Monday, May 20, 2019

Countervailing Judicial Power

Ezra Klein has a piece on Vos about "countervailing power", a concept from John Kenneth Galbraith. Briefly, he saw "big labor" as countering "big business", and "big government" as an essential balancing player.  So Klein summarizes his argument:
" If the [political] question is framed as socialism or capitalism, it’s difficult to state the obvious: We may need a bit more socialism now, even if that may create a need for more capitalism later.
But if it’s framed as the balance of countervailing powers, that truth becomes more obvious. There is no end state in a liberal democracy. There is only the constant act of balancing and rebalancing. The forces that need to be strengthened today may need to be weakened tomorrow. But first they need to be strengthened today."
I've always liked the Galbraith's concept.  I'm struck by a tweet from Orin Kerr, suggesting that if conservatives become dominant in the judiciary, it will evoke a countervailing response from legal academia.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

National Service Concerns

Some discussion these days from Dem candidates about "national service".

I guess I'm generally favorable to the idea, but with reservations, based on my experience with the draft.

The draft was good for:
  • getting me out of a rut (different people have different ruts, but I suspect the recent decline in American geographical mobility is partly the result of the ending of the draft).
  • exposing me to people from across the country and diverse backgrounds
  • challenging me to endure and master new experiences: like basic training, like serving as an instructor.
Those benefits came because the draft was not voluntary.  I'd worry that a non-military national service would not have the diversity nor the challenges.  Once you allow the person to choose, you start to lose some of the necessary difficulty.  Even in the Army, once I was past basic my cohort and co-workers were much more similar to me. 

The other vulnerability of a new national service program would be, I think, the difficulty of finding a purpose to the program's work.   While we draftees disliked the military, we knew it was important and/or significant.  But we were essentially unskilled labor, cannon fodder, and weren't qualified for much more than that.  And we got paid accordingly, so we were cheap.  So what work requires cheap unskilled labor  and is self-evidently important?

If the proponents can come up with an answer to that question, we can then talk about instituting "national service".  Until then, we need more focused things like Job Corps and Americorps.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Powerline and Althouse Wouldn't Qualify as Immigrants

Nor would almost all liberals blogging and tweeting.   See this NY Times calculator.

I scored 18 points, where 30 is required.  (The key, of course, in my case is age, income, and my college major.)

(Updated: I'm referring to the people behind the two blogs I follow which are on the right, although Ann Althouse might quarrel with that categorization.)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Another Round of MFP Payments?

There's been discussion this week, and a promise by the President, that farmers will receive more money to compensate for losses due to the trade war with China.

That's well and good, but I'm not sure of the nitty-gritty.  Let me backtrack:

For the first MFP I initially thought USDA was tapping Section 32 funds.  Did a bit of research on that possibility.  (Roughly, Section 32 provides authority for USDA to use a portion of certain tariff revenues for certain aid to agriculture.  It dates back to the New Deal days.)  But that turned out to be a mistake of mine.  Instead USDA tapped CCC's borrowing authority, which also dates back to the New Deal.  CCC has authority to borrow up to $30 billion from the Treasury and spent it to aid agriculture in certain ways..

I've tried, half-heartedly, to find out how much borrowing authority CCC has left.  When it's tapped out, CCC has to stop its operations until Congress passes legislation to replenish the authority.  (I'm skating on the edge of my comprehension of these matters, but I do have a clear memory of a time when CCC ran out of authority just before we were to make deficiency payments, notably because my screwup cost the taxpayers a few million dollars. (A story for another day.)

Bottom line, I didn't find the answer. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What 5G Can Do for: Dairy

Technology Review has a short post on a test of 5G and cows, in Britain.  Cows wear 5G collars which transmit biometric data and open gates to milking parlors.

(I'm not clear why 4G wouldn't work for this, but connecting fancy technology and cows has a certain reader appeal. )

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Return of Foreign Policy Issues

For the first two years most foreign policy issues didn't rouse much domestic concern.  That may be changing these days, between Trump's trade issues and the rising tension with Iran.  Looking at it from a political perspective, which Democratic candidate benefits? 

I'd suggest Biden does.  None of the other candidates have much background in foreign policy, but Biden has 8 years worth. Definitely the younger candidates are at a disadvantage.  Pete may speak seven languages (he'd might be only the second most multi-lingual president--I've seen a reference that J.Q. Adams spoke more, though that's not supported by wikipedia, though it does show a surprising number of presidents who were multi-lingual) but that won't count for much.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Another Error by a Harvard Professor

Making slow progress through "These Truths" by Jill Lepore. See my previous post.

On page 172 she writes of Jefferson: "As late as 1815 he was boasting that, as a result of the embargo, 'carding machines in every neighborhood, spinning machines in large families and wheels in the small, are too radically established to ever be relinquished.'  That year, cotton and slave plantations in the American South were shipping seventeen million bales of cotton to England...."

That's flat wrong.  We've never exported that much cotton, never grown that much cotton.  The statement is sourced to Sven Beckert's history.

I'm having fun with this, so I've added "Harvard" to my lables.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Driverless Cars: Setting the Bar Too High

Technology Review has a discussion of three factors impeding the adoption of driverless cars:

  • safety--cars being safer than human drivers (who don't drink or text)
  • useful--cars that aren't slow because too cautious, perhaps requiring regulatory changes.
  • affordable.
To me it seems they're setting the bar too high.  Going back to the Innovator's Dilemma new technologies evolve by finding a niche from which they can expand gradually, making use of the learning curve to reduce costs so existing technology can be undersold and to become useful in new ways.  I think that applies here, as I've said before:
  • a geezer like me isn't as safe a driver as the average person, even though we know enough not to drink or text.
  • a geezer like me is already a cautious driver, so making a driverless car that abides by the speed limits is not disrupting the norm (for us).
  • a geezer like me values driveability higher, highly enough to pay a premium to preserve the ability

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Those Who Ignore History: the F-35 and the TFX

The F-35 is our latest and greatest(?) fighter.  Apparently the lessons learned from its development will cause DOD to go a different direction for the next one.

As a layman I understand the key feature of the F-35 is its use by both the Air Force and the Navy.  After all, both need fighters so why not build one to serve both needs?

It's dream we've had before, most notably in the 60's, with the TFX program..  Back then Robert McNamara was blamed for the decision to go for commonality. The TFX was very controversial and, in my memory, it was never deemed a success, though judging by the wikipedia article it was more useful for longer than I remembered.

The lesson I took away from the TFX episode was twofold:

  • it's hard to do a project that meets the needs of two different organizations
  • be cautious when trying to do innovation top down.
The continuing mystery is why I forgot those lessons when applied to projects trying to eliminate USDA silos, like ASCS and SCS.

[Update:  see this GovExec piece on the next fighter after the F-35.]

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Rural Fatties

My mother would be sad at the news that world-wide obesity is more of a problem in rural areas than urban ones.  Her basic belief was in the superior virtue of rural people and the better life in rural areas.