Richard Lindgren

Iowa rent-seekers meet Adam Smith

Richard Lindgren is Emeritus Professor of Business at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, now retired in Gulf Coast Florida. He blogs at godplaysdice.com.

When economists talk about rent-seeking, they are usually not referring to literal payments to temporarily use someone else’s physical property. Except in Iowa:

“[Iowa Governor Kim] Reynolds proposes that retired farmers no longer be taxed on cash rent for their farmland…”

More about how economists define rent-seeking differently from Iowa farmers in a moment, but here is the key point — This is not about the retired farming couple who earns $20,000 in cash rent on their paid-for farmland on top of their Social Security income. Income taxes are among the least of worries for this couple. They are likely paying nothing or very little in either federal or state income tax. And in rural Iowa today, these folks likely have many more pressing needs that could be met by an effective state government, but they won’t be.

Instead, this is all about the retired farmers who would receive $100,000 or more in cash rent, either to avoid passing the land on to younger farmers or as part of a complex tax scheme involving their children’s inheritance.

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Drinking water, vaccines, and the tragedy of the commons

 Richard Lindgren is Emeritus Professor of Business at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, now retired in Gulf Coast Florida. He blogs at godplaysdice.com.

Before a planned international trip for a humanitarian non-governmental organization a few years ago, I received cholera and typhoid vaccinations as part of a set of several jabs administered by Iowa’s Polk County Health Department. Despite some transient ill effects, I survived to tell the tale, one more unsung miracle performed daily without fanfare by the protectors of our public health.

In 1854, Dr. John Snow physically mapped out London’s cholera epidemic of that year and demonstrated that cholera is a water-borne disease, that outbreak mostly tied to a single sewage-contaminated water well. It took a very bad year of sewage stench four years later before the city committed money to begin building the most impressive sewer system in the world for its day in order to protect the common water supply.

The contamination of London’s water supply was a classic example of “the tragedy of the commons.” And in Iowa it still is! Governor Kim Reynolds managed to gloat recently over a long-needed plan to spend $100 million to improve Iowa’s often stinky, fertilizer-and-hog-manure-contaminated public water supplies. The new money, she said in her official press release, comes from some mysterious “ARPA.” Unsaid is that this is the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” enacted over the opposition of every Republican in Congress.

The larger “commons” in 2021 is not London’s drinking water, rather it is our own public health, of which our drinking water is but a part. Our public health, too, has begun to stink.

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Let’s pretend rural Iowa is Mars

Richard Lindgren: A “Mars-on-Earth New City” project is far easier to do, much cheaper, and with much more immediate societal benefit if you pick a spot in America’s struggling heartland. -promoted by Laura Belin

So, I have watched the bizarre unpiloted, billion-dollar carnival ride that took Jeff Bezos into the barest edge of “space.” We are looking at spending more billions of dollars as a collective society to pursue a goal of living on the moon or Mars, for some just for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but also because some fear that a future Earth may cease to be inhabitable.

Here is a simple brain game: What if we pretended that some place on Earth with challenges to daily habitability is a viable way-station for Mars, and spend our research dollars there instead? I nominate rural southern Iowa, where storm clouds hover over the future. I’m serious.

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When public health gets political

Richard Lindgren: The “commonweal” of public health has taken a back seat to political resentment and anti-science myths propagated by social media. -promoted by Laura Belin

Despite a strong start at vaccinating its populace against COVID-19, my former home state of Iowa has begun to slip in the national rankings in its percentage of vaccinated residents. In Texas, some hospital workers have taken their management to court to fight suspensions for refusing the vaccine, despite experiencing over 52,000 deaths of Texans from COVID in those same hospitals.

What is going on here? Sometimes a simple scatter-graph tells a great story:

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Chasing Benford's Law down an election rabbit hole

Richard Lindgren first posted this essay at Godplaysdice.com. Radiolab has now uploaded a good podcast with similar conclusions. -promoted by Laura Belin

Benford’s Law is a fun statistical phenomenon that my own blog has explored a couple of times, most notably here, because of its usefulness in financial auditing. Benford has gained a sudden new popularity among 2020 election conspiracy sites, alleging huge vote rigging, but only in states where Donald Trump lost. However, this technique is invariably misused and misunderstood in these applications, and so, this is my attempt at some clarity.

We will start out with a good application of Benford’s Law, but if you want to skip right to the bad election vote-counting use, just drop down to the second header.

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Donald Trump's tax problems revisited

Richard Lindgren: “When I run the numbers, Donald Trump appears to own, to use a phrase a business colleague described him with in the 1990s Atlantic City era, a ‘zero-billion-dollar business.'” -promoted by Laura Belin

Ever since I began my own blog in January of 2018, Donald Trump’s “not-normal” finances have been in my head and have been discussed numerous times. Now that the media frenzy over his Covid diagnosis has abated somewhat, perhaps we can get back to Trump’s financial frauds. In light of the recent excellent reporting from the New York Times and others, this is a look back at what I got right and what I got wrong in some early posts about Trump’s wealth and taxes.

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