Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stoopid EPA...

The farmer's favorite bureaucratic target (except when wangling for ethanol mandates) is the EPA.  Our current ranting about "regulation" is unfocussed. This may be on purpose because closer examination might reveal the regulations being proposed are mostly to stop us from doing stuff we agree is bad: abusing animals, eroding soil, polluting water supplies, etc.

But never mentioned in the examples of EPA ineffectiveness or overshoot - and I freely admit that, like all laws, they never fit the problem exactly - are the stunning successes despised bureaucrats can accomplish.

This one few saw coming. The drop in the US crime rate.

There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb).Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans' blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future. Another economist, Rick Nevin, has made the same argument for other nations. [More]

It seems like I remember the usual carping about switching to unleaded gas.  It was "going to hurt our engines" and "cost us more". Sounds familiar.
This is one reason I am less alarmed about the claim over regulation strangling our sector's efficiency and innovativeness - that's what we always say.
It could also be grain farmers are rattling on about regulation just to divert attention away from eye-popping profits and to retain our "victim" status. 
Update: Here is an example from China about lead and children. I think the EPA decision back in the day was a good move then and this unexpected benefit is not to be despised.


Anonymous said...


In regard to more rules/regs. Over production cheapens everything...including rules & regs. I agree about the benefits of banning lead and realize some rules/regs/laws are needed. However I worry that it is too easy for them to be made by those with no real inside knowledge or experience in ag(we are only 1-2% of the populace afterall)more rules could threaten a proven, successful ag production system.
The old saying "ignorance of the law is no excuse" may have a hard time holding up when the rules/regs/laws outnumber the words of the entire bible.

With Respect,

Anonymous said...

Too many regulations in crop farming?! Huh?! What exactly is so burdensome to your current production practices? Explain to me why I have to be a accountable for every drop of manure that I apply to a neighbor's field, but that same neighbor has no such responsibility to monitor his fert/chem applications and report results for public inspection and interpretation. You can't expect to live like kings and still be welcomed among the peasants...

Anonymous said...

I chalk this one up as a fact being "massaged" by a highly effective spin machine. I am not sure if the link is a directly related to lead reduction as you say. But the spinners can make anything work.

A great example of this can be found at About halfway down it talks about an 87 year old landowner who can not get service at his local NRCS. He has to resort to writing a letter to Secy. Vilsack to get results. Yet this article trumpets this as a great thing, "look at our fast service". Laughable spin.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the intent was to lower crime by getting the lead out. I am 51 years old. I remember hearing about kids eating paint chips not "absorbing" it. Had to be pretty hungry or just stupid or some mineral graving to eat paint chips, I thought. I think the intent on getting the lead out was overall health not lowering the crime rate. Spin is right.

John Phipps said...

anon 2 & 3:

You are mistaken about this being "spin". The correlation of lead and crime rate was discovered by economists, not the EPA. As I said, nobody really anticipated this result. Scientists just knew lead and kid's brains didn't mix. It was a happy bonus from simply avoiding a hazard.

I will add a link to China's current problem with lead for perspective.

This reminds me of Gladwell's famous linkage of abortion access and crime rate.


Every time I think we are over-regulated I visit my son in the suburbs and listen to him talking about all the codes he has to meet to hang a picture or plant a tree. He finds many rules tedious but he likes what it does for his neighborhood and wouldn't move.

Also I talk to my Danish friends about being licensed to farm, and nutrient rules and discover they adapted pretty easily.

Jake in OH said...

Here is why I agree with the first two posters and say spin as well. In 2009 hunters shot 6 deer off my home farm and my corn yield was around 180 bushel. In 2010 the hunters only harvested 4 deer, and my corn yield fell to 145 bushel.

Since it is a scientific fact that deer eat corn (supported by my favorite economist, my wife), that means that deer are responsible for my drop in yields in 2010.

This is really goofy, but my point is that maybe there were causes other than lead reduction that contributed to the drop in the crime rate. How can we be sure how much, if any, the this action affected this statistic?

My vote: spin.

John Phipps said...


I assume you did not click through the link as I hoped folks would. The responses to your objections are best answered there. Lead is not the only contributor to the decline, of course, but it appears to be the leading cause.

The correlation coefficient of your example is quite low, I would bet. The study cited in the post showed a much higher statistical linkage. It is the value of the strength of the correlation that matters most, not its existence.

I have found no examples of economists who have disputed the Reyes study findings.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1 here,
Again, I realize some rules/regs are needed. But don't punish us for being successful. I believe many are passed without solid justification. Just because others have more rules/regs than I, doesn't make it right to issue more to the rest of us. I think we are like the frog in the frying pan. Not realizing the heat(rules/regs) is gradually being turned up.