Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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.
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 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
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
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.)
"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.
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.
Monday, November 26, 2007
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
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
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
(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
I'd treat guns like cars. Every American, even including illegal immigrants, has the right to drive a car, once they've been tested.
I made a similar proposal several months ago.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Write the candidates, strike a blow for clear thought and achievable goals.
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
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.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.
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.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Note the bipartisan mentions in the second.
“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
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.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.)
[give Lundgren credit for not throwing in an attack on corporate agriculture, which people often include here--contrasting small farmers with corporate farms.]
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
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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.
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.
(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.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
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.
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
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
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
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Some times you just can't win.
Monday, November 05, 2007
(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.]
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.
- 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.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
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.
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.
- 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
Friday, November 02, 2007
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
Thursday, November 01, 2007
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.
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.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.
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.