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March 31, 2015

Brin: Regulatory Burden Discourages Health Entrepreneurs




(p. A13) Earlier this month, at a private conference for the CEOs of his portfolio companies, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla interviewed Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, asking them if the company might jump into health care. "It's just a painful business to be in," Mr. Brin replied, later noting that "the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs."

Mr. Brin is right. As a neurosurgeon-scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded a bioelectronic medicine company that deploys implantable technology to supplant drugs, I wish he were wrong.


. . .


. . . entrepreneurs should be allowed to carve out their own turf and let patients choose their own level of risk.

Consider the case of Goran Ostovich, a burly, 47-year-old truck driver from Mostar, Bosnia. Mr. Ostovich has suffered from long-standing rheumatoid arthritis and needed near-permanent bed rest. With his hands and wrists swollen and aching, he could no longer hold on to a wheel or even play with his small children. He tried a variety of medications. None worked.

When I met Goran at his doctor's office in 2012, however, he didn't seem at all afflicted with the disease. That's because, one year earlier, he had been offered the opportunity to be the first participant in a clinical trial of a new therapy based on my invention. He received a bioelectronic implant and rapidly improved.


. . .


Since news of this clinical trial's success became public, people from all over the U.S. stricken with rheumatoid arthritis have emailed, called and sent letters pressing for their shot at potentially effective--but not yet FDA-approved--treatments.


. . .


Some patients are very willing to take a calculated risk, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

KEVIN J. TRACEY. "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game.")






March 30, 2015

How a Chavista Uses Her Chávez T-Shirt




(p. A1) CARACAS, Venezuela -- Mary Noriega heard there would be chicken.

She hated being herded "like cattle," she said, standing for hours in a line of more than 1,500 people hoping to buy food, as soldiers with side arms checked identification cards to make sure no one tried to buy basic items more than once or twice a week.

But Ms. Noriega, a laboratory assistant with three children, said she had no choice, ticking off the inventory in her depleted refrigerator: coffee and corn flour. Things had gotten so bad, she said, that she had begun bartering with neighbors to put food on the table.

"We always knew that this year would start badly, but I think this is super bad," Ms. Noriega said.

Venezuelans have put up with shortages and long lines for years. But as the price of oil, the country's main export, has plunged, the situation has grown so dire that the government has sent troops to patrol huge lines snaking for blocks. Some states have barred people from waiting outside stores overnight, and government officials are posted near entrances, ready to arrest shoppers who cheat the rationing system.


. . .


One of the nation's most prestigious public hospitals shut down its heart surgery unit for weeks (p. A12) because of shortages of medical supplies. Some drugs have been out of stock for months, and at least one clinic performed heart operations only by smuggling in a vital drug from the United States. Diapers are so coveted that some shoppers carry the birth certificates of their children in case stores demand them.


. . .


The shortages and inflation present another round of political challenges for President Nicolás Maduro, who has vowed to continue the Socialist-inspired revolution begun by his predecessor, the charismatic leftist Hugo Chávez.

"I've always been a Chavista," said Ms. Noriega, using a term for a loyal Chávez supporter. But "the other day, I found a Chávez T-shirt I'd kept, and I threw it on the ground and stamped on it, and then I used it to clean the floor. I was so angry. I don't know if this is his fault or not, but he died and left us here, and things have been going from bad to worse."



For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 29, 2015.)






March 29, 2015

Rich Slaveholders "Posed as Plucky Populists"




(p. 267) As Hamilton tangled with Lansing, neither knew that Virginia had on June 25 become the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. Like their New York counterparts, antifederalists there posed as plucky populists, even though their ranks included many rich slaveholders. Patrick Henry, the leading antifederalist, warned delegates who supported the Constitution, "They'll free your niggers." George Washington noted the hypocrisy of the many slaveholding antifederalists: "It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.







March 28, 2015

Most of Benefits of Minimum Wage Increases Do Not Go to the Poor




(p. A11) A higher minimum wage raises wages of low-wage workers, and even though most evidence points to job losses from higher minimum wages, the evidence doesn't point to widespread employment declines. Thus, consistent with a recent Congressional Budget Office report, many more low-wage workers will get a raise than will lose their jobs. But that argument is about low-wage workers, not low-income families. Minimum wages are ineffective at helping poor families because such a small share of the benefits flow to them.

One might think that low-wage workers and low-income families are the same. But data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that there is only a weak relationship between being a low-wage worker and being poor, for three reasons.

First, many low-wage workers are in higher-income families--workers who are not the primary breadwinners and often contribute a small share of their family's income. Second, some workers in poor families earn higher wages but don't work enough hours. And third, about half of poor families have no workers, in which case a higher minimum wage does no good. This is simple descriptive evidence and is not disputed by economists.

A historical perspective is instructive. Assembling Census Bureau data over nearly seven decades, Richard Burkhauser and Joseph Sabia have shown that in 1939, just after the federal minimum wage was established, 85% of low-wage workers (those earning less than one-half the private-sector wage) were in poor families. Such a high percentage implies that, in that year, the new minimum wage targeted poor families well. However, as the public safety net expanded, family structure changed and more people in families began working, this percentage fell sharply over time--to around 17% by the early 2000s.

In contrast, as of the early 2000s 34% of low-wage workers were in families that were far from poor, with incomes more than three times the poverty line. In other words, for every poor minimum-wage worker who might directly benefit from the minimum wage, two workers in families with incomes more than three times the poverty line would benefit.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID NEUMARK. "Who Really Gets the Minimum Wage; Obama's $10.10 target would steer only 18% of the benefits to poor families; 29% would go to families with incomes three times the poverty level." The New York Times (Mon., July 7, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 6, 2014.)


For more of Neumark on minimum wages, see:

Neumark, David, and William L. Wascher. Minimum Wages. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.






March 27, 2015

Recovery Slows When Start-Ups Are Taxed to Pay for Bailouts of Failed Firms





Vernon Smith, whose views are quoted below, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002.



(p. A11) The rescue of incumbent investors in the government bailout of the largest U.S. banks in the autumn of 2008 has been widely viewed as unfair, as indeed it was in applying different rules to different players. . . .


. . .


The rescue, . . . , had a hidden cost for the economy that is difficult to quantify but can be crippling. New economic activity is hobbled if it is not freed from the burden of sharing its return with investors who bore risks that failed. The demand for new economic activity is enlarged when its return does not have to be shared with former claimants protected from the consequences of their risk-taking. This is the function of bankruptcy in an economic system organized on loss as well as profit principles of motivation.


. . .


Growth in both employment and output depends vitally on new and young companies. Unfortunately, U.S. firms face exceptionally high corporate income-tax rates, the highest in the developed world at 35%, which hobbles growth and investment. Now the Obama administration is going after firms that reincorporate overseas for tax purposes. Last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee urging Congress to "enact legislation immediately . . . to shut down this abuse of our tax system."

This is precisely the opposite of what U.S. policy makers should be doing. To encourage investment, the U.S. needs to lower its corporate rates by at least 10 percentage points and reduce the incentive to escape the out-of-line and unreasonably high corporate tax rate. Ideally, since young firms generally reinvest their profits in production and jobs, such taxes should fall only on business income after it is paid out to individuals. As long as business income is being reinvested it is growing new income for all.

There are no quick fixes. What we can do is reduce bureaucratic and tax barriers to the emergence and growth of new economic enterprises, which hold the keys to a real economic recovery.



For the full commentary, see:

VERNON L. SMITH. "The Lingering, Hidden Costs of the Bank Bailout; Why is growth so anemic? New economic activity has been discouraged. Here are some ways to change that." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 24, 2014): A11.

(Note: last ellipsis in original, other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2014.)






March 26, 2015

"If You Want to Find Something New, Look for Something New!"




(p. D8) Yves Chauvin, who shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for deciphering a "green chemistry" reaction now used to make pharmaceuticals and plastics more efficiently while generating less hazardous waste, died on Tuesday [January 27, 2015] in Tours, France.


. . .


He confessed that he was not a brilliant student, even in chemistry. "I chose chemistry rather by chance," he wrote, "because I firmly believed (and still do) that you can become passionately involved in your work, whatever it is."

Mr. Chauvin graduated from the Lyon School of Industrial Chemistry in 1954. Military service and other circumstances prevented him from pursuing a doctoral degree, which he said he regretted. "I had no training in research as such and as a consequence I am in a sense self-taught," he wrote in his Nobel Prize lecture.

He worked in industry for a few years before quitting, frustrated by an inability to pursue new ideas. "My motto is more, 'If you want to find something new, look for something new!' " Mr. Chauvin wrote. "There is a certain amount of risk in this attitude, as even the slightest failure tends to be resounding, but you are so happy when you succeed that it is worth taking the risk."

He found the freedom to choose his research when he joined the French Petroleum Institute in 1960, and it led to his breakthrough on metathesis.

"Like all sciences, chemistry is marked by magic moments," Mr. Chauvin wrote. "For someone fortunate enough to live such a moment, it is an instant of intense emotion: an immense field of investigation suddenly opens up before you."



For the full obituary, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Yves Chauvin, Chemist Sharing Nobel Prize, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 31, 2015): D8.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 30, 2015.)






March 25, 2015

Few Founding Fathers Toiled Harder Against Slavery than Hamilton




(p. 211) The magnitude of southern slavery was to have far-reaching repercussions in Hamilton's career. The most damning and hypocritical critiques of his allegedly aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton. As will be seen, the national consensus that the slavery issue should be tabled to preserve the union meant that the southern plantation economy was effectively ruled off-limits to political discussion, while Hamilton's system, by default, underwent the most searching scrutiny.

Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently or toiled (p. 212) harder to eradicate it than Hamilton--a fact that belies the historical stereotype that he cared only for the rich and privileged.


. . .


(p. 213) The issue surged to the fore with the peace treaty that ended the Revolution. At the prompting of Henry Laurens, article 7 placed a ban on the British "carrying away any Negroes or other property" after the war. This nebulous phrase was construed by slaveholders to mean that the British should return runaway slaves who had defected to the British lines or else pay compensation. The British, in turn, claimed that the former slaves had been freed when they crossed behind British lines. Conceding that Britain may have violated article 7 on technical grounds, Hamilton nevertheless refused to stand up for the slaveholders and invoked a higher moral authority:

In the interpretation of treaties, things odious or immoral are not to be presumed. The abandonment of negroes, who had been induced to quit their masters on the faith of official proclamations, promising them liberty, to fall again under the yoke of their masters and into slavery is as odious and immoral a thing as can be conceived. It is odious not only as it imposes an act of perfidy on one of the contracting parties, but as it tends to bring back to servitude men once made free.

This fierce defender of private property--this man for whom contracts were to be sacred covenants--expressly denied the sanctity of any agreement that stripped people of their freedom.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






March 24, 2015

The Underground Railroad Was No Myth




(p. C7) The first scholarly study of the Underground Railroad, published by Wilbur Siebert in 1898, named some 3,200 "agents," virtually all of them white men, who presided over an elaborate network of fixed routes, illustrated with maps that looked much like those of an ordinary railroad.

That view largely held among scholars until 1961, when the historian Larry Gara published "The Liberty Line," a slashing revisionist study that dismissed the Underground Railroad as a myth and argued that most fugitive slaves escaped at their own initiative, with little help from organized abolitionists. Scholarship on the topic all but dried up, as historians more generally emphasized the agency of African-Americans in claiming their own freedom.

But over the past 15 years, aided by newly digitized records of obscure abolitionist newspapers and local archives, scholars have constructed a new picture of the Underground Railroad as a collection of loosely interlocking local networks of activists, both black and white, that waxed and waned over time but nevertheless helped a significant number reach freedom.


. . .


In "Gateway to Freedom," Mr. Foner ties much of that work together, while uncovering the history of the eastern corridor's key gateway, New York City.

"This book is a capstone," said Matthew Pinsker, a historian at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., who will be teaching it to K-12 educators at a workshop this summer. "The Underground Railroad was real, and Foner will help ordinary people understand that in a way that doesn't rely on fiction or quilt stories, but on actual documents and records."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER. "Words From the Past Illuminate a Station on the Way to Freedom." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 15, 2015): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 14, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.






March 23, 2015

How Air Conditioning Can Improve Metabolism




(p. 14) Sleep is essential for good health, as we all know. But a new study hints that there may be an easy but unrealized way to augment its virtues: lower the thermostat. Cooler bedrooms could subtly transform a person's stores of brown fat -- what has lately come to be thought of as "good fat" -- and consequently alter energy expenditure and metabolic health, even into daylight hours.


. . .


"These were all healthy young men to start with," . . . [senior author Francesco S. Celi] says, "but just by sleeping in a colder room, they gained metabolic advantages" that could, over time, he says, lessen their risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems. The men also burned a few more calories throughout the day when their bedroom was chillier (although not enough to result in weight loss after four weeks).


. . .


The message of these findings, Celi says, is that you can almost effortlessly tweak your metabolic health by turning down the bedroom thermostat a few degrees. His own bedroom is moderately chilled, as is his office -- which has an added benefit: It "keeps meetings short."



For the full story, see:

GRETCHEN REYNOLDS. "Let's Cool It in the Bedroom." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., JULY 20, 2014): 14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 17, 2014.)


The academic paper discussed above, is:

Lee, Paul, Sheila Smith, Joyce Linderman, Amber B. Courville, Robert J. Brychta, William Dieckmann, Charlotte D. Werner, Kong Y. Chen, and Francesco S. Celi. "Temperature-Acclimated Brown Adipose Tissue Modulates Insulin Sensitivity in Humans." Diabetes 63, no. 11 (Nov. 2014): 3686-98.






March 22, 2015

Castro to Writers and Artists: "Against the Revolution, No Rights at All"




(p. A13) Ricardo Porro, an architect who gave lyrical expression to a hopeful young Cuban revolution in the early 1960s before he himself fell victim to its ideological hardening, died on Thursday [December 25, 2014] in Paris, where he had spent nearly half a century in exile.


. . .


Mr. Porro's two schools have voluptuous brick domes and vaults, built by hand in the Catalan style reminiscent of Antoni Gaudí, that are almost bodily in their gentle embrace. Supporting them, and contrasting with their soft curves, are angular columns and buttresses that speak of the shattering force of revolution.


. . .


Before the schools were completed, however, artistic expression was stifled as Cuba moved into the Soviet orbit. Mr. Castro had famously answered his own rhetorical question in 1961 about the rights of writers and artists: "Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, no rights at all."

Almost overnight, the art schools' distinctive style was officially anathema. "You realize that you've been accused of something," Mr. Porro recalled in "Unfinished Spaces," a 2011 documentary directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray. "And then you realize that you have been judged. And then you realize you are guilty. And nobody tells you."



For the full obituary, see:

DAVID W. DUNLAP. "Ricardo Porro, 89, Exiled Cuban Architect." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 30, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, are added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 29, 2014, and has the title "Ricardo Porro, Exiled Cuban Architect, Dies at 89.")






March 21, 2015

Cornwalis Betrayed the Slaves Who Had Helped Him





(p.161) Dug in on high ground, Cornwallis had been throwing up earthwork redoubts since early August, employing thousands of slaves who had defected to the British lines in expectation of earning their freedom.


. . .


(p. 164) Cornwallis had grown so desperate that he infected blacks with smallpox and forced them to wander toward enemy lines in an attempt to sicken the opposing forces.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 20, 2015

Moral Progress Accelerated in the 18th Century




(p. A11) For hundreds of years, people flocked to public hangings as a form of entertainment. Onlookers crowded into town squares and brought their families, reveling in the carnival atmosphere. Today most people are sickened at the idea of merriment at an execution. (Many are disturbed that executions take place at all.) We recoil from other once-common practices, too: slavery, the mistreatment of children, animal cruelty. Such shifts in attitude or belief surely constitute a form of moral progress and suggest, for once, that civilization is advancing and not receding.


. . .


Mr. Shermer defines moral progress as an "increase in the survival and flourishing of sentient beings," which he illustrates with graphs and charts that reveal, among other things, a decline in war-related deaths, the expansion of the food supply, the reduction in major epidemics, the growth of world GDP and the spread of democracy.

Humanitarian achievements in the West, Mr. Shermer notes, began in earnest [in] the 18th century. Yet the ability to reason ethically is not a product of the Enlightenment. A moral instinct seems to be present at birth: Even infants possess innate intuitions about fairness and reciprocity, as Mr. Shermer explains. All societies punish free riders. The Golden Rule and Babylon's Code of Hammurabi (advocating proportionate punishment) predate the ancient Greeks. So why did we need an Enlightenment to jump-start our moral progress?



For the full review, see:

SALLY SATEL. "BOOKSHELF; Getting Better All the Time; Crowds once flocked to watch executions. Now we recoil at the idea. What causes such transformations of ethical standards?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 20, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 19, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Shermer, Michael. The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2015.






March 19, 2015

Over-Regulation Could Stifle Drones' Potential to Revolutionize Our Lives




(p. A15) In the early days of the automobile, Vermont enacted a law requiring someone to walk one-eighth of a mile in front of every car and wave a red flag to warn pedestrians. Iowa directed all motorists to call ahead to warn each town on their route that they were coming. Some jurisdictions set speed limits so low that drivers who obeyed them risked having their engines stall.

Those laws seem humorously quaint, but if they had been widely adopted and enforced, the automobile revolution might have been shut down and its manifold benefits denied to millions. Today over-regulation could stifle the development of drones, which have the potential to revolutionize many parts of the economy and our everyday lives.

To cite a few examples: Amazon hopes to launch Prime Air, which would use drones to deliver packages in less than 30 minutes after an order is placed. Texas Equusearch, which organizes missing-person recovery efforts, can replace the labor of 100 volunteers with one drone. Clayco Inc., a construction firm, intends to use drones for aerial imaging of construction projects--replacing either helicopters, which burn fossil fuels and can be dangerous to those below, or construction workers, who risk serious injury through falls when they must climb to reach high, hard-to-reach places to take photos.



For the full commentary, see:

JOSEPH R. PALMORE and CHRISTOPHER J. CARR. "Overregulated Drones Struggle for Take-Off; The FAA has been slow and stuck in the past--precisely what the technology is not." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






March 18, 2015

Technology Getting Bum Rap for Job Woes





The job market has been anemic in a variety of ways, for several years. Some, as below, want to pin this on the advance of technology. I argue, to the contrary, that it is mainly due to our discouraging start-ups by bad policies (such as over-regulating and over-taxing). Start-ups, as Haltiwanger and his colleagues have been showing, are the main source of new jobs.



(p. A1) Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, recently said that he no longer believed that automation would always create new jobs. "This isn't some hypothetical future possibility," he said. "This is something that's emerging before us right now."

Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at M.I.T., said, "This is the biggest challenge of our society for the next decade."

Mr. Brynjolfsson and other experts say they believe that society has a chance to meet the challenge in ways that will allow technology to be mostly a positive force. In addition to making some jobs obsolete, new technologies have also long complemented people's skills and enabled them (p. A3) to be more productive -- as the Internet and word processing have for office workers or robotic surgery has for surgeons.

More productive workers, in turn, earn more money and produce goods and services that improve lives.

"It is literally the story of the economic development of the world over the last 200 years," said Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist and an inventor of the web browser. "Just as most of us today have jobs that weren't even invented 100 years ago, the same will be true 100 years from now."


. . .


There are certain human skills machines will probably never replicate, like common sense, adaptability and creativity, said David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. Even jobs that become automated often require human involvement, like doctors on standby to assist the automated anesthesiologist, called Sedasys.


. . .


Whether experts lean toward the more pessimistic view of new technology or the most optimistic one, many agree that the uncertainty is vast. Not even the people who spend their days making and studying new technology say they understand the economic and societal effects of the new digital revolution.

When the University of Chicago asked a panel of leading economists about automation, 76 percent agreed that it had not historically decreased employment. But when asked about the more recent past, they were less sanguine. About 33 percent said technology was a central reason that median wages had been stagnant over the past decade, 20 percent said it was not and 29 percent were unsure.

Perhaps the most worrisome development is how poorly the job market is already functioning for many workers. More than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960s; 30 percent of women in this age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s. For those who are working, wage growth has been weak, while corporate profits have surged.



For the full story, see:

Claire Cain Miller. "Rise of Robot Work Force Stokes Human Fears." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 16, 2014): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2014, and has the title "As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up.")


A relevant Haltiwanger paper is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.






March 17, 2015

Wealth Can Be Used for Self-Improvement, Not Just Trivial Pursuits





Hamilton, in a letter to his future wife:


(p. 145) I do not, my love, affect modesty. I am conscious of [the] advantages I possess. I know I have talents and a good heart, but why am I not handsome ? Why have I not every acquirement that can embellish human nature? Why have I not fortune, that I might hereafter have more leisure than I shall have to cultivate those improvements for which I am not entirely unfit?


Source:

Alexander Hamilton as quoted in Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: bracketed word in original]






March 16, 2015

Fishing with Mosquito Nets, Where Food Is the Binding Constraint




(p. 1) BANGWEULU WETLANDS, Zambia -- Out here on the endless swamps, a harsh truth has been passed down from generation to generation: There is no fear but the fear of hunger.

With that always weighing on his mind, Mwewa Ndefi gets up at dawn, just as the first orange rays of sun are beginning to spear through the papyrus reeds, and starts to unclump a mosquito net.

Nets like his are widely considered a magic bullet against malaria -- one of the cheapest and most effective ways to stop a disease that kills at least half a million Africans each year. But Mr. Ndefi and countless others are not using their mosquito nets as global health experts have intended.

Nobody in his hut, including his seven children, sleeps under a net at night. Instead, Mr. Ndefi has taken his family's supply of anti-malaria nets and sewn them together into a gigantic sieve that he uses to drag the bottom of the swamp ponds, sweeping up all sorts of life: baby catfish, banded tilapia, tiny mouthbrooders, orange fish eggs, water bugs and the occasional green frog.

"I know it's not right," Mr. Ndefi said, "but without these nets, we wouldn't eat."

Across Africa, from the mud flats of Nigeria to the coral reefs off Mozambique, mosquito-net fishing is a growing problem, an unintended consequence of one of the biggest and most celebrated public health campaigns in recent years.

The nets have helped save millions of lives, but scientists worry about the collateral damage: Africa's fish.


. . .


"The nets go straight out of the bag into the sea," said Isabel Marques da Silva, a marine biologist at Universidade Lúrio in Mozambique. "That's why the inci-(p. 10)dence for malaria here is so high. The people don't use the mosquito nets for mosquitoes. They use them to fish."

But the unsparing mesh, with holes smaller than mosquitoes, traps much more life than traditional fishing nets do. Scientists say that could imperil already stressed fish populations, a critical food source for millions of the world's poorest people.


. . .


In many places, fish are dried for hours in direct sunlight on treated mosquito nets. Direct sunlight can break down the insecticide coating. Anthony Hay, an associate professor of environmental toxicology at Cornell University, said fish could absorb some of the toxins, leaving people to ingest them when they eat the fish.

"It's just another one of these 'white man's burdens,' " Mr. Hay said, referring to William Easterly's well-known book critical of foreign aid by the West. "We think we have a solution to everybody's problems, and here's an example of where we're creating a new problem."


. . .


For Mr. Ndefi, it is a simple, if painful, matter of choice. He knows all too well the dangers of malaria. His own toddler son, Junior, died of the disease four years ago. Junior used to always be there, standing outside his hut, when Mr. Ndefi came home from fishing.

Mr. Ndefi hopes his family can survive future bouts of the disease. But he knows his loved ones will not last long without food.



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Meant to Keep Mosquitos Out, Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 25, 2015): 1 & 10.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 24, 2015, and has the title "Meant to Keep Malaria Out, Mosquito Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In.")


The book referenced by Professor Hay, is:

Easterly, William. The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. New York: The Penguin Press, 2006.






March 15, 2015

Regulations Reduce Biotech Innovation




(p. A15) Modern genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or GM, has been around since the 1970s. Yet with the notable exception of biopharmaceuticals--beginning with the marketing of human insulin in 1982 and now accounting for more than 20% of U.S. drug expenditures--genetic engineering has failed to realize anything approaching its potential for vertical progress.

The reason is plain: In the non-pharmaceutical sectors, federal regulators for years seemingly have done everything they can to prevent U.S. researchers and companies from employing genetic engineering to create the "next big thing."


. . .


Regulatory disincentives are potent. It costs about $136 million to bring a genetically engineered crop plant to market. This is the primary reason more than 99% of such crop plants are those that are grown at huge scale: . . .


. . .


"Biopharming"--the once-promising biotechnology area that uses genetic engineering techniques to induce crops such as corn, tomatoes and tobacco to produce high concentrations of high-value pharmaceuticals (one of which is the Ebola drug, ZMapp)--is moribund because of the Agriculture Department's extraordinary regulatory burdens. Thanks to EPA's policies, which discriminate against organisms modified with the most precise and predictable techniques, the high hopes for genetically engineered "biorational" microbial pesticides and microorganisms to clean up toxic wastes have evaporated.



For the full commentary, see:

HENRY I. MILLER. "Regulators Put the Brakes On Biotech; Thanks to EPA, hopes have evaporated for genetically engineered microorganisms to clean up toxic wastes." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 14, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 13, 2015.)






March 14, 2015

Serendipitous Discovery that Titanium Fuses with Bone, Leads to Implants




(p. 24) Implants have been a major advance in dentistry, liberating millions of elderly people from painful, ill-fitting dentures, a diet of soft foods and the ignominy of a sneeze that sends false teeth flying out of the mouth. But addressing those problems was not Dr. Branemark's initial intent.

At the start of his career, he was studying how blood flow affects bone healing.

In 1952, he and his team put optical devices encased in titanium into the lower legs of rabbits in order to study the healing process. When the research period ended and they went to remove the devices, they discovered to their surprise that the titanium had fused into the bone and could not be removed.

Dr. Branemark called the process "osseointegration," and his research took a whole new direction as he realized that if the body could tolerate the long-term presence of titanium, the metal could be used to create an anchor for artificial teeth.


. . .


. . . , Dr. Branemark's innovation was poorly received. After Dr. Branemark gave a lecture on his work in 1969, Dr. Albrektsson recalled, one of the senior academics of Swedish dentistry rose and referred to an article in Reader's Digest describing Dr. Branemark's research, adding, "This may prove to be a popular article, but I simply do not trust people who publish themselves in Reader's Digest."

As it happened, that senior academic was well known to the Swedish public for recommending a particular brand of toothpick. So Dr. Branemark immediately rose and struck back, saying, "And I don't trust people who advertise themselves on the back of boxes of toothpicks."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Per-Ingvar Branemark, Dental Innovator, Dies at 85." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 28, 2014): 24.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)






March 13, 2015

"Hamilton Constantly Educated Himself"




(p. 110) During the winter encampments, Hamilton constantly educated himself, as if equipping his mind for the larger tasks ahead. "Force of intellect and force of will were the sources of his success," Henry Cabot Lodge later wrote. From his days as an artillery captain, Hamilton had kept a pay book with blank pages in the back; while on Washington's staff, he filled up 112 pages with notes from his extracurricular reading. Hamilton fit the type of the self-improving autodidact, employing all his spare time to better himself. He aspired to the eighteenth-century aristocratic ideal of the versatile man conversant in every area of knowledge. Thanks to his pay book we know that he read a considerable amount of philosophy, including Bacon, Hobbes, Montaigne, and Cicero. He also perused histories of Greece, Prussia, and France.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 12, 2015

Machiavelli Experienced "Flow" Writing The Prince




(p. 8) "Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are," Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince."


. . .


After the reveling, back in his study at a heavy desk much like the one in Palazzo Vecchio, he would spend the evening on the work that would come to define him. "For four hours," he wrote, "I feel no boredom, I forget every worry, I don't dread poverty, nor has death any terrors for me."



For the full story, see:

ONDINE COHANE. "Footsteps; Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2014, and has the title "Footsteps; In Tuscany, Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli.".)


Machiavelli's classic is:

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992 (based on a translation first published in 1910).






March 11, 2015

Occupational Licensing Raises Costs for Consumers and Reduces Jobs




(p. B1) What lesson should we draw from the success of Uber?

Customers have flocked to its service. In the final three months of last year, its so-called driver-partners made $656.8 million, according to an analysis of Uber data released last week by the Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger, who served as President Obama's chief economic adviser during his first term, and Uber's Jonathan V. Hall.

Drivers like it, too. By the end of last year, the service had grown to over 160,000 active drivers offering at least four drives a month, from near zero in mid-2012. And the analysis by Mr. Krueger and Mr. Hall suggests they make at least as much as regular taxi drivers and chauffeurs, on flexible hours. Often, they make more.

This kind of exponential growth confirms what every New Yorker and cab riders in many other cities have long suspected: Taxi service is woefully inefficient. It also raises a question of broader relevance: Why stop here?


. . .


(p. B5) . . . like taxi medallions, state licenses required to practice all sorts of jobs often serve merely to cordon off occupations for the benefit of licensed workers and their lobbying groups, protecting them from legitimate competition.

This comes at a substantial social cost. "Lower-income people suffer from licensing," Professor Krueger told me. "It raises the costs of many services and prevents low-income people from getting into some professions."

In a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found that almost three out of 10 workers in the United States need a license from state governments to do their jobs, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. By cordoning off so many occupations, he estimates, professional licensing by state governments ultimately reduces employment by up to 2.8 million jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Job Licenses in Spotlight as Uber Rises." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)



The working paper co-authored by Krueger, is:

Hall, Jonathan V., and Alan B. Krueger. "An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber's Driver-Partners in the United States." Working paper. January 22, 2015.



Kleiner's working paper at Brookings, is:

Kleiner, Morris M. "Reforming Occupational Licensing Policies." In The Hamilton Project, Brookings, Discussion Paper 2015-01, January 2015.






March 10, 2015

Over-Taxed and Over-Regulated Castles for Sale in Italy




(p. A3) While castles and historic mansions in Italy have long been family inheritances, today dozens of them are for sale, even in one of the most conservative real estate markets in Europe.


. . .


On historic buildings, where owners used to pay little as compensation for the elevated costs of maintaining centuries-old structures, the taxes increased by 20 or 30 times, depending on the property's location.

On some buildings, taxes spiked from 3,000 euros (about $3,400) in 2011 to 75,000 euros (about $84,000) by 2013. That might be a small figure for castle dwellers in the United Kingdom, but it is a burden for Italian pockets, especially in regions where the property's market value or tourism interest is low.

The trends, to many here, are indicative of Italy's place as a country caught between its past glory and its modern difficulty in producing an innovative climate capable of ensuring its future.


. . .


. . . buyer beware: Living a nobleman's life in Italy comes at a cost, even for many tycoons. New owners face the same onerous bureaucracy as Italians to make even minimal changes to many older properties.

Under Italian law, the owner of a historic building is its custodian, bound to maintain it and grant its security and, in some cases, its use to the public. Many buyers give up on properties of great historic value, but in bad condition, for this reason, brokers said.

"This is a problem for possible investors, who want to have modern comforts like a spa, air-conditioning or a lift," said Mr. Pallavicini, of the Italian Historic Houses Association.

"We no longer live like in 1800," he added. "But 99 percent of those changes are either impossible or extremely bureaucratic and complicated in an Italian historic building."



For the full story, see:

GAIA PIANIGIANI. "PONTASSIEVE JOURNAL; Life of Italian Nobility for Sale, Complete With Regulations and Taxes." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)






March 9, 2015

George Washington's "Entrepreneurial Bent"




(p. 87) Washington proved an excellent businessman, first as a canny speculator in western lands, then as lord of Mount Vernon. Sometimes buying human cargo directly from the holds of slave ships, he came to own more than one hundred slaves by the Revolution and expanded his estate until it encompassed thirteen square miles. An innovative farmer, he invented a plough and presided over a small industrial village at Mount Vernon that included a flour mill and a shop for manufacturing cloth, an entrepreneurial bent that appealed to Hamilton.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 8, 2015

Progress Depends on Removing Barriers to Innovation





In the quotation below, Bill Gates is referring to the late, and way-under-appreciated, economist Julian Simon.



(p. A3) ". . . Simon's view was that humans would have to change to innovate," Mr. Gates said. Innovation, in other words, is not preordained. Indeed, it's happened much more in some societies than in others. And it has happened, Mr. Gates was arguing, because people and institutions took steps to remove the barriers to progress.


. . .


. . . , much of the world is enjoying one of history's most rapid increases in prosperity. Life expectancy has risen more than six years just since 1990. The world, to quote the title of a book by the economist Charles Kenny, is "Getting Better." As Mr. Gates says: "The world is actually improving a lot. We're trying to deliver both the good news on the progress and the possibility to do more."



For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "Africa's Economy Is Rising, and Focus Turns to Food." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 22, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Africa's Economy Is Rising. Now What Happens to Its Food?")


The book mentioned by Charles Kenny is:

Kenny, Charles. Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--and How We Can Improve the World Even More. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books, 2011.


One of the great books by Julian Simon is:

Moore, Stephen, and Julian L. Simon. It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2000.






March 7, 2015

Innovation and Jobs Destroyed by Tax




(p. 7A) I was humbled to receive in November the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House for the development of life-changing medical devices. Traveling to our nation's capital, I couldn't help but think: There is no way I could have had the same impact if the tax on medical devices was in place when I got started over 50 years ago.

Simply put, the medical device tax is destroying job creation and innovation, and as a result, patient care is suffering.


. . .


Every day, I see firsthand the difficult choices innovators must make as a result of this ill-conceived tax. Perhaps worst of all, the medical device tax is helping cause a steep drop of investments in promising therapies.


. . .


It's time to put an end to this disastrous policy so that medical device entrepreneurs can do what America does best -- innovate.



For the full commentary, see:

Tom Fogarty. "Opposing View: Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation." USA Today (Mon., January 5, 2015): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2015, and has the title "Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation: Opposing View.")






March 6, 2015

A Federal "Building Whose Banality Is Exceeded Only by Its Expense"




(p. A3) WASHINGTON--They span 75 feet, weigh 4,300 pounds and can't move.

The four, black aluminum clouds comprising the once-mobile component of "Mountains and Clouds"--one of the final works of sculptor Alexander Calder, which dominates the Hart Senate office building's 90-foot-high atrium--haven't drifted for more than a decade. They once rotated at a gentle speed, but have been frozen in place for years after a bearing failed.


. . .


, , , , mirroring the mixed feelings toward Mr. Calder's sculpture, many in Washington didn't appreciate the contemporary Hart building's break with traditional architecture. In 1981, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) suggested in a "sense of the Senate" resolution that the plastic covering that had protected the building from wintry elements was preferable to the exterior itself.

"Whereas the plastic cover has now been removed revealing, as feared, a building whose banality is exceeded only by its expense," said the resolution, which never came to a vote. "Therefore, be it resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the plastic cover be put back."



For the full story, see:

KRISTINA PETERSON. "A Nebulous Debate in Washington." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Dec. 26, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 25, 2014, and has the title "Calder Sculpture Triggers Heavenly Debate in Washington.")






March 5, 2015

Hamilton Was an Autodidact





Others who might be considered autodidacts include Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Guglielomo Marconi. When the self-taught can achieve so much, it raises the question of whether we over-emphasize formal education? (Chernow also mentions Hamilton being an autodidact on pages 110, 206, and 682.)


(p. 42) Hamilton's early itinerary in America closely mirrored the connections of Hugh Knox. Through Knox, he came to know two of New York's most eminent Presbyterian clergymen: Knox's old mentor, Dr. John Rodgers-- an imposing figure who strutted grandly down Wall Street en route to church, grasping a gold-headed cane and nodding to well-wishers--and the Reverend John M. Mason, whose son would end up attempting an authorized biography of Hamilton. Through another batch of Knox introductory letters, Hamilton ended up studying at a well-regarded preparatory school across the Hudson River, the Elizabethtown Academy. Like all autodidacts, Hamilton had some glaring deficiencies to correct and required cram courses in Latin, Greek, and advanced math to qualify for college.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 4, 2015

Depression of 1920-21 Ended Quickly, Without Government Stimulus or Bailouts




(p. C3) Beginning in January 1920, something much worse than a recession blighted the world. The U.S. suffered the steepest plunge in wholesale prices in its history (not even eclipsed by the Great Depression), as well as a 31.6% drop in industrial production and a 46.6% fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Unemployment spiked, and corporate profits plunged.


. . .


In the absence of anything resembling government stimulus, a modern economist may wonder how the depression of 1920-21 ever ended. Oddly enough, deflation turned out to be a tonic. Prices--and, critically, wages too--were allowed to fall, and they fell far enough to entice consumers, employers and investors to part with their money. Europeans, noticing that America was on the bargain counter, shipped their gold across the Atlantic, where it swelled the depression-shrunken U.S. money supply. Shares of profitable and well-financed American companies changed hands at giveaway valuations.

Of course, the year-and-a-half depression must have seemed interminable for all who were jobless or destitute. It was, however, a great deal shorter than the 43 months of the Great Depression of 1929-33. Then too, the 1922 recovery would bring tears of envy to today's central bankers and policy makers: Passenger-car production shot up by 63%, for instance, and the Dow jumped by 21.5%. "From practically all angles," this newspaper judged in a New Year's Day 1923 retrospective, "1922 can be recorded as the renaissance of prosperity."

In 2008, as Lehman Brothers toppled, the Great Depression monopolized the market on historical analogies. To avoid a recurrence of the 1930s, officials declared, the U.S. had to knock down interest rates, manipulate stock prices to go higher, repave the highways and trade in the clunkers.

The forgotten depression teaches a very different lesson. Sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES GRANT. "The Depression Fixed by Doing Nothing; The agonizing but often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 3, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 2, 2015, and has the title "The Depression That Was Fixed by Doing Nothing; The often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.")


Grant's commentary is elaborated on in his book:

Grant, James. The Forgotten Depression: 1921, the Crash That Cured Itself. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






March 3, 2015

Conscientiousness and Openness Matter More than Intelligence




(p. 2) In a 2014 paper, the Australian psychology professor Arthur E. Poropat cites research showing that both conscientiousness (which he defines as a tendency to be "diligent, dutiful and hardworking") and openness (characterized by qualities like creativity and curiosity) are more highly correlated with student performance than intelligence is. And, he notes, ratings of students' personalities by outside observers -- teachers, for instance -- are even more strongly linked with academic success than the way students rate themselves. The strength of the personality-performance link is good news, he writes, because "personality has been demonstrated to change over time to a far greater extent than intelligence."


For the full commentary, see:

ANNA NORTH. "Should Schools Teach Personality?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JANUARY 11, 2015): 2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JANUARY 10, 2015.)


Relevant articles by Poropat are:

Poropat, Arthur E. "A Meta-Analysis of the Five-Factor Model of Personality and Academic Performance." Psychological Bulletin 135, no. 2 (March 2009): 322-38.

Poropat, Arthur E. "Other-Rated Personality and Academic Performance: Evidence and Implications." Learning and Individual Differences 34 (August 2014): 24-32.






March 2, 2015

"It's My Life, and I Want the Chance to Save It"




(p. 18) LYONS, Colo. -- Since May [2014], a string of states have passed laws that give critically ill patients the right to try medications that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Deemed "Right to Try" laws, they have passed quickly and often unanimously in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and Arizona, bringing hope to patients like Larry Kutt, who lives in this small town at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Kutt, 65, has an advanced blood cancer and says his state's law could help him gain access to a therapy that several pharmaceutical companies are testing. "It's my life," he said, "and I want the chance to save it."

The laws do not seem to have helped anyone obtain experimental medicine, as the drug companies are not interested in supplying unapproved medications outside the supervision of the F.D.A. But that seems almost beside the point to the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian group behind legislative efforts to pass Right to Try laws. "The goal is for terminally ill patients to have choice when it comes to end-stage disease," said Craig Handzlik, state policy coordinator for the Goldwater Institute, based in Arizona. "Right to Try is something that will help terminally ill people all over the country."



For the full story, see:

JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Patients Seek 'Right to Try' New Drugs." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 11, 2015): 18.

(Note: the bracketed year is added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 10, 2015.)






March 1, 2015

Probate Court Kept Hamilton Waiting for a Year




(p. 25) For a year after his mother's death, Alexander was held in painful suspense by the probate court and perhaps absorbed the useful lesson that people who manipulate the law wield the real power in society.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






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