Saturday, December 03, 2016

Knowing What You Don't Know; a Corollary

I may have blogged in the distant past about a time I discovered the importance of knowing what you don't know.  Briefly, I took a call from the Arkansas program specialist.  I hadn't been in my position too long, the specialist pressed for an answer on an issue, while clearly indicating which way he thought the answer should go.  I don't like conflict (might be an understatement) so I went along with him.

Some months later OIG filed a report challenging the rule the Arkansas office had applied, reporting that they had had approval from Washington for this dubious action.  Big embarrassment when I had to admit to my boss, a very nice guy, I was the one who had screwed up.  After that learning experience I tried to remember the lesson and to teach it to my employees when I moved back into management.

Long story short:  Evan Osnos, a very good writer in the New Yorker, has this paragraph on Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan:

"For a piece I published in September, about what Trump’s first term could look like, I spoke to a former Republican White House official whom Trump has consulted, who told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” It turns out that is half of the problem; the other half is that he has surrounded himself with people who know how much he doesn’t know."

[The ability to spell diminishes with age, at least in my case.  Misspelled "correllary"]

Friday, December 02, 2016

Farm Bill Debates

A Think Progress post here farm bill issues: specifically will the Republican dominance lead to an attack on food stamps or on environmental regulations.

Illinois extension here has a discussion of the baseline for the farm bill's farm programs--perhaps $10 billion a year.  I believe that's higher than the current bill's baseline was.  ("Baseline" is, if I understand, the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of future costs, over 10  years, if all Congress did was to extend current farm bill provisions with no change.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Would You Buy Stock in a Trump IPO?

Not I.  Too afraid that any anyone anti-US would attack the hotels, damage the golf courses, whatever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


A Japanese phenomenon, young men who don't work and don't play with others, instead withdrawing from social contact.  Hat tip: Marginal Revolution.

I've some sympathy with them--I wasn't that extreme but I also used to withdraw, at least outside work. 

It strikes me that it's something which can exist only in a wealthy society, where people have enough to support unproductive members of the society.  As such it's a bit related to the US decline in labor force participation by men in the prime working ages.  Whether it's society's safety nets or the informal workforce, it's a measure of how far we've changed from a rural agrarian society. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Where You Stand Affects Your Opinion

Because you see different things:  Ran across this instance this morning:
Every set I’ve been on has had an ethnically diverse crew. I see how directors might not clue in to the lack of diversity of their work because they look out onto an inclusive set. The principal actors onscreen are only a small percentage of the entire body of employees. What they forget is that the rest of the world only sees who is put in front of the camera, and they are hoping to look into a mirror.
From a Vox post by a Chinese-American actress.
This sort of thing occurs with race more generally, dating back to antebellum days:  Most blacks lived on large plantations with large numbers of other blacks and small numbers of whites; most white slave owners lived with small numbers of slaves; most whites weren't slave owners.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Trump Administration: Drama

Since I failed to predict Trump's win, why not predict what I expect from the administration?  Basically, I'm relying quite a bit on the Reagan history here:

  • Drama.  We'll go from "no drama, Obama" to the drama king himself.  Lots of t.oing and froing, changes of direction, suspense over decisions.  I expect this because Trump himself doesn't seem to have firm beliefs in a lot of areas, because he's new to government, and because likely many of his appointees will be new.  Compare this to Obama, whose big four appointees (State, DOD, Justice, and Treasury) were all old hands, with Clinton being the only one new to her responsibilities. 
  • Scandal. Despite the Republicans best efforts, Obama didn't have significant scandals.  Trump is likely to.  Think of Reagan: Interior, HUD, and Iran-contra spring to mind very readily. That's partly the same factors as for drama, but it's also appointing true believers who are more likely to follow their beliefs across the lines of ethics and legality.
  • Economy growth or inflation.  I can go a couple ways here:  I believe Trump is inheriting a good economy, one which likely would continue to improve.  So maybe he gets really lucky and has four solid years of growth despite himself (i.e., he doesn't carry out his promises).  Alternatively, he carries out promises which results in inflation and rocky economics by disrupting trade, increasing inflationary pressures, promoting inefficiencies in the economy.
We'll see.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Congressional Research Reports

This site has Congressional Research Service Reports.

A couple recent ones:

Farm Bill  "The new five-year estimated cost of the 2014 farm bill, as of August 2016, is now $466.5 billion for the four largest titles, compared with $484 billion for those same titles two years ago. This is $17 billion less than what was projected at enactment. SNAP outlays are projected to be $24 billion less for the five-year period FY2014-FY2018 than was expected in February 2014. Crop insurance is projected to be $4.4 billion less for the five-year period and conservation nearly $4 billion less. In contrast, farm commodity and disaster program payments are projected to be nearly $15 billion higher than was expected at enactment due to lower commodity market prices (which raises counter-cyclical payments) and higher livestock payments due to disasters. 

Conservation Compliance

Why Farmers Went for Trump

Modern Farmer has a post listing five reasons.

I've lost my memory of how the "waters of the US" issue might relate to swampbuster rules.  I know NRCS, EPA, and Corps of Engineers all get involved.  I also remember in 1991 getting an earful in Kansas about SCS handling of sod/swamp. I assume that's still a sore spot.

Friday, November 25, 2016

History and Jawboning

An excerpt from the Politico tipsheet:

"TRUMP’S AMERICA -- @realDonaldTrump: “I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier A.C. Company to stay in the U.S. (Indiana). MAKING PROGRESS - Will know soon!” … @Carrier: “Carrier has had discussions with the incoming administration and we look forward to working together. Nothing to announce at this time.” … @justinamash (Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, one of the staunchest libertarians in Congress): “Not the president(-elect)’s job. We live in a constitutional republic, not an autocracy. Business-specific meddling shouldn’t be normalized.”
I remember JFK and LBJ, both believed in jawboning.  JFK had a famous blowup with a steelmaker, ending with something like:  My father told me businessmen were all SOB's but I didn't believe him until now.  LBJ of course gave the Johnson treatment to everyone, not just business.  

The difference is Trump is jawboning/dealmaking? presumably to help Carrier, where JFK and LBJ were usually IIRC working to keep down inflation and settle strikes.

How the Free Market Works

An article on how prices for chicken are set.  Not so much by the free interplay of supply and demand among willing buyers and willing sellers, but by negotiations between big consumers (supermarkets, fast food chains) and big suppliers (Perdue, Tyson), using a reference price supplied by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Sort of reminds me of the scandal over LIBOR, where a handful of bankers collaborated to set rates which didn't reflect reality.

Lesson:  just because something is denominated in money, doesn't mean the market economy is operating.