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December 31, 2012

Ancient Recipe Rights Protection




"The Sybarites," Phylarchus [the 3rd cent. BCE historian] says, "having drifted into luxury wrote a law that women be invited to festivals and that those who make the call to the sacrifice issue their summons a year in advance; thus the women could prepare their dresses and other adornments in a manner befitting that time span before answering the summons. And if some cook or chef invented an extraordinary recipe of his own, no one but the inventor was entitled to use it for a year, in order that during this time the inventor should have the profit and others might labor to excel in such endeavors. Similarly, those who sold eels were not charged taxes, nor those who caught them. In the same manner they made those who worked with sea-purple dye and those who imported it exempt from taxes."


Source:

Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae (the Scholars at Dinner), XII 521c2-d7.

(Note: as quoted on the back cover of Journal of Political Economy 118, no. 6 (December 2010).)






December 30, 2012

"The Arpanet Was Not an Internet"




XeroxParcSign2012-12-18.jpg "Xerox PARC headquarters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."


. . .


Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: "The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks."

If the government didn't invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.

According to a book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning" (by Michael Hiltzik), its top researchers realized they couldn't wait for the government to connect different networks, so would have to do it themselves. "We have a more immediate problem than they do," Robert Metcalfe told his colleague John Shoch in 1973. "We have more networks than they do." Mr. Shoch later recalled that ARPA staffers "were working under government funding and university contracts. They had contract administrators . . . and all that slow, lugubrious behavior to contend with."



For the full commentary, see:

Gordon Crovitz. "INFORMATION AGE; Who Really Invented the Internet?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 23, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 22, 2012.)



I read the Hiltzik book several years ago, and my memory of it is not sharp, but I remember thinking that it was a useful book:

Hiltzik, Michael A. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. New York: HarperBusiness, 1999.






December 29, 2012

Debating Grammar: "Think Different" or "Think Differently"




(p. 329) They debated the grammatical issue: If "different" was supposed to modify the verb "think," it should be an adverb, as in "think dif-(p. 330)ferently." But Jobs insisted that he wanted "different" to be used as a noun, as in "think victory" or "think beauty." Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in "think big." Jobs later explained, "We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It's grammatical, if you think about what we're trying to say. It's not think the same, it's think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. 'Think differently' wouldn't hit the meaning for me."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 28, 2012

Chávez Supporters Feared Losing Government Jobs




ChavezSupporter2012-12-18.jpg "A Chávez supporter. The president runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under pressure to vote for him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


After the story quoted below was published, Chávez (alas) was re-elected.


(p. A1) Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chávez packing, fed up with the country's lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits.

"I work for the government, and it scares me," said Luisa Arismendi, 33, a schoolteacher who cheered on a recent morning as Mr. Chávez's challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, drove by in this northeastern city, waving from the back of a pickup truck. Until this year, she always voted for Mr. Chávez, and she hesitated before giving her name, worried about what would happen if her supervisors found out she was switching sides. "If Chávez wins," she said, "I could be fired."


. . .


(p. A6) The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs.

Mr. Chávez runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under other pressures.

"They tell me that I have to vote for Chávez," said Diodimar Salazar, 37, who works at a government-run day care center in a rural area southeast of Cumaná. "They always threaten you that you will get fired."

Ms. Salazar said that her pro-Chávez co-workers insisted that the government would know how she voted. But experience has taught her otherwise. She simply casts her vote for the opposition and then tells her co-workers that she voted for Mr. Chávez.

"I'm not going to take the risk," said Fabiana Osteicoechea, 22, a law student in Caracas who said she would vote for Mr. Chávez even though she was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Capriles. She said she was certain that Mr. Chávez would win and was afraid that the government career she hoped to have as a prosecutor could be blocked if she voted the wrong way.

"After the election, he's going to have more power than now, lots more, and I think he will have a way of knowing who voted for whom," she said. "I want to get a job with the government so, obviously I have to vote for Chávez."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Fear of Losing Benefits Affects Venezuela Vote." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012, and has the title "Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election.")






December 27, 2012

'Buy Local' Implies 'Sell Local'





In the spirit of the great Bastiat:


(p. 1117) Buy local (BL) campaigns are gaining ground in many towns, cities, counties, and states throughout the United States. These commendable efforts are based on intuitive principles that: local production reduces energy usage and therefore mitigates against climate change; the rapid approach of peak oil will lead to potentially disastrous dislocations that will erode society's ability to provide adequate food supplies and medical care; and face-to-face economic relationships between producer and consumer, such as in a farmers' market setting, provide a superior form of economic organization relative to the impersonal nature of our current industrial modes of production.

It is in this spirit that we, the members of Sustainability in Transportation, Utilities, Production, the Environment, and Development (STUPED), urge our local governments to take the next logical step: requirements for selling local.


. . .


This is also clearly a fairer way to approach the problem of non-local production. There exists the temptation for a given locality to urge its community members to BL, but to also simultaneously promote selling to other localities in the name of "increased local employment." Of course, this kind of thinking totally ignores the fact that by selling goods to another region, those of us in a local production area cause harm to workers in that distant region who, as a result of our incursion into their local economies, reduce that distant region's abilities to provide for itself.

Given the foregoing, it is evident that selllocal requirements are virtually required for the sustainability of our local economies. Buy Local publicity campaigns may make us feel better, but a well-enforced set of sell-local regulations eliminates the thorniest problem of a free-market approach--the tendency of consumers to buy whatever they darn well please. STUPED urges our local governments to adopt such a set of regulations.



Source:

Thompson, Philip, and Hart Hodges. "Sell Local! The Next Logical Step." Economic Inquiry 49, no. 4 (October 2011): 1117-17.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)





December 26, 2012

Students Protest (and Toss) Federally Mandated "Healthy" ("Gross") Food




GarbageCanVegetables2012-12-18.jpg "Lunch hour at Middle School 104 in Manhattan, where, on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Outside Pittsburgh, they are proclaiming a strike, taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In a village near Milwaukee, hundreds staged a boycott. In a small farming and ranching community in western Kansas, they have produced a parody video. And in Parsippany, N.J., the protest is six days old and counting.

They are high school students, and their complaint is about lunch -- healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

Because the lunches must now include fruits and vegetables, those who clamor for more cheese-laden nachos may find string beans and a peach cup instead. Because of limits on fat and sodium, some of those who crave French fries get baked sweet-potato wedges. Because of calorie restrictions, meat and carbohydrate portions are smaller. Gone is 2-percent chocolate milk, replaced by skim.

"Before, there was no taste and no flavor," said Malik Barrows, a senior at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, who likes fruit but said his classmates threw away their mandatory helpings on the cafeteria floor. "Now there's no taste, no flavor and it's healthy, which makes it taste even worse."

Students organized lunch strikes in a suburb of Pittsburgh, where in late August the hashtag "brownbagginit" was trending on Twitter, and outside Milwaukee, where the Mukwonago High School principal, Shawn McNulty, said participation in the lunch program had fallen 70 percent.


. . .


(p. A3) In Sharon Springs, Kan., lunch protesters at Wallace County High School posted a video on YouTube, "We Are Hungry"; in it, students faint in the hallways and during physical education class, acting as if they had been done in by meager helpings of potato puff casserole and chicken nuggets. To the tune of the song "We Are Young" by Fun, one student on the video sings, "My friends are at the corner store, getting junk so they don't waste away."

Since it was uploaded three weeks ago, "We Are Hungry" has had nearly 900,000 views.

Callahan Grund, a junior who stars in the video, said, "My opinion as a young farmer and rancher is that we produced this protein and it's not being used to its full advantage." He wakes up early every morning to do chores, stays after school for two hours of football practice and returns home for another round of chores. If it were not for the lunches his mother now packs him, he said, he would be hungry again just two hours after lunch.

In New York City, where school officials introduced whole-wheat breads, low-fat milk and other changes several years ago, the most noticeable change this year is the fruit and vegetable requirement, which has resulted in some waste, according to Eric Goldstein, the Education Department official who oversees food services. It is not hard to see why. At Middle School 104 in Gramercy Park on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross."

"I just throw them out," said Danielson Gutierrez, 12, carrying a slice of pizza, which he had liberally sprinkled with seasonings, and a pear. He also offered his opinion on fruit: "I throw them out, too. I only like apples."



For the full story, see:

VIVIAN YEE. "No Appetite for Good-for-You School Lunches." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012.)


LunchYouTubeParody2012-12-18.jpg "Dissatisfied with healthier school lunches, some Kansas students made a video parody." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 25, 2012

"The People Who Are Crazy Enough to Think They Can Change the World Are the Ones Who Do"




(p. 329) . . . those who could stand up to Jobs, including Clow and his teammates Ken Segall and Craig Tanimoto, were able to work with him to create a tone poem that he liked. In its original sixty-second version it read:

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 24, 2012

Williams Made Providence a Sanctuary for the Persecuted




RogerWilliamsAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanSouldBK2012-12-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320716933l/11797348.jpg





I have not yet read Barry's book on Roger Williams, but I did enjoy and learn from his earlier The Great Influenza book.



(p. 12) Williams struck overland, through snow and bitter cold, "wch I feele yet," he reminisced later in life. He survived because he had help. "The ravens fed me in the wilderness," he said, comparing himself to the scriptural prophets sustained by bird-borne morsels, though his "ravens" were Indians. With their assistance, he reached the upper bend of a bay that would be named for its inhabitants, the Narragansett. There, Williams bought land from its native proprietors and established a settlement he called Providence, to honor the divine assistance given to him and other Christians on their flights from persecution.


. . .


Next, Williams refused to take an oath of fidelity to Massachusetts, on the grounds that anything sworn in God's name for worldly purposes was corrupt.

The authorities in Massachusetts were so outraged that having failed to arrest Williams, they tried to obliterate his new settlement. He went back to England to get a charter to protect his colony on his own terms: with a "hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world." In several publications, he argued that the individual conscience should not -- could not -- be governed, let alone persecuted. If God was the ultimate punisher of sin, it was impious for humans to assume his authority. And it was "directly contrary to the nature of Christ Jesus . . . that throats of men should be torne out for his sake."

Barry shows how controversial these beliefs were at the time, and in this way reinforces the standard image of Williams as an early proponent of liberty of conscience.



For the full review, see:

JOYCE E. CHAPLIN. "Errand in the Wilderness." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 26, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to quotation was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012 and has the title "Roger Williams: The Great Separationist.")


The book being reviewed, is:

Barry, John M. Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.






December 23, 2012

Internet Posting May Be Replacing Peer Reviewed Publishing




The article quoted below provides additional signs that institutions of knowledge production and dissemination may be changing in important ways. (Wikipedia is another, even bigger, sign.)


(p. 635) Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the fraction of papers in top economics journals written by economists from the highest-ranked economics departments. This paper documents this fact and uses additional data on publications and citations to assess various potential explanations. Several observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the Internet improves the ability of high-profile authors to disseminate their research without going through the traditional peer-review process.


Source:

Ellison, Glenn. "Is Peer Review in Decline?" Economic Inquiry 49, no. 3 (July 2011): 635-57.






December 22, 2012

Unused Electric Car Chargers Multiply Due to Federal Subsidies




EVchargersWhiteBlains2011-11-10.jpg "Any takers?: Two EV chargers sit unused in White Plains, MD." Source of photo: http://metablognews.com/wp-content/plugins/rss-poster/cache/d6fff_MK-BP785_CHARGE_G_20111016172708.jpg Source of caption: slightly edited from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) When McDonald's franchisee Tom Wolf built his latest restaurant in Huntington, W. Va., late last year, he installed two chargers for all-electric cars so customers could juice their batteries while eating. So far, the charging station has been used a few times.


. . .


Across the U.S., such equipment is proliferating even though it is unclear whether plug-in cars will prove popular.


. . .


Fewer than 15,000 all-electric cars are on U.S. roads, says Plug In America, a group promoting the technology.


. . .


(p. B11) Charging equipment is popping up largely because of subsidies. As part of a $5 billion federal program to subsidize development of electric vehicles and battery technology, the U.S. Energy Department over the past two years provided about $130 million for two pilot projects that help pay for chargers at homes, offices and public locations.


. . .


Opinions vary on demand. J.D. Power & Associates expects all-electric vehicles will account for less than 1% of U.S. auto sales in 2018, or about 102,000 cars and light trucks. Including hybrids and plug-in hybrids the market share is forecast at 8%.

"The premiums associated with these products are still more than what the consumer is willing to bear," says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.



For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY And MIKE RAMSEY. "Charging Stations Multiply But Electric Cars Are Few." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 17, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)






December 21, 2012

Ellison and Jobs on Money




(p. 299) . . . Jobs and his family went to Hawaii for Christmas vacation. Larry Ellison was also there, as he had been the year (p. 300) before. "You know, Larry, I think I've found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it," Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, "He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO." Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. "But Steve, there's one thing I don't understand," he said. "If we don't buy the company, how can we make any money?" It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison's left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, "Larry, this is why it's really important that I'm your friend. You don't need any more money."

Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: "Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn't it be us?"

"I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn't own any of Apple, and you didn't own any of Apple, I'd have the moral high ground," Jobs replied.

"Steve, that's really expensive real estate, this moral high ground," said Ellison. "Look, Steve, you're my best friend, and Apple is your company. I'll do whatever you want."



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 20, 2012

Chernobyl May Have Caused No Long-Term Increase in Cancer




VisitSunnyChenobylBK2012-12-18.jpg














Source of book image: http://luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/9781605294452.jpg




(p. C11) . . . Andrew Blackwell, a journalist and self-described "sensitive, eco-friendly liberal," deserves praise for producing an environmentalist book that avoids the usual hyperventilation, upending stubborn myths with prosaic facts.


. . .


His Geiger counter convulses on a visit to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl, but Mr. Blackwell reacts soberly. While the initial disaster provoked a justifiable public panic, it also inspired scare-mongering from groups like Greenpeace, which claimed that the fallout would cause 270,000 cancer cases. He points to a study commissioned by the United Nations concluding that, after an initial spike in thyroid cancer, "no measurable increase has yet been demonstrated in the region's cancer rates." The author is also sure to irritate certain readers with the claim that "paradoxically, perversely, the accident may have actually been good" for the local environment, since the evacuation created an accidentally verdant nature reserve.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL C. MOYNIHAN. "A Guided Tour of Catastrophe" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 26, 2012): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Blackwell, Andrew. Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places. New York: Rodale Books, 2012.






December 19, 2012

"The Only Benefit of War Rationing"




(p. 538) The only benefit of war rationing, of which I am aware, is that an alert entrepreneur invented the bikini so as to conserve on the textiles that were then hard to come by for civilian use.


Source:

Shughart II, William F. "The New Deal and Modern Memory." Southern Economic Journal 77, no. 3 (Jan. 2011): 515-42.






December 18, 2012

Poor People Want Washing Machines








The wonderful clip above is from Hans Rosling's TED talk entitled "The Magic Washing Machine."

He clearly and strongly presents his central message that the washing machine has made life better.



What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine. With newly designed graphics from Gapminder, Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.


Source of video clip summary:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



The version of the clip above is embedded from YouTube, where it was posted by TED: http://youtu.be/BZoKfap4g4w

It can also be viewed at the TED web site at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



(Note: I am grateful to Robin Kratina for telling me about Rosling's TED talk,)

(Note: I do not agree with Rosling's acceptance of the politically correct consensus view that the response to global warning should mainly be mitigation and green energy---to the extent that a response turns out to be necessary, I mainly support adaptation, as suggested in many previous entries on this blog.)






December 17, 2012

"It's Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible"




(p. 284) "It's kind of fun to do the impossible," Walt Disney once said. That was the type of attitude that appealed to Jobs. He admired Disney's obsession with detail and design, and he felt that there was a natural fit between Pixar and the movie studio that Disney had founded.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 16, 2012

EU Costs Britain $238 Billion Per Year According to Congdon Report




FarageNigelEnemyEU2012-12-08.jpg "Nigel Farage has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) Strasbourg, France  THE floor of the European Union's cavernous and mostly vacant parliamentary chamber here is hardly known for its lively debates. At least not until Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain's fastest growing political party, gets up to speak.

The vast majority of the European Parliament's 754 members, as they process the torrent of rules and regulations that Europe bestows upon them, are not inclined to question why they are here. The pay and perks are generous for those elected to five-year terms in low-turnout elections throughout the European Union's 27 member countries. And the mission -- to extend the sweep of European federalism -- is for most a shared one.

But for Mr. Farage, who has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, Strasbourg has become the perfect stage to disseminate his anti-European Union message by highlighting the bloc's bureaucratic absurdities and spendthrift tendencies as well as by mocking with glee the most prominent proponents of a European superstate: the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy. "I said you'd be the quiet assassin of nation-state democracy," Mr. Farage has declared, as his target, Mr. Van Rompuy, squirmed in his seat just opposite, "and sure enough, in your dull and technocratic way, you've gone about your course."


. . .


Last year, in net terms, Britain paid $16 billion to the European Union. But according to a recent study by the economist Tim Congdon, himself an Independence Party member, if the cost of regulation, waste and misallocated resources is included, the annual cost of membership rises to $238 billion a year, or about 10 percent of Britain's economic output.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this profligacy is the spot where Mr. Farage has found fame: the European Parliament. As most of the legislative work is done in Brussels, the building is in use just three days each month. Analysts estimate that it costs taxpayers about $250 million a year to transport each month 754 members of Parliament, several thousand support staff members and lobbyists to this French city.

Mr. Farage lights another cigarette and shakes his head. "I just would like for my grandchildren to read some day that I did my part in saving my country from this lunacy," he said with a sigh.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; An Enemy of Brussels, and Not Afraid to Say So." The New York Times (Sat., December 8, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2012.)


The Tim Congdon report mentioned is:

Congdon, Tim. "How Much Does the European Union Cost Britain?" UK Independence Party, 2012.

(Note: the report calculates a total cost of about 150 billion British pounds, which when converted to dollars is equal to the $238 billion reported in the article, at an exchange rate of about $1.587 per British pound.)





December 15, 2012

Why Health Care Costs So Much in McAllen




(p. 235) Atul Gawande lays out "The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care." "It is spring in McAllen, Texas. The morning sun is warm. The streets are lined with palm trees and pickup trucks. McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which has the lowest household income in the country, but it's a border town, and a thriving foreign-trade zone has kept the unemployment rate below ten per cent. McAllen calls itself the Square Dance Capital of the World. 'Lonesome Dove' was set around here. McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami--which has much higher labor and living costs--spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns."


Gawande as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 231-38.


The full Gawande article can be viewed online at:

Gawande, Atul. "Annals of Medicine; the Cost Conundrum; What a Texas Town Can Teach Us About Health Care." The New Yorker 85, no. 16 (June 2009): 36-44.


A later Gawande article, that asks why the health care system cannot be run as well as The Cheesecake Factory, can be viewed online at the link below. (Spoiler alert: I haven't read this article yet, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the feedback and incentives provided by the free market.)

Gawande, Atul. "Annals of Health Care; Big Med; Restaurant Chains Have Managed to Combine Quality Control, Cost Control, and Innovation. Can Health Care?" The New Yorker 88, no. 24 (August 2012): 52-63.






December 14, 2012

Does Washington Want "to Regulate Everything That's Warm"?




TaylorMikeDisplaysGasLogSet2012-12-01.jpg "Mike Taylor displays a gas-log set at Acme Stove in Rockville, Md." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) Rett Rasmussen sells gas-log sets, which use a "dancing flame" design that his father invented more than 50 years ago to replicate a cozy wood fire.

They are just for decoration, he says. But as the season approaches for families to gather around the hearth--real or fake--Mr. Rasmussen and other makers of hearth products are having a flare-up with the Department of Energy. The federal agency says it has the authority to regulate the log sets as heating equipment, though it isn't proposing any changes now.

The issue "just hit us out of left field," said Mr. Rasmussen. His company of about 50 employees--Rasmussen Iron Works Inc. of Whittier, Calif.--has spent at least $20,000 to fight any regulatory change, he says.


. . .


Judge A. Raymond Randolph expressed sympathy for the industry, saying that an object is not a heater simply "because it makes the air around it warm."

"I don't understand that as a matter of pure English," said Judge Randolph, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. He added: "That's like saying a match is designed to furnish warm air. It's designed to furnish a flame."

H. Thomas Byron, a Justice Department lawyer, said it was "rhetorical hyperbole" to suggest Washington wanted to regulate everything that's warm.   . . .

Mr. Rasmussen, who says the family business has struggled in the weak economy, monitors the case closely. "We're alive and kicking, but it's not what it used to be, and when you have to fight your government, it's hard to see where it's going to get back anywhere near where it has been," he said.



For the full story, see:

RYAN TRACY. "Hearth Makers Get Hot Over Regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., October 23, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 22, 2012.)

(Note: in the third paragraph "he says" appeared in the online, but not the print, version.)






December 13, 2012

"Did Alexander Graham Bell Do Any Market Research Before He Invented the Telephone?"




(p. 170) After the Macintosh team returned to Bandley 3 that afternoon, a truck pulled into the parking lot and Jobs had them all gather next to it. Inside were a hundred new Macintosh computers, each personalized with a plaque. "Steve presented them one at a time to each team member, with a handshake and a smile, as the rest of us stood around cheering," Hertzfeld recalled. It had been a grueling ride, and many egos had been bruised by Jobs's obnoxious and rough management style. But neither Raskin nor Wozniak nor Sculley nor anyone else at the company could have pulled off the creation of the Macintosh. Nor would it likely have emerged from focus groups and committees. On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?"


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






December 12, 2012

"Planning Is Crap"




WeShallNotBeMovedBK2012-12-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.indiebound.com/636/044/9780807044636.jpg



(p. C8) As Mr. Wooten recounts, obstacles abounded from a municipality bent on redesigning New Orleans while the city was still in crisis. Neighborhoods from middle-class Lakeview to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward began to fear that the city they loved didn't love them back.

"Planning is crap," said Martin Landrieu, a member of a prominent local political family, at a meeting of Lakeview residents. "What you really need is the cleaning up of houses . . . . Where are the hammers and nails?" Yet five months after Katrina, a city commission called Bring New Orleans Back presented an ambitious plan to restore the city that included converting neighborhoods that had heavy flooding into green space. The commission also imposed a temporary moratorium on rebuilding there. Residents would have to show that their communities were viable or risk being planned out of existence; they were given four months.



For the full review, see:

CARLA MAIN. "After the Waters Receded." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 4, 2012): C8.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 3, 2012.)






December 11, 2012

Health Care Costs Can Be Lowered by Less Waste and More Cost-Reducing Innovation




(p. 234) Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin and David Cutler discuss "The Two Trillion Dollar Solution: Saving Money by Modernizing the Health Care System." "Two sorts of savings are possible in health care. The first is eliminating waste and inefficiency. The most commonly cited estimate is that 30 percent of the money spent on medical care does not buy care worth its cost. Medicare costs per capita in Minneapolis, for example, are about half those in Miami, yet Miami does not have better health outcomes. International comparisons yield the same conclusion. . . . Second, reform might stimulate cost-reducing innovation instead of the continuous cost increases that accompany current innovation. For nearly 20 years, scholars have argued that generous reimbursement policies for medical care have led to innovations that almost always increase health care costs. Changing that dynamic by investing in research about what works and rewarding health care providers who choose efficient treatments could have a dramatic effect on cost growth. . . . Reducing costs by 30 percent will take time and effort, but it is not inconceivable over the long term. Experience in the health care sector and other industries suggests that cost reductions on the order of 1.5-to-2.0 percentage points per year are within reach."


Buntin and Cutler as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 231-38.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The Buntin and Cutler report is:

Buntin, Melinda Beeuwkes, and David Cutler. "The Two Trillion Dollar Solution: Saving Money by Modernizing the Health Care System." Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, 2009.






December 10, 2012

With Scorned Ideas, and Without College, Inventor and Entrepreneur "Ovshinsky Prevailed"




OvshinskyStanfordAndiris2012-12-01.jpg









"Stanford R. Ovshinsky and Iris M. Ovshinsky founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in 1960." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.




(p. A23) Stanford R. Ovshinsky, an iconoclastic, largely self-taught and commercially successful scientist who invented the nickel-metal hydride battery and contributed to the development of a host of devices, including solar energy panels, flat-panel displays and rewritable compact discs, died on Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 89.


. . .


His ideas drew only scorn and skepticism at first. He was an unknown inventor with unconventional ideas, a man without a college education who made his living designing automation equipment for the automobile industry in Detroit, far from the hotbeds of electronics research like Silicon Valley and Boston.

But Mr. Ovshinsky prevailed. Industry eventually credited him for the principle that small quantities or thin films of amorphous materials exposed to a charge can instantly reorganize their structures into semicrystalline forms capable of carrying significant current.


. . .


In 1960, he and his second wife, the former Iris L. Miroy, founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in Rochester Hills, Mich., to develop practical products from the discovery. It was renamed Energy Conversion Devices four years later.

Energy Conversion Devices and its subsidiaries, spinoff companies and licensees began translating Mr. Ovshinsky's insights into mechanical, electronic and energy devices, among them solar-powered calculators. His nickel-metal battery is used to power hybrid cars and portable electronics, among other things.

He holds patents relating to rewritable optical discs, flat-panel displays and electronic-memory technology. His thin-film solar cells are produced in sheets "by the mile," as he once put it.


. . .


"His incredible curiosity and unbelievable ability to learn sets him apart," Hellmut T. Fritzsche, a longtime friend and consultant, said in an interview in 2005.



For the full obituary, see:

BARNABY J. FEDER. "Stanford R. Ovshinsky Dies at 89, a Self-Taught Maverick in Electronics." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2012): A23.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 18, 2012.)

(Note: in the first sentence of the print version, "hybrid" was used instead of the correct "hydride.")






December 9, 2012

"What Marketing Guys Are: Paid Poseurs"




(p. 152) Jobs had asked Hertzfeld and the gang to prepare a special screen display for Sculley's amusement. "He's really smart," Jobs said. "You wouldn't believe how smart he is." The explanation that Sculley might buy a lot of Macintoshes for Pepsi "sounded a little bit fishy to me," Hertzfeld recalled, but he and Susan Kare created a screen of Pepsi caps and cans that danced around with the Apple logo. Hertzfeld was so excited he began waving his arms around during the demo, but Sculley seemed underwhelmed. "He asked a few questions, but he didn't seem all that interested," Hertzfeld recalled. He never ended up warming to Sculley. "He was incredibly phony, a complete poseur," he later said. "He pretended to be interested in technology, but he wasn't. He was a marketing guy, and that is what marketing guys are: paid poseurs."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 8, 2012

"It Isn't What You Know that Counts--It Is How Efficiently You Can Refresh"




HalfLifeOfFactsBK2012-12-01.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A17) Knowledge, then, is less a canon than a consensus in a state of constant disruption. Part of the disruption has to do with error and its correction, but another part with simple newness--outright discoveries or new modes of classification and analysis, often enabled by technology.


. . .


In some cases, the facts themselves are variable.  . . .


. . .


More commonly, however, changes in scientific facts reflect the way that science is done. Mr. Arbesman describes the "Decline Effect"--the tendency of an original scientific publication to present results that seem far more compelling than those of later studies. Such a tendency has been documented in the medical literature over the past decade by John Ioannidis, a researcher at Stanford, in areas as diverse as HIV therapy, angioplasty and stroke treatment. The cause of the decline may well be a potent combination of random chance (generating an excessively impressive result) and publication bias (leading positive results to get preferentially published).

If shaky claims enter the realm of science too quickly, firmer ones often meet resistance. As Mr. Arbesman notes, scientists struggle to let go of long-held beliefs, something that Daniel Kahneman has described as "theory-induced blindness." Had the Austrian medical community in the 1840s accepted the controversial conclusions of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis that physicians were responsible for the spread of childbed fever--and heeded his hand-washing recommendations--a devastating outbreak of the disease might have been averted.

Science, Mr. Arbesman observes, is a "terribly human endeavor." Knowledge grows but carries with it uncertainty and error; today's scientific doctrine may become tomorrow's cautionary tale. What is to be done? The right response, according to Mr. Arbesman, is to embrace change rather than fight it. "Far better than learning facts is learning how to adapt to changing facts," he says. "Stop memorizing things . . . memories can be outsourced to the cloud." In other words: In a world of information flux, it isn't what you know that counts--it is how efficiently you can refresh.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; The Scientific Blind Spot." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 19, 2012): A17.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the last paragraph, which was in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated November 18, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Arbesman, Samuel. The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. New York: Current, 2012.






December 7, 2012

Early Retirement Reduces Cognitive Ability




(p. 136) Early retirement appears to have a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s that is both quantitatively important and causal. We obtain this finding using cross-nationally comparable survey data from the United States, England, and Europe that allow us to relate cognition and labor force status. We argue that the effect is causal by making use of a substantial body of research showing that variation in pension, tax, and disability policies explain most variation across countries in average retirement rates.

Further exploration of existing data and new data being collected would allow a considerably deeper exploration of the roles of work and leisure in determining the pace of cognitive aging. For example, the HRS contains considerable information on how respondents use their leisure time that would allow both cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of changes in cognitive exercise that are associated with (p. 137) retirement. In addition, detailed occupation and industry data could be used to understand differences in the pace of technical change to which workers must adjust during the latter part of their careers. Also, in the 2010 wave, the HRS will be adding measures of other components of fluid intelligence. Future work in this area should be able to separate the effects of the "unengaged lifestyle hypothesis" (that early retirees suffer cognitive declines because the work environment they have left is more cognitively stimulating than the full-time leisure environment they have entered) from the "on-the-job retirement hypothesis" (which holds that incentives to invest among older workers are significantly reduced when they expect to retire at an early age).

During the past decade, older Americans seem to have reversed a century-long trend toward early retirement and have been increasing their labor force participation rates, especially beyond age 65. This is good news for the standard of living of elderly Americans, as well as for the fiscal balance of the Social Security and Medicare systems. Our paper suggests that it may also be good news for the cognitive capacities of our aging nation.



Source:

Rohwedder, Susann, and Robert J. Willis. "Mental Retirement." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 119-38.






December 6, 2012

"We Don't Need No Thought Control"




HongKongProtestrsPinkFloydPoster2012-12-01.jpg "In Hong Kong, protesters march against Beijing's introduction of 'Chinese patriotism classes' in schools." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) Consider the . . . scene in Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of parents, teachers and students protested an effort by Beijing to re-educate the inhabitants of the former British colony, which reverted to the mainland in 1997.

Hong Kong people objected to a government-funded booklet titled, "The China Model," which was supposed to educate them in the patriotic ways of the mainland. It celebrates China's one-party Communist regime as "progressive, selfless and united" while criticizing the U.S. political system as having "created social turbulence."

There is no reference to the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen Square--history also suppressed on the mainland, where the Web is largely censored. The booklet even encourages Hong Kong people to learn how to "speak cautiously," a highly unlikely development to those of us who have lived in Hong Kong with its often pungently plain-spoken citizens.

The chairman of the pro-Beijing China Civic Education Promotion Association in Hong Kong, Jiang Yudui, tried to defend the booklet by saying, "If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients."

This led the Hong Kong education secretary to back away, assuring that, "Brainwashing is against Hong Kong's core values and that's unacceptable to us." Meanwhile, Hong Kong's sophisticated protesters carried banners that included lyrics from British rock group Pink Floyd, "We don't need no thought control."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Brainwashing in the Digital Era." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 6, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 5, 2012.)






December 5, 2012

Progress of Economic Science on Central Banking




The passage below is a comment by former head of the Fed, Paul Volcker.


(p. 25) . . . I recently commented to some of my economist friends that I'm not aware of any large contribution that economic science has made to central banking in the last 50 years or so.

Our ability to forecast is still very limited. The old issues of the relative role of fiscal and monetary policies are still debated. Markets are certainly more complex, and some of the old approaches toward monetary control seem less relevant. Recent events have certainly illustrated limitations in our understanding of the economy.

The advent of floating exchange rates, which partly reflects a shift in academic thinking, has certainly been important, but the underlying problems of policy seem familiar.



Stern, Gary H., interviewer. "Paul A.Volcker in Conversation with Gary H. Stern." The Region (September 2009): 18-29.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 4, 2012

Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" Tells Us Much About the Innovative Project Entrepreneur




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Source of book image: http://www.internetmonk.com/wp-content/uploads/walter-isaacson-steve-jobs1.png






Steve Jobs is one of my favorite examples of what I call the "project entrepreneur." Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating biography of Jobs, full of memorable examples for any student of the innovative entrepreneur.

During the next few weeks, I will occasionally add entries that quote some of the more important or thought-provoking passages.



The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 3, 2012

Business Cycles May Arise from "the Summation of Random Causes," Rather than from Creative Destruction




The Slutsky result summarized below would seem to imply that you can explain business cycles without fingering creative destruction as the culprit, as Schumpeter had seemed to do. The costs of creative destruction are thus reduced, and the case for creative destruction strengthened.


(p. 232) Phil Davies and Joe Mahon investigate "The Meaning of Slutsky." "A middleaged professor working at a Moscow think tank, [Eugen] Slutsky was virtually unknown to economists in Europe and the United States when he published his landmark paper on cyclical phenomena in 1927. In a bold statistical experiment, Slutsky demonstrated that random numbers subjected to statistical calculations similar to those used to reveal trends in economic time-series formed wavelike patterns indistinguishable from business cycles. The implication was that a similar stochastic process--'the summation of random causes,' as Slutsky described it--might be at work in the actual economy, causing prosperity to ebb and flow without the agency of sunspots, meteorological patterns or other cyclical forces. 'That was a hell of an idea,' said Robert Lucas, a University of Chicago economist who pioneered modern business cycle theory, in an interview. 'It was just a huge jump from what anyone had done.'


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: bracketed name in original.)


The published version of the article summarized by Taylor is:

Davies, Phil, and Joe Mahon. "The Meaning of Slutsky." The Region (Dec. 2009): 13-17, 42-46.






December 2, 2012

Garcia "Wanted to Get an Education and Get Out of" the "Sustainable" Life




GarciaJesusAntisustainable2012-12-01.jpg "In a straightforward sense, Mr. García, 44, is a Mexican ecologist. More broadly, though, he is a self-appointed emissary from the land once known as Pimería Alta, an interpreter of its culture, plants and people." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D6) Over the weekend, Mr. García would be driving back to his family seat in the mission town of Magdalena de Kino, Mexico. In a way, his personal mission is to recreate the orchards he knew there. He has started with dozens of seedlings in the backyard of the small ranch house that he shares with his girlfriend, Dena Cowan, a Spanish-language interpreter and videographer. (The couple recently produced a documentary, in Spanish and English, about the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project called "Tasting History.")

Yet he remembered the orchards with something other than simple nostalgia.

As a child, he packed boxes of fruit to load onto his uncle's truck. "My father had this farm that he was renting, probably two acres," Mr. García recalled. By necessity, "the only things we bought from the store were salt, sugar, coffee and kerosene," he said. "Everything else we produced."

"Our mother, she made our underwear out of the wheat sacks," he continued. "My father used to make these homemade shoes for my brothers: leather, with used tires on the sole. They would hide them in the river on the way to school and then go to school barefooted." Better that, he recalled, than let classmates see their privation.

By the time Mr. García reached junior high, his older sister has become a teacher and the family's lot had improved. They installed indoor plumbing, for a start. There was nothing trendy about what he ironically calls their "sustainable" years. "I got the tail end," Mr. García said. "But I got enough to realize how hard work it is. I learned enough to realize I wanted to get an education and get out of that life."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL TORTORELLO. "Seeds of an Era Long Gone." The New York Times (Thurs., November 22, 2012): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated November 21, 2012.)






December 1, 2012

Online Employers Treat Workers More Honestly and Fairly than In-person Employers




(p. 233) John J. Horton surveys "The Condition of the Turking Class: Are Online Employers Fair and Honest?" Amazon Mechanical Turk is a "marketplace for work," as explained at <https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome>. Employers post "Human Intelligence Tasks," which can be tasks like writing keywords that accompany photos or writing bogus product reviews, and workers anywhere in the world can sign up to do them. Horton used Mechanical Turk to survey 200 respondents, who were paid 12 cents apiece for responding to a survey. Of the respondents, 111 were Americans, 58 from India, and the others from other countries. When asked what percentage of employers in their home country treat workers honestly and fairly, the average answer was 64 percent; in comparison, when asked what percentage of Mechanical Turk Requestors treated them (p. 234) fairly, the median answer was 69 percent.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The published version of the article summarized by Taylor is:

Horton, John J. "The Condition of the Turking Class: Are Online Employers Fair and Honest?" Economics Letters 111, no. 1 (April 2011): 10-12.






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