Saturday assorted links


More comments needed. The USDA? They put that stamp that says "USDA Grade A beef" on packages.

Do they actually put the stamp on the package?

(Clear office space parallel here)

It's strange that an author can write about all the things that the USDA does that have nothing to do with agriculture and think that he is being complimentary.

Red meat for the Government Is Santa Claus crowd.

And it's amazing how every single thing about the USDA is wonderful, and every single thing about Trump is awful. I'm sure a lot of late nights went into the hard-hitting research that is this article.

I think the article does a fine job of describing USDA's wide range of activities. Great article. My main complaint about government regulation of agriculture is the mandating of ethanol in gasoline. Among other things, that raised the price of U.S. corn. First, U.S. corn producers used their low cost of production and NAFTA to drive many small-scale Mexican corn farmers out of business, then they raised the price of corn causing hardship for the poor in Mexico. This is all for a gasoline additive which is a net carbon burden. It's an insane policy. I'd like to know how much USDA was involved. That was a major omission, if USDA was involved.

Agriculture is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution and is not a Federal function. Therefore, the Federal Government developed a huge, unnecessary, wasteful, corrupt political bureaucracy called the Department of Agriculture.
Standard government practice and evolution.

The spark for current USDA was a mid-19th Century desire to catalog and preserve agricultural seeds -- obviously a function that could only be done by the Federal Government. It started out as a tiny effort within the US Patent Office -- and now has 100,000 employees, its own militarized police force, and spent about a trillion and a half dollars in past decade. What's not to like?

USDA Mission Statement:
"USDA provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management."


They also suck up to political appointees and are disappointed when they don't show up for it

We also learn that they hire migrants who got taxpayer subsidized meals and get Harvard subsidized education.

I worked at USDA for a year as a gs13. The typical USDA employee has about 2-4 hours worth of work per day. I kept busy teaching myself new skills, others stretch the work out, surf the web or leave. I worked for an Obama appointee who had no relevant expertise or even interest.

It was the worst run organization I have ever witnessed. I left under the impression that the sub agencies were better organized and operated much better. For what it's worth, the forestry service and ag services seemed competent. Perhaps a government agency that mostly oversees other agencies is a bad idea.

The USDA, like 90% of the federal government, should be cut to about 10% of the present size and eliminate all the free stuff programs like school lunches. Eliminate entire federal cabinet level departments and consolidate. The federal budget should be cut by at least 50%. THAT is the way to give tax cuts and eliminate borrowing

#4 - why walled cities in Greece from 400 BCE to 300 BCE grew so exponentially (see Fig. 1 of the paper): the paper is not at all convincing. A better question would be why walled cities FAILED to stop the rise of Macedonian power. And as the paper points out, Tyre, heavily fortified on a mole (not the furry kind), was nevertheless attacked by Alex the Great and taken. And earlier, though the Athenian wooden walls did beat Sparta in the Peloponesian war, Sparta was a power that had no walls.

Bonus trivia: this part was interesting however: "The Greek city-state ecology in the early and mid-fourth centuries was characterized by a great many independent or semi-independent states – some 1100 states, according to a comprehensive recent study (Hansen and Nielsen 2004), with a total population of some 8-9 million persons" - keep in mind the modern Greek state has 10M people, so even in ancient Greece, the geographic land of Greece had already reached its carrying capacity, biologically, if you believe these Hansen and Nielsen numbers (I don't btw, I think they are way too high, Greece is not that fertile, how can you feed all those people back then? Even now Greece has to import food).

You do know 'Greece' was much bigger 2500 years ago, right? Sicily, Anatolia, the Black Sea (think Byzantium), etc. all were 'Greek' to a greater or lesser extent.

Also they were already importing food.

@clockwork_prior - I was aware of that, but usually when referring to this period, they refer to the lands outside of geographic present day Greece as "Hellenistic".

Yeah, I was not impressed by the paper. Why would walls aid democracy? Their model purports to explain why but they assume payoffs that pretty much guarantee that the model will confirm their hypothesis. I think there were more strategies available to the participants than what they assume in their game model, and more possible outcomes and payoffs than what the model assumes. And for that matter assuming the city has just two players, Elites and Citizens, seems an over-simplification.

I enjoyed the paper though I bridle at their definition of liberal democracy: " ... adds the moral commitments of individual autonomy, human rights, social justice, and religious tolerance,.."

"moral commitments" falls into the category of wind & piss; human rights don't exist - it's an obfuscatory expression; social justice is a weasel expression for various sorts of anti-social injustice; and religious tolerance would be subsumed into some suitable definition of social rights.

'human rights don’t exist ... '

Well sure, not in the UK. Oddly enough, Americans believe differently, as expressed by this listing of human rights - 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'

... it’s an obfuscatory expression'

Or a treasonous one, depending on your historical perspective.


Still scorning the former colonials like dearieme, I take it?

No rights inhere in anyone as a human. Man is a social animal - all you get are the rights of the society of which you are part. If Americans have all been brain-washed to believe Mr Jefferson's tawdry advertising flyer, why do they career around the world killing so many people?

"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Yeah, yeah: his belief in life was so profound that he fomented war, in liberty so profound that he kept slaves, and in the pursuit of happiness so profound that his followers amused themselves lynching loyalists.

dearieme, several of your professors at Cambridge, which was not a bad university in your day, no matter how corrupt and ridiculous it is now, could have explained to you that the only way rights inhere in anyone is the way rights inhere in a human. By the way, in case you are interested, I am an American and I am exponentially more correct on this than Jefferson, as are millions of other Americans. Poor Jefferson, if graded on a scale, would be about ten to a hundred million below a passing grade (that is, 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 - sorry if big numbers are hard for you). Yes, the average American considers Jefferson to be just one among millions ... but we respect his good attributes anyway. Hard for a Cambridge townie, or even a Cambridge intellectual, to understand - ask a real Englishman, though... But we respect him for what he got right. You see, in a country where people respect each other, it is commonly known that rights inhere in each of us only because we are human. You should send an angry letter to the Cambridge Dons and ask for a refund, simply because they did not teach you that. That being said, please keep commenting, you are often insightful and humorous.

In a Great Courses lecture series I did on Greece a while back, they ascribed democracy in Greece to the kinds of warfare practiced in the 5th and 6th centuries there: namely trireme and hoplite warfare.

The hoplites, fighting in the phalanx formation, were really only effective as long as they stayed in that formation, which required a high degree of discipline and bravery on the part of the individual troops. This dependence on the personal courage and commitment of rank and file citizens for success in war created the conditions in which those citizens could bargain more effectively for representation in the government of their respective city states.

Likewise trireme warfare, where ships try to ram and sink each other, required a high degree of training, coordination, and endurance on the part of the sailors and rowers to execute successful maneuvers in a naval battle. Again, the willingness of the commonfolk to participate in this kind of war was enhanced when they weren't feeling oppressed and exploited by their local oligarchs.

This was contrasted with much of the rest of the ancient world, where cavalry troops played a more important role in military success. Large landholders were the primary suppliers of horses to their respective militaries, which resulted in oligarchic systems in most places. Greece was always at a deficit in horses, due to its relative lack of good pasture land, hence the innovation of the phalanx. Its very lack of agricultural productivity was what facilitated its democratization.

It's an interesting hypothesis, and I like it better than the walls hypothesis. But I'm not sure if it works. Well-trained infantry were important and used throughout the ancient world, often in the form of mercenaries. So the Greek city-states may not have been unique. (OTOH it is true that they were themselves one of the sources of high quality mercenary troops.)

2. Call it jockchain.

No thank you.

Re: 3. This is an example of the real way in which the Trump administration is destroying the effectiveness of the government. The antics usually focused on by the media are just a distraction. It couldn't have been done better if it were planned.

"destroying the effectiveness of the government" Almost sounds like a negative the way you say it.

5. Do we have to call it "surge pricing" every time someone charges more for a high-demand product?
Theaters have been charging more for evening tickets for a while now, and charging more for a popular movie than for a less popular one isn't like charging more for the same service during an unexpected weather event. They are different products. Moreover, the "surge pricing" of movies isn't going to make more screens magically appear, unlike the intent of surge pricing with Uber drivers. It's a completely unanalgous situation.

Yeah, that was a weak article. Not only is surge pricing a misnomer, but the article seems to get most of the rest of the economics wrong as well. High prices only cause people to stay home if the prices are set too high; high prices will be associated with films that are popular and hence associated with larger crowds. Equally important, some movies will presumably have lower prices than under mono-pricing.

Yeah, obviously, it would be stupid to set the price so high that the theaters are no longer full. Duh.

Well, they're not full now, and it's not the case that the revenue-maximizing ticket price is one that will fill every seat. In fact, for many days, viewing times, and movies, there is no positive, seat-filling price (You'd have to offer to pay people substantial sums before you could fill every seat for most matinee shows). But for me, theater ticket pricing is irrelevant. I really never need to see another superhero movie/tent-pole sequel/lame reboot of an even lamer 30 year old TV show. The best of what is being produced for Netflix, Amazon, and HBO is simply better than what's being released theatrically. I don't think my wife and I would see more movies in the theater even if the price were $0. If we're at all typical, the movie theater business is a dead man walking.

I would think that the best way for dealing with demand imbalances would be to have more showings of (dedicate more screens to) popular movies and fewer showings of unpopular movies (elastic supply case). To the extent that theaters have already reached the limits of doing that and the popular films are still sold out, then differential pricing might make sense (inelastic supply case).

However, I would think the main reason people go to theaters instead of watching at home is for the large screen. No home theater can match IMAX. In that case, perhaps theaters should experiment with premium prices for premium reserved seats (mentioned in the article). I would pay extra to see Star Wars in the opening few weeks, if I could be guaranteed a seat near the center, two-thirds back (or is it 1.5 screen heights?) without waiting in line. As it is, I wait a few weeks for the crowds to die down.

Some DVDs are in the bargain box because few would pay more than $5. for them, others can't be sold at any price.

Once a DVD is manufactured, the cost to make it becomes a sunk cost, and the game is just to get whatever one can for it.

I'm surprised movie theaters don't price their seats as airlines do (i.e., constantly varying according to supply and demand) because, like an airline seat or a hotel room, getting anything at all for the seat is better than leaving it empty.

Especially as empty seats don't buy popcorn.

I am, however, reminded of the negative public reaction to demand-pricing of cold drinks in vending machines.

3. The article does an excellent job of identifying what's at stake, and does it in a way that confirms the priors of those on each side of the debate, those who support what Trump is doing and those who are aghast at what Trump is doing. Up is down, down is up. One sees what one wishes to see. Such is the world in which we live: Trump World.

#3, Cant say i read the article beyond the first para but seems very similar to what would have been published during the Reagan years or when Clinton revamped welfare. Lots of vested interests trying to preserve the status quo and gullible and lazy journalists will to take at face value what these people have to say.

Will Wilkinson is talking to you (Tyler and MR denizens both).

That essay contains so many points the I have made here, under various names, that I feel like Will has picked *my* pockets.

That's ok. I yield all to the public domain.

Have you considered your own blog to host your unwarranted self-importance as an alternative to writing off topic posts on here? I'm sure many people would love to read it!

Ad hominem fail.

It isn't about me (he said honestly, but while smiling) it is about America.

Yes, it's "ad hominem," I'm attacking you and didn't clink on your off-topic link.

It's a good article, but he's got wierd definition of who counts as a libertarian - confining libertarianism to 'Rand, Nozick, and Murray Rothbard', while excluding Frederick Hayek, and James Buchannen and calling them 'classical liberals'. Obviously, when the biggest libertarian think tank - The CATO institute - is more in the Buchannen/Hayek tradition, this is strange definition of libertarian.

Excluding Nozick, the group he's calling libertarians are really just the 'paleolibertarians' (not a great term, but sort of a paleoconservative right-libertarian position).
Libertarians are a much larger group that encompasses centrists like Buchannen and Hayek and left-libertarians like Jason Brennan. Brennan would not classify himself as a "classical liberal", even if Will Wilkinson would like it if he did.

That said I do agree that the Ron Paul/Rothbard/Lew Rockwell wing of right-libertarianism is a problematic entity for libertarianism as a whole, especially for the unfortunate support it gives to alt-right white supremacist elements.

To say the anti-democratic theme is just a few seems wrong, when everyone from Thiel to "Flight 93" have given voice.

And of course when Tyler says "it isn't Facebook, it's us" that might be rooted in the same “public choice” skepticism. As opposed (literally) to "civics class" aspirations.

Everyone is anti-democratic when it comes to things they believe should be fundamental rights. Classical liberals included.
IMO, Wilkinson is really underestimating the continuing appeal of radical socialism and the danger it continues to pose to liberalism.
Look at Venezuela, look at Bernie Sanders. The idea that government can price-control it's way to a command economy has not gone away.

I think the "civics class" view is that you keep your eye on representative democracy as the engine of our growth and freedom, and use that to console yourself when the majority does take a path you don't prefer, or even one you think is fully in error.

Most people are now willing to say the Iraq invasion was wrong, even if a majority supported it then. They will make other such reversals in the future, some for the better, some for the worse.

Democracies follow a winding path seeking an optimum, overshooting, overcorrecting, trying again.

Terrible, except compared to all the alternatives.

Now that I think about, Wilkinson seems to be engaged in a bit of concern trolling. You silly libertarians, I'm concerned that you keep letting your skepticism of the welfare state get in the way of democracy. Why can't you just be classical liberals, like me!

We have talked before about the conundrum:

If libertarians are so right, why are they 3% of the vote?

Will hits the pat answer right between the eyes. It might not be "because everyone else is wrong, and therefore democracy cannot be trusted."

It might just be that libertarians are a small, and unrepresentative sample, punching over their weight in .. their own circles.

Most people are tribal and not particularly rational. Also the US electoral system tends to drive two-party polarization and reinforced the tribalism, for that matter.
As a result we have two parties whose political platforms are ideologically incoherent. But most people keep voting for them out of tribal alliegance.

That is true, but I don't think the answer is turning further toward one fringe or the other.


Libertarians ARE the moderate center, right now.
We want free markets and liberal social norms.
The fact that libertarians favor stronger economic rights and more protections for private property, is not definitionally "fringe".

I welcome you personally to the moderate center, but wasn't it a close vote at the 2016 Libertarian Convention to keep "no more public schools" off the platform?

Oh, maybe it made it on:

2.9 Education

Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education

So begins the final crisis of the American regime, inevitably undermined by its own internal contradictions, which have spurred undeniable restlessness and malaise among the American populace.

America, a 12 cylinder engine running on 11. But that still beats most.

Temporaly. The irreconcilable divisions among Americans, the opioids epidemic that is swalling families and communities whole and the destruction of American jobs all foreshadow the unavoidable collapse of the American Empire.

The neoliberals are unboxing a supercharger. We retire the current crew at the next pit stop. Prepare to eat our dust.

"We will bury you" and all that. The American regime has proven itself time and time again unreformable. Truth is, the American Dream has gone sour. Only the violent overthrow of thenAmericsn regime can give back hope to the toiling masses of the United States.

What are you saying, that our plan needs more witchcraft? I hear it is a staple in some parts.

It is necessary to break the otherwise unbreakable hols the malefactors of great wealth have on the American political process.

You have too many chromosomes.

No, actually, I have the right number.

Not way too many. Just a couple.

3. "“In many cases [the new appointees] demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in agriculture,” wrote Hopkinson. “Some of those appointees appear to lack the credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries.”

One of the reasons for the result of the election was dissatisfaction with federal policy and a desire to change it. New appointees with a different focus seems to be an obvious strategy. In itself, why would a college degree be a necessary credential for federal service? Do colleges offer programs in bureaucratic inertia? Since the overwhelming majority of USDA tasks are unrelated to agriculture, "deep roots" are hardly a requirement. If grandpa was a farmer that must mean grand daughter would be a good administrator of the SNAP program or grandson can effectively hang targets at the USDA rifle range. Swamp drainers don't want appointees to qualify for high government salaries.

Good assembly of the article with a photograph of the immense and impressive faux Greek temple that houses the desks of USDA bureaucrats.

All in all, journalistic malpractice at a minimum, maybe just fiction in masquerade.

"1. The astounding engineering behind the world’s largest optical telescope."

"I'm a few steps from the top when lab manager Stuart Weinberger asks, for the third time, whether I have removed everything from my pockets.

"Glasses, keys, pens. Anything that could fall and damage the mirror," he says."

It's common in production plants to protect against dropped items. You aren't allowed to wear shirts with sleeves or buttons. If your shirt has a button you wear a smock (that doesn't have pockets).

I was surprised to see the worker placing the last block of glass wasn't wearing a clean room outfit. I wonder how they protect it from hair, dust, dirt, etc. Makes no sense to me. (I'd bet it almost certain that the worker shed one or more hairs into the glass...). At the risk of repeating a story, the tour guides at Ford's Rouge Plant took people into the steel roll mill and the teens (mostly) would toss pennies onto the slab of red-hot steel as it was being rolled out into sheet. The penny softened and flattened and made a visible streak in the steel which was cool to watch and which ruined the steel. Cost of removing that contamination from the steel was tens of thousands (iirc; back then that was lots of $$) Management vacillated between not allowing anyone over the slabs to all sorts of half-measures (chicken-mesh fencing didn't work, last I recall, they had glass walls - which also unfortunately reflected a lot of the IR (heat) from the steel - making it a less "real" experience, imho. For some reason, I'm also reminded of the fungal disease spread worldwide on the bottom of the boots of the biologists looking for it. What idiots. Turns out as a species we're better at spreading chaos than order, but I digress...

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