Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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OCTOBER 2, 2012 11:39AM

Could "October Surprise" Be a One-Ton Pumpkin?

Rate: 8 Flag

Well, at least Steve Geddes of Boscawen, New Hampshire got more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame.

For one whole day Geddes was the world's Greatest Pumpkin-grower, ever, when his 1,843.5 pound giant broke the previous world record by 25 pounds while taking home the first place "Orange Ribbon" at the Granite State's annual Deerfield Fair last week.

Fame proved fleeting, however, as Geddes' record fell the very next day when Ron Wallace of Green, Rhode Island shattered Geddes' mark and became the very first person to grow a one-ton pumpkin -- "the largest fruit ever grown,"  as Billy Baker reports in Saturday's Boston Globe.

There was a lot of buzz about Wallace's giant pumpkin -- "The Freak II" -- heading into the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, a venue Baker describes as "the Super Bowl of pumpkin weigh-offs."

Tensions in Topsfield were running high, reports Baker, as handlers moved the gigantic gourd into position on the scale, removed the straps and watched as the digital readout "danced around the 2,000-pound mark" before igniting pandemonium in the room as the scale finally settled on 2,009.

"Ron Wallace is back!  Ron Wallace is back! Ron Wallace is back!" the proud farmer shouted again and again as his world record-shattering accomplishment began to sink in - along with the $15,000 in prize money he'd be taking home.

Now, if anyone is entitled to boast "I Did Build It!" you'd have to put farmers at the top of the list. Who better deserves the title of solo artist or independent entrepreneur than the guy who plants his seeds in the ground one by one, anxiously watches the weather day by day, then races his crop to harvest before the season or markets turn against him?

Well, it ain't so.  As Baker reports, not even a celebrity farmer like Ron Wallace deserves sole credit for a one-ton piece of fruit since it turns out it takes a whole village to grow a giant pumpkin.

As Baker notes, the 1,000-pound pumpkin barrier wasn't broken until the year 2000 and the idea that growers would double that record in just over a decade, or at all, was ruled out by most experts who thought the pumpkin's weight limit had already been reached. Bigger than that, the experts said, and there didn't seem to be any way a pumpkin could support itself structurally, reports Baker.

So how could it be that just 12 years later we'd find ourselves looking at the 1,000-pound Great Pumpkin barrier with the same wry bemusement aerospace engineers today look back at those who once called the 700-mile per hour sound barrier "a demon that lived in the air" now that front-line jet fighters routinely exceed Mach-3 and the retired Space Shuttle once reached speeds of more than Mach-20.

The answer, says Baker, is the Internet. The chief difference between the 1,000-pound barrier and the 2,000-pound barrier, says Baker, is that with the Internet growers as a group simply got better at growing bigger and bigger pumpkins since they were able to share their mistakes -- and their secrets -- since half the fun of growing giant pumpkins is bragging about how you did it.

As a result, writes Baker, pumpkin weights have raced forward every year with world records falling almost as often. Six years ago at the Topsfield Fair, Wallace was the first to break the 1,500-pound mark. The very next year nine people did it, says Baker. "They pushed. They pollinated earlier and took risks."

By sharing information and ideas -- for free -- across the Internet, these farmers practiced the sort of communal, group behavior that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who blogs at, say, Open Salon.

But farmers (and bloggers) are also engaged in a sort of "open sourcing" that "The World is Flat" globalization guru Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has identified as one of the top ten "flatteners" that make the world economy more interconnected.

Open sourcing of software codes, like Apache, which powers about two-thirds of websites in the world, allows improvements to be made by anyone with something to contribute, which is then shared with millions of others who are able to download the software for free.

Not everyone is happy with open-sourcing. Just ask reporters who've lost print jobs to bloggers. Or how about Microsoft monarch Bill Gates. "You need capitalism to drive innovation," Gates told Friedman. "To have a movement that says innovation does not deserve an economic reward is contrary to where the world is going. When I talk to Chinese, they dream of starting a company.  They are not thinking 'I will be a barber during the day and do free software at night.' When you have a security crisis in your software system you don't want to say: 'Where is the guy at the barbershop?

Where's my profit. Spoken like a true capitalist.

Another way of thinking about the benefits of open-sourcing in either software development or pumpkin-growing is to note that equality itself has economic benefits.  

Typically when we talk about economic or political equality it is in the abstract or in conjunction with some touchy-feely value like "fairness" or "justice" that hard-headed, bottom-line kind of conservatives can easily dismiss as just another example of wooly-headed liberal utopianism.

However, the 2008 financial collapse offered an opportunity to rethink the fundamentals of a free market capitalist system that has been in the thrall of laissez faire supply-side ideology for the better part of the last 30 years.  And as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, among others, has been arguing with greater urgency and effectiveness, if we want to fix our broken economy we must first focus on boosting demand. And to do that we must get serious about addressing economic inequality.

For years now, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have been frightening small children with visions of burning cities and people pushing wheel barrels filled with devalued currency through deserted streets to buy loaves of bread. But the truth is "no large economy has ever recovered from serious recession through austerity," said Stiglitz.  The much bigger factor holding back our economy, he says, is inequality.

"Any solution to today's problems requires addressing the economy's underlying weakness: a deficiency in aggregate demand," wrote Stiglitz last July in the Los Angeles Times. "Firms won't invest if there is no demand for their products. And one of the key reasons for lack of demand is America's level of inequality - the highest in the advanced countries."

The reason inequality or "redistribution" is more than a moral or philosophical dispute - the battleground conservatives prefer -- is that those at the top spend a much smaller portion of their income than those in the bottom and middle, says Stiglitz. So, when money moves from the bottom and middle to the top as it has been in America in the last dozen years, demand drops.

Even supply-side economists, who emphasize the importance of increasing productivity, should understand the benefits of attacking inequality, wrote Stiglitz, since so much of America's inequality does not come directly from market forces but from what economists call "rent-seeking."

What he means are those activities "directed more at increasing the share of the pie they get rather than increasing the size of the pie itself."

Examples include: Corporate executives taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to seize an increasing share of corporate revenue for themselves at the expense of stakeholders. Or pharmaceutical companies lobbying to prohibit the federal government from using its market power to bargain down drug prices. Or mineral and oil companies that get resources from public lands at below competitive prices.

Some of this rent-seeking is very subtle, says Stiglitz, such as bankruptcy laws that allow companies like AIG to be rescued from bankruptcy with taxpayer bailouts when their bets on risky derivatives failed to pay off but college students who aren't able to discharge their debts when they go bust.

There is a natural tendency in every crisis for people to retreat within themselves or to the safety of some group. That has been especially true for the serial crises America has faced, both foreign and domestic, since 9/11.

But maybe, in the end, the "October Surprise" we've all been waiting for in this year's election will not turn out to be a new war, or economic disruption or unknown skeleton in some candidate's closet. Maybe this election's October Surprise will turn out to be nothing more dramatic than a record-setting, one-ton pumpkin and the lessons this giant piece of fruit can teach us about the success we can have working together instead of on our own.

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A fascinating perspective! And lots of food for thought here about how to harness these new networking forces to achieve our aims. Hmm, maybe I'll fix some pumpkin soup for dinner and ponder it for a while...
Ya nailed 'er, bud! Bang on!

Too many, so called, economists seem to forget that the formula is one that contains both consumption and production. It makes no difference whether you could sell $10.00 goods for a few cents if no one has that few cents so spend. Consumers not being able to buy goods and services is just as disastrous as them not wanting to. It is absolutely imperative, in a capitalist economy, that consumers have the wherewithal to consume in sufficient measure so that production takes place to meet the demand.

Unfortunately, the big money players who probably know all this a well as you and I, are now playing a different game. The new game has nothing to do with production and consumption. It is wholly a game of manipulation of wealth so as to give the impression of "growth". This kind of manipulation can be likened to a man tearing his bills in half so as to have twice as many of them. He can kid himself that he now has twice as much money as before but he ain't foolin' anybody but himself.


The unbelievable piece! Thousands of farmers shared the information, and only one was able to get "a one-ton piece of fruit". Real example of collectivism. Someone suggests that to grow a huge pumpkin one would need to plant it where there's a lot of sun, and... BOOM, now he's one of the members of the collectively winning team. You, my friend, getting more frantic with each post of yours. This one is from the same field as: "Welfare is good for the economy."
"Another way of thinking about the benefits of open-sourcing in either software development or pumpkin-growing is to note that equality itself has economic benefits."

The Computer and the Internet have become a boon to the democratization of production, and I am living proof of that. I wrote my book on a computer, I formatted it for printing on the computer, and I marketed it on the Internet. The same pattern holds true with my music, which I write and produce on the computer -- right down to creating the CDs and the printed material that accompanies the CDs, and I distribute them on the Internet.

That same pattern is repeated in my brother's graphics business. He now does it all -- or most of it. Where once his work went to a print shop that employed 63 people, it now goes to the same print shop -- save that it now employs on 6 people -- and those six people do more and better work, thanks to computerization.

This is the downside of democratization, of course, and it begs the question where will all the downsized and outsourced workers find gainful employ? While I'm a bit optimistic that in the long run this may work itself out -- just as it did when we went from an agrarian to an industrialized economy -- I'm pessimistic about consequences in the near term. To paraphrase Stiglitz, you can't have a consumer economy without consumers.

I'm also a bit pessimistic because it seems to me the potential wrench in the clockwork is energy. How are we going to supply power to all those machines that make the democratization of production possible? Unless all that openness leads to some new form of relatively clean and relatively cheap energy -- well, to quote another brilliant economist, in the long run, we're all dead.

You're great. Since we're talking fruit, you're the only person I know who can make lemons out of lemonade.
It's really not that complicated. The amazing part is how long the "tickle downers" have gotten away with it, and how many otherwise astute individuals have been taken in by it.

Obviously, in many cases it's sheer greed, even if it masquerades behind the face of philantropy, and ambition. A man after all has a much better chance advancing by aligning himself with the rich, rather than the dad, say, who worked on the line.

Certainly, the American myth of equality comes into play as well, even though the reality has been true since the beginning. We live in hope, as well we should, and it makes us unable even to think in terms that are in our best overall interests.

You've added something to the conversation here that's about more than fat pumpkins.
I wish I'd written this, TF -- an essay that synthesizes so much of what we're now learning about globalization, both its promise and its peril. As the African proverb has it, it takes a village to raise a 2,000 pound pumpkin, preferably via open source communication among constructively creative people around the world. Forward toward that good end.
stiglitz critique deserves much wider exposure. and its doing ok. another economist that talks about the rentier class -- john hudson. yeah the concept of a rentier class is centuries old but it seems to be an intrinsic danger of the mercantilist economy. ie capitalism. we just have a very modern, high tech form of it. in fact technology can exacerbate the rentier problem, and probably has to a large degree, making it easier to administer rents. the overhead is much lower. also the banking cartel [few call it that] can be seen as an organized rentier group-- on money itself.
Stiglitz and several others have hearkened back to Henry Ford's observation that were he not to pay his workers well, who was going to buy his product?

Aside from the poorer spending more of their money than the rich, not all spending is equal. A few privately purchased 90 foot yachts might cost the same as repairing a couple of bridges. By some measure the immediate economic effect of the two are identical. But are they really?
Your comment knocks me for a loop! Can anyone be as thick-headed as you and still know how to breathe?

You said...... ""Thousands of farmers shared the information, and only one was able to get "a one-ton piece of fruit". Real example of collectivism.""

Yes. You are absolutely correct to say that only one farmer got a one-ton piece of fruit. But how did you forget that EVERY farmer grew larger than normal fruit from the knowledge gained by information sharing? Surely they ALL profited to some extent from that info even if only one grew the biggest pumpkin.

Y'see sir, that is the problem with dog-eat-dog economics. You folks only count the first past the finish line as winners. You ignore the benefit that all others gain simply by taking part in the race. That is a benefit that they'd never have gotten had everyone tried to figure out how to grow super large pumpkins on his own and kept his knowledge to himself for selfish purposes.
I just realized this is the first Open Salon blog post I have jumped to share on my Facebook page. Good work!!!
My Uncle, a career businessman and a city boy got into pumpkins in his late 70's. He grew a 623 lb pumpkin in 2001, or 2002. I certainly think the collective knowledge led to his success. I also know that despite being a collective liberal, he never gave a competitive edge to his competition. To stay with the theme,he would cut your stem off. Pumpkins were a lark.
Open software development and growing pumpkins share a few traits, all right. Someone who grows the biggest pumpkin (which inevitably wil have no taste and no utility) and someone who writes a small but useful piece of software for free don't even get fifteen minutes of fame. Forget any money or acclaim, or even respect.

Same thing for writing. Writers are no longer paid anything for writing, and that means no respect as well as no money. When anyone can write and have their words posted, nobody's writing is special, important or interesting. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book that changed the perceptions of America. The writing of anybody on Open Salon, or Real Salon for that matter, won't change a pair of socks.