Saturday, January 24, 2015

Food Overproduction: The Real Problem

This article debunks the idea that starvation in the world is caused by inability to grow enough food.  In fact, the world already has the capability to feed 14 million, and "food crisis" is marketed to sell more profitable industrial agribusiness and crush movements toward food localism (which can't compete in quantity-of-production with agribusiness, or at least so it is claimed).  Excess food production is now used to create biofuels, among other things.

What the article doesn't discuss is how starvation is actually caused by poverty.  Some people can't afford to buy even the cheap food.  And that problem in many places is ironically caused by low food prices (thanks to agribusiness and so-called-trade-agreements) which make it impossible for peasants to make a living in the traditional way--by growing food on a small scale.  So, ironically, many potential small scale farms lie in disuse, and are in danger of being taken over by plantations which will lead to even more poverty.

Long term, of course, the best path toward sustainable everything is a managed decline in human population through reduction of fertility.  Even though we "can" grow enough food to feed even a much larger population than we have now, that food production (as well as the people's other activities of course) has a huge negative impact on the natural environment, no matter how it is done  (though especially through the world domination of agribusiness--whose methods are the worst for the environment, and the least sustainable, despite having low prices today).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Money should primarily be thought of as lubricant

Posted (under moderation now) to this post at Crooked Timber.

Somehow I don't share the belief that money is supposed to be a store of value.  I see it as an economic lubricant, and if the lubrication works a bit better if some value slowly vaporizes, I see that as a feature not a bug.  Typically currencies don't lose value very much in the milliseconds it takes to do EFT from my employer to my bank.  And then once in my bank, in principle, it can re-earn sufficient proportion of the social dividend through interest and with guarantee principal to compensate for the loss for economically justifiable inflation.  Haven't we seen long periods where inflation was lower than savings account interest?  And what is really the correct explanation of why it may not do so now?  I see grand disinvestment and financial gambling having upended the old order, and my animus is directed at them rather than government spenders (we need more of that government spending, IMO, lots more, to be a modern and progressing post industrial society).

Even in the store-of-value concern wrt money, it seems to me that the it's not how much nominal inflation there is, but what the difference is between interest in socially guaranteed saving accounts and inflation.  How did that do in the 1970's?  Not so bad as just looking at one number, I think.  As far as anti-social people storing money in mattresses, gold, or bit coins rather than becoming invested in society--the worse outcomes for them the better IMO.

But that is still very far removed from the importance of money as economic lubricant.

In the actual 1970's, I made my way into a successful career in a way that would have not been possible in a deflationary economy, as I lacked the usually required credentials.  So I gained from the inflationary economy that couldn't find workers fast enough, while meanwhile my fixed interest inheritance was ground into dust, so that indeed I had to live from my deeds and not what my father was owed.  It's complicated to figure whether the combined effect was salutary or not because there are so many possible counterfactuals, but it compared with many other possibilities it was very much so.

I think in part the populist anti-inflation fear really comes from a fear that elites will profit while the little people don't see any wage increases, and it has little to do with the actual store-of-value aspect.  In reality, the little people do better in a moderately high inflationary economy for many reasons, mostly having to do with jobs and wage growth which does reach farther down than it does in other times (e.g. 70's, mid-to-late 90's).   Also true that the value of debts decreases, which matter more to most people of lower income than interest on savings.  But they are constantly trained not to think that way but to think like bond rentiers.  Because guess who owns the media.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Zappa: Cool to be a Right Smart Ass

I siding with Dave…there is no evidence that Frank Zappa opposed the Vietnam War while it was happening.  He was known to be anti-hippie, anti-marijuana, anti-communist, pro-ridiculously-hard-work.  The best argument is for his having been pro-war also.  His whole stick was to make it cool to be a smart neoconservative/neoliberal.  Put down those stupid leftist hippies.  We righties have our own anti-authoritarian cred against all the stupid New Deal generation (Johnson and Nixon) while remaining fully anti-communist and pro-capitalist.  We can still be freaks while not getting lefty.  (This included me of the time…though I hardly knew of Zappa.)

No question, anyway, he is heavy on the attitude, with a heavy tilt toward the US style Libertarianism.  Which was not what Johnson or Nixon represented.  Nixon was brought down from the inside precisely because he wasn't sufficiently pro-private-capital, he was a New Dealer to the core, like Eisenhower.

When Zappa spares the vocals, I can enjoy his considerable musical talent and hard work.  At his best, he's a great classical and jazz inventor in the tradition of Varese…sometimes as good as Varese himself, and he can do decent rock also.  Otherwise…when vocals are present he's often far too preachy in a way I find disgusting.  He's the caffeinated cool smart ass observing the sick lazy populist-corrupted world.  Sorry, that's not a new thing in my experience.  A US Libertarian might have been new to someone in the 1960's.

Now it's true that by the 1980's, Zappa was becoming anti-some-of-Reagans-wars.  He might have had a shift toward the anti-war that hasn't been publicly recognized (to do so would be to recognize the pro-war beginning, which was deliberately ambiguous).  US Libertarians are often anti-war…especially since the 1980's.

Honestly, I made the switch from a childhood Republican (weakly pro-Vietnam war, if at all) to grown up Democrat (and later, a leftist Democrat) and strongly anti-empire.  But I was not selling smart ass record albums and did not have a public persona when I made the switch, so it's easier for me to be honest about the matter…in fact for me it's a bragging point I think that I was able to change my mind about various things as I grew up.