Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Challenge to legislators

2/10/2014

I am presenting an open invitation to state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, and state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, to provide a glimpse of our economic future (not religious, not political — just economic/technical), as they envision Kansans in, say, 20 to 30 years. I am asking each of them to provide their vision, in a short written form — some might call it a portion of their world view — after looking at one of the below three variations on one question (just one per legislator) is all that is requested.

• Farm/rural Kansas: How many farmers (example, percent of current numbers — 90 percent, 50 percent and 10 percent) still will be needed for farming? How many people in the rural counties? What will they do for a living (if not farming)? Who will own the farmland?

I am presenting an open invitation to state Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, and state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, to provide a glimpse of our economic future (not religious, not political — just economic/technical), as they envision Kansans in, say, 20 to 30 years. I am asking each of them to provide their vision, in a short written form — some might call it a portion of their world view — after looking at one of the below three variations on one question (just one per legislator) is all that is requested.

• Farm/rural Kansas: How many farmers (example, percent of current numbers — 90 percent, 50 percent and 10 percent) still will be needed for farming? How many people in the rural counties? What will they do for a living (if not farming)? Who will own the farmland?

• City/urban Kansas: What kinds of non-farm-related jobs will middle-class Kansans be working? Given corporations’ (like Walmart and Boeing) tendencies at work to lower the average pay of average Americans in competition with second- and third-world countries, where will it stop?

• What will technology’s effects be on the future of Kansans? Pick one (or more) new type of technology and tell us what it will do to life in Kansas. Given Amazon.com’s and Google’s advances in robotics, 80 percent to 90 percent of the human employees at American Eagle and Walmart distribution centers could be replaced by machines at any time.  

I also ask that our legislators provide one technological fact from the present age supporting their expectations of Kansas 20 to 30 years from now. I won’t ask them to go into this cold, as I provide below more examples and details to work with.

Kansas farmland prices have doubled, tripled, quadrupled per acre in many parts of the state versus what they were before the Great Recession, that is just during the past six to seven years. This rise is partially a result of the federal government encouraging the use of corn whiskey/ethanol in gas tanks. The possibility of sitting on top of oil- and natural gas-filled shale also has helped to inflate land prices. With all the reasons it has risen, the price of farmland in many parts of Kansas has been driven up, so the price of a quarter section of land that was $200,000 might now go for $800,000. How many young farmers are going to be able to buy farmland at those prices?  Who can be buying it? Will hedge funds, investment clubs, foreign nationals (Chinese) control our land? WIRED magazine reports this month that financial advisers are telling their clients to buy farmland and water rights as a hedge against climate change.

If the owners don’t live here, how are we going to make sure the land is managed properly for future generations to use for farming? Or are we going to let them, as the landowners, turn it all into waste dumps/desert? If we push all the costs of government, including schools down to the very local level, will there be anybody left in the rural counties to pay for, then use any of these resources? Is it more likely the people who cannot own or farm the land will leave for the big city in search of jobs?  Will there be enough jobs in the big city for these people who move?  

     Wichita already is reported to have 2,200 homeless children in the Wichita school district — not just poor, homeless. Obviously, there are some parents attached to these children? How should we be training both the parents and their children to prepare for the future?

Siemens and various other companies are telling the world how they are using 3D printing to make parts for gas turbines and jet engines, for immediate use. This eliminates FedEx/UPS/USPS delivering parts to the boonies, warehousing in a nearby city, using local machinists, designers or other support personnel. Yes. It would appear many local jobs will be going away.

What good jobs will survive our rapid introduction of technology into every aspect of our lives, while our fellow Kansans also remain in competition with second- and third-world nations for jobs? Will there be enough of those new jobs to keep everybody — the ones who want to work — gainfully employed? Will those jobs be first-tier jobs (bringing money into the towns and cities) or just second- and third-tier positions (briefly rolling over the money in the towns and cities before it leaves the area)? Good jobs are defined as ones that won’t require such government subsidies as food stamps, income tax credits and health insurance.

     Of course, I could ask if our state government is or will be prepared to help our fellow citizens be ready for the world our legislators envision ... but that is a future discussion.

— John Holland,

Ottawa

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