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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Red Herring in the GMO Controversy

Yesterday I saw a documentary called: The Story of Seeds. I was reminded that everything we eat depends on seeds. All of our wheat and corn and fruits and veggies grow from seeds. And the animals we eat, they eat stuff that grows from seeds. In the past, there was no problem with that. But in recent years corporations have been allowed to own the right to use many of our seeds, and they have been able to greatly reduce the usage of those seeds that they don't own. This is growing into a serious problem for us ordinary folk, who are not big stockholders in Monsanto.

Have you heard of Seminis? Probably not; I had not heard of it before seeing this movie. This is from Wikipedia: "Seminis is the largest developer, grower and marketer of fruit and vegetable seeds in the world. Seminis' hybrids claim to improve nutrition, boost crop yields, limit spoilage and reduce the need for chemicals. Their retail line includes over 3,500 seed varieties. ..... On March 23, 2005, Monsanto Company announced that it had completed its acquisition of Seminis."

Those are hybrid seeds, which means that the growers must buy them from Seminis/Monsanto every year. Hybrids don't produce seed that reproduces the parent plant. Hybrids have some advantages, which is why growers are willing to pay for them each year, as long as the cost is not high. As long as there is competition, the cost will not be high. The competition comes from other hybrid seed companies, and from non-hybrid seeds that are in general circulation. Unfortunately, the current trend is for both of those sources of competition to decline, year after year.

Then there is GMO seed, which has been genetically engineered, and patented. The use of such seed is growing rapidly in the U.S.  Corn and soybeans are the leading crops using GMO seeds, but they are rapidly growing in use for many other crops. The "Red Herring" that I refer to in the title of this article is the idea that these GMO crops may be unhealthful in some way. I call this a red herring because I'm convinced that none of the current GMO crops are directly harmful to anyone's health. The danger that I see is to the diversity of our food supply. If we were to have only one variety of wheat, one variety of corn, one variety of potatoes, etc., there is a real danger that a fungal or viral disease could wipe out the entire crop. This has happened many times in the past. The Irish potato famine is the most famous example. (Google it!)

The courts have allowed GMO seed to be patented, in spite of the fact that pollen from GMO crops can be transferred by wind or insects to the fields of farmers that are not growing GMO crops. These crops are then contaminated by genetic material that is patented, usually by Monsanto. This is harmless to the consumer's health, but it allows Monsanto to threaten to sue farmers, and thereby coerce them into contracting with Monsanto to use Monsanto's seed. This is a complicated issue, and it is an active one in the courts of America, and foreign nations.

But perhaps there is nothing wrong with a few giant corporations controlling the world's food supply?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Job Guarantee: A Government Plan for Full Employment

I did not write the following article. It's from "The Nation", and the author is L. Randall Wray. I'm reprinting it here, with permission, because I think it's an important article and I heartily support the idea:

There is no economic demand more urgent than putting Americans back to work. The government can do this by creating an “employer of last resort” program.
L. Randall Wray

June 8, 2011 | This article appeared in the June 27, 2011 edition of The Nation.

There is no economic policy more important than job creation. The private sector plays an invaluable and dynamic role in providing employment, but it cannot ensure enough jobs to keep up with population growth or speed economic recovery—much less achieve the social goal of full employment for all Americans. Thankfully, there is an alternative: a job guarantee through a government-provided “employer of last resort” program offering a job to anyone who is ready and willing to work at the federal minimum wage plus legislated benefits.

In recent decades full employment has been wrongly dismissed as not only impossible but economically counterproductive. Though the Employment Act of 1946 committed the government to the goal of high employment (it was amended by the 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Act, which targeted a measured unemployment rate of 3 percent), we act as if full employment would ruin us, destroying the value of our currency through inflation and depreciation, and weakening the labor discipline that high unemployment maintains through enforced destitution. Through the thick and thin of the business cycle, we leave tens of millions of Americans idle in the belief that this makes political, economic and social sense.

It doesn’t. The benefits of full employment include production of goods, services and income; on-the-job training and skill development; poverty alleviation; community building and social networking; social, political and economic stability; and social multipliers (positive feedbacks and reinforcing dynamics that create a virtuous cycle of socioeconomic benefits). An “employer of last resort” program would restore the government’s lost commitment to full employment in recognition of the fact that the total impact would exceed the sum of the benefits.

The program has no time limits or restrictions based on income, gender, education or experience. It operates like a buffer stock: in a boom, employers will recruit workers out of the program; in a slump the safety net will allow those who lost their jobs to preserve good habits, keeping them work-ready. It will also help those unable to obtain work outside the program enhance their employability through training. Work records will be kept for all participants and made available to potential employers. Unemployment offices will be converted to employment offices, to match workers with jobs that suit them and to help employers recruit staff.

All state and local governments and registered nonprofit organizations can propose projects; proposals will be submitted to a newly created office within the Labor Department for final approval and funding. The office will maintain a website providing details on all pending, approved and ongoing projects, and final reports will be published after projects are complete.

Participants will be subject to all federal work rules, and violations will lead to dismissal. Anyone who is dismissed three times in a twelve-month period will be ineligible to participate in the program for a year. Workers will be allowed to organize through labor unions.

The program will meet workers where they are and take them as they are: jobs will be available in local communities and will be tailored to suit employees’ level of education and experience (though with the goal of improving skills). Proposals should include provisions for part-time work and other flexible arrangements for workers who need them, including but not restricted to flexible arrangements for parents of young children.

All participants will obtain a Social Security number and maintain a bank account in an FDIC-insured bank. Weekly wages will be paid by the federal government directly to participants’ accounts. The government will also provide funding for benefits as well as approved expenses up to a maximum of 
10 percent of wages paid for a project (to cover the cost of administrative materials and equipment).

Estimated spending will be 1–2 percent of GDP, with economic, social and political benefits several times larger. Net program costs will be much lower, since spending on unemployment compensation and other relief will be reduced—this program will pay people for working, rather than paying them not to work. The promise of increased national productivity and shared prosperity should far outweigh any fears about rising deficits. To fulfill this promise, we need to put Americans back to work.


Here's a link to the original article:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Affirmative Action

There is a better way to do affirmative action, one that sidesteps the controversy about race.  It should be based on need, not race.  A person should get help if they come from an underprivileged background, with no consideration of race or ethnicity.  Since some minority groups have a high percentage of underprivileged families, there would be a high percentage of those families that benefit from affirmative action.  People of European descent would benefit at a much lower percentage, although the total number may still be high.  There are plenty of poor white people.  A poor white person needs help more than a middle-class black person.  Poor blacks and poor whites would both get help, if this policy were adopted.  Basic justice tells us that people who need help should be the ones to get it, regardless of skin color or other ethnic characteristics.

The main drawback of this policy is the effort that it takes to evaluate the merits of each applicant.  It is relatively easy to determine if someone is black or white, at least in most cases.  In order to have a totally need-based policy it would be necessary to employ many case workers to determine the eligibility of the applicants.  Of course, in my opinion, this is a good thing, since we need government policies that increase total employment.