12/07/2000

12-7-00 - 1

12-7-00

I'm going to take a moment to respond to some comments on my rants, rather than simply spouting more crap into the void of the internet as I usually do.

One wise reader remarked on my suggestion to eliminate farm subsidies. He pointed out that the rural economy of small towns in most of the central US (eg. anywhere away from the coats) would crash. He's right, and it's a bad thing. The reason why we need subsidies, let's recall, is because we can get some crops much cheaper by exporting from Mexico & South America, Australia, South Africa, Russia, and China (primarily). So, something still gnaws at me - if we're a capitalist country, why are we paying farmers to make crops which sell on the world market for cheaper than they cost to produce here? Hmm.. well, this is actually part of a general hard problem which I mentioned in that long political rant of 11-27 : if you apply lots of restrictions and taxes and minimum wages and whatnot (all of which I advocate) it pushes up the cost of operation in your country so much that your exports aren't competitively priced (and similarly, you can import things for cheaper than you can make them). This, I think, is one of the nasty big problems which is unsolved in the world today. It's why your sneakers are made in Thailand, and your momma can't get a job in a factory no more [sic]. Is it a terrible thing that environmental regulations (etc.) cause factories to move outside of the U.S., and force displaced factory works to become white collar (secretaries and whatnot)? I'm not sure. There's an additional tricky factor with the farm subsidies : a lot of the small farmers have land and/or have farmed for generations, and want to keep doing it even if they can't produce a crop at competitive prices. I have a soft spot in my heart for small farmers, it's one of the things I love about Europe - there are so many beautiful small farms, it looks so pastoral, picturesque, with crumbling stone walls between the farms - so much better than the massive fields of wheat with giant threshing machines that we have in the mega-farm of the midwest. Is it the taxpayers job to pay for the subsidization of the small farms, though? I'm not sure, I don't think so. Of course, there's one final complication with critical commodities like food and oil and weapons - the US government has the need to make sure that we have the ability to meet our demand with internal supply. This is for the unlikely eventuality that the entire rest of the world declares war on us, and suddenly we can't import rice - we've got to have the farmers and the land to grow it ourselves. Thus the government has a policy of paying the farmers to stay on their land for the purposes of having that supply if we need it. For the same reason we pay defense contractors to maintain big factories which operate way below potential, just in case we suddenly need to increase production. Viewed in this way, the farm subsidy is just like the fifty dollar screw-driver purchased from defense contractors. The question is how seriously should we consider the possibility of an import embargo, or a sudden descrease in the world supply levels - probably not that seriously. It is an issue, but we probably only need enough internal supply to meet half our demand, we can almost certainly get the rest externally even in times of crisis.

Another wise reader pointed out that the death penalty is by tautology an effective measure when applied to repeat offenders. That is, if a killer is released and kills again, then if the death penalty had been applied initially, a crime would've been prevented. Now, that is certainly true, but it's also true that life imprisonment would have done the same trick. I didn't mean to suggest in my 11-27 rant that serial killers should be released. No, they should be imprisoned without parole. Now there are a few issues to address. 1) the death penalty is cheaper than life imprisonment. Yes, that is true, but it's hardly a good reason to apply it, since the number of prisoners sentenced to death are an infinitesimal fraction of the prison population 2) is the death penalty a better deterrant for *other criminals* than life imprisonment; perhaps, but there are no figures that suggest that violent crime goes down when/where the death penalty is instituted. Personally, I would find life imprisonment much more unpleasant than to simply die (it's a long slow pain, instead of a short concentrated one). 3) life imprisonment may seem very similar to the death penalty, but there's a key difference which is the basis of my entire argument - it can be undone. The death penalty can never be undone if you make a mistake, life imprisonment allows time for appeals, new evidence, new science (like DNA testing), new laws, etc. This is a key difference, and I think that the slight arguments for the death penalty (points 1 and 2) are dwarfed by the major point against it - many mistakes are made in the US legal system, and of course it's much worse in many countries (Turkey, Ira[q/n]).

old rants