More people have access to mobile phones than to toilets, it says.

Yup.

As I pointed out here:

It’s possible to be a little cynical about this phones versus thrones number though. Actual flush toilets aren’t in fact the problem. What is is the provision of water to flush them and a sewage system to flush them into. Both of which are largely government provided. While mobile phone systems are largely private company provided. Whether you want to call it the lust for profit or the greater efficiency of the private sector, it won’t surprise the more right leaning of us that phones do have a greater market reach than toilets.

There is more to it than just this of course. One obvious point being that it’s actually more difficult to provide running water and sewerage treatment plants than it is to provide mobile phone towers.

19 comments on “More people have access to mobile phones than to toilets, it says.

  1. If by more difficult you mean more expensive (which is probably the right way to think about it), that’s hardly an excuse.

    Phone providers have to convince people to use their service at a cost below price.

    Governments are not so constrained. Do we think a functioning water/ sewage system could cost more than 5% of GDP? There aren’t many states that don’t have those resources. It’s not a problem with cost, it’s a problem with public choice incentives. Governments can find “better” uses for that money.

  2. That certainly rings true from what I saw in Nigeria. Everybody – and I mean, everybody – has a mobile phone, but an awful lot of people used to shit in a nearby stream due to a lack of toilets. As Matt Moore says, this is largely because the government of Nigeria chooses to spend its billions of revenues on feathering their own nests instead of providing infrastructure.

  3. I was thinking about something like this earlier. A while ago, I saw a Vice report about Somalia, and there was this city (it might be the capital) where there is no sewage provision. So everyone shits on the beach. There was this strand of pale sand, great tourist spot. Covered in shit, and people squatting and shitting. There are no other utilities either. No electricity. No running water. There are brothels, but they’re pitch dark. Nobody bothers putting lights in them, even. They interviewed a prostitute. She complained that she had a certificate in being a beautician, but was working as a whore. Beauticians did not seem to me to be a priority in this city.

    And then I thought this. It might be racist btw, warning etc.

    Imagine that a magician swapped the population of that city for Ashkenazi Jews. Imagine that they start off just as poor as the current inhabitants. I don’t believe, even on the first day, they would shit on the beach. It takes a while to organise proper sewage, but you can quickly dig latrines and open sewers until you’ve got more capability. They would not tolerate shitting on the beach.

    Within a year, they’d have utilities, business startups, be looking at what they could trade for foreign exchange. There would be little software businesses, maybe offshore financial services. WIthin two years, foreign tourists would be sunbathing on the pristine beach. My hypothetical Jews would not squat on the beach, complaining that nobody else had supplied them with a toilet.

    And that is thus my theory of man. What you will be largely depends on whether or not you’re the kind of person who will shit on the beach.

  4. There is a whole spectrum of technologies between dumping on the beach and municipal sewers with running water. There are cess pits and septic tanks and portaloos, and a variety of ways to simply collect and transport it.

    It’s primarily cultural. In Britain, we probably wouldn’t crap on the street ourselves, but many of us will let our dogs do so. What’s the difference? Why don’t we see it the same way?

    It’s like street litter. It’s not that we don’t have the technology to take it away, or that it is unaffordable. But some people don’t want to take the trouble. And so some districts get covered in it, with graffiti on the walls and all the windows broken and boarded up. Keeping the place clean and nice to live in takes an effort, and many people have other priorities.

    And its not as if our own slum kids don’t have mobile phones, as well. I think it’s just that people like phones more than they care about cleanliness.

    “Imagine that a magician swapped the population of that city for Ashkenazi Jews. Imagine that they start off just as poor as the current inhabitants. I don’t believe, even on the first day, they would shit on the beach.”

    Camp hygiene was an early lesson. Deuteronomy 23:9-14.

  5. A while ago, I saw a Vice report about Somalia, and there was this city (it might be the capital) where there is no sewage provision. So everyone shits on the beach.

    That was Liberia. Or at least, it was if it’s the episode where a government minister also shits on the beach!

  6. I’ve flushed a dump in quite few pans owe neither their water supply nor their sewerage system to either government or quasi-private utilities. They were the result of personal ingenuity. Same sort of ingenuity produces mobile phone systems. Which people with FA personal ingenuity, across the world, benefit from.

  7. To add:
    If you want flush toilets, you only have to pull your thumb out your bum & get grafting. it ain’t rocket science.

  8. NiV-

    It’s primarily cultural. In Britain, we probably wouldn’t crap on the street ourselves, but many of us will let our dogs do so. What’s the difference? Why don’t we see it the same way?

    Why do you think I didn’t magically swap my Liberians (see correction above) for Britons? The kind of second part of the thought experiment is, if the magician did do that, whether we’d shit on the beach.

  9. @Ian
    There’s a bit of kit I could install under your house, takes the outfall from your bog, processes it & the resultant liquid is so close to clean water you could almost drink it. Certainly could be recycled as flush water.
    it’s produced by a British company.

  10. This is quite involved and there must be a large number of different factors involved.

    There is no doubt, as Tim points in Forbes, that private sector incentives have cut through all resistence to have this new technology adopted where government simply hasn’t been able to for centuries. It is simply fact that the fantastic advances in living standards the world has seen over the past 3 decades are due to the defeat and disgrace of Socialism, the Washington consensus and, particularly, China’s embrace of markets.
    There is also no doubt that simple cost has played a factor here. For evidence we see mobile technology being adopted where there had previously been no land-line technology. It always was and now always will be uneconomic to install landline technology. Seawgesystmes do cost more.
    The influence of SECURE private property rights is also absolutely a huge factor. As Tim says, the toilet will always be provided privately. The property onwer in the UK accepts a part at least of the costs of being connected. Water systems in the UK are NOT paid out of taxes, neither should they be. Wherever shanty town squatters become residents of recognised property in recognised urban areas, life improvements there follow very shortly – Peru for example.
    But for private property to be effective and secure there must be secure and stable governance. It is not statist to say this and I am not Ritchie with his belief that all property is GIVEN by the State. He’s a stupid prick sitting in a shed offering nothing to the world that is worth hearing.
    The reason those Jews of IanB’s imagination will always provide decent services for themselves is because they recognise they belong to a community. By contrast, Somalia is a failed state run by warlords. Africa in general suffers more than any other from civil war and failed government. Where it gets stable government it prospers, just like everwhere else!
    Bazalgette’s sewers in London were built by a mix of civic pride and responsibility coupled with private capital and the security that private property rights provide.

  11. Ironman

    ” Water systems in the UK are NOT paid out of taxes, neither should they be. ”

    Hm … Northern Ireland?

  12. My burning ears

    Shit, really?

    And are they cleaner than us as a result? Have a greater service with better priorities at a lower cost?

  13. There’s a bit of kit I could install under your house, takes the outfall from your bog, processes it & the resultant liquid is so close to clean water you could almost drink it. Certainly could be recycled as flush water.
    it’s produced by a British company.

    Watney Combe & Reid?

  14. Water/Sewage need not be more expensive than telephones. Most water etc is govt supplied( You might imagine that at the very least shite would understand shite but no). The market gets less of a look-in. The corp crooks at United Utilities don’t count as a free market in my book. If water etc was truly private innovation would begin. If telephones had remained a state monopoly then there would still be jack in phone operators.

  15. Beach-shitting ensures the excreta gets flushed away once or twice a day by the tide, depending on location. That’s a hygienic & rational economic choice for poor coastal communities.

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