“Water, like oil, is finite. There is only so much ocean saltwater, glacier freshwater and water in the air, while global consumption is growing twice as fast as the world’s population.”

It would be hard to believe that anyone could view these facts as a positive thing. But add the story of Warren Buffet, former world’s richest man, buying the water treatment company Nalco for US$ 3.7 billion through his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, and suddenly you get that “investing in water is an untapped opportunity”. So argues journalist Tatiana Serafin on mint.com in an article entitled “Invest Like a Billionaire: Water Is The New Gold“.

Serafin considers publicly traded water utilities firms a bargain, quoting another author as saying “utilities are cheaper than they have ever been”. Her conclusion is, “invest like Buffet”, even if you’re on a budget.

One could also think that viewing the so-called global water crisis – which I recently wrote about here on World Water Day – as a hot investment opportunity would require the shrewd and narrow-minded perspective of the investment banking profession. Yet even the Netherlands-based IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, an important resource centre in the water and development sphere, and at least not officially posing as a private sector think-tank, apparently agrees that water is “the new gold”. On its water and sanitation financing blog WASH news finance, the article quoted above was merely copied and uncritically reproduced.

This, among other cases from the NGO sector, shows how strategies of privatisation and commodification still heavily dominate development politics where they pertain to water. Though less aggressively and more subtly pursued now than the IFI-driven Structural Adjustment Programs and their successors, PRSPs, the new-millennium logic of privatisation is promoted instead by smaller, ostensibly unconnected agencies and through new, seemingly innovative means such as decentralisation, downscaling or microfinance – essentially a return to the days before the developmentalist state. Through blogs and social networks, the politics of liberalisation have adopted a postmodern aesthetic – as always arguing in the name of the poor – complete with Internet videos in HD.

Yet the same old fundamental logic has survived from the more radically neoliberal 1980s: that the private sector must take over the control of resources and sell what is internationally defined a human right as a commodity. What we might have here is a classic case of cognitive institutions; it is simply impossible for certain actors to “think outside the box” when it comes to natural resources; no matter how well-intentioned they may be. The notion of rights as fundamental, inalienable, and entitling to free access to the means of survival, doesn’t enter the story.

Rather than labour the point here for a few more paragraphs, I will simply let Monty Python’s merchant banker sketch make it for me (for orphans, like water, can be a developing market).

– Fundraiser: I want you to give me a Pound, and then I’ll go away and give it to the orphans.

– Banker: Yes?

– Fundraiser: Well, that’s it.

– Banker: No, no, I don’t follow this at all. I don’t want to seem stupid, but it looks to me as though I’m a Pound down on the whole deal.

– Fundraiser: Yes you are.

– Banker: I am? Well what is my incentive to give you the Pound?

– Fundraiser: Your incentive is to make the orphans happy!

– Banker: Happy? Are you sure you’ve got this right?

– Fundraiser: Yes, lots of people give me money!

– Banker: What, just like that? They must be sick!

Enjoy the video.