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File Under “Things I Never Thought I Would Blog About”

An article by Heather Mac Donald in City Journal has alerted me to the queering of agriculture:

Another day in academia, another twist in the bizarre world of identity studies. The Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is presenting a talk next week on “Queering Agriculture,” dedicated to the proposition that “it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture.”

My first reaction, after reading the above paragraph, was: “Is it [absolutely crucial], though?” Don’t get me wrong, I believe queer studies is a legitimate field of study, to which some resources should be dedicated, but… in relation to agriculture?

But then I thought better. Even though Heather Mac Donald’s book The Burden of Bad Ideas is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in the last year, I disagree with her takedown of the queering-of-agriculture research in the City Journal article I link to above. My view on research topics is this: Let the market decide what is and what isn’t worthy of being researched. If there is a demand for it, this type of research should be conducted, published, and discussed.

My reaction stems from having encountered several people in the past who weren’t shy about letting me know that they thought the research I was doing was completely devoid of interest.

I could have chosen to become like those people, and be dismissive of what I have never spent much time thinking about. Instead, I vowed to meet others on the level, so to speak. No matter what those past naysayers thought, however, here I am still conducting the same kind of research, and getting paid even better to do so and talk about it. So my view is this: Let ideas compete openly. What’s the worst that is going to happen? Having a more diverse agricultural sector? That would be a good thing.

Still, queer studies and agriculture are two things I never thought I would witness the marriage of, as those are fairly distant corners of academia.

ht: Eddy Elmer.

The Political Economy of US Agricultural Policy on the EconTalk Podcast

Jayson has blogged about it already, but I just recently found the time to listen to UC Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner’s appearance on Russ Roberts’ EconTalk podcast.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dan’s work (and if you have any interest in food or agricultural policy, you really have no excuse for not being familiar with it), he discusses the political economy of agricultural policy.

Of specific interest to me (and, I suspect, to many readers of this blog), starting at about the 48th minute of the podcast, Dan talks about the international consequences of US agricultural policy. The link above also includes links to many interesting readings, to web resources, and to other podcasts on related topics.

Is Necessity the Mother of Invention? The Induced Innovation Hypothesis

My office on the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is in a building called Ruttan Hall. Our building, which until recently bore the awful name of Classroom Office building, was given a new name in 2010 to commemorate Vernon W. Ruttan‘s (1924-2008) contribution to agricultural and applied economics as well as to our department, of which he was head from 1965 to 1970.

Vernon W. Ruttan.

I unfortunately never got a chance to meet Vern Ruttan, but I had heard of him long before I joined the department. Among other things, he became well known for his work on the induced innovation hypothesis. The induced innovation hypothesis goes something like this: When the price of a factor of production increases sharply relative to the price of other factors of production, making that factor more costly to use in production, ceteris paribus, society will innovate by developing technologies that economize on that factor of production–in other words, the change in the price of that factor has induced innovation.

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