Let them eat Mao Mix

In the comments thread of Jonathan's previous post praising Catallarchy's favorite freedom fighter?, Sabine Herold, our friendly neighborhood socialist Matt questions the wisdom of comparing opposition to genetically modified foods with Maoism.

In an effort to make this connection more explicit, allow me to demonstrate that opposition to genetically modified foods and Maoism have both directly caused the starvation of millions of innocent human beings.

Ronald Bailey, in an article that originally appeared in The L.A. Times, writes,

Millions of starving people in Zimbabwe have the European Union to thank for their hunger. In early July, Zimbabwe rejected food aid from the United States because the corn involved had been genetically enhanced to protect it against insects. The threat of mass starvation is the direct consequence of the trade war over genetically improved crops that is brewing between the United States and Europe.

Zimbabwe has refused biotech corn because its government fears Europe would ban its agricultural exports once its farmers started growing genetically improved corn. After all, since the mid-1990s, the EU has banned imports of genetically enhanced crops from the United States on the specious grounds that they aren't safe, which is nonsense. (Such crops have been genetically modified to, among other things, boost their growth, protect them from insects, and provide a longer shelf life.)

One scientific panel after another has concluded that biotech foods are safe to eat, and so has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Even an EU review issued last fall of 81 separate European studies of genetically modified organisms found no evidence that genetically modified foods posed any new risks to human health or the environment.

It's clear that the EU ban is not a safety precaution, but a barrier to trade. The EU is citing phony safety concerns to protect its farmers from competition and to protect its system of bloated farm subsidies. For more than a decade the EU has banned the importation of American beef treated with growth hormones. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the EU's ban was not based on scientific evidence, but was a trade barrier.

And Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason University and curator of the Museum of Communism, writes in the Museum of Communism FAQ,

The bulk of the deaths for which Mao was responsible stemmed from the famines caused by his mad agricultural collectivization program, which surpassed even Stalin's in its totalitarian aspirations. Like Lenin, Mao initially let peasants keep their land; he focused on killing or imprisoning landlords, better-off peasants, and other village leaders who might later resist him. This lasted for a few years; then Mao began to seize the land that he had promised the peasants, and force them into collective farms along Stalinist lines. The job was basically complete by 1956. These collective farms seemed too individualistic to Mao, so he went one step further in 1958 and forced the peasants into "communes." The difference was mainly that all property, not merely the land, became state property:

The peasant was now the property of the commune, to labor like factory workers in teams and brigades at whatever was commanded, to eat in common mess halls, and often to sleep together in barracks. Family life and traditions, personal property and privacy, personal initiative and individual freedom, were destroyed or lost in an instant for around one-seventh of all mankind. (R.J. Rummel, China's Bloody Century)

The communes were just one piece of Mao's overarching plan, the Great Leap Forward. Mao's stated goal was to make enormous advances in agriculture and industry simultaneously. Thus, in addition to setting large food quotas for the communes, villages were also ordered to set up small-scale steel furnaces - using local scrap metal as raw material. The pressure to surpass Mao's quotas led to little production but a great deal of falsified economic statistics. The false numbers were then used in future government plans, exacerbating the disaster which was to come.

Starvation had already set in during the forced collectivization period, just as it had under Stalin. Around five million perished from starvation even before the Great Leap Forward began. The Great Leap Forward turned this river of deaths into a flood, producing what was probably the single greatest famine in human history. From 1959-1963, around 30 million Chinese perished from this man-made famine. While exclusion of foreigners and draconian censorship kept word of this famine from the West for many years, in recent periods historians, demographers, and the Chinese government itself have given the world ample evidence of Mao's most horrible crime. Yet at the time experts were incredulous. "A BBC commentator - giving the opinion general among China experts - declared that widespread famine in such a well-organized country was unthinkable." (Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism: 1921-1985) The stories of recent emigres were shocking:

Peasants lacked the strength to work, and some collapsed in the fields and died. City government organisations and schools sent people to the villages by night to buy food, bartering clothes and furniture for it. In Shenyang the newspaper reported cannibalism. Desperate mothers strangled children who cried for food. Many reported that villagers were flocking into the cities in search of food; many villages were left empty, only the old people who were not strong enough to go into the cities being left behind. It was also said that peasants were digging underground pits to hide their food. (Laszlo Ladany, The Communist Party of China and Marxism: 1921-1985)

Insofar as official sources admitted existence of the famine following the Great Leap Forward, it was usually blamed on bad weather - just as the man-made famines of Lenin and Stalin had been. Natural forces did play a small role: perhaps 1 million of the 30 million deaths could be attributed to natural disasters. The deluded zealotry of Mao killed the rest. While even some unsympathetic scholars argue that Mao's famine, unlike Stalin's, does not qualify as murder, the case for Mao's personal guilt is strong. Mao's famine does not seem to have been created for its own sake as Stalin's was. Yet Mao had the experience of both Lenin and Stalin behind him, and knew full-well that collectivization often leads to mass death. He implemented his policies at gunpoint with full knowledge of these risks. Rummel points out that Mao's government tried to alleviate the famine once it was aware of it, but millions had died even before the Great Leap Forward began. In response Mao simply accelerated his pace - revealing the requisite mens rea for murder.

So, in fact, Sabine's point is well taken. It is entirely correct to say that "Behind the fight against [genetically modified] food are concealed the reactionary ideas of a French far left that have nothing in its list of honors except the defense of all the bad causes of the 20th century, from Pol Pot to [Fidel] Castro and Mao [Tse-tung]."

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Except the Great Leap

Except the Great Leap Forward required massive state action to achieve those results; whereas drastically scaling back consumption of GM foods would require only an end to government R&D funding, government patents, and a free market in labelling without food libel laws or USDA interference.

I once had a discussion with a retired agronomy professor who started out with the assertion that "chemical/GM agri is necessary to keep the world from starving," but was quickly forced to concede that intensive use of the land on the Japanese pattern could feed the world without large-scale mechanization or use of pesticides. I find that most people repeating that meme generally know very little about currently available organic farming techniques, or about the history of government-agribusiness collusion in Third World starvation. Monsanto and ADM aren't exactly on the side of the free market. And United Fruit wasn't the "good guy" in 1954.

OTOH, the real problem of

OTOH, the real problem of starvation and food supply is transport and distribution (we have enough food to feed the whole world a few times over- I think just the US midwest is all that's needed in some cases).

Japanese agriculture is incredibly inefficient and propped up by massive subsidies- but putting that aside, the bigger problem of using Japan as a model is that it would require massive social cooperation and infrastructure that is lacking in the places that need the food the most (Africa).

The problem in Africa is that lots of parasites and aggressive local species overwhelm most productive crop lines. Between the fungus, insects, and microorganisms, crop yields are severely depressed, lowering productivity.

Organic methods aren't going to solve Africa's primary productive problems (primitive transport infrastructure and massive ecological parasite load). But the GM corn & soybeans can. There are corn lines that are resistant to most of the fungal assaults on crops in Africa, that alone would boost food productivity significantly. And it would not require a concomitant increase in transport efficiency or even social cooperation.

In short, better crops = better yields, as it always has for well on 10,000 years now. The only difference is the method in which Humans are genetically modifying their crops.

There are, though, organic

There are, though, organic methods for combating parasites. They include crop diversification, complementary plantings, and use of natural competitors. Comparing the traditional methods used in the Third World to modern, Western organic methods, is like comparing a model-T to a ferrari.

At the same time, there are aspects of standard non-organic Western techniques that increase vulnerability to pests. Large-scale monoculture, for one thing, presents a lucrative target for pests specializing in particular crops. Use of chemical pesticides kills off natural competitors up the food chain, and produced diminishing results through insect resistance. And stripping the soil of trace minerals, resulting from reliance on typical NPK fertilizers, results in deficient and weakened crops. Some GM lines, like crops that produce their own bt, actually undermine the effectiveness of organic methods of pest control by promoting insect resistance.

I'm not a total anti-GM hawk. But it differs from other techniques of genetic modification in that selective breeding has a built-in safety mechanism. The latter emphasizes or de-emphasizes genetic traits already in existance, that a particular plant already developed through natural selection to its environment. And most existing pest-resistant strains (I use pest-resistant squash and pumpkins myself) were developed through selective breeding, to which I have no objection at all.

Finally, the problem with the infrastructure issue is that in the U.S. at least, infrastructure is heavily subsidized so that those using it for long-distance freight shipping (including agricultural produce) are not paying the full cost of the transportation services they consume. The resulting market distortions make the economy much more centralized and transportation-intensive than it would otherwise be. A free market economy would probably produce much of its agricultural output much closer to where it was consumed.

Maybe people here are

Maybe people here are forgetting that there's more at stake with genetically tampered crops than just trade agreements. Screwing with the DNA of plants that have existed in the ecosystem for millennia can have repercussions that are impossible to predict. Yes, altering genes in a hit-and-miss fashion may produce an insect-hardy plant. Do scientists know all the other functions of those genes? Hardly. Do they know the full effects on the chemistry of those plants and the environment in general? Hardly. Do they know what will happen when GM crops begin cross-breeding with regular crops? Hardly. Maybe the Europeans are thinking for once; maybe they want to avoid fiascos like our new Canadian wheat - which, with its new thistle genes, grows like a weed and chokes out other crops, farmland, and natural vegetation as the wind spreads it. Frankenwheat (http://www.gene.ch/genet/2001/Feb/msg00064.html). Maybe the Europeans don't want to bet the entire future of their agriculture, eco-system, and well-being on the apparent benefits of GM crops today.

Remember "reductio creep"? The Europeans are scared to open a door they can't close. Americans pull it wide open and blunder through, as usual.

Paul

Brian's right about

Brian's right about distribution being the problem, rather than supply. The GM objection is off target.

Just a side note as well, because I like this example: this is a clear example of how quasi-governmental structures created by private interests undermine democracy- the WTO and Europe. You guys will no doubt object that it's the "tyranny of the majority" that the WTO is overriding, but then let's be clear about precisely the amount of paternalism that libertarianism is willing to engage in:
1. the "tyranny" claim is based on your philosophical understanding of self-determination
2. not everyone shares your philosophy
so
3. You guys are supporting the undermining of popular institutions (democratic governments) only because of your narrowly defined philosophy.

That is, libertarianism is tyranny in it's own right. If some people think self-determination is democracy, then you are actually opposed to self-determination.

Both distribution and supply

Both distribution and supply are problems; it's not one or the other. The GM objection is not off target; it is the primary cause of mass starvation in Africa. If the European Union allowed African farmers to grow both GM and non-GM, starvation would be reduced or eliminated.

You seem to be confused about the definition of self-determination. Self-determination implies "self", as in one's individual self. It does not imply the right to control other people's consumption decisions; that would be "other-determination", not self-determination. No one has a right to politically control the lives of other people against their will. If some people think self-determination is democracy, they are simply wrong, period. Unless, of course, the support for those democratic decisions are unanimous.

Yes, but there is a way to

Yes, but there is a way to allow for democratic self-determination as well as prevent starvation. Pretending that GM skeptics starving these people is just an ideological claim. It's equally as true to claim that the warehouse owners who allow grain to rot to keep the price competitive are starving them. Do we then value the democratic decisions, or the private decisions of one group trying "price control."

And no, I'm not confused about what self-determination is. My point is that it's arguable, and your "truth" is not accepted by everyone, hence you are being paternal. Would you like me to make the argument anyway though? "Self" can best be understood with relation to one's social environment, goals, etc. Hence self-determination refers to the ability of a society to effectively preserve and alter those goals as it sees fit.

Take the example of a home: can a family decide that it doesn't want lines of cut cocaine to be placed in the pantry next to the cambell's soup? Of course it can. What if Uncle Larry, a resident, wants it to be. Are they violating uncle Larry's rights? I don't think they are. You might argue that they are free to make the individual decision whether or not to snort the cocaine, while so is Uncle Larry. Hence there is no problem. This is silly, though, and it's silliness stems not from property rights (what if they rent?) it stems from the nature of individual decisions and what it means to be self-determining. They are properly understood within the context of social relations, and the domino effect of Uncle Larry's coke addiction could easily irrationally spread.

Pretending that GM skeptics

Pretending that GM skeptics starving these people is just an ideological claim.

No, it's not. To wit:

"Our decision to reject some of these foods is out of fear.... We have been told that we will lose our European market if we start growing GM foods," Zambian Vice President Enoch Kavindele explained to U.N. aid workers. "Hungry we may be, but GM foods pose a serious threat to our agriculture sector... and [could] grind it to a halt."

There is no getting around this, matt. European anti-trade policies directly result in the starvation and millions. They should be ashamed of themselves.

It's equally as true to claim that the warehouse owners who allow grain to rot to keep the price competitive are starving them.

Wrong. This is the difference between positive and negative rights; active and passive. The EU is actively causing these deaths by enforcing trade restrictions. Farmers who passively fail to give their food away are no more guilty than you are for not giving all of your income away to help feed these people. No one has a right to other people's labor. Everyone has a right to trade freely without third-parties interfering in the process.

My point is that it's arguable, and your "truth" is not accepted by everyone, hence you are being paternal.

In no way am I being paternal: I am claiming that no one has a right to claim political rule over others against their will. This is the exact opposite of paternalism.

"Self" can best be understood with relation to one's social environment, goals, etc. Hence self-determination refers to the ability of a society to effectively preserve and alter those goals as it sees fit.

This is a silly definition of self. Is "self-interest" defined as whatever interests society? Is "self-respect" whatever respects society? Is "self-loathing" a society that hates itself? Why not just call it societal-determination?

Regardless, I will repeat it again until I am blue in the face: no one has a right to claim political rule over others against their will. Don't you call yourself an anarchist, matt? How exactly do you make your anarchism compatable with this strange notion of societal "self-determination?"

Take the example of a home: can a family decide that it doesn't want lines of cut cocaine no one has a right to claim political rule over others against their will.to be placed in the pantry next to the cambell's soup? Of course it can. What if Uncle Larry, a resident, wants it to be. Are they violating uncle Larry's rights? I don't think they are.

Who owns the home: Larry or the rest of the family? If Larry owns it, they are violating his rights. If the rest of the family owns it, they are not.

I'll respond in full

I'll respond in full tomorrow, but as for the "larry" example- I already said that "property rights" don't do a good job of explaining it. What if they rent? What if Larry ownds exactly half the house?

What if they rent? Who pays

What if they rent?

Who pays the rent? Larry? The family? Whoever pays the rent can set whatever conditions they please, as long as the landlord is ok with these conditions. Ultimately, the decision lies with the landlord because he owns the property, but if he doesn't state a preferences, the decision falls to the rent-payer.

What if Larry ownds exactly half the house?

If the family and Larry cannot resolve their dispute peacefully, they would go to court and the judge would tell them to sell the house to a third party and split the revenue in half, or have either Larry or the family buy out the side. These kinds of cases happen all the time as a result of inheritance.

No, it's not. To wit: well,

No, it's not. To wit:
well, first off, you're not even responding to the "ideological" argument. But here goes anyway:

"Our decision to reject some of these foods is out of fear.... We have been told that we will lose our European market if we start growing GM foods," Zambian Vice President Enoch Kavindele explained to U.N. aid workers. "Hungry we may be, but GM foods pose a serious threat to our agriculture sector... and [could] grind it to a halt."
woah. You've totally changed your argument here- now the EU decision could be unanimous and you'd still accuse them of murder. The real principle you're operatin under has nothing to do with a critique of democracy, it's: people don't have a right to band together and reject foods if you don't understand/agree with their reasoning. To see this more clearly, change "foods" to "Coca," or "poison." Is the EU still acting immorally if they ban such substances? Even if the substances could help the African people? I don't think they are. Though I do think there are other good ways to help africans by distributing food. Then we don't even have to deal with this dichotomy between people's rights vs. starvation.

Wrong. This is the difference between positive and negative rights; active and passive.
as I said, the difference is one of ideology.

The EU is actively causing these deaths by enforcing trade restrictions.
that's a big assumption. "enforcing trade restrictions" just means that they are actively enforcing their rights. Are you "enforcing trade restrictions" on me if you don't let me peddle my peaches in your house?

In no way am I being paternal: I am claiming that no one has a right to claim political rule over others against their will. This is the exact opposite of paternalism.
but you do so based on narrow assumptions about the nature of property and human nature. The only reason you're able to feign such disgust with democrayc is because you think that libertarianism doesn't effectively enforce such political rule; it does. Now that I've read some Nozick I'm amazed that you can read his "Initial Aquisition" stuff and still high-mindedly moralize about the apolitical nature of libertarianism. If Rawl's theory is "patterned" (as Nozick claims) then Nozick's theory is easily as "patterned" by the Lockean Proviso.

This is a silly definition of self. Is "self-interest" defined as whatever interests society? Is "self-respect" whatever respects society? Is "self-loathing" a society that hates itself? Why not just call it societal-determination?
I didn't say "self means society." Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology is a good treatment of this, that things stand, fundamentally, in relation to other things. That obviously doesn't mean that things can't appear to distinct- just that attempts to take them completely out of context are futile, impossible, or at least not rewarding. The self is limited to the societal constraints it experiences. Any attempt to provide self-determination begins with a consideration of the circumstances in which that "self-determination" can be truly realized.

no one has a right to claim political rule over others against their will. Don't you call yourself an anarchist, matt? How exactly do you make your anarchism compatable with this strange notion of societal "self-determination?"
Your argument is a fundamentalist one. Libertarianism does nothing substantial to promote self-ownership. As you basically conceded on another thread, the only difference between capitalism and slavery is that under cap. you can choose your masters. That is, formal self-ownership is the only thing preserved under libertarianism- not neccesarily self-determination. There has to be a balance achieved, along the lines of Rawls' "every persons interests matter and matter equally." I'm just trying to achieve such a balance.

okay, well let's say that

okay, well let's say that Larry pays 51% of the rent. Then he able to allow the cocaine?

woah. You've totally changed

woah. You've totally changed your argument here- now the EU decision could be unanimous and you'd still accuse them of murder.

If you read a bit more carefully, you would have noticed that my central argument all along has been a criticism of the EU decision for the effect it has on Africans, and not a criticism of lack of unanimity. If the EU decision was unanimous, I would still criticize it, on the grounds that the precautionary principle is ludicrous and it is offensive to allow millions of innocent people to starve so that some rich white Europeans can satisfy some unsubstantiated pseudoscientific conspiracy theories about GM foods. Luckily, I can criticize it on democratic grounds as well.

To see this more clearly, change "foods" to "Coca," or "poison." Is the EU still acting immorally if they ban such substances?

Yes, matt. Are you in favor of the war on drugs? Do you think the war in drugs is moral?

Though I do think there are other good ways to help africans by distributing food. Then we don't even have to deal with this dichotomy between people's rights vs. starvation.

How exactly do you propose the US help Africans if they are unwilling to accept our food because it is genetically modified?

Now that I've read some Nozick I'm amazed that you can read his "Initial Aquisition" stuff and still high-mindedly moralize about the apolitical nature of libertarianism.

Since when have I ever indicated that my libertarianism is based on Nozick's? Please address my arguments directly instead of using Nozick as a strawman. Further, I don't recall anyone, including Nozick, claiming that libertarianism is apolitical in the sense that it does not contain any ethical assumptions of values.

okay, well let's say that Larry pays 51% of the rent. Then he able to allow the cocaine?

What exactly is your point here? This type of question has little to do with property rights; it has more to do with common law tort claims and the way the contract was written.

If you read a bit more

If you read a bit more carefully, you would have noticed that my central argument all along has been a criticism of the EU decision for the effect it has on Africans, and not a criticism of lack of unanimity.
interesting. Then you might claim that "Europeans have a moral duty to accept things into their markets?"

Yes, matt. Are you in favor of the war on drugs? Do you think the war in drugs is moral?
no, I don't. The war on drugs is interventionist- I don't approve of the CIA defoliating foreign crops if that's what you mean.

How exactly do you propose the US help Africans if they are unwilling to accept our food because it is genetically modified?
there's a little leap in the article from "accepting food aid" to "growing genetically modified corn." If you read the article as saying "the EU would reject food from a country that consumes GM corn" then I think you are mistaken.

Since when have I ever indicated that my libertarianism is based on Nozick's? Please address my arguments directly instead of using Nozick as a strawman.
like I said, "now that I've read some Nozick." The arguments were, how shall I say, incredibly familiar. From the "self ownership means property rights" argument to the "Wilt Chaimberlain" inequality argument, and am I correct in surmising that the distinction between pos. and neg. rights as such is Nozick's? I'm not trying to use it as a strawman, perhaps I incorrectly assumed that you would use Nozick's origin of property argument too. If you have a better theory of the history of property I'm all ears.

To explain- Bernard Williams said the Entitlement theory of Justice looks like "an enormous exaggeration of at best one aspect of our moral ideas." While it sucks that every argument has to become a disagreement over the history of property, that's kind of the only way to argue these things.

What exactly is your point here? This type of question has little to do with property rights; it has more to do with common law tort claims and the way the contract was written.
why, all of the sudden, are you abandoning your principled arguments? I'm not asking your legal advice because I know this coke-addict named larry. In principle, if Larry pays a plurality of the rent, does he suddenly cross that threshold of being able to make the decision?

Then you might claim that

Then you might claim that "Europeans have a moral duty to accept things into their markets?"

No. I never claimed that Europeans, or anyone for that matter, has a moral obligation to trade (GMOs) with Africans in order that they may live. Remember, I don't believe in positive rights. However, I can certainly criticize Europeans for not doing what they can to save starving Africans, just as I can certainly criticize someone who refuses to save a drowning child, without any need to claim moral obligation.

If you read the article as saying "the EU would reject food from a country that consumes GM corn" then I think you are mistaken.

But this is exactly what is occuring. The Africans couldn't care less what kind of crops they eat or produce, GM or not. But they do care about whether or not the Europeans are willing to trade with them. The Africans therefore refuse to accept US food aid because they are worried it might cross-pollinate with their non-GM produce and prevent them from trading with Europe.

From the "self ownership means property rights" argument to the "Wilt Chaimberlain" inequality argument, and am I correct in surmising that the distinction between pos. and neg. rights as such is Nozick's?

1. Notice that I don't argue that self ownership means property rights - I argue that self ownership means ownership of one's own labor.

2. Yes, I got the Wilt Chaimberlain argument from Nozick.

3. No, I did not get the negative/positive rights distinction from Nozick. This is a classic thread running through all of libertarianism.

By the way, Nozick discovered libertarianism from Murray Rothbard, who is a bit more extreme and rigourous in his explication of natural rights.

If you have a better theory of the history of property I'm all ears.

I don't. As you probably read in one of the other threads, I've been trying to move away from natural rights arguments in general and towards consequentialist arguments. On consequentialist grounds, the case for private property is pretty strong.

why, all of the sudden, are you abandoning your principled arguments?

I'm not abandoning anything here; I am simply claiming that this is no longer a question of property rights but a question of contract law.

In principle, if Larry pays a plurality of the rent, does he suddenly cross that threshold of being able to make the decision?

It would depend on what is stipulated in the original contract. If nothing is stipulated, it would fall to contract law to determine, based on precedent, common law, etc.

However, I can certainly

However, I can certainly criticize Europeans for not doing what they can to save starving Africans, just as I can certainly criticize someone who refuses to save a drowning child, without any need to claim moral obligation.
sure, but then you've withdrawn the fangs quite a bit. I think there is a moral obligation to save drowning children, actually, under some circumstances. There's not though if they are about to go over niagra falls, correct? Hence your argument is really about how much of a threat you percieve.

If you'll remember, this line of argument started when I accused your criticism as based on ideology- the fact that you thought GM foods were okay- and nothing more. Glad you're finally admitting that.

1. Notice that I don't argue that self ownership means property rights - I argue that self ownership means ownership of one's own labor.
yeah, but what the hell does labor mean if you have no property rights. Then your grand theory can only refer to doctors who work naked with their bare hands and prostitutes. In fact, with the social costs neccesary for someone to devote so much of her time learning medicine, you might only be referring to prostitution.

By the way, Nozick discovered libertarianism from Murray Rothbard, who is a bit more extreme and rigourous in his explication of natural rights.
yeah, I was thinking about writing a tiny little guest blog on Rothbard and Flew called "capitalism and freedom?" or "man, economy, and state" with the word "man" crossed out, if I could ever figure out how to cross things out on computers. I've seen a few guest writers up on catallarchy, how could I go about doing one?

I don't. As you probably read in one of the other threads, I've been trying to move away from natural rights arguments in general and towards consequentialist arguments. On consequentialist grounds, the case for private property is pretty strong.
but it's neccesarily contingent. Private property must justify itself in that case, and if we can be shown to benefit by taxing Gates' wealth, without losing too much "production incentive" then we should.