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December 31, 2018

Idyllic Golden-Age Hunter-Gatherers




(p. A8) Before he was killed by an isolated tribe on a remote Indian Ocean island, John Allen Chau, a young American on a self-propelled mission to spread Christianity, revealed two things: that he was willing to die, and that he was scared.


. . .


He tried to give gifts. A boy shot an arrow at him. He expressed fear, fatalism, frustration and some humor.

The people Mr. Chau chose for his mission are among the most impenetrable communities in the world, known for their intense hostility to outsiders. They have killed or tried to kill many outsiders who attempted to step on their rugged island 700 miles off India's mainland, where they are one of the last undiluted hunter and gatherer societies.


. . .


Mr. Chau was trying to accomplish the impossible. The people on North Sentinel have not accepted anyone outside their society. Anthropologists, filmmakers and government officials have tried to approach them. Just about all have been driven back by bows and arrows.


. . .


The fishermen said he had told them to give the letter to a friend, in case he did not come back.

In one passage, he asked God if North Sentinel was "Satan's last stronghold." In another: "What makes them become this defensive and hostile?"

"It's weird -- actually no, it's natural: I'm scared," Mr. Chau wrote. "There, I said it. Also frustrated and uncertain -- is it worth me going a foot to meet them?"

He added, "I don't want to die!"

Still, he went back.

On the afternoon of Nov. 16, the fishermen told police officers, Mr. Chau reassured them that he would be fine staying on the island overnight and that the fishermen could go. They motored out, leaving Mr. Chau alone for the first time.

When they passed by the island the next morning, they saw the islanders dragging his body on the beach with a rope.

No one knows what exactly happened. Police officials said the islanders most likely killed him with bows and arrows.

Mr. Chau's body is still on the island, but several police officers said they were worried about retrieving it, lest the same thing happen to them.



For the full story, see:

Jeffrey Gettleman, Hari Kumar and Kai Schultz. "American's Last Letter Before Being Killed by Tribe on a Remote Indian Island." The New York Times (Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 23, 2018, and has the title "A Man's Last Letter Before Being Killed on a Forbidden Island.")






December 30, 2018

Humans Turn Raw Data into Fuel for A.I.




(p. B1) Some of the most critical work in advancing China's technology goals takes place in a former cement factory in the middle of the country's heartland, far from the aspiring Silicon Valleys of Beijing and Shenzhen. An idled concrete mixer still stands in the middle of the courtyard. Boxes of melamine dinnerware are stacked in a warehouse next door.

Inside, Hou Xiameng runs a company that helps artificial intelligence make sense of the world. Two dozen young people go through photos and videos, labeling just about everything they see. That's a car. That's a traffic light. That's bread, that's milk, that's chocolate. That's what it looks like when a person walks.

"I used to think the machines are geniuses," Ms. Hou, 24, said. "Now I know we're the reason for their genius."

In China, long the world's factory floor, a new generation of low-wage workers is assembling the foundations of the future. Start-ups in smaller, cheaper cities have sprung up to apply labels to China's huge trove of images and surveillance footage. If China is the Saudi Arabia of data, as one expert says, these businesses are the refineries, turning raw data into the fuel that can power China's A.I. ambitions.



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "THE NEW NEW WORLD; Doing Time on the A.I. Assembly Line.") The New York Times (Monday, Nov. 26 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 25, 2018, and has the title "THE NEW NEW WORLD; How Cheap Labor Drives China's A.I. Ambitions.")






December 29, 2018

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Can Enhance Memory




(p. C1) Sharon remembers the first day it happened, in 1952. She was 5 years old and blindfolded while her friends ran around her, laughing, trying not to be caught in a game of blindman's bluff. But when she whipped off the scarf, panic set in. The house, the street, even the mountains were in the wrong place. She was totally disoriented.


. . .


She eventually learned she had an unusual condition called developmental topographical disorientation disorder, or DTD.


. . .


(p. C2) Not all brain disorders are as detrimental as DTD. Bob, a TV producer from Los Angeles, remembers every day of his life as if it happened yesterday. His perfect memory is a gift, he says: "I don't have to mourn people after they've passed away because my memory of them is so clear."

The condition was discovered by James McGaugh at the University of California, Irvine, in 2001, after he received a peculiar email from a woman named Jill. "Since I was 11 I have had this unbelievable ability to recall my past," she said. "When I see a date...I go back to that day and remember where I was, what I was doing, what day it fell on and on and on."


. . .


A decade later, Dr. McGaugh had a group of around 50 people with HSAM. By scanning their brains while they carried out memory tasks, he discovered that they had an enlarged caudate nucleus and putamen--two areas implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. McGaugh concluded that their extraordinary powers of memory are rooted not in their ability to form memories, but in an unconscious rehearsal of their past. They accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually recalling and reflecting upon them--"a unique form of OCD," he says.



For the full essay, see:

Helen Thomson. "'Lessons From STRANGE BRAINS." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 30, 2018): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses between quoted passages, added; ellipsis internal to a paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 29, 2018, and has the title "Strange Stories of Extraordinary Brains--and What We Can Learn From Them.")


Thomson's essay is closely related to her book:

Thomson, Helen. Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey through the World's Strangest Brains. New York: Ecco, 2018.






December 28, 2018

Chinese Entrepreneurs Anxious Over Growing Government Control of Private Enterprise




(p. A15) HONG KONG -- The comments were couched in careful language, but the warning about China's direction was clear.

China grew to prosperity in part by embracing market forces, said Wu Jinglian, the 88-year-old dean of pro-market Chinese economists, at a forum last month. Then he turned to the top politician in the room, Liu He, China's economic czar, and said "unharmonious voices" were now condemning private enterprise.

"The phenomenon," Mr. Wu said, "is worth noting."

Mr. Wu gave rare official voice to a growing worry among Chinese entrepreneurs, economists and even some government officials: China may be stepping back from the free-market, pro-business policies that transformed it into the world's No. 2 economy. For 40 years, China has swung between authoritarian Communist control and a freewheeling capitalism where almost anything could happen -- and some see the pendulum swinging back toward the government.


. . .


China's leadership turned to entrepreneurs in the late 1970s, after the government had led the economy to the brink of collapse. Officials gave them special economic zones where they could open factories with fewer government rules and attract foreign investors. The experiment was an unparalleled success. When extended to the rest of the country, it created a growth machine that helped make China second only to the United States in terms of economic heft.

Today, the private sector contributes nearly two-thirds of the country's growth and nine-tenths of new jobs, according to the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, an official business group. So pressures on private businesses could create serious ripples.

"The private sector is experiencing great difficulties right now," wrote Mr. Hu, the retired minister, who as the son of a former top Communist Party leader is often a voice for reform in China, in an essay posted online last Thursday. "We should try our best not to replicate the nationalization of private enterprise in the 1950s and the state capitalism."


. . .


Private entrepreneurs are loath to speak out for fear of attracting official condemnation. But signs of distress aren't hard to find.

Last month, Chen Shouhong, the founder of an investment research firm, asked a group of executive M.B.A. students -- many of whom already owned publicly listed companies -- to choose between panic and anxiety to describe how they feel about the economy. An overwhelming majority chose panic, according to a transcript. Mr. Chen declined to be interviewed.


. . .


Xiao Han, an associate law professor in Beijing, cited one of Aesop's fables, of a man trying and failing to stop a donkey from going over a cliff.

"Before long," Mr. Xiao said, "we'll probably find a body of a China donkey under the cliff."



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "China Muscles In on Its Free-Market Prosperity."The New York Times (Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 3, 2018, and has the title "Private Businesses Built Modern China. Now the Government Is Pushing Back.")






December 27, 2018

Homo Sapiens Drew Figurative Art for at Least 40,000 of Their 300,000 Years




(p. A10) On the wall of a cave deep in the jungles of Borneo, there is an image of a thick-bodied, spindly-legged animal, drawn in reddish ocher.

It may be a crude image. But it also is more than 40,000 years old, scientists reported on Wednesday, making this the oldest figurative art in the world.

Until now, the oldest known human-made figures were ivory sculptures found in Germany. Scientists have estimated that those figurines -- of horses, birds and people -- were at most 40,000 years old.


. . .


The finding . . . demonstrates that ancient humans somehow made the creative transition at roughly the same time, in places thousands of miles apart.

"It's essentially happening at the same time at the opposite ends of the world," said Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia and a co-author of the report, published in the journal Nature.


. . .


One thing is clear: Figurative art came late in the history of our species.

The oldest fossils of Homo sapiens, found in Morocco, are 300,000 years old. A study last year of genetic diversity among people today indicates that populations began diverging from one another in Africa between 260,000 and 350,000 years ago.

Today, every culture makes art of some sort, and it is likely that humans in Africa over 200,000 years ago had the capacity to create it.

But for thousands of generations, there's no evidence that people actually made figurative art. The closest thing to it are abstract engravings etched on shells or pieces of ocher.



For the full story, see:


Carl Zimmer. "Cave Contains World's Oldest Figurative Art, Dating Back Over 40,000 Years."The New York Times (Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 7, 2018, and has the title "In Cave in Borneo Jungle, Scientists Find Oldest Figurative Painting in the World.")


The Nature article, mentioned above, has been published online in advance of the print version:

Aubert, M., P. Setiawan, A. A. Oktaviana, A. Brumm, P. H. Sulistyarto, E. W. Saptomo, B. Istiawan, T. A. Ma'rifat, V. N. Wahyuono, F. T. Atmoko, J. X. Zhao, J. Huntley, P. S. C. Taçon, D. L. Howard, and H. E. A. Brand. "Palaeolithic Cave Art in Borneo." Nature (Nov. 7, 2018) DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0679-9.






December 26, 2018

Robots Help Montoya Fulfill His Father's Wish for Him to Avoid Manual Labor




(p. A15) SALINAS, Calif. -- As a boy, Abel Montoya remembers his father arriving home from the lettuce fields each evening, the picture of exhaustion, mud caked knee-high on his trousers. "Dad wanted me to stay away from manual labor. He was keen for me to stick to the books," Mr. Montoya said. So he did, and went to college.

Yet Mr. Montoya, a 28-year-old immigrant's son, recently took a job at a lettuce-packing facility, where it is wet, loud, freezing -- and much of the work is physically taxing, even mind-numbing.

Now, though, he can delegate some of the worst work to robots.

Mr. Montoya is among a new generation of farmworkers here at Taylor Farms, one of the world's largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, which recently unveiled a fleet of robots designed to replace humans -- one of the agriculture industry's latest answers to a diminishing supply of immigrant labor.

The smart machines can assemble 60 to 80 salad bags a minute, double the output of a worker.

Enlisting robots made sound economic sense, Taylor Farms officials said, for a company seeking to capitalize on Americans' insatiable appetite for healthy fare at a time when it cannot recruit enough people to work in the fields or the factory.



For the full story, see:

Miriam Jordan. "Farms Turn to Robots as Labor Pool Shrinks."The New York Times (Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 20, 2018, and has the title "As Immigrant Farmworkers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans.")






December 25, 2018

Sam Peltzman Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




We are told that robots are about to make us superfluous and that the giants of Silicon Valley will swallow the economy. Art Diamond's "openness to creative destruction" provides a healthy antidote to all this gloom and doom. He gives us the necessary historical perspective: we owe our comfort and even our lives to generations of disruptive innovation. Yet each disruption bred apocalyptic portents like those we hear today. These did not come to pass because of new disruptions down the road. Diamond ably documents this process of "creative destruction" and its enormous historical benefit. He also provides a timely warning against heeding the pessimists of the moment by imposing legal and regulatory shackles on the innovators. "Openness to Creative Destruction" is a most valuable addition to the public discussion of innovation.


Sam Peltzman, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Chicago; Director Emeritus of the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State. Author of Political Participation and Government Regulation, and other works.



Peltzman's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






December 24, 2018

As Chinese Government Control of Economy Grows, Entrepreneur Jack Ma Joins Communist Party




(p. B3) HONG KONG -- Jack Ma, China's richest man and the guiding force behind its biggest e-commerce company, belongs to an elite club of power brokers, 89 million strong: the Chinese Communist Party.


. . .


The disclosure of Mr. Ma's membership reflects the thinking that the party controls the economy and society, said Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a critic of the party.

"It's going backward from the Deng Xiaoping era, when the party advocated the separation of the party and the government," she said, referring to the party leader who ultimately governed China during its early years of reform in the 1970s and '80s.

The disclosure also drew attention because Mr. Ma had in the past tried to keep his distance from the government. When asked at public appearances how he managed government relations, he often said, "Fall in love with the government, but don't get married."

But as Mr. Xi tightens ideological controls and the power of the state grows, many successful entrepreneurs have made a point of showing their party loyalty.



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "In China, Billionaires Sidle Up to the Party."The New York Times (Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2018, and has the title "Jack Ma, China's Richest Man, Belongs to the Communist Party. Of Course.")






December 23, 2018

With High Minimum Wages and Living Costs, S.F. Restaurants Cannot Afford, or Even Find, Servers




(p. D1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Souvla, a Greek restaurant with a devoted following, serves spit-fired meat two ways: in a photogenic sandwich, or on a photogenic salad, either available with a glass of Greek wine. The garnishes are thoughtful: pea shoots, harissa-spiked yogurt, mizithra cheese.

The small menu is so appealing and the place itself so charming that you almost forget, as a diner, that you have to do much of the work of dining out yourself. You scout your own table. You fetch and fill your own water glass. And if you'd like another glass of wine, you go back to the counter.

Runners will bring your order to the table, but there are no servers to wait on you here, or at the two other San Francisco locations that Souvla has added -- or, increasingly, at other popular restaurants that have opened in the last two years: RT Rotisserie, which is roasting cauliflower a few blocks away; Barzotto, a bistro serving hand-rolled pasta in the Mission district; and Media Noche, a Cuban sandwich spot with eye-catching custom tilework.

Inside these restaurants, it's evident that the forces making this one of the most expensive cities in America are subtly altering the economics of everything. Commer-(p. D6)cial rents have gone up. Labor costs have soared. And restaurant workers, many of them priced out by the expense of housing, have been moving away.

Restaurateurs who say they can no longer find or afford servers are figuring out how to do without them. And so in this city of staggering wealth, you can eat like a gourmand, with real stemware and ceramic plates. But first you'll have to go get your own silverware.


. . .


On July 1 [2018], the minimum wage in San Francisco will hit $15 an hour, following incremental raises from $10.74 in 2014. The city also requires employers with at least 20 workers to pay health care costs beyond the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to paid sick leave and parental leave.

Despite those benefits, many workers say they can't afford to live here, or to stay in the industry. And partly as a result of those benefits, restaurateurs say they can't afford the workers who remain. A dishwasher can now make $18 or $19 an hour. And because of California labor laws, even tipped workers like servers earn at least the full minimum wage, unlike their peers in most other states.

Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that when housing prices rise by 10 percent, the price of local services, including restaurants, rises by about 6 percent. (The median home price in San Francisco has doubled since 2012.)



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "Hi! You'll Be Your Server Tonight." The New York Times (Wednesday, June 27, 2018): D1 & D6.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 25, 2018, and has the title "THE UPSHOT; San Francisco Restaurants Can't Afford Waiters. So They're Putting Diners to Work.")


The published version of the Moretti paper, mentioned above, is:

Moretti, Enrico. "Real Wage Inequality." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5, no. 1 (Jan. 2013): 65-103.






December 22, 2018

Tech Entrepreneurs Know Innovation Thrives in Flexible Labor Markets




(p. B1) A politically awakened Silicon Valley, buttressed by the tech industry's growing economic power, could potentially alter politics long after President Trump has left the scene. But if the tech industry becomes a political force, what sort of policies will it push?

(p. B6) A new survey by political scientists at Stanford University suggests a mostly straightforward answer -- with one glaring twist. The study is the first comprehensive look at the political attitudes of wealthy technologists, whose views have long been misunderstood to the point of caricature by many outside the industry.


. . .


Over all, the study showed that tech entrepreneurs are very liberal -- among some of the most left-leaning Democrats you can find. They are overwhelmingly in favor of economic policies that redistribute wealth, including higher taxes on rich people and lots of social services for the poor, including universal health care.


. . .


Now for the twist. The study found one area where tech entrepreneurs strongly deviate from Democratic orthodoxy and are closer to most Republicans: They are deeply suspicious of the government's efforts to regulate business, especially when it comes to labor. They said that it was too difficult for companies to fire people, and that the government should make it easier to do so. They also hope to see the influence of both private and public-sector unions decline.


. . .


. . . if they're not libertarians, what accounts for techies' opposition to regulation? One idea might be that it's driven by self-interest. A large fraction said they opposed regulating car-sharing services as if they were taxis, for instance; to the extent that the tech elite have a lot of money riding on the sharing economy, they may worry that regulation of such companies could hurt their wallets.


. . .


To tease out whether self-interest was at play in their views on regulation, surveyors asked a question about Uber's surge-pricing policy, which increases prices during periods of peak demand. But the researchers disguised it with a business unrelated to tech: "On a holiday, when there is a great demand for flowers, sellers usually increase their prices. Do you think it is fair for them to raise their prices like this?"

A majority of Democrats and Republicans said it would be unfair for a florist to do that. But 96 percent of the tech elite thought it would be fair.

"My guess is there's an underlying principle to their views," Dr. Broockman said. "They see an entrepreneur trying to do what they want in the marketplace, and they see nothing unfair about that."



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "Tech's Giants Skew Liberal." The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 6, 2017, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Silicon Valley's Politics: Liberal, With One Big Exception.")


The Stanford study, discussed above, has been published online in advance of print publication:

Broockman, David E., Gregory Ferenstein, and Neil Malhotra. "Predispositions and the Political Behavior of American Economic Elites: Evidence from Technology Entrepreneurs." American Journal of Political Science published online on Nov. 19, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12408.






December 21, 2018

Star Wars Details Allow "a Fully Believable, Escapist Experience"




(p. A15) Mr. Jameson clearly lays out the qualities that geeks appreciate in their art: realism bolstered by a deep internal history and the sort of "world-building" exemplified by Tolkien. But in Hollywood "Star Wars" changed the game thanks to its verisimilitude, "which immediately and thoroughly convinces viewers that they are watching humans and aliens skip from planet to planet in a vast, crowded other galaxy with its own detailed history." Similarly, the biological background of the "Alien" series includes Xenomorphs "whose intricate life cycle can be described from beginning to end in grisly detail." Books like "The Star Trek Encyclopedia," in which the show's designers document "all the alien planets and species that they'd invented" and present starship engineering schematics, are quintessential works of geek culture.

Detail is important to geeks, the author suggests, because they want without "any boundaries, any limits. . . . They don't want the artwork to ever end." Whether it's playing a tabletop game filled with lore about previously unknown characters from the "Star Wars" galaxy or reading a "textbook" to study the fantastic beasts of the "Harry Potter" world, geeks want to believe--at least for a bit. As Mr. Jameson says, "geeks have long thought of artworks as places where one can hang out." That's one reason why single films have given way to trilogies and why characters have cross-populated to create Marvel's seemingly endless "cinematic universe."



For the full review, see:

Brian P. Kelly. "BOOKSHELF; The Geeks Strike Back." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing' Review: The Geeks Strike Back; The "Star Wars" franchise and Marvel's superhero films reign supreme in today's Hollywood. How did that happen?")


The book under review, is:

Jameson, A. D. I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.






December 20, 2018

False Fears of Killer Robots Distract Us from Real Benefits of Collaborative A.I.




(p. A27) If we spend all of our time looking over our shoulders for killer robots, that means we are not looking ahead to discern the outcomes we might actually want.


. . .


The most successful A.I. systems out there today are dependent on teams of humans, just as the humans depend on those systems to provide insights and perform tasks beyond their own abilities. Image-processing A.I. can outperform human radiologists at spotting tumors in X-rays, if medical personnel get patients in front of the right machine and ask the right questions. But teams of human doctors will be vital to marrying technology and empathy for the effective treatment of complex diseases.



For the full commentary, see:

Ed Finn. "Don't Fear the Killer Robots." The New York Times (Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018): A27.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 15, 2018, and has the title "A Smarter Way to Think About Intelligent Machines.")






December 19, 2018

Environmentalists Back Logging to Reduce Infernos




(p. A3) FRENCH MEADOWS RESERVOIR, Calif.--Obscured amid the chaos of California's latest wildfire outbreak is a striking sign of change that may help curtail future devastating infernos. After decades of butting heads, some environmentalists and logging supporters have largely come to agreement that forests need to be logged to be saved.


. . .


The Camp Fire and the 98,400-acre Woolsey Fire in Southern California were fueled by fierce winds in unusually dry weather, which turned much of the state into a tinderbox.

Another dangerous factor, land-management experts say, is that forests have become overgrown with trees and underbrush due to a mix of human influences, including a past federal policy of putting out fires, rather than letting them burn. Washington has also sharply reduced logging under pressure from environmentalists.

Now, the unlikely coalition is pushing new programs to thin out forests and clear underbrush. In 2017, California joined with the U.S. Forest Service and other groups in creating the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, which aims to thin millions of trees from about 2.4 million acres of forest--believed to be the largest such state-federal project in the country.



For the full story, see:

Jim Carlton. "Deadly Fires Shift View of Logging." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date and has the title "Facing Deadlier Fires, California Tries Something New: More Logging." The last quoted sentence is the slightly shorter version that appeared in the print version.)






December 18, 2018

Progress on Cancer Cures Is Slow and Too Few Benefit




(p. 5) The reason is a new generation of cancer treatments that have become available in recent years. Some, called immunotherapy, harness the patient's own immune system to battle a tumor. Others, known as targeted therapies, block certain molecules that cancers depend on to grow and spread. The medical literature -- usually circumspect when it comes to cancer, in light of many overhyped treatments in the past -- now fairly gushes with terms like "revolutionary" and "cure." In this case, the hype feels mostly justified.


. . .


A recent analysis estimated that about 15 percent of patients with advanced cancer might benefit from immunotherapy -- and it's all but impossible to determine which patients will be the lucky ones. Just last week, a study of lung cancer patients demonstrated the overall benefits of combining immunotherapy with traditional chemotherapy. But here, too, the researchers noted that most patients will not respond to the new treatments, and it is not yet possible to predict who will benefit. In some cases, the side effects are terrible -- different from those of chemotherapy but often just as dire.



For the full commentary, see:

Robert M. Wachter. "The Problem With Miracle Cancer Cures." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, April 21, 2018): 5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 19, 2018.)


The claim that only 15% benefit, made above, is based on the following:

Howard, Jacqueline. "Hope and Hype around Cancer Immunotherapy." CNN, Weds., Sept. 27, 2017.


GAY, NATHAN, and VINAY PRASAD. "First Opinion; Few People Actually Benefit from 'Breakthrough' Cancer Immunotherapy." March 8, 2017.






December 17, 2018

Tyler Cowen Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




What are the benefits of innovative dynamism? Arthur Diamond lays out the clearest positive case to date for innovation in this highly readable and historically comprehensive work.


Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University; Director of Mercatus Center; "Economic Scene" columnist for the New York Times; blogger for Marginal Revolution. Author of In Praise of Commercial Culture, Creative Destruction, The Great Stagnation, The Complacent Class, and many other works



Cowen's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






December 16, 2018

Little Correlation Between a State's Tax Breaks and Subsidies to Firms, and the State's Unemployment and Income Levels




(p. A27) It's politically difficult for city and state officials to offer incentives to one firm and not another, Timothy Bartik, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, told me. Like Lay's potato chips, "you can't hand out just one," as he put it. He fears that after the hysteria over Amazon's HQ2 and the recent $4.1 billion deal struck between the state of Wisconsin and the Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn, incentive amounts will only climb.

Unfortunately, incentives and tax breaks don't work. Research by Mr. Bartik indicates that there is not a large correlation between a state's giveaways and its unemployment rate or income levels.


. . .


Lavish benefits also don't have much influence over the choice of a location. The typical package changes a decision only 25 percent of the time or less -- about two-thirds of the incentives are handed to companies that would have moved to the state offering them, regardless.

Instead, the deals often end up being a burden on budgets. Texas schools have lost an estimated $4 billion to the state's economic development program and Cleveland schools lost over $34 million in one year alone. New Jersey's budget is at risk of bleeding $1 billion a year, while Michigan's liability for its business tax credits is set to soar to $9.38 billion over the next two decades and incentives have already led to a $325 million budget deficit. None of that accounts for the extra outlays to upgrade infrastructure and services for the people who move in to take advantage of any jobs that are created.


. . .


The solution, . . . , must be an armistice. States and cities need to collectively swear off big-dollar economic deals aimed at particular companies. If no one offers them, corporations will have to figure out where to locate on their own.

There's nothing to love about these incentives. Republicans should be outraged by the idea of government picking winners and insist instead that companies be left to choose locations based on the conditions they need to operate their businesses, not sweetheart deals. Democrats should oppose them because they are starving state and city coffers of funds needed for important services, such as schools.



For the full commentary, see:


Covert, Bryce. "HQ2 Winners Are Losers." The New York Times (Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2018): A27.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 13, 2018, and has the title "Cities Should Stop Playing the Amazon HQ2 Bidding Game." Where there are minor differences in the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)


The research by Bartik, mentioned above, is:

Bartik, Timothy J. "A New Panel Database on Business Incentives for Economic Development Offered by State and Local Governments in the United States." W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research: Prepared for the Pew Charitable Trusts, 2017.






December 15, 2018

Chernobyl Was Due to "Bureaucratic Incompetence," Not Due to Technology




(p. C6) Dr. Medvedev's study of Lysenko was not approved for official publication in the Soviet Union, but samizdat, or clandestine, copies circulated among the intelligentsia. In 1969, the book was translated into English and published as "The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko."

Dr. Medvedev was fired from his job at an agricultural research laboratory, and within a few months was summoned to a meeting with a psychiatrist, on the pretext of discussing the behavior of his teenage son. Instead, Dr. Medvedev was taken to a holding cell, where he managed to pick the lock and walk away.

Soon afterward, on May 29, 1970, as Dr. Medvedev recounted in his book "A Question of Madness," he was confronted at his home by two psychiatrists accompanied by several police officers.

"'If you refuse to talk to us,' one of the psychiatrists told Dr. Medvedev, 'then we will be obliged to draw the appropriate conclusions . . . And how do you feel yourself, Zhores Aleksandrovich?'

"I answered that I felt marvelous.

"'But if you feel so marvelous, then why do you think we have turned up here today?'

"'Obviously, you must answer that question yourself,' I replied. "A police major arrived. "' And who on earth might you be?' Dr. Medvedev asked. 'I didn't invite you here.' "

"He protested, to no avail, that the homes of Soviet citizens were considered private and inviolable to the forces of the state.

"'Get to your feet!" the police major ordered Dr. Medvedev. 'I order you to get to your feet!' "

Two lower-ranking officers, twisted Dr. Medvedev's arms behind his back, forced him out of his house and into an ambulance. He was driven to a psychiatric hospital.

The preliminary diagnosis was "severe mental illness dangerous to the public," and Dr. Medvedev was repeatedly warned to stop his "publicist activities."

Meanwhile, his brother, Sakharov and other activists for greater openness in the Soviet system sent telegrams and published open letters calling for Dr. Medvedev's release. One of his friends, the novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then still living in the Soviet Union, condemned Dr. Medvedev's detention with a bold and blistering statement.

"The incarceration of freethinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder," he said. "It is a fiendish and prolonged torture . . . These crimes will never be forgotten, and all those who take part in them will be condemned endlessly, while they live and after they're dead.

"It is shortsighted to think that you can live constantly relying on force alone, constantly scorning the objections of conscience."

Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize for Literature later that year.


. . .


In 1990, Dr. Medvedev wrote an account of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which he considered inevitable, with the Soviet Union's history of scientific and bureaucratic incompetence.

"In the end, I was surprised at how poorly designed the reactor actually was," he told the New York Times in 1990. "I wanted to write this book not only to show the real scale of this particular catastrophe, but also to demolish a few more secrets and deliberate misconceptions."



For the full obituary, see:

SCHUDEL, Matt. "'Scientist exposed agricultural fraud and Soviet incompetence." The Washington Post (Sunday, Sept. 6, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal to paragraphs, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 4, 2018, and has the title "'James Mirrlees, Whose Tax Model Earned a Nobel, Dies at 82.")


The books by Zhores Medvedev that were mentioned above, are:

Medvedev, Zhores A. The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Medvedev, Zhores A., and Roy A. Medvedev. A Question of Madness: Repression by Psychiatry in the Soviet Union. London: Mcmillan London Ltd., 1971.

Medvedev, Zhores A. The Legacy of Chernobyl. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990.







December 14, 2018

Jack Ma Worries that Heavier Chinese Government Regulations Risk "Destroying Innovation"




(p. B3) SHANGHAI--Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma used a government-sponsored forum to suggest regulators take a lighter touch in dealing with technology companies, saying the market should be allowed to decide how new industries such as artificial intelligence develop.

"I personally think that the government has to do what the government should do, and the companies do what companies should do," Mr. Ma said at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Monday, recalling a conversation he said he had last year with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about self-driving cars.

"Protecting the backward forces who are crying out loud will be the most important factor in destroying innovation," Mr. Ma said.



For the full story, see:

Yoko Kubota. "Jack Ma Urges Beijing to Ease Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, September 18, 2018): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2018, and has the title "Alibaba's Jack Ma Says Government Should Stick to Governing.")






December 13, 2018

"Outsider Status" of Surgeons "Permitted Greater Risks and Leaps of Faith"




(p. A19) . . . as Arnold van de Laar reminds us in "Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations," a collection of hypervivid anecdotes and oddities, it was only recently that surgeons were considered the equals of what we would now call internists--doctors who diagnose, prescribe medicine and prognosticate.


. . .


. . . , it has been both the bane and the secret glory of surgery as a vocation that it was relegated for so long to the margins of "decent" intellectual or professional life. Its dodgy, outsider status perhaps permitted greater risks and leaps of faith than were available to nonsurgical physicians, who still found themselves making inchworm progress from the dictates of Hippocrates and Galen. Surgeons worked fast to beat pain and gangrene (so fast that in one case, Scottish surgeon Robert Liston cut off a man's testicles in a rush to amputate his leg). They used whatever materials seemed to make sense--in some cases gold thread, costly but long-lasting; in other cases branding irons.



For the full review, see:

Laura Kolbe. "The Kindest Cuts." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 15, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Under the Knife' Review: The Kindest Cuts.")


The book under review, is:

van de Laar, Arnold. Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018.






December 12, 2018

Musk Jabs the SEC as "the Shortseller Enrichment Commission"




(p. B1) Elon Musk risked reigniting a battle with federal securities regulators on Thursday when he appeared to openly mock the Securities and Exchange Commission only days after the Tesla Inc. chief executive settled fraud charges with the agency.

Seemingly without prompt, Mr. Musk sent a tweet in the early afternoon that suggested the SEC was enriching investors betting against the electric-car maker. "Just want to [say] that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work," Mr. Musk tweeted. "And the name change is so on point!"



For the full story, see:

Tim Higgins and Gabriel T. Rubin. "Tweet by Elon Musk Takes Jab at the SEC." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 5, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 4, 2018, and has the title "Elon Musk Tweet Mocks the Securities and Exchange Commission.")






December 11, 2018

"The Stigma of Being 'Drivers'"




(p. 6) They were arrested, suspended from jobs, shunned by relatives and denounced by clerics as loose women out to destroy society. Their offense? They did what many in Saudi Arabia considered unthinkable: getting in cars and driving.

Their protest in 1990 against the kingdom's ban on women driving failed, and the women paid dearly for it, with the stigma of being "drivers" clinging to them for years.

So last month, when King Salman announced that the ban on women driving would be lifted next June, few were happier than the first women to demonstrate for that right -- almost three decades ago.


. . .


Many restrictions on women remain, including so-called guardianship laws that give Saudi men power over their female relatives on certain matters. But the original protesters are overjoyed that their daughters and granddaughters will have freer lives than they did, thanks to the automobile.

"That I am driving means that I know where I am going, when I'm coming back and what I'm doing," said Ms. Alaboudi, the social worker.

"It is not just driving a car," she said, "it is driving a life."



For the full story, see:

BEN HUBBARD. "27 Years After Protest, a Victory Lap for Saudi Women." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, October 8, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 7, 2017, and has the title "'Once Shunned as 'Drivers,' Saudi Women Who Fought Ban Now Celebrate.")






December 10, 2018

Lean Supply Chains Fail to Scale Quickly




(p. A1) American factories are running short of parts.

Suppliers of everything from engines to electronic components aren't keeping up with a boom in U.S. manufacturing, which has lifted demand in markets such as energy, mining and construction. As a result, some manufacturers are idling production lines and digesting higher costs.


. . .


(p. A4) Years spent making supply chains as lean and efficient as possible are hurting big customers now as demand climbs, industry consultants said.

"Suppliers have not been willing to jump on adding capacity because they've been burned badly before," said Shiv Shivaraman, a managing director at consultant AlixPartners LLC who advises auto and machinery makers on supply chains and production processes. "You will see many people limping for a while."

Some companies are stockpiling parts to head off future challenges, potentially exacerbating the supply pressures.

"We built some inventory last quarter because we had seen the lead times extend and we are trying protect our customers," said Andrew Silvernail, CEO of Idex Corp. , a maker of pumps, valves and meters that is based in Lake Forest, Ill.



For the full story, see:

Doug Cameron and Austen Hufford. "Parts Makers' Shortages Tap Brakes on Industrial Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 10, 2018, and has the title "Parts Shortages Crimp U.S. Factories.")






December 9, 2018

Jason Potts Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




What explains innovative dynamism? Art Diamond has written a fantastic book exploring how strong property rights, not innovation systems, should be the basis of modern innovation policy. He has done a great job in setting out the case for a classical liberal approach to innovation and technology policy, and carefully counters many of the common arguments supporting interventionist policy models. The book is full of lucid and compelling case studies and will be popular among innovation scholars and policy-makers.


Jason Potts, Professor of Economics, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Director of Blockchain Innovation Hub at RMIT. Author of The New Evolutionary Economics, and other works.



Potts's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






December 8, 2018

Rising Sea Not Due to Global Warming




(p. A17) It is generally thought that sea-level rise accelerates mainly by thermal expansion of sea water, the so-called steric component. But by studying a very short time interval, it is possible to sidestep most of the complications, like "isostatic adjustment" of the shoreline (as continents rise after the overlying ice has melted) and "subsidence" of the shoreline (as ground water and minerals are extracted).

I chose to assess the sea-level trend from 1915-45, when a genuine, independently confirmed warming of approximately 0.5 degree Celsius occurred. I note particularly that sea-level rise is not affected by the warming; it continues at the same rate, 1.8 millimeters a year, according to a 1990 review by Andrew S. Trupin and John Wahr. I therefore conclude--contrary to the general wisdom--that the temperature of sea water has no direct effect on sea-level rise. That means neither does the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide.

This conclusion is worth highlighting: It shows that sea-level rise does not depend on the use of fossil fuels. The evidence should allay fear that the release of additional CO2 will increase sea-level rise.

But there is also good data showing sea levels are in fact rising at a constant rate. The trend has been measured by a network of tidal gauges, many of which have been collecting data for over a century.

The cause of the trend is a puzzle. Physics demands that water expand as its temperature increases. But to keep the rate of rise constant, as observed, expansion of sea water evidently must be offset by something else. What could that be? I conclude that it must be ice accumulation, through evaporation of ocean water, and subsequent precipitation turning into ice. Evidence suggests that accumulation of ice on the Antarctic continent has been offsetting the steric effect for at least several centuries.



For the full commentary, see:

Fred Singer. "The Sea Is Rising, but Not Because of Climate Change; There is nothing we can do about it, except to build dikes and sea walls a little bit higher." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, May 16, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2018.)






December 7, 2018

Bezos Richer than Rockefeller in Real Wealth




(p. A2) With a fortune exceeding $150 billion, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was recently declared the richest person in modern history.

But is he?

The answer depends on how you account for the wealth of past contenders for the title.

There are at least five ways to do that, and each provides a different result, according to Samuel H. Williamson, an economist and president of the website Measuring Worth.

Real wealth, the most familiar yardstick, accounts for the relative purchasing power of a particular sum by adjusting it for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index.

Using that measure, the fortune of John D. Rockefeller, America's first billionaire and Mr. Bezos' stiffest competition among latter day aristocrats, would equal only $24 billion today.

Working in reverse, Mr. Bezos' fortune would amount to about $6.5 billion in 1916, when Rockefeller's riches first hit the $1 billion mark.



For the full commentary, see:

Jo Craven McGinty. "THE NUMBERS; Bezos vs. Rockefeller, a Rich History Lesson." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 10, 2018, and has the title "THE NUMBERS; Is Jeff Bezos Really the Richest of Them All?")






December 6, 2018

"New York Needs to Embrace Entrepreneurs, Not Repel Them"




(p. A15) For centuries New York has evolved. With its deep port, the city dominated U.S. trade through the late 1800s. But that wasn't enough to employ the swarms of immigrants coming through Ellis Island. So the city transformed, creating higher-paying jobs. By 1910 some 40% of all New York workers were employed in manufacturing--the garment industry, sugar refining, publishing and even bread making. My grandfather was in the millinery business. Manufacturing lasted even through the 1960s. I remember seeing shirts made in the Empire State Building. Total employment in the city peaked in 1969.

As post-World War II technology drove transportation costs down, manufacturing moved to the suburbs (and eventually Asia). Most large American cities stagnated. But New York transformed itself again, this time into a service economy with high-paying jobs in finance, media, fashion, law, accounting and health care. It also remained home to the most important stock market in the world. Today well over 90% of New York employment is in services, according to the New York state government.

But the city has arrived at a nasty inflection point again. New York risks becoming another Detroit. New York needs to embrace entrepreneurs, not repel them.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. "Can New York Reinvent Itself Again? It risks becoming another Detroit if it keeps repelling entrepreneurs." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 11, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 10, 2017.)









December 5, 2018

Rage at Malfunction Led to Invention




(p. B15) A business contemporary of Raymond A. Kroc, who built the McDonald's chain into the industry leader, Mr. Edgerton started Burger King with $12,000 after managing Howard Johnson's restaurants in Miami and Orlando, Fla.


. . .


In a 1998 memoir, "The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire," Mr. McLamore described Mr. Edgerton as a creative conceptual thinker but also as someone who "never focused very much on details, particularly those concerning financial matters."

Early on, Mr. Edgerton estimated that profits were running at an eye-popping 28 percent of sales. But the "books" he was looking at turned out to be an assortment of papers stuffed into a peach basket showing that Insta Burger had actually lost money in its first few months.

It was hard for the partners at first. "We were losing our butts," Mr. Edgerton said in a 2014 interview for this obituary. Paying himself $50 a week, he added, "We starved together."

A major problem was the frequent breakdowns of the Rube Goldberg-like Insta broiler they had inherited. One day, Mr. McLamore wrote, "the machine began to malfunction just at the moment Dave was standing in front of it," and the grinding of its metal parts sent him into a rage.

By Mr. McLamore's account, Mr. Edgerton "reached into his toolbox and grabbed a hatchet" and sank it into the stainless steel mechanism, destroying it. He then shouted, red-faced, "I can build a better machine than this pile of junk!"

Three weeks later, Mr. Edgerton and a mechanic who ran a machine shop had produced a continuous-chain broiler, which would set a standard for all Burger King broilers and become a model for equipment in the industry.


. . .


The business took off, and by 1967 it had more than 400 units in about 20 states, particularly in the East and California, as well as in a few other countries. Its success drew an offer from the Pillsbury Company to buy Burger King.

"I really didn't want to sell out," Mr. Edgerton said, but he went along because he had found Mr. McLamore to be "a golfer first and foremost" who wanted more time to indulge his passion and who had no real need to keep working, being married to a woman of wealth.


. . .


He complained that the company, which had a series of jolting ups and downs over subsequent decades, let its menu get too big, and that its plethora of chief executives -- "bookkeepers," he called them -- had rarely had experience in the restaurant business.

Asked in the 2014 interview if he regretted walking away from an industry on the verge of a boom that could have made him a billionaire, he pondered the question for a moment and then said, "That's hindsight."



For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. "David Edgerton, 90, a Burger King Founder Who Sold His Stake for a Bargain, Dies." The New York Times (Tuesday, April 17, 2018): B15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 16, 2018, and has the title "David Edgerton, a Founder of Burger King, Is Dead at 90.")


The memoir mentioned above, is:

McLamore, James W. The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.






December 4, 2018

Deregulation Can Revive 3% Economic Growth




(p. A17) Growth deniers are declaring that America's economy has lost its ability to grow at 3% above inflation. If that's the case, maybe we should go back to where we lost 3% growth and retrace our steps until we find it. For only with 3% or higher growth does America experience measurable progress in poverty reduction, strong job creation and income growth. If 3% growth is irretrievably lost, so is the American Dream.

Did America actually experience 3% real growth to start with? Yes. In the postwar era, the U.S. averaged 3.4% annual growth from 1948 through 2008. We averaged 3% growth for half of the George W. Bush presidency (2003-06). From 2009-12, the Obama administration, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve all thought they saw 3% growth just around the corner. If the possibility of 3% growth is gone forever, it hasn't been gone very long.


. . .


While Obama apologists like to claim that labor-productivity and labor-supply factors preclude 3% growth, most of the growth constraints we face today are directly attributable to Mr. Obama's policies.


. . .


A tidal wave of new rules and regulations across health care, financial services, energy and manufacturing forced companies to spend billions on new capital and labor that served government and not consumers. Banks hired compliance officers rather than loan officers. Energy companies spent billions on environmental compliance costs, and none of it produced energy more cheaply or abundantly. Health-insurance premiums skyrocketed but with no additional benefit to the vast majority of covered workers.

In a world of higher costs, productivity plummeted. Productivity measures the production of things the market values that flow from the employment of labor and capital. Try listing the Obama-era regulatory requirements that generated the employment of labor and capital in ways that actually produced something you buy.


. . .


Bad policies--not bad luck or a loss of God's favor--have driven down labor productivity and the labor supply. We can change those policies.


. . .


With 3% growth, the American dream is achievable and virtually anybody willing to work hard can live it. Let 3% growth die and a lot of what we love most about our country will die with it.



For the full commentary, see:

Phil Gramm and Michael Solon. "Finding America's Lost 3% Growth; If the country can't grow like it once did, then the American Dream really is irretrievably lost." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 11, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 10, 2017.)






December 3, 2018

Barcelona Fines 136-Year-Old Basilica for Lack of Building Permit




(p. A4) The Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona has worldwide fame as an architectural treasure, the dreamlike masterpiece of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, which draws millions of visitors a year though it is still under construction, 136 years after work began.

What it has not had for more than a century, according to the city, is a valid building permit.

The Sagrada Familia basilica has agreed to pay city authorities 36 million euros, or about $41 million, over 10 years to settle the dispute over the legality of the work and help pay for transportation improvements around the basilica.


. . .


The Sagrada Familia's board had denied any wrongdoing, saying that it had a building permit -- one issued in 1885 by Sant Martí de Provençals, which was an independent town at the time. Barcelona officials contend that after Sant Martí was absorbed into the city several years later, the construction required a Barcelona permit; the board says that for more than a century, no one asked for any such thing.



For the full story, see:

Raphael Minder. "A Barcelona Gem, And a Scofflaw?" The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 19, 2018, and has the title "Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona Masterpiece, and Scofflaw?")






December 2, 2018

Mirrlees Found that a Flat Tax Would Encourage the Wealthy to Earn More, and Pay More Taxes




(p. B15) James A. Mirrlees, who taught himself calculus as a teenager, became a college professor when he was 32 and received a Nobel award for solving one of government's greatest economic challenges -- how to get taxpayers to pony up their fair share -- died on Aug. 29 [2018] at his home in Cambridge, England.


. . .


Professor Mirrlees suggested that too many progressive taxes imposed at the highest income levels could discourage the wealthy from earning even more, reducing the revenue available to pay for government services and assist lower-income households.

He concluded as early as 1970 in the journal The Review of Economic Studies and in subsequent studies with Peter Diamond, an economist and fellow Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that "the income tax is a much less effective tool for reducing inequalities than has often been thought" and that an "approximately linear" -- or flattened -- tax schedule would be more desirable.

"I must confess that I had expected the rigorous analysis of income-taxation in the utilitarian manner to provide an argument for high tax rates," Professor Mirrlees wrote. "It has not done so."

Politically, he was regarded as a social democrat, but his economic model became a rationale, embraced by many conservatives, for flattening tax rates -- leading him to reconcile the two positions by saying that his heart was on the left, but that his head was on the right.


. . .


His research on "Optimum Income Taxation," dating from the late 1960s, was peppered with arcane equations and graphs, but he maintained that much of economics is "in a way quite simple."

"It is simple to be wrong as well as to be right," he added, "and it is none too easy to distinguish between the two."



For the full obituary, see:


Sam Roberts. "'James Mirrlees, Who Earned a Nobel By Solving a Tax Riddle, Is Dead at 82." The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018): B15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 4, 2018, and has the title "'James Mirrlees, Whose Tax Model Earned a Nobel, Dies at 82.")






December 1, 2018

Stephen Moore Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




An invaluable reminder that all human progress derives from innovation, entrepreneurship and inventiveness. Wealth creation depends on creative destruction.


Stephen Moore, economist at the Heritage Foundation, economics commentator on CNN. Co-author of It's Getting Better All the Time, and other works.



Moore's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.







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