The end of diversity initiatives?

I recently overheard a business person in a leadership position say he was glad that we (referring to a broad collective of business, industry, education, and government organizations) have invested in training and action related to expanding diversity in our workplaces. But, he then said those programs “are kind of all the same” and reasoned that they’re not needed anymore. One could argue that we’ve made great strides in increasing diversity; but I would suggest we have only scratched the surface.

The United States is becoming more diverse every single day (US Census Bureau, 2016). So it’s a valid argument to say our teachers should reflect the look of their classroom students, or the administration (of any given organization) should reflect the composition of its constituents.

But there are much deeper reasons for continuing our quest for diversity. (Our CFAES diversity team outlines numerous examples here.)

Let’s consider problem solving. When faced with a complex issue, would you rather tackle it alone, or pull resources from a number of people who can give perspectives that greatly enhance the number of approaches for solution? The business community has long deployed strategies for looking at problems in diverse ways in order to reach better solutions. It positively impacts their bottom line.

Problem solving is but one example. The principle applies in many, many situations.

So how might we reconsider diversity initiatives? What might we do (personally and collectively) to change our thinking the next time we receive an email announcing another diversity training?

I suggest starting with the iceberg. We have all seen the analogy. Ninety percent of a person’s background, composition, identity, etc. is hidden beneath the water line. We see only 10% on the external surfaces. But here’s the catch:  Even though I KNOW about the iceberg analogy, it doesn’t always come to mind when I’m interacting, or making a decision, or deleting an email. So if we can try being deliberate about remembering the iceberg, it just might help.

You might also endeavor to learn more about yourself. I have taken several of the modules in the free online Harvard Implicit Bias test. They provide hints about our often-unrecognized biases and help us move beyond. They take only 5 or 10 minutes!

Even small steps like these outlined here can make a positive difference. I encourage you to give them a try.

SOURCES:

US Census Bureau. Retrieved 9/13/17 from: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045216

Brian Raison is an Assistant Professor and Field Specialist, Community and Organizational Leadership.

Plastic Cigar Tips: A Growing (and Gross) Problem on Ohio’s Beaches

In a relatively short period of time plastic has become the most common form of garbage found in the Earth’s oceans, lakes, and other waters. Sadly, coastal residents of Great Lakes states have become quite accustomed to seeing plastic. Almost 80% of trash found on beach cleanups in the region in recent years has been identified as plastic 1. This is especially evident along the southern beaches of Lake Erie, where high population and industrial development have contributed to the plastics problem. In Ohio, the most common items found are cigarettes and other smoking related materials, including plastic cigar tips.

In total, cigar tips account for about 14% of all smoking related debris on Ohio beaches 2. These trends are especially noticeable on beaches found near Ohio’s largest coastal city, Cleveland, and its surrounding communities. Given the growing awareness of the issue, and the impact of plastics on beaches throughout the Great Lakes, my colleague with Ohio Sea Grant, Jill Bartolotta, and I convened a focus group to investigate strategies to help address the problem. The group was comprised of individuals with practical knowledge of plastic cigar tip use and disposal issues, including representatives of government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, community groups, and local academic institutions.

The first questions the group discussed centered on the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of the problem. When asked what local residents think about the topic, all agreed that people are well aware and not happy about the abundance of cigar tips found along Lake Erie’s shore. When asked why this matters, group members suggested that it affects the benefits of living in a community, like neighborhood pride and public health, as well as the social, environmental, and financial viability of local neighborhoods. This leads us to the how of the matter. How can decision makers successfully combat the problem of plastic cigar tips?

In order to figure out how to reduce the amount of cigar tips on area beaches, we first asked focus group members what prevents smokers from throwing their tips in the garbage. Responses ranged from ‘not enough smoking disposal receptacles’ to a ‘lack of receptacles in high traffic areas’ and ‘no receptacles specifically for cigar tips.’ Group members also cited social barriers, such as ‘long-term user habits,’ ‘social norms that validate use of cigars,’ and ‘difficulty reaching the population of smokers with proper disposal messaging.’

Ultimately, the group came up with a set of recommendations for helping to reduce plastic cigar tip litter in the area. Some suggestions were obvious, like ‘creating more designated smoking areas with proper disposal receptacles’ and ‘developing education and outreach on public signage.’ Others were more nuanced, like reward programs and mail in rebates, tax increases, deposit programs, and strict age enforcement by vendors. One constant among all ideas was an emphasis on positive messaging. Instead of negative campaigns that instruct people to “quit smoking,” the focus should be on education and community-based solutions. The group suggested educating people about the connection between swimming and drinking water, along with other public health issues. In the end, the most enthusiastic recommendation was to focus on neighborhood beautification and Cleveland pride. As locals will tell you, Cleveland is The Land of Champions! Not an ashtray.


References

  1. Driedger, A.G.J., Durr, H.H., Mitchell, K., and Cappellen, P.V. 2015. “Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A Review.” Journal of Great Lakes Research. 41 (1): 9-19.
  2. Adopt a Beach Program. 2015. “Litter Report: Raw Data from Great Lakes Beach Cleanups.” Cigar tip percentage calculated by Jill Bartolotta, Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Ohio State University Extension, May 19, 2016.

Scott Hardy is an Extension Educator for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

Can Solar Energy Save Money for your Farm or Business? Tips to Separate Fact from Fiction

Advances in technology and policy mandates that require the installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar have contributed to the reduction of system costs. In recent years, both the power and efficiency of solar panels have steadily improved, while the cost of solar panels have dropped dramatically. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the average cost to install a commercial PV solar system in the United States has decreased from $5.23 per watt (DC) in 2009 to $2.13 per watt (DC) in 2016[i]. The declining cost of equipment and installation makes installing a solar system enticing for many agricultural producers, and PV panels are an increasingly common sight on farms across Ohio.

The declining cost of installing a PV solar system is enticing for many agricultural producers. However, while solar may provide an attractive payback on some farms, every farm is unique and evaluating the financial viability of investing in solar requires careful consideration of system design, costs, and modeling assumptions.

Key Steps in Project Evaluation:

  • Plan and prepare – Be curious and careful! Investing in on-farm PV solar requires a significant up-front investment that will involve numerous contracts, spanning decades. It is important to review resources and conduct a detailed project assessment before signing any paperwork.
  • Compare and contrast – Secure three or four project quotes to analyze various proposals and modeling assumptions (e.g., system production, net excess generation, energy escalation, incentives, operations and maintenance costs).
  • Research and review – Understand the equipment and shop around! Just as tractors and agricultural equipment have unique features, not all solar projects are created equal. Investigate your various proposals and identify the key difference between the system design, equipment, and warranties (e.g., type and efficiency of solar panel, string inverters or micro inverters, panel warranty, inverter warranty, installation warranty, ground mount or rooftop design, galvanized or stainless fasteners).
  • Discuss and debate – Review the project proposals with your utility provider and your tax professional to evaluate the project assumptions, contracts, and financial implications and/or benefits.

Extension Resources – Solar Electric Investment Analysis Bulletin Series 

Solar Bulletin SeriesEvaluating the financial investment in solar requires careful consideration of system costs, the value of production, and operation and maintenance costs. Unfortunately, some proposals are hard to understand making it difficult to make fully informed investment decisions. To help simplify the key considerations of evaluating a PV solar project, the University of Wyoming and Ohio State University partnered to develop a bulletin series that clarifies the information and assumptions that are essential to the assessment process. The bulletins listed below, are structured as a six-part series arranged to systematically progress the reader through the project evaluation process.

Part 1: Estimating System Production – Site-specific factors such as shading, orientation, tilt, temperature, and panel degradation can influence the amount of electricity produced by a PV solar system.

Part 2: Assessing System Cost – A better understanding of direct system costs, indirect capital costs, operations and maintenance, and standard assumptions provides a more accurate financial analysis, fostering informed investment decisions.

Part 3: Forecasting the Value of Electricity – To calculate energy savings for a project, one must consider important variables, including the details of the individual rate structure and the assumed energy escalation rate that influence the value of electricity a PV system produces.

Part 4: Understanding Incentives – Despite declining costs for PV solar, there are various federal, state, and local incentives which greatly affect the financial viability of a PV installation.

Part 5: Conducting a Financial Analysis – Understanding the solar resource production, system cost, value of electricity, and available incentives enables a robust financial analysis. Accurately evaluating the viability of a solar project requires understanding financial concepts such as simple payback, net present value, and the levelized cost of energy.

Part 6: PV Solar Example – The National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed the System Advisory Model (SAM) to help developers, installers, and potential system owners estimate the system production and financial impacts of renewable energy projects.

These materials are designed to increase participants’ knowledge of PV solar energy development and the financial considerations to guide informed decision-making with future investments. This six-part bulletin series and additional materials are available for download at: energizeohio.osu.edu/farm-solar-energy-development.

Interested in Learning More?….Join Us at Farm Science Review!

The 2017 Farm Science Review (FSR) will be held September 19-21 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. Farm Science Review offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the latest agricultural innovations from experts from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. The Small Farm Center at the Farm Science Review features 27 educational programs suited to smaller farms, with particular emphasis on alternative enterprises, alternative production systems and alternative marketing strategies.

If you plan to attend the FSR and are interested in additional information on solar energy in agriculture, please join us for the 50-minute presentation titled, Considerations for Investing in Solar Energy for Your Small Farm on Thursday September 21, at 12:00 p.m. at the Small Farms Center Tent located at the corner of Corn Avenue and Beef Street.

For additional information, please click here to review a complete list of educational sessions and demonstrations offered at the 2017 Farm Science Review.

____________________________________________

[i] Fu, R., Chung, D., Lowder, T., Feldman, D., Ardani, K., and Margolis R. (2016).  U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2016, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

 

Eric Romich is an Assistant Professor & Extension Field Specialist for Energy Development with OSU Extension.

Rollin’ on the River

Dr. Michael Drake

Ohio State President Michael V. Drake. Photo credit: Kevin Fitzsimons.

A crisp, sunny, blue-sky morning greeted Ohio State President Michael V. Drake, along with Dr. Cathann Kress, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, other OSU staff, students, and guests as they visited southeast Ohio’s Washington County. The group boarded the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, built and operated by a local family to journey the Muskingum River. The fog had lifted to reveal the calm and gently flowing river banked on each side by lush green vegetation. Just over the top of the riverbank, homes could be seen in the City of Marietta. Perhaps with the rhythmic splash of the paddle of the sternwheeler, these passengers could imagine years long ago and the early pioneers who would establish Marietta and Washington County.

The Treaty of Paris greatly opened expansion of territories west of the Appalachian Mountains.  In need of revenue and in payment to Revolutionary War veterans, the lands in the Northwest Territory were established with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. Rufus Putnam, who was appointed Chief of Engineers by General George Washington, along with Manasseh Cutler and two other Continental Army officers, formed the Ohio Company of Associates and bought over 1,000,000 acres of land in the Northwest Territory. In 1788, with Putnam as their leader, 48 Revolutionary War veterans settled at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, founding Marietta as the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory. In accordance with the terms of the Northwest Ordinance, the settlers began the establishment based on legal basis land ownership, organized government, natural rights and prohibition of slavery. Later, Marietta and surrounding communities would become key locations in the Underground Railroad.

The Northwest Ordinance held language that carried forward the concept of land grants to support education. Arthur St. Clair (first governor of the Northwest Territory) originally chartered the American Western University to be the public university in the settlement (between Chillicothe and Marietta); however, the university never opened under that name. The next charter two years later established the first university in the territory: Ohio University. Rufus Putnam served as a trustee of the university for twenty years. Mr. Putnam also originated Muskingum Academy in 1797, a predecessor to Marietta College.

Just as the Northwest Ordinance presented opportunities for expansion, The Ohio State University offers opportunities for expansion of knowledge, careers, and development of social and economic initiatives. Visiting various areas of our great state gives our students, faculty, and staff a broader understanding of the impacts made by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Valley Gem Sternwheeler

Valley Gem Sternwheeler. Photo Credit: Kevin Fitzsimons.

Marietta and Washington County, Ohio invite you to visit. Plan a ride on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler and enjoy the many historical sites and scenic beauty of the area. The Columbus Dispatch’s recent article “Marietta preserves its past as Ohio’s oldest city,” describes many visitor attractions. For more visitor information visit: http://mariettaohio.org.

Darlene Lukshin is an OSU Extension Program Specialist (Washington County & Buckeye Hills EERA).

Watch What You Throw Out! The Fundamentals of Recycling

Trash . . . it’s ugly, probably smelly, and something we tend not to think twice about once we set it on the curb or in the dumpster. Did you know the average American generates about 4.4 pounds of waste, per day? Americans produced an estimated 254 million tons of trash in 2013, and of this amount, 87 million tons or 34.3% was recycled or composted. If these numbers are surprising to you, read further to learn how to properly reduce and recycle your waste!

What can you recycle?

  • Aluminum & Steel Cans
  • Paper & Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Glass – Glass makes up 6% of items in the landfill and it takes over 1 million years to decompose
  • Plastic – did you know the average US citizen uses 200 lbs of plastic each year? Of this amount, only 3% is recycled.
  • Electronics & Batteries – for more information research your county’s recycling program or call your local electronic company (Staples, Best Buy).

Remember these tips to be a pro at recycling: lightly wash out bottles or containers, keep the caps of bottles or jars on, and always review what recyclables are collected in your county or you risk your entire bin being dumped in the landfill.

Recyclables are commonly collected in two ways – they are either sorted into their respective materials at site pickup, or all recyclables are thrown together and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for sorting. The MRF’s will sort the recyclables by hand and/or machine and then materials are sent off to manufacturers who utilize the recycled items to make new products.

It’s a challenge to understand the importance and impact recycling can have when you don’t see the end result, but it is essential to reducing your carbon footprint and total waste generated. While recycling aids in reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills, there are two important steps you should take if you are interested in reducing your overall waste generation:

  1. Reduce – For many of us, we have ignored the common conveniences we have, such as plastic bags at the grocery store. Easy fixes like bringing a reusable bag, or even reusing plastic bags, will reduce the amount of unrecyclable material you are already consuming. Also be conscious of putting produce into separate plastic bags; you can always mix produce in one and leave it open for the cashier to weigh separately. Ain’t no shame in this reusable shopping bag game!
  1. Reuse – Repurpose recyclable items such as glass jars for pantry storage, water bottles, or even to plant some herbs!

Make sure to check out your county’s local recycling program for specifics on what can be recycled! And to learn more about plastic pollution and how long it takes for items to decompose, check out fix.com/blog/reduce-plastic-use/.

Sources:

2013 Solid Waste Data – archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/

Recycling Facts and Material Statistics – cuyahogarecycles.org/environment_recycling_facts

“Recycle the possibilities are endless” – threerivers.gov.uk/egcl-page/rubbish-waste-and-recycling

Materials Recovery Center (MRC) –  www3.epa.gov/recyclecity/recovery.htm

Lauren Vargo is a Program Coordinator, CD/ANR (Cuyahoga County & Western Reserve EERA).

How I live with the 7 Habits

Have you ever had a to-do list longer than your grocery list? I know I have. It’s especially hard on those days when you walk into the office and immediately have to pick up the phone that’s been ringing, and fix the error message on the copier as you walk by, and maybe five other things before you even get the chance to get your coat off. Days like these have a tendency of pushing you to your limit, and it’s days like these that leave us emotionally exhausted. So what do we do to live with this?

Success/Stress SignWhat my team did was adopt Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We spent two days in a training learning about ourselves, our teams, and how to work more effectively with ourselves and each other. We learned in this training the 7 habits we can practice that will lead our lives down a less stressful path while maximizing our productivity. A couple of the habits I use every day are Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and my team often uses Synergize.

I’m practicing being proactive by keeping my goals in my foresight while focusing on the tasks that will get me there. In my position as a project coordinator, this helps me plot out what my day-to-day tasks will be while still looking ahead to the end goal. This helps me better be able to begin with the end in mind because when I start a task I make sure I know why I’m doing this in the first place. By keeping in mind where I want to be in the future, I’m able to work together with my team day to day and let our vision of the future guide our daily decisions.

My team synergizes by working together on multifaceted projects, each of us bringing something unique to the table. Some of us have more relationship building skills and others are more analytical. We pride ourselves in cultivating these strengths and delegating tasks to the person whom we know will excel in that area. We are better teammates and more effective employees when we are able to do the things we enjoy.

The 7 Habits has, so far, impacted the way I work. I pay more attention to what is necessary compared to what is just a distraction. With the help from my team, we have been able to create processes that eliminate distractions which increase our productivity. With a director who cultivates a culture of efficiency and effectiveness, we are marching into the future with our new habits.

Reference:

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic ([Rev. Ed.].). New York: Free Press.

Kori Montgomery is an Office Associate at the Alber Enterprise Center located at The Ohio State University at Marion.

13 Tips to be a Motivational Leader

Feeling valued and that your work contributions make a difference are two key factors in job satisfaction. What can we do to help colleagues feel motivated about their work? With workforce an issue around the globe and employers struggling to engage star employees, here are 13 tips to be a motivational leader:

  1. Create a fair and supportive environment.
    • Do you provide the tools and resources employees need to succeed?
    • If people are failing or if there is turnover, the first place to look is at the supervisor in charge. Good supervisors cultivate good, highly efficient employees, but the reverse is true as well. People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses! Watch turnover and connect the dots!
  2. Invest in your human resources!
    • Provide development opportunities.
      • Career training – internal and external
      • Support their attendance at conferences and other learning/networking opportunities
    • Work on health and wellness as a corporate initiative, invest in activities for healthy living (healthy employees are more productive and lower insurance premiums!), some examples:
      • Gym memberships
      • Gift cards for steps using Fitbit® or other measurement tools
      • You pick one!
  3. Reward them.
    • SAY “THANK YOU” or “GOOD JOB” FOR A JOB WELL DONE
    • After a vigorous project or particularly stressful time, offer some time off.
    • Gift cards — $5.00 to Starbucks goes a long way.
    • Present them with a certificate of thanks.
  4. Coach them for improvement.
    • When performance improvement is required, be sure to communicate that PROMPTLY. DO NOT wait for the annual performance review and use it as a area of improvement. A performance review should be considered a recap of information already communicated and a review of the results. A good leader does not blindside an employee with a never-before-communicated laundry list of complaints at their annual review.
    • Seek to counsel and to guide. Do not seek a “gotcha” moment! Value your team members. They are your most important investment.
  5. Make every effort to avoid shaming or embarrassing an employee when a difficult conversation is necessary.
    • Speak to them privately about performance related issues. They are people with feelings. Remember, most people want to do a good job and be considered a good performer.
  6. Strive for equal treatment of all employees.
    • Be careful to follow the same process in conversations and reviews with all employees.
      • Singling out an employee for special treatment, good or bad, sends a signal to other employees.
    • Be fair.
      • If you have a personality conflict with someone, dig deep into why that is occurring and work on yourself before you blame the other person. As Steven Covey says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
  7. Avoid the perception of favoritism by being observant and perceptive of how your words and actions are being interpreted.
  8. Establish a culture of respect.
    • Treat people with dignity and respect.
    • Listen and work as a team to resolve issues. Do not jump to a conclusion after hearing one side of an argument.
  9. Communicate clearly and frequently expectations and how you measure success.
    • Do your employees clearly understand your expectations?
      • Are expectations written down?
        • Take responsibility when there is miscommunication particularly regarding job duties and expectations. Start with:
          • Is there a job description and if so, is it up to date?
          • Do employees understand the organizational Mission and Values?
  10. Provide annual reviews and regular feedback in-between reviews so employees know where they stand.
  11. Show up and be present.
    • Don’t be invisible. Let people see you.
    • Smile and be positive.
    • Ask about them, their weekend, whatever you know interests them.
  12. Make it personal.
    • What do you know about the people who report to you?
    • How do you recognize milestones and accomplishments?
    • Do you know anything that is important to that employee aside from work?
    • Is the employee in need of support due to a difficult life experience?
  13. Strive to create meaningful work.
    • Is the assigned work fulfilling – in any way? If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
      • Ask the employees – Communicate!
        • What improvements could make their job more rewarding?
        • What about their job do they like and do not like?
      • Work with employees to provide opportunities to do what they like and to improve their job if it is reasonable.

According to the June 13, 2017 Gallup Chairman’s Blog, 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. A separate Gallup Poll reveals that 70% of employee motivation originates with the employee’s manager. Imagine if employees were motivated and engaged because of their manager? According to Gallup, motivated employees are 31% more productive which results in an increase in sales of 37 percent. Additionally, motivated employees are 87% less likely to quit than their demotivated counterparts. Turnover is one organizational expense that can be limited via support and training by skilled motivational leaders.

In short, your leadership style has an impact on your organizational culture and environment. Take the time to better understand yourself so you can better support your teammates. Learning about yourself can be eye opening and life changing; and the risk is worth the reward.  After all, it does take heat and pressure to create a diamond!

Kyle White is an Extension Educator, Medina County & Western Reserve EERA.

Collaborating to Educate on Agriculture in the Community

How do you learn about agriculture and your community? With “two faces” in Clermont County – urban and rural – it is important to address how agriculture and the community work together to provide the necessary resources for everyday life. A diverse audience attends the Clermont County fair: rural, urban and suburban. This is due, in part, to the location of Clermont County in southwest Ohio (it is situated adjacent to the urban city of Cincinnati) and it being a county with rich roots in agricultural history.

As the need was identified to inform the diverse audience, the Clermont County Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator and Community Development Program Coordinator collaborated to educate the public on agriculture and community development. The specific audience targeted involved the public and exhibitors who attended the Clermont County Fair in 2016 and 2017.

To educate this audience, posters (Ag in the Community) were created with facts from United States Department of Agriculture statistics, county statistics and various commodity organizations. Each poster has a QR code or barcode, which may be scanned with a smart device, linked to an online blog page for data collection. Posters were color printed on 11”x 17” paper and laminated before being displayed around the fairgrounds at designated locations.

Our specific AG IN THE COMMUNITY GOALS were to:

  1. Address the need for educational programming for the “two faces” of Clermont County (urban/rural interface)
  2. Educate the public about agriculture and the community
  3. Inform Clermont County, Ohio residents of the services offered through Ohio State University Extension
  4. Gain contact information from individuals interested in learning more about Extension programming
  5. Utilize blog and QR code technologies to measure reach and impact of the Ag in the Community posters

There were approximately 65,000 people who attended the 2016 Clermont County Fair who could have viewed the educational materials. We know that 376 fair-goers viewed the posters via the QR code. Results from the 2017 Ag in the Community posters are pending.

Our Ag in the Community posters have enabled us to better educate the public on types of agriculture and community development issues and opportunities in Clermont County and gather contact data for our newsletter and blog page as well as to determine if a participant knows about Extension or has ever used Extension services.

Results indicate that audiences in Clermont County were interested in learning more about agriculture and the community. Most have attended educational programs and want to learn more about the work we do. This effort has aided in bringing the OSU Extension Clermont County blog site to nearly 1200 subscribers.

Through the Agriculture in the Community poster program, we were able to collaborate in educating the public on agriculture and their community. Reach out to other Extension program staff in your office today to collaborate in this one simple way.

Trevor Corboy is a Program Coordinator in Clermont County & Miami Valley EERA.

The US budget deficit, the national debt and the value of money

When someone decides whether to read something or not, including a blog post, they look at the title and determine whether it seems of interest. National income accounting (taxes, spending, the deficit, etc.) is not the most glamorous title in the world BUT maybe the part about money grabbed your attention. Conventional wisdom is that money is the root of all evil, but Mark Twain said it best when he wrote, “Money is not the root of all evil; the LACK OF MONEY is the root of all evil.” And besides, people perk up when the subject turns to money.

Humor aside for a moment, the topic of the deficit and the debt is extremely important. Remember back in 2011 and 2013 when the Congress of the United States seriously threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling? Remember the “fiscal cliff” of late 2012? These events caused shock waves to drive through the entire world and almost led to a catastrophe that would have severely damaged the world economy and cost hundreds of millions of people their jobs. And I am not talking about people in the financial sector. I am talking about people in all lines of work – people in communities throughout the United States. You want to talk about community development? Extension does a great job in this effort, but national recessions always rob communities of resources they need in order to thrive, despite the best efforts of elected officials, business people, or outreach educators. That is one of the reasons why I, as a faculty member in Extension Community Development, often teach and write about the national economy and government policies that can damage it or help it.

The difference between the budget deficit and the national debt

Each year the US government collects taxes from the public and spends money on everything from national defense to education. When the government spends more money than it takes in by way of taxes, it runs an annual deficit. If tax revenues exceed spending, we have a budget surplus. Budget deficits are the norm in the USA. Over the past 50 years, we only have had five years of surpluses, one under President Johnson and four from 1998-2001 under President Clinton. As deficits accumulate from one year to the next, the total amount the government owes is called the national debt. The government finances its debt by selling treasury bonds. We hear a lot of hype about who owns these bonds and what happens if they quit buying them. But the truth is that most treasury bonds are held in one form or another by the American public. Pension funds for example, put an enormous amount of the contributions they collect from workers into these bonds because they are such a safe investment. Commercial banks do the same.

Since the US almost always runs an annual deficit, it is obvious that the national debt increases over time. To many people, when they see these numbers, they become alarmed. The national debt first reached $1 trillion about the time Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. President Reagan created all kinds of useless descriptions about the magnitude of this debt – for example stating how high a stack of 1 trillion dollars would be if you piled them all up. This is not a very constructive way to describe any kind of economic phenomenon, but it does often succeed in scaring or angering voters.

The 2011 Debt Ceiling Crisis

As I explained before, the US government acquires a debt by running annual deficits over time. Those deficits are the result of the policies in taxing and spending (called fiscal policies) passed by the Congress and signed by the President. But the Congress also passes laws that limit the amount of national debt the US can acquire. This limit is called the “debt ceiling.” A debt ceiling may seem strange to you, and it really does not make economic sense, but that is what they do. It does not make sense because the debt the US acquires is just a result of the fiscal policy the Congress itself has set. It would be like a family acquiring debt by financing a house, car, etc., based on a household budget it has developed, but then setting some arbitrary debt number that it cannot exceed. Over the years however, raising the ceiling had just been a formality. After all, the Congress had raised the ceiling an average of about 5 times each under President Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43. But that would all change under President Obama.

In 2010 the Congress set the debt ceiling at about $14.4 trillion. It soon became clear that the US would hit the ceiling by August 2, 2011. Once the ceiling would be reached, the US government would face the likelihood of default on its debt, and would have to take drastic measures, like refusing to pay bond holders, shutting down entire programs, refraining from paying government obligations like money to defense contractors, laying off government workers, etc. More importantly, it would almost certainly cause a US recession and a worldwide economic crisis like we had in 2008.

The Republican leadership of the Congress informed President Obama that they would only raise the debt ceiling under certain circumstances. Many insisted that the President agree to a dollar for dollar cut in government spending (one dollar cut for each dollar increase in the ceiling). Realizing the urgency of the situation, the President agreed to large budget cuts, but only those that would take place in the distant future. As a result, an agreement was reached and the ceiling was raised to $16.4 trillion, which would put off any further crisis until after the 2012 election. Essentially, the parties agreed to “kick the can down the road.”

Junk Economic Science Meets Junk Politics

One question you might be asking is why would the Republican leaders of Congress risk pushing the economy to the brink of a crisis like this? Well that is a great question. Some people really do become alarmed when they see very large numbers, say in the trillions, especially when they are tied to debt. Unfortunately, very few people and as we shall see, including economists, understand the role that national debt plays in an economy of a country that issues its own currency (see my previous blog “Could America Become like Greece?”).

It turns out that a year before the 2011 ceiling crisis, a pair of very well-known economists (Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff  – hereafter R&R) published an article in the American Economic Review that purported to show that countries with high debt levels experience low rates of economic growth.

Now, if this notion were true, it would provide quite a bit of rationale for “deficit hawks” and others who wish to maintain a debt ceiling or impose a balanced budget requirement on the US government. But some enterprising and skeptical economists soon got hold of the data that R&R used. Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin – (hereafter HAP) showed that R&R had omitted a great deal of the data and had coding errors in other parts. These are egregious mistakes, and when HAP corrected them, they showed that the conclusions R&R had made were completely false. R&R acknowledged some of the mistakes fairly quickly, but they denied others, and have since doubled down on the basic claim that high national debt is associated with low growth, even though scholars like HAP have shown that this is simply not the case. Unfortunately, the erroneous view provided by R&R continues to provide cover for politicians who want to maintain the national debt as an issue over which to fight.

The 2013 Debt Ceiling Crisis

At the end of 2012, just after the re-election of President Obama, the US was about to reach the new debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion it had set in 2011, along with a related threat called the “fiscal cliff.” The Congress and the President agreed on a set of continuing resolutions that kept the government funded until October 1, 2013. On this date, the government began a partial shutdown by laying off slightly more than three quarters of a million workers. The Treasury Department warned that even with the layoffs, the government would default by October 17th. On October 16th, the Congress passed a resolution that suspended the debt ceiling. All federal employees went back to work and received full payment for the time they had been laid off. The crisis was over. Seeing the public opinion numbers, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) vowed that the Congress would not force a ceiling crisis or a government shutdown again. A dreary and completely unnecessary saga in the history of American political economy had finally ended.

Aftermath and Outlook

And the national debt? Well it has risen from $16.7 trillion in October 2013 to $19.8 trillion in July 2017, and is currently rising at $602 billion per year. So, why don’t we hear much about it anymore? I mean, if the debt was a problem at $14 trillion in 2011, and worth a partial government shutdown at $16 trillion in 2013, surely it is a tremendous threat at nearly $20 trillion now – right? It stands to reason, doesn’t it? No, the truth is, it doesn’t, because the national debt was never a problem to begin with. And the alarmists who said it was, whether they were economists who were incompetent or worse, or whether they were politicians who had an axe to grind with a President they wanted to humiliate, dragged the country through years of uncertainty and alarm over nothing.

So you might be wondering – if the government can just run up debt to pay for what it wants, why have taxes? Just borrow the money, right? The answers to those questions lie in the final part of the title to this blog – the part about the value of money. Taxes are used in part to pay for government expenses – that is true. But taxes are what provide the foundation for the value of money. That’s right, the reason that those paper bills and coins you carry around, or those digits on your computer screen when you check your bank account balance or make an online purchase have value at all is because of taxes, as we will see in detail in my next blog.

References

Herndon, T., Ash, M., & Pollin, R. (2014). Does high public debt consistently stifle economic growth? A critique of Reinhart and Rogoff. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 38(2), 257-279.

Reinhart, C. & Rogoff, K. 2010. Growth in a time of debt, American Economic Review, 100 (2), 573-578.

Tom Blaine is an Associate Professor, OSU Extension.

What the HACCP?

The title says it all. Most people probably haven’t heard of the HACCP process before, and those that have are likely familiar with it in the food service industry. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, and it was developed in the 1960’s as a way to prevent astronauts from being exposed to food borne illness. The process was since adopted by the FDA thanks to its effectiveness in preventing the spread of disease via processing and packaging of food.

So why is this Sea Grant fish guy talking about astronaut food?

In a dramatic turn of events, folks from the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network adopted this process years ago and used it to prevent the spread of invasive species and diseases and ensure quality control in the Great Lakes seafood and bait fish industries. Other thoughtful Sea Grant and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees morphed the process even more to address the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in natural resource management activities. (If you’re not familiar with AIS, check out my previous CD blog on Alien Invaders.)

Invasive goldfish in a Lake Erie wetland- How many potential vectors of spreading AIS do you see in this picture?
(Some answers: boat, buckets, waders, net, coat)

As it turns out, this process is pretty successful in preventing the spread of AIS. So much so that there are a number of folks across the country that are certified to train natural resource managers on using the HACCP process in their work. That list includes my colleagues Jenny Roar and Eugene Braig, who along with myself will be hosting an AIS-HACCP workshop at Stone Laboratory August 28-29, 2017.

If your work finds you in the field, then you are a potential vector for spreading AIS, and you should strongly consider taking this workshop. If you know a natural resource professional, please forward along the information so they can help us protect our natural resources from the scourge of invasive species. Even if you’re not a professional in the field but enjoy outdoor recreation, remember to always take steps to prevent the spread of invasive species!

  • Learn to recognize AIS and report new sightings to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
  • Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!Clean, Drain, Dry! When using boats or other aquatic recreational equipment, before leaving the water access: inspect and remove foreign material, drain water from all containers (bilge, livewell, etc.), clean with high pressure and/or heated water, and allow to dry for at least five days before transporting between bodies of water. Learn more at stopaquatichitchhikers.org/.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait, worms and fish parts in the trash.
  • HabitatitudeGet Habitattitude! Never dump aquarium pets, plants, other organisms, or water, including bait, from one water body into another. Learn more at www.habitattitude.net/.

For more information on AIS-HACCP, or AIS in the Great Lakes, contact me at gabriel.78@osu.edu.

Credits:

Title stolen from the creative brain of Sarah Orlando.

Photos and captions from USF&WS AIS HACCP Manual

Tory Gabriel is an Extension Specialist, Program Manager for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

non-target species