The Planetary News Radio – Episode 4: Logical Consistency and Science Driven Policy in the US

Hello. Welcome to the Planetary News Radio Episode 4 with your host Bryan White. It’s a beautiful day here in Corvallis, Oregon. So where are we at today? I want to talk a little bit about news. I’ve been talking a lot about projects. Today’s news topic is agriculture and agriculture is a science today, so it falls under the category of science news. So what’s going on in agriculture? America has an interesting relationship with agriculture. I suppose it’s one of our biggest industries, one of our biggest export industries. Historically it’s been something that’s really driven the growth of the American economy. Agriculture is central to the success of the American economy, the development of the economy, and feeding its own people who live here and feeding people around the world.

But that’s been changing in the last decade or so. Agriculture has more [uses] than just feeding people. Now, for example, we have renewable resources like ethanol, you’ll see a drive towards growing some crops that can both be used as food and also converted into ethanol fuel. And there’s some crops that can be used only for ethanol fuel. So we see farmers now having to make decisions. Do they grow a crop that will feed people, feed themselves? Will they grow a crop that can only be sold for fuel, or will they grow something that could be both? Like corn, corn can be used as a food, and it can be converted into bioethanol. Switchgrass, which can’t really be eaten but could be used maybe industrially as well, can [only be used for fuel]. So it’s a very complex decision process that farmers have to go through when they make a decision on what they will plant for the season.

Another example is soybeans. Soybeans are an amazing crop. They could be used for food and industrial purposes, but they’re not only just human food, they’re food for animals. So the decision to plant soybeans is generally a good decision. We know based on market supply and demand information about how much total demand there will be for soybeans between either people, industrial, or agricultural purposes, and so farmers could decide what crop they want to grow, or what [set of crops they] want to grow more of each season based on market information, and that’s great. That’s how a business should be run. And that continues today, with America being a leader in agriculture. Now that could become problematic if farmers begin to make decisions that are not based on market information. And so, for example, if a farmer knows that he or she will make a certain amount of money for growing soybeans, no matter what, whether or not those soybeans are sold or used by anyone, then that farmer has an incentive to grow soybeans because they know at a minimum they will make this amount of money.

Now they could choose to grow something else. They could choose to grow corn this year as their primary crop, but they might lose money because they might not be able to sell off the corn, and so they could instead take the safe bat and say, “Well, I’m going to grow soybeans. I know that the government will reimburse me if I’m not able to sell my crop or my crop fails”. And this is generally how farm subsidies have been working for decades since the Great Depression. America has a system in place to support its agriculture industry, and that’s great. That’s fine. I think the issue that I would take on this matter is a logical consistency issue. And so, really, what a farm subsidy is is a type of socialism. You have the government stepping in and saying that regardless of market, you will make this amount of money. And so then that is not capitalism, that is socialism.

The absence of an economy based on market information would, by definition, at a minimum, not be capitalism. It could be something else. It sounds to me like socialism. It’s not communism because farmers still are independent. They have the option to grow something else. They’re not being told what to grow by the government. They’re not working for the government. They’re simply receiving a subsidy, a reimbursement the same way that a individual might receive a reimbursement for health care from the government or a reimbursement for food or welfare or education. And so all of these things, when we reimburse people from the government, we perform a redistribution of wealth act, and that is a type of socialism. So I would make the argument that the agriculture industry in America is highly socialized, and we see that continue regardless of the administration that is in the White House.

So that’s where my issue would arise. And I’ll say this as many times as they can. My stance on politics will always be moral consistency, so I’ll criticize any side of the political spectrum for being morally inconsistent. And so farming is a great example where I see moral inconsistency because you have a very right wing administration continually criticizing left wing principles like socialism while at the same time engaging in socialism.

That is what I define as moral inconsistency, or at least logical inconsistency. Moral suggests there would be a right or wrong, certainly it is a logical inconsistency to support socialism on one hand and deny it on the other on the principle of it being socialism. In other words, if I go out and I say, “Well, I’m not going to support a thing because it’s socialism” and then I support some things that are socialism and some things that aren’t, at a minimum, [I would be] logically inconsistent. Potentially, I’m morally inconsistent.

Another example, there would be oil drilling. If I say that my goal is to preserve and protect the environment, and then I go and I engaged in the act of extracting oil and gas from beneath the earth, thereby causing damage to the environment, I am again, at a minimum, logically inconsistent, potentially morally inconsistent because I’m saying my goal is to do something good. I want to protect the environment. And on the other hand, my goal is to do something bad, and destroy the environment. It’s an empirical fact that engaging in extracting industries causes permanent damage to the environment. That’s a empirically logical inconsistency. And again, this is regardless of political spectrum. Extracting industries continued under the Obama administration. Certainly they might have been more limited, less lands might have been opened for oil leases and more lands might have been protected. But the existence of an extraction industry still persists in the United States, and so the collective moral conscience of the United States is inconsistent, and that’s okay. That’s a struggle like the civil rights movement has been a struggle and will be a struggle, so being morally consistent will always be a struggle with humanity.

Now you could go the other end of the spectrum and say, “Well, the Nazis were morally consistent”. Their morals were terrible, but they were consistent. And so that’s scary.c Hopefully we don’t have those types of things happen. So I have to be careful of my own consistencies, right? So if I define something that’s good as being something that’s morally consistent, well, then potentially a fallacy could occur there, which would lead my own logic to determine that the Nazis were good, and yet it is uniformly acknowledged that the Nazis were bad. If I say something is good, if it’s morally consistent, that would only be under the condition that the moral itself is good. And that would lead me as the person making that judgment to have to make a moral decision. And so I have to decide in the example of the environment two things. One, I have to decide – Are my views consistent? Is my worldview consistent in my applying logic consistently across the board.  And [the second decision is], are my morals good.

Now this is a tricky decision, and potentially a dangerous decision. If I wanted to remain completely objective, then I would never make any moral decision ever, or I would never acknowledge anything moral, good or bad. Making a moral decision inherently forces you to choose a side on an argument, and so I have to decide what is good. And so my question would be, “Why do other people not also decide that protecting the environment is good?” What you have in this scenario is you have two things. One, you have moral consistency and the other you have moral direction, so moral direction is important. So in the case of the extraction industries, what I see with the right wing is two flaws. One, I see a moral inconsistency. I see the official platform of the Republican Party being that their goal is to promote and protect the environment. And at the same time I see their official goal to be to expand extraction industries. And those two things are empirically in opposition to each other. It is cognitive dissonance, and then, on the other hand, I also see moral direction. So I see the decision to increase extraction industries as a bad moral. So I view that as being wrong.

Now on the other side, I look at the left platform, say, for example, of the Obama administration. I see the morally inconsistency of the continued persistence of extraction industries. Another was Obama didn’t come in and say, “Well, I’m president now. Hydraulic fracturing is over.” The Democratic Party has the problem of moral inconsistency, the same as the Republican Party. However, I see the moral direction as being good. I see that Obama would be in opposition to the expansion of the extraction industries if it were up to him. So his own moral decision is that expanding extraction industries is wrong. However, given this constraints of the American political system, it is impossible for him to take the position that extraction cannot continue. Potentially, the American economy would collapse due to the lack of oil. So that’s a moral decision as well. That’s a utilitarian decision.

Well, [we know that] extracting oil is wrong, but we cannot stop because our lives depend on it. And so then looping back to agriculture. [We might] view the subsidization of agricultural products based on the whims of a political party as potentially wrong, or at least I view that is wrong. In other words, a sophisticated market analysis is not guiding the growth of food in America. Under a utilitarian perspective, we cannot stop the status quo because it would be too disruptive to the industry. So I understand that. So what’s the take home here? Well, if we had a way of presenting evidence based market analysis of what crops were needed to grow and present it in a way that was factual and scientific, and could be debated, but that ultimately an evidence based decision would be made that all sides of the political spectrum could agree on, then we wouldn’t have this problem.

In other words, right now we’re trusting the whims of an unknown. Again, the take home is moral consistency, [logical consistency], and moral direction, and [trying to look at] political events in an objective fashion. And so how do you do that? You use the language that I’m using, which is to talk about consistency and direction [- a framework]. And so the point of this is not to simply criticize the right because they’re the current administration, and the point is to not say that the left could do a better job. The point is to look at what’s happening right now in an objective fashion and learn from what is happening. What we might see now is a surplus of soybeans, for example, in the next year, and so we might see farmers having to destroy crops because they can’t sell them and then be reimbursed for those crops. And then we might see later in the same day, the administration that reimbursed those farmers for destroying crops, we might see the same administration reduce reimbursements for education and health care. And so when the inconsistency becomes apparent in that way, then we can talk about making progress in the American political system. And that’s my goal.

Ultimately, integrate the scientific method and the political method, and that should happen in voting and in the way that these types of economic decisions are made. And I’m not an economist, but I do know a thing or two about the scientific method, and so we’ll talk more about that theme again. I suppose these first few episodes are introducing themes and sort of the way that I will talk about things. Again, I hope this was interesting. Kind of getting a little more into my own personal thoughts on politics, and the way that I approach politics, being a scientist and trying to remain objective. So again, if you have questions, I have a Discord now, which is a chat. Yeah, and there will be a link to that on the feed, and I also in creating a Patreon so that I will be able to have support for this effort. So if you’d like to support me, if you’d like to ask questions or talk, visit the links in the feed and yeah. I hope you enjoyed this and enjoy talking about science and politics. So have a good day. That’s Bryan White signing off with the Planetary News. Bye.

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