Monday, May 18

South Africa and electricity

A South African named Mike Smith blogs about the tribulations of life in that country.  Short answer:  A bigger version of Detroit.

Just as thousands of Detroit residents stopped paying their water and trash bills (and property taxes) but expected the city would continue providing water and trash service (as well as fire protection), a huge chunk of South Africans haven't paid an electric bill in years.  Others have never had an account but have electricity by making their own connection.

Now as it happens, all the electricity in South Africa is generated by one company.  Which is totally owned by the government.  So the government makes every decision about electricity.

And since Apartheid ended in 1994--just over 20 years ago--the government has been run by the all-black African National Congress.

I'll bet you can see where this is going.  That's right:  The ANC is claiming it's all George Bush's fault!

Just kidding.  But what's serious is that the country is now short of both electricity and the revenue needed to build any more powerplants.  Shortages are forecast in a month or so.

The response?  Residents formed the "Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee," which has as its core principle the notion that electricity must be free.  Members accept that it costs money to generate electricity, but claim that's irrelevant because the ANC "promised free electricity to people who needed it."  (I knew you could see where this was headed.)

No one knows just when this promise was made but it appears to hark back to the first open elections in 1994, which the ANC was determined to win.

Apparently Soweto residents owe something like 8 billion rand (about $700 million) in electricity bills.  But no one in the ANC is even thinking about cutting them off.

Of course when electricity is "free," people have no incentive to conserve.  Why bother switching the lights off if it's free?  So while raising the price of electricity would normally cut consumption--in accordance with well-known laws of economics--that tactic is utterly useless on people who refuse to pay but demand electricity anyway.

And they continue to get it because the communist government wants their votes.

But don't worry, Americans--your government could never make you pay for a good or service provided to someone else.  That's just right-wing crazy-talk!  It would clearly be un-,,, un-...

That's odd...I was searching for a word that used to be quite familiar to most of us as recently as five or six years ago.  But now it seems to have completely vanished.

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