Thursday, November 29, 2007

You Can't Live There Any More

Washington Post buries a report from the Urban Institute on housing prices:
a medical services manager who earned $87,300 a year could afford only 14 percent of the homes in the Washington area last year, compared with 49 percent four years earlier, the study said.

households needed to earn $49,000 a year to afford the region's average monthly rent of $1,226.

All in Your Point of View

The Washington times has one take on a study of immigration, the Washington Post
has another. (One emphasizes the fact that illegal immigrants rely on welfare, the other that they don't rely on "welfare". The picture I get is that immigrants with families don't have health insurance so they use Medicaid in emergencies and food stamps regularly while they don't sign up for what used to be called the "dole".)

Who Is a Farmer, CRP Version

Farmgate has a piece, passing on concerns about whether IRS is going to require absentee landowners of CRP land to pay self-employment tax on the CRP payments. This is more complex than I can handle at my advanced age, though I'm amused by the possibility that retired farmers have been trying to have their cake and eat it too. (We expect better of farmers, don't we.) There's a reference back to the 1983 Payment-in-Kind program and IRS handling of those payments. (There was an option then to put your whole farm into the PIK program--which raised all sorts of questions about reducing numbers of tenants, which in turn twanged guitar strings that reached back to 1930's era questions about fair treatment of tenants, which involved some of the communists who then walked the hallways of USDA.) The issue then was, if the farmer doesn't have to do anything, is he or she really a farmer? To share in some USDA payments, you have to be really a farmer, but maybe the IRS says, if you're really a farmer, then you are self-employed and your revenue is subject to the self-employment tax.

Who knows. It's all an amusing mess for me, if not for the people who have to employ accountants and lawyers to straighten it out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Farm Bill

Farmgate has a post discussing a Congressional Research Service analysis of what happens without a farm bill. I'm confused. As I've posted before, in the old days the administration used to threaten the imposition of wheat marketing quotas in the summer of the year the farm legislation expired. (I well remember having to come up with estimates of costs in the summer of 1985 if acreage allotments were implemented for wheat and we had to hold a referendum on marketing quotas.) I had thought that in the 1996 farm bill they'd tinkered with the wording of the law to remove that leverage. Apparently not, from the analysis.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not Seeing the Bubble in Front of You

I like John Phipps, but I have to conclude his crystal ball has a bubble in front of it. In this post
triggered by the inability to buy a $300,000 combine, he says:
" In every bubble (which this well could be) the secret was to bet heavily early, and I think this is still early because we are not sure it's a bubble yet."
I think he's wrong--when most people agree it's a bubble, it's too late. (See the tech bubble, see the housing bubble.) It probably made sense to buy farmland in 2005, maybe even 2006, but not in 2007. (I keep remembering the state specialist in Iowa who almost bought a farm too far in 1979.)

Liberal Hypocrisy

A quote from a post on Gristmill, with reference to the need for action on global warming:
"So, will the next president be willing to act unilaterally with assertive, even aggressive use of executive authority -- like George Bush, except for nobler purposes? Who among the candidates is willing to promise, as FDR did, that "In the event that Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility and I will act."

So it all comes down to whose ox is gored. If GW does things I don't like, and I don't, I rail about abuse of Presidential power. If Hillary does things I do like, I praise her Presidential leadership.

SS Number Problems

DHS is revising its plan for using SSA's database in enforcing immigration rules, according to this article. SSA's IG reported that there's a high inaccuracy level in the data, which undermines enforcing strict rules on employers.

This is a symptom of the problem, which is we're trying to use the Social security number system for work it was never designed to do. It would be much better to start over, setting up an accessible system with proper updating and quality checks, and privacy safeguards.

Secretary Gates, Meet Senator Helms

Secretary Gates spoke in Kansas, suggesting we needed to boost our diplomacy, specifically mentioning, AID and USIA, two agencies merged with State under Clinton. But as I remember the story, Senator Helms, then chair of Foreign Relations, held their feet to the fire until Sec. Albright and VP Gore agreed to the reorganization. The illustrious Senator from North Carolina (one of the few politicians I really, really dislike) thought the striped pants crew were a waste. So much for his wisdom. Of course, the Reps won't step up and take responsibility, nor will Bill and Hillary for caving.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Changing Contours of Class

Joel Achenbach has an article on class in the US in today's Washington Post. One thing toward the end of the article struck me. Someone is discussing current class lines: today, the rich have staff, a personal assistant or whatever.

I think it's true before WWII most upper middle class families had staff--i.e., maids/cooks. Electric appliances in the home, the spread of restaurants, and processed food reducing cooking time has had an impact. I wonder, is it easier to accept inequalities of income when there's no employer/employee relationship involved?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Emulation and Envy

Robert Frank, an economist, has a liberal argument for higher taxes. Facetiously, the idea is that money is a positional good, used for ranking people and that gold stars would be just as good. More seriously, Alex Rodriguez doesn't care that much what's left in his pocket from his new Yankees contract after agent fees and taxes are deducted--what's important is that he maintains his rank as highest paid player.

Via Greg Mankiw, an economist writing for Cato takes on Frank's arguments here. I'm not up on the subject enough to offer much comment, but I did find the climax of Henderson's argument interesting:

It is true that we often want something when we see that someone else has it. But what doesn't ring true is Frank's view about why we want things. One of my earliest instances of an intense want was in 1955, when the coonskin cap came along after Walt Disney had made Davy Crockett famous. I saw some of my friends wearing them and I badly wanted one. My father, though, would not buy one for my brother or me. I remember the intense pain I had about not having it. But did I want that coonskin cap because I was competing with my friends for status and position? Not at all. I wanted it because it was so neat. Now, you might doubt the memory of a 56-year-old about his introspection 52 years earlier. Fine. Then consider this case. I also remember when the Ford Mustang and the Mercury Park Lane came along in 1965, when I was 14. I wanted either one of those cars badly. I tore out the full-page magazine ads picturing those cars, taped them on my wall, and pined for them every day. But the reason I wanted them was not that I saw people around me with them. I lived in a small town in rural Canada where you didn't see new cars as soon as they came out. I had seen the ads for these cars and started yearning for them long before anyone in my town owned one. So, why did I want one of these cars? Because they were just so beautiful. I've asked other friends why they want the new expensive gadgets when they come out and invariably the answer is that they're such neat toys. Few mention that they want them because they want to be higher up on the positional scale.
It seems that the invisible hand of the positional good market operates much the same as the invisible hand of the free market. Free market capitalism doesn't really require everyone to be price/quality conscious all the time. Many of us can continue to operate in ruts, buying what we always buy from the vendors we always buy from. But some people have to be different. That difference is enough to make competition operate.

So too with positional structures. Dr. Henderson wanted goods as a boy because they were beautiful. What he considered beautiful were the rare goods, the neat ones, the ones only a few of his friends had. What does that mean--they were expensive, they were above average in cost. So Dr. Henderson, even though he's pure of heart and doesn't envy others, is looking up the positional ladder.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Babies Recognizing Helpful People

New Scientist reports on research on babies, specifically that babies seem to recognize and prefer helpful characters in a puppet show.

Demanding Immigrants

Paul at Powerline has problems with a Washington Post article on delay in processing applications for citizenship. I take exception to his close:
To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the sense of immigrant entitlement that comes through, especially in the quotations from the leaders of hispanic organizations. Even those who favor lots of legal immigration, as I do, should be concerned about the implications of that attitude for the future of our country.
I've no problem at all with people who pay taxes demanding good service from their government, especially since taxpayers don't pay for processsing citizenship applications, the applicants do via a fee.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You for All the Faceless Bureaucrats

On this day to give thanks, it's time to say: "Thank you, faceless bureaucrats".

(Until now, it was what Gene Weingarten [Updated--my memory for names is going] of WaPo calls a "googlenope"--no hits on Google)

Think of it like thanking your mother, now dead, for cooking all those Thanksgiving dinners for you. (I know, now I'm getting silly, comparing bureaucrats and mothers.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gun Control--Mr. Fischer's TAke

Marc Fischer, a local columnist for the Washington Post, has a column on the Supreme Court's taking of the appeal by DC of the Second Amendment decision. For what it's worth (nothing), I agree with his take--the court's going to decide that DC can't ban handguns but can regulate them. Which is about where we ought to end up. If we can take car keys away from senior citizens who can't drive safely, we can (and should) also take guns away from people who can't shoot safely.

I'd treat guns like cars. Every American, even including illegal immigrants, has the right to drive a car, once they've been tested.

Graduated Payment Limitation in Europe

Mulch notes the discussion in the EU of instituting graduated payment limitations (taking some credit because the EU has started opening up the data on who gets how much to the public, much as the EWG has done for the last 13+ years).

I made a similar proposal several months ago.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mobility Rates--Shocking Downward Rates

Here's a link to a Brookings institution study on mobility across generations. What's amazing and distressing is that 33 percent of Americans are downwardly mobile (they end up lower in the income distribution than their parents were, i.e., falling from the top 10 percent to the bottom quarter). I hope some of our Presidential candidates will pick up on this. Where is the man or woman who will come forth and promise to reduce this rate to zero, to guarantee that no one will end up lower than his or her parent? Surely that's a goal we can all rally around. Whatever our race or religion, our background or aspirations, everyone wants to do better than our parent, to rise at least one rung on the ladder of success.

Write the candidates, strike a blow for clear thought and achievable goals.

Mobility--The Importance of Heritage

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, had an op-ed article in yesterday's Times citing the importance of a family heritage of success (my words). The article is "Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth" and he says that of the prominent African-Americans he has studied, the big majority had ancestors who had been able to buy land. He takes off from that to the importance of middle-class values, and to a vague call for action.

Greg Mankiw, another Harvard prof, is skeptical. 3 generations means 8 grandparents, only one of whom has to have land to meet Gates' criteria.

I'm more with Gates, though he'd need a much bigger sample and to do the mirror image study to be convincing. (What proportion of inner city welfare recipients had ancestors who had property or position?)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why Does the No-Fly List Work So Well?

From an article in Government Executive, summarizing an IG report:
Skinner expressed concern that the manual procedures for TSA's watch list could pose a security risk. The agency currently receives data from the Terrorist Screening Center, standardizes this information and enters it into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, which is posted on a TSA Web site daily. Airlines can then download or print out the spreadsheet.

Skinner believes this system leaves room for problems to occur at many stages. For example, the watch list can be downloaded or printed out by unauthorized parties. Also, there are no standard guidelines for how airlines should use the information; some check multiple spellings of names while others use only exact spellings. Some smaller airlines manually check the names against the spreadsheet, which Skinner says can lead to human error.

Can lead to human error--no kidding! Apparently they reinvented the wheel when they put TSA together, lots of stovepipe systems as all the bureaucrats with their individual missions went to work and did their thing.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lobbying for Jobs

The way government works:

“If you want to keep the office open, (get) out in the community and push the word,” the commission was told by Charles Zink, the director of the local FSA [Madison, NC] office. link

“NAFEC, an organization composed of and lead by farmers, nominated
and elected by farmers, and serving all farmers in each of their county
FSA offices, is indebted to Senators Baucus, D-Mont., Nelson, D-Neb.,
Salazar, D-Colo., and Thune, R-S.D., for their initiative and leadership
in the introduction and passage of an amendment to the Senate’s
proposed farm bill which will retain ‘Critical Access’ FSA county offices
for the duration of the 2007 farm bill,” declared Kuhlengel. “We also
owe our appreciation to Chairman Harkin, D-Iowa, Ranking Minority
Member Chambliss, R-Ga., and the rest of the committee for their
support of this vital provision.” link
Note the bipartisan mentions in the second.

Google Reader and Blogging

I follow a lot of blogs, often using them as the basis for posts. Now I'm going to try Google Reader's sharing feature. Hold your breath

Specious Arguing on Farm Bill Effects

Grist has this post by Britt Lundgren, on the faults of the farm bill and what changes should be made. Without addressing all of the points, I'd like to focus on the flaws in this excerpt, flaws which are recurrent in the green/locavore critique of farm policy:
Much of the debate over Farm Bill reform centers on spending priorities. According to the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database, 10 percent of the beneficiaries of commodity subsidies received 66 percent of all the money spent on subsidies between 2003 and 2005. Because 6 out of 10 farmers don't get any subsidies at all (they grow vegetables, fruits, nuts or other crops that aren't eligible for subsidies), this means that during this period, just a tiny fraction of the farmers in the US collected over $22 billion in payments. Despite all of the money we pour into farm subsidies, most small and medium-sized farmers are still struggling to make ends meet.

[give Lundgren credit for not throwing in an attack on corporate agriculture, which people often include here--contrasting small farmers with corporate farms.]
Okay, farmers who plant and harvest a bigger acreage of field crops get the bigger share of the dollars. But the argument is unclear--should we subsidize the small and medium-sized farmers of all crops and not the large? Who is a farmer? Most farmers get off-the-farm income. Most small farmers operate at a loss. Back in Kentucky in the 1980's around Lexington, IBM was building up its printer operation, later sold off as Lexmark. We had tobacco farms subdivided into 5 acre lots to accommodate the houses the IBM executives were putting up. They still had farmland, they owned farmland, but were they farmers? (They might well be included as farmers in some reports.)

Presumably we shouldn't be interested in subsidizing the 16% of farmers who are "lifestyle" farmers (those Lexmark executives, or the Barbara Kinsolvings of the world), nor the 16% who are "retirement" farmers. Clearly M. Lundgren doesn't want to subsidize the 2.2% of nonfamily farms (might be run by corporations, universities or monasteries, or whatever) or the 8.2 percent of large and very large family farms. That leaves about 10% limited resource and 25% small family farms as the target group.

Unfortunately for Lundgren, the lifestyle and retirement farmers are exactly the people who disproportionately receive conservation payments. The big farmers need their $4,000 an acre land to grow crops, not conservation uses. And the limited resource and small family farms also need their land for farming.

And the corporate farmers? They're disproportionately found growing stuff that's not subsidized: fruits and vegetables, "other livestock". Any implication that we should shift the focus of farm programs from big field crop farmers to growers of fruits and vegetables would have us subsidize corporate agriculture. (Of course, I recognize Lundgren and those who share these opinions don't want that. The problem is they, we all, argue based on assumptions and pretty ideas in our heads, not on the facts.

Source of all this info -- ERS publication. Recommended

Size and Scale

Megan McArdle has a good post on the problems of moving from a pilot program to production. In a way, it goes against my mantra: "you never do things right the first time". Maybe I need to adopt a corollary: "but if you do, you were lucky and your luck is going to run out in production."

Open Government--Judicial Branch

I'm a bit cynical about the open government effort and the "portal". (Who needs a portal when you've got Google?) But Congress is working on extending the CIO authority and even includes a requirement that judicial opinions be online. One and one-half cheers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Organic Ag versus Industrial Ag: Greater Productivity?

Tom Philpott at Grist highlights an Iowa State study that showed greater productivity over 9 years from organic crop rotations as opposed to industrial ag cropping.

Although that's major news, and noteworthy, it doesn't prove what Tom wants it to prove. For organic ag to feed the world, replacing industrial ag, you don't need to prove that, acre for acre, organic is of equal productivity in a given year. You need to prove it over a course of years. In other words, organic ag rests on the idea of crop rotation. Corn one year, soybeans the next, maybe alfalfa years 3-5, then corn again. So over 10 years, the total production of the acre is 2 years worth of corn, 2 years worth of soybeans, and 6 years worth of something else. For industrial ag, it might be 5 years corn, 5 years soybeans, or even 7 years corn, 3 soybeans.

Oh for the Good Old Days

Farm bill consideration is stuck in the Senate. In the good old days (i.e., 1985) there was some leverage the executive branch could use on the Congress--threaten to implement the permanent provisions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. Technically each successive farm bill suspended the operation of those provisions (for wheat marketing quotas, most notably) so when we got to a new crop year (i.e., the 2008 crop year for wheat has now begun, in that wheat has been planted) the old provisions were in effect.

Unfortunately, through a combination of causes, that leverage has evaporated. For one, because the farm program is basically decoupled from the production of a crop (as required by the WTO) farmers don't complain as much about not knowing program provisions before they make planting decisions.

Assumptions Will Kill You Every Time

The Project on Government Oversight cites an AP report on new helicopters for the Army. They were designed in Europe and have a slight problem: the AC can't cool the chopper enough on hot days, which means it shuts down. I suspect, on no basis whatever, that the European designers just assumed that their climate was normal, forgetting it gets hotter in the U.S.

Effective Management?

According to Government executive President Bush has issued an executive order on management. All sorts of good stuff, all except any recognition of other efforts, such as GPRA
(Government Performance and Results Act of 1993).

I suppose I'm just getting old and cynical, but if the government bureaucrats would spend less time managing performance and more time performing, we might all be better off.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Privacy and the Government

I blithely surf the Internet, leaving bits and pieces of my identity here and there. A deputy to the Director of National Intelligence argues that therefore I should be comfortable with a loss of privacy vis a vis the government. I've some sympathy with the argument, but I disagree. Though I personally may be comfortable with trusting the government, most people aren't, so our systems need to recognize that.

I've no problem with the government gathering gobs of data to do their work. But many times the data doesn't have to be tied back to an individual. So the first rule is collect the data but lose the individual. In some cases you need the individual. The second rule should be, when the individual is tied to data, you log accesses and make the log available to the individual. In other words, I should be able to call up, via internet, the job description of any government employee who looks at my tax information, my health data, even my name and address.

Cheap Food and the Difference It Makes

Megan McArdle is visiting Vietnam and blogs.

Cheap food coming from industrialized agriculture has impacts all the way through the society.

Cost of Farmland

To give a sense of the variation across the country, John Phipps recently blogged about the cost of land in Illinois, he paid his sister $4,500 an acre, a neighbor sold for $5,200, and there's a recent rumor of $9K. Compare this LA Times article on Ventura county, CA quotes a figure of $61,000 (orange groves are being replaced by strawberries and other high priced produce).

I remember the Iowa state specialist who back in 1981 was moaning about having bought a "farm too far". I wonder how many land buyers this time around will be caught out. Or have things fundamentally changed?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Best Government Blog??

The people at volokh.com are licking their wounds after being beaten out for title of "Best Legal Blog". But their posting intrigued me, so I went to the awards page.

Imagine my surprise to find no category for "Best Government Blog". (One might argue that's an oxymoron, there can't be a "best government" anything. But that's a different subject.)

Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post has something he calls a "googlenope"--i.e., a set of words for which Google can't find a match. Turns out "Best Government Blog" has 3 matches, as of Nov. 10, 2007, before this post is published. But "Great Government Blog" had no matches, until...

Friday, November 09, 2007

This Rule I Like

Blog for Rural America has a tongue in cheek post about "big" farmers versus "small". The senate was debating the issue yesterday (I saw Sen. Chambliss try to engage in a colloquy with Roberts on the subject--big farmers contribute more production to the economy than small.

They propose a rule--no payments to anyone over 5'7". Now that's a rule a bureaucrat likes--clear and precise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Usability and Gov Gab

To be fair to Gov Gab, which I've questioned before, I found this post to be interesting, particularly the bit on the usability testing Social Security Admin did on the drug benefit. Usability testing was a cutting edge tool in IT in the late 80's but it was difficult to implement. When you're in a time crunch, usability testing is the first thing to go (then training, then instructions, etc. etc.). It takes a lot of discipline to say: do it right the first time and you'll save time (resources) over the long run. It's also true that most times usability testing didn't show a smoking gun, so it's easy to minimize its importance.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Environmentalism versus Locavores

Farmgate has an article on the complications of corn after corn. Someone like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, or Bill McKibbern would read it and say--you see, industrial agriculture, tweaking the inputs of chemicals, not natural at all. But the article is based on the higher price for corn, which is based on ethanol, which is a result of environmentalism.

Some times you just can't win.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mr. Pollan Again

Michael Pollan had an op-ed on the farm bill in yesterday's Times. Warning--I'm not a fan of his, to put it mildly. I'm not impressed by the article (surprise!)--he hit the usual points of the "greens". I think he'd do better sticking to his books.

Payment Limitation for Real?

Just for the hell of it, I'd suggest if people really want payment limitation to work, you'd need to give the Justice Department funds for a team of attorneys to prosecute fraud cases. (Now I doubt anyone in Justice has much interest in prosecuting people for violating the U.S.Code in connection with farm payments, even if some conscientious bureaucrat in FSA comes up with some information that warrants referral to Justice. They've got bigger fish to fry.

(This is inspired by a provision in one bill to make farmers ineligible for payments if they're determined to have committed fraud. That's a step, but ask FSA how many farmers fit this description now.)

Absent such provision, payment limitation is like the speed limit.

[note to self--I seem to be in a dour mood today.]

The Old Congressional Shell Game

In order to get the bill scored right (i.e., for the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate the changes in farm programs under the farm bill and assign a dollar figure to the costs), Congress is engaging in its usual shell game tactics. What you do is look at the fiscal years, which is the basis of scoring. Then you move as much revenue as you can from the fiscal years beyond the period of the bill into the period and reverse the process with costs. It looks as if they're doing that with advance payments, and with crop insurance revenues (based on a quick review of the CBO summary of the bills).

It's much the same process with tax paying--if this is a high income year, any tax adviser will say, consider raising your deductibles, like move charitable contributions into this year.

Of course Congress will reverse their shell game down the road, once the "scoring" is safely in the past. Only taxpayers who indulge in fraud can do the same with taxes.

Greenspan the Libertarian Bureaucrat

I mentioned I was reading Greenspan's book. It's not as personal and detailed as I would like--the last part is discussion of geo-politico-economic issues, which takes some effort to plow through. A couple notable points

  • He is very complimentary of Clinton--brains, sustained interest in economics, a fellow devotee of facts with good economic policies. Other presidents suffer by contrast.
  • He's notorious as an early devotee of Ayn Rand, for whom I have little regard (which no doubt is worrying her as she suffers in the circle of Dante's Inferno designed for libertarians). But, as often seems the pattern, while he generally doesn't believe much in government, he praises the Federal Reserve highly. I say it's a pattern--it seems I often notice Republicans who come into government skeptical of the bureaucracy who, when they leave, say something like: my bureaucracy was able and effective.

Comparison of Farm Bills

Via Uof IL farmgate, the URL for the Congressional Budget Offices comparison of House, Senate, bills and current law.

Can States Have "Dutch Disease"?

Reading Alan Greenspan's book. He discusses "dutch disease"--the adverse consequences of having oil or similar natural wealth. Thought of it when I read this post on Alaska by Kevin Drum. Apparently Alaska is riding its oil wealth for all it's worth, and not developing the tax structure needed to support a good society once it's gone. Hence the "Bridge to Nowhere"--if Uncle Sugar will fund our infrastructure, fine.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Problems with Farm Policy

Tom Philpott at Grist writes:
From an ecological standpoint, the fundamental problem with U.S. farm policy dating back to the '70s is that it rewards farmers for maximizing yield at all cost.
I assume that his reference is to the 1970's, but the same statement would be true for the 1870's and the 1770's. As long as farmers are producing for the market, which they've been since Captain John Smith decided that pursuing gold in the New World was not a paying proposition, at least not in coastal Virginia, their incentives lead to short term over-production at the cost of long-term productivity. That's an issue in the cash lease/share lease controversy in Illinois, I just posted on.

Straws in the Wind--Uof Illinois

John Phipps comments on a policy change by the University of Illinois, which owns 11,000 acres of farmland (from donations) and has been share leasing the land. They've decided to switch to cash leasing, which means putting the lease out for bids, and may price the past operators out of the market. See this article, via John.

The Illinois Farm Bureau is opposed to the policy change.

John comes down on the side of the right of the owner to rent to whom he chooses.

Random observations:
  • the article comments that 3/4 of the IL farmland is rented, which is higher than I would have guessed.
  • There's no comment in the article about the possible role of payment limitation rules. UofIL would no longer be eligible for farm payments when they cash lease. I don't know what the current rules are, but educational institutions used to be exempt from payment limitation. According to EWG, the university got $450K in 2005. I don't know how they might be affected by the pending proposals.
  • John mentions the outdated notion that a leasor's labor and improvements gave him some sort of moral ownership of the land. That ties back to Ireland, whence came many of my ancestors, where you couldn't buy land and the best you could hope for was a long term lease. If I'm not mistaken, the English passed a law giving the tenant some right to his improvements. It also goes back to western New York in the early 1800's, where people hoping to buy land from the Holland Land Company also felt they had a right to their improvements. Unrest reached such a point that a Company's office in Mayville, NY was burned, destroying all the records.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Metaphor for Illegal Immigration

I'm driving along, in rush hour, in the right lane. Traffic slows, then stops. I look in the rear view mirror, and some idiot has pulled over to the shoulder of the road and is driving down it at 15 mph. And now he's ahead of me and trying to merge. Do I yield and reward the bastard or do I cut him off and risk causing an accident?

Friday, November 02, 2007

AGI Limits and Payment Limitation

Some discussion about reducing the adjusted gross income (3-year moving average) limit on individual earnings in order to be eligible for farm program payments, with references to other discussion here and here.

I'm not going to spend much of my remaining time on earth worrying about the details of this argument. I'd just make general statements:
  • (apparently) tight laws can be loosened by the right regulations and back-door pressure from members of Congress whose constituents are personally and greatly concerned. So where the advocates of lower payment limits will be tempted to fold up shop once the farm bill is enacted, either declaring victory or licking their wounds in defeat, the opponents will be on the job every work day until the next farm bill
  • my first statement applies both to AGI and payment limitation--in theory I don't know there's much difference between them. (In practice, at this stage of the bill, it's different.)
  • the law of unintended consequences applies, always
I'm still convinced that a graduated payment limit would be more effective. It could restrict the payments of more people, but give less incentive to work to undermine or overturn the provision. Even so, my three points above would still apply to that provision.

California Dreamin of Water and Alfalfa

Megan at From the Archives, always with an interesting voice, discourses on ag subsidies, water and growing alfalfa in California. Two points I like: it's lots easier to move water to good soil than good soil to water; changing the subsidy structure means social disruption. When the market does it, economists call it "creative destruction", emphasis on "creative". When it's done to you, it feels an awful lot like just "destruction".

Thursday, November 01, 2007

FBI and IT, Redux

Government Executive reports on the FBI's latest step forward in automation.

But is anyone bothered by this line?
Under Phase I, Lockheed Martin, which won the $305 million Sentinel contract in March 2006, built the front page of the Web portal, which features functions such as Google search and an FBI phonebook.
Presumably there's also a big security piece (which seems to be referred to later in the story), but gee, Google search and a phonebook? That's such a steal for a mere $305 million.

Unintended Consequences of Green

From Farmgate, a discussion of corn and soybean outlook:
1) Projections of corn use for ethanol continue to climb upward, putting pressure on corn prices, encouraging acreage shifts, and resulting in reduced supplies of other crops.
2) Higher US prices are encouraging crop production expansion in South America and elsewhere, with an impact on livestock production and the price of meat.
Of course, the expansion in South America is changing tropical forest into monocultural land. As Robert Heinlein wrote, there's no such thing as a free lunch.