ago.

      • Nobody is dying of lack of water in Detroit and Baltimore will likely be the same. A certain quantity of water is necessary for life. This is true. Beyond that quantity, water is a want, not a need. If you choose to not pay your water bill, a shutoff is not necessarily a violation of the teaching. Care should be exercised so that nobody dies but a first world existence for free is not a human right.

        The convenience of water in your living quarters or place of business is not a requirement for life. That’s what’s being cut off here. If you can walk to a free public water fountain and stock up there, hauling water back home, you are no worse off than a major chunk of the 3rd world and better off than a depressingly large chunk of it because that public water fountain will dispense clean water.

        We pay water bills separately because water is a service with a fixed cost and a variable cost and we predictably engage in massive waste when water is free or priced too low. It’s a legitimate stewardship problem, one that any alternate payment system has to provide a solution for, otherwise it makes the situation worse, not better. Water paid by income tax will lead to tyranny or the taps running dry.

    • Gunnar Thalweg

      I have a friend who has run into this problem. Essentially, she has to pay, but they haven’t cut off the water. She has to go to court and come up with a payment plan.

      WIth both power and water, cutting it off can lead, in many circumstances, to death. That’s one side. The other side is that people cannot simply declare they have a right to your stuff, to force you to pay for them.The Church teaches a distinction between emergencies, between the use of private and public charity, and mooching.

      One thing that shocked me initially about this post was the seemingly lack of common sense. I have all my life, even prior to being Catholic, found the Church if nothing else extremely rational and extremely nuanced and full of plain-old horse sense. You dig into its positions and it ends up reasonable.

      It’s one thing to say we have duties to all members of our community and to the common good. It’s another thing to say someone has an absolute claim on your property and labor. The Church, as usual, is in between. Someone cannot deny you water if you are dying, if it’s an emergency — basically, in any situation where a reasonable person would never deny you water, anyway. But if you won’t pay your fair share, or if public/private charity is available, you cannot take others’ stuff.

      • Making sure that people don’t die for lack of water is so ingrained in the US that most places it’s taken for granted. We don’t think about what are the requirements to make sure that people don’t die for lack of water. Having your water cut off from your residence doesn’t mean you’ll die. As Catholics we should make sure that places like Detroit haven’t let that underexamined emergency water system decay to uselessness. But that’s not the same as water service to your home.

  • TapestryGarden

    I understand your point but a) this was a government decision, not that of a private organization or individual. Further it turns out that many people simply didn’t pay their bills, even if they had funds to do so since this was not enforced. When the water was turned off a lot of the bills were paid. Certainly there should be accommodation for those who truly cannot afford to pay just as we have for our other utilities. But if a person has resources to pay their own bills, they should take responsibility and pay them rather than just blowing it off since no one came after them in the past.