I am sitting here in my tractor, planting soybeans.
Well…not really. All I am doing is monitoring the monitors that monitor the process. The planter is doing the critical task of precisely placing each seed in the ground and covering it with soil. The tractor is driving itself-and doing a better job of it than I can. So here I sit, poised to spring into action the moment a monitor complains that things are diverging from normal. And for some reason I thought it would be clever to download the WordPress mobile app…
While I have strong opinions, normally I try to refrain from waxing political online. But, with the last two VALOR seminars having been in Richmond and DC, along with the shear volume of news of late of…questionable…behavior in government sectors various and sundry, my self imposed moratorium has become more difficult than usual to abide by.
I think my world view is summed up nicely in this clip of Milton Friedman courtesy of . As an added bonus he uses agriculture as his example. The few stats are dated, but interesting and worth the 2 and a half minutes.
During our time in Richmond and DC, we learned about some of the many tools used by the various agencies and departments to…support…incentivize…promote… the agriculture industry. A few hundred thousand here to attract a major ag product processor. A couple thousand there to promote purchasing locally grown produce. A bit of assistance to help a producer purchase an insurance policy to protect his gross profit margin over feed costs. Thoughts on these examples are what are staring back at me from the windshield.
An oft heard lament is that “the government should be run like a business.” If that is the ideal, then a $250,000 expenditure by a government agency (more properly, taxpayers) to secure a multimillion dollar investment in a new facility by a private company is a no-brainer. Leveraging (relatively) small amounts of public funds, large increases in the tax base are achieved, jobs are ostensibly created, and markets are enlarged for area producers. It’s high return on investment stuff…just the type of thing I look for in my business.
But, in the long run, just how much good comes from these activities? In time, does the market take these incentives and subsidies into consideration, and therefore costs rise accordingly, effectively negating the effect of the “extra” taxpayer dollars added into the system? Clearly the early adopter (or rent seeker) benefits nicely, but what about the rest of the players in the market? Or next year’s entrant into the latest enterprise deemed worthy of subsidy?
And what of the competitors in the marketplace to the subsidized activity? Witness ethanol. Witness all manner of dairy policy. And on and on… “We must level the playing field!” is the hue and cry. Of course that was the same cry that spawned the non-level playing field causing such angst now. Instead of trying to tweek how the subsidies are applied in an attempt to level the mythical field, might it not be possible to just remove the subsidy, the grant, the loan guarantee?
Many decry the fact that “government is picking winners and losers!” But on closer inspection, is the problem that the government is in the business of picking, or merely that the government is picking the wrong winners and losers?
Is the person in the windshield looking back at me being intellectually honest and consistent in the views and beliefs that he holds? Somewhere between the libertarian ideal of nothing and the totalitarian ideal of everything lies the proper role of government. I believe that today, we are far closer to the latter, and need to trend towards the former, which will be nearly impossible.
But…I just lost my RTK correction for my GPS, which means I have to actually use this round wheel in front of me to steer the tractor for a bit. I am curious to hear your thoughts on the subject.
I leave you with my 2nd to least liked song from one of my top 5 favorite bands of all time: Cake, and their song, Federal Funding.