Saturday, March 30, 2019

Women, Cows, and Hens

Just skimmed this summary of research on economic history.  A couple paragraphs:
Given the obviously crucial role of endogeneity issues in this debate, we carefully consider the causal nature of the relationship. More specifically, we exploit relatively exogenous variation of (migration adjusted) lactose tolerance and pasture suitability as instrumental variables for female autonomy.
The idea is that a high lactose tolerance increased the demand for dairy farming, whereas similarly, a high share of land suitable for pasture farming allowed more supply. In dairy farming, women traditionally had a strong role; this allowed them to participate substantially in income generation during the late medieval and early modern period (Voigtländer and Voth, 2013).
My translation: women do better with dairy cows than plowing ground for grain, and if women do better, the overall economy does better.

A similar logic could apply to chickens.  You don't need a lot of strength to manage a flock of hens.  The one advantage dairy has over chickens is it's easier to store dairy products--cheese specifically, than it is eggs.

I suspect this may be over-simplified. I vaguely remember that the development of plows which could handle the soils of northwest Europe, soils which were heavier than the soils of southern Europe, was a big deal, at least in history as it was taught 60 years ago.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Reparations: the Booker Plan

Politico has a piece on Cory Booker's townhall..  On reparations he said:
He said he supports reparations for African-Americans who are descendants of slaves, pointing to his baby bond legislation, which would give newborns savings accounts worth tens of thousands of dollars by the time they’re 18 to address the racial wealth gap. 
How does this fit with my previous discussion?

Tne New Yorker had a discussion of the proposal late last year. Apparently the professor Darity who's been pushing reparations has come up with this plan as more politically feasible than reparations.  Notably the plan apparently applies to all infants, regardless of race, but with the money put into the bonds dependent on the family's income.

From the article:
His plan is not as precisely targeted toward people of color as it might be: because the federal government cannot determine the value of the assets held by any given American family, the amount children receive is determined by their parents’ wages, a scale on which black families tend to appear better off than they actually are. Even so, Booker’s staff has calculated that the average white child would accrue about fifteen thousand dollars through the program, and the average black child would gain twenty-nine thousand dollars—making it the largest asset for most black families.
My point in the previous post was there was a tension between apologizing to blacks and redressing their situation.   Booker's plan might be cost-effective in boosting the prospects of infants in low-income families, but it seems to me to lose the emotional impact of reparations.   

Thursday, March 28, 2019

I Warned the Trump Administration

DOD faced tough questions on the Hill over funding and the reallocation of money to Trump's border wall.

It's not good to have your committee giving your top officials a hard time.  It's worse to have your appropriators mad at you.

Yes, I'm saying "I told you so".

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

On Reparations

I find I've never published a post on reparations.  I'm sure I can find some draft posts, particularly commenting on Ta-Nehisi Coates' Atlantic article on the subject.  But that would be work, and I'm lazy.

So here's a brief summary of my views on a complex subject:
  • seems to me reparations can be (1) compensation for damages suffered in the past and (2) a symbolic apology for fault in inflicting damages. The apology may carry over to the idea of reconciliation between parties, where there may or may not be any balance of damages inflicted and suffered between or among the parties. I write "and" because I think both apply, in different proportions in different cases. 
  • examples of reparations include the payments made to Japanese-Americans who were confined to concentration camps during WWII, payments made by Germany to Jews who survived the Holocaust, perhaps the Pigford payments to African-American, Hispanic, and female farmers,  Reconciliation proceedings have occurred in Rwanda between Hutsi and Tutsi and in South Africa between black natives and white colonists. And, of course, we can't forget the Pigford payments to African-American farmers and the similar payments to Hispanic, female, and Native American farmers.
  • as a former bureaucrat I recoil at the prospect of some poor bureaucrats having to work out the rules and administer any program 
When we're talking about possible reparations to African-Americans based on the damages from slavery and past racial bias, it seems to me we're talking symbolic apologies.  Administratively there's some similarity between a program of reparations and  some policy programs, such as a disaster payments program.  In both cases you're looking at what has already happened to determine eligibility  to implement a policy.  The difference in reparations programs is the amount of time that's passed and therefore the evidence which is available to support a claim for payments.

This differs from prospective programs, where the recipient is going to perform some action, install a conservation practice or divert acreage from production as a quid pro quo for the money.

My own feeling is money proposed to be spent as reparations would be more effective devoted to some prospective programs.  The problem I have is, of course, we don't have good data on what programs are effective.  And proposing spending a trillion dollars on Head Start, free college, etc. etc. instead of a trillion dollars to those who can prove descent from an ancestor who lived in America in 1860, for example, doesn't carry the same symbolic energy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Let's Be Precise

I see the statement that "Mueller didn't find any evidence of collusion" or words to that effect.  We don't know that. With a layman's knowledge of the law I think there are these possible points on the continuum of incriminating evidence:
  • no evidence at all, meaning the investigation was launched without solid cause.  (Might have been bias, might have been false evidence, might have been facts which seemed to point one way but actually pointed another.)
  • some evidence, but not enough for the prosecutor in the case to take to trial.  (I'm assuming that different prosecutors will be more or less cautious in what they take to trial, or try to get a plea deal.  I note Jerome Corsi was offered a plea deal, which he turned down.  Were the prosecutors bluffing? )
  • enough evidence to take to trial.
  • enough evidence to convict, given the prosecutors, defense attorneys, jury and judge in the case.
What the Barr memo says is Mueller couldn't get to the third level.

I also note the Barr memo includes the phrase "Russian government".  I assume that allows for possible difficulty in determining whether person X is an agent of the government, directly or indirectly, or is a "cutout" as we know from films and books is often used in spy thrillers.  I'm not clear, however, what difference it makes: there's a crime to conspire with a foreign government but not with foreign individuals?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mueller Report--Turtle

I see I've never commented on the Mueller operation, so I can't claim any credit for prescience nor do I have to cover up any mistaken predictions.  Just call me "turtle".

The Barr interpretation of obstruction law fascinates me: apparently you need three things: a crime, acts which obstruct justice, and the intent to obstruct.  As of today it's not clear which of the three (one or more) Barr finds missing or not sufficiently supported by the facts as Mueller's presents them.  It might be the crime, it might be that no one lied to FBI agents (as Flynn did), just lied to the public, or it might be everyone in the Trump campaign and administration is so confused they had no clear intent.

I tend to lean towards the idea that all the people involved were babies, new to the political world, and thus experienced things as babies do, in the words of William James, as "blooming, buzzing, confusion."  Thus their collusion with the Russians was accidental, their attempts to cover up things were out of fear of embarrassment, not prosecution, and thus failed on the intent.

We'll see if that's that picture journalists and historians develop as the Mueller report becomes public and more analysis is done.

USDA FPAC Business Center

Time to look again at the FPAC business center:

From the Budget summary for FSA:
Savings will be achieved through a number of streamlining efforts that will reduce the cost of program delivery, while maintaining customer service. These efforts include Headquarters and Field organizational realignment and strategic reductions in staff years throughout FSA. Additionally, reductions in operating expenses and information technology investments will be made. Finally, increased funding will be provided to expand customer self-service for conservation, farm loans and farm programs through a common web portal. This portal, jointly managed by FSA, RMA, and NRCS, would serve as a launch point for farmers and ranchers to apply for programs and access customer information across the mission area.

And for FPAC:
In October 2017, the FPAC Business Center (FBC) was formed to consolidate back-office functions within the newly formed FPAC mission area. FBC will be responsible for financial management, budgeting, human resources, information technology, acquisitions/procurement, customer experience, internal controls, risk management, strategic and annual planning, and other mission-wide activities in support of the customers and employees of FSA, NRCS, and RMA. The FBC will be established in 2018 via a transfer of funding and personnel from FSA, RMA, and NRCS. The FBC will also provide administrative support for the CCC. Accordingly, the 2019 Budget reduces the direct appropriation for FSA, RMA, and NRCS and provides funding directly to the FBC. In addition, FBC would be funded through transfers from ACIF and Farm Bill conservation programs. In 2019, $272.7 million and 1,750 staff years will be available for the FBC. This includes, $131.5 million and 832 staff years from FSA, $17 million and 82 staff years from RMA, and $124.3 million and 836 staff years from NRCS. FBC will be funded by both mandatory and discretionary funds. [Emphasis added]

It looks to me as if the budget proposes to cut FSA personnel by roughly 1,000 (very quick estimate).

I understand the FPAC Business Center is operational, but I'd think the "will be" I underlined above should have read "has been", shouldn't it? 

I'm surprised NASCOE has had no comment on the Business Center.

Alabama Dairy

According to this Alabama has gone from 3,500 dairy farms 60 years ago to 50 now.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Analogy of the Day: Phipps on Farm Bureau

"To be sure, farmers as a whole are heavily clustered on the political right, although their actual policy preferences are a mix of blatantly leftist protectionism (sugar, dairy) and subsidies (crop insurance) scattered like chocolate chips in a cookie of free-market rhetoric."

Phipps has had qualms about the Farm Bureau and its representation of farmers for years.  (Its claim of 6 million members is inflated by its insurance operation.)  In this article he lays out his case for leaving it. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Boyd and Equipment Prices

John Boyd continues to get into the national media.  Here's an Atlantic article citing his views on the rising prices of farm equipment.  Again, while southside Virginia isn't close to DC (roughly 200 miles from Reston), it's closer than Ottumwa, Iowa.  Boyd's activity seems to have picked up, as here his group is opposing a bank merger.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Trump and the Administrative Procedure Act

I've posted before about the Administrative Procedure Act and the Trump administration, most recently here.  Yesterday's article in the Post provides an overview of the extent of their problems, although still not pointing to the role of Judge Rao (she's been confirmed) in failing to do things in the right way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Modernity Amazes Me: HD Delivery

I suspect that occasional posts on this blog show that I'm sometimes amazed by how things work today.

Another such episode today:

Yesterday I bought $300+ worth of 2 x 12 boards to replace the old ones forming the walls of my raised beds in the garden.  This morning they were delivered:

  • got a phone call from the delivery telling me she was on her way
  • drove to the garden plots to meet here.
  • the delivery vehicle was a tractor with a flat bed trailer and a fork lift (truck?) on the back end.
  • I told her where to drop the boards, she found a parking place, unstrapped the pallet with the wood, started the fork lift and moved the boards off the trailer to the spot.
  • took a picture of the boards, got in the truck and drove off.
The whole process took about 45 minutes and was accomplished by one person.  She wasn't a Home Depot employee, and the truck wasn't an HD vehicle, it was a Penske rental.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

College Side Entrances and Carl Van Doren

Somehow the current scandal on the "side entrances" for college admission through fake athletic credentials or fake SAT tests reminds me of Charles Van Doren.

Why?  Because some of the reactions to both see (saw) the episodes as undermining the prestige and validity of the elites of society.  Van Doren, for those who weren't born in the 50's, was a contestant on a televised quiz show which was a big hit.  This was back in the day where, if you were lucky, you could choose among three TV networks, but more likely were limited to one or two.  Van Doren was part of the educational elite, a young professor who was the son and nephew of prominent academics. Finding out that someone with such a background who seemed a model had stooped to cheating was a shock.

Van Doren and Sputnik are linked in my mind as creating and epitomizing discontent with US society of the late 50's, a discontent which both JFK and Nixon tried to ride.

Monday, March 18, 2019

How Big Is Denmark?

This bit quoted in Marginal Revolution struck me funny, regarding the need for subtitles in Danish movies to be played in movie theaters in Denmark?
Pedersen blames the necessity for subtitles on the evolution of the use of Danish in movies. Whereas in the past, actors were focused on articulating themselves in a way understandable for everyone, their main emphasis has now shifted to being as authentic as possible. Hence, many actors have chosen not to imitate more common dialects and have stuck to local versions of Danish. “It’s a small country, but there are big differences between the Danish dialects,” Pedersen explained.

A check of wikipedia shows Denmark to have 5.8 million inhabitants, about size of Wisconsin, but Wisconsin is about 6 times bigger. Where Wisconsin has lakes, Denmark has islands, 443 of them, some 74 of which are inhabited.  That likely explains some of divergences in the Danish language.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Market in Farmer's Markets

The market in farmer's markets is not good, according to this NPR story.  Too many markets chasing too few buyers.  Another case where the free market in agriculture is overly productive.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kids Are (More) Less Mature These Days

Was reading a Slate article by a woman who thought she could pass on what she learned as a teenager navigating romances to her daughter.  Turns out, according to the woman, her daughter needed no teaching; she found the waters very different given social media but handled them just fine.

Then there's this NYTimes piece entitled Children Are Grown, But Parenting Doesn't Stop.

I like to bridge opposites, so I suggest that in different times/societies people develop different faculties at different rates.  Perhaps today's society provides more models of how to develop emotionally for people to learn from while simultaneously making it more complicated to maneuver through society.  Compared to my youth individual development is more emphasized and more important, while discussion of social forces is more restricted to race and gender.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Beto and the Bulletin Board

Philip Bump in the Post has an article describing Beto O'Rourke's background as a "hacker". 

It brings back memories, including when Jeff Kerby started running a BBS for ASCS, and the periodic upgrades of my modem--back then progress was real and tangible.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Mom Loved Her Hens, Or the Fox in the Henhouse

But I didn't.  Chickens can be vicious, particularly when you're trying to scoot eggs out from under a hen.  They use their beaks to grab the skin on the back of your hand, and then they twist it, hard.  Mean #%$^%^%

To confirm it, see this BBC report (via Marginal Revolution) on how the fox in the henhouse met his demise.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Dairy Supply Management for US?

Tamar Haspel, a food writer I follow on twitter, praised this article in Civil Eats about dairy supply management.  The article describes rising grass roots interest in supply management among Wisconsin dairy farmers and some other areas.  The Farm Bureau opposes it, of course. 

Canada has used supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs since at least 1972 according to this wikipedia article.  (I write "at least" because supply management was a feature of depression-era ag policies but I'm not sure Canada used it for dairy.)

Essentially supply management means assigning production quotas to farms, with penalties for over-production.  The US used to have supply management in place for wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, and tobacco, rules which dated back to the 1930's.  Over time they've all been dismantled.   Judging by the impace of the change on tobacco farmers, the effect of supply management was to slow the decline of farm units.  In other words, it was harder to get bigger and easier to stay small, but the trends were the same.  The advance of technology and the power of markets still work, just slower.

Slow is what, IMO, the proponents want.  If you're a farmer in your 50's, you'd like to keep going until you can retire. Supply management might make that possible.  But if you're a young go-getter in your 30's looking to expand and adopt new technologies, you don't like the concept.  Politically there's always been more old farmers than young farmers.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Cost of Glasses

I've worn glasses since second or third grade, I think.  After I got my first pair I remember the revelation it was to see leaves and twigs on trees rather than a green blur. 

Now glasses are a technological marvel so obviously they are and should be relatively costly.  I think my last pair, with all the coatings and stuff were three or four hundred dollars.  But it's my eyesight, so I paid.

So I'm flabbergasted by this Vox piece drawing from an LATimes article.
"This week, the Los Angeles Times spoke with two former executives of LensCrafters: Charles Dahan and E. Dean Butler, who founded LensCrafters in 1983. Both admitted that today, glasses are marked up nearly 1,000 percent.
“You can get amazingly good frames, with a Warby Parker level of quality, for $4 to $8,” said Butler. “For $15, you can get designer-quality frames, like what you’d get from Prada.”
They attribute the high prices to having one big company which controls the industry.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Pork in DOD? Say It Ain't So

I think this story about how Congress highly regards certain construction projects in DOD bears out my warning to Trump back in February.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The Virtue of Lynch Mobs

Yes, the title is bait.

I'm reading Richard Wrangham's The Goodness Paradox?, about 3/4 of the way through.  I like it and the argument he makes, having read the recent book on the experiment in Russia of rearing silver foxes selected for non-aggression, which seems to support a "domestication" theory.  After 40 generations the foxes were much like dogs, both physically  (floppy ears, changes in skull shape, etc) and in behavior.

So in the chapter I just finished Wrangham's discussing how humans might have developed a moral sense (as part of their self-domestication).  His basic theory is: lynch mobs, triggered by observations of chimpanzees.  The idea is, if and when an alpha male gets too alpha, the subordinate males discover by forming a coalition they can take him out.  From that we can evolve to coalitions which enforce social norms, and innate behavior which makes us hyper conscious of norms and therefore very moral.

That's a quick and dirty summary; no doubt one Wrangham would shudder at.

It's an interesting subject, and he's a careful writer.  I want to see if he explains why we still generate alpha males like our current president.

[I should note, Wrangham doesn't call them "lynch mobs", but his description would match a description of a generic lynch mob--a bunch of males converging to execute justice on someone who is perceived to have violated a norm.  He has some descriptions from anthropology of societies/tribes where there are strong norms covering such actions.]

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Why Is Uber Like Farming?

Megan McArdle had an op-ed this morning arguing that Uber and Lyft were losing money because they weren't charging enough for rides.
Boosters of the ride-share revolution like to point out that most of the nation’s cars spend most of their time parked; there ought to be money in liberating all that unused capital. True enough — except that someone has to drive the car, including the time spent circling as they wait for rides.
In 2014, journalist Timothy B. Lee spent a week driving for Lyft. He drove for 50 hours but spent only 14 of those hours actually ferrying passengers. All that circling wears out the car and burns both gas and the driver’s valuable time.
The other day I noticed someone tweeting, I think, defending the usefulness of Uber.  The woman was divorced, supporting kids and with an odd work schedule (might have been an adjunct academic, I forget).  The point is that not only did she already have a vehicle, she had free time but at odd hours, odd enough she couldn't work a regular job, but she could drive for Uber and make money.

In a way she was similar to a farmer, someone who has land and equipment available and the decision is whether to use it to the fullest or not.  She, like the farmer, did, because that's what the market provides incentives for. When you look at what the farmer or driver is earning with the extra work, it may be very little, but as long as it covers the extra expenses incurred, if there's positive cash flow, the farmer or driver will likely work the hours.

A side issue:  I think cars are more reliable these days and last longer.  And in some cases, like mine, there's a mismatch.  All of my cars have become obsolete before they really became uneconomical to drive.  Repair bills were creeping up, partly because of age issues, not so much wear issues.  To the extent that's true for many people, Uber and Lyft will enable fuller usage of assets.  At least until the advent of self-driving cars which may change the paradigm again.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

No Bloomberg

I'm glad Mike Bloomberg isn't running.  He'd be a good choice for a cabinet position assuming we can beat President Trump in 2020.  Now if some of the other "B" boys (Beto, Biden, Brown, Bennet) stay out, the more centralist lane will be less crowded.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Hickenlooper, Klobuchar, Bennet, Brown

Two have announced their candidacies; two have not.  Based on what I know now I could easily support any of the four  The other candidates need to convince me not only that they''ll win but also they can help candidates for the Senate and House.

What I want is pragmatism in achieving liberal goals.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

FSA Reorganization

I found two new notices from FSA interesting:

One was a reorganization into Safety Net and Program Delivery Divisions.  If I understand it correctly it splits program policy and automation into separate organizations.  The question of the best organization has been an issue ever since the original System/36 automation of county offices in the mid 1980's.  At different times and in different areas we've had policy and automation united in one person, or the responsibility in one section but with different people specializing in each, or in separate sections within the division.

When Jerry Sitter was division director in the mid 80's he split out a branch to handle automation under Mike McCann, with the policy in other branches.  In a way this followed the personnel--the policy types were mostly established DC specialists, people who'd come in from the field before the System 36 arrived.  The automation types were the early "SCOAPers", mostly program assistaants brought in under 2-year temporary appointments (which turned into permanent slots as time passed).  It also, IMHO, reflected an attitude among management that automation was a subject they didn't really understand or feel comfortable with, so it was best housed in its own shop.  There was a similar setup in the commodity loan area.

I always had my reservation with that setup--my argument was that a program specialist needed to know the whole span of operations.  Just as in the pre-automation days we'd work with MSD to get forms designed and printed, procedures written, cleared and distributed, regulations written  and published,  automation was just another area to learn and manage.  Looking back, I was reflecting my own belief in my abilities to do the whole scope of activities, and I was probably unrealistic.  But I still think there's a kernel of truth there--sometimes policy issues and automation issues become one and the same.

Which leads me to the second notice: on a workaround to handle multi-county producers, which seems to me to be an example.  Here the history of ASCS/FSA going back to New Deal days has been to work with producers on a county by county basis, unlike FmHA which tried to consider all of a producer's assets and liabilities when making a loan.  FSA has gradually been forced to move away from a county basis with need to enforce payment limitation.  My point is that a policy decision to apply rules on a producer basis, as with loans, and to allow producers one-stop shopping at one office, or at one web page, as with this notice, has big implications for automation, both in the design of the database and in the operation of the software.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Adam Smith on Slavery

I generally think of Adam Smith as explaining what was happening in the 18th century economy, not as a social reformer.  But there's this, highlighted in a recent paper.
There is not a negro from the coast of Africa who does not, in this respect, possess a degree of magnanimity which the soul of his sordid master is too often scarce capable of conceiving. Fortune never exerted more cruelly her empire over mankind, than when she subjected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe, to wretches who possess the virtues neither of the countries which they come from, nor of those which they go to, and whose levity, brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished. (TMS 206–7.9) 

Friday, March 01, 2019

Eggs: the Vindication of My Mother on Her Birthday

The Post has an article today on the increased consumption of eggs along with the revival of their reputation, recovering from concerns about dietary cholesterol.

My mother died shortly after her birthday, which was March 1, 1898, some 30 years ago.  She had an origin story for her chickens: dad came home one day in the 20's or 30's, not clear which, and said they were going to add chickens to their small dairy operation.  The way she told the story she clearly was not happy about the decision.  But she lived with it, and  she became a fierce partisan of small flocks.  She griped about "city folks" coming out and going into the egg business when prices were good which created an oversupply and depressed the prices.

Given our supply of eggs, naturally we ate eggs for breakfast regularly (unless she did pancakes or french toast).  2 eggs a piece for dad and me, perhaps less for my sister who never would eat as well as mom wanted her to.

IIRC the 1960's saw the big concerns about cholesterol and a focus on eggs as one factor in arteriosclerosis.  That made my mother vent.  Eggs were the "perfect food". (You can google the phrase and find that is trending,.)  She was very defensive. I ddn't dare tell her I'd gradually lost the 2 eggs for breakfast habit over the years.

Happy birthday Mom--you were right all along.