Where the money goes

Well with taxes due, the White House has put out this great taxpayer receipt.  My favorite part?  People can see that less than 1% of their money goes to non-defense foreign aid.  And, that most of it is going to defense and health and income support for older Americans.

Also reminds me of this great chart from Ezra a while back:

budgetforeignaid.jpg

Photo of the day

Nice article in the N&O yesterday about how Raleigh is a city very much defined by having so many trees.  It really is a great feature.  The following picture is taken from a tall building in downtown Raleigh.

Meanwhile, right down the road at my home in suburban Cary, there’s also lots of trees.  When I describe my neighborhood to those from NoVA (where I grew up) I often say it reminds of Springfield, but with more trees.  The photo below is the google satellite photo of my neighborhood.

This post gets the “political” tag because as the article nicely points out, this is not an accident, but rather a deliberate outcome of public policy choices.

Speedy chicken

Wow– really interesting article in the times about chicken processing (no, interesting and chicken processing is not an oxymoron).  I’ve found the topic of meat productions and, especially the politics involved, to be quite interesting ever since reading Fast Food Nation (which is 10 years old, but as relevant as ever– you should read it if you have not).  Anyway, here’s the gist of what’s up:

Currently, the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors are stationed along the assembly lines in poultry plants and examine the birds for blemishes, feces or visible defects before they are processed.

Under the planned expansion, the agency would hand over these duties to poultry plant employees, while the inspectors would spend more time evaluating the plant’s bacteria-testing and other safety programs. The department has run the pilot program in 20 poultry plants since 1998.

But many of the agency’s inspectors said the proposal puts consumers at risk for diseases like those caused bysalmonella. About 1.2 million cases of food poisoning are caused by salmonella each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In affidavits given to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers, several inspectors who work at plants where the pilot program is in place said the main problem is that they are removed from positions on the assembly line and put at the end of the line, which makes it impossible for them to spot diseased birds.

So, here’s the question, would you rather have dreaded government bureaucrats who’s sole responsibility is to the general public to make sure that they are not eating diseased chicken, or plant employees, who can be fired, punished, etc., for doing things that cost the plant money?   Hmmmm.  If that’s a tough one you may be a libertarian.  And you can put the power of the market to work and not by chicken after you get salmonella poison.  This is a great example of why we have government assume important functions like this.  As in much of life, it’s all about incentives.  The incentive of government meat inspectors is to keep their jobs and to keep the meat safe.  These incentives are not in conflict.  Alas, these same incentives are in conflict when the inspector is an employee of the company as he knows that every discarded chicken is costing the company money and they won’t be happy about it.  That’s not a recipe for healthy food.  Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s this:

The inspectors also said the Agriculture Department proposal allows poultry plants to speed up their assembly lines to about 200 birds per minute from 140, hampering any effort to examine birds for defects.

“It’s tough enough when you are trying to examine 140 birds per minute with professional inspectors,” said Stan Painter, a federal inspector in Crossville, Ala., a small town near Huntsville. “This proposal makes it impossible.”

I accept that this in, indeed, 1940’s technology, presumably because nothing more effective as a human visual inspection has been invented as a first-line defense.   I just don’t see how that kind of speed increase without dramatic changes in technology can be good.  I also really like Yglesias‘ point on this:

Is there some particular crisis that’s prompting us to want faster-processed, somewhat less safe chickens? It seems to me that as time goes on and America gets richer, we should become more willing to bear the costs involved in thorough inspections, not less.

Exactly. On a personal level, since my graduate school days moving to my “flush with cash” faculty days I’m personally much more willing to bear the costs of safer (and more humane) meat, which is why I try and purchase most of it at Whole Foods.

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