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March 19, 2019

Chernobyl Discredited Communism, Not Nuclear Power




(p. C2) In his chilling new book, "Midnight in Chernobyl," the journalist Adam Higginbotham shows how an almost fanatical compulsion for secrecy among the Soviet Union's governing elite was part of what made the accident not just cataclysmic but so likely in the first place. Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives -- an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn't always be trusted -- he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying.


. . .


Higginbotham describes young workers who were promoted swiftly to positions of terrific responsibility. In an especially glaring example of entrenched cronyism, the Communist Party elevated an ideologically copacetic electrical engineer to the position of deputy plant director at Chernobyl: To make up for a total lack of experience with atomic energy, he took a correspondence course in nuclear physics.

Even more egregious than some personnel decisions were the structural problems built into the plant itself. Most fateful for Chernobyl was the baffling design of a crucial safety feature: control rods that could be lowered into the reactor core to slow down the process of nuclear fission. The rods contained boron carbide, which hampered reactivity, but the Soviets decided to tip them in graphite, which facilitated reactivity; it was a bid to save energy, and therefore money, by lessening the rods' moderating effect. Higginbotham calls it "an absurd and chilling inversion in the role of a safety device," likening it to wiring a car so that slamming the brakes would make it accelerate.


. . .


. . . Chernobyl exposed the untenable fissures in the Soviet system and hastened its collapse; the accident also encouraged Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue drastic reforms with even more zeal.

Higginbotham observes that the plant was run like the Soviet state writ large -- with individuals expected to carry out commands from on high with an automaton's acquiescence. At the same time, when it came time to assess responsibility for the disaster, any collectivist fellow feeling evaporated, as the ensuing show trials insistently scapegoated a few individuals (some of them already dead) in a desperate attempt to keep a crumbling system intact.

The accident also decimated international confidence in nuclear power, and a number of countries halted their own programs -- for a time, that is. Global warming has made the awesome potential of the atom a source of hope again and, according to some advocates, an urgent necessity; besides, as Higginbotham points out, nuclear power, from a statistical standpoint, is safer than the competing alternatives, including wind.



For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Nuclear Disaster In Chilling Detail." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 6, 2019, and has the title "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Enthralling and Terrifying History of the Nuclear Meltdown at Chernobyl.")


The book under review, is:

Higginbotham, Adam. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.






March 18, 2019

Farsighted Engelbart Saw That Computers "Would Aid Humans, Not Replace Them"




(p. A15) On Dec. 9, 1968, Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute presented what's now known as "The Mother of All Demos." Using a homemade modem, a video feed from Menlo Park, and a quirky hand-operated device, Engelbart gave a 90-minute demonstration of hypertext, videoconferencing, teleconferencing and a networked operating system. Oh, and graphical user interface, display editing, multiple windows, shared documents, context-sensitive help and a digital library. Mother of all demos is right. That quirky device later became known as the computer mouse. The audience felt as if it had stepped into Oz, watching the world transform from black-and-white to color. But it was no hallucination.


. . .


The coolest thing about this story is that, starting 20 years ago, Doug Engelbart was my next-door neighbor.


. . .


One of Engelbart's biggest influences was Vannevar Bush's 1945 essay, "As We May Think," which envisioned a "memex" machine--a portmanteau of "memory" and "index"--that would enhance human cognition. While I chased my kids' errant basketballs in his backyard, Doug would tell me about this sort of "human augmentation," arguing that computer science was developing in ways that would aid humans, not replace them.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. "Life as We Know It Turns 50; The 1968 'Mother of All Demos' showed the world a vision for modern computing." The Wall Street Journal (Monrday, Dec. 3, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 2, 2018.)






March 17, 2019

Entrepreneur Shafer Learned from Sweet Serendipitous Mistake




(p. 24) John Shafer, who abandoned a career as a Chicago publishing executive to join the vanguard of a new generation of vintners in California's Napa Valley, died on March 2 [2019] in the city of Napa.


. . .


Mr. Shafer (pronounced SHAY-fer) was 47 when he resolved to acquire a winery as an absentee owner and one day retire as a gentleman farmer. His horticultural experience had been limited to planting flowers in his front yard.

But within six months of that decision, he took a leap. He left his job at what he described as an ossified company to take up a second career in which he could be his own boss and work outdoors.


. . .


. . . as a newcomer to the Napa Valley, which was just beginning to attract winemakers who popularized individual vineyards, he had neglected to hire a sufficient number of grape-pickers far enough in advance. That left the fruit riper -- and sweeter -- than the industry norm when the grapes were harvested.

"Shafer thought he ruined his wine, but instead it turned out to be the ripe signature style that has defined Shafer wines for the past four decades," Wine Spectator magazine said.



For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. "John Shafer, Executive Turned Winemaker, Dies at 94." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, March 10, 2019): 24.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 7, 2019, and has the title "John Shafer, 94, Who Made Triumphant Leap Into Winemaking, Dies.")


.




March 16, 2019

Hickenlooper Should Be Proud He Worked Hard to Build a Business Under Capitalism




(p. A21) John Hickenlooper ought to be a poster child for American capitalism. After being laid off from his job as a geologist during the oil bust of the 1980s, he and his business partners turned an empty warehouse into a thriving brewery.


. . .


Yet there he was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," squirming in his seat as Joe Scarborough asked if he would call himself "a proud capitalist." Hickenlooper protested the divisiveness of labels. He refused to reject the term "socialism." He tried, like a vegetarian who still wants his bacon, to have it both ways: "There are parts of socialism, parts of capitalism, in everything."

But Hickenlooper did allow this: "We worked 70, 80, 90 hours a week to build the business; and we worked with the other business owners in [Lower Downtown Denver] to help them build their business. Is that capitalism? I guess."

He guessed right.


. . .


An economy in which private property is protected, private enterprise is rewarded, markets set prices and profits provide incentives will, over time, generate more wealth, innovation and charity -- and distribute each far more widely -- than any form of central planning.


. . .


To the extent that Sanders's concept of democratic socialism has gained traction, it's not because capitalism has failed the masses. It's because Sanders, beyond any of his peers, has consistent convictions and an authentic persona.

To prevail, a moderate Democrat will need to behave likewise. The message can go like this: Capitalism has worked for millions of Americans. It worked for me. We need to reform it so it can work for everyone.



For the full commentary, see:

Stephens, Bret. "Capitalism and the Democrats; The most successful economic system shouldn't be a dirty word." The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2019): A21.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 8, 2019, and has the title "Capitalism and the Democratic Party; The most successful economic system shouldn't be a dirty word.")






March 15, 2019

Roger Koppl Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




Diamond shows us that entrepreneurial innovation is not just the best way to make a better world. It is the only way. If we care about our fellow humans, then we had better do what we can to enable entrepreneurial innovation. Diamond shows with an unusual depth and breadth of scholarship that the most important thing we can do to promote innovation is to let entrepreneurs test their impossible ideas in the free market. Diamond's book is a gem. Grab it, read it, learn from it.


Roger Koppl, Professor of Finance, Syracuse University. Author of Expert Failure and other works.



Koppl's advance praise is for:

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






March 14, 2019

Central Planning Elitism Leads to Rule by the Corrupt or the Incompetent




(p. A23) . . . the underlying faith of the Green New Deal is a faith in the guiding wisdom of the political elite. The authors of the Green New Deal assume that technocratic planners can master the movements of 328 million Americans and design a transportation system so that "air travel stops becoming necessary." (This is from people who couldn't even organize the successful release of their own background document.)

They assume that congressional leaders have the ability to direct what in effect would be gigantic energy firms and gigantic investment houses without giving sweetheart deals to vested interests, without getting corrupted by this newfound power, without letting the whole thing get swallowed up by incompetence. (This is a Congress that can't pass a budget.)


. . .


The impulse to create a highly centralized superstate recurs throughout American history. There were people writing such grand master plans in the 1880s, the 1910s, the 1930s. They never work out. As Richard Weaver once put it, the problem with the next generation is that it hasn't read the minutes of the last meeting.



For the full commentary, see:

Brooks, David. "How the Left Embraced Elitism; The progressives' Green New Deal centralizes power." The New York Times (Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 11, 2019.)






March 13, 2019

Slide Rule Whiz Kid Helped Invent Calculator That Made Slide Rule Obsolete




(p. B12) Jerry Merryman, a self-taught electrical engineer who helped design the first pocket calculator, died on Feb. 27 [2019] in Dallas.


. . .


In 1965, two years after he joined the electronics maker Texas Instruments without a college degree, the company asked Mr. Merryman and two other engineers to build a calculator that could fit into a shirt pocket.

He designed the fundamental circuitry in less than three days, and when Texas Instruments unveiled the device two years later, the moment marked a transformational shift in the way Americans would handle everyday mathematics for the next four decades.

"Silly me, I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution," Mr. Merryman told the NPR program "All Things Considered" in 2013.

With this device, Mr. Merryman and his collaborators, Jack Kilby and James Van Tassel, also pioneered rechargeable batteries and "thermal printing," which used heat to print numbers onto a special kind of paper. Speaking with NPR, Mr. Merryman said he was reminded of their work whenever he used a cellphone or was handed a thermally printed receipt by a grocery store cashier.


. . .


After a stint with the railroad -- he packed ice into refrigerator cars carrying bananas -- Mr. Merryman worked as an engineer at a local radio station. Then, in the late 1950s, he enrolled at Texas A&M University in nearby College Station. He left without finishing his degree.


. . .


Mr. Merryman immediately joined a team that was developing what were called integrated circuits, the breed of microchip that would later drive personal computers. His boss was Mr. Kilby, who had helped build the first integrated circuit in 1958. (Mr. Kilby, who later shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work. died in 2005.)

Seven years later, these microchips had yet to find their market niche, and Texas Instruments' president at the time, Patrick E. Haggerty, decided that the company needed to prove its worth with a consumer product. He called for a pocket calculator.


. . .


During his brief stint at Texas A&M, Mr. Merryman entered a contest alongside 600 other students. They competed to see who was best at using a slide rule, the wood and plastic device that helped with multiplication, division, trigonometry and other mathematical calculations.

After buying a used slide rule for $6, Mr. Merryman won the contest with a nearly perfect score. "Hearne Student 'Pulverized ′em' in A&M Contest," the headline in the local paper read.

Just a few years later, he helped make the slide rule obsolete.



For the full obituary, see:

Metz, Cade. "Jerry Merryman, 85, Co-Creator Of Calculator That Fit in Pocket." The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2019): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 7, 2019, and has the title "Jerry Merryman, Co-Inventor of the Pocket Calculator, Dies at 86." The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was D6. I cite the page number in my National edition.)


.




March 12, 2019

Hybrid Jobs Are Less Likely to Become Obsolete




(p. R14) Jobs that tap both technical and creative thinking include mobile-app developers and bioinformaticians, and represent some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying occupations, according to a new report from Burning Glass Technologies, a labor-market analytics firm in Boston.

The company analyzed millions of job postings to better understand the skills employers are seeking. What they discovered was that many employers want workers with experience in such new capabilities as big-data gathering and analytics, or design using digital technology. Such roles often require not only familiarity with advanced computer programs but also creative minds to make use of all the data.


. . .


People who fail to update their skills will qualify for fewer jobs. In 2013, Burning Glass found, one in 20 ads for design, media and writing jobs requested analysis skills. In 2018, one in 13 postings did. In 2013, one in 500 ads for marketing and public-relations pros asked for data-visualization skills. By 2018, the ratio had increased to one in 59.

People in hybrid jobs are also less likely to become professionally obsolete. Highly hybridized jobs have only 12% risk of being automated, compared with a 42% risk for jobs overall, says Burning Glass.



For the full story, see:

Lauren Weber. "The 'Hybrid' Skills That Tomorrow's Jobs Will Require." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019): R14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online and print versions have the same dates and titles.)


The Burning Glass Technologies report mentioned in the passages above, is:


Sigelman, Matthew, Scott Bittle, Will Markow, and Benjamin Francis. "The Hybrid Job Economy: How New Skills Are Rewriting the DNA of the Job Market." Boston, MA: Burning Glass Technologies, Jan. 2019.








March 11, 2019

Chief Justice Marshall Held That Corporations Were Citizens




(p. C4) How did corporations come to possess some of the most fundamental rights of individuals? They never marched on Washington. Instead, they have fought to win their rights in the Supreme Court--and in the process have been unexpected innovators in constitutional law.

The first Supreme Court case on the rights of business corporations was decided in 1809--nearly a half-century before the first case on the rights of African-Americans. Far from an oppressed minority, the Bank of the United States, which brought the case, was among the richest and most powerful corporations in the new nation.

After opponents in Georgia imposed a tax on the Savannah branch, the bank claimed a constitutional right to challenge the tax in federal court. Article III of the Constitution, however, guaranteed the right to sue in federal court only to "citizens." In one of the neglected landmarks of American law, the legendary chief justice John Marshall held that the Constitution must be read expansively to include corporations.



For the full essay, see:

Adam Winkler. "What Rights Should Corporations Have?; The business world's 'artificial persons' have long fought to win the same constitutional protections as citizens." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 3, 2018): C4.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date March 1, 2018.)


The essay is based on the author's book:

Winkler, Adam. We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2018.






March 10, 2019

Firms Find Humans More Flexible Than Robots




(p. B2) JACKSON CENTER, OHIO--Airstream's factory here is racing to fill a backlog of orders for its retro, high-end travel trailers that spans well into next year. The company is hiring, adding dealers and spending $50 million to build a bigger plant.

I counted eight workers climbing through an Airstream to bolt a hulking aluminum shell to a steel chassis, and snake fluid lines and wires through walls. To finish the shiny, silver capsule off, workers will need to install 3,000 rivets by hand.

There's not a robot in sight. They may speed production, but the machines require a substantial investment that risks being wasted if the economy slumps


. . .


"We see in U.S. manufacturing a race between technology and human capital," Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom said. While some companies like electric-car maker Tesla Inc. are racing to automate almost every process on the factory floor, he said many executives are reluctant to sink investments in equipment that "will be hard to reverse."


. . .


Robotics spending is forecast to equal $90 billion in 2018, according to researcher International Data Corp., with a hefty chunk of that investment aimed at industrial or manufacturing uses. That is a considerable increase compared to prior years, but it is only a sliver of the nearly $3 trillion committed to capital investment.

John Van Reenen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor and Mr. Bloom's research partner, said executives in many industries --including health care and retailing--aren't sold on the technical revolution. "There is a big debate on whether robots are really delivering on the productivity benefits they might promise."

At an event to commemorate the revamp of a factory west of Detroit last month, Ford Motor Co.'s president of global operations, Joe Hinrichs, said a lot of industrial automation happened several decades ago. Now companies are trying to "optimize how they use people" rather than install more machines.

Ford spent nearly $1 billion converting the factory to go from making small cars to producing pickup trucks. Much of that went toward new tooling for stamping out body parts, but relatively little went toward adding automation, Mr. Hinrichs said. Artificial intelligence is now integrated into the final inspection lines to boost quality. But skilled workers are needed to interact with the AI tools.

Mr. Bloom said incremental efforts like this are helping boost worker productivity, even if at a lower rate than was experienced during the decadelong boom that started in the mid-1990s. He said economists may need to get comfortable with 1% annual productivity gains, particularly because it takes a lot of investment just to maintain that modest rate.



For the full commentary, see:

John D. Stoll. "ON BUSINESS; Humans Are Winning the Battle With Robots." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 1, 2018.)







March 9, 2019

92-Year-Old American Airline Mechanic




(p. A19) Azriel Blackman, an airline mechanic for American Airlines, is not allowed to climb ladders, drive on the airfield at Kennedy International Airport or even use any tools.

That's understandable -- Mr. Blackman turns 92 next month.

But those constraints have not stopped him from showing up to work at a job he started in an era when trans-Atlantic commercial flights were novel feats.

"He loves coming to work," said Robert Needham, Mr. Blackman's boss and the station manager for the airline's New York maintenance base. "His work ethic is something I'd love every one of my 368 mechanics here to have."

Five days a week, Mr. Blackman drives himself from his home in Queens Village to the airport long before sunup and well before his 5 a.m. start time. His job as crew chief is to review paperwork detailing what maintenance has been completed and what remains to be done on 17 jetliners that are kept overnight at the airport. Then, wearing a lime-green vest and clutching a paper containing a list of planes and service requests, he starts his walk through a massive hangar, often passing below an enormous mural on the wall featuring his portrait surrounded by four types of aircraft flown by American.


. . .


"Every day the job is different," Mr. Blackman said. "You're not doing the same thing repetitively, and that's good. If in my journey around the hangar I see something I can help on, I do that."



For the full story, see:

Christine Negroni. "For 75 Years, Helping to Keep Planes Aloft." The New York Times (Tuesday, June 18, 2017): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 17, 2017, and has the title "For 75 Years, a Mechanic Has Helped Keep Planes Aloft." The online version identifies the page number of the New York edition as A18. The page number in my copy of the National edition was A19.)






March 8, 2019

"Protectionist Trade Policies Can Backfire" on Those They Are Intended to Protect




(p. B1) You may not have appreciated it at the time -- golden eras have a habit of coming and going like that -- but a five-year stretch that started in 2013 was a pretty great time to buy a washing machine.

Inflation for home laundry equipment, as measured by the Labor Department, fell steadily during that time, which meant you could buy the same washer your neighbor bought last year for less money. Or you could buy a better one at the same price. Great news for your clothes, though maybe bad news for your friendship, if your neighbor was the covetous type.

That stretch of laundry deflation ended last year, shortly after President Trump imposed tariffs, starting at 20 percent, on imported washers. The move was a response to a complaint filed by Whirlpool, a Michigan-based manufacturer.


. . .


A year after Mr. Trump announced the tariffs, washing machine prices were up, as many analysts had expected. But that has not been a boon to the makers of washers because fewer Ameri-(p. B4)cans are investing in new laundry equipment, exposing how protectionist trade policies can backfire on the very companies they are meant to safeguard.

Tariffs of two varieties have pushed prices up

The washer-specific tariffs raised costs for importers like LG and Samsung. But another tariff issued by Mr. Trump, on imported steel, raised costs for some domestic manufacturers like Whirlpool, which took those companies by surprise.

Many manufacturers passed those higher costs on to consumers. Once stores worked their way through models that had been imported before tariffs hit, deflation gave way to sharp price increases.

After years of steady growth, sales reversed in 2018

A basic rule of economics is that when the price of something goes up, people buy less of it. That's just what happened to washing machines.



For the full story, see:

Jim Tankersley. "Tariffs Tossed a Market Right Into a Spin Cycle." The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold and larger font in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2019, and has the title "'How Tariffs Stained the Washing Machine Market.")






March 7, 2019

Deirdre McCloskey Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




Astoundingly rich in ideas and stories, Diamond's sweet and beautiful book is more: an open-handed guide to what really matters in explaining, and sustaining, the Great Enrichment of 3,000 percent per person 1800 to the present. Diamond assuages the ancient fear of betterment, recently haunting us with spooks of AI and technological unemployment. He shows conclusively that an "innovative dynamism" enriches us all, materially and spiritually. The poor are bettered. The jobs are bettered. Read the book and be bettered, freed from specious and politically poisonous worries about economic change.


Deirdre McCloskey, UIC Distinguished Professor of Economics and of History Emerita. Author of Bourgeois Equality and many other works.



McCloskey's advance praise is for:

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






March 6, 2019

In a "Terribly Regulated" Germany "People Look for Their Little Spaces of Freedom"




(p. A1) BERLIN -- It seemed like a no-brainer: Lower Germany's embarrassingly high carbon emissions at no cost, and save some lives in the process.

But when a government-appointed commission in January [2019] dared to float the idea of a speed limit on the autobahn, the country's storied highway network, it almost caused rioting.


. . .


(p. A10) Call it Germany's Wild West: The autobahn is the one place in a highly regulated society where no rule is the rule -- and that place is sacred.


. . .


Germany is woefully behind on meeting its 2020 climate goals, so the government appointed a group of experts to find ways to lower emissions in the transport sector. Cars account for 11 percent of total emissions, and their share is rising.

A highway speed limit of 120 kilometers an hour, or 75 miles per hour, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.

"Of all the individual measures, it is the one that would be the most impactful -- and it costs nothing," said Dorothee Saar, of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a nonprofit environmental organization that has lobbied for a speed limit.


. . .


Once, during the oil crisis in 1973, a German transport minister took his chances and imposed a speed limit. Road deaths stood at over 20,000 a year at the time (six times today's level) and with oil prices skyrocketing, Lauritz Lauritzen thought Germans might reasonably see the benefits of saving some lives and some money on gas, too.

The speed limit lasted four months, and Mr. Lauritzen not much longer.

The experiment gave birth to the "Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!" campaign -- or "Freedom to drive for free citizens!" -- the car lobby's most powerful slogan to this day, and one used by political parties and car companies alike, a sort of unwritten second amendment.

"It's all about freedom," said John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, who first arrived here in the 1960s, and has been living (and driving) here on and off ever since.


. . .


"Germany is terribly regulated, for reasons which have to do with the past, with a fear of uncertainty, a fear of being overwhelmed," Mr. Kornblum said. "But then people look for their little spaces of freedom and the autobahn is one of them."

And speeding isn't the only freedom the autobahn offers.

Driving naked in Germany is legal, too. But if you get out of the car nude, you face a $45 fine.



For the full story, see:

Katrin Bennhold. "Autobahn Speed Limits? Voting With Lead Feet." The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 4, 2019): A1 & A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2019, and has the title "'GERMANY DISPATCH; Impose a Speed Limit on the Autobahn? Not So Fast, Many Germans Say.")






March 5, 2019

Government Fiscal Stimulus Does Not Speed Job Growth




DebtAndEmploymentGrowthGraph2019-02-17.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.







(p. A17) . . . is there evidence that stimulus was behind America's recovery--or, for that matter, the recoveries in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and Ireland? And is there evidence that the absence of stimulus--a tight rein on public spending known as "fiscal austerity"--is to blame for the lack of a full recovery in Portugal, Italy, France and Spain?

A simple test occurred to me: The stimulus story suggests that, in the years after they hit bottom, the countries that adopted relatively large fiscal deficits--measured by the average increase in public debt from 2011-17 as a percentage of gross domestic product--would have a relatively speedy recovery to show for it. Did they?

As the accompanying chart shows, the evidence does not support the stimulus story. Big deficits did not speed up recoveries. In fact, the relationship is negative, suggesting fiscal profligacy led to contraction and fiscal responsibility would have been better.



For the full commentary, see:

Phelps, Edmund. "The Fantasy of Fiscal Stimulus; It turns out Keynesian policies are correlated with slower, not faster, economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 29, 2018.)






March 4, 2019

"The Market Doesn't Care If You're Indigenous or Not"




(p. A8) MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was a disempowering experience at a large corporate organization that prompted Morgan Coleman to become an entrepreneur.

Initially, he was proud to work there. But soon, as one of the few Indigenous employees, he felt patronized and unwelcome by some, and worried that his manager resented him because of his Torres Strait Islander background.

Now, as part of a growing number of Indigenous Australians finding success in the entrepreneurial world even as the rate of non-Indigenous business ownership has fallen, he feels his future rides solely on his merit.

"Whether I succeed or not, it's entirely up to me," Mr. Coleman, 28, said in a recent interview at the Melbourne offices of Vets on Call, the app he left his corporate job to start. "The market doesn't care if you're Indigenous or not."



For the full story, see:


Kenneth Chang. "For Indigenous Australians, Defining a Destiny Through Entrepreneurship." The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 4, 2019): A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 30 [sic], 2019, and has the title "''It's Entirely Up to Me': Indigenous Australians Find Empowerment in Start-Ups.")






March 3, 2019

Good Luck Comes to Optimists Who Do Not Give Up




(p. C3) Luck occurs at the intersection of random chance, talent and hard work. There may not be much you can do about the first part of that equation, but there's a lot you can do about the other two. People who have a talent for making luck for themselves grab the unexpected opportunities that come along.

The good news is that there's plenty of luck to go around if you know how to look for it.


. . .


Think yourself lucky. Psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania told us that if he were looking for a lucky person, "the number one ingredient that I'd select for would be optimism." Early in his career, Dr. Seligman did groundbreaking experiments on learned helplessness, showing that animals put in stressful situations beyond their control eventually stop trying to escape. People also have a tendency to give up and complain when they think they're victims of bad luck.

"Believing that you have some control over what happens fuels trying," Dr. Seligman said. "If there's a potentially good event for me, am I going to seize the opportunity and follow up, or am I going to be passive?"



For the full essay, see:

Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh. "Make Your Own Luck." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 3, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date March 1, 2018, and has the title "To Be Successful, Make Your Own Luck.")


The essay is based on the authors' book:

Kaplan, Janice, and Barnaby Marsh. How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life. New York: Dutton, 2018.






March 2, 2019

No End to "Tantalizing" Mysteries of Science




(p. A13) NASA's Opportunity rover began its 15th year on Mars this week, although the intrepid robotic explorer may already be dead.

"I haven't given up yet," said Steven W. Squyres, the principal investigator for the mission. But he added, "This could be the end. Under the assumption that this is the end, it feels good. I mean that."

The rover -- which outlasted all expectations since its landing on Mars in 2004 and helped find convincing geological signs that water once flowed there -- fell silent last June when it was enveloped by a global Martian dust storm. In darkness, the solar panels could not generate enough power to keep Opportunity awake.


. . .


Years ago, Dr. Squyres said no matter when the mission ended, he was sure that there would be some tantalizing mystery they would see just beyond reach.

On Thursday [January 24, 2019], he said that indeed seems to be the case. Opportunity was in the middle of exploring what looks like a gully that was formed by the flowing of water on ancient Mars. As expected, the gully looks eroded near the top, but the rover had not reached the bottom to look at where the sediments would have flowed.

The scientists had rejected some alternative hypotheses, but other ideas could also explain the landscape. "So far, the story is uncertain," Dr. Squyres said. "The answer probably lies just down the hill."



For the full story, see:


Kenneth Chang. "NASA's Opportunity Rover May Have Reached Its End." The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019): A13.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2019, and has the title "'This Could Be the End' for NASA's Mars Opportunity Rover.")






March 1, 2019

Former Biggest Retailer Sears Limps into Bankruptcy




(p. A1) For much of the 20th century, Sears defined American retailing with catalogs and department stores that brought toys, tools and appliances to millions of homes.

By the time Sears Holdings Corp. limped into bankruptcy on Monday [Oct. 15, 2018], the once-great company was shriveled and sickly. Decades earlier, it had been dethroned by Walmart Inc. as the biggest U.S. retailer. Then it was crippled by a chief executive with unorthodox strategies, and Amazon.com Inc., an endless online catalog that sucked profits out of the business.



For the full story, see:

Suzanne Kapner. "Sears, Once Retail Colossus, Enters Painful New Era." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018): A1 & A6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 15, 2018, and has the title "Sears Reshaped America, From Kenmore to Allstate.")






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