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Thanks to Tanweer and Wolfram for starting a stimulating discussion, but you probably want to disown it.  Too late.

Thank you Dave Zalewski for sending the article from the Boston Globe.  It's a keeper and can be used to frame serious work on the effect of climate change on agriculture.  Agriculture should become one of the leading fields in economics and social sciences generally.  The drought and cultivation on land that should not have been plowed is a good historical example that contributed to environmental and social disaster.  But we did create the Soil Conservation Service out of that disaster.  Thanks to Sturgeon for recommending Egan's book and Rick Adkisson's discussion of the importance of it.

I want to mention how other media music and literature played a big part in our understanding what we had done to ourselves. The great photographer Dorothea Lange published photos of people caught in the depression in California of the "Okies" and Mexican immigrants.  Taylor was a student of the Wisconsin sociologist E. A. Ross and the economist John R. Commons.  He had a government to document the condition of immigrant Mexican farm workers.  After compiling lots of data that had little effect on the public or policy, he met Dorothea Lange and hired her as typist because he didn't have money in the budget for a photographer.  They soon married and spent the rest of their lives together.  I recommend a biography, "Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon, 2009. We saw one Lange's last exhibits in the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, CA.  Her last exhibition was in MOMA in New York 

Taylor was told by his UC Berkeley colleagues that he should get back in the office and do real economics. 

Checking out.  As Woody said, so long it's been good to know you.    

On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, 09:38:25 AM PDT, Richard Adkisson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:


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All,
    I second Jim's suggestion to read Egan's The Worst Hard Time. Mechanically it is an easy and enjoyable read. Emotionally, it does tell a sad story. We cross the Texas and Kansas panhandles a couple of times each year and after reading this book stopped at the No-Man's Land Museum in Goodwell, OK. I had heard about the Dust Bowl for my whole life, but this book brought it home for me. Though the impacts were not always as dramatic, the same story has played out in many places of the western U.S. Among other things, efforts to get the lands of the west into private hands, IE homesteading, essentially forced the plowing of lands that should never have been plowed. The land must be dominated!!! I also recommend Egan's book, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, as well. 

  Hope you are all well.
Rick Adkisson

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Glen, Jim, Wolfram, and All,

Excellent discussion.  Glen’s note on Arlo’s find is especially neat.  Woody’s song, Deportee, is a classic, don’t miss the last two verses. I also suggest Woody’s “Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.”  Again the last two verses are classic. Just as a tease “As through my life I’ve rambled, I’ve seen lots of funny men, some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen.”

In the non-music category I suggest The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan. I suggest not reading it unless you are prepared to be depressed.

The dust storms that terrorized Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and a bit of Nebraska during the years of the Great Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since (except maybe recently in China where dust storms have become more frequent).  Egan’s book provides a historical record of some of families that “survived.” The dust storms were partly due to plowing more and more land to plant more wheat. More wheat was planted due to falling prices and on and on in a cumulative downward spiral.  For small farmers Y= P x Q, so declining P means more Q. 

 

Woody captured this with several songs including Tom Joad, This Land is Your Land (written in part to counter Irving Berlin’s song God Bless America, which Guthrie hated), Dust Bowl Blues, Hard Traveling, etc. I second Jim Peach’s selections of Guthrie, Haggard, Seeger, and Cash. So long as we’re commissioning singer songwriters to the ranks of institutionalists I’ll recommend Towns VanZant (Tecumseh Valley, and several more).

 

On another note, I suggest Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science, 1994 by Valery N. Soyfer, which details the damage done to the seed (especially wheat) development research institutes in Russia by the Lysenko affair (the attempt to vernalize winter wheat).  That attempt was based on the premise that winter wheat could be selected to “acquire” the characteristics that would allow it to be spring wheat, planted in the spring and mature before first frost.  An analogy would be that a specie of tail less cats could be developed by cutting off the tails of cats and successively breeding them until a new, tail less specie, emerged.  Spring wheat that could be successfully grown in Russian would have been especially important since the growing season is relatively short, i.e., almost all of the former Soviet Union lay above the same latitude as Louisville, Kentucky. Of course, the vernalization premise was false to fact and the geneticists in the Institutes that rebuffed Lysenko were not funded— or worse. The damage to wheat production was enormous and Lysenkoism was not officially ended until the mid- 1960’s by Khrushchev.

 

BTW, Veblen wrote The Food Supply and the Price of Wheat, Journal of Political Economy, 1893. He expected the price of wheat would continue to fall (or at least not increase) for the foreseeable future, due in part to falling costs due to the use of more machinery and “better” methods.  I doubt if he anticipated Lysenko.

 

 

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Glen

   I always knew that Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard were institutional economists. Thanks for the reminder. Pete Seeger and for part of his career, Johnny Cash should be added to the institutionalist music hall of fame.

 

 

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Good point Wolf  An important point institutional economists have made is the fiction of free markets is that our orthodox fellows keep pretending are real.  It seems that we are talking about contracts rather than flexible prices.  The links in supply chains are contracts.  Anyone interested can do some research on Kern County (California) Land Company.  It has the largest irrigated farms in the world that are threatened  by the continuing drought. 

 

Listen to some songs by Merle Haggard who grew up in Kern County in the railroad box car his Dad converted into their house during the Great Depression.  Prosperity for some.in that fertile valley.  Better yet, read Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory and see the movie.  His son, Arlo, found a note in Woody's papers from John Steinbeck that stated - Woody, you little bastard, you wrote in 17 verses what it took me a whole novel to write. That is the ballad of Tom Joad.  That drought caused  major changes in the agriculture sector. Banks foreclosed on farms when the farmers couldn't pay their debts.  The economic effects of the Dust Bowl went well beyond the region.. There is a line in the ballad, "They've been tractored out by the Cats" which points out the coming consolidation of farms, the decline of farm work and the abandonment of country towns. There's more but I will move on.  .

 

Merle and Woody escaped from Oklahoma during the short drought, compared the current climate change. What has the current drought contributed to our rise in agricultural prices?  Have the changes affected current prices? What has it done to our economy and society?   It's fertile  ground (no pun intended) for research.  We need to go beyond our data sets and do dome John R. Commons' type investigation.  

 

One other song of Woody's you will appreciate is Deportee.  Creative observers can help us see the word we live in.

 

Glen    

 

On Monday, March 28, 2022, 09:44:19 AM PDT, <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

 

 

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Tanweer,

 

it would be most critical to get to know whether (or how far) these price increases stem from a particular speculation that is usually taking place in wartimes. Large parts of the gas price increases already before the Russian invasion in the Ukraine have definitely been a result of speculation. in this case, even the EU-commission was the speculator, as it reduced long-run contracts with Gazprom and went into the spot gas market at times, when they had hoped to buy cheaper (but the contrary did realize). Also, it is known that the Wall Street is the largest single institutional cluster to own global wheat reserves …

one could check anything currently, from gas at the gas station to semiconductors …

 

thanks, and best,

wolfram.

 

 

 

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Betreff: [AFEEMAIL] The sharp rise in the global price of wheat

 

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Dear colleagues,
 
The global price of wheat has risen sharply.  The price of wheat was rising even before the Ukraine crisis.  The high price of wheat (and other food grains) is likely to lead to immense suffering of the poor people of the world, both in developing and developed countries.  

Perhaps institutional and heterodox economists will have useful policy recommendations that can mitigate the suffering.

 

Tanweer

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Tanweer Akram, PhD
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