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September 14, 2005

Comments

someone explain to me again why it would be bad for the country if the Democrats took the House? Even for a conservative. Hoping for an internal change is not much good. DeLay won't change the way he acts, and the party won't get rid of DeLay, until this approach loses them a house of Congress.

Well, for the Republican's spendthrift ways to become an issue, the Democrats must provide a plausible alternative. And although as a socially-liberal deficit hawk I personally would love to see that happen, it hasn't and it ain't gonna.

Gore did do a tolerable job of trimming the administrative budget (one of the reasons that Bush's cuts have flensed so much muscle and bone from projects like FEMA is that there was precious little fat left in the non-pork areas like administrative costs and payroll). And Clinton did try for a "peace dividend" with some cautious, halfhearted military cuts. But let's face it: the money went right back out again. The Clinton Administration was able to declare a surplus only by some creative accounting and rosy assumptions.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress and the Senate showed even less interest during those years in reining in spending than did the Republicans. Most of those Dems are still there, still leading the party. There's no reason to think they have changed just because the Republicans have lost all financial discipline.

Yes, the Dems are more willing to raise taxes. But they borrow a lot too -- because there really is a limit to how high you can raise taxes in a globalized world before your businesses leave town. In the end, we have to cut some spending if we're going to get anywhere. That means changes in entitlement programs, and that is anathema to the Democratic base. So they can't promise this, and everyone knows it.

No wonder people vote "identity politics" -- the traditional politics of redistributing wealth is, literally, bankrupt.

No fat? There are still huge farm subsidies that are A) economically useless and B) stunting the growth of one of the few economic areas available to people in Africa.

"Ongoing victory". "No fat left to cut". It takes your breath away.

Speechless, if only for a few seconds. Is there a mechanism to remove the irredeemably stupid from office? Can't we insist that Texas hold its politicians to any sort of standard at all?

I'd call him a liar, but any liar worth his salt knows that in order for a lie to be believed, it's got to be a lie that someone wants to believe, to the point that the lie has more upside than downside. I don't think there's more than, say, a few dozen mental patients that would go for that one, and millions of people of all political persuasions that can immediately identify it as untrue. So if he's a liar (as opposed to insane or dumber than sand), he ought to be the first candidate on the newest reality series, the career-changing What Not To Do.

Sebastian, there should be no question in anyone's mind that there's ample fat in the budget. I don't think that's a point of contention made by anyone (other than DeLay). If DeLay actually believes his statement to be true, he's mentally ill.

"Flensed"--wow, Trilobite, that's a wonderful word. My Sh.O.E.D traces it to whaling but doesn't indicate whether it's still much in use.

As to Delay's remarks, they are almost funny--in a tragico-absurd, Russian kind of way.

I'm ambivalent about farm subsidies. Sebastian's remark about African farming is very persuasive, but I also recognize a national interest in having local production of food. Of course, as a screaming nostaglic leftie, I would rather that subsidies went to small and/or organic farms. Is there a meaningful way available to restructure farm subsidies in this direction?

Well, he does have hellhounds on his trail, so anything to serve as a distraction. I guess. Hell, maybe he is crazy.

To use the language of Hayekians:

There are right-wing statists (the Republican Party) and then there are left-leaning statists (Democratic Party).

The whole small-government-conservative-shtick is a myth.

The small government mantra is employed when right-wingers embrace their more racist and classist impulses.

“Small government for thee, robust government for me!” Is the real Republican Party mantra.

Not to defend the scumbag but the context of the remarks indicate that they were deflectionary. He was commenting on the fact that despite his request to do so, no members had been able to indicate which programs should be cut. Therefore, he had to conclude that there was no fat.

What is that Kool-Aid spiked with anyway?

This is an area where the usual left-right divide around here may not apply. For instance, I'd probably agree with Sebastian about most farm subsidies (I'm hedging because I don't know enough), but one person's fat is another person's necessary social program. There are some clearcut types of fat--the gold-plated toilet seats and tungsten carbide pencil sharpeners (made that one up) and other stuff we are always being told is in the budget, and those small-scale pork items that clearly have no justification and are often ridiculed in the news. I wonder how much money that actually represents. I'd be in favor of cutting it, as would everyone except the actual recipients of the money and the politicians doing the horse-trading, but how much does it amount to? (I'm asking, not making a rhetorical point where you're supposed to say, "not much", though maybe that's right.) Then there are programs which seem clearly stupid to some of us and not to others--SDI, for instance. And I suppose farm subsidies have defenders somewhere. So you've got at least two different kinds of fat here--the fat that's clearly ridiculous to everyone (goldplated toilet seats) and then the fat that represents programs that some intelligent people who don't benefit directly from the money would honestly argue are justified. I've seen some people defend European farm subsidies, for instance, as a way to preserve the rural countryside, but don't remember the details.

I'm not sure the U.S. has ever had an invisible Speaker of the House before.

Hastert's really not much better, just less colorful.

"My Sh.O.E.D traces it to whaling but doesn't indicate whether it's still much in use."

I don't know what metric one might use, but my own sense of things suggests that it's neither obsolete nor obscure, although not particularly common, nor remarkable. Generally I look up a few words a day that I run across; the familiar "flensing" certainly wouldn't be one. But that's simply my subjective view, of course.

"but I also recognize a national interest in having local production of food."

I know this is kind of a hobby-horse issue for me, so forgive me if I seem silly in focusing on it.

In a very theoretical sense I can see the national security interest in having food produced in the US. But removing farm subsidies doesn't mean that no food will be grown in the US. It doesn't even mean that not enough food will be made in the US to cover local needs. It means that the US won't be as huge of an agricultural exporter as it is now and that African farmers would be paid by other countries to take up the slack in the world-wide agriculture market for grain. The US will still make more than enough food for itself if there ever were a situation where another country could totally blockade our food imports. And in terms of likely worrys, worrying about a food blockade is rather remote.

(And don't even get me started about massive water subsidies making flood-farming rice economically possible in not-very-wet California).

One of these days people will catch on to the fact that the Republican party is not, in fact, the party of small government and fiscal discipline.

If they didn't catch on sometime between Reagan's first term and Clinton's last one, what makes you think they will catch on now? It will take a fiscal catastrophe before people care enough about such matters to vote based on them.

Until then, we can cut taxes and increase spending while we all make a living selling houses to each other, bought with money borrowed from China. What could possibley go wrong? Oops, possibly go wrong.

That's the first thing that ever went wrong.

Tom DeLay is not crazy, nor is strictly a liar. He knows that it does not matter whether what he said is true. This is the man, after all, who quoted the Bible regarding building on sand after the tsunami.

What Tom DeLay says he says for its effect on his hold on power. Nothing else matters. We may think that this example weakens his hold. He does not.

The whole small-government-conservative-shtick is a myth.

No, it's not. It's simply that there's a dearth of de facto small-government conservatives in office. I see it as an analogue of Murphy's Law of Selective Gravitation; name it after me if you like:

Politicians will be elected/appointed to offices that maximize their ability to screw things up.

"Sebastian's remark about African farming is very persuasive, but I also recognize a national interest in having local production of food."

This suggests that agriculture subsidies relate in some fashion to maintaining or preserving the U.S.'s ability to feed itself, which, so far as my limited knowledge of agricultural economics extends -- which might not be far enough -- bears no relationship whatever to reality. It's not as if we're in danger of not being able to afford to feed ourselves if all subsidies were dropped tomorrow, so far as I know; do you have some data that suggests otherwise?

So far as I'm aware, the issues are purely of political pressure: the agro-industry wants its vast guaranteed and subsidized profits, and smaller farmers believe they somehow have a right to farm. They have an immense amount of money for bribe--, er, campaign contributions, and large numbers of votes. I'd be all for supporting this "right" as soon as we institute subsidies for, say, writing blog posts. Does America want to surrender blogging to foreigners? Don't I have as much right to my traditional family blog as a farmer has to have the government support her or him in an economically failing business? Or as a steelworker has a right to work steel, or a coal miner to work in a mine, or a cashier has to work at a register?

Of course, as a screaming nostaglic leftie, I would rather that subsidies went to small and/or organic farms. Is there a meaningful way available to restructure farm subsidies in this direction?

Tax deductibles?
I'm not very hot on agri-subsidies either, but like food to be held to certain standards. Both in 'good for the customer' as in 'good for the animal' area. Which means I am not in favor of just letting free market forces play with the farming issues either.

they have rice paddies in California? Wow does that not make sense.

It would be a wonderful world if Republicans and Democrats could get together and agree on real spending cuts. The Republicans could cut back on corporate welfare and high-end defense spending, the Democrats could cut back on agricultural subsidies and some entitlement programs.

Also, I would like a pony.

Ponies for everyone!

Wait, weren't we cutting government spending?

But my pony subsidy is of critical economic importance. It's not pork at all!

I want a kitten.

SH is right about food subsidies, and the issue can't be emphasized to much. Also note that the EU is awful on this too.

Let them eat ponies.

"If they didn't catch on sometime between Reagan's first term and Clinton's last one, what makes you think they will catch on now?"

I'd note that it's been so long since people didn't catch on during the eight years of the Eisenhower Presidency -- which was equally full of the same rhetoric, as was the rest of the Republican Party, as particularly represented by the Taft wing -- that people have largely already forgotten that they didn't learn it then.

"No, it's not. It's simply that there's a dearth of de facto small-government conservatives in office."

Similarly, there are just about no leftists in office and almost never have been any. (How many folks in Congress can you find that support nationalizing/socializing the means of production, exactly?)

If the Party of Reagan thoroughly and completely controls the Presidency and Congress, and has appointed the overwhelming majority of Federal judges, including appellate judges and SCOTUS, what does it say that they've -- somehow -- not managed to
elect "de facto small-government conservatives," and who are those imposters in office, precisely? How, exactly, does this differ from "real communism was never tried" and "the Soviet Union/China/et al were just a perversion of communism"?

(My own view is that most ideologies work fine so long as your populace is intelligent, educated, and in general agreement, but relatively few work well otherwise; one of the points of the original American system was to attempt to make this fact useful, by allowing the selfish desire for power when split into three competing parts to prevent any one from gaining too much power, and in other, similar, ways, but that's failed to a great deal in the modern era.)

Sebastian, it's probably a measure of our different views of government that when I think of the "national interest" I'm thinking of more nebulous ideas as well as "national strategic interest."

I don't think that the government should subsidize environmentally unsustainable farms; when Oklahoma turned into a dust bowl, the government shouldn't have poured money into trying to irrigate it.

I also agree with you that growing rice in California is just dumb. I grew up in NoCal during the (what was it, 12 years long?) drought and remember sharing two-inch deep bathwater; to this day I shut off the water while brushing my teeth and shampooing my hair.

Still, if we stop all subsidies to farms, isn't it likely that only the largest farms will survive? There are so many risk factors in farming that the small-capital ventures would seem to be only one or two bad harvests from bankruptsy, without some governmental protection. The larger agricultural businesses tend to have less environmentally friendly practices, exercise great clout over state officials, and generally don't need no federal help: they'll do fine without federal subsidizes, and that's what worries me.

And, meandering back to the more nebulous notions of "national interest." While I live in a city, I don't think our entire nation should live in cities. Nor would I like to see the entire countryside turn into bedroom communities or Wal-Mart towns. (I don't want to get into an argument about Wal-Mart, but it's surely an unhealthy trend if towns are relying on a single, privately owned business to bring employment.) In Europe, the farm subsidies are presented pretty straightforwardly as an attenuated form of social engineering, and perhaps the same is true in my argument.

Again: is there a way of restructuring farm subsidies to further my goals of local and independant employment for rural people, environmental preservation, and free and fair trade? Or should I just ask for a pony?

(Wow, I'm seeing on preview that a lot of people have commented since I started this. I'll just say to Katherine that yes, there are rice paddies in California along what used to be the flood plain of the Sacramento. One of the biggest screaming-matches in CA politics is who should get this water, the Central Valley or the cities. And then the North hates the South, which the North regards as not deserving any water for choosing to live in a desert in the first place. It's a mess, and rice-paddies don't help.)

The Republicans have figured out that they can guarantee themselves a majority in the house and senate through a combination of cutting taxes and pork-barrel spending (plus borrowing money from those fuzzy little foreigners). Obviously that can only last so long, but they can't see beyond the next election.

This approach doesn't work for the President but war does.

I want Natalie Portman, but alas.

One man’s pork is another man’s levee?

Anyone know what percentage of the US federal budget goes to farm subsidies?

A point that often gets overlooked when the "cut the fat" arguments come out is that the fat is usually pretty thin compared with the deficit in question.

IIRC the US government has a budget of $2 trillion and has been issuing new bonds at an annual rate of about $500 billion lately. Is there really 20% of fat in the budget?

"I want Natalie Portman, but alas."

I suspect most ponies could outact her, especially if George Lucas is directing.

"they have rice paddies in California?"

Boy do they ever. California exports more rice than China and Japan. It is the 4th largest rice exporter (behind only Thailand, India and Vietnam). This is possible because of well below market water costs to farmers which were negotiated to attract farmers in the early 1900s (late 1800s?).

"Still, if we stop all subsidies to farms, isn't it likely that only the largest farms will survive?"

This differs from other business how?

"There are so many risk factors in farming that the small-capital ventures would seem to be only one or two bad harvests from bankruptsy, without some governmental protection."

A huge number of citizens are only one or two paychecks from bankruptcy, while plenty of other citizens simply are unemployed. We seem to live as a nation quite comfortably with tens of millions of citizens in such circumstances; if we're not, I'd suggest helping out the people before granting people a right to work in a particular field or industry or endeavor.

"The larger agricultural businesses tend to have less environmentally friendly practices, exercise great clout over state officials, and generally don't need no federal help: they'll do fine without federal subsidizes, and that's what worries me."

So regulate them; I'm unaware this requires subsidizing them.

"One man’s pork is another man’s levee?"

If only. Though if you read up on the Mississippi river project you might think that levees aren't necessarily a good idea to channel the Mississippi river (BTW, a large percentage of New Orleans is below sea level but almost all of it is below the level of the Mississippi river--which has often been considered a much bigger threat to the long term survival of New Orleans than letting the lake in.)

But it does remind me of my favorite pun about the issue: why didn't New Orleans have a special levee tax at its hotels?

It's pretty simple, really. The American public -- in enough numbers to make it matter in an election -- believed the federal government does some good, and tends to support a fairly wide chunk of programs small government conservatives want to cut.

So, if you want to get elected as a small government conservative, you have to lie. Then, if enough of you lie and get elected, when you cut the programs you get kicked out, and your replacement puts them right back into place.

Now, while there undoubtably exist small government conservatives more interested in their ideology than in staying in office, they don't matter -- because they don't tend to stay in office.

What you're left with are big government folks -- either big government folks because they believe government can do good for people (these would be called "Democrats") and big government folks who don't really believe in government (except for national defense), but fake it to get elected (these are called "Republicans".)

Admittedly, that's pretty broad and numerous exceptions exist. However, in general, Democrats tend to think government can help out and Republicans tend to think government just gets in the way.

Now, stick either side in office and they're both going to favor big government -- Democrats because they tend to believe in it, Republicans because they need to in order to get their actual priorities enacted. If you have to spend the money, and you don't think it can do any good, then funnelling it to friends (or to help out in your own reelection) is a no-brainer -- which is where Tom Delay comes in.

There just really aren't enough small government types out there to matter, not now. The only real question is do you want "Big Competent Government" (brought to you by people who will at least try to make it work) or "Big Incompetent Government" (brought to you by folks who aren't even going to try).

About the only real areas of debate on "government size" is whether or not it ought to fit into your bedroom.

"Again: is there a way of restructuring farm subsidies to further my goals of local and independant employment for rural people, environmental preservation, and free and fair trade?"

I don't understand why you think farm subsidies are in any way needed to accomplish your goals. I don't even understand why you think they are helpful to your goals.

But I'm also not at all interested in seeing tax money go to subsidize people living either urbanly, rurally, or suburbanly, to be sure. I'd just as soon see it going to make sure everyone is blogging, as an equally idiosyncratic and arbitrary personal goal. Or maybe the government should pay $2000 per person per year to the kite industry so they could issue kites to everyone. Kites are nice, and I like them. If we didn't subsidize them, I'd worry that we didn't have enough kites.

Some info here.

What this has to do with either preserving the environment, or small farms, I have no idea.

Sixty percent of all farmers and ranchers do not collect government subsidy payments, according to USDA, mostly because the crops and livestock they produce do not qualify for subsidy programs (see state breakdown). Among subsidy recipients, large farms collect almost all the money. Nationwide, ten percent of the biggest (and often most profitable) subsidized crop producers collected 72 percent of all subsidies, averaging $34,424 in annual payments between 1995 and 2003. The bottom 80 percent of the recipients saw only $768 on average per year.

And are there substantial savings to be had?
USDA subsidies for farms in the United States totaled $131,313,000,000 from 1995 through 2003.
You tell me.

IIRC agriculture is easily the least environmentally-regulated industry of its size in America.

Politically speaking, the best strategy seems like targetting cuts at the giant operations first and working one's way down--stop allowing Archer Daniels Midland to hide behind Mr and Mrs Small Farmer. Since the big companies get the most money this would make a big difference. But even that's an uphill battle of course.

Yes, there are rice paddies in California and I can't claim any sense to that.

But there is not much of human activity (subsidized or non) that makes sense to me.

Las Vegas makes no sense if you subtract subsidized water from Colorado. Denver on Colorado's east slope makes no sense if you subtract subsidized water from Colorado's western slope. Manhatten makes no sense if you rip out those subsidized tunnels (they are collapsing but there are subsidized workers shoring them up as we speak) that suck water from upstate. New Orleans makes no sense. In fact, let's put Mardi Gras in California and the rice paddies in New Orleans. Israel makes no sense. Venice makes no sense. Bangladesh? Senseless. Mosquito removal in much of the Third World makes little sense if we think sudsidization perverts the natural order. The Nina, the Pinta, and the whatever: that should have been stopped in its tracks. The Louisiana Purchase: oh, boy! And don't get me started on the Panama Canal, which I'm building in my basement. Charge!! And, except for Tang, space travel is loony, which is why government thought of it first. Private companies have recently figured out it isn't completely loony, subsidy having let the government work out the loony kinks.

I wonder if we remade the world in the image of Mr. Spock's mind if we could bear to live in it. Sparsely furnished, aridly expressed,
not much to do because everything reasonable has been done. Except for installing seatbelts on the Enterprise so Jim doesn't wrench his back in warp speed.

Tom Delay is merely a very low quality individual; his lying is pedestrian and his insanity is only interesting because it is so desperately calculated.


And: The U.S. Total Number of Farms: U.S. Total 2,128,982

Number of Farms Receiving Government Subsidies: 707,596

Percent Receiving Government Subsidies: 33%

How these figures lead to a deduction that "Still, if we stop all subsidies to farms, isn't it likely that only the largest farms will survive?" is entirely beyond me, I'm afraid.

I don't think drinking water and rice subsidies are comparable. The New York State watershed is in decent shape as watersheds go, it's just a question of transportation, and the environmental benefits of NYC more than make up for the costs of a few tunnels. To me those are more comparable to the interstate highway system than creating rice paddies in an arid climate.

Doesn't it seem to follow from Delay's position that taxes must be raised? If we have no fat left to cut and we're still running gigantic deficits, we're either looking at a tax hike or an eventual fiscal train wreck (eg serious inflation)...
Or the Rapture. Maybe that's the unstated assumption in his plan.

Wu

(to say nothing of the economic benefits of NYC)

Just one more:

Farm subsidies are among the most wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars. The budget-busting $180 billion farm bill enacted before the 2002 elections not only encourages the crop overproduction that depresses crop prices and farm incomes, but also undermines trade and encourages other nations to refuse American exports.

Perhaps worst of all, farm subsidies are not distributed to the small, struggling family farmers whom lawmakers typically mention when defending these policies. Rather, most farm subsidies are distributed to large farms, agribusinesses, politicians, and celebrity "hobby farmers." This paper analyzes how Washington distributed farm subsidies in 2002 and illustrates that farm subsidies continue to represent America's largest corporate welfare program.
Farmers Are Not Poor

Farming may be the most federally subsidized profession in America. The persistence of farm subsidy programs results from the popular misconception that they stabilize the incomes of poor family farmers who are at the mercy of unpredictable weather and crop prices. Yet a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report concluded that, "On average, farm households have higher incomes, greater wealth, and lower consumption expenditures than all U.S. households."1 This statement can be broken down into three parts:

* Higher incomes. In 1999, the average farm household earned $64,437--17 percent more than the $54,842 average for non-farmers. Incomes were even higher among the 136,000 households with annual farm sales over $250,000--and who also receive the largest subsidies. Their 1999 average income of $135,397 was two-and-a-half times the national average.2 (See Chart 1.) Farmer incomes are not only high, but also quite stable from year to year, despite agricultural market fluctuations.
* Greater wealth. The average farm household had a net worth of $563,563 in 1999--well above the $88,000 national average.3
* Lower consumption expenditures. Farm households have fewer costs than other households because (1) the cost of living is lower in rural America; (2) farm households need to purchase less food from outside sources; and (3) mortgage and utility bills are often classified as business expenses. Consequently, the average farm household spent only $25,073 on goods and services in 1999, which is $11,000 less than the average non-farm family.4

[...]

Because farmers are relatively wealthy, alleviating farm poverty would not be very expensive. Just $4 billion per year would guarantee every full-time farmer in America a minimum income of 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($34,873 for a family of four in 2004).5 However, farm subsidies are more corporate welfare than poverty relief, so Washington instead spends $12 billion to $30 billion annually subsidizing large farms and agribusinesses that are much wealthier than the taxpayers footing the bill.

Eligibility for farm subsidies is determined by crop, not by income or poverty standards. Growers of corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice receive more than 90 percent of all farm subsidies: Growers of nearly all of the 400 other domestic crops are completely shut out of farm subsidy programs. Further skewing these awards, the amounts of subsidies increase as a farmer plants more crops.

Thus, large farms and agribusinesses--which not only have the most land, but also are the nation's most profitable farms because of their economies of scale--receive the largest subsidies. Meanwhile, family farmers with few acres receive little or nothing in subsidies. Farm subsidies have evolved from a safety net for poor farmers to America's largest corporate welfare program.

With agricultural programs designed to target large and profitable farms rather than family farmers, it should come as no surprise that farm subsidies in 2002 were distributed overwhelmingly to large growers and agribusinesses--including a number of Fortune 500 companies. Chart 2 shows that the top 10 percent of recipients received 65 percent of all farm subsidies in 2002.6 At the other end, the bottom 80 percent of recipients (including most family farmers) received just 19 percent of all farm subsidies.

And so on and so forth. Read the whole thing.

Note to self: never make factual assertions without researching them first when Gary is around.

Agreed on the makeup of agricultural subsidies. Not defending it.

"$131,313,000,000 from 1995 to 2003.

That's 14 billion+ on average per year for the period. O.K. Cut it to zero. Which leaves 317 billion left of budget deficit if applied to the last 4 quarters. (I think those figures are right.)

Keep going. Just as an exercise.

"Again: is there a way of restructuring farm subsidies to further my goals of local and independant employment for rural people...."

On the other hand, to aid the above, you might want to see government declare that cable and telephone digital delivery systems are common pipelines and can't refuse the request of any ISP to allow use of their lines to deliver services to customers.

And possibly you might want to subsidize rural high-band internet connectivity. But farming? Might as well subsidize rock smashing, for all the equal good it does anyone but, on the one hand, manufacturers of sledge hammers, and on the other, Archer Daniels Midland.

How much would it save to change the ridiculous rule prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices down for the perscription drug benefit?

Okay, Gary, I poked through the EWG site a bit, and I do understand your points.

There seems to be two prongs to the argument you're making: currently the largest companies (and the most disaster-prone areas) are getting the bulk of the subsidies, and subsidies targeted at specific fields are wrong.

From the first follows, you argue, that cutting subsidies would have little impact on the smaller farms I'd like to see preserved. From the second follows (and here I'm extrapolating and exaggerating) that there's no point in preserving farming in the US if the global market can't support it.

I frankly don't know enough about the way subsidies work (obviously) to judge whether better environmental regulation and carefully calibrated tax breaks would produce the results I desire. I did, after all, qualify my opinion here as sentimental and nostalgic. Maybe the case for tough love on agriculture needs to be better presented to overcome this sort of nostalgic view, which I think is probably common in the US electorate.

Let's stop bashing the farm subsidies now, I need that check from the government to ensure that my continued policy of staying as far away from the 1/3 interest in a farm my grandfather gave me as possible continues. Without it, I'd go out of business.

"Keep going. Just as an exercise."

After age 70, to keep your Social Security for another five years, you are designated a runner, and if you survive 30 days, you get to live another 5 years until the next go-round.

This will considerably cut down on Social Security entitlement costs, as well as on Medicare.

Of course, costs for Social Security providing this may raise slightly:

In the 23rd Century, there is a city encased in a great dome. Inside lives a race of "computer-breeded" humans who live only for pleasure. Outside lies the forgotten Earth.

Within the domed city, hallucinatory drugs are free and legal, sex is openly sought after and highly encouraged amongst its citizens (Free-Love at it's best!), and everyone has all of their everyday survival needs taken care of by the computers. Yes, this city of the future is a virtual Garden of Eden, a perfect world of total pleasure and fun ... the ultimate utopian society!!

But given how few will get to survive here, the set-off will be minimal.

"From the second follows (and here I'm extrapolating and exaggerating) that there's no point in preserving farming in the US if the global market can't support it."

You go wrong here, even by any possible extrapolating and exaggerating, because subsidies simply have nothing whatever to do with "preserving farming in the U.S." I don't know where you picked up this idea, but it's utter nonsense. This isn't Japan. The only way the U.S. won't preserve adequate farming to feed ourselves is if we start massively nuking the entire country, or... well, it's hard to come up with any scenarios in which it could happen; even if plague wiped out most of the population, we'd simply need less food anyway. I suppose if somehow the world placed an oil embargo on the U.S., we'd have a major problem with transporting the food and fertilizer and supplies and the like.

Where do you get the notion that farm subsidies have the faintest connection to preserving the ability of the U.S. to feed itself?

Sebastian-- My big worry about your vision of Africa as an agricultural exporter is the impact on the poor farmers. I'm reminded of Sartre's analysis of the effects of privatizing Algeria's land. As more and more land goes to cash crops and exporters, less and less land goes to growing food for local needs. It could straighten itself out long-term, but could lead to even greater food shortages for the majority of the poor there short-term. Algeria actually had to import more food after it became an agricultural exporter than it did before because vineyards produced more profits than wheat fields.

Is there some way to balance this out and still transform the African economy? I'd be interested to hear of anything that addresses this.

Possibly I picked it up during my time in Europe; it's common rhetoric there, where it's short-hand for how we feed ourselves.

I yield, Gary! I know that the way we deal with agriculture in this country is screwed up and that too much federal money is going to people who don't need it or who shouldn't be propped up. I was looking for a kind of third way, but I give up.

"...it's common rhetoric there, where it's short-hand for how we feed ourselves."

I'm not particularly familiar with the economics of agriculture in Europe (and I'm no expert on that in the States; it's just that the basics are obvious), but there's a tad of difference in the amounts of usable space between the two continents. On the other hand, I'm not clear that a Belgian farmer should have a right to be subsidized to be a farmer so that a Zambian farmer can't make a living. Presumably Europe has virtues as other than a theme park.

I understand the appeal of nostalgia, but not the economic logic of valuing farms over, say, stonemasonry, or leather-tanning, or blacksmithing. They're all admirable skills, and ancient ways of life, but how do they significantly differ, other than being older, from, say, being an auto-worker, or a tv repairer, or a journalist, and why would one deserve a subsidy over any of the others? (No need to respond; I just didn't touch enough on my puzzlement over what makes farming Sacred And Unique, since so far as I can tell, it's neither.)

Katherine: Agreed on New York City. I'm just trying to narrow down the definition of purely rational government policy. Less rationality on rice production in California than in providing water to New York City. Not sure about wine production in California.

Less rationality still in maintaining big carved heads of Presidents in South Dakota, but they looked cool as a backdrop to Cary Grant climbing on them in wingtips, no less.

On the other hand, I'd be willing to defund all of the above if Gary's idea of free love and sex, fully subsidized, could take hold.

Also, determining the fitness of folks after a certain age to receive Medicare and Social Security benefits is very rational, if one considers the productive returns to society. Now, if we can just find some totally irrational people to break this rational news to grandma.

If Tom Delay proposed tax increases every once in a while, I would term him rational. But I wouldn't vote for him. Oddly, he proposes irrational tax cuts at all times, which is why majorities of otherwise completely rational folks in his district continue to vote for him. Or something.

The only one I have seen who got it was wu. This statement from Delay was not factual or ideological but tactical. He is telling the White House he cannot make any cuts without losing votes and control of his caucus and maybe even seats, and if they want to spend bunches more money, on NOLA, or Iraq, or damages from Ophelia, they are responsible all by their lonesomes for where it comes from.

Next step is for Delay to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, and force the WH to ask for new taxes or brutal entitlement cuts or something else nobody will vote for.

Hell, the Republican Statehouse here in Texas has been in meltdown for two years because they can't get GOP lawmakers to make tough tax increase decisions. So they simply go home. I think the courts may jail them all for not funding the schools. I don't know.

Umm, I suspect this means Bush is toast, or it is time to default on T-Bills.

hold on a second here. can a water lawyer chirp in?

first, without irrigation the Western US is uninhabitable. The 100th meridian, not far from the mississippi, is generally considered the outer limits. San Diego, SH's home town, has so little native water that it would have to desalinate, which is currently unaffordable. New Mexico, Arizona, big chunks of Texas, Utah, Nevada etc. etc. would have have to be abandoned if it were not for federally funded water infrastructure projects.

and why should water be different from, say, roads? if improving highway infrastructure in alaska or new york is in the public interest, why not moving water?

next point: the great Central Valley is some of the finest farmland anywhere in the world. Due to the unique geography of the Central Valley, which combines rich flat soils with long hot summers, the Central Valley is one of the economic engines of California which, while being just one of the 50 states, has the world's 5th largest economy, up around France. Rice can be grown so cheaply and so well that it can be sold in Japan despite the tariffs and subsidies protecting japanese rice farmers.

next point: not all of California is arid. there is, in fact, a lot of water flowing through the major northern California rivers, including the Sacramento, Feather and American. The Golden Gate bridge goes over a very big body of water. so it makes a lot of sense to move water from where it is, in the mountainous north and east, to where its wanted, in the flat center and south.

next point: There are two major irrigation systems in California -- the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. The CVP is run by Bureau of Reclamation. The CVP is essentially two distinct subsystems, one moving water south from the Sacramento river watershed into Central Valley farms north of the Bay Delta, and across the Bay Delta south into the heart of the Central Valley. the other system captures water coming west out of the mountain range on California's eastern border south of the Delta, and spreads it north and south. CVP water irrigates 3 million acres and provides drinking water to 2 million people. One (somewhat questionable) estimate finds that the initial $3 billion investment has been recouped 100 fold in terms of the economy generated by the CVP. Construction of the CVP started in 1935.

The SWP is a state-funded parallel system. Construction of that system started in the late 50's, and still continues today. It moves water from the major rivers feeding into the Bay Delta across the Delta, all the way south across the Central Valley, over the mountain range forming the southern end of the Central Valley, and into the population-rich southern California counties. SWP water provides drinking water to 20 million Californians (including me but not SH who gets his water from the Colorado River) and irrigates about 600,000 acres.

these two systems have had a staggering impact on California's ecosystem, from drying up the Tulare Lake Bed and the San Joaquin River to providing the water necessary to serve the astonishing urban growth in both the Central Valley and Southern California.

one last point: even liberals don't like the idea of a command and control economy so strict that farmers are told what they can grow. While there is room for an intelligent discussion about ag. subsidies, folding in the indirect subsidy of low-cost water should raise the question about indirect subsidies to cities, like under-used mass transit.

here's a fun link.

Kash on Interest Rates

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley says long-term rates have to start going up. As Kash says, the guy is paid to be a pessimist. But we aren't that far from the deficit starting the slow-down/recession/crash, as long term rates rise to sell T-Bills, which impact housing(anybody got an ARM?) and credit cards, which slows down the economy which decreases revenues and increases unemployment costs which means more borrowing which means higher interest rates....

I am a pessimist for free. I haven't a clue what the GOP will do, or what they can do, within their natures.

Yes, but she's still my sister. My mother. My sister. My mother.

Francis, I'm not arguing against moving water around. I'm arguing at charging city dwellers one price and farmers another price. It leads to an economic inefficiency in how we allocate water. If farmers didn't get the subsidized price (or even a non-ridiculously subsidized price) I can guarantee they would choose less water intensive farming methods than rice paddies. I'm not arguing against farming. I'm arguing against waterpolicies which produce ridiculous outcomes like rice paddy farming in the central valley. Regularizing water distribution so that you can get some is one thing, this is something entirely different.

"I am a pessimist for free."

Me too, although I am likely to become a pessimist with my own money soon (changing my retirement accounts to more pessimistic investments).

Last one.

Delta and American(?) are about to declare bankruptcy, offloading about 8-10 billion dollars onto the Pension Guarantee Fund. So we like gotta sell somewhere close to 100 billion dollars in new bonds in a month. Do we really want to mess with China?

Off Topic-

In al Qaida in Iraq declares war on Shiites:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9332851/

"The U.S. Total Number of Farms: U.S. Total 2,128,982"

What's a farm?


Great comment, Francis.

The total costs of the various ways we support agriculture are hard to compile. The direct cash subsidies are mentioned above, and the hard to quantify costs of water projects are mentioned too.

There are also crops where we limit imports (sugar cane, sugar beets, etc.) and crops where we limit domestic production by requiring farmers to own a license to grow a specific crop (peanuts, to name but one). I'm certainly not up to the task of computing the indirect costs of these subsidies, but I can guess that they are considerable.

Francis, is the Central Valley such good land that its farmers could prosper even if they paid the full cost of delivering water to them (operating costs plus amortization of capital costs; arguably also some amount to represent the lost amenity value of free-flowing streams, etc.)? They don't currently do anything like that, do they?

hmmm, i thought one outcome of the CB thread was that we regulars would try to lay off on value-judgment words like ridiculous.

the existence of the City of San Diego is ridiculous, by any reasonable standard. the fed govt (ie, us taxpayers) paid enormous sums of money to bring Colorado River water to that city, including the construction of the Hoover, Glen Canyon and Parker dams and the Colorado River aqueduct. Your water bill does NOT cover the cost of construction and O&M. federal taxpayers have built a massive highway (the I-5) to your doorstep and invests millions in regional facilities that allow you to get around. Oh yes, the Navy, funded by the federal taxpayer, pumps more billions into your economy.

what's ridiculous, then, the existence of your city or rice farming? do you really want to compare evaporative losses from Lakes Powell and Mead to evaporative losses from rice farming?

here's a quick comment to the group: there is no effective market for water in the West. Doesn't exist. I'll let people challenge me on this and respond later.

"Forget it, Jake [Francis]. It's Chinatown."

missed DaveL's post. Quick response -- probably not calculable. The major water projects built the West, by creating ag land where it had not existed before. Cities have sprung up following the ag., and like SH put it so quaintly, are now demanding the water that the farmers use.

Can any Western farmer pay the "true" cost of water, especially under today's environmental laws? virtually certainly not. but the cities, which could in theory pay, owe their existence (and, in many cases, their future) to the farms.

in the larger picture, though, i'm very comfortable in saying that California taxpayers as a whole have repaid, in taxes paid and jobs created, the initial investment made.

Francis, I'm not sure that whether California taxpayers as a whole have repaid the costs incurred by the federal government is relevant, nor do I see how the history of development in the state necessarily entitles today's farmers to continued cheap water. That doesn't mean that you can fundamentally change the rules without paying attention to what people have invested in the current system and what the transition costs are, but the idea of a property right to continued subsidies can't extend too far, either.

OT: the Massachusetts legislature killed the anti-gay marriage amendment 157-39.

I knew it would fail. I didn't think it would be quite that quick and easy

I think it was so lopsided in part because the hardcore gay marriage opponents have decided they are NOT willing to support civil unions after all, and will push for an alternate amendment banning both. But that failed last year and would fail by a wider margin now. And even if the legislature approved, the voters wouldn't.

"What is a farm?"

The Department of Agriculture, unsurprisingly, has actually considered the question:

FARM DEFINITION

The definition of a farm for census purposes was first established in 1850. It has been changed nine times since. The current definition, first used for the 1974 census, is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. The farm definition used for each US territory varies. The report for each territory includes a discussion of its farm definition.

See also here. Also here.

Interestingly, one of those links leads to a table showing federal subsidies to farms under the $1000 threshold. Unless they're dividing by 1000 everywhere - I'm having trouble parsing it, perhaps due to acrobat lameness on linux, perhaps due to a lack of actual interest.

Can any Western farmer pay the "true" cost of water, especially under today's environmental laws? virtually certainly not. but the cities, which could in theory pay, owe their existence (and, in many cases, their future) to the farms.

I don't understand what this means. Just because LA historically grew up around orange groves doesn't mean we should have only orange groves in Orange County out of a sense of I don't even know what (historical thankfulness?). Farm jobs just aren't as important in 2005 as they were in 1905. Why should we make water policy as if it was? The fact that the federal government made a policy to get farmers to move 100 years ago doesn't mean that we should continue the policy for another 500 years.

And I really don't know what to make of the "true cost" comment. Are you impying that neither cities NOR farmers pay the true cost of the water? Who pays it then? At this point cities pay their own full cost of water plus they subsidize the farmer's lower cost of water. And even if 'the federal government' is paying, it ends up being the same thing. There are a lot more city-dwelling taxpayers than there are farming taxpayers. Either indirectly or directly the city-dwellers are paying more.

Maybe you are saying that no farmer could afford to pay with any crop. That isn't likely, because then prices on the water efficient crops would be enough to cover the water costs. But of course they wouldn't be enough to pay for rice, because rice is a ridiculous crop to grow in most of California.

in the larger picture, though, i'm very comfortable in saying that California taxpayers as a whole have repaid, in taxes paid and jobs created, the initial investment made.

Right. We don't have to argue about sunk costs which have already been paid (most of them long before any of us were born). They have already been paid. We are arguing about whether or not a system of subsidizing water to farmers to the extent that it makes 'economic' sense to farm rice paddies in areas with less than 20 inches of rain annually. It only makes economic sense from the point of view of a farmer who can get water basically for free. A farmer who had to pay even 1/3 the regular market cost would choose a more water-efficient crop in an area with less than 20 inches of rainfall.

Your San Diego analogy is inapposite. The Colorado river projects can deliver water to cities and farmers. Once again I am not arguing against delivering water to citizens of the United States. I suspect that is a good thing. I am arguing against delivering water at one rate to most citizens and at about ">http://www.ewg.org/reports/watersubsidies/execsumm.php&e=10342"> 10% of its cost to a very select group of other citizens. (Read past the 2% of drinking water quote, since drinking to irrigation water is apple to oranges).

Not all water diversion projects were built by government entities. This link

http://bcn.boulder.co.us/basin/history/irrigation.html

descibes a series of privately constructed irrigation projects in Boulder County, CO that began in the 1860s.

Other communities also built water diversion projects, most notably the Mormons around Salt Lake City and in what was then Mexico (a 5 state area), with some going back to pre-colombian times.

i'm clearly missing something.

what are the characteristics of rice growing that make it ridiculous to do in the Central Valley? evap. losses? water to crop value ratios? environmental impacts of getting rid of the rice straw at the end of the growing season? the fact that the Friant Dam dries up the San Joaquin River, eliminating what used to be a great fishing river?

Or is it just the price charged by the Bureau of Reclamation?

now, it seems to me that if it's just a price issue, then really we're talking about the allocation of a federal subsidy that is no different than the recent highway bill or US Army Corps projects.

and that's pretty much the extent of my point. transportation bills are no more rationally debated than federal pricing of water. sure, they both should be, but i think if you're going to make the one argument strongly, you need to make the other as well.

i guess i have a second point. if you want to claim that Central Valley farmers are growing rice in a desert, then your baseline is that the CVP and SWP don't exist. That's a fair baseline, but then we have to look at the impact of that baseline on cities as well. If you want to start from the existing baseline, then Central Valley farms have a tremendous supply of water (and sunshine), and the question is one of price.

Just a side not that the FDA's budget falls under the Dept of Ag. (This might be one reason why its budget is unseemingly large...) Its a long story, but that's the way it is. So if you cut the Ag bugdet - the FDA budget gets cut.

And I know we all want more Celebrex and Vioxx on the market.

what are the characteristics of rice growing that make it ridiculous to do in the Central Valley? evap. losses? water to crop value ratios? environmental impacts of getting rid of the rice straw at the end of the growing season? the fact that the Friant Dam dries up the San Joaquin River, eliminating what used to be a great fishing river?

Or is it just the price charged by the Bureau of Reclamation?

...

if you want to claim that Central Valley farmers are growing rice in a desert, then your baseline is that the CVP and SWP don't exist. That's a fair baseline, but then we have to look at the impact of that baseline on cities as well. If you want to start from the existing baseline, then Central Valley farms have a tremendous supply of water (and sunshine), and the question is one of price."

I don't understand separating price from other considerations. Price, when not government subsidized, is a function of scarcity. If the price is set by the market, the price will reflect questions of water to crop value. If the price is set by the market, the price will reflect the cost of getting rid of rice straw vs. whatever happens at the end of the growing season of other crops. If the price is set by the market, it will reflect letting pools of water stand to evaporate vs. using less let it sink into the ground. If the price is set by the market, it will reflect that creating pools of water requires more water in total volume than most other crops. If the price of water is low--i.e. non-scarce, it won't be too expensive to grow rice. If the price is high--i.e. scare, which is to say the actual situation, rice won't be grown, lower water-use crops will be grown.

"If you want to start from the existing baseline, then Central Valley farms have a tremendous supply of water (and sunshine), and the question is one of price."

You talk about the infrastructure as a baseline. The infrastructure exists. The infrastructure doesn't dictate that you have to charge the people of the city of Sacramento 10 times as much as you charge its farmers. Tinkering with the price is tinkering with the usage. Artifically lowering the price is artifically subsidizing the usage/waste. That is why some people suggest that we have much higher gas taxes--they want to encourage lower usage levels. Water is a scarce commodity. There isn't a particularly good reason to so overwhelmingly favor one possible use for water over all the other uses.

If you are going to use the freeway analogy, it would be more proper posit some users paying less to use it. It would be like having a toll road where farmers don't have to pay the toll. Except it would be a lot more money than your average toll.

" I'm arguing at charging city dwellers one price and farmers another price."

I think a perspective that is missing here ("what's so special about farmers") is the difference between production and consumption.

Farmers take expertise, soil, water, capital, and labor and produce trade goods.

Consumers wash their dishes, take showers, and grow ornamental lawns with their water.

We should encourage productive enterprise that increases our national wealth and ensure consumption of wealth is, at best, not subsidized.

As for Delay, am I the only one who feels like a passenger on that train that Casey Jones is drivin'?


You don't think taking showers increases productivity? I'm very glad the people in my work environment shower.

"So if you cut the Ag bugdet - the FDA budget gets cut."

This is so if one is limited to simply commanding that a Department as a whole make mandatory cuts in every line item.

Of course, if this took place on a planet where all laws must be written with dandelion powder, we'd have a problem if we ever ran short of dandelions.

Both observations are approximately equally relevant to the question of cutting ag subsidies. Back in this world, we don't have to command Departments to only make cuts that way, and we don't have to use only dandelion powder to write laws.

Ag subsidies are around $20B/yr right now.

To play around with the 2006 budget, go here.

I can cut the deficit to a sustainable $162B by cutting the military 10-30% and restoring Clinton-level taxation on the upper 10% of incomes.

Delta and American(?) are about to declare bankruptcy

Northwestern. Northwestern will go down the road more quickly because of the mechanics strike, for which they have extensively planned the bankruptcy option.

I also think you are forgetting what rice farming in California got for the US-an unmatchable opportunity to complain about Japanese rice subsidies in the 80's. I recall Congressmen arguing that Japan's tariffs harmed all the rice producers, so the US was obligated to pressure Japan on this issue. I'm only disappointed that the Japanese didn't catch this point in return.

Consumers wash their dishes, take showers, and grow ornamental lawns with their water.
I don't have an ornamental lawn, and I object to the contention that basic hygiene is somehow detrimental to the economy. Since we're labelling assertions as ridiculous, that is most certainly a ridiculous thing to say.

Aha, progess. So SH thinks that water allocation should be done only on a going-forward basis. Let's see what this means:

1. the water is, for all functional purposes, free. The O&M costs are virtually nothing. (more accurately, the price to the farmers covers O&M plus interest, more or less.)

2. the government is, essentially, the sole source provider to the ag community. Urban water providers tend to be better positioned to have multiple water sources.

Now, when you put 1 & 2 together, does this look anything like a market? Uh, no.

To me, it looks more like the allocation of public spectrum, or, for that matter, the allocation of transportation improvement dollars among multiple constitutencies.

Yes, one possible way of allocating the resource is revenue maximization. But as this is still a democracy and the water is still a federal asset, the water gets allocated based on multiple considerations, including (most importantly) political power.

true water markets, with multiple sellers, multiple purchasers, low cost of entry, substitutability, all the other characteristics of a competitive marketplace, don't actually exist. nor does it exist in electricity, nor health care.

people want, and will vote for, water that is (a) safe, (b) affordable and (c) reliable. Achieving all three factors concurrently for a product which is a natural monopoly (how many different water mains do you want running past your doorstep?) can be only in a highly regulated environment, either by gov't agencies or by public utilities. (We have both here in California.)

But getting the govt involved brings other considerations into play, like the allocation of water based on factors other than pure willingness to pay. And since California's ag business is a tremendous part of California's economy, history, politics, job provider etc., ag. gets low cost water.

btw: the water cost portion of your water bill should be 25 to 50 cents a day at most. High cost water is about $450 per acre-foot (the amount of water necessary to cover one acre of land one foot deep, or about 325,000 gallons). Unless you have a huge garden, you shouldn't be using more than 1/4 acre-foot per year.

that's a lot less than any toll in California.

Excellent points by Francis!

I think (correct me if I'm wrong) he is just pointing out that if we really want to do away with economic inefficiencies and ridiculousness (not just rice), we could pretty much roll up the sidewalk and go home in the West, home being a very crowded Eden that's not too cold and not too hot, and not too dry and not too wet.

I admit that the part about big chunks of Texas being inhabitable appeals to me from a comedy standpoint, with apologies to Bob McManus.

Rice farming in California is ridiculous and inefficient, I guess, but also incredibly successful and competent. You would think that cheap water, a type of welfare, would make rice farmers shiftless and lazy, but they seem to keep violating the incontrovertible universal laws of human nature and economic inefficiency.

That said, I suspect they would vote against me if I ran on a platform of raising their taxes.

We could replace the everything in the Central Valley with blackjack machines, which require little watering, are remarkably efficient at what they do, and seem to be what people really want, unlike rice.

Can we all agree that golf courses in California should have to pay the state a special surchange?

Of course, I can already think of a dozen counter-arguments to this. Golf courses are already paying the high consumer rate for water. Golf courses are often located in fault ditches, which is surely a better use for such land than building in them. Californian golf courses try where possible to use more hardy species of grass to cut costs. The members of private Californian golf courses pay through the nose to play. Yadda-yadda.

Palm Springs was once an oasis, but now it's a resort with multiple golf courses made possible by the acquaducts Francis mentioned above. As someone who grew up conserving water for personal use--to the point of sharing bathwater and toilet flushes--I've always seen such a luxurious use of what I consider a public resource to be slightly obscene. Opinions may vary. (For the record: I can't hit a golf ball fifty feet.)

But golf courses in Palm Springs seem to me to be the natural outcome of not having a restrictive governmental policy on water use, one that weighs costs and benefits to society in a larger sense. Golfers, who tend to be posh anyway, can afford to pay market costs for water, at least to a certain extent, and for pro tournaments, corporations pay much of the fees: they don't care whether the money they sink into a golf course's plush lawn prevents the state from offering either a city or a farmer affordable water.

Obviously, I'm speaking more out of passion than of knowledge, but I do know that the golf-course-in-SoCal has resonated as a symbol among many NoCal people I know--as, clearly, the rice paddies along the Sacramento has done.

Rice paddies seem to be the symbol of the anti-subsidy folk; golf courses seem to be the symbol of the anti-free-market folk.

Francis, can you help?

Francis: I dimly recall reading about Calif. water policy back in 1991, when I moved there, and if memory serves agriculture was slowly poisoning the Central Valley, since there's no drainage by which the salts from fertilizers etc. could be washed out. If so, then if we're trying to price Central Valley agriculture, and we recognize that markets only exist in an attenuated form, if at all, we might want to consider the effect of pricing in the destruction of the land.

Jackmormon: I have always thought there's something to be said for the idea of using migration away from some of the Great Plains as the excuse for buying up land and creating an enormous national park in some of the depopulated areas. Maybe with buffalo. It could be great.

And Jackm: your new site has attracted spam already.

I'm suprised no one here has mentioned the burning of the fields where the rice is grown.

I have always thought there's something to be said for the idea of using migration away from some of the Great Plains as the excuse for buying up land and creating an enormous national park in some of the depopulated areas. Maybe with buffalo. It could be great.

hilzoy, there was this

A team of U.S. biologists and conservationists is proposing a plan that's equal parts Jurassic Park and Jumanji.

Their goal is to restore giant wild mammals to North America, like those that roamed the continent during the Ice Age—mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and the extinct American cheetah, among others.

Since those animals have long been extinct, the scientists propose repopulating the U.S. with the creatures' closest living relatives—such as lions, cheetahs, elephants, and camels.

Using a strategy called rewilding, the conservationists suggest using these and other endangered animals as stand-ins for long-gone Ice Age mammals.

To ease the transition, the team recommends introducing the animals on private ranches or nature preserves, particularly in the Great Plains states where they say human populations are thinning.

I don't have an ornamental lawn

That's nice. Do you consider your particular reality to be reflecting the gestalt in California, IOW is that observation apropos?

and I object to the contention that basic hygiene is somehow detrimental to the economy.

Are you that dense to think that was part of my argument?

Making people pay for their water at unsubsidized rates (or worse) encourages thrift of an important resource, and showers are AFAICT a major resource drain... fwiw, each minute of shower usage in California is, collectively, around 200 acre-feet of water down the drain, in a year that's enough to give the 500k acres of rice in california almost 2" of irrigation.

But I'm one to talk; heh, I'm on an unmetered city hookup and run a 1kw 24/7 generator with the free water pressure, so I save $70/mo on my power bill ;)

francis: OT, but since you're knowledgeable about water law do you have an opinion on this? (search down to 'third wind')... it is part of the Georgist apocrypha that California Ag infrastructure was originally built with land value taxation.

McDuff is from the UK, I think, so a bit of tongue in cheek-edness and a failure to appreciate how much Americans 'need' a large square of grass in front of their house should be taken into account.

I live in Japan with a postage stamp sized lawn, and every so often, I find these strange urges to cover it with sod. Inexplicable, but there you have it.

My lawn, not Japan.

LJ, I'm in Honolulu, and it's not unusual to see beautifully manicured strips of grass that are maybe 5'x20'.

Ah, for those interested in the history of California water law there's this, from the Georgist perspective.

Favorite factoid:

"The value of a single year of agricultural production today is greater than all the gold mined in California."

I think Ted Turner is attempting the rewilding all by himself.

I must admit that sabre-toothed tigers in the neighborhood would make me think twice about the relative incentivization I have to water the lawn by hand, especially at night. In fact, I might just abandon my blue-grass paddy and move back to Germany and or Wales out of pure fright.

I'm a typical liberal. I love nature and believe it should be preserved, except for the parts with the big teeth and ferocious claws.

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