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The King’s Cornmeal – How to avoid the Road to Serfdom

This is a fable about an all-powerful king and a trouble-making serf who was, like the rest of the serfs totally dependent upon the whims of the king, not an unusual situation. Rufus the 15th ruled with a capricious hand, collecting taxes from helpless serfs and doling out cornmeal from his castle high on the mountain top.

Every year at doling-out time, the serfs would gather at the foot of the mountain whereupon King Rufus would appear surrounded by his courtiers comprised of lawyers and engineers. Each serf would come one at a time to pay the burdensome taxes. King Rufus would take a few moments away from his favorite pastime of counting the gold in his treasury to have his courtiers give bags of cornmeal to certain serfs, while ignoring others, often meeting in secret with the favored ones. The line of serfs stretched for miles as each waited in turn, hoping this year would be better than last. From dawn to dark they all waited patiently, except for one serf named I. N. O’vaitor. We’ll call him by his first name, Ivan.

Ivan had a reputation as a trouble maker. He just didn’t conform to the king-serf structure. Taxes were assessed on delivery to their houses, even though they picked up their cornmeal at the castle.  He had tried to work within the system by applying for a larger share of cornmeal each year as his family grew, but to no avail.  He had even hired his own lawyers and engineers from among the serfs, but they were no match for King Rufus, the 15th and his legions of engineers and lawyers.

You see, every bit of land suitable for growing corn was owned by the King. So Ivan could not even grow corn on a small plot of his own. Then disaster struck and a worm infested the King’s corn. Less and less corn became available for the serfs. The King and his court kept most of the harvest. Starvation was imminent. Something had to be done.

Ivan had heard about growing corn in water. They had plenty of water. He tried a small experiment. A fellow serf saw a stalk of corn growing in a pot of water In Ivan’s house. He asked Ivan, “what’s that?” Ivan answered, “that plant is a stalk of corn I am calling my ‘pilot plant’.  It’s a single stalk of corn in a jar of water fed with nutrients I dug out of the ground from a barren hillside. It worked.” Ivan took the two ears of corn grown on the pilot plant, dried them and then ground the kernels –making cornmeal.

News traveled fast about I.N. O’vaitor’s new process. The king heard about it and became very angry since the serfs were the source of his wealth. He had to stop it somehow, but his engineers and lawyers were also getting hungry. Their cornmeal rations had been cut, but not the King’s.

Before any action could be taken to restrict the production of corn anywhere but on the King’s land, thousands of serf’s grew corn in water jugs to make cornmeal. They did not need the King’s corn any longer. In time, the King’s lawyers and engineers joined the community of serfs to improve the process. While the King’s corn withered and died, the serf’s corn grew and prospered. Tax income withered like the King’s corn.

The moral of this fable is when a serf is entirely dependent upon an arrogant and capacious king for cornmeal, the solution is to avoid the road to serfdom, be cornmeal independent and live happily ever after.

The above may sound silly, but it is not far from the relationship between the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the “King” and the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA). Jerry Kern, Oceanside councilman and SDCWA board member, wrote about that relationship in an op-ed piece in the San Diego Union Tribune on Saturday June 15, 2013. Quoting the article, “MWD has been the dominant purveyor of imported water to this region for most of its history, acting as a secret, shadow government. It created an impenetrable megalith that did as it wished until the SDCWA dared to guarantee its own source of this vital resource and secure its own water supply [like Ivan the trouble-maker]…….San Diego, while buying one-third of MWD’s water, only had one –sixth of the votes on its board…..San Diego is now trying to give us a fair rate on wheeling the water to San Diego. (Wheeling means transporting water through the unused capacity of the MWD system)…..In 2009 MWD went from being arrogant to clandestine. Member agencies began to meet in secret to discuss San Diego’s rate challenge.”

All the SDCWA has to do to avoid the road to serfdom is to put their time talents and resources into indirect potable water recycling or reuse (IPR) to become water independent. It will be a challenge to fund an estimated $2.2 billion dollars to build a 250 million gallon a day IPR plant and provide a pipeline to the San Vicente Reservoir. But the results will be enormously beneficial to San Diego’s socio-economic future. The serfs in the story faced starvation. The residents of San Diego County face an uncertain future due to the tenuous nature of the water sources being piped from hundreds of miles away subject to natural disasters. And keep in mind, the agreement between the San Diego County Water Authority and MWD is, if Los Angeles needs the water, San Diego will suffer. As Jerry Kern said in his piece, “….MWD’s arcane “preferential rights” policy…gives the Los Angeles region privileged access to MWD’s water during a drought. About 85 percent of San Diego’s water supplies came (in 1995) from MWD. Los Angeles’ need for backup water in a drought could balloon from 34 percent to 65 percent or more.”

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