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February 28, 2013

Greek Government Buries Olive Oil Entrepreneur in Red Tape

AntonopoulosFotisGreekOliveOil2013-02-23.jpg "Fotis Antonopoulos's struggles to start OliveShop.com have made him a reluctant emblem of thwarted Greek entrepreneurship." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Vassilis Korkidis, who is quoted below, is (p. A3) "the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, a trade association in Athens."

(p. A1) ATHENS -- It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

Luckily, he already had a day job.

It took him 10 months -- crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions -- before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays -- and stool samples -- since this was a food company.

. . .

With Greece's economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak.

But despite the government's repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business here remains abysmal. In a recent report titled "Greece 10 Years Ahead," McKinsey & Company described Greece's economy as "chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business." Start-ups faced immense amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said.

. . .

(p. A3) Part of Mr. Antonopoulos's problem, Mr. Korkidis ventured, was his unwillingness to pay what is routinely referred to here as the "speed tax" -- bribes to move things along.

Nor is Mr. Korkidis much of a fan of recent government efforts to improve things. He pointed to a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Development, which explained a new "one-stop shop" program for new businesses.

"This doesn't work," he said. "You have to collect 10 papers first -- and then it is one-stop shopping. Ridiculous."

At 36, Mr. Antonopoulos is an aging computer whiz kid with long hair and an easy smile.

. . .

The worst moment, he said, was when representatives from two agencies came to inspect the shop and disagreed about the legality of a circular staircase. They walked out telling him that he "would have to figure it out."

"At that point, we actually thought about just going to the U.K. with this," he said. "One of the inspectors knew about new legislation. The other didn't. And they just refused to come up with a solution."

At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.

For the full story, see:

SUZANNE DALEY. "A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape." The New York Times (Mon., March 19, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2012.)

February 27, 2013

Steve Jobs' "Nasty Edge" Helped Him Create an Apple "Crammed with A Players"

(p. 565) . . . I think . . . [Jobs] actually could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.

The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.


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

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "Jobs" added.)

February 26, 2013

Yang Documents How Mao Starved the Proletariat


Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9780374277932_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG

(p. C12) Yang Jisheng's "Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962" exemplifies E.H. Carr's famous dictum: "Study the historian before you study the facts." Mr. Yang is not the first historian to exhume the darkest crime of the political party that still rules China but the first Chinese journalist and longtime Party member to do so. He uses the Party's own historical records and the perpetrators' own words to craft his devastatingly detailed indictment.

For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book under review, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

February 25, 2013

Green Threats to Restrict Coal Creates Incentive to Extract More Coal Now

(Wang, p. 1146) The last chapter of the book advances the supply-side analysis and presents the "Green Paradox," that "(t)he mere announcement of intentions to fight global warming made the world warm even faster" ([Sinn, p. ] 189). The key insight is that demand-reduction measures affect carbon supply through pressure on future prices. Since the existing "green" policies almost always involve increasing stringency and widening coverage over time, the increasing downward price pressure therefore induces resource owners to expedite extraction and thereby exacerbates the climate problem.

For the full review, see:

Wang, Tao. "The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): 1145-46.

(Note: bracketed information added.)

The book under review is:

Sinn, Hans-Werner. The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2012.

February 24, 2013

Entrepreneur Mackey Says Whole Foods Drops Prices as Larger Size Creates Economies of Scale


"John Mackey." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 16) In your new book, "Conscious Capitalism," you write that Whole Foods sees its customers as its "most important stakeholders" and that the company is obsessed with their happiness. The biggest complaint I hear about Whole Foods is how expensive it is. Why not drop prices to make your customers happier? People always complain about prices being too high. Whole Foods prices have dropped every year as we get to be larger and we have economies of scale. Also, people are not historically well informed about food prices. We're only spending about 7 percent of our disposable personal income on food. Fifty years ago, it was nearly 16 percent.

. . .

In 2009, some Whole Foods customers organized boycotts after you wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expressing opposition to Obama's health care proposals. Do you wish you hadn't written it?
No, I don't. I regret that a lot of people didn't actually read it and it got taken out of context. President Obama asked for ideas about health care reform, and I put my ideas out there. Whole Foods has a good health care plan. It's not a solution to America's health care problems, but it's part of the solution.

So did you vote for Romney?
I did.

I imagine a certain percentage of Whole Foods customers will also boycott because of this.
I don't know what to say except that I'm a capitalist, first. There are many things I don't like about Romney, but more things I don't like about Obama. This is America, and people disagree on things.

For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Kale King." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 20, 2013): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 18, 2013, and has the title "TALK; John Mackey, the Kale King.")

Mackey's book is:

Mackey, John, and Rajendra Sisodia. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

February 23, 2013

Admiring Jobs' New Products, Gates Wistfully Wondered If "Maybe I Should Have Stayed in That Game"

(p. 553) Bill Gates had never lost his fascination with Jobs. In the spring of 2011 I was at a dinner with him in Washington, where he had come to discuss his foundation's global health endeavors. He expressed amazement at the success of the iPad and how Jobs, even while sick, was focusing on ways to improve it. "Here I am, merely saving the world from malaria and that sort of thing, and Steve is still coming up with amazing new products," he said wistfully. "Maybe I should have stayed in that game." He smiled to make sure that I knew he was joking, or at least half joking.


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

February 22, 2013

Darwin Shared His Thought Processes Without Condescension


"SAGE OF AGES; Portrait of Charles Darwin in 1881, by Julia Margaret Cameron." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C14) . . . Mr. Johnson observes:

No scientific innovator has ever taken more trouble to smooth the way for lay readers without descending into vulgarity. What is almost miraculous about the book is Darwin's generosity in sharing his thought processes, his lack of condescension. There is no talking down, but no hauteur, either. It is a gentlemanly book.

In both style and substance, this passage is classic Paul Johnson.

. . .

What makes Darwin good, in the biographer's estimation, is the scientist's democratic dissemination of knowledge. Darwin triumphed with "The Origin of Species," Mr. Johnson contends, not only because of his ability to portray the theory of evolution as the inescapable outcome of his decades of study and the work of fellow scientists, whom he was careful to praise, but because he was acutely aware that he had to present his notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest so as not to stir up public controversy. To an extraordinary degree, Darwin deflected attacks by couching his discoveries in terms of the plants he liked to examine and cultivate. He had relatively little to say about human evolution.

For the full review, see:

CARL ROLLYSON. "Studies of the Moral Animal." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book under review is:

Johnson, Paul M. Darwin: Portrait of a Genius. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.

February 21, 2013

Fossil Fuels Are Making the Planet Greener

(p. C4) The latest and most detailed satellite data, which is yet to be published but was summarized in an online lecture last July by Ranga Myneni of Boston University, confirms that the greening of the Earth has now been going on for 30 years. Between 1982 and 2011, 20.5% of the world's vegetated area got greener, while just 3% grew browner; the rest showed no change.

What explains this trend? Man-made nitrogen fertilizer causes crops to grow faster, but it is having little effect on forests. There are essentially two possibilities: climate and carbon dioxide itself. Warmer, wetter weather should cause more vegetation to grow. But even without warming, an increase in carbon dioxide should itself accelerate growth rates of plants. CO2 is a scarce resource that plants have trouble scavenging from the air, and plants grow faster with higher levels of CO2 to inhale.

Dr. Myneni reckons that it is now possible to distinguish between these two effects in the satellite data, and he concludes that 50% is due to "relaxation of climate constraints," i.e., warming or rainfall, and roughly 50% is due to carbon dioxide fertilization itself. In practice, the two interact. A series of experiments has found that plants tolerate heat better when CO2 levels are higher.

The inescapable if unfashionable conclusion is that the human use of fossil fuels has been causing the greening of the planet in three separate ways: first, by displacing firewood as a fuel; second, by warming the climate; and third, by raising carbon dioxide levels, which raise plant growth rates.

For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; "How Fossil Fuels Have Greened the Planet." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 5, 2013): C4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2013.)

February 20, 2013

Entrepreneur Kurzweil Says If He Gets Cancer, He Will Invent a Cure


"Ray Kurzweil." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 12) As a futurist, you are famous for making predictions of when technological innovations will actually occur. Are you willing to predict the year you will die? My plan is to stick around. We'll get to a point about 15 years from now where we're adding more than a year every year to your life expectancy.

To clarify, you're predicting your immortality.
The problem is I can't get on the phone with you in the future and say, "Well, I've done it, I have lived forever," because it's never forever.

. . .

You've said that if you woke up one day with a terminal disease, you'd be forced to invent a cure. Were you being serious?
I absolutely would try. I'm working now on a cancer project with some scientists at M.I.T., and if I develop cancer, I do have some ideas of what I would do.

I imagine a lot of people would hear that and say, Ray, if you think you're capable of curing yourself, why don't you go ahead and start curing others?
Well, I mean, I do have to pick my priorities. Nobody can do everything. What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make. I don't know if you're aware, but I'm joining Google as director of engineering.

For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Life Robotic; The Futurist Ray Kurzweil Says We're Going to Live Forever. Really." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 27, 2013): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 25, 2013, and has the title "TALK; Ray Kurzweil Says We're Going to Live Forever.")

February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education

(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

February 18, 2013

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel Says We Should Fight for Longer Lives


Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-PJ926_bkrv10_DV_20110829191924.jpg

(p. C13) Sonia Arrison's "100 Plus" was first published in 2011, but its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable. The goal of longer life doesn't just mean more years at the margin; it means a healthier old age. There is nothing to fear but our own complacency.

For the full review essay, see:

Peter Thiel (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Thiel's contribution is on p. C13).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book Thiel endorses is:

Arrison, Sonia. 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, from Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

February 17, 2013

Higher Taxes Would Slow Creation of Entrepreneur Bronfein's Time-Saving Medical Robotic Systems

(p. A11) . . . in Baltimore, . . . a local entrepreneur, following the logic of need, invested seven years and $30 million developing a robotic system for packaging prescription drugs for long-term patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

In a conversation last year, inventor Michael Bronfein told me if he'd known what it would cost him in time and money, he might never have started. How many entrepreneurs say the same? Probably all of them. But Mr. Bronfein saw a need and the power of technology to meet it, and the result was the Paxit automated medication dispensing system.

He saw workers spending hours under the old system sticking pills in monthly blister packs known as "bingo cards," a process expensive and error-prone. He saw nurses on the receiving end then spending time to pluck the pills out of blister packs and into paper cups, to create the proper daily drug regimen for each patient.

. . .

He followed the economic logic that indicated that all the people involved in the old system were becoming too valuable to have their time wasted by the old system. Backed by his company, Remedi SeniorCare, Paxit--in which a robot packages, labels and dispatches a daily round of medicines for each patient--is spreading across the mid-Atlantic and Midwest and winning plaudits from medical-care providers.

. . .

We need to preserve the incentive for investors to bring us the robots that will make the future bearable, rather than burying entrepreneurs in taxes in a vain attempt to seize the returns of investments before those investments are made.

For the full commentary, see:

Jenkins, HOLMAN W., JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Robots to the Rescue? The flip side of an entitlements crisis is a labor shortage." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)

February 16, 2013

IKEA Says Government Bureaucracy Slows Job Creation

OhlssonMikaelCEOofIKEA2013-02-03.jpg "The economy 'will remain challenging for a long time,' says IKEA Chief Executive Mikael Ohlsson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) MALMO, Sweden--IKEA is poised to embark on a global spending spree, but its departing chief executive says red tape is slowing how fast the home-furnishings retailer can open its pocket book.

With the company set to report record sales on Wednesday, CEO Mikael Ohlsson said the amount of time it takes to open a store has roughly doubled in recent years.

"What some years ago took two to three years, now takes four to six years. And we also see that there's a lot of hidden obstacles in different markets and also within the [European Union] that's holding us back," he said in an interview recently at an IKEA store on Sweden's western coast.

. . .

IKEA plans to invest €2 billion in stores, factories and renewable energy this year. But the company fell €1 billion short of its goal of investing €3 billion in new projects last year, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles, he said. For 10 years IKEA has tried unsuccessfully to relocate a store in France, for example. The company also is challenging German policy dictating what can be sold and where, saying the rules are out of sync with EU legislation.

"It's a pity, because it can help create jobs and investments at a time when unemployment is high in many countries," Mr. Ohlsson said. A new IKEA store creates construction and store jobs for about 1,000 workers, he said.

. . .

The company's highest-profile headaches have come in India, an untapped market where IKEA wants to open a first store in at least five years and roll out an additional three soon thereafter.

For the full story, see:

ANNA MOLIN. "IKEA Chief Takes Aim at Red Tape." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 23, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 22, 2013.)

February 15, 2013

Steve Jobs Framing a Decision in Terms of Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma"

The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

(p. 532) It's important that we make this transformation, because of what Clayton Christensen calls "the innovator's dilemma," where people who invent something are usually the last ones to see past it, and we certainly don't want to be left behind. I'm going to take MobileMe and make it free, and we're going to make syncing content simple. We are building a server farm in North Carolina. We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.


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

February 14, 2013

Arne Duncan Endorses Christensen's Disruption of All Levels of Education


Source of book image and photo of Christensen: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/12/1215_best_design_books/image/disruptingclass.jpg

(p. C6) Clayton Christensen is a provocative thinker, and I have been greatly influenced by his work on disruptive innovation and how it can transform education.

For the full review essay, see:

Arne Duncan (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Duncan's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

Christensen's books suggesting disruptive innovations for education are:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. updated ed. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

February 13, 2013

Behavioral Economists and Psychologists Pledged to Keep Silent on Their Advice to Re-Elect Obama

(p. D1) Late last year Matthew Barzun, an official with the Obama campaign, called Craig Fox, a psychologist in Los Angeles, and invited him to a political planning meeting in Chicago, according to two people who attended the session.

"He said, 'Bring the whole group; let's hear what you have to say,' " recalled Dr. Fox, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

So began an effort by a team of social scientists to help their favored candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Some members of the team had consulted with the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle, but the meeting in January signaled a different direction.

"The culture of the campaign had changed," Dr. Fox said. "Before then I felt like we had to sell ourselves; this time there was a real hunger for our ideas."

. . .

(p. D6) When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them.

. . .

For their part, consortium members said they did nothing more than pass on research-based ideas, in e-mails and conference calls. They said they could talk only in general terms about the research, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign.

In addition to Dr. Fox, the consortium included Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University; Samuel L. Popkin of the University of California, San Diego; Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University; Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago's business school; and Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia.

"A kind of dream team, in my opinion," Dr. Fox said.

For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Academic 'Dream Team' Helped Obama's Effort." The New York Times (Tues., November 13, 2012): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2012.)

February 12, 2013

The War on Drugs Likely "Increased the Rate of Addiction"


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing--and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don't include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.

The total number of persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the U.S. has grown from 330,000 in 1980 to about 1.6 million today. Much of the increase in this population is directly due to the war on drugs and the severe punishment for persons convicted of drug trafficking. About 50% of the inmates in federal prisons and 20% of those in state prisons have been convicted of either selling or using drugs. The many minor drug traffickers and drug users who spend time in jail find fewer opportunities for legal employment after they get out of prison, and they develop better skills at criminal activities.

. . .

(p. C2) It is generally harder to break an addiction to illegal goods, like drugs. Drug addicts may be leery of going to clinics or to nonprofit "drugs anonymous" groups for help. They fear they will be reported for consuming illegal substances. Since the consumption of illegal drugs must be hidden to avoid arrest and conviction, many drug consumers must alter their lives in order to avoid detection.

Usually overlooked in discussions of the effects of the war on drugs is that the illegality of drugs stunts the development of ways to help drug addicts, such as the drug equivalent of nicotine patches. Thus, though the war on drugs may well have induced lower drug use through higher prices, it has likely also increased the rate of addiction. The illegality of drugs makes it harder for addicts to get help in breaking their addictions. It leads them to associate more with other addicts and less with people who might help them quit.

. . .

The decriminalization of both drug use and the drug market won't be attained easily, as there is powerful opposition to each of them. The disastrous effects of the American war on drugs are becoming more apparent, however, not only in the U.S. but beyond its borders. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has suggested "market solutions" as one alternative to the problem. Perhaps the combined efforts of leaders in different countries can succeed in making a big enough push toward finally ending this long, enormously destructive policy experiment.

For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER and KEVIN M. MURPHY. "Have We Lost the War on Drugs? After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 5, 2013): C1 & C2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2013.)

February 11, 2013

Apple's Corporate Culture Under Jobs: "Accountability Is Strictly Enforced"

(p. 531) In theory, you could go to your iPhone or any computer and access all aspects of your digital life. There was, however, a big problem: The service, to use Jobs's terminology, sucked. It was complex, devices didn't sync well, and email and other data got lost randomly in the ether. "Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed to Be Reliable," was the headline on Walt Mossberg's review in the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs was furious. He gathered the MobileMe team in the auditorium on the Apple campus, stood onstage, and asked, "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" After the team members offered their answers, Jobs shot back: "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?" Over the next half hour he continued to berate them. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he said. You should hate each other for having let each other down. Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us." In front of the whole audience, he got rid of the leader of the MobileMe team and replaced him with Eddy Cue, who oversaw all Internet content at Apple. As Fortune's Adam Lashinsky reported in a dissection of the Apple corporate culture, "Accountability is strictly enforced."


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

February 10, 2013

Is America Moving Toward a Less Upwardly Mobile Future?


Source of book image: http://catholicexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Coming-Apart.jpg

(p. C6) The future as described by Charles Murray in "Coming Apart'' is bleak enough to have been imagined by George Orwell. Unfortunately, "Coming Apart" is nonfiction, meticulously documented and depressingly real. Mr. Murray examines America as it moves away from an upwardly mobile, socially mobile country with shared purpose and shared identities to a country dividing into two isolated and disparate camps.

For the full review essay, see:

Jeb Bush (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Bush's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book under review, is:

Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York: Crown Forum, 2012.

February 9, 2013

Ending College Affirmative Action Would Only Cause Minor Lowering in Black Admissions

(p. 113) This research examines the determinants of the match between high school seniors and postsecondary institutions in the United States. I model college application decisions as a nonsequential search problem and specify a unified structural model of college application, admission, and matriculation decisions that are all functions of unobservable individual heterogeneity. The results indicate that black and Hispanic representation at all 4-year colleges is predicted to decline modestly--by 2%--if race-neutral college admissions policies are mandated nationwide. However, race-neutral admissions are predicted to decrease minority representation at the most selective 4-year institutions by 10%.

Source of abstract:

Howell, Jessica S. "Assessing the Impact of Eliminating Affirmative Action in Higher Education." Journal of Labor Economics 28, no. 1 (January 2010): 113-66.

February 8, 2013

Lichen Fungi May Never Age

PringleAnneLichenResearch2013-01-12.jpg "ANNUAL VISITOR; For the last eight years, Anne Pringle of Harvard has been collecting data about the lichens on the gravestones at a cemetary in Petersham, Mass." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D3) PETERSHAM, Mass. -- On a sparkling New England afternoon, as hawks coasted overhead and yellow leaves drifted to the ground, Anne Pringle stood before a large granite obelisk that marked the graves of a family called French.

. . .

For eight years, Dr. Pringle, 42, has been returning to this cemetery each fall, to measure, sketch and scrutinize the lichens, which belong to the genus Xanthoparmelia. She wants to know whether they deteriorate with the passage of time, leaving them more susceptible to death.

. . .

Lichens are not individuals but tiny ecosystems, composed of one main fungus, a group of algae and an assortment of smaller fungi and bacteria.

. . .

While lichens are communities, Dr. Pringle is largely interested in the fungi. Mycologists, the scientists who study fungi -- not the most glamorous corridor of biology -- have long assumed that many of these organisms don't age.

. . .

"What you know is based on the organisms you study," she said. "What would you say about the evolution of senescence if instead of working with insects, you worked with modular organisms, which is what lichen are?"

Daniel Doak, a University of Colorado ecologist, agrees that the question is worth asking. Research like Dr. Pringle's -- along with other studies of species including the bristlecone pine tree and the wandering albatross, a bird, both of which may avoid senescence -- suggests another possible path.

"It's saying something fundamental," Dr. Doak said, "that senescence is not an inevitable part of life. Which means there might be ways to prevent it." That idea could eventually have implications for human medicine.

. . .

Dr. Pringle's preliminary results show that as a lichen grows older and larger, it is less likely to die. "If you made me answer the question now," she said, "I'd say there can be senescence of parts of an individual. But I don't think an individual ever senesces."

For the full story, see:

HILLARY ROSNER. "In a Place for the Dead, Studying a Seemingly Immortal Species." The New York Times (Tues., January 1, 2013): D3.

(note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 31, 2012.)

LichenCommunity2013-01-12.jpg"THRIVING; Dr. Pringle's initial results show that as a lichen grows older and larger, it is less likely to die." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

February 7, 2013

The Universality of Values: Every Kid Wants a Cell Phone

(p. 528) When they got to Istanbul, . . . [Jobs] hired a history professor to give his family a tour. At the end they went to a Turkish bath, where the professor's lecture gave Jobs an insight about the globalization of youth:

I had a real revelation. We were all in robes, and they made some Turkish coffee for us. The professor explained how the coffee was made very different from anywhere else, and I realized, "So fucking what?" Which kids even in Turkey give a shit about Turkish coffee? All day I had looked at young people in Istanbul. They were all drinking what every other kid in the world drinks, and they were wearing clothes that look like they were bought at the Gap, and they are all using cell phones. They were like kids everywhere else. It hit me that, for young people, this whole world is the same now. When we're making products, there is no such thing as a Turkish phone, or a music player that young people in Turkey would want that's different from one young people elsewhere would want. We're just one world now.


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

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added; indented Jobs block quote was indented in the original.)

February 6, 2013

What Reagan Meant When He Said Trees Cause Pollution


Source of the book image: http://thecommentary.ca/images/books/Reagan2.jpg

(p. 10) For better or worse, Reagan's ability to spin yarns out of everything that ever went into his mind is on display in ''Reagan's Path to Victory,'' the fourth volume in a series of collected speeches, letters and scripts published over the past four years. This one, edited like the others by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, is a chronological compilation of the syndicated radio talks Reagan delivered from 1975 to 1979.

. . .

In 1980, as a reporter freshly hired by Time magazine, I was assigned to Reagan's campaign plane. My first week on the road, while listening to him give a speech in which he talked about how trees cause pollution and other quirky notions, an aide turned to me and said, ''Where did he get those facts?'' I wrote a story, parsing the misleading little factoids that studded his stump speeches; the headline was that quote. The afternoon the article appeared, I was invited to sit next to Reagan on his campaign plane. I was braced for a rough lecture, but none came. I realized that he was either smart enough not to have read the article, or smart enough to pretend he hadn't -- or merely smart enough to know it wouldn't matter. I also learned, when I started to play the old journalistic gotcha game by questioning him on issues ranging from Taiwan to his affection for the gold standard, that he was able to flea-flick the subjects away by launching into some amusing but irrelevant anecdote. At first I thought he was a bit oblivious. Eventually, I realized I was the oblivious one. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Now, having read the collection of his radio addresses, I even know what he was thinking when he proclaimed that most pollution is caused by trees. In a rather convoluted talk, in which he identifies the main pollution problem as oxides of nitrogen, he grandly declares: ''Nature it seems also produces oxides of nitrogen. As a matter of fact, nature produces 97 percent of them. If we could successfully eliminate 100 percent of all the man-produced polluting oxides of nitrogen, we'd still have 97 percent of what we presently have.''

So we're a little closer to knowing where Ronald Reagan got his facts, and even a bit closer to knowing where he got his beliefs. And that's not a bad step toward understanding the deeper questions and mysteries about him.

For the full review, see:

Walter Isaacson. "The Reagan Evolution." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 31, 2004): 9-10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the title "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth.")

Book discussed in passage quoted above:

Skinner, Kiron K., Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, eds. Reagan's Path to Victory; the Shaping of Ronald Reagan's Vision; Selected Writings. New York: Free Press, 2004.

February 5, 2013

"Rome's Rise Is a Story of Economic Growth, Not Divine Intervention or Native Virtue"

(p. C7) In chronicling the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon declared that "if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus." Gibbon himself elegantly narrated how happiness and prosperity withered after this flowering between 96 and 180 A.D. But what about the near-millennium of Roman history that came before? "What was it," as Anthony Everitt asks in "The Rise of Rome," "that enabled a small Italian market town by a ford on the river Tiber to conquer the known world" and thereby made Gibbon's golden years possible?

. . .

Most of that economic activity, whether it developed autonomously as a result of lower costs or was driven by the coercive rule of the state, was catalyzed by the Mediterranean, with which even the sophisticated Roman road network could not compete. Yet in the period from the middle of the third century B.C. to the middle of the first, Mr. Everitt, following his literary sources, directs our attention to Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general; and to Hannibal, his hot-tempered son, leading elephants first across the Pyrenees and then the Alps. Both are important, and, had they not been defeated, Rome would have had a very short "rise" indeed. But the real action was on the Mediterranean. As the number of shipwrecks datable to these years attests, it was being crossed by trading vessels with a frequency never yet seen and never again matched--including the halcyon years hymned by Gibbon.

Sometimes the data can preserve an astonishingly precise record of a trade route. For example, storage containers--probably for wine--salvaged from the spectacular wrecks at Grand Congloué, off Marseilles, bear the stamp "SES." Archaeologists have confidently linked this mark with a certain Sestius, who must have manufactured the wares at the villa we know he owned in southwestern Tuscany, no mean distance away.

When the shipwreck data, which suggest increased economic activity, are considered alongside the population contraction that Rome suffered in its bloody military campaigns, a tentative but rich answer to Mr. Everitt's question begins to emerge: Rome's rise is a story of economic growth, not divine intervention or native virtue. And although even this account, like all our conclusions about the distant past, must be provisional, it is at least anchored in an empirical model of how income gains from trade and lowered transaction costs were not swallowed up by an ever-expanding population.

For the full review, see:

BRENDAN BOYLE. "BOOKSHELF; The Economy of Empire; The rise of the world's greatest empire is as much a story of shipping and markets as of divine providence and individual virtue." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., September 22, 2012): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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

February 4, 2013

Social Scientists Prefer Articles that Contain Bogus Math

MathBiasGraphic2013-01-12.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) . . . research has shown that even those who should be especially clear-sighted about numbers--scientific researchers, for example, and those who review their work for publication--are often uncomfortable with, and credulous about, mathematical material. As a result, some research that finds its way into respected journals--and ends up being reported in the popular press--is flawed.

In the latest study, Kimmo Eriksson, a mathematician and researcher of social psychology at Sweden's Mälardalen University, chose two abstracts from papers published in research journals, one in evolutionary anthropology and one in sociology. He gave them to 200 people to rate for quality--with one twist. At random, one of the two abstracts received an additional sentence, the one above with the math equation, which he pulled from an unrelated paper in psychology. The study's 200 participants all had master's or doctoral degrees. Those with degrees in math, science or technology rated the abstract with the tacked-on sentence as slightly lower-quality than the other. But participants with degrees in humanities, social science or other fields preferred the one with the bogus math, with some rating it much more highly on a scale of 0 to 100.

"Math makes a research paper look solid, but the real science lies not in math but in trying one's utmost to understand the real workings of the world," Prof. Eriksson said.

For the full story, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Don't Let Math Pull the Wool Over Your Eyes." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 5, 2013): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 4, 2013,)

A pdf of Eriksson's published article can be downloaded from:

Eriksson, Kimmo. "The Nonsense Math Effect." Judgment and Decision Making 7, no. 6 (November 2012): 746-49.

February 3, 2013

Steve Jobs Viewed Patents as Protecting Property Rights in Ideas

(p. 512) . . . Apple filed suit against HTC (and, by extension, Android), alleging infringement of twenty of its patents. Among them were patents covering various multi-touch gestures, swipe to open, double-tap to zoom, pinch and expand, and the sensors that determined how a device was being held. As he sat in his house in Palo Alto the week the lawsuit was filed, he became angrier than I had ever seen him:

Our lawsuit is saying, "Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off." Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products--Android, Google Docs--are shit.

A few days after this rant, Jobs got a call from Schmidt, who had resigned from the Apple board the previous summer. He suggested they get together for coffee, and they met at a café in a Palo Alto shopping center. "We spent half the time talking about personal matters, then half the time on his perception that Google had stolen Apple's user interface designs," recalled Schmidt. When it came to the latter subject, Jobs did most of the talking. Google had ripped him off, (p. 513) he said in colorful language. "We've got you red-handed," he told Schmidt. "I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." They resolved nothing.


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

February 2, 2013

Eastern Europeans Were Lab Rats in Stalin's Monstrous Experiment


Source of book image: http://media.cleveland.com/books_impact/photo/ironjpg-2761d5de1590effb.jpg

(p. C12) In a stunning follow-up to "Gulag," Anne Applebaum takes readers back to the events that triggered the half-century-long standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Instead of the usual aerial view, "Iron Curtain" re-creates what it was like on the ground for those who became the lab rats in Stalin's monstrous social experiment.

For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)

The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.

February 1, 2013

Fiscal Stimulus Packages Did Not Stimulate

(p. 686) An empirical review of the three fiscal stimulus packages of the 2000s shows that they had little if any direct impact on consumption or government purchases. Households largely saved the transfers and tax rebates. The federal government only increased purchases by a small amount. State and local governments saved their stimulus grants and shifted spending away from purchases to transfers. Counterfactual simulations show that the stimulus-induced decrease in state and local government purchases was larger than the increase in federal purchases. Simulations also show that a larger stimulus package with the same design as the 2009 stimulus would not have increased government purchases or consumption by a larger amount. These results raise doubts about the efficacy of such packages adding weight to similar assessments reached more than thirty years ago.


Taylor, John B. "An Empirical Analysis of the Revival of Fiscal Activism in the 2000s." Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 3 (September 2011): 686-702.


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