The Philosopher's Tinker Room


Topsoil Thoughts

by Glen Wallace

What is the timeline of the predicted length of time that industrial scale farming will be able to continue in the midwestern section of the US?  I’m working under the assumption that topsoil is being lost faster than it is being replaced by the current crop cycle.  My understanding is that the soil is being lost quicker than it is being replaced.  I’m concerned that the doom and gloom chicken little sky is falling predictions about topsoil loss may be ignored in a ‘cry wolf’ reaction to other environmental predictions that either haven’t panned out or have not been realized on the time scale predicted by the alarmists.  I’m thinking of the worst case scenarios that haven’t yet come to fruition such as those involving rainforest destruction, peak oil and the gulf oil offshore drilling accident.  However, I think that the near complete loss of topsoil scenario is a real possibility that could pan out as predicted — if so, I think the results could be catastrophic.

Topsoil has a necessarily large content percentage that is organic matter — that is, it is largely made up of living or once living  matter.  Therefore, engineers cannot synthesize topsoil from something non living like petroleum oil or coal.  Current industrial scale farmers are using the ‘savings deposit’ of thousands if not millions of years of grasslands and forest growth and withering cycles that have built up a deposit of many feet of topsoil that will only last so long at the current rate of topsoil spending.  But once it’s gone, there is not enough available topsoil on the planet to replace any near complete depletion of vast swaths of midwestern farmland — even if we had the sorts of equipment to spread all that dirt, which we don’t.  Imagine all the dumptrucks needed to haul all that dirt when you think how even a small city lot garden needs a whole dump truck load to fill it in sufficiently.  But even if we could find all those dump trucks and soil spreaders, where would we find the mountains of topsoil that could be used to spread to sufficient depth over hundreds of square miles of midwestern farmland?  No such mountain of  topsoil exists.  But if there is no topsoil, there will be no crops.  If there is no crops then people will starve and we will be seeing famine.

I got to thinking about this topic when looking at the backyard garden and a particular patch where in a previous year I piled a rather large mound of raked up leaves one fall to cover up a patch of an invasive species of plant.   The place where the mound of leaves was seems to be rather fertile now, but there is no noticeable rise in the level of dirt above that of the surrounding soil.  So, it takes a lot of leaves and plant matter over a lot of years to yield a significant material gain in the mass of topsoil needed to grow crops or any other plant.

So, how many years has intensive, factory scale farming been going on compared to how many years the topsoil was being built up naturally, before the farming began?

Ok, I’ve done a little bit of research on the subject matter since the first rough draft of the above essay, and I still have more questions than answers.  What is clear is that not sufficient empirical study is being paid to the question of topsoil loss.  There should be hundreds if not thousands of regular measurement readings involving poking some sort of ruler in the form of a rod into the ground to measure the depth of the soil until bedrock or hardpan is reached.  We need to find out if the crop waste such as corn stalks and bean plants left to wither on and into the ground is adding less than, the same or more mass and volume to the soil than ‘withdrawals’ by way of wind and water erosion.  Well, maybe that is being done and I just need to do some more reading and research to find out.  But it is a little remarkable how little popular attention is paid to the subject of topsoil loss when one considers the monumental importance of the subject — we all need to eat.  And once the soil gets washed down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, there is no practical way to retrieve and desalinate all that soil once it reaches the salty seawaters of the Gulf.  The best thing to do is prevent the soil from being washed away in the first place.  I saw a very short documentary on the subject that I will post below that is put out by the Environmental Working Group that gives a glimpse into what is already being done and more that should be done by farmers and legislators regarding topsoil loss.  I think that organization is a good resource on the subject matter at hand and I think I will be looking into their findings and ideas on the matter of topsoil loss.

Environmental Working Group’s ‘Losing Ground’ short documentary about topsoil loss




Government and Regulations as an advocate for the ‘little guy’

The following is my comment I posted in response to this this article


by Glen Wallace

The ‘protected class’ referred to in your article is referring to protection by way of the circumstance of relative wealth. But, what I see as a fundamental oversight by those freemarket advocates in the ‘protected class’ is that some level of protection can be afforded to lower and middle classes by way of the government in the form of rules and regulations. As an example of that oversight by freemarket advocates, I need only present an email from this site ( I received back on May 25, titled ‘Inside: Highlights from Day 3 of the SIC 2017’ that included a brief summary of the Strategic Investors Conference including one short paragraph that stated:

“Regulation was also discussed, with Faber receiving a round of applause for a passionate soliloquy deriding laws and regulations. “It is your duty to fight the government every day,” he said.”

Given the high entry fee to that SIC conference I think it is safe to say that most likely every member of that audience giving Faber a round of applause is a member of the ‘protected class’ protected by the circumstance of wealth. For Faber and his audience there at the conference, I don’t think they understand from a personal experience level, having to rely on the government and regulations to protect them from exploitation and harm by some ruthless capitalist member of the ‘protected class’.

The wealthy typically can afford to live far away from a factory or plant, so no need is seen to have any regulations in place restricting pollution and toxic discharge from those sites — the affluent can avoid the effluent. It is typically the poorer communities that live near those plants and factories and have to breath the air and drink the water that might be contaminated by the sites pollutants. But wealthy freemarket, anti-regulation advocates seem to think — ‘why is there any need for regulations restricting pollution when I get to live so far away from the polluters?’

If Faber, or any of his wealthy audience, wants to buy a bottle of 200 dollar scotch from a storied distillery, I’m sure he has no worry that bottle of scotch might contain toxic levels of wood alcohol even if there were no proper government distillery regulations. But the working class guy who just wants a cheap drink, might have to rely on government oversight and regulations to insure that cheap bottle of whisky he bought is safe to drink — in moderation of course. But it is rich people that can afford the best of everything where a competitive marketplace can often, but not always, substitute for government regulations given the huge importance on a reputation for quality in such a market. But for the rest of us coupon clipping bargain shoppers, who are not protected by the circumstance of wealth, we are often dependent on the power of government to act as a measure against the power of business, to help ensure the products we buy are safe.

While as a leftie progressive I am willing to admit that some regulations are onerous and unnecessary, I have yet to hear a right winger freemarketeer admit that at least some regulations are very valuable in protecting the worker, the environment and the consumer from harm and exploitation by business. I usually hear arguments against regulations along the lines of letting the market decide and just file a lawsuit if harmed by a business instead of imposing regulations.

I then would counter that letting the ordinary market and judicial system be the de facto regulator is horribly flawed insofar as it is reactive, at best, where regulations are proactive. I say ‘at best’ because a business can go on harming the consumer, the worker or the environment for years before enough people notices to file a lawsuit or stop buying their products. And even if they are caught by the marketplace or are sued, the most that often happens is the business just declares bankruptcy and the executives and owners leave with all the millions they gained from all those years of exploitative business practices. And the most that could be hoped for is criminal prosecution in the most egregious cases of harm by a business. But even if there is a conviction in such cases, I am sure it is small solace to the victims. Wouldn’t it be so much better if there were some good regulations in place to proactively protect the worker, the consumer or the environment from harm in the first place?


Open letter to Senator Klobuchar regarding price spikes in insulin and other pharmaceuticals and medical devices

by Glen Wallace

Hi Senator Klobuchar, I just saw a feature on the KSTP news featuring some comments by you about the recent run-up in the price of insulin recently. I believe an ideal solution is one you and your colleagues on capitol hill have not even considered legislatively. The solution to spikes in the price of pharmaceuticals and medical devices would be for the government to take over the production and distribution of those pharmaceuticals and medical devices at cost. Currently there seems to be a habit of thinking among healthcare policy makers that traps them into assuming that the only option to getting a needed healthcare product to the patient is by way of the commercial markets.

But there shouldn’t be any barriers to the federal government taking on the role of the production and distribution of at least the medicines and devices that are outside of patent protection. And keep in mind many of the most notorious recent cases of price spikes occurred with products that were already outside of patent protection — including, but not limited to insulin and the epipen.

Also, there is a long standing precedent of the federal government owning and operating the means of production and distribution of a product — the Government Publishing Office, formerly known as the Government Printing Office, has been around for many decades manufacturing, printing, publishing and selling to individuals and institutions everything from books to pamphlets to posters and just about everything printable in between.

Therefore, there should be nothing stopping the Senate and House from mandating the opening of a Government Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Office to bypass the market and get the needed healthcare products directly to the patients at the mere cost of production.

For years now I have been seeing hearings and statements from representatives such as yourself ranging from scolding to pleading of manufacturers to try and keep their prices down. I ask you; who’s in charge here? When I hear only talk from you in the form of scolding and pleading to some Big Pharma executive, it sure looks like it is the Big Pharma companies that are the ones in charge. I thought we were a country of, by and for the people. If they will not bring the prices down, then we the people should engage that American can-do spirit, and make those products ourselves.

And this could be just the beginning — we could start building a medical system that is entirely patient driven instead of where it is now in being market driven. I think people that go into the medical profession do it first and foremost because they care about people. With a patient driven, patient based system we can have as the primary decision makers, about what medical drug or device goes into production and their prices, be those medical professionals that care about the patients and not some bean counting CEO with only a legal fiduciary responsibility to some distant shareholders.

Referenced news story about insulin prices featuring Klobuchar comments



Why hasn’t Congresswoman Betty McCollum yet cosponsored H.R. 676 Medicare for all single payer act?

I just discovered that congresswoman Betty McCollum has not yet signed on as a co-sponsor of  H.R. 676 Medicare for All bill that has already garnered 112 cosponsors.  Here is the official listing of the co-sponsors.  I thought about this after watching a Jimmy Dore youtube video where he interviews a guy who is primarying against Nancy Pelosi, who is also not yet a cosponsor and who has said words to the effect that she is against single payer.  This makes me wonder if maybe I should primary against McCollum, even though she doesn’t represent my residential district.  That would be a little ironic because congressman Jason Lewis ‘represents’ my district, but resides in McCollum’s district.

Democratic constituents, in these congressional districts that lean so heavily Democratic that the Dem candidate is all but guaranteed to get elected, should see the primaries as brass ring opportunities to get the most progressive candidate possible.  By that I mean there isn’t much of a need in those districts for a candidate to compromise in order to acquire the moderate fence sitters that might get put off by the far left progressive positions of a candidate.  But instead, it seems more so that the opposite has occurred, whereby the constituents of perennial House Democrats settle for progressive mediocrity in electing very conventional neoliberal, corporate friendly candidates.


Bernie Progressive Challenging Pelosi In Primary Speaks Out

Progressive Alexandria Ocasio Cortez Is Primarying Corporate Democrat In New York



Democratic Party Strategy

by Glen Wallace

We need a strong central government imposing regulations to protect the common man from the tyranny of the wealthy.  While, as a leftie progressive, I’m willing to admit that some regulations are onerous and unnecessary, I never seem to hear from a right wingnut regressive admitting that some regulations are helpful and needed to protect the worker, the consumer and the environment from harm or exploitation at the hands of a ruthless businessman.  It seems like the free market set want to create a social political environment where we return to the days of company towns where the residents are considered to have freedom because they aren’t physically restrained from leaving — never mind that the company town is in the middle of nowhere and none of the residents own a car or have a dime to their name that could be used to move out.

Sure, let’s remove the income tax and put in its place a federal property tax on the wealthy that covers not just real estate but any and all assets held by the top one tenth of one percent.

Good regulations are proactive whereas, any competitive marketplace without any regulation, is, at best, reactive in dealing with problems.  I say ‘at best’ because some business can go on harming customers, the environment or workers for years or decades before, or if ever, they get punished in the marketplace for their actions.

The Democratic Party could gain their biggest strength by undermining or outright removing the biggest rallying points for the political right wing.  Democrats could start by eliminating income tax for most, if not all, the 99 percent.  The loss of revenue could be compensated for by increasing the income tax on the top of the top one percent.  Additionally, there are a great number of other sources of potential revenue the could, and should be tapped — high frequency trading machine tax, VAT tax, where resource extraction on Federal lands is a given, the transaction should be designed with a fiduciary responsibility towards the owners of that land — the citizens of the U.S.  Additionally, the power over the ability to create money needs to be returned entirely to the people and taken away from the private Federal Reserve Banking system.  I’m not saying “end the Fed”.  If they want to continue as a industry association where banks can voluntarily join, that’s fine.  But monetary policy should be set by the US Treasury.  While supporters and representatives may claim that the Fed is audited and nothing untoward has been found, I would counter that there still could be something untoward going on with the Fed and its relationship to the American people it is supposed to be looking out for.  While the Fed may have only one set of accounting books, it may have two sets of strategy books.  That is, it may have a public strategy that complies with the Congressional mandate it is supposed to follow, it may have a private strategy that it instead follows that is directed at aiding the Fed’s shareholders at the expense of the American people.  For, instance, had Fed insiders known early in the 2000’s where the housing crisis was heading they could have made some strategic shorts, thus benefiting from the Fed’s strategy to blow up the housing bubble.  Then when the bubble burst, Fed insiders could have had inside knowledge of the QE program and how it would be used to boost commodities and the stock market for which the insiders could take a long position ahead of the rise.

But regardless, Democrats need to look at what is motivating the populist base of the Republican party that leads them to vote the way they have.  And then have an answer that might just persuade them to switch sides.  Remember, most of those Republican voters are not rich.  Hired disinfo agents may try to fire up that middle to lower class Republican base by complaining about wealth redistribution.  But I find it hard to believe that base will get worked up into much of a lather when hearing about how some sherry swilling, tailored suit wearing, manicured male with soft hands that never have seen a callous in its life, with a sixty thousand dollar Patek Philippe watch sitting just above those soft hands, has to fork over more in taxes — especially when that would mean those working class Republicans get to avoid paying income tax altogether.

Additionally, where regulations are concerned, show how good regulations protect the consumer, the environment and the worker from unscrupulous business owners and how a strong government acts as a measure against such businesses.  Without a strong government there is a power mismatch between the little guy and the tycoon.  But where there is unnecessary, onerous regulations, Democrats should work hard being seen to end such bad regulations while continuing to strengthen, tweak, enhance old good regulations while enacting good new regulations



Too big to fail banks are still a problem

by Glen Wallace

A decision needs to be made regarding financial institutions as to whether they are a capitalist private enterprise or a public utility — they shouldn’t try to be both at the same time.  Well, a bank can be both at the same time but we saw the consequences of attempting those dual roles in 2008.  I’m concerned though that the government regulators and politicians have not learned the valuable lessons of the great recession.  Instead there seems to continue to be an intermingling of poorly regulated or completely unregulated speculation on risky derivatives by the same financial institutions providing both needed business and personal lending, and also management of retirement and life savings of individual citizens.  If, say, the speculations on derivatives were to fail spectacularly, as they did for the failed financial institutions in 2008, would any jeopardizing of large bank standing on the losing end of those bets, amount to a corresponding jeopardization of the flow of lending capital keeping the business world running and the funds of savers entrusting their savings and investments in those jeopardized banks?  If so, then it seems that would be prudent to take measures to completely separate banks engaging in traditional lending and cautious, well regulated investing,  from investment banks that are willing to take on the risks associated with derivative trading.  A possible world needs to be envisioned where we imagine that a given bank fails, and decide whether letting it fail will jeopardize the entire economy of the country and therefore will need to be bailed out by the country or if it will be largely just a loss for the shareholders of the bank.  If it is the former, then either a separation of the risky investment banking element from the conservative traditional banking element needs to be done, or the bank needs to be broken up into smaller pieces in a manner similar to the actions by Teddy Roosevelt on Standard Oil Corporation.  We need to keep taking those measures until we wind up not having to bail out any financial institution, outside of insured deposits, regardless of the scenario.

Michael Hudson, how do we extricate the economic parasites from the main street host?

Comment I posted following the above youtube video speech by economist Michael Hudson.

by Glen Wallace

I still have some questions.  I guess my main question, from which all my other questions or concerns regarding Michel Hudson’s philosophy, revolves around how to safely extricate the parasitic elements of FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) from the main street host.  I  say, the parasitic elements of FIRE, because I think it oversimplifies things to imply that all of FIRE is a parasitic malevolent force on society.  But reading and listening to Mr. Hudson, it isn’t entirely clear to me whether he thinks all of FIRE is parasitic or for what aspects are so, how do we go about the extrication process safely.  It would seem to me that we living in a much more complicated situation insofar the parasite and the host are sharing the same ‘blood supply’, so to speak.  Therefore, just yanking off the parasite could be very hazardous to the health of the host.  While the top 5 percent may own the bulk of stock equities, I think a lot more than 5 percent of the population own a significant amount of stocks, usually through their 401k’s or 403b’s and IRA’s.  So any actions that has knock-on effect of crashing the stock market and a lengthy trough could be financially devastating to much of the remaining middle class population.  While maybe the markets and the economy could have let Citibank fall, I’m not so sure about AIG.  While lending may be currently tight, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there is still a great deal of small business lending going on with banks and credit unions providing loans for businesses very frequently.   However, if that lending were to really dry up completely as we were warned could have happened if not for the infusion of stimulus cash into the economy soon after the fall of Lehman Brothers, then wouldn’t we be facing an economic crisis on a scale severe enough to lead to a civil emergency similar to a natural disaster?

Further complicating matters, isn’t that there is a legitimate element to each area of FIRE.  How are we going to, in any parasite extraction process, separate any legitimate actors from the malevolent ones?  I’m not saying it can’t be done, but we need to make sure we aren’t throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.  To take an analogy from the movies that I think has some realistic relevance to main street finance — let’s make sure we don’t take measures that bring down the Bailey’s Savings and Loan of the world while trying to go after the Potter’s empire of the world, from the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  And to take examples not from the movies but straight from today’s economic realities — in terms of a mass discharging of debt, that sounds nice for the students facing mounting student loans but it doesn’t sound so nice for the current and future retirees expecting municipalities and corporations to meet their highly underfunded pension debt obligations.

I don’t mean to be a naysayer but we need to come up with a plan where we have covered all the bases so that we can not only answer the tough questions, but also to get to where we are to trying to go.   Indeed, I’m concerned that if we were to implement a plan, for instance, that did crash the markets and dry up small business loans, then the parasitic malevolent elements would sweep in like the Potter character from the movie previously mentioned, and say to the effect “see, you were wrong all along, so from now on let me do the thinking and planning while I buy up all of your land and shares for pennies on the dollar.”

I have all sorts of ideas myself for how to go about the parasite extraction process.  I think Bernie Sanders has some good ideas that are a good start, but I think we can safely be a lot more aggressive with progressive reforms than even he is suggesting.  For instance, I haven’t heard Sanders even mention what I think we need to delve into and that is Federal asset taxes on corporations and the top one tenth of one percent of individuals.  That, and we need to access revenue from other novel sources as well such as a Wall Street high frequency trading machine transaction tax.  We can also get revenue from increased Tariffs and Excise taxes.  We should also be better leveraging revenue when natural resources are extracted from federal lands.  Personally I would rather Federal lands be preserved as much as possible in their natural state, but if it is already decided to sell some of the land’s resources, we might as well do so in a financially responsible manner.  So, instead of selling off the rights to all the timber in a tract of Federal land in a no-reserve auction, sell the timber for the going rate per board foot just as a private landowner would.  Additionally, the US Treasury could bypass the private Federal Reserve, and increase the money supply by minting more coins in larger denominations.  Then all this new revenue and money could be used towards instituting an FDR type of civilian conservation corp like program to rebuild our nations infrastructure.  Additionally we will be needing a lot of revenue if we are to have any chance of making up for the looming pension shortfalls that, if not remedied, will be hard on not only the pensioners, but also the overall economy due to the resultant lowering of aggregate demand from retirees have much less dollars to spend in their pockets.

Single payer government health care as an incentive to bold entrepreneurship

by Glen Wallace

From the perspective of what I like to call ‘applied social political philosophy’, I prefer to bypass the whole debate about whether health care is a privilege or a right that the state is obligated to provide. Instead, I ask the question, is a society that provides universal health care coverage achieving an ideal compared to a society that doesn’t? Can that ideal be practically achieved using a reasonable level of human and material resources? If the answer to those two questions is ‘yes’, then proceed with taking steps towards the state providing universal coverage. If there isn’t yet sufficient support from the constituents for such coverage, then proceed with arguments and facts to sway them otherwise.

Regarding any counter arguments about government coverage leading to complacency, I think the facts and reasons point in the opposite direction. If memory serves me correctly, I believe I read a statistic that European nations are greatly outpacing the U.S. in rates of business startups. And given that universal single payer coverage is much more common in Europe, it would stand to reason that that difference is a fundamental reason for Europe besting the U.S. in such bootstrapping. That’s because here in America, the worker is much too dependent on their employer for health care coverage and thus discouraged from even dipping their feet into the business startup waters.

Compare the American worker with dreams of starting their own business but are wary of leaving their employer with its comfortable health insurance coverage with the Scandinavian worker who knows they and their family would be assured of health care coverage whether their business startup idea works or not. Our system of private insurance, generally provided through employment, acts as a disincentive to bold entrepreneurship. Conversely, a single payer universal coverage system, by limiting risk, would act as an incentive to the sorts of bold bootstrapping that built the United States business empire — an empire that is now showing signs of flagging compared with the rest of the developed word that wisely provides universal healthcare coverage.

VA problems are no reason to abandon single payer idea

by Glen Wallace


While some may like to point out how the VA has supposedly done such a bad job, as a reason why the government shouldn’t take over health care, they are ignoring some important counter arguments or reasons supporting government takeover.  For one, the negative accounts about the VA that people tend to refer to, are to a large extent brought to you by private, for profit, news media that gets a substantial portion of ad revenue from private insurers that have a vested interest in retaining the private health insurance system.  As a result I believe the private news programs are highlighting, focusing and magnifying the VA’s problems, while largely ignoring similar issues and problems that plague the private health insurance system.  One need only look at the online reviews of private insurers to find a plethora of examples that make those insurer’s look even worse than the VA.  And if a single payer system were implemented, then it would be more of an expansion of Medicare than an expansion of the the VA.


Before Obamacare was implemented, while listening to an NPR feature about individuals having problems with private insurers, if I remember correctly, I believe they quoted a statistic that two thirds of all individuals that declare medical bankruptcy, already had health insurance at the time of their bankruptcy.  And the reasons for such bankruptcies wasn’t just due to high deductibles, many were the result of disagreements between insurers and providers about what procedures are, or should have been covered.  As a result, a patient ends up being responsible for for medical bills they thought were covered.  Sometimes the patients can end up getting such bills lowered or covered by the insurer, but getting to that point often turns into a full time job for the patient in the form of phone calls, and negotiations with a hospital and insurer.  Hearing such stories one has to wonder “There has to be a better way!”  Well there is a better way and there also is no need to reinvent the wheel — that better way is already being used successfully in most of Europe in the form of a government run single payer health care system.

Wealth Redistribution to Lift All Boats

by Glen Wallace

The dwindling middle class indicates that the only boats rising are yachts sitting in the torpid pools of wealth amassed by the capitalist sharks. Meanwhile, the middle class tributaries are running bone dry, leaving the middle class row boats sitting on dust. Therefore, the only logical solution is to install pumps in the form of asset taxes into those stagnant wealth pools to insure that the wealth gets rerouted and redistributed back into those tributaries. Trickle down economics has been proven false time and again. However, getting money into the hands of those who will in turn put those funds back into circulation by spending it, the middle class, has been shown to have a tremendous positive knock-on effect throughout the overall economy. But to keep the economy booming you need to keep those tax pumps going to insure money doesn’t start stagnating again and rotting in those torpid wealth pools.

Everything is pointing to Hayek being completely wrong — in fact he had everything backwards. Instead of a free-market being the road to freedom, it turns out that the term ‘free-markets’ is just a rebranding of the term ‘laissez faire’. And laissez faire has always been and always will be the direct route to serfdom — and with the struggling middle class we are seeing that first hand in the form of the handywork of Hayek’s intellectual descendants, the Chicago School of economics. And despite the clear evidence that the Chicago school’s laissez faire or freemarket methods of hands-off through repeal of Glass-Steagall and lack of oversight and control of the derivatives market lead directly to the great recession, there has been little corresponding acknowledgment or recognition of the evident refutation of the Chicago School’s economic paradigm.

We can get the middle class back on its feet again, but we need judicious government oversight and regulation along with a good amount of wealth redistribution. One excellent means of redistributing the wealth would be through programs similar to FDR’s programs involving the Civilian Conservation Corp. A massive government program to repair, rebuild and reinforce our nations infrastructure would go a long ways towards getting money back into the economy and refresh and enhance the conduits of commerce. It would be a win win for everyone, including the much more heavily taxed very wealthy who didn’t even know what to do with all that they had, but with such a program, could be proud that their tax dollars were put to such good use; rebuilding a great America.