Saturday, December 31, 2016

How One College Professor Learned to Love Homeschoolers

I admit that i was not expecting this. The fact is that the t4acher is highly motivated and was surely a motivated student in his or her own right.  Thus it was never taken lightly. Better yet goals were met continously.

So yes this is good news.

Now wee need to learn how to apply these skils in the school system.. 

How One College Professor Learned to Love Homeschoolers

Sunday, December 18, 2016

College professor Ali Gordon wasn’t always a fan of homeschool students. Like many others, he believed that homeschoolers were sheltered individuals, unable to fend for themselves once they left the comfort of their own home.

But Dr. Gordon’s mind began to change as he encountered homeschool students in his courses in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department of the University of Central Florida. In a recent op-ed penned for The Huffington Post, Dr. Gordon explained several reasons why he has become a proponent of homeschooling.

1. Homeschoolers are Problem-Solvers

Dr. Gordon’s research labs are challenging and require students to be inquisitive, think outside of the box, and solve problems. As he explains, “Parent-educated students that I’ve met exhibit a strong intellectual vitality and passion for exploring difficult concepts.”

2. Homeschoolers are Self-Directed

According to Dr. Gordon, the homeschooled student’s ability to problem solve is related to his ability to be an independent, self-directed learner. He notes:
“It is plausible that in their homeschool environments, they’ve already been given a vast number of opportunities to grow their capacities for self-direction. Consequently, their inclination for independent study seamlessly transfers to the scholarly research environment.”
3. Homeschoolers are High Achievers

Like any good researcher, Dr. Gordon likes to back up his observations with hard facts. When it came to homeschooling, the high marks students receive on tests were well suited to this purpose:
“On standardized college entrance exams, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests compared to the national average based on public school data. University officials have more recently recognized the value added by bringing these students to their campuses and attract them with separate entrance application sites with slightly modified guidelines, such as at the University of Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Arizona State.”
4. Homeschoolers Bring Diversity

According to Dr. Gordon, the learning process is always furthered by a variety of opinions, backgrounds, and ideas. “Homeschooled students,” he notes, “have and will continue to add to the richness of our individual and collective experiences.”

It’s interesting to note that the qualities which endeared Dr. Gordon to homeschoolers are the very ones that the education system has been trying so desperately to instill in its students in recent years. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that parents at home are just as capable of instilling these traits in their students – if not more so – than the “experts” in institutional schools.

How the Soviets Stole Christmas

Does it ever occur to these fools that these ancient traditions serve an important cultural and community need.?  An exchange of gifts is a great way to make amends for oversights and slights acquired during the year and allows the slate to be either wiped clean or to establish a new position for the coming year.  That religion grabbed on to it was natural.  That the kooks did not try to dismiss it is awfully telling.

In the end it all washed away.

Even our materialism cannot ruin Christmas simply because it is meant to be a time of sharing and how better.

How the Soviets Stole Christmas 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

When totalitarian regimes (particularly those of the Left) come to power, one of the first things they typically do is destroy hallowed cultural symbols, the better to remake society from the ground up. The Soviet campaign to replace the symbols of Christmas is an interesting cultural chapter in the history of what Ronald Reagan famously called the “Evil Empire.” It is discussed here.

All symbols deemed religious and/or "bourgeois" were eradicated and replaced with new, secular versions.Following the Russian Revolution, the new atheist government began an anti-religious campaign. All symbols deemed religious and/or “bourgeois” were eradicated and replaced with new, secular versions. Thus Christmas (which in the Russian Orthodox calendar occurs on January 7) was abolished in favor of New Year's, and several traditional Christmas customs and characters received new identities. St. Nicholas/Santa Claus gave way to Ded Moroz or “Old Man Frost” (a popular figure originating in pagan times), and the new “nativity scene” featured him and his granddaughter the Snow Maiden in place of Joseph and Mary, sometimes with the “New Year Boy” added in place of Jesus. Christmas cards often featured Ded Moroz riding alongside a Soviet cosmonaut in a spacecraft emblazoned with a hammer and sickle.

Such images seem laughable now, but the impulse to destroy tradition is part and parcel of radical social movements throughout history. Think of the French Revolutionaries, who replaced the Christian calendar with a naturalist one, and even renamed the months and the days of the week so as to avoid any possible reference to Christianity.

And the Soviets weren't the only ones to have a problem with Christmas. The Puritans of seventeenth-century Boston were vehemently against it too. A “Publick Notice” from the period survives proclaiming the following:

The Observation of Christmas having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, Dressing in Fine Clothing, Feasting and similar Satanical Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN with the Offender liable to a fine of five shillings.

The one group hated Christmas because it was religious, and the other hated it because it was irreligious. History and human nature are full of paradoxes.

As for the Soviets, they eventually softened their stance. In 1935, the Communist Party official Pavel Postyshev wrote an editorial in Pravda mocking the extreme anti-Christmas faction. He declared that Christmas customs ought to be brought back for the enjoyment and benefit of children. (Needless to say, the goal vis à vis the children was always to make them obedient servants of the State.) After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Christmas became popular again.

All of which goes to show that while you can fight against tradition, you can't utterly destroy it. It may go underground, it may lie dormant, but once restrictions are lifted it will spring forth to new life. And any regime which tries to replace the familiar world with a synthetic one is fundamentally at war with the human spirit.

The Timeless Wisdom of Adam Smith


In the end, Adam Smith  caused all economic thinkers to attend to the natural metrics of free trade.  This has equally led to the emergence of the vital concept of liberty and that led directly to a fresh development protocol we call democracy.  Free trade demands free exchange which demands empowering the Demos.

The true danger to all this has been external intervention such as flooding a local market with cheap goods in order to produce a financial monopoly.  That was not so apparent in the time of Adam smith.

I think that the solution to all that is to establish a ten percent rule in which a new competitor is allowed to enter a market on a ten percent Per year rate unless all agree to an alternative.  This sets rules of engagement that promotes adjustment and recapitalization.

The Timeless Wisdom of Adam Smith

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Adam Smith’s central contribution to economic understanding was surely his demonstration that under an institutional arrangement of individual liberty, property rights, and voluntary exchange the self-interested conduct of market participants could be shown to be consistent with a general betterment of the human condition.

The emergence of a social system of division of labor makes men interdependent for the necessities, amenities and luxuries of life. But in the free, competitive market order every individual can only access what others in society can supply him with by offering them something in exchange that they value more highly than what is being asked from them in trade.

Thus, as Adam Smith memorably explained, as if by an “invisible hand” each individual is guided to apply his knowledge, ability and talents in ways that serve the trading desires of others as the means of fulfilling his own self-interested goals and purposes. Furthermore, not only is the need for government regulation and control of economic affairs shown to be unnecessary for societal improvement, Smith went on to argue that such government intervention was detrimental to the most successful advancements in human material and cultural life. (See, my article, “Adam Smith’s Air of Paradox”.)

Individual Freedom and Trade Among Nations

At the heart of Adam Smith’s criticisms of eighteenth century Mercantilism, with its presumption of a need for political direction and planning of economic activities for balance and prosperity, was his insistence that such political paternalism was needed neither in domestic trade and commerce nor in the buying and selling of imports and exports between countries.

If domestic produce can be bought as cheaply as that of foreign industry, regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.

Adam Smith argued that it was superfluous and counter-productive for government to attempt to manage and direct the importing or exporting of goods and services to maintain a presumed “favorable” balance of trade. Each individual tries to minimize the costs that must be incurred in achieving his goals and ends. He only makes at home what is less expensive to make than to buy from others. And he buys desired goods from others only when those others can provide them at a lower cost in resources and labor and time, than if the individual attempted to produce those desired goods through his own self-sufficient efforts.

Thus, goods are purchased from producers in other countries only when they can offer them at a lower cost than manufacturing them in one’s own country. And, in turn, one purchases those foreign produced goods by supplying the foreign seller with some good or service at a lower cost than if he tried to produce it in his own land.

When governments, through regulations and controls, force a product to be produced at home that could be less expensively purchased from abroad, it is misdirecting scarce resources and labor into wasteful and inefficient uses. The result must be that the wealth of that nation – and the material wellbeing of its citizens -- is reduced by the amount by which more resources and labor must be devoted to making wanted goods than they could be obtained through a free system of international division of labor and peaceful, mutually beneficial exchange. Hence, it is more prudent for the prosperity of one’s own nation to leave production and trade to the self-interested actions of its individual citizens.

As Adam Smith explained in The Wealth of Nations (1776):
“To give the monopoly of the home-market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is in some measure to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, and must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be bought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.

“It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy. The tailor does not attempt to make his own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker. The shoemaker does not attempt to make his own clothes, but employs a tailor. The farmer attempts to make neither the one nor the other, but employs those different artificers.

“All of them find it for their interest to employ their whole industry in a way in which they have some advantage over their neighbors, and to purchase with a part of its produce, or what is the same thing, with the price of a part of it, whatever else they have occasion for.

“What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom. If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better to buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage . . .

“It is certainly not employed to the greatest advantage when it is directed towards an object which it can buy cheaper than it can make it . . . The Industry of a country, therefore, is thus turned away from a more, to a less advantageous employment, and the exchangeable value of its annual produce, instead of being increased, according to the intention of the lawgiver, must necessarily be diminished by every such regulation.”
All that was necessary, Adam Smith argued, was to leave men free to follow their own self-interests, and production and prosperity will be forthcoming in the directions and forms most advantageous to the members of the society as a whole, whether that trade is geared toward domestic or foreign demand and supply.

The Propagating of False Notions of Conflict Among Nations

Who were often the instigators for and beneficiaries of trade restrictions on imports and subsidies for exports? Adam Smith was scathing in his criticisms of manufacturers, merchants and agricultural special interests who wished to maintain or gain market share and greater profits from restricting the free flow of goods and services between countries through government action.

Those who today are usually labeled “crony capitalists” run to the government for favors, privileges, and protections from foreign and domestic competition, Adam Smith warned. Toward that end, they popularize fallacies and misunderstanding concerning the mutual benefits of trade among nations. Said Smith:
“Commerce, which ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity. The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present and the preceding century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers.

“The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected, may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquility of any body but themselves.”
Smith warned of the “interested sophistry” of those desiring anti-competitive interventions and protections in the private sector through the political power of governments by creating false notions that trade is a zero-sum game in which if one side wins the other side must have lost, or that imports and a trade deficit are inherently harmful to the material well-being of a nation. These distortions and errors had to be refuted so it would be better understood that, “In every country it always is and must be in the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest.”

The Mutual Prosperity of Nations is Beneficial to All

In addition, the material success of existing or potential trading partners is never a threat to the well being of one’s own nation. To the contrary, the more prosperous other nations may be, the greater the trading opportunities for selling one’s own specialized output as the means to acquiring the true benefit of trade – the obtaining of imports that foreign suppliers can make available at lower costs and better qualities and varieties than if one had to rely simply on one’s own nation’s labor skills and resources. “A nation that would enrich itself by foreign trade,” Adam Smith said, “is certainly most likely to do so when its neighbors are all rich, industrious, and commercial nations.” To try to impoverish other nations is a sure way to undermine one’s own nation’s rise to improved prosperity.

Abolishing Trade Restrictions for Prosperity and Against Privilege

The best means of assuring access to the benefits from international trade and to weaken, if not fully eliminate, the influence of those private interest groups wishing to use the government for their own ends at the expense of the remainder of society was to abolish in the most expeditious manner all barriers to a freedom of trade among nations.

Within one lifetime after Adam Smith's death, Great Britain abolished virtually all its domestic and foreign trade restrictions.

There were a number of exceptions and circumstances in which Adam Smith accepted government intervention in the patterns of trade. And he argued that when industries have long been secure behind trade barriers that have provided them with monopoly positions, to prevent severe disruption to the economic circumstances to those employed in these sectors of the economy it might be desirable to reduce the trade barriers gradually rather than all at once.

But he also emphasized that even if freedom of trade was established in short order, the displacement of even a significant number of workers would soon be remedied with alternative employments, as the economic gains from being able to purchase a variety of less expensive goods from aboard would provide the financial means for demanding many goods that previously consumers could not afford at the prior protected monopoly prices. Or as Smith more generally expressed it:
“The natural effort of every individual to better his own conditions, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumber its operations.”
The Prejudices of the Public and the Power of the Interests

In spite of the cogency and convincingness of his arguments against Mercantilism, Adam Smith was far from confident that his ideas and those of others like him would ever succeed in bringing about the end to this eighteenth century version of central planning, and in its place the establishment of a “system of natural liberty” with freedom of trade.

His pessimism was due to two influences and forces in society, he said: The prejudices of the public – by which he meant the difficulty of getting the ordinary citizen to understand the logic of the market and the positive benefits from the “invisible hand” of unintended consequences. And the power of the interests – by which he meant the special interest groups that benefit from government privileges and favors, and who would resist any and all attempts to reduce or eliminate government regulations and redistributions that benefit them at others’ expense.
In Adam Smith’s own words:
“To expect, indeed, that the freedom of trade should ever be entirely restored in Great Britain, is as absurd as to expect that an Oceana or Utopia should ever be established in it.

“Not only the prejudices of the public, but what is much more unconquerable, the private interests of many individuals, irresistibly oppose it . . .The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance.

“If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public service, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and detraction, from personal insults, nor sometimes real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolies.”
Fortunately for the material and cultural betterment of the world, Adam Smith was wrong in this prediction. Within one lifetime between his death in 1790 and the mid-1840s, Great Britain abolished virtually all its domestic and foreign trade restrictions, putting in its place a system of free enterprise and free trade. And through the Britain’s example and success with highly unrestricted freedom of trade, many other countries in Europe were influenced to follow the same course, if perhaps not as radically as in Great Britain or in the United States. Adam Smith, in other words, had underestimated the power of his own ideas.

Commerce as a Pathway for Improving Civil Society

The benefits of commerce and trade, Adam Smith argued, were not only the material improvements in man’s condition. It also served as a method for civilizing men, if by civilization is meant, at least partly, courtesy, and respect for others, and an allegiance to honesty and fulfillment of promises.

When a person makes perhaps 20 contracts in a day, the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose.

When men deal with each other on a daily and regular basis, they soon learn that their own wellbeing requires of them sensitivity for those with whom they trade.

Losing the confidence or the trust of one’s trading partners can result in social and economic injury to oneself.

The self-interest that guides a man to demonstrate courtesy and thoughtfulness for his customers, under the fear of losing their business to some rival with superior manners or etiquette to his own, tends over time to be internalized as habituated “proper behavior” to others in general and in most circumstances. Through this process, the other-orientedness that voluntary exchange requires of each individual in his own self-interest, if he is to attain his own ends, fosters the institutionalization of interpersonal conduct that is usually considered essential to a well-mannered society and cultured civilization.

Adam Smith explained this important and fortuitous benefit from commercial society in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1766):
“Whenever commerce is introduced into any country, probity and punctuality always accompany it . . . It is far more reducible to self-interest, that general principle which regulates the actions of every man, and which leads men to act in a certain manner from views of advantage, and is as deeply implanted in an Englishman as a Dutchman.

“A dealer is afraid of losing his character, and is scrupulous in observing every engagement. When a person makes perhaps 20 contracts in a day, he cannot gain so much by endeavoring to impose on his neighbors, as the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose.

“When people seldom deal with one another, we find that they are somewhat disposed to cheat, because they can gain more by a smart trick than they can lose by the injury that it does to their character . . . Wherever dealing are frequent, a man does not expect to gain so much by any one contract as by probity and punctuality in the whole, and a prudent dealer, who is sensible of his real interest, would rather choose to lose what he has a right to than give any ground for suspicion . . .

“When the greater part of people are merchants they always bring probity and punctuality into fashion, and these therefore are the principle virtues of a commercial nation.”
Commerce And the End of Feudalism

Adam Smith also explained how the spontaneous emergence of commerce and opportunities for trade between foreign countries and faraway cities with the countryside slowly reduced the power of feudal lords and princes over those who lived and worked on their lands, thus setting in motion the processes that began the development of civil society with its more modern conceptions of individual rights and decentralized power.

In the self-sufficient environment of the medieval Manor, the only or primary source of needed necessities and luxuries desired by the Lord of the Manor was the output of those on his estate and the immediate village environment. The taxes and tithes that he received had no other outlet for being spent than on the employment of the several hundred of people over whom he ruled.

A revolution of the greatest importance to the public happiness was brought about by people, who had not the least intention to serve the public.

At the same time, the Lord’s expenditures represented for these tenants on his land and for the village craftsman virtually all the demand and income they might earn at any time. Thus, their obedience and subservience to the Lord of the Manor was not only based on his political authority and ownership of the land, but also because of their total dependency on his good graces in spending his wealth on those goods and services which they produced, partly to pay the taxes and tithes which they owed the Lord.

But with the emergence of commerce and trade from outside the confines of the Lord’s estate, he could now purchase desired goods from beyond his own community. This weakened his hold of dependency and obedience over those who lived and worked on his estate. At the same time, a growing market outside the estate meant that those village craftsmen and farming tenants now could find other markets for their goods besides the Lord. This reduced their dependency on his good graces and spending for their own survival and modest livelihood.

Adam Smith explained that this growing economic independence from the Lord served as a crucial element in people beginning to sense their freedom from his hold over them, and to demand formal liberty in their relationships with political authority without the fear, anymore, of his stranglehold over their material existence. In Adam Smith’s words in The Wealth of Nations:
“In a country which has neither foreign commerce, nor any of the finer manufactures, a great proprietor, having nothing for which he can exchange the greater part of the produce of his lands which is over and above the maintenance of the cultivators, consumes the whole in rustic hospitality at home . . .

“He is at all times, therefore, surrounded with a multitude of retainers and dependents, who . . . being fed entirely by his bounty, must obey him, for the same reason that soldiers must obey the prince who pays them . . . The occupiers on the land were in every respect as dependent upon the great proprietor as his retainers . . . In a country where the surplus of a large estate must be consumed upon the estate itself . . . a tenant . . . is as dependent upon the proprietor as any servant or retainer, whatever, and must obey him with as little reserve . . .

“The silent and insensible operation of foreign commerce and manufactures gradually . . . furnished the great proprietors with something for which they could exchange the whole surplus of their lands, and they could consume themselves without sharing it either with tenants or retainers . . .

“When the great proprietors of land spent their rents in maintaining their tenants and retainers, each of them maintains entirely his own tenants and his own retainers. But when they spend them in maintaining tradesmen and artificers, they may, all of them taken together, perhaps maintain as great . . . or a greater number of people than before.
“Each of them, however, taken singly, contributes often but a very small share to the maintenance of any individual of this greater number. Each tradesman or artificer derives his subsistence from the employment, not of one, but of a hundred or a thousand different customers. Through in some measure obligated to them all, therefore, he is not absolutely dependent upon any one of them.”
The slowly developing, but radical change in the relationships between the Lords and the commoners was an example, Adam Smith said, of those cases of human actions that transform society but are not instances of any intentional human design.
“A revolution of the greatest importance to the public happiness was in this manner brought about by two different orders of people, who had not the least intention to serve the public.

“To gratify the most childish vanity was the sole motive of the great proprietors . . . For a pair of diamond buckles perhaps, or something as frivolous and useless, they exchanged the maintenance, or what is the same thing, the price of the maintenance of a thousand men for a year, and with it the whole weight and authority which it would give them.

“The merchants and artificers, much less ridiculous, acted merely from a view to their own interest, and in pursuit of their own peddler principle of turning a penny wherever a penny was to be got. Neither of them had either knowledge or foresight of the great revolution which the folly of the one, and the industry of the other, was gradually bringing about.”
Prosperity, Independence and Freedom

John Miller, another Scottish philosopher who had been a student of Adam Smith’s at the University of Glasgow, highlighted how this change in relationships between the feudal lords and the commoner fostered the spirit and the politics of liberty and democracy in his own book, Origins of the Distinction of Ranks published in 1779, three years after Smith’s Wealth of Nations appeared. Explained Miller:
“The further a nation advances in opulence and refinement, it has occasion to employ a greater number of merchants, of tradesmen and artificers; and as the lower people, in general, become thereby more independent in their circumstances, they begin to exert those sentiments of liberty which are natural to the mind of man . . .

“While, from these causes, people of the low rank are gradually advancing towards a state of independence, the influence derived from wealth is diminished in the same proportion . .

“Thus, while fewer persons are under the necessity of depending upon him, he is daily rendered less capable of maintaining dependents; till at last his domestics and servants are reduced to such as are merely subservient to luxury and pageantry, but are of no use in supporting authority . . .

“It cannot be doubted that these circumstances have a tendency to introduce a democratical government. As persons of inferior rank are placed in a situation which, in point of subsistence, renders them little dependent upon their superiors; as no one order of men continues in the exclusive possession of opulence; and as every man who is industrious may entertain the hope of gaining a fortune; it is to be expected that the prerogatives of the monarch, and of the ancient nobility will be gradually undermined, that the privileges of the people will be extended in the same proportion and that power, the usual attendant of wealth, will be in some measure diffused over all the members of the community.”
Adam Smith’s Contribution to the Cause of Liberty and Prosperity

Adam Smith’s significance cannot be overstated in formulating the ideas and insights of that “system of natural liberty” that helped to foster an understanding of the workings of the free market order and its institutional prerequisites of individual freedom, private property, voluntary association and unrestricted, peaceful competition. Or as the prominent nineteenth century economist and popularizer of economic ideas, John R. McCulloch, said in 1853, “Adam Smith has an unquestionable claim to be regarded as the real founder of the modern system of Political Economy . . .The Wealth of Nations must be placed in the foremost rank of those works which have helped to liberalize, enlighten, and enrich mankind.”

He brought together in The Wealth of Nations many of the ideas about human nature, spontaneous order, competitive markets and more limited government that had been part of the central themes of the Scottish Moral Philosophers. Unique to Smith’s and the Scottish contribution in general is also the insight that whatever degree of liberty that has been acquired in the West has not been the result of a planned out linear process originating from some articulated “first principle.”

Liberty, as we understand its meaning and content today, emerged to a great extent as the unintended consequence of a series of unique historical events in certain parts of Europe, the full meaning and outcome of which the individual actors in this centuries-long drama often have had little or no inkling of in terms of the implications their own decisions and interactions were helping to bring about.

It should make us appreciative of the historical processes that have fostered liberty, and modest in our too frequent arrogance that it is in the power of some to remold men or remake society in some rarified conception of a “better world,” all according to socially engineered design. We do most for improving the conditions of mankind when we allow each individual to be free to use his own knowledge and abilities as he sees best in a setting in which market prices and competitive incentives direct him in how to apply himself in the social system of division of labor.

Or as Austrian economist, Friedrich A. Hayek, said at the time of the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of The Wealth of Nations in 1976:

“The recognition that a man’s efforts will benefit more people, and on the whole satisfy greater needs, when he lets himself be guided by the abstract signals of prices rather than by perceived needs, and that by this method we can best overcome our constitutional ignorance of most of the particular facts, and can make the fullest use of the knowledge of concrete circumstances widely dispersed among millions of individuals, is the great achievement of Adam Smith

There Is No Possible Reform for HUD

This is a long sad story that has simply driven the actual decline of the inner city. It should be obvious that declining neighborhoods need to be swiftly condemned and completely redeveloped preferably with paying customers.  This forces the population of low income earners to spread out into the city to take much better basement suites while helping to support that housing.

We have learned that the best solution for a rundown district is a blanket redevelopment that accomplishes what ever is useful to the city.    It also is a reminder that allowing an eyesore to develop is nonsense.  In Vancouver Downtown East side is now completely surrounded by dynamic capital investment that is quickly refreshing everything.  Surely resolving the conflicted drug policies will soon open the door for a rapid renewal there as well.

That problem was solved a decade or more ago in Portugal.  
There Is No Possible Reform for HUD

Friday, December 16, 2016

"The Department of] Housing and Urban Development has done an enormous amount of harm. My god, if you think of the way in which they have destroyed parts of cities under the rubric of eliminating slums ... there have been many more dwelling units torn down in the name of public housing than have been built." ~ Milton Friedman, Interview, Hoover Institution, February 10, 1999
President-elect Trump’s appointment of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is being criticized on the grounds that he lacks the requisite administrative experience. More likely, Carson’s affront was to question why HUD exists.

Carson's likely affront was to question why HUD exists.Republican presidents have been ambivalent. Having bigger fish to fry, President Reagan appointed Sam Pierce HUD Secretary so that he could ignore it. George H.W. Bush repaid Jack Kemp’s political opposition by first making him HUD Secretary and then frustrating his attempts to eliminate the Department. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, appointed by George W., was allegedly focused on participating in the traditional kickback schemes while his Assistant Secretary for Housing pursued homeownership policies that contributed mightily to the financial crisis of 2008.

Democratic presidents have used it as a platform to pursue other agendas. Jimmy Carter’s HUD Secretary Patricia Harris introduced Fannie Mae housing goals – quotas – as punishment for not appointing a woman to the Board of Directors. Between scandals, Clinton’s HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros promoted the homeownership goals that left both the financial system and the new mortgage borrowers bankrupt. 

HUD’s budget is relatively small as compared to other federal departments, but it has always punched far above its budget weight in destructive power. To put HUD’s annual budget of about $50 billion in perspective, the cost of the homeowner mortgage interest tax deduction is two to three times greater, but HUD’s “mission regulation” of financial institutions has given it influence or control over trillions more.

The initial political interest in housing during the Great Depression was entirely Keynesian, i.e., related to the short-term potential to create jobs and relieve cyclical unemployment – the “infrastructure investments” of that era. The Democrat’s approach to construction, management, and allocation of public housing was generally implemented to benefit builders and rife with corruption. FHA and Fannie Mae were chartered mostly as off-balance sheet financial institutions to stimulate housing production on the cheap. 

The problem of urban development, as many politicians and urban analysts saw it in the 1960s, stemmed from the 1956 Eisenhower initiative to build highways financed by the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, a byproduct of which was that more affluent people commuted from the suburbs while leaving poorer families behind. The pursuit of the American Dream of homeownership left city administrations accustomed to cross-subsidizing municipal services in fiscal distress, creating a vicious cycle: as services declined, more affluent households moved out. 

The Housing and Urban Development Act in 1965 established HUD as a separate cabinet department as part of LBJ’s Great Society to give a greater priority to housing and urban issues. HUD inherited a mishmash of various New Deal federal programs, ranging from public rental housing to urban renewal, as well as financial oversight of FHA and Fannie Mae.

Faced with steep “guns and butter” budget deficits, LBJ focused on ways to further encourage off-balance-sheet financing of housing construction through “public-private partnerships.” Republicans, led by Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, convinced by academic studies that the urban riots of the 1960s were the direct result of poor quality housing and the urban environment and by lobbyists for housing producers, supported the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. The “goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” was first introduced in the 1949 Housing Act. Title XVI of the 1968 Act “Housing Goals and Annual Housing Report” introduced central planning without specifying the goals, a timetable for implementation, or a budget.

In the late 1960s, the Weyerhaeuser Corporation produced a forecast of single-family housing production in the coming decade to assist with tree planting. Congressional math wizards divided the total forecast by 10 to produce HUD’s annual housing production goals for the nation. For the next decade, HUD Secretaries were annually paraded before their Senate oversight Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to explain why they did or did not meet these production goals.
"Republican social engineering" isn't necessarily better than "Democratic social engineering."Republicans have historically supported rental housing vouchers for existing private rental units for privately built housing to minimize market distortions. Republican HUD Secretary Carla Hills in the Ford Administration pushed HUD’s Section 8 subsidies for existing housing – something arguably better administered as a negative income tax – as a political alternative to the Democrats’ push for a return to public housing construction. But as a further political compromise, the largely autonomous local public housing authorities would administer these vouchers, leading to the same concentration of crime and urban decay as public housing. To borrow a phrase from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, “Republican social engineering” isn’t necessarily better than “Democratic social engineering.”

The economic goals of “affordable” housing have generally been in direct conflict with urban development. When I proposed demolishing the worst public housing projects and redeveloping the land, using the proceeds to fund subsidies for existing private market housing (something partially achieved during the Reagan Administration), Clinton Administration officials scoffed at the idea.

HUD combines socialist goals and fascist methods that seriously distort and undermine markets. There is neither market nor political discipline on the enormous scope of its activities. HUD met unfunded goals through financial coercion, undermining both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and their commercial banking competitors, with the collusion of the Senate Committee responsible for both financial and housing oversight, leading to the sub-prime lending debacle of 2008.

There is no economic rationale for a federal role in housing or urban affairs in a market economy. HUD represents a continuing systemic threat for which there is no cure. May it RIP.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Absurd World of Agriculture Subsidies

There are excellent arguments for supply management by cooperatives open to all producers, so long as they do not become monopoly driven and that is a fine line and difficult enough to work with..  The main threat that they respond to is good old fashioned dumping based on some form of geographic unit.

After saying all that, what is unacceptable is any form of direct subsidy.  A short term monopoly on a case by case basis often makes excellent sense such as Quebec's current maple sugar system now overdue for dismantlement.  That is a form of indirect subsidy that naturally promotes infrastructure investment and marketing.  

Otherwise a single large operator must buy out all competitors in order to accomplish excactly the same end.

The end of the current regime in the USA is overdue.  It does need to be replaced with marketing cooperatives that mitigate against egregious capital concentration as an end in itself that then must massively damage the growing environment.


The Absurd World of Agriculture Subsidies

Friday, December 16, 2016

I’ve argued before that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should be the top target of those seeking to shut down useless and counterproductive parts of the federal government.
And if President-Elect Trump’s choice for HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, is as sound on housing issues as he is on tax issues, presumably he will work to close down the bureaucracy that he’ll soon be overseeing.

But I just read a Wall Street Journal column about agriculture subsidies that has me so agitated that I may change my mind and make the Department of Agriculture my top target for elimination. Here’s some of what Jim Bovard wrote:
President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington could begin with the Agriculture Department … Farmers will receive twice as much of their income from handouts (25%) this year as they did in 2013, according to the USDA … big farmers snare the vast majority of federal handouts. According to a report released this year by the Environmental Working Group … “the top 1 percent of farm subsidy recipients received 26 percent of subsidy payments between 1995 and 2014.” The group’s analysis of government farm-subsidy data also found that the “top 20 percent of subsidy recipients received 91 percent of all subsidy payments.” Fifty members of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans have received farm subsidies, according to the group, including David Rockefeller Sr. and Charles Schwab.
Indeed, agriculture subsidies are basically a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
… in 2015, the median farm household had a net worth of $827,307. That includes a great many residential, gentlemen and hobby farmers. The largest class of farmers—those who produce most farm products and harvest the largest share of the subsidies—have a median net worth of $2,586,000. By contrast, the median net worth for American households in 2013 was $81,200, according to the Federal Reserve.
In his column, Jim also explains some of the bizarre consequences of various specific handout programs, including the fact that American taxpayers have forked over $750 million to Brazil in order to continue huge (and impermissible, according to our trade commitments) subsidies to American cotton producers.
But the sugar subsidies are probably the most economically insane.
The U.S. maintains a regime of import quotas and price supports that drive U.S. sugar prices to double or triple the world price. Since 1997 Washington’s sugar policy has zapped more than 120,000 U.S. jobs in food manufacturing, according to a 2013 study by Agralytica. More than 10 jobs have been lost in manufacturing for every remaining sugar grower in the U.S.
Let’s look at some more evidence, this time dealing with dairy subsidies.
Charles Lane of the Washington Post wrote earlier this year about America’s government-caused cheese problem.
… as of March 31, 1.19 billion pounds had accumulated in commercial cold-storage freezers across the United States, the largest stockpile ever. …each American would have to eat an extra 3 pounds of cheese this year, on top of the 36 pounds we already consume per capita, to eliminate the big yellow mountain.
Why is there something as silly as a giant stockpile of cheese?
If you’re guessing it’s the result of a foolish government policy, you’d be right.
… the U.S. government has a long-standing pro-cheese-eating policy, which grew out of the need to do something with the subsidized excess of milk products generated by federal pro-production dairy policy… Two decades ago, in fact, the Clinton administration’s Agriculture Department helped form a promotional organization, Dairy Management Inc., funded by a congressionally authorized, federally collected dues requirement for dairy producers. Its $140 million annual budget has helped develop such fast-food items as Pizza Hut’s cheese-topped crust and Taco Bell’s double steak quesadillas, as well as cheesy pizzas for the federal school lunch program. …dairy farms are protected by a subsidized insurance program in the 2014 Farm Bill.
What’s the answer to this mess?

Well, even an editorial writer for the leftist Washington Post recognizes that markets, rather than subsidies, should determine cheese production.
In the long run, everyone — consumers, producers, middlemen, grocers — would probably be better off if governments just left the dairy market to its own devices. And a lot of other markets, too.
Working the System

By the way, since we’re on the topic of subsidies to the dairy industry, a Bloomberg column exposes some of the perverse consequences of government intervention.
… some farmers tried to limit the supply of milk by killing off their own cows. No, you read that correctly. This mysterious state of affairs was revealed in a nationwide class-action lawsuit against dairy cooperatives, groups of farmers who pool their supplies but, as a whole, serve as middlemen between the farmers and dairy processors … The “herd retirement program,” as it was called, was led by Cooperatives Working Together, run by the lobbying group National Milk Producers Federation, and supported by farms producing almost 70 percent of America’s milk … The path that leads to killing perfectly good dairy cows begins with a 1922 law, the Capper-Volstead Act. The statute was designed to protect both dairy farmers and consumers from profiteering middlemen.
This story actually is a perfect storm of government stupidity. The federal government has programs that subsidize the dairy industry. That then leads to overproduction. Producers respond to overproduction with a plan to kill cows, which somehow triggers antitrust intervention by the government.

Heaven forbid we actually get the government out of the business and simply allow markets to work!
And if antitrust laws and agriculture subsidies are a bad combination, then you won’t be surprised to learn that foreign aid and agriculture subsidies are another bad combination. In other words, two negatives don’t make a positive, as explained by Jim Bovard earlier this year in another column for the Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration’s plan to dump a million pounds of surplus peanuts into Haiti at no cost has sparked a firestorm from humanitarian groups … Haiti has about 150,000 peanut farmers. The industry is “a huge source of livelihood” for up to 500,000 people, Claire Gilbert of Grassroots International told NPR, “especially women, if you include the supply chains that process the peanuts.” …the Peasant Movement of Papaye, denounced the peanut donation as “a plan of death” for the country’s farmers … American aid has a sordid record. In 1979 a development consultant told a congressional committee: “Farmers in Haiti are known to not even bring their crops to market the week that [food aid] is distributed since they are unable to get a fair price while whole bags of U.S. food are being sold.” … After the 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s president, René Préval, pleaded with the U.S. to “stop sending food aid so that our economy can recover and create jobs.” Former President Bill Clintonpublicly apologized the same year for the devastating impact of subsidized U.S. rice imports: “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”
The peanut program may be even more inanely destructive than the sugar program.
The real culprit here are federal peanut programs with an almost 80-year record as one of Washington’s most flagrant boondoggles. Subsidies have encouraged farmers to overproduce and then dump surplus peanuts on the USDA, which winds up stuck with hundreds of millions of pounds. That food has to go somewhere, and the department sees Haiti as the ticket. Food-aid policies have long been driven not by altruism, but by bureaucratic desperation to dispose of the evidence of failed farm policies … The cost of peanut subsidies is predicted to rise 10-fold between 2015 and next year, reaching $870 million—which approaches the total farm value of the whole U.S. peanut crop itself. The USDA expects to spend up to $50 million a year to store and handle surplus peanuts, and industry experts are warning that federally-licensed warehouses might not have enough space to hold the next crop.
Though this humorous image reminds me that ethanol handouts also may be the most counterproductive and wasteful agriculture subsidy.

Agriculture subsidies are bad for taxpayer and bad for consumers. They are a corrupt transfer of unearned wealth to special interest groups.

P.J. O’Rourke came up with the only appropriate solution to this mess.

Why are taxes so high in Sweden, Finland and Denmark?

This is an important item.  The VAT is high but then Canada has a combined federal and provincial tax that comes to about fifteen percent as against Sweden's 25%.  I expect the same system to be applied in the USA sooner than later and i expect them to follow the fifteen percent level splitting it with the States and pushing medicare onto the States as was done in Canada.  It really works better all the way around.  All other countries have VAT and most are around 20% or more.

All in Sweden is no worse than  anyone else.  In fact a general drop in rates should actually expand revenues.  I would reduce VAT and Personal taxes by 1% per year and see just where revenue actually peaks and declines.  A three year decline would signal a reversal for five years. And then annual plus or minus moves around a benchmark.

The present revenue weakness in the USA is driven by a lack of a VAT which levels the playing field for American industry and the resulting American industrial decline.  All other things been equal, you will build that bicycle factory elsewhere.

The right policy going forward for the USA is to keep personal taxes low in order to collect them and to add a VAT to tax consumption.
Why are taxes so high in Sweden, Finland and Denmark?

Mats Genberg, lives in Sweden

 Updated 28 Jun 2015 · Upvoted by Mark Rigotti, Owner of a small CPA firm with about 35 years experience in public accounting. and Ramakrishna Yellepeddi, Retired Chartered Accountant from India that has been in practice for 30 years

First of all - are the taxes that high?

A person in Sweden making about $3500/month has an income tax of about 25-28%. 

The property tax as been abolished and is now a "fee" that can never be more than $900/year.
30% of all interest paid is deducted from taxes.

There is no need for medical insurance or to save up for education as all that is included in your taxes. As is elder care.

Regarding the idea of "socialist". 

A lot of people do not realize that private schools here can operate under the same conditions as public schools. A school gets its funds depending on the number of students and anyone can apply to any school. So a public school that fails to attract students will lose funds that will then be transfered to the private schools that the students chose. This applies from kindergarten to university.

Basically the same system applies to health and elder care.

Very few municipalities have more than a very limited staff of their own, and everything from public transport, to school buses and garbage trucks are outsourced on public tender. 

The private sector here would consider such a thing as for example american school buses "unfair competetion" and have it legally challenged.

We do have a sales tax of 25%. Higher than in most US states. BUT - it has to be included in all prices shown. A hotel or restaurant is not allowed to add "tax, service e t c" on the published.

Any business owner will balance sales tax on all business purchases (made anywhere) against that on sales, and get a refund if the paid amount his higher than that charged.


Just compared US Corporate Tax to Sweden:

According to KPMG Corporate tax rates table the corporate tax in the US is 40% whereas it is 22% in Sweden.

Finland has 20% and Denmark 23,5%.

So my question - are the taxes really that high - is quite relevant

One Tiny Wasp Turns a Fig Tree Into a 150-Foot-High Eden

The astonishing fig tree is poorly understood by the average person although that is obviously changing.  As agriculture truly expands into the tropics more effectively through the use of biochar in particular, expect to see this tree dominate natural fence rows.

It is an excellent teacher of natural complexity and interdependence.  Thus worth a special effort.

This item is a great start.

One Tiny Wasp Turns a Fig Tree Into a 150-Foot-High Eden 

Birds, bats, monkeys by the dozen: A fruiting fig tree is a riot of life. It all goes back to the tree's ancient partnership with an insect. 

This motmot has a diverse diet, including figs. Over 2,000 bird species have been recorded eating figs

PUBLISHED September 29, 2016

“This is what makes them very special: At any point in time in the tropical forest, there is a fig that has fruit.” 

German photographer Christian Ziegler, a tropical biologist by training who lives on the edge of a Panamanian rain forest, is talking about one of his obsessions. Where other trees have distinct fruiting seasons, Ziegler explains, figs are always available somewhere in the forest. And so especially in lean times—even a rain forest has a dry season—a fruiting fig can become a mob scene, like a watering hole in the Serengeti. Birds, monkeys, bats, insects—dozens of species congregate on a single tree, feasting in a noisy frenzy. 

The origins of the feast go back 75 million years. That’s when figs first evolved, probably in Eurasia, possibly in China—but certainly in conjunction with the tiny wasps that pollinate them. Since then, as figs have spread around the world and diversified into between 750 and 1,000 species, the wasps have diversified with them. Each species of fig has just one or two wasp species that pollinate it. 

Tree and wasp are totally dependent on one another. And all over the world, from Peru to Gabon to Indonesia to Australia, countless other species depend on a strange accident of their intersecting life cycles: While other species of tree tend to fruit in synchrony in a given area, fig trees do not. 

“They are like pop-up restaurants,” says Michael Shanahan, author of Ladders to Heaven, a new book on the science and cultural history of fig trees. “Everything comes and feeds on them for three or four days. And you come back a couple days later, and it’s like nothing happened.”

Two carpenter ants forage on fig fruit. Bats are the primary consumers of this particular fig, but in the Amazon, ants are never far away. 

Crazy, but in a Good Way 

Ziegler wants to capture what may be the wildest fig feast of all, and so he dreams up an outrageous idea. He brings $90,000 worth of steel scaffolding to the Peruvian Amazon, moving it 200 miles down the Alto Madre de Dios River and up the Manu River in motorized canoes. His destination is one of the most diverse places on Earth: the Cocha Cashu Biological Station in Manú National Park. On the 2,500 acres of the station, there are more than 500 bird and 70 mammal species. And many of them eat figs. The scaffolding will allow Ziegler to get to where most of them live, high in the forest canopy. (Read all about Manú and its inhabitants in National Geographic magazine.) 

“I’ve seen a hundred monkeys in a single tree,” says John Terborgh, an ecologist at Duke University who has spent more than 40 years studying the intricacies of the Peruvian Amazon at Cocha Cashu. “On moonlit nights, if they are hungry, they’ll get up at two in the morning and be there at four a.m.”
Once Ziegler arrives at Cocha Cashu, he begins searching for a fruiting fig within a mile or so of the river, where his scaffolding lies gleaming on the beach. As soon as he finds one, the race is on to reach the party while it lasts. The scaffolding is erected in a flash by eight young men from the Matsigenka tribe, the indigenous residents of Manú, under the supervision of Antonio Gerra, a Cocha Cashu staffer from Lima. The team wear hard hats provided by Ziegler, but for the most part no shoes. Born and bred in the forest, they’re excellent, confident climbers. (They also have very interesting conceptions of nature and the afterlife.

Once fruiting slows down, Ziegler looks for a second tree, and the entire metal structure is disassembled and schlepped through the jungle so he can have another chance to get the photographs he wants. 

Here in the Amazon, days from a hardware store, they improvise when construction challenges arise. They lash beams together with vines; they use bow and arrow and slingshot to try to loop guidelines over dizzyingly high limbs. As they carry the scaffolding from place to place and set it down, indigo and tomato-red butterflies, genus Panacea, alight on the beams, sipping the sweat that has rubbed off their shoulders. 

Once the tower is erected, Ziegler has to climb it. He’s a pleasant sort of obsessive, short and intense, with jaw-length hair and a perpetual smile—and, as it turns out, a deep fear of heights. He takes it floor by floor. It is on the second tower, while spending some time clinging to a fig limb that crosses floor 10, that he admits there is perhaps just a touch of craziness in his plan. 

Left: A red howler monkey eats a fig. These monkeys spend more than half their day sleeping or snoozing in the treetops.Right: White-fronted capuchin monkeys, including this juvenile, were curious about Christian Ziegler and his giant lenses, but their first priority was to vacuum up as many figs as they could fit into their mouths.\

Photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic 

But once he’s at the top, 12 stories off the ground, Ziegler finds himself in another world. The tree is hopping. He sees hungry howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and brown capuchin monkeys—sometimes all at once. A white-fronted capuchin monkey—fuzzy, elegant, tail curled under—detaches small figs with nimble fingers and pops them in its mouth like popcorn. Anole lizards flash their bright neck flaps at rival males. Ziegler observes butterflies and damselflies and bees that never descend to the ground, and dozens of species of birds: barbets, paradise tanagers, scarlet macaws that arrive in pairs, and fat, piping guans, which look like elegant turkeys. He also catalogs 17 species of insect that bite or sting him. “Here, you become part of the food chain very fast,” Ziegler says. 

Despite its dizzying height, the scaffolding is shorter than the tree; at the top, the fig’s crown is still overhead. But much of the forest canopy is spread out below, a sweeping green expanse of trees, lianas, and their inhabitants. One hears birds and insects, distant whoops and unidentifiable descending notes. The wind rocks the scaffold just a bit and, in the heat of the late morning, one feels dozily as if one is rolling on a small boat. Above the green sea of leaves, parakeets sing. 

A cloud of mimosa yellow butterflies is attracted to small figs on a beach alongside the Manú River.
Photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic 

The Evolution of a Miracle 

Nothing in the scene is more amazing than the fig tree itself—and especially the way it reproduces. Its partner is a wasp the size of a lowercase i. The wasp pollinates the fig, and in return, it doesn’t get food, as most pollinators do. It gets a snug nursery. 

Fig wasps deposit pollen—and lay their own eggs—in the fig’s egg-bearing ovules. The ovules are inside the flowers, as they are in other flowering plants. But on a fig tree the flowers themselves are tucked inside an unripe fruit. It’s an inside-out bouquet of up to 10,000 tiny flowers packed in a tight orb. 

When the wasp eggs hatch, males emerge first. They immediately mate with their sisters through holes in the walls of the unhatched eggs. After the impregnated females emerge, the males nibble an escape tunnel through the fig for their sister-wives. The females take off, full of fertilized eggs and coated with fig pollen from the flowers they brushed by on the way out. The males die, never having left the tiny world in which they were born. 

(So if you eat a ripe wild fig, there’s an excellent chance you’ll ingest a few minute male wasps. Perhaps not coincidentally, many familiar varieties of fig do not require pollination; there are no tiny corpses in supermarket figs.) 

After the females leave the fig, they must find another fig tree with receptive fruits in which to lay their eggs. Following trace chemical signals in the air, they often fly more than six miles, and on rare occasion more than 100. Once a female finds a likely fig, she wriggles in through a tiny opening that, because fig and wasp have evolved together, is just large enough for her head. She proceeds to pop her eggs in about half the available ovules, dusting the rest with the pollen she brought with her. The pollinated ovules become seeds as the fruit ripens. 

Birds or monkeys eat the fruit, and when they excrete the seeds, chances are they’re far away, perched or lazing in a different tree. This is ideal for many fig species—they actually germinate in the canopy, perhaps in a little bit of earth in the crotch of a branch, and send roots down to the forest floor. The growing roots twine around the host tree, and ultimately they engulf, strangle, and replace it. Looking at a mature fig, with its smooth trunk hurtling toward the sky, one would never know it conceals the ghost of the tree that supported it as a seedling. 

But the key to fig trees’ outsize ecological role is their partnership with wasps, and the timing that imposes. It takes about a month for wasp eggs to mature and hatch. When the females emerge, they have only a day or two to find another receptive fig before they die—which means there needs to be one available within a two-day flight. To hold up their end of the ancient partnership, figs have to reproduce all year long, like the wasps. And so unlike nearly every other fruiting tree, they don’t all fruit in a single season. Each individual tree fruits at a random time, thus ensuring that there is always a receptive fig—and a party going on—somewhere in the forest. 


A urania butterfly, a kind of swallowtail, feeds off the sap of a tree. In the Amazonian rain forest, much of the food web is in the canopy. Right: Fig trees benefit from birds and monkeys eating their fruit and spreading their seeds—but probably not from this caterpillar, which is eating fig leaves.
Photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic 

A Rain of Figs—and Dung 

The most boisterous action unfolds in the tree’s canopy, more than a hundred feet up. Many monkeys up there never touch the earth. Even from the ground, one can hear the cracks and rustles and hoots. 

But there’s a lot going on underneath the tree too. 

It sounds like rain under a fruiting fig, as the copiously falling fruit hits broad tropical leaves. The ground is blanketed in fruit. Even as figs continue to pelt the ground, the first to fall have begun to rot and are enveloped in a nimbus of diaphanous white fungus. Minute white flies hover over the figs, bouncing in place, like the impatient bobbing of a foot. It smells like wine dregs and mold. 

In Manú, if one sits quietly at the foot of a fruiting fig at dawn or dusk, one might see a small, pointy-nosed mammal, the paca, coming to eat, or a herd of pig-like collared peccaries. During the day, a neat file of waddling chicken-size birds with white rumps—the pale-winged trumpeters—might come through. They might be followed by human hunters, looking for monkey meat. The waves of energy from a fruiting fig ripple up and down the food chain. 

One morning I watch a family of howler monkeys having breakfast in a fig tree by the river. After the meal they move to another tree, then line up—mom, dad, and two kids—and hang their posteriors over a branch. The feces hit broad heliconia leaves with a series of loud slaps. I go over to inspect the dung. The fig seeds are clearly visible. 

Within five minutes, several dung beetles have landed and begun to excavate portions of the figgy substance, rolling it into balls with which they will woo females. If a female is sufficiently impressed, she’ll accept the dung ball and use it to incubate her eggs. For their first meal, the baby beetles will have fig seeds. 

Figs feed more wild animals than any other type of fruit. Ziegler would like to chase that ephemeral feast in other tropical forests, in Gabon maybe or in Indonesia. At Cocha Cashu he experiences the thrill of arriving at the height of the party—and also the letdown when it's over too soon. Just a couple of days after he and his Matsigenka crew erect the scaffold around his second tree, the fruit is all but gone. “It was after a day of rain,” he says with a sigh. “One day the tree had maybe 50 monkeys, and after it was over.” 

Cocha Cashu, the biological station where figs have been studied for decades, is named for this oxbow lake, seen here just before heavy rains set in