shortage of land but the sense of pointlessness: why move to the farm if subsidy payments would be your major source of income. Within the next few years, that calculation may change. One reason, again, is that all farming should become more lucrative as prices rise. More important, standard mechanized farming will become more costly. Petroleum to power the machinery will become more expensive; so will artificial fertilizers, some of which are made from natural gas and all of which require large amounts of energy to produce. For the million-acre commercial farmer, these considerations probably won’t be enough to make him give up the combine and take on more hired help. But for the family farmer they do improve the chances for success. His disadvantage in mechanical energy is less of a drawback than before; manual application of fertilizer may be more efficient than using a machine because less of the ‘fertilizer will be wasted all the reasons, in short, which are making the U.S. and the UN encourage small-scale farming in the developing countries. The small farmer may have another advantage whose importance will increase if fertilizer costs rise. One of the manpower-saving features of American agriculture is the feedlot system, where cattle are gathered for a final dose of grain before the market. The manure from these feedlots produces more water pollution than all the municipal sewage in the country. It is, moreover, an essentially free source of fertilizer; it’s not used much now because the cost and bother of hauling it back to the farm is too great. The man who raises his own cattle and uses the fertilizer may have another edge. It will not let him drive the big operations out of business, but it may let him support himself. IF AMERICA has ‘experienced any real shortage in the year since the big oil squeeze, it has been in transportation. Essentially it is a question of scale: autos are too small-scale for most transportation in big cities \(it is as if every person in an office building had to ,provide his own much of the short-haul flying they now do. An improved railroad system would not replace the airplane for coast-to-coast flights, nor would it do more than reduce car use. But it would be a useful way to provide the transportation we want with the resources we have. It is marvelously efficient of fuel; according to Thomas Southerland and William McCleery’s The Way to Go, a train requires .36 gallons of fuel per hundred passenger miles, compared to 4.4 gallons for a car, and 5.5 for an airplane. Historically it has been very. inefficient of manpower; 66 The Texas Observer “featherbedding” got its name on the railroads and has only in places been eliminated. Featherbedding is so prevalent on train lines around the world that it is hard to draw clear conclusions on whether an efficient railroad would use more or less labor than an’ efficient airline. It is clear, however, that air pollution, fuel restraints, and urban congestion will keep us from indefinitely expanding our airline and car systems in the future. So developing an alternative a functioning national railroad system on a par with European lines is an important place to invest our energies. The 30 percent rise in Amtrak business within the last year points out the trend. Poor struggling Amtrak, for all its failures, represents a. large step forward from the passenger rail service we had learned to hate during the Fifties and Sixties. One of Amtrak’s major problems has been that its board is filled with all the wrong people. Louis Menk, for example, served on Amtrak’s board of directors while making public statements hostile to the idea of passenger rail service. Under-funded and compelled to drop “unprofitable” cities and routes, Amtrak is at best a shadow of a genuinely effective national rail system. Such a system would not be merely a nostalgic adjunct to cars and planes, but a serious alternative means of transportation for both passengers and freight. This involves restoring the quality of service between the major cities, of course, but it also means massive construction of small-city networks and commuter routes. This will be expensive, but so would any other antidote to recession, whether overt \(unemployment and the train has the distinction of being useful. Learning from their friends the highwaymen, the railroads might sell this package to Congress as “the National Defense Railroad Act.” INSTITUTIONS will always be with us, but they needn’t be as bad as they are now. Both in government and in business, there are organizations that get their jobs done, whose members work at 90 percent of their potential rather than 30 percent. Nearly every government agency goes through a phase like this when it is young; so do some companies when they’re trying to avoid bankruptcy. Although there is no easy formula for the problem of bureaucracy, there are a few hints of where to begin. One is to return some honesty to the process of communication and judgment. A deadly insecurity makes people turn away from the question of institutional featherbedding; the “cast the first stone” principle daunts those who might otherwise point out waste. A similar hesitation works against open assessment of how people are performing in our institutions. So few people are able to put distance between their professional achievement at any given time and their own identity and worth, that to tell someone he’s made a mistake often means calling him a failure. More often, the judgments just aren’t made and we go along for years hearing false praise and not understanding why we’re never promoted. Second, the very structure of bureaucratic life with its endless organization charts emphasizing boxes rather than people thwarts any open communication; a man who is separated by three boxes and several connecting lines from someone else may be hesitant to tell him why his program is going to hell. Among government bureaucracies, this is a well-recognized if rarely solved problem. It is difficult to cope with because it undermines the system of hierarchy and titles that organization is all about. If you want your junior assistant to tell you about a mistake you’re making, it’s harder to keep him in line at other times harder, too, to explain why he can’t come on the executive jet. Finally, institutions the public ones especially would profit by a greater turnover in manpower. If some accountant wanted to guarantee that employees, once signed on, would never leave an institution, the civil service pay system \(and many trap. Every organization needs a balance between those who stay for years and provide some continuity, and those who are avowedly temporary and are therefore free of the constraints of the careerist. Now the balance is absurdly skewed in favor of the time server. We must recognize too that people stay in institutions not only because of the attractions there, but because of the perils of leaving. The cost of college education, and the mounting risk of medical bills, means that there’s only a brief period in life when most people can afford the risks they might like to take. Encouraging a greater feeling of private security may be one of the most important ways to put the nation back to work.
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