Trumpification of USDA?

The demolishment of technocratic and research groups continues.

From Politico (8/15):

Staff members at USDA’s Economic Research Service were blindsided by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s decision to move the agency out of Washington, and agricultural economists are concerned the department’s economic research arm could be weakened by the changes.

When Perdue announced last week that ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would be relocated by the end of 2019 and that ERS also would be realigned with the Office of the Chief Economist, he cited anticipated cost savings, the ability to provide better customer service by operating closer to USDA’s constituents, and the opportunity to better attract and retain staff by sparing them from the high cost of living inside the Beltway.

Those goals, however, were questioned by many rank-and-file economists at ERS, multiple sources within the agency said, in part because staff was not informed of the plan until shortly before USDA fired off a press release to the public.

I wonder how much of this is all “killing the messenger”. ERS yesterday released a downbeat forecast of farm income. Off the ERS front page, here is sampling of recent analyses:


These seem pretty innocuous to me, but I think AgSec Perdue must view independent research as either irrelevant or problematic. Perhaps this is all unsurprising given who Perdue has tried to select for adviser.

Perdue has also supported the appointment of people clearly unqualified for the job—like Sam Clovis, a talk radio host and Trump campaign national co-chair who was nominated for the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics, despite having none of the scientific training or experience that the law requires for this position. While his past embrace of conspiracy theories, racist and otherwise offensive statements, and revelations that Clovis was involved in Trump campaign contacts with Russia eventually proved too much for his nomination, he has remained in the USDA as a senior advisor.

An informed assessment here.

First they came for the climate change scientists. Then they came for the mercury specialists. Then they came of the USDA economists…

57 thoughts on “Trumpification of USDA?

  1. pgl

    “These seem pretty innocuous to me, but I think AgSec Perdue must view independent research as either irrelevant or problematic. Perhaps this is all unsurprising given who Perdue has tried to select for adviser.”

    OK Sam Clovis is not qualified for this position but maybe he will hire an assistant to the actual analysis. CoRev has already sent his resume!

    Reply
  2. pgl

    One of Menzie’s links:
    https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=89701
    “Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households BY DANIEL PRAGER, SARAH TULMAN, AND RON DURST

    Slightly more than half of U.S. farm households report losses from their farm businesses each year. But net income measures do not capture the full contribution farming makes to the financial well-being of farm families. When tax-loss benefits and asset appreciation are considered, the share of households with positive annual farm returns rises from 43 to 70 percent.”

    Another paper CoRev will refuse to read. Of course asset appreciation can be a fleeting thing. When the value of farm assets decline, the reported losses understate the true losses.

    Reply
    1. CoRev

      Pgl, Why do you think those deplorables continue despite: “Slightly more than half of U.S. farm households report losses from their farm businesses each year.”? A hint, you failed to understand the meaning of this portion of your quote: “But net income measures do not capture the full contribution farming makes to the financial well-being of farm families. ” BTW, this is not new and was in Menzie’s original references which I see you failed to read.

      How you coming on that estimate I requested?

      Reply
      1. pgl

        “Why do you think those deplorables continue”

        NO ONE ever said or even remotely implied farmers are deplorable. No CoRev – ain’t gonna play your stupid games today. Learn to ask a legitimate question without your usual garbage.

        BTW – incurring economic losses without immediately exiting the sector is commonplace in a market economy. OK – you prefer the state bail out those you dishonestly claim I have called deplorable.

        No run along and learn to engage in a real discussion someday if you have the capacity to do so. So far you have shown you do not.

        Reply
  3. baffling

    it would not surprise me if trump went after the national academy of sciences and engineering next. what does the government need field experts for, when we have plenty of conservative pundits willing to provide the solutions, and we need to keep those pundits employed.

    i see in the rhetoric and actions of trump and his supporters many similarities to mao and the cultural revolution, with its down to the countryside phase. the educated elites need to be reeducated by the uneducated peasants from the countryside- the real america (or the real china 50 years ago). apparently the trumpeters are following a new little red book, the trump twitter. i must admit, a few years ago i never believed our country could fall for such rhetoric, that it was impossible for a nazi germany to emerge in the usa. today i have a different perspective.

    Reply
  4. pgl

    This history of Iowa Farmland Values has been posted before. I forget who provided it originally but thanks:

    https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/pdf/c2-72.pdf

    Note these prices peaked around 2012 and 2013. Something from the latest […] ala CoRev tells us he needs a little reminder that farm land prices have been declining for the past 5 years.

    Of course I remember when this list came out there was also an excellent discussion of the economic determinants of land values – a truly classic DCF analysis. We tried to get CoRev to cease his usual babbling and read it but I guess DCF analysis is over his head as he never got the economics. It appears he still does not get it.

    Reply
    1. CoRev

      Pgl, that’s two personal attack in one comment without validation, verification, or providing a link. Please do so. I am specifically interested in your support for me referencing Iowa land values.

      BTW, what does this have to do with the article, Trumpification of USDA? What value does it add?

      Reply
          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            CoRev: If you refuse to engage by not learning concepts, then there is little point for documentation.

            Note: Opportunity cost for the farmer is incorported in the returns to the farmer/proprietor, in the following sense. The farm owner could get a return by renting out the factors of production. That amount is the “opportunity cost” entry you have been looking for in the spreadsheet. In risk-free equilibrium, economic profits — returns to farmer minus this opportunity cost — would be zero.

            This is an argument not specific to farms, but all microeconomic analyses of the firm.

            Please, please, please read an introductory micro textbook.

          2. 2slugbaits

            CoRev I would also add that one of those factors of production that could be rented out is the labor of the farmer/owner itself.

          3. CoRev

            Menzie & 2slugs, opportunity costs? Why is this in the comment thread for this article? I never mentioned it here. In fact I don’t ever remember bringing it up just questioning its use IN THE OTHER ARTICLE..

          4. baffling

            corev, commentary does not sit in isolation. somebody cannot say something stupid in one post and then complain because the stupid comment was brought up in another post. not that you would say anything stupid, corev. but one does not get to compartmentalize their commentary.

          5. Menzie Chinn Post author

            baffling: I agree. We are responsible for each and every comment we post, regardless of thread. A stupid comment in one thread remains stupid even in the context of another thread. Every commenter should remember that (and even if you come in anonymously, I will to the best of my ability track you).

          6. CoRev

            Menazie & Baffled, you reference a comment from a prior thread, but I don’t remember it. Please cite/link that comment so I can understand what you see as so bad.

          7. baffling

            corev, if you cannot keep track of what you wrote, perhaps it is best to cut back on the volume.
            “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” mark twain.

          8. CoRev

            Baffled, that’s what I thought. Just piling on for effect, and didn’t have a specific comment or too lazy to look.

          9. baffling

            corev, i am simply pointing out that when somebody makes a comment on one post, it is not held in isolation for another post. a person does not get to make a racist post, for instance, and then complain if somebody brings up such commentary in future posts. one does not get to deny global warming is occurring in one post, and then in another post acknowledge that global warming is occurring but is not man made in another post, and then follow that up with another post that once again denies global warming is occurring. the simplest way to avoid such conundrums is to always be honest and tell the truth from the get go. sorry if you don’t like that advice corev. these are lessons your grandparents should have taught you. however, we will provide them to you free of charge on the internet.

          10. CoRev

            Baffled, now you are dodging. It was simple request requesting a specific link to the comment, which you had no answer. BTW, this is the 2nd comment without providing an answer to my request. Repeating a misleading comment with even more irrelevant examples does not improve your position and especially correct the impression already made: ” Just piling on for effect, and didn’t have a specific comment or too lazy to look.”

            The simplest way to avoid such conundrums is to always be honest and tell the truth from the get go. Sorry if you don’t like that advice Baffled. These are lessons your grandparents should have taught you. however, we will provide them to you free of charge on the internet.

          11. baffling

            corev, lets be clear. you are putting words in my mouth-very dishonest. i did not reference a comment. i simply pointed out to you that your commentary does not exist in isolation. you need to better comprehend what you are being told, rather than creating straw man arguments. i was not piling on. simply giving you an internet lesson. apparently you are unable to learn the lesson-too bad. rather uncivil behavior on your end, i might add. you owe me an apology corev.

          12. CoRev

            Baffled, total BS. You claim: “corev, lets be clear. you are putting words in my mouth-very dishonest. i did not reference a comment.

            This is your first comment on this subject: ”
            baffling
            September 3, 2018 at 3:28 pm

            corev, commentary does not sit in isolation. somebody cannot say something stupid in one post and then complain because the stupid comment was brought up in another post. not that you would say anything stupid, corev. but one does not get to compartmentalize their commentary.”

            Lets be clear. you are putting words in my mouth while dodging providing an answer to what you very specifically refer-very dishonest. Continuing this misleading and dishonest path is not improving your position. If your ego requires you get the last lying word, give us another misleading and dishonest response, but I do not intend to continue pointing out your obvious dishonesty.

          13. baffling

            corev, i was very clear to term “somebody”, not you. in fact, i explicitly pointed out how corev would not be one to make a stupid comment. perhaps i was incorrect after all? you need to improve on your reading comprehension. again, you owe me an apology corev.

      1. pgl

        Excuse me but you were doubting that farm income was lower and you tried to pull out the notion that appreciation of land values should be included. Yea – it should be farm values have been declining.

        CoRev – you seem incapable of following even what you were talking about. Which is OK and we sometimes wonder what on earth you are talking about as well!

        Reply
        1. CoRev

          Pgl, you don’t even know what article to which you are responding. Show me the comment or stop responding across articles.

          Reply
          1. CoRev

            Pgl,”Obviously this is something you have also decided not to read. DUH!”

            No!, Just hadn’t then had time to read, but thanks for your timely response. I have since done so.

  5. 2slugbaits

    It’s not just the USDA that’s a victim of Trumpification. The State Dept is suffering under the same malady. Plum diplomatic posts have always been political patronage jobs; that’s just a fact of life that everyone has long accepted. But in the past those ambassadors always understood that their main job was to host parties, drink champagne and stay out of the way of career diplomats. Unfortunately, too many of Trump’s ambassadors to those plum jobs seem to have gotten it into their heads that they actually know something about international diplomacy. As a result career diplomats are racing to the exits.

    Reply
  6. pgl

    On a personal note, one reason why I find CoRev’s refusal to even consider opportunity costs, I have to deal on a daily basis with accountants who often strike me at times as the most annoying and dumb people ever. But hey – one has to get financial data somewhere.

    But even as dumb as most CPAs can be – I would venture most of them get opportunity cost at least at a basic level. After all – this idea is taught to 18 year olds in Principles of Economics early on. I seriously get one could get an MBA without knowing the basic idea. And do not get me started on how weak some MBA programs can be.

    Reply
    1. 2slugbaits

      You should try having to explain it to some general officer with a bunch of stars on his shoulder. Opportunity costs are just some made-up nonsense that only make it harder to overcome an economic analysis hurdle.

      Reply
  7. Not Trampis

    If Yank farmers are anything like their comrades downunder lifestyle means a lot to them so they carry on well before a normal business would simply close.

    Reply
  8. Not Trampis

    I see Marc Bellamare is none too pleased with this development and rightly so. The Trump administration is not concerned with research again showing in bright lights Trump is no conservative.
    Indeed they appear to be highly anti-intellectual

    Reply
  9. sammy

    The US is a democracy, not a country ruled by the elites (not Menzie). The election of 2016 proved this. It elected Trump over the ultimate elitist Hillary. They want common sense, not technocratic mumbo jumbo that someone always ends up benefitting the elite. Funny how that is.

    “William F. Buckley Jr. famously quipped, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
    Funny stuff.
    But it’s also a serious philosophical statement—solidly American, generally conservative and proudly anti-elitist.
    So here’s a translation for technocratic elites who don’t understand: “Ordinary people can be trusted more than lushly credential professionals in ivory towers.” In Buckley’s mind, a healthy democracy requires that average Joes and Janes—random “phone book people”—contribute to the way things are run.”

    I agree with Buckley. As a small businessperson I receive a lot of edicts from people in government who obviously do understand how the real world aka. private sector works. We are tired of listening to the Obamas, Clintons etc. (not Menzie) who have never worked a real job in their lives prescribe how things should be.

    >>>>> While some may have more technical expertise, it is too often overwhelmed by political bias and lack of real world experience.

    Reply
    1. 2slugbaits

      The US is a democracy… It elected Trump over the ultimate elitist Hillary.”

      In case you forgot, Clinton won the popular vote by a large margin. It was the “elitist” Electoral College that gifted us with Trump. And in 2000 it was the “elitist” Supreme Court with all those Ivy League trained justices that gave us Bush instead of the popular vote winner.

      “William F. Buckley Jr. famously quipped…”

      Ah yes, William F. Buckley, Jr, that champion of the downtrodden. That’s a hoot. I once went to a Buckley lecture back in college. Funny, but he struck me as about as blue blooded as it gets. And for someone who supposedly preferred 2000 random names from the Boston phone book to the Harvard faculty, he sure seemed to spend a lot of his time hanging around college campuses. Maybe he just enjoyed checking out the young coeds. I’m having a hard time imagining Buckley throwing down a few PBRs with Dan & Roseanne Connor at the local bowling alley.

      I agree with Buckley. As a small businessperson I receive a lot of edicts from people in government who obviously do understand how the real world aka. private sector works.

      What small business did Buckley run? Seems to me he made his money through publicly funded television and government subsidies of magazine distributions.

      And BTW, shortly after seeing Buckley, I also saw Michael Harrington, who was a frequent guest on Firing Line. Guess who came across as more personable and seemed more interested in people who were not “elites”? Hint: he didn’t end his name with “Jr”.

      Reply
      1. noneconomist

        Sammy must not know much about Buckley. Buckley came from wealth, was a highly regarded conservative intellectual, and about as eastern elite as it gets, a Yale graduate with a reliable stable of Ivy League chums both right and left wing. Perhaps, given the Harvard-Yale rivalry, it’s understandable why he slammed the Harvard faculty specifically and not Yale’s or Dartmouth’s or Princeton’s.
        I loved watching Firing Line in the 60’s and beyond. Unlike today’s commentators–especially those on radio whose audience members constantly fawn all over them and are dedicated a_ _ kissers —Buckley invited and gleefully went toe to toe with his rivals on the opposite side. There was, on most nights, actual dialogue between two opposing points of view! A Rush Limbaugh, he wasn’t.
        Today’s Trumpers would not understand half of what he said or what he meant. One my favorite Buckley slugfests was with George Wallace, circa 1968. The same George Wallace whose rhetoric is alive and well today in much of Trumplandia. Buckley despised extremists, thrashing BIrchers–whose rhetoric is also alive and well today in Trumplandia– at will.

        Reply
        1. noneconomist

          BTW, one of his favorites guests and jousting partners was the famed Harvard economist, the very liberal John Kenneth Galbraith.

          Reply
          1. noneconomist

            Also, I seriously doubt the Buckleys—given their wealth– were receiving much financial advice from the guy who changed the tires on their Mercedes.

    2. baffling

      “The US is a democracy, not a country ruled by the elites (not Menzie). The election of 2016 proved this.”
      sammy, just curious what your position will be if the democrats take the house or senate in the midterms? and your praise for buckley, whose positions seem to be on the elitist and racist side, are rather contradictory to what you seem to believe.

      Reply
  10. joseph

    CoRev: “Why do you think those deplorables continue despite: “Slightly more than half of U.S. farm households report losses from their farm businesses each year.”? A hint, you failed to understand the meaning of this portion of your quote: “But net income measures do not capture the full contribution farming makes to the financial well-being of farm families. “

    Well, you called them deplorables but if you read the link”Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households”, you will see that there are two reasons they persist. One is that they can use farm losses to take a tax deduction on their non-farm income. And second, they have an opportunity for capital appreciation of their land. Those are the two contributions to financial well-being of hobby farmers.

    Neither of these make them real farmers. The first means they are using taxpayers to subsidize their chosen rural lifestyles and the second means they are real estate investors.

    If these 1 million pretend farmers went away, no one would notice. They are not a significant contributor to the national agricultural output, contrary to your claim in the last thread (CoRev: “Where do you think most of the food in your local grocery comes from?”). Less than 1% comes from them.

    I don’t mind people who prefer a rural lifestyle. I do find it annoying that some of them expect taxpayers to subsidize their losses on their hobby.

    Reply
    1. pgl

      ‘but if you read the link”Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households”’

      Yes Menzie did link to this interesting discussion. When I brought up one of the issues it raises, CoRev objected that we were raising things from another thread. Seriously?

      OK – maybe he did not read this link. Or maybe he did but as usual he had no clue what it said.

      Reply
  11. baffling

    on a more positive note, looks like beto is neck and neck with cruz in texas these days. a delightful turn of events in the lone star state. trump is going to campaign for cruz in a couple of months-will probably do him more harm than good. trump is not necessarily the most popular man in the state of texas these days.

    Reply
  12. joseph

    CoRev: “Why do you think those deplorables continue despite: “Slightly more than half of U.S. farm households report losses from their farm businesses each year.”? A hint, you failed to understand the meaning of this portion of your quote: “But net income measures do not capture the full contribution farming makes to the financial well-being of farm families. “

    Well, you called them deplorables but if you read the link”Economic Returns to Farming for U.S. Farm Households”, you will see that there are two reasons they persist. One is that they can use farm losses to take a tax deduction on their non-farm income. And second, they have an opportunity for capital appreciation of their land. Those are the two contributions to financial well-being of hobby farmers.

    Neither of these make them real farmers. The first means they are using taxpayers to subsidize their chosen rural lifestyles and the second means they are real estate investors.

    If these 1 million pretend farmers went away, no one would notice. They are not a significant contributor to the national agricultural output, contrary to your claim in the last thread (CoRev: “Where do you think most of the food in your local grocery comes from?”). Less than 1% comes from all 1 million of them put together.

    I don’t mind people who prefer a rural lifestyle. I do find it annoying that some of them expect taxpayers to subsidize their losses on their hobby so they can have a house in the country.

    Reply
    1. CoRev

      Joseph, no. Hillary Clinton called the “deplorables”, and I just repeated her.
      “Neither of these make them real farmers. ” Actually, the IRS defines that very well in Schedule J.
      You then add: ” One is that they can use farm losses to take a tax deduction on their non-farm income….Those are the two contributions to financial well-being of hobby farmers.” Absolutely true for every tax payer taking any deduction. Your comment on ” financial well-being” is well said, as it also applies to every tax payer with special emphasis on property owners.

      We disagree on this: “If these 1 million pretend farmers went away, no one would notice.” Those farms still provide a large potion of our live stock, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables. However, we do agree: “They are not a significant contributor to the national agricultural output,…”. I was unclear in my statement: ” (CoRev: “Where do you think most of the food in your local grocery comes from?”)” by forgetting to use the term “fresh” . My apologies.

      Your final complaint should be taken up with IRS. They have a house in the country because they worked for it, just like nearly all other home owners. Farms provide upwards of ~3M to 4M total jobs annually. BLS lists 856,300 as Agricultural Workers https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Farming-Fishing-and-Forestry/Agricultural-workers.htm, and managed by ~1,028,700 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/farmers-ranchers-and-other-agricultural-managers.htm and several sources list the remainder as temporary, most are foreign.

      Reply
      1. pgl

        “Hillary Clinton called the “deplorables””

        She was NOT referring to Iowa farmers and you know it. More blatant dishonesty from CoRev as his excuse for not learning basic economics.

        Reply
        1. CoRev

          Pgl, Hillary was not selective by state, sex nor race. She called Trump supporters “deplorables”. Iowa went for Trump.

          Reply
          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            CoRev: Logical implications: The electoral college went for Trump. Hence, the electoral college is deplorable. QED. Also, the electoral college weighted carbon-based living electorate went for Trump. Hence, carbon-based life forms are deplorables. QED.

            That is truly the most pathetic statement you have ever made, and that is saying something.

      2. noneconomist

        Good that you’re on board with 3M to 4M jobs, CoRev. In California (and from estimates I’ve seen on various sites, in most of the US), many “farm” jobs are filled by undocumented workers. At minimum, 40-50%. Those were baseline numbers mentioned in some articles on farm/ranch workers in Iowa following the Mollie Tibbets murder.
        In California, these are the same necessary workers who farm owners–especially those in very red areas–can’t do without. They work in the fields, on ranches, and–like the young man accused of murder in Iowa–on dairy farms.
        Not surprisingly, many of those living where these workers have long labored are also among the biggest critics of the “costs” of these workers to local governments. Nor surprise. The complainers are the people who want to eat premium cake made as cheaply as possible by reliable workers who are invisible or close to it.

        Reply
        1. CoRev

          Nonecomomist, actually, after writing my comment I realized I was wrong, due to the timing of how I did the research. It should have been ~4 to 5 million temporary, most are foreign, workers, but many are documented under the Temporary Worker Visa program.C

          Reply
          1. noneconomist

            Many of these foreign born ag workers are documented? Seriously?
            The very same subject has been a big story in Iowa recently (never mind the southwest border states where most ag workers are employed and live).
            Des Moines Register “Mollie Tibbetts’ death put a spotlight on undocumented immigrants. But can Iowa’s economy survive without them?”
            In the article: “Across Iowa, an estimated 40,000 workers were undocumented in 2014….”
            USA Today “Mollie Tibbetts case exposes farms’ worse kept secret: hiring undocumented immigrants”
            In the article, dairy farmer David Lang who hired the accused murderer (who provided false documentation) said he could not comment on other non-US citizens being among the 10 other employees on his dairy farm.
            And that’s in a state far from the southern border.
            Labor Department estimates–there’s little hard data–place the percentage of undocumented field workers conservatively at 50% with many believing the numbers are considerably higher. And that’s with well documented shortages of workers who tend to be concentrated in very red political regions, especially in the SJ and Sacramento valleys. It goes without saying there a lot of cultivated fields from California to Texas.
            No secret here that the majority of employers of the undocumented are conservative Republicans (as is the employer in the Tibbetts matter) whose constituents also like to complain about the public costs associated with them, particularly the costs of education.
            On your next visit to California–or your first– it might be worth your while to travel the very diverse ag regions on I-5 and 101. As would a visit to the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.
            I guarantee such a “vacation” would be an eye-opener.

  13. joseph

    sammy: ““William F. Buckley Jr. famously quipped, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University.” Funny stuff.

    William F. Buckley also famously wrote: “because of the cultural superiority of the white over Negro, they are entitled to take such measures as necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where they do not predominate numerically.”

    He also wrote about the Voting Rights Act that “chaos and mobocratic rule” would follow “if the entire Negro population in the South were suddenly given the vote.”

    And not just the US: “The whites are entitled, we believe, to preeminence in South Africa.”

    Not so funny stuff.

    Reply
  14. sammy

    “The demolishment of technocratic and research groups continues.”

    I think the internet has had a major role in this. You used to have to go to the experts/elites to get crucial information. Now the virtually the entire body of human knowledge is at anybody’s fingertips. And that is why liberal groups are trying to seize control of it.

    Reply
    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      sammy: You can access a DSGE or read reports of randomized control tests more easily. But you can’t substitute out expertise with raw information, and as the world gets more complicated, it gets more and more difficult.

      I do not know what liberal groups are trying to to seize control of the internet. Is net neutrality a coup attempt? If so, it’s apparently failed…

      Reply
      1. noneconomist

        Not hard to imagine, however, Sammy rejecting official data–especially when positive– during the Obama years while happily accepting it since Jan. 2017.

        Reply

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