It’s a great time of year.
It’s a great time of year.
Let’s see. We’ve covered capital punishment, quantum mechanics and monetary theory. What else is there to blog about? Oh yeah… baby goats!
We have a bunch of cute kids cavorting around the pasture these days, with more on the way.
I’ll say it again. There are few things in the world cuter than baby goats.
At the end of every year we do a thorough review of all on-farm enterprises, to figure out what is making economic sense and what isn’t. A couple of years ago, for example, I had planned to increase the size of our laying flock, because we were consistently selling out of eggs. But when we ran the numbers we found that we were losing money on eggs, so adding more hens would only have increased our loss. Obviously it wouldn’t make sense to sell at a loss. That’s like paying someone to eat your food.
The USDA is projecting that in 2016 farmers growing corn, soybeans and wheat will lose money on all three. The projected losses range from about $57/acre on corn to over $90/acre on soybeans.
So why would anyone grow a crop, knowing it won’t be profitable? If those projections are correct commodity farmers will end 2016 with less money, more debt, or both, than they began the year with. Maybe it’s because they need cash flow to service debt. Maybe it’s because subsidized crop insurance and government subsidies will erase their loss. But still, wouldn’t the sensible course of action to be to take the year off, let the land rest, maybe take a vacation?
Instead industrial agriculture will produce mountains of commodity grain that will be dumped on the world market at less than the cost of production. That’s one of the primary ways our industrial machine destroys indigenous agriculture throughout the rest of the world.
It makes no sense to encourage production at a loss, but lots of things about industrial agriculture make no sense to me.
The pace of farm life slows down this time of year. There’s still plenty to do, but things aren’t as urgent. And by 5:30 or so it’s too dark outside to do anything, which leaves me a lot more time for reading now.
It’s nice to have time for books again. I’m gradually reducing the big stack that I accumulated over the summer.
I’ve just finished David Lindley’s Uncertainty, a fascinating history of the development of quantum mechanics during the early part of the last century. Until scientists like Bohr and Heisenberg blew up classical physics, scientists believed that all effects had causes and that with perfect information about the present, one could precisely predict the future. But the quantum physicists proved that at the subatomic level reality is unpredictable. Things happen for no reason. At the quantum level we can determine only the probability of an event. There is an inherent element of chance, unpredictability, uncertainty. It seems that subatomic particles have personalities and they don’t obey the classical rules. So even though at the visible level things seem orderly and predictable, when we drill all the way down we find arbitrariness.
Of course these discoveries have been disconcerting to those who don’t like the idea that uncaused events occur. Einstein went to his grave refusing to believe it could be true.
But I kind of like knowing that all of nature, at its core, is a cloud of uncertainty. As Jonathan Fields says (in an entirely different context), “There is no such thing as possibility, without uncertainty.” I’ve never accepted the idea that we are just machines. Maybe nothing is. Maybe all of the things we take for granted as “certain” are in reality just very highly probable. (Of course I do appreciate the fact that classical physics still works just fine once we leave the subatomic world. It’s nice to be able to count on gravity, for example).
At the end of the book the author makes a fascinating observation, one new to me, and it is worth quoting:
There can be no going back to the old days of absolute determinism, when, as the Marquis de Laplace hoped, knowledge of the present would bring complete knowledge of the past and the future.
Cosmically speaking, that may be a good thing. The Laplacian universe can have no moment of birth, because any set of physical conditions must arise, logically and inevitably, from some prior situation, and so on ad infinitum. Nothing uncaused can happen
But the quantum universe is different. Ever since Marie Curie wondered at the spontaneity of radioactive decay, ever since Rutherford asked Bohr what made an electron jump from one place in an atom to another, the recognition has grown that quantum events happen, ultimately, for no reason at all.
So we reach an impasse. Classical physics cannot say why the universe happened, because nothing can happen except that prior events caused it to happen. Quantum physics cannot say why the universe happened, except to say that it did, spontaneously, as a matter of probability rather than certainty….We come to a paradox that Bohr would have loved: it’s only through an initial, inexplicable act of quantum mechanical uncertainty that our universe came into being, setting off a chain of events that led to our appearance on the scene, wondering what initial impetus led to our existence.
Of course the philosophical (and theological) implications of that are obvious. And that is enough fodder to keep a nerdy farmer’s brain itching for a long time.
Several years ago I published a post arguing that taxes are unnecessary. At the time the federal government was collecting about $1 trillion per year in individual income tax, while running a $2 trillion deficit. The deficit was funded by borrowing and creation of “new” money. So if the government can print up 2 trillion bucks to meet the shortfall, why not just print up another trillion and let us keep all of our income, I asked.
The post was tongue in cheek, of course, but it generated some good discussion.
More recently I posted about the increasing interest in a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) that would replace much of our current social safety net. Under this type of scheme every citizen would receive a guaranteed income from the government every year, in an amount sufficient to make sure they have enough money to meet all basic needs, thus presumably eliminating the need for unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps, etc. Anyone unsatisfied with subsidence wages could go out and try to earn more, but no one would have to have a job to assure survival.
I have also posted on occasion about robotics and automation eliminating much of our traditional employment and leaving the question of what people of the future will do to earn a living. Even with relatively low unemployment, our labor force participation rate just hit a 38 year low. Only 62.4% of Americans over age 16 are employed or seeking employment. That’s not entirely (or even primarily) due to robotics and automation. But with technology rapidly rendering human labor unnecessary, that percentage will surely continue to fall.
I used to be very interested in monetary policy, but I haven’t paid much attention to it over the past five or six years. So I was quite surprised to learn recently of something called “Modern Monetary Policy”(or MMT) which is supposedly all the rage these days. Under MMT (which critics quip stands for “Magic Money Tree”) governments would just print up whatever amount of money they need, without regard to tax revenue. Under MMT taxes are irrelevant and unnecessary, except as a means to keep a preferred currency alive. So it seems that maybe my old post from 6 years ago wasn’t so silly after all. Maybe taxes really are unnecessary after all.
But it all leaves me wondering. If…
With MMT no taxes are necessary;
With GMI no job is necessary; and
With robotics no work is necessary,
What kind of strange new world are we steaming toward?
Everyone appreciates a pat on the back now and then. So, at the risk of immodesty, today I thought I’d share some comments from the last couple of days that sadly ended up in my Spam folder. They’re just too good to keep to myself.
Yesterday หนังx wrote, “What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity about unpredicted feelings.” Thanks, I think.
Someone whose name is a bit too off-color for me to share offered this complimentary comment, “Hi there to all, the contents present at this site are really awesome for people experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows.”
Erwin also enjoys the blog, writing, “Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this post plus the rest of the site is also very good.” Thanks Erwin. I’m blushing.
Finally, xnxx left this generous comment, “Ahaa, its fastidious dialogue about this paragraph here at this website, I have read all that,
so at this time me also commenting at this place.”
I’m always grateful for those who take the time to leave a comment.
One of the many startling things I learned from reading Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy is that Alabama judges regularly impose death sentences even after the jury which convicted the defendant recommended life in prison instead. This is called a judicial “override” and it is unique to Alabama.
Nearly 20% of the people on death row in Alabama were sentenced to life in prison by the jury, only to have the judge override them and hand down a death sentence instead. Alabama judges have overriden jury decisions 111 times since 1976, and 91% of the time they overrode jury decisions of life in prison and instead sentenced the defendant to execution.
Judicial override is legal in only 2 other states–Delaware and Florida. In those states it occurs rarely, and when it does occur it is to override death sentences in favor of life in prison. Only in Alabama do judges routinely replace life in prison verdicts with death sentences.
So why does this happen? Are Alabama juries just too soft-hearted?
The disturbing answer seems to be because judges in Alabama are elected, and because handing down death penalties improves one’s chances of being elected. Overrides are more frequent in election years and capital sentencing is used to show how tough one is (or isn’t) on crime.
That should give us pause.
Ironically perhaps, it was because of a judicial override that at least one wrongly convicted man was ultimately exonerated. The book tells the story of Walter McMillian, convicted of murder in Alabama. The jury in his case returned a sentencing verdict of life in prison. The judge overrode them and sentenced him to death instead. Bryan Stevenson took his case while he was awaiting execution, ultimately demonstrated his innocence and won his release. Had it not been for the work of Bryan Stevenson he would have been executed for a crime he didn’t commit. On the other hand, had he not been on death row he would have spent the rest of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Of course exoneration is not how it ends for most people on death row. Their stories end with their execution.
It seems hard to believe that in 2015 there is a still a place where death sentences not only still occur (Alabama has the highest per capita death sentencing rate in the country), but where judges boost their election chances by sending to death row people juries have sentenced to life in prison.
But I’ll close with some positive news. As with so many things that are wrong in our society, improvement and change are coming. Even as executions continue (2 are scheduled next week), executions and death sentences have dropped to their lowest level in over 20 years.
The tide has turned on the death penalty. It will someday be a thing of the past.