Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tax Reform Easier Than Obamacare Repeal?

Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin is optimistic about getting tax reform done by August--he says:
""We're able to take the tax code and redesign things, and I think there is very, very strong support," he said. "I think in healthcare, it's [a] much, much more complicated issue, where you start out with ObamaCare, which had all these issues, and you're trying to kind of get rid of it and make changes simultaneously.""
Minority Leader Pelosi was talking "rookie day" yesterday, mocking the difficulties the Republicans were having with healthcare.  I'd call Mnuchin another "rookie", given his optimism.  I remember the problems Reagan had in the 1980's with his tax reform, back in the days when he had Sen. Bill Bradley and Rep. Danny Rostenkowski in Congress to get the necessary Democratic votes.  Even with those advantages there was a lot of cliff hanging and logrolling and the final package came up short of the initial promises.

Remember, while healthcare affects 1/6 of the economy, taxes affect the whole thing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Immigrants and Produce Production

When I was young during the summer when we'd drive to Greene for livestock feed, we'd see an old bus parked by the fields bordering the Chenango river, fields in which grew green beans, a bus which provided transport for those Negroes (as we said then) who picked the beans.  It was a moment of quickly passing contact with another world, strange to a child of dairy/poultry farmers. I've no idea where the pickers spent the night, presumably a tent or the bus.

These days the people who harvest our fruits and vegetables are almost all immigrants, mostly undocumented.  That leads to multiple issues, as described in this good Tamar Haspel piece for the Post.  If undocumented immigrants are deported and Trump's wall is built and is effective (big "ifs"), will citizens fill their places?  Could higher wages attract enough workers? Or would innovation come to the rescue, providing machinery and robots to do the harvesting, perhaps at the cost of changing the nature of the produce?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Virginians Steal Pennsylvanian Glory

I've a ggggrandfather who served in the Revolution in the Pennsylvania militia.  While other researchers have come up with the idea he was at Valley Forge, the best I can determine is he may have commanded a company of York militia guarding prisoners from Burgoyne's army. 

Kenneth Roberts wrote some popular historical fiction about the Revolution, and Washington Irving wrote a two-volume bio of George Washington, both of which praised the "Virginia riflemen", often under Morgan.  But J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 suggests cautiously that history may have gotten it wrong, that there were more Pennsylvanian riflemen than Virginians.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Innovation in Farming: Software and Tractors

Farmer populism shows its face in a revolt against John Deere's attempt to protect its software running its tractors.  See this piece.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Moving as a Metaphor for Budget Cutting

In my view of government, legislation is a compromise among different interests and people, assembled by politicians to get a majority of votes.  Some laws are narrow in focus and effect, often driven by one or a few politicians under the stimulus of a narrow and small group of fervent believers.  Think perhaps of an earmarked program for research by NIH on an uncommon disease.  Call these the laws of passion. Other laws are broader in focus, meaning more politicians came together in a compromise, often through judicious backscratching and logrolling. Call these the laws of interest.

Once legislation is enacted, and appropriations made, there develops the familiar iron triangle, of  bureaucrats who administer the law, the interest groups supporting it, and the legislators who derive votes from passing and maintaining it. 

As time passes, technology changes, and society changes, some laws lose their relevance, or become a misfit with the environment. But because people are creatures of habit, it's easiest not to rock the boat.

I can argue that there's value to having a Trump come along with a drastic budget proposal simply because it forces the reevaluation of existing laws.  Is there still a valid coalition backing the law--does the old combination of passion and interest still live, does it still have the clout it had back in the days of creation?

I'd compare the situation to moving: a family buys a house and gradually fills it with things.  Time passes and they need to move, to downsize to an apartment. Then you discover which things are useful enough to take to the new place and which are not.  Or maybe instead of moving to an apartment you need to move to a McMansion.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Chevron and Regulations

One of the big things about Judge Gorsuch as he tries to be confirmed by the Senate is his position on
Chevron, not the oil company but the Supreme Court case which determined how much deference, if any, should be given to an executive agency's interpretation of laws which resolve ambiguities in the language of the law. The majority opinion said courts should defer; Judge Gorsuch says "no deference" (very short summary there).

As a bureaucrat you know I come down on the deference side.  One of my reasons isn't much discussed: the reality of Congress and politicians.  For a given issue politicians have to come to some consensus, some resolution, else they'll get blasted as "do-nothing" by Harry Truman or the Dems in 2018.  But the reality is resolution is hard in a democracy--there's no magic sauce to make everyone happy.  The result is that Congress cobbles together something to show the voters.  That "something" is often a law which straddles both sides of the issue, or fuzzes the issue with vague language or lawyerisms such as "as appropriate", "reasonable", etc. etc.In other words, Congress often doesn't make decisions, it kicks them over to the poor bureaucrats in the agency who have to implement the law.

IMHO the people who agree with Gorsuch are living in a dream, one where ambiguities in legislation are mistakes by Congress, mistakes which can easily be fixed if the Court, instead of going along with the agency's fix by regulation, kicks the problem back to Congress for an easy and expeditious fix. 

In my view ambiguities aren't mistakes, they are features of the democratic process of legislation.

Judicial Vacancies: More Than You Want to Know

Ballotpedia has a piece today.  Incidentally, I recommend the site.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Immigration: Surprising Facts

From a post originating from the National Academy of Sciences report on immigration:
" Indeed, today’s immigrants are more likely to have education beyond college than the native-born."
"We are a debtor nation — that’s what the existence of the widely discussed budget deficit means. This in turn means that the “average American” is a fiscal burden, receiving more in benefits than he or she pays in taxes."  [so both new babies and new immigrants cost the government more than they contribute in taxes.  However, that's true only if you give each person a per capita share of defense and interest payment costs, which don't actually increase with each new addition.]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Future Is California

An excerpt from a David Brin post:

From the Los Angeles Times: Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans. Since 1980, California’s rate of reported crime overall has fallen by 62%. The state’s criminal arrest rates, too, have fallen considerably, by 55% overall, and by 80% among people younger than 18 — a population, it is worth noting, that is now 72% nonwhite. 

Violent crime in California has fallen by an impressive 50% in the same period. This includes drops in robberies (65%), homicide (68%), and rapes and assaults (more than 40%). That last figure is even more remarkable when you consider that the legal definitions of both assault and rape were expanded during these years.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Americans Share What?

Pew Research has a recent report on what people in different countries see as the keys to being of their nationality--is it shared language, birthplace, shared customs and values, faith, etc.  Interesting variations among the different countries surveyed, mostly Western countries plus Japan

I saw a reference to this earlier, then was struck by a talking head on Fox arguing that we should only admit immigrants who share our values.

Some random thoughts:
  • there's no universal rule applicable.  Canadians believe you need to speak either English or Franch, but Americans wouldn't agree to an English-Spanish rule.  Greeks are strong on religion, but that's no longer that important in most other countries.
  • adding some other countries, such as China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc. would have further expanded our horizons.
  • in the past, many didn't believe that Irish Catholic immigrants could be good Americans: they shared neither birthplace, religion, nor customs with the then-current Americans.  That was even more true when the time came to admit immigrants from eastern Europe and Italy. 
  • when we look in detail at current "Americans" we find groups which don't share our customs and values but share the language (i.e. Old Order Mennonites,Hasidic Jews) and some which don't share the language but are somewhat closer in values, if not customs (some Latinos)
My bottom line is--if the adults work and pay taxes, and abide by the laws, fine.