Our uncivilized public lands

by WCE

As Homeless Find Refuge in Forests, ‘Anger Is Palpable’ in Nearby Towns

In many western states (see Time magazine link for details by state), the federal government owns a majority of the land, either as national forest or as Bureau of Land Management land. This allows for great hiking and camping opportunities, as well as grazing, firewood cutting and mushroom hunting, but so much open land has disadvantages as well.

The NY Times article discusses the mess and risks associated with disadvantaged people who live on public lands. Two of my friends who are PhD wildlife biologists have confirmed that there are significant risks when hiking and camping on public lands. Unlike cities, which are usually well-policed, forest lands have very limited law enforcement. Growing marijuana and drug trafficking are probably the most common crimes. A single officer may be responsible for hundreds of square miles. Even with the cooperation of local law enforcement and fire departments, crime and wildfires are very problematic. The federal government has reduced/tried to eliminate “payment in lieu of property taxes” for forest lands, so the costs of busing kids to school in these areas is high and borne by counties with an artificially low tax base.

Do you have any thoughts (or maybe questions, since there are a few of us in states with lots of federal land) about how federal land should be managed? Do you agree or disagree that it is under-resourced in terms of fire/police protection? Any other thoughts about how federal land ownership affects western states?

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128 thoughts on “Our uncivilized public lands

  1. Gerald Babbitt lives in these woods, in a pop-up trailer on cinder blocks that he bought for $250. His toilet is a bucket, and when he and his wife need to refill their water jugs, they drive their creaky green Jeep a mile down the mountain and into town.

    To think some totebaggers do that for fun…

  2. I don’t see this as a problem of public versus private land. After all, the fire mentioned in the article was started on private land. If the forests were owned by logging companies, they could have private security, I guess, patrolling the vast areas, with the ability to treat squatters, if they are found, more harshly. But if the land were just owned by rich people as private preserves, I doubt they would pay for that sort of security. State and local police would not have the resources to patrol unless the communities raised taxes.

    Urban areas have always had significant homeless populations with drug and mental problems, and citizens there also have legitimate complaints about the unsightliness and danger. There are huge swaths of untaxed property in many cities – parks, government installations, in Boston the Catholic church and the universities. The payments in lieu of taxes can be insufficient to maintain a high standard of order in those jurisdictions as well. The weather is a bigger deterrent. Less harsh climates in places like the Pacific Northwest are magnets for camping or life out of a car including families with one or two unemployed adults. Families don’t do well in traditional shelters and the kids will be taken away if they are on the city streets, and there are few programs to resettle them.

  3. http://www.deseretnews.com/top/2318/0/From-03-to-811-What-percentage-of-each-state-is-owned-by-the-federal-government.html

    Massachusetts Total state acreage: 5,034,880

    Total federal land acreage: 81,692

    Federal land percentage of state: 1.6%

    Number of national parks:15

    Number of visitors to national parks (2012): 10,487,447

    Economic benefits from national park tourism (2012): $503,200,000

    Payments in Lieu of Taxes (2012): $114,403

    Payments in Lieu of Taxes (2013): $111,203

    Nevada
    Total state acreage: 70,264,320

    Total federal land acreage: 56,961,778

    Federal land percentage of state: 81.1%

    Number of national parks: 3

    Number of visitors to national parks (2012): 4,808,929

    Economic benefits from national park tourism (2012): $194,100,000

    Payments in Lieu of Taxes (2012): $23,917,845

    Payments in Lieu of Taxes (2013): $23,331,913

    There is a huge difference between 1.6% of total acreage owned by the federal government and 81.1%. If the the state and federal lands were privately owned, property taxes might be sufficient to pay for police, schools, and roads. Not to mention that the land might actually be put to an economically viable use.

  4. Texas does not have a lot of federal land compared to many other states. Near where we live is some undeveloped land, not farmed, not ranched and no homestead, but about 20 or so acres. There is a fairly large homeless population living back in there. They congregate at a couple of convenience stores to spend the money they beg at the nearby street corners. Pretty much they are left alone.

    There was a fire there a few years ago and some stepped up police patrols for awhile afterward. This was mainly due to our severe drought then and even small brush fires getting quickly out of control. The patrols were mainly policing the burn ban and not the fact they were living there illegally.

  5. Doing the math for 58 million federal acres in Nevada and $.23.3 million annually in federal-payments-in-lieu-of-property taxes, the federal government provides 40 cents/acre

  6. The problem of homeless people living in very rural or wilderness areas, as well as drug activities (meth labs, marijuana crops, etc) is not new and not limited to federal lands. As far back as I can remember, there were problems with both in eastern KY. In fact, KY was one of the leading marijuana producers when I was younger. The old moonshining tradtion carried on. The state used to spray defoliants in an effort to eradicate the marijuana crops. And there was a lot of violence as different people vied to control the crops. I had a friend when I was in college from Magoffin County who told me a horrific story of finding a friend dead in his car, shot during one of those skirmishes.
    The problem when there is a lot of very rural land is that property values, even when private, are not high enough to generate much in taxes. Then, mix in poverty and isolation, and you have a toxic brew

  7. WCE,

    By way of comparison, Loving County Texas is half the size of Rhode Island and has a population of 82. Are you proposing that in private hands the land in NV would generate more than $0.40 an acre in property taxes? I would need to see some data on that.

  8. The income of all Loving Country residents is $2,033,000 dived by 436,000 acres we get $0.47/aces.

  9. Rhett, Cordelia may have data on what property tax revenue is or could be if the land were developed. If nothing else, private ownership would make trespassing laws more enforceable.

    In my view, if there is environmental value to maintaining wild land as wild, the cost (including crime and fire suppression) should be shared/publicly subsidized, not borne primarily or exclusively by the often-poor nearby residents.

    You also have to consider that the value of the land is decreased by environmental laws and the endangered species act. Those are unaccounted costs of environmental regulation. I’m not opposed to environmental regulation, but we shouldn’t pretend it’s free.

  10. ITA with the funding/taxation points — it’s an issue that I don’t know much about and would be interested in hearing the thoughts of those who live there.

    Not quite sure what to say about the homeless issue. They are American citizens, they have just as much right to be on federal lands as I do. And where else can they go? They can’t stay on private property without trespassing (like our firestarters), and there are few, if any, homeless shelters anywhere, especially in remote areas. The real issue is the mentally disturbed folks, but that’s not a “federal lands” issue, that is a “this country sucks at providing access to mental health services” issue. Fundamentally, when you close the shelters and the hospitals, those people have to go somewhere. And what if someone just wants to go live in the woods? That’s sort of quintessentially American.

    I guess I’m not sure what the “fix” is supposed to be. More officers to make sure the homeless guys move their campsites every 2 weeks and to inspect for pot fields? There’s not much else they can do, other than voluntary training on things like fire safety. As Meme mentioned, homelessness is an issue many cities have been dealing with for decades with no clear solution.

  11. In my view, if there is environmental value to maintaining wild land as wild, the cost (including crime and fire suppression) should be shared/publicly subsidized

    I have no problem with that.

  12. “In my view, if there is environmental value to maintaining wild land as wild, the cost (including crime and fire suppression) should be shared/publicly subsidized, not borne primarily or exclusively by the often-poor nearby residents.”

    ITA. How do you achieve that? It seems to me that what you’re talking about here isn’t the impact of the federal lands per se, it’s the impact on state/local budgets to having so much land off the tax rolls. So how do you even that up? Should the federal payments be variable, based on the average value of the surrounding land? How do you account for land that is clearly unbuildable (e.g., the Grand Canyon)? Should locals get a portion of the receipts, given that a private owner could charge admission?

  13. The default assumption seems to be the feds are underpaying. Given how beholden the feds are to rural folks, it seems more like (and the Loving Country numbers seem to show) that it’s likely they are overpaying.

  14. Oh, hey, Nederland. That’s right up the road. One reason for the increase in homelessness in that area is that Boulder property values and rents are psychotically high. Like, edging up on SF Bay Area high.

    As Laura says, the homeless have as much right to be on the land as I do. It seems like the fire hazard is a particular problem, but drunk frat boys start fires up in the hills too. And the stupid bark beetle combined with the drought has made the Colorado mountains so flammable they’re close to spontaneously combusting.

    There’s a big difference between some homeless guys making a mess and the near-organized-crime guys who run the pot operations. Mendocino County in California used to be (still is?) hella dangerous to walk around in because the pot growers would shoot you or sic dogs on you.

  15. I agree with what Rocky, LfB and Rhett have said.

    There are a lot of homeless people in the Takpa Bay area. Many of them prefer not to live in shelters, because of the danger associated with living in homeless shelters anywhere. They don’t usually like to show where they live, but the people I know live I the woods, which is problematic because of frequent flooding there (i.e., the reason there aren’t houses there)

    As far as environmental properties lowering value of the land in economic terms, ignoring other types of value, that’s only true in the short run. If you extend the time horizon (80 years comes to mind, but I haven’t checked), a very different picture emerges as many private companies would prefer to get the profit in the first few decades. I agree with you that public lands and national parks, forests, etc need more funding.

  16. Rhett – I’m my travels through ID, we passed through a town with a population of 72. I never thought I’d hear of a county with less than 100 people in it… but I’m east coast bubble, so the town with 72 people was fascinating.

    WCE – ITA with the point that the cost needs to be evenly distributed. If Rhett’s analysis is correct and the feds are overpaying, could the cost be spread around the state? And how? Personally I wouldn’t mind an increase in my own income or property tax if it was guaranteed to go to the wild land fund (RI bias here – we are told our money goes to one place but it usually goes to another).

    How do we calculate the value of the land – based on lost building potential, logging potential, air/water quality? Would those lands bring more value if they contained headwaters for local reservoirs or were somehow within the watershed of potable or irrigation water? If the land is connected to the water, would multiple states be responsible?

    I’m sorry if these are naive questions – I’m new to water rights (RI has none and MA has something akin to the west’s), and no one seems to think about the land around that water at least here…

  17. Historically, the land was often used for mining, ranching or logging and the federal government largely “passed through” the revenues it received from private users to the local government, so federal forest land wasn’t dramatically less valuable than private forest land. As these uses became unavailable, the revenue that used to be associated with federal land also became unavailable, leading to the current situation.

    Perhaps federal land should be treated more like private land, with either no public access, public access if you pay a fee for a permit, or no public access during the several-month fire season. (That’s what local timber companies do.)

    I think federal land is a federal good like mapping ocean bottoms, managing the electromagnetic spectrum, maintaining the interstate highway system and other federal goods so providing funding comparable to private forest land (and extra funding if you’re not going to allow private land restrictions) is appropriate.

    To me, healthcare is the main factor that has destroyed federal and state budgets. Bringing that under control means a combination of higher taxes, lower provider payments so providers are paid more like those in other countries (which probably means less trained/skilled providers, the opposite of what has been happening for nurses and PT’s lately) and letting some expensive people die sooner. Clearly, I should become a politician.

  18. “Perhaps federal land should be treated more like private land, with either no public access, public access if you pay a fee for a permit, or no public access during the several-month fire season. (That’s what local timber companies do.)”

    Federal land is treated like private land, with the difference being that we all own it, and so it is managed in the interest of all citizens, not just those who live nearby. And I would be royally pissed if I couldn’t go visit my land, just because we want to keep those pesky homeless out. I think there would need to be a pretty high bar for an imminent need (e.g., ban entry on extreme fire risk days, mandatory fire training).

  19. While I agree we shouldn’t restrict access across the board, I’m also not above restricting entry on certain days. National Parks (and I think other federal lands) are already closed on Federal holidays (I don’t know if they kick you out if you are already on the land, but they don’t allow new people in). And I think banning on extreme fire risk days or months (depending on the year and amount of water in the soil) is fair. Because that restriction is for the benefit of all. While fire is good for forests, uncontrollable fire is bad for all – not only the locals who are in imminent danger, but the funds needed to divert to pay for the emergency.

    Fees for permits – don’t people already pay these on federal lands? I pay to enter National Parks, and to camp on certain pieces of land. What about increasing the costs? Or do we run into the issue of restricting access based on economy?

  20. We have homeless people camping in all the public lands here too. Yes, they’re more often in state or county owned lands, but that doesn’t really change the nature of the problem. And it is often exacerbated by the differing jurisdictions blurring the lines on who has policing authority and whether public access is forbidden. For instance, they recently cleared out a couple who’d been camped for months on a traffic median in a busy area because it didn’t have closure hours like the parks do: http://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/homeless-couple-cleared-from-traffic-median/ . Now they have the median all blocked off:

  21. “WCE – candidate for the Logic Party… :)”

    If we’re allowed a tangent, I want to add something, and this is a bipartisan jab. I am so sick and tired of people all over the place parroting this statistic of 22 veterans take their own lives every day. I’ve got people on FB doing 22 pushups every day to “raise awareness” of this crisis, and posting about it every day. Politicians from both parties repeat it all the time without question.

    I finally did a Google search. Apparently, it’s based on a study of a number of states over a number of years (within the past 15) that counted the total number of suicides in those states. It took that number, divided it by the number of years, and then factored it down by the proportion of veterans living in those states. Divide that number by 365, and you get 22 per day.

    The thing is, it may be true. It may be fewer than that, because by many accounts, I think veterans tend to be healthier overall than the general population. It may be higher because I also think men are more likely commit suicide, and a higher proportion of veterans are men, and then there’s the PTSD factor.

    But the data we have is so limited that in no way does it actually look at the suicide rate of veterans. It has nothing to do with the recent wars. By the same logic that everyone is using for this alarming statistic, I could say that toddlers are committing suicide at a staggering rate, based solely on their proportional representation in the total population.

  22. HM – camping on a median? That’s about as weird as the playground I saw in the center of a roundabout in a podunk town along Alligator Alley. Granted, we were the only non-residents… and I think most people walked… but still…

    I guess I really don’t have a problem with long-term camping on city/county/state/federal lands. As long as the camping is within the rules and isn’t causing damage to the land/water, then what’s the harm? In mild climates, it’s a nice alternative to shelters or living in a car.

    Is it that local townsfolk aren’t used to seeing homeless and therefore think “oh no, here too! next will be gangs and street violence!” or some such leap?

  23. I may have gone a little far in my criticism. It seems the researchers did compare the total numbers to veteran-specific death certificates.

    On the other hand, the veteran suicides that they saw were primarily of men older than the average victim of suicide (around 60), and they occurred at a rate that would be approximately in line with their disproportionate representation of males, and, most telling, were more likely to occur among veterans who had *never* deployed to a combat zone.

  24. @Milo – I had heard that stat a few times (the pushups for one), but I hadn’t really looked into it. That is really ridiculous. The stat bothered me too because it provides no context – it just “sounds like” a lot. But it is higher than the general population? How many veterans die in car accidents or of heart disease in a day? etc

  25. what’s the harm?

    The problem is that they’re not behaving like campers, but like squatters. They settle in, think of the place as theirs, resent intruders, and since they don’t have the law on their side they will instead resort to the shotgun and pit bull solutions mentioned above to keep people away. And now you have lands that are only public lands in theory, and in fact are unavailable and even dangerous to those members of the public at large who might be hiking, wanting to camp for a weekend, doing a biological survey, what have you. (Or in the case of public parks in and around a city, wanting to set up a grill and have a picnic, let the kids play on the play structure, jog, or just take a pleasant shortcut.)

  26. Ivy – It’s infuriating. But it’s an example of one of those statistics that the short-lived blogger Frank whatever-his-name was in Bad Money Advice (he got a real job that made financial blogging a conflict of interest) pointed out because it sounds reasonable enough and nobody has much interest in challenging it.

    “Every day in the United States, 22 veterans succumb to suicide — losing their personal battle to invisible wounds of war.”
    –Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), news release, Jan. 13, 2015

    “When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide, then you have a serious problem.”
    –Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), news article, Feb. 2, 2015

    “Every day, approximately 22 American veterans commit suicide, totaling over 8,000 veteran suicides each year — I repeat, 8,000 veteran suicides each year.”
    –Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate hearing, Feb. 3, 2015

    I don’t want to piss off Kate again, but for me, one of the ever-so-slight appeals of someone like Trump is to refute this idea that the “smart policy wonks” really know what they’re talking about. We’re always told that someone like Trump’s opponent is ever-so-diligent about digging into these issues, knows every inch of the policy. And maybe she is better at that than the average politician, but on the whole, Trump’s campaign subtly says we’re tired of being told that you all have all the answers when, in reality, you know nothing but whatever talking points you want us to believe. Of course, he doesn’t know, either, but that’s the point.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/02/04/the-missing-context-behind-a-widely-cited-statistic-that-there-are-22-veteran-suicides-a-day/

  27. Milo,

    In your job, do you ever have to simplify an explanation for non technical people? Would you expect a political speech to include all the caveats and statistical analysis to interpret the 22 number?

  28. “Would you expect a political speech to include all the caveats and statistical analysis to interpret the 22 number?”

    The logical interpretation of that number is that it is not atypical given the number of male veterans in the country. There is no reason to believe, based on the available data, that military service contributes to or is even correlated with increased risk of suicide. It’s irresponsible to imply otherwise.

  29. The logical interpretation of that number is that it is not atypical given the number of male veterans in the country.

    Is that true or is Ada’s 30% higher number true?

  30. “Newer data suggest the estimates were close – 20 a day is the current estimate, 30% higher than one would predict based on percent of population that are veterans.”

    If men are 3.5 x more likely than women to commit suicide (Google said it), that’s probably about what you’d expect, right?

  31. It looks like the data is adjusted for sex, as they talk about the difference between male and female veterans. I don’t know if militarytimes is a reliable source, but they don’t seem crazy.

  32. “National Parks (and I think other federal lands) are already closed on Federal holidays”

    Rhode, I don’t think so:

    Big Bend (TX):Park entrances are open 24 hours daily, all year.
    Glacier (MT): Glacier National Park is open every day of the year and visitors can enter the park at anytime
    Great Smoky Mtn: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (so I guess they close on Feb 29????)

    I think 24/365 is the rule, rather than the exception…usually weather/local conditions dependent.

  33. Yeah – what Fred said. Even if gates are closed (not in my experience) or facilities are closed (frequently in my experience), the land is “open”, as much as any other day.

  34. Fred, it’s probably taken from the second level shopping center parking at the corner of Ala Moana Blvd and Atkinson, looking toward the road that goes through Ala Moana park and intersects Ala Moana Blvd as it comes out, so that you see the park on the right and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor on the left.

  35. Since moving west, I think about this issue of public lands a lot. I recently have been on a search and rescue reading kick, so I’ve been reading Ranger Confidential and Death, Daring & Disaster: Search and Rescue in the National Parks and similar material. It’s really interesting how this separation between public land and private land causes strife with the local areas, when it doesn’t cause the usual tourist complaints. Federal employees in the west have to deal with both sides of the issue — they work for the government, but are residents of the area. It’s got to be interesting. A mystery novel I read recently dealt with some of this animosity (Bear Bait — it was a fun read).

    I like WCE’s logical take, but one of the assumptions about environmental regulation is that NOT having regulation is free. But in that case, we’re assuming that the cost of not having trees as a carbon sink, nor natural areas as a water filter, nor air that’s breathable,is free. But it’s not. Those all have costs, and large ones — just delayed and shared by large groups. There’s got to be some way to calculate all of these variables into the process of determining what’s the best level of regulation and compensation without unfairly penalizing certain geographic areas.

    One common theme in all the books I’ve been reading on public lands is that the budget and staffing levels for the national parks are incredibly low for what they accomplish. And it seems like there’s definitely differences between agencies in terms of salary and number of positions.

    what an interesting topic.

  36. An old friend who got a graduate degree in forestry went back and got her nursing degree because there are so few jobs in forestry. Another forestry friend got her MBA and went into finance. I don’t know if funding healthcare is a better use of tax dollars than funding public lands, and both are threshold variables, but we have made healthcare a fairly lucrative, secure field, thanks to tax dollars, and have chosen not to fund infrastructure, including public lands.

  37. I think federal lands have value to all of us, and I think it would be fair for the costs to be shared nationally.

    Re: low population densities, the family of the best man from our wedding owns a lot of small hunting cabins in a rural area in Idaho. When it is not hunting season, the population is 3 – friend’s parents and a man named Bud. When I visited, someone was moving cattle and the main thoroughfare through town was full of hundreds of cows. I could not live in a place so remote, but the area was beautiful. When my DH lived up there one winter on a college hiatus with the friend, playing poorly-paid hockey and drinking beer, they woke up one morning to pounding on the door. The snow plows had long since covered their cars with snow, and when it was starting to melt and a car became visible, the road workers were afraid they were trapped and dead.

  38. MBT, we have a few bodies found every year by mushroom hunters and animal hunters, and more people who are saved by search & rescue, a hiker or a forest products company employee out doing something.

  39. Oh, yeah, forestry is super competitive. A housemate at Berkeley was majoring in Wood Science and desperately wanted to go into forestry, but knew it was a longshot.

    A high school friend (shall I list her graduate degrees? It always amuses me when you do that, WCE. Well, she has a masters in biology) worked in biotech for awhile but is now a State Park ranger at Natural Bridges State Park, which is a completely awesome job, except I think it pays about $30K.

  40. @Rhett: Wow! And that apology is priceless: we regret that our customers received product that they didn’t sign up for? That sounds like they’re apologizing because they sent two toasters instead of one when people opened up accounts. How about “we regret that our employees embezzled your money and stole your identity”??

    [Yes, yes, yes, I understand they didn’t actually take customers’ money, just moved it around to new customer accounts. But that’s still embezzlement and identity theft]

  41. They did steal their money – customers were charged fees they should not have been and the employees that opened the accounts “earned” higher incentive payments.

  42. LfB,

    I’m concerned about Wells Fargo’s internal controls if the CFPB found this while Wells’s internal and external auditors missed it.

  43. Maybe the fact that forestry is super-competitive is another example of “stuff that Totebaggy people know but first generation college students don’t, and the lifetime ramifications of not knowing.”

  44. @Rhett — yeah. LA Times says CFPB got involved after LAT published an article in 2013 –http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-wells-fargo-sale-pressure-20131222-story.html — so clearly it has been an issue for a while and they knew about it for a while. I guess it would be hard for the auditors to catch, as all the paperwork would contain actual client information and so it would look proper. So I suspect the CFPB investigation is either based on a WF audit report that they might have commissioned to investigate and/or interviews with some of the employees named in that earlier story about the sales pressures and tactics.

  45. I think there was a murder close to the Red River Gorge area a few years back, I tried to find the article but couldn’t

    lots of illegal weed grown around there in that region of KY, we love to rent a cabin there and aren’t as adventurous with our hikes and camping as we were before we had DS, but wouldn’t want to stumble onto someone’s grow area!

  46. WCE – in my first job after six intense months one guy who had done well and was well liked said he was quitting to be a Park Ranger. There were shocked looks as this occupational choice just did not register with the cube dwellers of America. The guy was from Maine. He said he couldn’t see himself behind a desk every day. The irony is he was capable of rising up the chain pretty quickly to a desk in the organization

  47. LfB,

    Just like Volkswagen – the executives said achieve this impossible goal or you’re fired. It apparently didn’t occur to them that the employees would just cheat.

  48. ” healthcare is the main factor that has destroyed federal and state budgets. ”

    As you alluded to in the other thread, pensions and retirement benefits are a significant factor in destroying many government budgets.

  49. “this occupational choice just did not register with the cube dwellers of America.”

    Great turn of words.

  50. As a graduate student I spent a lot of time alone in remote areas doing field work. In hindsight, I probably should have been armed, both because of the mountain lions and because of the weird people that I often encountered, though I never really had any problems to speak of.

    The homeless encampments I’d run across seemed to have certain characteristics in common. Out of sight of, but close to main roads, away from areas commonly used for recreation such as hiking trails. Their camps were unmistakable – you wouldn’t confuse them with recreational campers. Encountering homeless people more than a few miles from the roads was unusual. The article implies this is a growing problem, and I don’t doubt it, but I’d still bet they are mostly on the margins of wild areas, which is why it’s so tough on the nearby towns. Most of them aren’t particularly interested in communing with nature, they just don’t have anywhere else to go.

    The drug growers weren’t an issue in the arid regions I frequented, but those same areas today are dotted with meth labs from what I understand.

  51. WCE, what’s with your fixation that if we reduce spending on Healthcare all will be right with the world? The reason we have a crumbling infrastructure, not enough to support public lands, etc, is because people don’t want to pay taxes. All this stuff costs money.

    The situation in Omaha is a great example: http://whkradio.com/news/articles/omahas-answer-to-pothole-complaints-a-new-dirt-road

    You (the general you) can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue for lower taxes and more services at the same time. (Yes you can say government waste is an issue, but that doesn’t affect the general point.)

  52. “The reason we have a crumbling infrastructure, not enough to support public lands, etc, is because people don’t want to pay taxes. ”

    I think it is more likely that so much time is spent doing pretend work that productive work as gotten crowded out. From Rhett’s example of replacing the covers on the TSP forms to the four hours of meetings I’ve had today, the endless forms filed and never looked at again. there seems to be an abundance of non productive work.

  53. Forestry majors from our local community college have no trouble getting jobs making really good money. Most end up working for the paper mill.

  54. “Given how beholden the feds are to rural folks”

    Please explain how the feds are beholden to rural folks…

  55. I think it is more likely that so much time is spent doing pretend work that productive work as gotten crowded out.

    That’s your fault. I’ll take your rant about all those bees that were inadvertently killed during Zika spraying in SC. You wanted a head . Fine we fire the spraying manager. What’s the new spraying managers first order of business? Putting together a process to ensure the bee keeper notification system doesn’t break down in the future. CYA forms to document who did what when, etc etc.

    If you want a world with more work and less paperwork your going to have to be a lot more tolerant of mistakes and a lot less risk averse.

    Weren’t you also the one complaining about being called back to the ED?

  56. Weren’t you also the one complaining about being called back to the ED?

    I’m not sure what the ED is.

  57. . “There’s got to be some way to calculate all of these variables into the process of determining what’s the best level of regulation and compensation without unfairly penalizing certain geographic areas.”

    A good discussion of this in encapsulated in Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Basically, the hard problem is figuring out the “best” level of regulation. Once that is figured out the other stuff is relatively easy.

  58. I don’t think having a checklist of procedures to be done before leaving the ER is pretend work any more than having a checklist before taking a plane up is pretend work.

    Pretend work encompasses endless meetings with schools to convince them that if they don’t provide speech therapy, or comply with the law that you will make their life miserable.

    Pretend work also encompasses sitting through meeting about proper chemical use because someone else misused a chemical that we don’t use. And, yes, since we file pesticide use reports, the government knows every restricted material we use.

    Pretend work is sitting through yet another meeting to set up a government agency because otherwise the government will come after us. It produces nothing, feeds no one, provides no art, does nothing but eat up time.

    Pretend work is the hours and money spent on club sport teams so that a kid can play sports in high school. Pretend work is making a kid sit through a class on the weekdays with a substitute and then paying a tutor on the weekends because even when the instructor shows up they are not competent.

  59. Denver Dad, people complain about declines in higher education funding, etc. but they don’t think about how healthcare spending has replaced it in government budgets. If government is going to continue doing what it used to AND pay for healthcare, tax rates will need to rise. Which means people either do less taxable work or have less money after taxes to pay for healthcare, education, etc. themselves. Government spending merely redistributes the (taxable?) productive work that people do.

    http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/healthcare_spending

  60. Pretend work encompasses endless meetings with schools to convince them that if they don’t provide speech therapy, or comply with the law that you will make their life miserable.

    That’s not pretend work. The school is trying desperately to screw you and your kid over so that their budgets will look better. Just ask my sister the retired special ed teacher. That’s a straight-up battle over money.

  61. Jonas Saulk tested the polio vaccine on his children. This was a tremendously productive action. Today, it would probably take years to produce this result because we are afraid to take these risks.

  62. Pretend work encompasses endless meetings with schools to convince them that if they don’t provide speech therapy, or comply with the law that you will make their life miserable.

    How do you suggest they ration services if not by putting up obstacles?

  63. How do you suggest they ration services if not by putting up obstacles?

    I think they waste more time and money by putting up obstacles than if they provided the services as called for by law.

  64. Pretend work is sitting through yet another meeting to set up a government agency because otherwise the government will come after us

    Because somewhere some farmer killed a bunch of bees and someone demanded a head. Like you* did – you cause this.

    * obviously I mean “we”.

  65. Because somewhere some farmer killed a bunch of bees and someone demanded a head. Like you* did – you cause this.

    It was the government that killed the bees. If it had been a private citizen, the bee owners and the bee killer would have contacted the killer’s insurance agent and settled it.

  66. https://wallethub.com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/

    To some extent, taxpayers in other states are paying for the infrastructure and support in some of the states with a lot of federal land. It isn’t true in all cases because Nevada and Alaska have a lot of federal land, but they seem to be more “self” supporting than other states with large amounts of federal land.

    We were recently in the mountains in CO, and our hotel gave us detailed information about the legal use of marijuana if we went hiking and crossed into a national forest or national park. It was very interesting to read the fine details about when/where it could be consumed since it is still illegal as per the federal government. I didn’t realize until we went for a vacation how much extra revenue the state of Colorado has as a result of the legal purchases.

  67. WCE, you can talk about how much government spends on health care all you want. But it’s a strawman because people don’t want to pay higher taxes for anything. People complain about the lack of funding for education (and infrastructure and whatever else), but if you ask them if they are willing to pay more in taxes to find it, the answer is no.

    Sure they could shift money from Healthcare to other places, then people would just be complaining about the lack of funding for healthcare. Shifting funding from healthcare to public lands sounds great to you because you live in a rural area with a lot of public lands. But I’m sure you’d feel otherwise if one of the WCE kids needed some specialized health care and now you have to drive 3 hours instead of 1 hour because of the cuts to health care spending.

  68. I once ran across a quip along the lines of, ‘Americans are famously opposed to taxation without representation. What is less well known is that they are equally opposed to taxation *with* representation.’

  69. was the government that killed the bees.

    In the instance you’re complaining about. In the instance that led to your meeting, it was a farmer who screwed up.

    If it had been a private citizen, the bee owners and the bee killer would have contacted the killer’s insurance agent and settled it.

    That assumes the farmer has insurance and isn’t a judgement proof LLC, that they can trace the source of the spill, etc.

  70. Denver Dad, taxes are a method of letting government allocate resources instead of individuals. Paying more taxes is deciding that government is better at allocating resources than individuals. In some cases, government allocation of resources is clearly a good thing. In other cases, individual allocation of resources is clearly a good thing. The extent to which government should allocate resources to people who produce less than they consume is left as an exercise for the reader.

    The tough thing is that the amount of resources is not a fixed pot- resources (including healthcare and education) are largely created by people’s work, and there will be fewer resources to distribute if you require people to contribute more of their “work” to the taxable pot. Many of them will also choose to perform nontaxable work rather than taxable work where feasible or just work off the books, as is even more common in other parts of the world.

    As always, the question is “What good things should the government underfund?”

  71. “The extent to which government should allocate resources to people who produce less than they consume is left as an exercise for the reader. . . . The tough thing is that the amount of resources is not a fixed pot- resources (including healthcare and education) are largely created by people’s work, and there will be fewer resources to distribute if you require people to contribute more of their “work” to the taxable pot.

    I actually agree with all of this as a general concept. My problem is that Lauren’s link seems to demonstrate that the people who complain the most about the overreach and inefficiency of the federal government are also living in states that tend to receive a lot more in benefits than they pay in taxes. So at least the folks who advocate for a bigger pot to cover those various public goods are putting their money where their mouths are, putting in more than they take.

    One would think that if current tax levels were really providing significant disincentives to work, the Tea Party would be HQ’d in Manhattan.

  72. “people don’t want to pay higher taxes for anything. ”

    When I was in SV, I observed an interesting trend. Voters pretty consistently voted down any attempts to raise general taxes, but often approved measures to implement or raise taxes for specific purposes, e.g., light rail construction, open space preservation.

    It seemed the electorate was willing to tax itself, but did not have faith in elected officials and the government bureaucracy to allocate and spend general funds.

  73. It was the government that killed the bees. If it had been a private citizen, the bee owners and the bee killer would have contacted the killer’s insurance agent and settled

    And if this happened often, the insurance companies would set up defensive spraying programs to teach people how to not kill bees, or else premiums would be raised. If it was a private company, they’d be spreading the no-spray gospel too.

    “Population P is X percent more likely to suffer from issue I than the general public, controlling for race, gender, income, education, and at least three more factors” is likely to convince people here (self included) that there is a problem, but not the most people.

    In all this talk about saving money, how about weapons exports &/or supporting the Israeli and Saudi governments?

  74. ” It apparently didn’t occur to them that the employees would just cheat.”

    Or they didn’t really care much how they did it as long as they hit the metrics because the execs would still hit their own bonus metrics.

    I would also guess that lots and lots of people who weren’t involved directly at least suspected it even if audit didn’t find it because the samples were “clean”. There had to be plenty of people looking the other way it deciding it wasn’t their problem, IMHO.

  75. Denver Dad, taxes are a method of letting government allocate resources instead of individuals. Paying more taxes is deciding that government is better at allocating resources than individuals. In some cases, government allocation of resources is clearly a good thing. In other cases, individual allocation of resources is clearly a good thing. The extent to which government should allocate resources to people who produce less than they consume is left as an exercise for the reader.

    WCE, the government is us. You know that whole “we the people” thing. If you don’t trust the people in government to spend money, then vote for other people.

    In most cases, I would much rather lose money to government “inefficiencies” than lose money to private entities profiting off of public services.

  76. To me, Lauren’s link shows that our progressive tax system is working pretty well. People in the poorest states pay the least taxes and people in wealthier states (with the notable exception of Nevada) pay more. This leads to the interesting question of why poor states remain poor and why the citizens of poor states are often conservative. My personal hypothesis is that people in poor states, on average, have limited cultural capital (from their families, surroundings, for historical/geographical reasons, etc.) and this limits their opportunities. They also are more likely to have family dysfunction, which affects what cultural capital they can give and receive. (Think grandparents who supply time/money to their grandchildren, vs. my friends who are supporting both their parents and their children.) When people are struggling to pay for today’s necessities, it’s hard to vote for a bond fund to improve the schools in order to increase the next generation’s cultural capital.

    Reaching even further into the realm of opinion, in light of the observations about mental illness/drug and alcohol use among homeless people, I think most humans are poorly suited for a life without religion. Existentially, I think most humans have a void in their psyche that is filled by religion, in my case love for the Judeo-Christian God. But even if Karl Marx is right and religion is merely the opiate of the masses, it’s a much better opiate than the ones the masses choose for themselves.

  77. Denver Dad, I agree that some services (utilities) are natural monopolies best regulated by government. I’m not sure that all healthcare services fall into this category. One of my obese friends (who is far more politically liberal than I am) posted this link about rationing in the U.K’s national health service this week.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/02/obese-patients-and-smokers-banned-from-all-routine-operations-by/

    Is this what the rest of you envision when you envision government-funded healthcare?

  78. WCE – I have relatives in Canada who waited for a long time for cataract surgery and also for knee replacement. There seems to be aggressive management of diseases like diabetes so that patients are on a steady course instead of getting worse and burdening the system. I would think that the NHS in the UK would be the same – very agressive management of smoking and obesity. The long wait times are a reality and so is some sort of care manager who will be on your case checking up on you at frequent intervals.

  79. I would think in the U.S. there would be some sort of carrot for managing your health like employer health plans do today. They ask you to come in for a series of screenings and offer money back if you complete your screening.
    Going back to the U.K. a few times my nephew and niece have had a cold/cough/fever, there was IMO a needless worsening of the situation where the GP didn’t prescribe medication (or the correct medication), the situation worsened and the child ended up in the hospital. One time my brother was so angry at the running around that he wanted to go to a private doctor. Here, in a similar case, it would be a visit to the pediatrician with sick child, diagnoses, medication and return home.

  80. I also wanted to add that from my interactions with relatives in Canada and UK – the waiting period meant not functioning to full productivity, so you would have to factor in cost of lost workdays, some sort of disability time off etc.

  81. WCE,

    Then explain why religious states generally have so much more disfunction than less religious states. Most religious state? Obviously… Mississippi. Least religious state? Vermont. NH is the 49th least religious state and also has the lowest poverty rate. (MA is 45th)

  82. Health care is always rationed in some fashion – poverty, distance from medical services, long work hours, lack of transportation, undocumented status, inability to obtain simple medications without a yearly physician’s visit, are existing rationing agents. In the UK, the waiting lists are managed regionally – a friend could not move from Wales back to England without losing his place in a four month queue for a knee scope (not a knee replacement) .

    But even in Massachusetts where there are sufficient doctors and hospitals and density of welll insured population, there is always a wait for orthopedic procedures such as joint replacement (outside of the high level sports medicine regime, which is not subject to normal financial or resource constraints). Even for seniors where the insurance playing field is more level, people make choices for differing reasons. Some choose a local hospital or doctor because it is familiar and the rehab center convenient for visitors. Some choose to go “to the best”. Outcomes may differ slightly, and waiting times too. Some choose medicare advantage because it is by far the cheapest option for heavy users. It has HMO features that limit choice, but usually does not increase waiting times and provides coordinated care.

  83. “It seemed the electorate was willing to tax itself, but did not have faith in elected officials and the government bureaucracy to allocate and spend general funds.”

    +1

    This is my experience. Which really says we the people do not trust ourselves to elect good stewards of the public funds. Ok to increase taxes for the new library, but not ok to increase taxes because overall operating costs have increased faster than the underlying tax base.

  84. I’m really not following this story. I think they’re both liars, and the case brings back bad memories from that period in my work life. I practically lived at work due to fraud at companies such as Enron or Worldcom.

  85. Rhett,

    Perhaps it makes more sense to look at local communities rather than aggregate state-level data. Then you see the opposite effect — this NBER working paper suggests that not only do religious people fare better on objective measures of well-being, they also improve the outcomes for others in their communities:

    “Gruber first uses data on religious preferences, ethnic heritage, and religious participation from the General Social Survey to show that the people living in an area with a higher density of co-religionists are more likely to participate in religious activities. This is true even after controlling for general differences in religiosity across areas and across ethnic groups. Moreover, they are no more likely to participate in other civic or social enterprises, suggesting that this co-religionist density measure is having effects only through religious participation.

    He then turns to the 1990 U.S. Census to measure the effects of co-religionist density on economic outcomes such as education, income, employment, welfare participation, disability, marital status, and number of children. Gruber’s results suggest a “very strong positive correlation” between religious market density, religious participation, and positive economic outcomes.” People living in an area with a higher density of co-religionists have higher incomes, they are less likely to be high school dropouts, and more likely to have a college degree.” Living in such an area also reduces the odds of receiving welfare, decreases the odds of being divorced, and increases the odds of being married. The effects can be substantial. Doubling the rate of religious attendance raises household income by 9.1 percent, decreases welfare participation by 16 percent from baseline rates, decreases the odds of being divorced by 4 percent, and increases the odds of being married by 4.4 percent.”
    http://www.nber.org/digest/oct05/w11377.html

  86. Perhaps it makes more sense to look at local communities rather than aggregate state-level data.

    I don’t see why it would unless a statistician was try to make the numbers support his/her own predetermined and prefered outcome.

  87. “I don’t see why it would unless a statistician was try to make the numbers support his/her own predetermined and prefered outcome.”

    You don’t see why it would make sense to look more closely and isolate the variables whose effects you’re attempting to study? Really?

  88. Thanks, Scarlett.
    Rhett, religion isn’t a primary effect. You need to control for parental education/IQ, geographic mobility and possibly for recent immigration status and maybe race before you’ll see the religious effect. Thomas Sowell has a good discussion of cultural capital in his book _Wealth, Poverty and Politics_.

    Robert Putnam cites a study in his book _Our KIds: The American Dream in Crisis_ that says controlling for socioeconomic status (and I have to trust the study authors tried to do so legitimately) that religious practice increases positive outcomes (and I forget exactly which outcomes he cites) by ~50%. No other factor was close, and this is consistent with what I’ve observed living near observant Mennonites, LDS, 7th Day Adventists. (who are a study in what a lifelong focus on health can do in a population).

    It doesn’t depend on one’s actual religion, so I have to believe the effect is because religious practice improves self control and sets behavioral expectations that are substituted by educational/professional goals for Totebaggier people.

  89. WCE,

    Then how do you explain the inverse relationship ship between a state’s (and it also works on a country by country level) religiosity and its level of dysfunction? I think values are important – but I see no indication that those values need a religious component.

    I’ve observed living near observant Mennonites, LDS, 7th Day Adventists

    If you’d grown up in Vermont on New Hampshire and seen the same prudent behavior by people who never go to church you wouldn’t think that, would you?

  90. Rhett – my US history is a little fuzzy but New Englanders have ancestors who were all for industry, simple living and frowned on vices like smoking and drinking. The original Totebaggers.

  91. “It doesn’t depend on one’s actual religion, so I have to believe the effect is because religious practice improves self control and sets behavioral expectations that are substituted by educational/professional goals for Totebaggier people.”

    I’ve read that it has more to do with the community bonds and social aspects of being part of a church than the actual values or morals taught by the church, but I suppose it is just speculation either way. I will say as a non-practicing person that the part of being part of a congregation that I miss from childhood is the community and friendship/support.

    “If you’d grown up in Vermont on New Hampshire and seen the same prudent behavior by people who never go to church you wouldn’t think that, would you?”

    Isn’t the stereotype of a Vermonter one of extreme self-control and also of strong community bonds?

  92. Back towards the original topic, a study that came out yesterday and has been picked up by many publications shows dramatic increase in loss of wilderness areas around the world. http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_57cde175e4b0e60d31dfccbf?

    I have no desire to debate religion here, but will note that an article that begins with the assumption that everyone has co-religionists/everyone has a religion has announced its bias so flagrantly that it is difficult to believe the study was not undertaken in an unbiased manner.

  93. Rhett, perhaps but it’s unlikely that Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist infamous for describing voters as stupid in connection with the ACA passage, is a shill for organized religion.

  94. Scarlett,

    Liberals can’t be religious? I have Pope Francis on line 2 – please hold and I’ll connect you.

  95. “dramatic increase in loss of wilderness areas around the world”

    I’m wondering if there’s a correlation with a dramatic increase in human population around the world.

  96. “I think they’re both liars”

    I initially thought you were referring to the presidential election.

  97. “we the people do not trust ourselves to elect good stewards of the public funds.”

    And too many of us are unwilling to put ourselves in those positions.

  98. WCE, does your statement on religion mean you can see the merit in Jesse Ventura’s comment?

    “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you’d want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live.”

  99. Finn, as rich as we all are, I think few of us have the financial resources to run for a meaningful public office.

  100. Finn, I wouldn’t phrase it the way Ventura does, but I suspect my beliefs have been shaped by interaction with a broader range of humanity than the average Totebagger. When I wrote the comment, I was thinking of my freshman year locker partner** and her abortion when she was 14. At that time, my thought was, “She and I have completely different views of 14 year old sexuality. I don’t want to risk becoming pregnant until I’m twice this age.” Religious norms are one method to teach 14 year olds about appropriate human sexuality and have a stronger effect on people who don’t otherwise consider long-term consequences/delay gratification. In contrast, none of my SWE friends had sex without a cost-risk-benefit analysis.

    **RMS, no degree

  101. WCE, what is SWE? ‘saac has no interest in sex so far. When we go to the mall, he’d rather look at cute babies than at teen age girls. Right now he says no sex until he’s ready to get married and have kids. That may change with hormones, I realize, but this far, he, growing up in a non-religious household, is much clearer about sex and its possible effects than I ever was in the religious family I grew up in.

  102. S&M,
    SWE = Society of Women Engineers

    I expect that Totebaggers, religious or not, are pretty responsible about teaching their children about sex and its possible effects. The teen pregnancy rate has dropped dramatically since I was in high school and education and contraception are likely reasons.

    A few years ago, my Mom reported a local situation where the boyfriend was regularly raping the resident 11 year old girl. I think about situations like that, which are more common where we both grew up than they are in Totebaggier communities, and I wonder, “How did this man not get the message that sex with 11 year olds is not OK?” I think the priority that conservative religious people vs. my perception of the mainstream place on individual sexual license is different. But I can’t really argue with anecdata, just try to explain what experiences have shaped my beliefs.

  103. WCE, I came thisclose to presenting a paper at a SWE conference.

    My manager and I had collaborated with a couple female engineers from other departments in our company on a paper, which they submitted to SWE. It was selected for presentation, but all three other authors had scheduling conflicts, which would’ve left me to present it. Fortunately, one of my female collaborators was able to reschedule her other commitment and present.

  104. PTM, yes, running for office and/or holding office is a major commitment few of of are willing/able to make, so we get what we get in terms of candidates.

    In part because of this, I’m in favor of multiple levels of government, including quite low levels that do not require a huge commitment, widening the range of possible candidates.

  105. Finn, my engineering partner (male) joined SWE and we usually have a couple men at meetings. He wanted to provide information to his younger sister, who was considering becoming an engineering major and he figured it wasn’t a bad way to meet girls. The title is a bit of a misnomer because men have been allowed to join for a long time. A colleague and I were talking about the privileges of corporate networks (women, Hispanics, African-American, LGBT) and he joked that he didn’t see a need for a middle aged white men’s network, because they met at every meeting, every day.

  106. In part because of this, I’m in favor of multiple levels of government, including quite low levels that do not require a huge commitment, widening the range of possible candidates.

    How about just less government in general?

    FWIW, I am a low level govt appointee. The position takes a fair bit of time and research. I would not be unhappy about relinquishing my position, but it is really hard to find people to step up. One potential governance structure of the the new agency we are working on calls for 15 new members. It is a real concern about the ability of getting that many honest, upright people to serve.

  107. WCE, I’m totally arguing based on anecdata here. In my household there was zero discussion of sexuality (behind basics of menstruation) and “sex ed” in our high school was a nun telling us the the dirty sock metaphor. Out of a class of around 75, at least two of us got pregnant–around 5% of the girls. Fun fact: my science partner in the public middle school also got pregnant during HS. You’ve mentioned pregnancies in your public (?) HS before, but idk how many. Besides assuming that religious households would squelch discussion of sexuality, I’m also guessing that non-religious households would talk openly about it.

  108. Oh, and my parents fit the profile that people on this blog call totebaggers to a T. Idk if/how religious folks of that type are any more open about sex than our parents’ generation.

  109. “How bout less government in general?”

    Someone in Wisconsin has just announced that he will fulfill all teachers’ requests on a gofundme type site for classrooms, out of his own pocket. I find it really sad that schools have to depend on the good wishes of a private citizen which might CMS at that last minute to get what they need.

  110. Saac, we had 72 births to 700 high school girls my freshman year. Multiply times 4 and account for the fact that some girls had more than one child during high school for a high school cohort birth rate of ~25-30%. They estimated that half of pregnancies ended in abortion, for an estimated 20% annual pregnancy rate.

    Way higher than your high school. I think the unwillingness to talk about sex is more generational than associated with religious behavior, but I suspect the on-line BYU health class that some people here take is more “sex in marriage” focused than the public school one. It does inform people about contraception.

  111. It’s possible that our parents’ generation saw less need for sex education. At the family reunion last week, my uncle joked that his generation didn’t need sex ed, because they saw sex all the time. A farm that had no sex was a farm that made no money.

  112. My dad’s dad moved off the farm when his wife/my dad’s mother died when my dad was a baby. Our generation would go out to the farm for an afternoon most summers when we were up there visiting. My mom’s parents never lived on a farm as a couple. The reason my parents saw no need for sex ed was that they didn’t think it should happen until marriage. And with my dad being a Catholic, the only kinds of contraception they could use were the ones my mom (a non-Catholic) could use on her own body, and not abortion.
    I have heard that there were some abortions in our class, but of course I don’t really know. That’s the point of having one.

  113. And RU 486 counted as an abortifactant. My parents stopped buying us vitamins when Upjohn started producing it.

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