Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I Am A Libertarian, Part 2

Because of reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, I'm doing a series of posts about what makes someone go from political near-apathy to rabid Libertarian.

If you hit the "why I'm a libertarian" tag at the bottom of this post, or read a random dozen of any others, you can tell that I've got some Father issues. Not in the godawful late 1980's men's movement sense, where grown men go into the woods and sit in a circle and hit drums and read the poetry of Robert Bly while crying that their fathers didn't love them.
My issues are more basic than that - my father left shoes that are too big for me to fill. I can honestly place my right hand on a copy of "The Revolution" by Ron Paul, and swear that my father was the best man I've ever known. A near saint.

Now that we have that background established.... sometime in the early 1960's, the government started giving a combination tax write-off/cash subsidy to farmers whose land was "terraced". Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, the book credited with starting the environmental movement, had just been released and conservation was in the air. The idea was that terraces - created by flattening sections of hillsides - would prevent soil erosion.
This is what terraces look like in Chinese rice fields. Flattening large section of the hillside prevents cultivated land from washing away during rains:

My father and uncle were among the first rice farmers in the Mississippi Delta. People predicted that the irrigation would poison the ground (false). People predicted that the water would produce mosquitoes that could carry off kittens (true). My family did well with it, despite the naysayers.

Then they learned about the terrace subsidy.

One of my little brother's students took these pics of the farm a few years ago. This is the view from the east:

See that ditch to the right of the road? By our standards that was The Grand Canyon.
Here's what we saw when we looked north:

See that slight ridge running from left to right in this picture, halfway between the cameraman and the treeline? That's what we called a hill.

Our farm needed terraces about as much as the center tennis court at Wimbledon needed terraces.

One day, my father and uncle contacted The County Agent (think Hank Kimball from the Green Acres TV show) about the 18-inch high levees that ran through their rice fields. These levees were used to keep water spread evenly over each field. Imagine a topographical map of the Nevada Salt Flats, with a levee representing each change in elevation. Not many levees were needed.

They asked the County Agent if the levees in their rice fields could be counted as terraces.
"Yep", the county agent said. "Those fields are terraced. Here's your paperwork to apply for some money."
The government money we received for our (ahem) terraced rice fields went a long way toward paying for the farm. We've never properly thanked the taxpayers for this gesture, and I'd like to do so now.
Thanks, suckers ! !

For the next twenty years, any time my father started ranting about gubmint giveaways, my mother would remind him of the terraces. He'd try to claim that counting levees as terraces was different, because he worked hard to grow all that rice.

My point is this: In order to get a huge amount of government money, the most saintly man I've ever known was willing to claim that his Mississippi Delta flatland had terraces. And the government's representative helped him do it.

Here's a summary of the problem, as stated by Dr. Thomas Sowell: "What counts in assessing a social or economic policy is not the stated intentions of promoters, but the incentives created and the actual end results produced."

Thanks again for all that money ! !

Picture of rice field irrigation from here, a site worth looking through whether you're interested in rice or not. Pics of the Guanxi rice field came from here.


Anne Cleveland said...

You remain one of my favorite bloggers. Thats an excellent honest story about your fathers rice fields.
You know back in the thirties, farmers were subsidized for plowing their crops under and running pigs off into the Mississippi.So receiving money for non-existent terraces doesnt seem so bad.

Any-way the immorality is in the act of stealing the money in the first place. But I for one do not receive the stolen loot. Just got a notice they are sending me some stimulous money. About to write an article about it.Speaking of Rice, love the confuscous saying; :if your plans are for one year plant rice, if plans are for ten years plant trees. If your plans are for 100 years, educate men"

Keep up the interestingwritings.

Anne Cleveland

That Damn Libertarian said...

During the late '70's, my Dad worked at Lone Star Steel and was a part-time farmer/rancher. He hired a local construction contractor to build a hay storage shed - angled steel legs holding up a sheet steel roof to keep the rain off the hay.
As the contractor was estimating the job, I remember his question for my Dad, "Vic, do you want American steel or foreign steel?"