Monday, November 19, 2018

Trump Administration Gets Bad Press, a Bit Unfairly

Our president would argue there's no news in my title. But while I'd argue the administration often deserves all the poor publicity it gets, articles in the press today are a bit unfair.

I'm referring to an article in the NYTimes on the progress of payments under Trump's "Market Facilitation Program" of providing payments to producers of commodities whose sale has been impacted by Trump's tariffs. The criticism is partly that FSA has been slow in getting payments out to farmers (and also that the payment rates aren't equitable.)

I'll make my point by citing a blog I follow: Life on a Colorado Farm.  (I recommend it for the great photos and the glimpses into the rhythms of farm life.)  The author reported today they'd just finished corn harvest.  Why is that important?  Corn growers can qualify for MFP payments only if and when they can provide production evidence, like warehouse receipts.  I don't know that they're going to apply for MFP payments (my guess is not), but today is the first day they could have a completed application. 

While it's true grain harvests are winding down, the USDA-NASS graphs show soybean harvests span about 2 months, from mid September when it begins to now, when it's 85-90 percent.  What that time frame could mean is that FSA offices receiving the applications are overwhelmed.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Farmers Do Their Thing With Pot

A Post article describes the declining price of marijuana where legalized. 

States projected revenue assuming low productivity gains when real farmers took over from the pot growers. (exaggerated for the point).  But real farmers are good, so prices are falling and so are tax revenues.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Discussion this morning with my cousin on the possible replacement of Rep. Pelosi as Speaker of the House in the new Congress.  We agree on two points, which may not be compatible: (1) Democrats in the House need new leadership in the future and (2) Pelosi needs to be Speaker when the House organizes in January.

She's about a year older than I.  She seems not to have lost much, if anything, unlike me.  :-(

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What's the Market Dynamics for Hearing Aids?

Starting to get a hearing aid.  The process raises questions about how the market works.

Apparently, from Consumer Report reviews there's little difference among the leading brands. But the prices seem high, particularly when you look at some of the personal devices being hawked on the Internet.  How do audiologists get away with charging so much and why doesn't competition drive the price down?

 Probably part of it is an information disparity, such as we often feel when dealing with doctors, etc.  The audiologist selling the hearing aids knows a lot more than we do as a first-time buyer.  And once we have a good experience with her/him, we'll keep going back to them. 

So it's rather like buying a car--once you've bought the first one you're likely, all other things being equal, to keep going back to the same dealer and manufacturer.  There's also the age factor: I suppose most aids are sold to older people and, while I wouldn't say we're gullible, I would say we're easier marks than younger types.  (Note the "we"--while theoretically I could experiment with online devices, I won't--I'll go with the flow.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Declining Value of Signatures

Stories on the elections, particularly in Florida but also elsewhere, have touched on the issue of signatures, but without going into much detail.  I assume what happens is that the voting registrar has a voter's signature on file and is trying to match it to a signature on an absentee ballot or a mail ballot.

Thinking about my signature over the years causes me to believe that the process is of declining value:

  • my signature has varied--usually I've signed "William D. Harshaw", but occasionally "William David..." I use "Bill..." for less official occasions.
  • my bank may still have my 1968 signature on file, although perhaps it's been updated.  IIRC when I bought the house in 1976 I had to go to an officer of the bank to convince him I was me, because the difference in signatures over the 8 years was great enough to raise doubts.
  • but that was back in the day when I made payments by check, signing 5 or more checks each month.  These days I likely write 5 or more checks in a year, so whenever I sign a check I'm really out of practice.  I'd predict that means my signature is more variable these days.
  • I usually use a debt card instead of a credit card, but when I use the credit card I often have to sign using my finger on a tablet, not using a pen.  My tablet signal bears only a slight resemblance to my pen and ink signature.
So my bottom line is the bureaucracy should begin to steer away from signatures as a proof of identity.

[Updated: post on signatures.]

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Swings of National Politics

One of the theories of political scientists, I think including Jonathan Bernstein, is that voters engage in strategic voting--for example in 2016 they voted for Republican senatorial candidates expecting Clinton to become president. The effect generally and nationally is to swing power from one party to the other.

I've no citations to oppose the theory, but I've another one which may be at least complementary.  The book "The Politics of Resentment" argues in part that rural voters feelignored by the political establishments in Madison, WI and DC.  This fits with the idea that voting for Trump in 2016 was sending a message to the establishment.  What happens when the message is sent?  Perhaps enthusiasm wanes.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Women Who Don't Work?

Deb Perelman writes about bake sales: "They feel like a holdover from a time when many moms didn’t work "

We all know what she means--the women didn't work for pay.  They didn't have an employer paying them.

Economics skews our picture of reality.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

When Are Farmers No Longer Farmers

From a Congressional Research Service report on 2018 Farm Income Outlook comes  a table which I can't incorporate.

You can access it here.  What struck me first, from the CRS report, was the rapid increase in farm household income from off farm sources, to the point that off-farm accounted for easily 3 or 4 times as much income as farm sources.

Then, as I tried to find a way to get the image into this post, and failed, I found this ERS spreadsheet.  We all remember the difference between "mean" and "median", right.  According to the table the median farmer had no income from farming in the years 2013-2018. 

That's weird, but this helps to explain it (from a Rural Development Perspectives article)
Almost 90 percent of elderly operators' average household income came from off-farm sources, with nearly half of their off-farm income coming from "other off-farm income," which includes Social Security. Another 19 percent of their off-farm income came from interest and dividends, reflecting savings and investments by these households during earlier years. Unlike elderly operators, operators under age 65 received most of their off-farm income from wages, salaries, or self-employment.
 That was my mother after my father died--for a number of years she continued the poultry operation, but SS income was really the basis of her livelihood.  But we don't think of these situations when discussing "farmers".

Friday, November 09, 2018

Klobuchar for President

Previously I've mentioned Hickenlooper as a possible candidate for the presidency. In October it was Hickenlooper and Klobuchar.  Today my preference is Klobuchar

I still like him, but now I'd like to see Amy Klobuchar   My number one priority is someone who can beat Trump in 2020.  Today I think she can.  More importantly, I predict on November 3, 2020 I'll believe it still.  Why:

  • in 2020 she'll be 60 years old, 14 years younger than Trump and younger by a similar margin than Sanders, Biden, and Clinton, and 11 years younger than Warren., 8 than Brown''
  • in 2020 she'll be 60,   4 years older than Harris, 12 years older than O'Rourke, 9 years than Booker, 6 years than Gillibrand,
  • her experience in government relative to her competitors is roughly similar to her age--more experience than those younger, less than those older
  • by 2020 I expect the great American electorate to have tired of Trump, even more than they have already.  The contrast between "Minnesota nice" and "New York crass [add your own adjectives] could not be greater.
  • having been elected to the Senate 3 times from the Midwest battleground of Minnesota shows her ability to campaign and win.
  • early analysis of the landscape for the 2020 election sees the MW states of WI, MI, and MN along with PA as key, so her  Minnesota background gives her a headstart.
  • all else equal, I think a woman will do better in debates with Trump than a man would.  I see Clinton as having done better against him than the 16 Republican men.
What are her vulnerabilities:
  • foreign affairs/national security.  Depending on the course of events over the next 2 years her lack of background could be a real handicap.
  • perceptions: "too nice to lead", "not a tough enough fighter against Trump" would be my guesses at the lines of attack against her. I think her exchange with Kavanaugh helped her here, but much will depend on her ability in debates.
  • not progressive enough.  That would be the view of the Sanders cluster of the Democratic party.  I think she's about as progressive as the nation will stand as a president in current circumstances, absent a recurrence of the Great Recession.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The History of NY Dairy, and the Future?

Civil Eats had a piece on Engelbert Farms of Nichols, NY, which isn't too far away from where I grew up.  The farm is partly in the flood plain of the Susquehanna, meaning it's got some good soil.  Our farm was partly (very small part) in the flood plain of the Page Brook flood plain, meaning we had less good soil.  The farm now consists of over 1,000 acres, owned and rented.  Our farm was 80 acres, owned.

From the Civil Eats piece I did a search for the farm's website, which has this history of the farm.

From the history you can infer much about the overall history of dairy in NY--the consolidation of farms, the competition for land from urban and industrial uses, the influence of Cornell and extension, etc.

The farm was an early, perhaps the early adopter of organic principles, so it might predict the future.