Tag Archives: Bruce Morlan

The Northfield Blandin 8. What are they up to?

Northfield's Blandin 8: Erica Zweifel, Hans Muessig, George Kinney, Bruce Morlan, Paula Manor, Joe Gransee-Bowman, Matthew Rich, Norman ButlerWay back in November of 2010, two area teams of 24 people each (one team from Northfield; the other from Northfield/Dundas/Bridgewater) attended the Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP) in Grand Rapids.

On early Wednesday morning, eight people from those groups departed Northfield in an Eco-Trans van for a few days of meetings at Breezy Point. Left to right in the photo: Erica Zweifel, Hans Muessig, George Kinney, Bruce Morlan, Paula Manor, Joe Gransee-Bowman, Matthew Rich, Norman Butler.

What were they doing up there? How were these 8 selected from the 24? What’s been happening with the two groups in the past two years?  As before, inquiring minds want to know.

Local governments and their economic growth model: behavioral change needed?

Strong TownsFor decades people have sensed (and feared) that developers and land speculators have sold small towns bills of goods that inflate the cities expectations of returns on infrastructure investment. Groups like Strong Towns have finally quantified this sense by doing the numbers on the economic growth models we have employed since WWII. What they find is alarming. For example, I have suggested in the past that before towns (both Northfield and Dundas) commit to new housing development they should have a good inventory of

  • how many houses have been on the market for more than 3 and 6 months
  • how many houses have be de-listed without selling in the last 6 and 12 months
  • how many houses are in foreclosure
  • how many houses are underwater by more than 10% of the amount owed on the house

Some of these questions are harder to get answers to than others, but to make bets with the taxpayers money requires that we do our best to answer them. Enlisting the help of the experts (staff, realtors, bankers) would require a large grain of salt, since they are sometimes damaged by even the simple public knowledge of these data. And we elected officials too often abrogate our responsibility in favor of reports from those self-same developers, who love to ply us with eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures of the scene of the future crime.

So, the question I pose is this:

What changes in local governmental behavior (bonding, taxation, saving for future expenses, if any) do you think we should embrace in light of national and international issues like the end of the era of economic growth economies, global warming (for its local impact on agriculture) , and the debt crisis? Some people who can’t get out of debt have to sequestration bankruptcy but this should be your last option.


During his 1949 inaugural speech President Harry Truman identified the development of undeveloped areas as a priority for the west:

More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate, they are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. For the first time in history humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people … I believe that we should make available to peace-loving peoples the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life… What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing … Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modem scientific and technical knowledge.http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres53.html

We are like a poor person who scraped enough together to buy an expensive sailboat, only to find that they could not afford to maintain and keep it.

“The American Society of Civil Engineers released a report in 2009 giving the nation’s infrastructure a ‘D’ grade and identifying $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades that are needed over the next five years. For context, this is over $29,000 in the next five years for a family of four just to catch up. In the meantime, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate.” http://www.strongtowns.org/facts/

The economic growth model (a variant of a Ponzi scheme) is over

The “party” [growth without worrying about limits to growth] was humanity’s one-time-only opportunity to fuel economic growth and technological innovation with a bounty of cheap, abundant energy from fossil fuels. The harvesting of oil, coal, and natural gas has inevitably proceeded on a best-first or low-hanging fruit basis. While the Earth still possesses a wealth of unexploited energy resources, the cheapest and easiest-accessed of those resources have by now already been used. All of these fuels are in the process of becoming more expensive, and the various energy alternatives are limited in one way or another in their ability to replace hydrocarbons. That means we are currently seeing the end of economic growth as we have known it. The impacts for transportation, globalization, and world food supplies will be serious indeed.http://www.ecobuddhism.org/science/coal_oil_nuclear/party_over/

Economic growth models are essentially Ponzi schemes

And here’s the ugly economic reality. All growth schemes that assume indefinite future growth are Ponzi schemes. Because nothing can grow forever in a finite world, and when growth stops, people who were hoping to make future gains are stuck.http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/Ponzi.HTM

Wind turbines, phase 2

Bridgewater Township supervisor Bruce Morlan has a column in this week’s Northfield News titled Turbulance over wind turbines.

Bruce MorlanBridgewater will be holding public hearings about changes in the wind turbine portions of the zoning codes. That process includes engaging interested citizens in a dialogue as we educate each other on this issue. The three things I think will drive the discussion include how high we can build these turbines, how noisy and how distracting will they be.

I expect to hear engineering evidence showing that the efficiency of the turbine is improved by making it taller, that there is no medical evidence suggesting that the low frequency sound emitted by the blades causes health problems, and that the flicker from the blades is an issue mostly for road traffic. But more, I also expect to hear that people in the country are fiercely protective of their property rights and their right to install these turbines.

Earlier this week, the Strib reprinted this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Walker bill puts $500 million in wind turbine investment at risk; 1,800-foot setback requirement would halt most projects.

About $500 million in investment in renewable energy over the next two years could be at risk if lawmakers approve Gov. Scott Walker’s wind turbine siting bill… Walker’s bill, proposed as part of a regulatory reform package, would mandate minimum setbacks of 1,800 feet between a wind turbine and the nearest property line. That compares with a setback of 1,250 feet from a neighboring residence approved by the Public Service Commission in a rule adopted last year and set to take effect this year.

Wikileaks spreads …

Our investigative reporters, always titillated by stories that mix sex, espionage and secret facilities, have tracked down the new doubleplussecret facility serving up Wikileaks information.

Behind this innocent door, hardly different from the doors in any industrial facility, lies the powerful system serving files under the wikileaks URL.

Doubleplussecret entrance to the facility
The door of shame ... Doubleplussecret entrance to the facility
The brain box ... the smartest thing in the room
Behind which we see the powerful, state-of-the-art, 486-class tower system with an astounding 64M of memory.

Oberstar’s defeat may be a sign of a new economic awareness

Bruce MorlanJohn F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural speech asked voters to "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." The defeat of Rep. James Oberstar, who is famous for being able to "bring home the bacon" to Minnesota and to his district, is in my mind a clear victory of the "what you can do for your country" people over the "what can my country do for me" people.

It is ironic that this results in a Republican victory and a Democratic defeat. I will push my Republican friends to use this breach in the ramparts to put the social conservatives in our party on the run. I will argue that there are really three factors that converged to help in this upset: the Tea Party struggle; the experience of approaching (and now often delayed) retirement for the baby boomers, and voters’ coming to grips with a new economic reality.

Since the Tea Party first became a factor at the national level, the Republicans have been engaged in a struggle for the soul of their party. On the one side, we see small-government conservatives who feel that small government is not just about lower taxes, but also about less intrusion into the personal lives of the average citizen (personal liberty) and less interference in overseas affairs (opposition to war). This block, which I sometimes refer to as the "Liberty Caucus," struggles with the party’s desire to push for smaller, less intrusive government and its desire to use the power of the state to control personal issues.

Continue reading Oberstar’s defeat may be a sign of a new economic awareness

Notice to non-profits – regarding IRS Form 990N, by Bruce Morlan

[show_avatar email=brucem@simcash.com]According to this story at MPR, “Thousands of nonprofits in danger of losing tax-exempt status”.  Visiting the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits reveals the following partial list of miscreants.


Today is Earth Day, by Bruce Morlan

[show_avatar email=brucem@simcash.com]Today is Earth Day … one of those proclaimed days designed to educate us by giving us an excuse to be introspective and examining. Of course, lots of people see this as an opportunity to lay on a thick layer of guilt and to engage in a series of mea culpa self flagellations that may or may not end up laying the whip on everyone but themselves, but that’s the nature of the fanatic.

But some of the issues that go with Earth Day include attempts to deal with the tragedy of the commons, which says that any resource owned by everyone (e.g., air, and, in Minnesota and most of the west, ground water) is destined to be over consumed or despoiled because if everyone owns it, then effectively no one protects it and we all gain the most by simply consuming it to our own ends. The Cato Institute summed it up nicely:

Any resource held in common – whether land, air, the upper atmosphere and outer space, the oceans, lakes, streams, outdoor recreational resources, fisheries, wildlife, or game – can be used simultaneously by more than one individual or group for more than one purpose with many of the multiple uses conflicting. No one has exclusive rights to the resource, nor can any one prevent others from using it for either the same or any noncompatible use. By its very nature a common property resource is owned by everyone and owned by no one. Since everyone uses it there is overuse, waste, and extinction. No one has an incentive to maintain or preserve it. The only way any of the users can capture any value, economic or otherwise, is to exploit the resource as rapidly as possible before someone else does.

Their article suggests that the solution is to permit and encourage private ownership of what we would normally think of as public assets. Their examples focus on wild animals as exemplars. They contrast the prairie chicken (American, held in “common” as a wild animal) with the red grouse (Britain, owned by the landowners where it lives). The contrast is clear, the value of private ownership lies in the incentives to protect the resource, the red grouse is doing much better than the prairie chicken.

But some resources are very difficult to control. Clean air and clean water are two that we might consider to be un-ownable. If you have read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein, you have had a unique opportunity to learn the free market lessons that more recent movies like Avatar have missed, and that is that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and clean air is no more free than is clean water. But that was in a closed environment. Earth Day, in some sense, is an attempt to remind us that the Earth, too, is a closed system if you look at it realistically. If these resources (air, water) cannot be conserved by market forces, then we may find ourselves having to conserve them by fiat.

So, in spite of cries of “foul play” and “big government”, we should think carefully before we simply rule out the use of EPAs and MPCAs to help us deal with these particular tragedies of the commons. Demagogues may decry these institutions as just examples of big government, but the complexities of modern life suggest otherwise. Although some call for their elimination, cautious conservatives know that when you have tread onto thin ice you may not want to jump up and down until you have carefully negotiated yourself back onto firmer foundations.