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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4543/the-bureaucrat-in-your-shower/

The Bureaucrat in Your Shower

January 10, 2006 by

As with all regulations, the restriction on how much water can pour over your person while standing in a shower is ultimately enforced at the point of a gun. Manufacturers must adhere to these regulations under penalty of law, and to be on the safe side, and adjust for high-water pressure systems, they typically undershoot. But: some companies have found a way around it. Also: this article includes information on how you can hack your shower. But I am not advocating that you do anything that would violate federal law or otherwise endanger your status as a law-abiding citizen who takes wimpy showers. FULL ARTICLE


Keith G. Derrick January 10, 2006 at 9:50 pm


What sort uses of your water are you prohibited from under penalty of Federal law.

I’m just curious.

rob January 10, 2006 at 9:53 pm

A well-written article, even if I had to stop mid-way through and say that I didn’t agree with your initial premise. Sadly, I have to admit that I had always thought that most showers were too aggressive, but recently have found more that are comfortable than not. While I do encounter pressure more akin to spit than shower from time to time, I must say that you must be approaching “showers as extreme sports” if you are finding fault with most of what is out there. Either that, or you just don’t bother taking showers.

Vince Daliessio January 10, 2006 at 10:08 pm


The federal statute we are discussing here prohibits me from buying a certain type of shower head or toilet. I am also enjoined by my state from watering my lawn or washing my car at certain times.

As it happens, although my wife insisted on a full-flow showerhead, I left my own restrictor in place (I have a lot less hair than she does).

Roy W. Wright January 10, 2006 at 10:15 pm

Bill, you may not realize this, but just about everyone here agrees with your main argument: water is precious and scarce and it would be best for all concerned if it were conserved. A very effective and fair way to conserve water would be to let it be bought and sold at market prices. A much less effective — not to mention viscerally unsatisfactory — strategy is to regulate its usage.

Dewaine January 10, 2006 at 10:18 pm

Proof that gov’t subsidies result in waste and misuse of resources: fly from Phoenix, AZ to Las Vegas sometime during the day in the summer, and look below at the massive cultivation of crops — in the middle of a desert! No one should ever defend gov’t as a protector of the environment; its subsidies have resulted in the mass dumpage of water into rocky soil at evaporative 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures, to the point that unnatural crops (for the region) and golf courses can be groomed with impunity.

Roy W. Wright January 10, 2006 at 10:19 pm

Also, when you said “Water is, in fact, a non-renewable resource… The amount of water on this planet is finite,” I’m not sure whom you were addressing, since no one has argued that the water on Earth isn’t finite.

Pete Canning January 10, 2006 at 10:22 pm

Water may be finite, but taking a shower does not destroy water. The entire point is moot.

aussie bloke January 10, 2006 at 10:45 pm

feel glad you dont live in australia, we live with water restrictions all the time, and i am not just talking about out in the middle of the dessert. The big capital cities near the ocean still have water restrictions.


Keith G. Derrick January 10, 2006 at 10:53 pm


Thanks! I just wanted to know the other restrictions placed on you by your state.

jim January 11, 2006 at 2:55 am

I did hack a showerhead just to get a decent flow of water. It’s easy to do. Now won’t somone please tell me how to do the same with the gubmint controlled toilets that *save water*? The newer variety of toilets don’t flush the first go around and often require 3 or 4 cycles to get clean enough that you may want to reenter that bathroom some day. Saving water? I don’t think so.

J January 11, 2006 at 4:20 am

Perhaps you should read the BBC’s report http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3747724.stm – of particular interest is the graph “Water use around the World”. North Americans have a blatant disregard for the rest of the planet.

Nathan Shepperd January 11, 2006 at 5:56 am

That is nonsense, because North America just happens to have plenty of water. Blame the weather for favouring people in temperate zones if you like, but it’s a bizarre notion that some people use water at the expense of someone else.
In a lot of places the problem isn’t that there is a lack of actual water, it’s more that the economic devlopment is so stunted there is no investment in efficient or effective water processing. The reason some people have to carry water for miles is that there is no delivery system. In Africa the problem is down to corrupt government and no capital.

Mike January 11, 2006 at 7:39 am

“What’s the big deal? What critical matter of American public life is at stake?”

Right on! Goddamm it, no pinko commie bureaucrat is going to tell me I can’t pour precious natural resources down the drain at the rate /I/ demand! Who cares if it screws the world over, that is something my seven God-fearing kids can fix once we are dead and gone.

This is our way of life at stake here and it is damm well non-negotiable!

Bidera January 11, 2006 at 7:58 am

Great article!

I do believe in Europe the regulations are less strict than in US and showers while less frequent are much more enjoyable.

Anyone have any extra info on differences between EU and US regulations?

PR January 11, 2006 at 8:11 am

Mike, if the resources were truly that precious, they would be more expensive and people would have a real economic incentive to conserve. But when water is subsidized by the government, people who do conserve are forced to pay those who don’t–hardly a way to encourage efficient usage of “precious natural resources.”

As an example, it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat. If this cost wasn’t subsidized by taxpayers, hamburger would be $35/pound.

No private owner could ever afford to be as wasteful as the feds.

Larry January 11, 2006 at 8:46 am

This entire article reads like a 10-year-old’s rant against his parents’ curfew. If you want to rail on government regulation, pick something important!

Anyone who cares at all about their shower volume has already been modifying showerheads for years . . . ergo the current system works fine. Those who really want it get it, and those who don’t don’t waste it.

And the idea of the price system sorting out water conservation is utterly ridiculous. Do you really want a world where those who can afford it (presumably you assume this group to include yourself) are spending $2/gallon to fuel a triple-headed shower, while those less fortunate are reducing their fluid intake, or worse, drinking unprocessed water, because they can’t afford the price?

Water is used for a lot more things than hosing down fat white people, after all.

Keith G. Derrick January 11, 2006 at 9:08 am


Hmm…“Do we really want a price system to sort our water conservation?”


Just like I want the price system sorting out essentials like food!

PR January 11, 2006 at 9:08 am

Larry, there are plenty of other articles on this site that illustrate the adverse effects of “important” government regulation. The purpose of this one was to show that even the trivial regulations have unintended consequences, invariably leading to cries for even more regulations to clean up the mess.

And of course the price system should sort out water conservation. Would you rather poor people pay $0.10 a gallon for their own use plus $1.90 in taxes to hose down some rich white person?

Keith G. Derrick January 11, 2006 at 9:43 am

Sudha summed it up best in an earlier post:

Only the State could produce a black market in shower heads.

Alex MacMillan January 11, 2006 at 10:08 am

Here in Ontario Canada, a number of years ago, agents of the local water authority actually came into my home (while only my wife was home, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten past the doorstep) and removed my existing shower heads, replacing them with those of the “correct flow” variety. In addition, they put a brick in each of our toilet tanks.

Needless to say, the bricks were taken out within minutes of my return home and I was able to still find desirable flow shower heads to purchase at the local hardware store. Fortunately, I didn’t have annual inspections and so far I have managed to stay out of prison.

Person January 11, 2006 at 11:04 am

As an example, it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat. If this cost wasn’t subsidized by taxpayers, hamburger would be $35/pound.

Please make order-of-magnitude estimates of absurd statistics before repeating them. Take an average American’s meat consumption at 2 lb/week (low estimate). This would put annual meat-water subsidy at:

$35/lb*2lb/person-week*52 week/year*300million people= over $1 trillion!

Now, whatever your thoughts about the issues, whatever your estimates of government spending, hopefully you realize the government does not spend one tenth of GDP (or the entire amount of the federal budget) on water subsidies.

PR January 11, 2006 at 11:24 am

Person, you are right of course. My apologies for choosing such a bad example.

Dana January 11, 2006 at 11:50 am

While I agree with you that the state is overwhelmingly adamant about stopping the business, or enforcing the law, which ever you prefer, I have to agree with them in one aspect. I don’t think the problem is the size of the shower head. The true problem lies in the millions of people, that use fresh water for their showers. It may seem insignificant to try and curb the gallons/per minute of certain shower heads, but the fact that fresh water is becoming quiet scarce, makes it something to be considered. You stated how we are one of the most showered nations in the world, so when taking that into consideration, we soon may not have any freshwater for things that are more important, such as water to drink. Now, you may argue that we have many methods of producing fresh water. I can’t say that I’m the most educated on the matter, but because treating water, and desalting ocean water doesn’t seem to yield enough good water, we are forced to take from the scarce-becoming underground natural reserves. Well, I suppose this is all fine and well, until you consider the booming population. I could go on, but I guess to make my point, eventually you may be thanking the government, as anal as they may be right now, because you’ll have water to sustain you later.

Vince Daliessio January 11, 2006 at 11:52 am

Larry says;

“Anyone who cares at all about their shower volume has already been modifying showerheads for years . . . ergo the current system works fine. Those who really want it get it, and those who don’t don’t waste it.”

So you are saying that inane yet immoral regulations are OK if everyone ignores them? What kind of logic is that?

Vince Daliessio January 11, 2006 at 11:56 am


Last I checked, most municipal supplies rely on surface water. New York City, for example, uses the Croton Reservoir in West Chester County, and does not even treat it. Surface waters have actually gotten much cleaner in recent years, and, thanks to global warming, more plentiful in many areas (TIC). Anyway, it’s all moot – economic use of water is automatic when there is a free market, otherwise bureaucrats have to resort to silly stuff like this to control usage.

Clay Routh January 11, 2006 at 12:02 pm

Where do the regulator’s logic stem from? The toilet fiasco is a case in point. I moved into a “newly remodelled” apartment. It was nice but the toilet.. I had to flush it two or three times. Everytime. Even more if someone with a highly active colon visited. Now, when I lease, I look first at the bathrooms and don’t bother if they don’t have good old fashioned crappers.

Carla January 11, 2006 at 12:38 pm

I’m going to “modify” my old-fashioned shower head tonight

I, for one, welcome the SWAT team ;)

I think that if I had higher water pressure, my very long thick hair would get cleaner, faster, and I’d use less water than I do now, standing under the water for a long time trying to get the shampoo out of my hair.

Larry N. Martin January 11, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Where are these people coming from, and are they bothering to read the posts that come before theirs? They ask questions that have already been answered in the thread!
Stop wasting internet resources and please read before posting. Thank you.

I could go on, but I guess to make my point, eventually you may be thanking the government, as anal as they may be right now, because you’ll have water to sustain you later.

Already answered in this very thread, Dana. The point is that government regulations like this are not effective at conserving water, but instead will cause people to waste even more water, among other unintended consequences. Whereas, without the excessive regs and subsidies, people would pay the true costs of supplying water to their homes, and will have plenty of incentive to conserve if the water is, in fact, scarce.
Government intervention in economic matters is the problem, not the solution.

steve January 11, 2006 at 2:01 pm

Where are these people coming from, and are they bothering to read the posts that come before theirs? They ask questions that have already been answered in the thread!

They’re coming from Fark.com. The economics of the article is missed by almost all of the posters on that site. Here’s a link to their discussion on this article.


g;em January 11, 2006 at 3:43 pm

Mr. Nash et al,

I will pay others subsidies with no complaint as long as they pay mine with no complaint.

Roy W. Wright January 11, 2006 at 3:50 pm

Wow, a Mises article made Fark? I used to post there (screenname: MrWright), but tired of the ignorance of the vast majority of Farkers — whether they agreed with me or not, sadly.

Dr. K January 11, 2006 at 4:38 pm

Sure, sure, everybody’s on the antiregulation train until the well runs dry. Then we can learn to enjoy drinking the benzene and PCB-laced beverages leaching from our unregulated landfills into the water table. And then of course we’ll blame the government for not having done anything about it.

Alex MacMillan January 11, 2006 at 4:53 pm

The problem, Dr. K, as is the water case here, is when the government does do something. The government, in its wisdom, under-prices water. Which action then, oops, causes people to use too much water relative to supply. Omigosh! A water shortage! Then the government says, “We’ll fix that. We’ll just regulate, one way or another (other than through prices) how much water people can use.” Silly nonsense.

Bill Nash January 11, 2006 at 5:40 pm

“Hmm…I remember reading a Russell Roberts article that said in 1970 there was 531 billion barrels of crude oil reserves in the world with 16.5 billion barrels of annual consumption. So we should have run out of oil around the year 2000. However, by the year 2000 there was actually 1 trillion barrels of crude oil reserves with 26 billion in actual consumption. So we have like 40 years of consumption left.

So how come we didn’t run out?”

There are several theories about this, including evidence of previously tapped oil wells *refilling*. A particular work called ‘Deep Hot Biosphere’ sticks out as a notable approach to the concept.

As for water being finite, there’s more than one element to consider than just the amount of water available. Yes, it’s constantly diminishing, as an effect of photosynthesis, breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen, plants release oxygen as waste. Oxygen is consumed as a catalyst in various other processes, add a timeline, et voila: At some point in the distant future, we will all be living on our own version of Mars. Unless there’s a natural fusion process somewhere that I’m not aware of (which is entirely possible (though it just occurred to me that maybe hydrogen fuel cells really are a great idea.))

The other, and more important, finite resources are delivery and desalination capacities, especially in very heavily populated areas.
Add to this the resources required to purify water, mitigate the risk of industrial contamination, and just the sheer energy costs involved in distribution. Much of this cost is eaten by the municipalities responsible for delivery. It comes out of a budget somewhere, the same budget that pays little things like public school teacher salaries.

Take the ‘drop in a bucket’ premise, and suppose 30-40% of homeowners have removed flow limiters from their shower heads, effectively doubling the flow rate during what’s probably the largest water consumption period of the day by humans[1][2]. Average eight to ten minutes for a shower on your shower head of choice, how much energy is required to simply move that water? How much of it is from gravity feeds, and how much is high voltage electrical pumps? How does that cost breakdown in power consumption during peak periods? How much power is drawn at waste reclamation facilities to handle that flow rate? What would a 30-40% reduction during peak periods amount to, in actual dollars? If that number is insignificant, I’ll happily STFU. If it’s enough to afford at least a few more teachers per school, per grade level..

There’s been some valid points raised in response to my rhetoric, and I acknowledge that I’m winging in from left field a bit with an extremist perspective. However, most people don’t consider the effects that little actions add up to, especially when you apply the internet as an accelerator to social memes. Some things that really aren’t problems are suddenly noticed by some, only because they were pointed out. It’s akin to so-called victimless crimes.

Applying economic regulation to water usage doesn’t work for everyone, especially once you get to the lowest common denominator where the price will be felt the most. I think the balance is in reducing the amount of subsidization required to maintain lower costs, as a simple factor of increasing efficiency. This means reducing usage per capita, eliminating waste, and applying discipline both fiscally and environmentally.

[1] I’m pulling that 30-40% figure out of my ass, it’s not backed up by any actual fact
[2] Maybe some rampant toilet flushing after lunch.

Vince Daliessio January 11, 2006 at 6:15 pm

The standard FARK-ument;

“Therefore, it is in the public interest to pipe clean drinking water to every American household, and to provide it at a price that every American (even the poorest minimum-wage-earner with ten kids) can easily afford. Because otherwise their kids will be filthy and they’ll spread diseases and the whole society suffers as a result.”

“EXACTLY. This is why we rely on the government to distribute food – we can’t leave it up to the dirty free market or millions of Americans would starve!”

” the Libertarian argument leads to a conclusion where the richest people can afford to waste limited resources while the poorest are priced out of essential utilities.”

“A fallacy, complete and utter BS. Utilities are invariably government-enforced monopolies, run directly by government or its exclusive licensee, the monopoly effect of which keeps prices artificially HIGH. That’s why cities and states then have to subsidize their systems – to avoid pricing the poor out of their cozy monopoly distribution scheme, QED. ”

Hey, I tried. Good to see the Mises Blog is keeping its resolution to get out more in 2006!

Vince Daliessio January 11, 2006 at 6:32 pm

BTW, let me stipulate that I LOVE FARK, as it is unparallelled as a source of general interest material for my own LibertyGuys.org, rivaled only by the also superb BoingBoing as a source for cool tech and general interest political outrage stories.

Of course for meat and potatoes we rely on Mises, LRC, and Antiwar, as well as our local rags , The Delaware County Daily Times, The Philadelphia Daily News, and the Gloucester County (NJ) Times.

Pertty well-read I’d say we are!

Doug January 11, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Mr. Tucker:

Wonderful article about the silliness of our government, not to mention the unintended consequences. I noticed on a business trip several years ago, in an economy motel in Los Vegas that my shower was luxuriance with mountains of water and an unending supply of warmth, and looking our my window there was just desert. But just a week later in Seattle, WA my shower at the same motel chain was anemic and looking out my window I saw almost continuous rain, resulting in swollen streams and rivers.

Our government believes one law fits all. How untrue and misguided. I fixed my shower problems several years ago with a drill bit just 1/8″ larger that the inside of my new shower head.

Stay clean and prosper.

Doug Sizemore

Knoxville, TN

PS to the guys listening in the government: Take a shower and get a life.

Guivin January 11, 2006 at 9:33 pm

While I really hate the idea of big government–CRY ME A RIVER!

Why on earth are you complaining about SHOWER HEADS when the government already has put into place a bill that will create an internal passport system inside the United States (The RealID Act)?

Or renewing clauses in the Patriot Act that will take away the few amendments we have left from the Bill of Rights?

Like, aren’t there a lot more areas where the government is invading our privacy every day that are a lot more serious?

Water is easily the most valuable resource on the planet, you don’t have a RIGHT to squander something that does not belong to anyone, just so you can take a 2 hour luxuriant shower every day. Get used to it! People in the middle ages didn’t even bathe more than once a year, often. We’re spoiled consumers who can’t give up our habits, even if they’re costing everyone in the long run. Using gallons of water so that you can relax every day is an enormous waste.

Nevermind that, though, just go back to sleep. The earth will NEVER run out of resources, that’s impossible! …..right?

Thant Tessman January 11, 2006 at 10:03 pm

Guivin asks “Why on earth are you complaining about SHOWER HEADS when the government already has put into place a bill that will create an internal passport system inside the United States (The RealID Act)?”

It is exactly because people allow the government to get away with one that allows the government to get away with the other. The welfare/warfare state is, and always will be, one and the same thing.

Na January 11, 2006 at 11:22 pm

Water is not a scarce resource, only a true moron could make such a claim.

Oceans have 97% of Earth’s water supply and they are hardly used.

Also, Water is renewable. Water evaporates, Water rains, water is drunk, water is ejected, water evaporates and the cycle continue. Idiot Enviro-Whackos don’t see this.

Roy W. Wright January 12, 2006 at 12:36 am

…the same budget that pays little things like public school teacher salaries…


If it’s enough to afford at least a few more teachers per school, per grade level..

You write as if public education were a good thing.

Peter January 12, 2006 at 1:13 am

Not to mention that enviro-whackos invariably assume that “science is finished”: that there’ll be no further scientific advances ever. And that humans will all die out in some reasonably short period of time. They go on about “wasting resources” like oil, and now water, and how “there won’t be any left for your grandkids”. OK, even assuming that were true and that science really is finished, if we restrict our use of oil/water/whatever so that “the grandkids have some”, what will the grandkids do with it? If they use it, there’ll be none left for their grandkids, eventually – and that’s bad, right? So the only possible solution is to conserve it 100% – never to use any – and for the grandkids to do the same, and so on. But if we do that, it doesn’t matter whether there’s any left for the grandkids, since they won’t get to use it anyway! The only other possible “solution”, which the enviro-whackos must therefore be implying, is that by the time it all runs out there won’t be anybody left to care: i.e., that the “world will end” in a few generations from now. Whackos!

Dave January 12, 2006 at 6:00 am

Geez, and I thought my old bag landlady in Munich, Germany, was bad, permitting me to take one bath per week. Fascist.

Larry N. Martin January 12, 2006 at 8:48 am

Guivin is another who could have benefitted by reading the thread and responding to the arguments already made, instead of ignoring them. Regulation of shower heads, besides the unintended consequences that result, is a good example of how government regulation works in so many other areas, as well.
But he does raise an interesting point:
Water is easily the most valuable resource on the planet, you don’t have a RIGHT to squander something that does not belong to anyone, just so you can take a 2 hour luxuriant shower every day.

He’s implying that he doesn’t believe in private property (at least in water), or that the marketplace can effectively manage the water supply. If individuals have no right to water, then how can anybody justify the claim that government has the right to control water? Like many, he falsely assumes that governments represent society, and thus can own and control the “unownable”.

Yancey Ward January 12, 2006 at 9:06 am


I have tried that argument with the environmental Left. They don’t like it at all, and usually try to shout me down and flame me. It is amusing.

Larry Reznick January 12, 2006 at 9:41 am

A couple of years ago, we remodelled our bathroom & that included taking out the shower & replacing it and the pipes to it. While talking with the contractor in charge of the job, we talked about the flow limiter in the shower head. He said that in California all new showers have the flow limiter in the pipe — probably in the fixture that turns on the water, but he wouldn’t specify where — so the flow is limited on its way to the shower head. This circumvents removing the limiter from the shower head itself. Your government at work.

gene berman January 12, 2006 at 9:14 pm

Bill Nash:

No plant breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen. If you haven’t a clue as to something as relatively well-known as simple plant physiology (normally explained in middle-school science class or even earlier), Economics has gotta be out of your league. I don’t know whether the others who saw your post didn’t catch that “howler” or whether they’re just too polite to tell you just how dumb it was.

I hope your feelings aren’t hurt. Wouldn’t want that.

david January 13, 2006 at 12:24 am

Bill Nash said:

No plant breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen……

quite. Indeed, when fats are burned ( whether in a fire or in living cells), they break up and reconfigure into carbon dioxide and watermolecules. One hexadecane molecule makes sixteen ( I think , going from memory, might be seventeen) water molecules when it gets oxidised.

jeffrey January 13, 2006 at 8:56 am

Just FYI, I’ve been getting the most incredible hate mail on this piece. The latest one decries this article for neglecting the real scandals of our time, including excessive CEO pay, the supression of meaningful sex education in high school, and the pollution created by electrical generating plants, and ends by telling me to “die and get off the planet.” I guess I should be used to the vitriol by now but it is still startling to see how quick the ideological left is to see death as a solution to ideas that annoy them.

Larry N. Martin January 13, 2006 at 9:14 am

Wow. Who’d have thought that people would get so upset about showers? Must’ve hit some kind of nerve, Jeffrey.

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