How Americans Destroyed Indoor Plumbing
The Romans invented indoor plumbing. It took America in the late 20th century to uninvent it.
The fateful year was 1994, when the federal government mandated that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. have tanks no bigger than 1.6 gallons. It was the new prohibitionism. Gradually over the coming years, the toilets stopped working as they once did.
The reality was slow to dawn on Americans, who are rather used to improvement in consumer products, not slow depreciation, devaluation, and even destruction. Over time, the problems were legion. It took two or three flushes instead of one to complete the job. One-ply toilet paper, the type you might expect to use in prison, became a common consumer product so that toilets would not clog.
Every toilet had to have a plunger sitting by it because clogs were common, and hence the invention of designer plungers with translucent handles and fancy holders.
But there was more. This was the time when many houses and even whole towns began to stink like sewers. It turns out that plumbing systems love water. They rely on it. It is supposed to flow through them massively to keep them clean. When the water stopped, the stink began. You could do what the whole town of San Francisco did, which was pump vast quantities of water through the system, but that represented its own poisoning dangers.
The environmentalists stuck by their claims that destroying the ability to safely dispose of human waste was a wonderful thing because this “saves water.” The Romans were not so stupid. They knew that water has a purpose and one of them is to remove our waste products from our domestic environments so that we don’t live in and struggle with filth. That’s the reason for plumbing, and it is a pretty great use of water overall.
There were other workarounds people developed. There developed an active market for smuggling toilets across the Canadian border. But those eventually dried up. Fancy business districts and shopping centers started installing air-pressure models and electrical systems that release vast pressure upon the push of a button, and they also sound like a gas explosion. If you had one of those in your home, the whole family would wake in a panic every time you got up at night.
Toilet entrepreneurs got busy designing new systems and, being clever, they all claimed to have solved the problem. Hence it is now conventional to claim that these problems do not exist anymore. This is a complete lie, which you know immediately when you visit online forums that complain about this problem. You just don’t hear about it as often because 1) time has passed and people are used to the problem and think it has always existed, and 2) people have generally given up in despair about getting Congress to do something about this.
My own rule is this. If a politician cannot, at least in principle, dedicate himself or herself to pressing for a repeal of working-toilet prohibition, he or she is completely worthless. This is a no brainer. It is an absolute priority for humanity that it figure out how safely to remove human waste from the premises. If we can’t get that right — and we mostly did for 3,000 years! — we can’t get anything right.
So, no, please don’t try to sell me on some new toilet you claim has solved all these problems the government created. I don’t care how many chopped watermelons, buckets of marbles, and bags of packing peanuts you can flush in the showroom. Once you get it home, it is not going to work properly. If it works for a little while, it will stop working within a year as the parts begin to wear out because they are untested and overworked.
There is another problem that has been created that we no longer even recognize. You won’t believe me when I say this but it is true: it should not be necessary to dump and spray vast chemicals into your toilet every two days to maintain the appearance that it is clean. In the old days, with 3 to 5 gallon tanks, toilets were self cleaning. Massive amounts of clean water rushed in to replace what humans left behind such that our houses did not have to be host to little rooms of filth.
If the ruination of the toilet were all this were about, it would be bad enough. But there is also the major problem that the shower head was also wrecked. The year was also 1994. Whereas showers used to dump 12 gallons of water on us per minute, Congress legislated so that they could only push out 2.5 gallons, meaning that you have to take longer showers, the shampoo and conditioner never quite leave full heads of hair, and you feel the need to run around in your shower just to get the soap off.
Yes, there are hacks. Notice how the rich commonly install multiple shower heads in their showers, sometimes as many as half a dozen. The rich always find a way.
You can also hack your own, as I did yesterday with my new shower head. They are getting more difficult. It took me fully 45 minutes. I started with the corkscrew, moved to the long-nose pliers, and finally did the trick with a hammer and screw driver. Finally, a real shower head emerged from deconstructive work.
But why should we have to do all of this? We think we are civilized? No, not entirely. State violence in the form of government regulations have been employed deliberately to downgrade our capacity to get clean and stay healthy, all in the name of conserving water that should actually be used for the purpose of cleaning and removing waste.
There’s more to say about government regulations, again all dating to the 1990s. Our clothes washers must function on a fraction of the water they used to, so of course they don’t clean either (and this leaves aside the appalling wreckage of detergent formulas). Our hot water heaters have to be hacked. Cities all over the country turned down the water pressure so that our plumbing systems no longer stay clean and free of corrosion and sediment buildup.
Put it all together, and you can see what I mean. Americans have uninvented indoor plumbing. Having travelled the world, I can testify that I’ve never seen a country anywhere in the world where people have it so bad. Visitors to the U.S. are completely shocked that our showers, toilets, and washing machines don’t work properly. It is indeed a scandal.
It is also a scandal that there is no real political movement at all to do something about this problem. If we needed evidence to show that our political system is broken, this is it. In some ways, this problem is as bad or worse than alcohol prohibition, which at least led to some degree of fun with bookleggers and speakeasies. The prohibition of working plumbing has led to filthier homes and genuine health risks.
This is mandatory decay of the very foundation of what we used to call civilization.
Political season is coming. Let me humbly suggest that every politician in American be heckled on the topic of domestic plumbing at every appearance. We must demand an end to this real suffering before another generation comes of age knowing not of the possibility of clean restrooms, fulfilling showers, and truly washed clothes.
For more on this topic, see my guide written for Liberty.me members: Hack Your House
The Economics of Life Itself : Beautiful Anarchy is the writing platform of Jeffrey Tucker, in which he covers economics, art, popular culture, and politics from a pro-liberty, anti-state point of view.