Main


October 23, 2018

Growing Percent of Firms in Developed Countries Are Zombies



ZURICH--The number of profit-constrained "zombie" firms has risen sharply since the late 1980s, according to research published Sunday by the Bank for International Settlements, a sign of the lingering effects from ultralow interest rates since the financial crisis.

Zombie firms are generally defined as companies that can't service their debt from profits during an extended period. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe, steer resources away from healthier parts of the economy, weighing on productivity and economic growth.

"The prevalence of zombie firms has ratcheted up since the late 1980s," according to a paper published Sunday by the Switzerland-based BIS, a consortium of central banks, in its quarterly review of financial market developments.

Under a broad definition--the ratio of earnings before interest and taxes to interest paid is less than one for three-straight years in companies more than 10-years old--the percentage of zombie companies rose from 2% in the late 1980s to 12% in 2016. The data used by the authors covered 14 developed economies including the U.S., Japan, Germany and France.

And they seem to stay that way for longer. The authors found that whereas in the late 1980s zombie firms had a 60% chance of staying in that condition the following year, the probability reached 85% in 2016. Low interest rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt.

"Lower rates boost aggregate demand and raise employment and investment in the short run. But the higher prevalence of zombies they leave behind misallocate resources and weigh on productivity growth," the authors wrote.



For the full story, see:


Brian Blackstone. "Rise of the Zombies: Ranks of Non-Viable Firms Up Sharply Since 1980s, Study Says; Low rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt." The Wall Street Journal (Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/rise-of-the-zombies-ranks-of-non-viable-firms-up-sharply-since-1980s-study-says-1537718401?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2

(Note: at least as of Oct. 1, 2018, this article appears only to have been published online.)


The study published in BIS Quarterly Review, and mentioned above, is:

Banerjee, Ryan Niladri, and Boris Hofmann. "The Rise of Zombie Firms: Causes and Consequences." BIS Quarterly Review (Sept. 2018): 67-78.






October 22, 2018

Origin of False Memories



(p. A19) Memories are subject to serious flaws, given the limitations and imperfections of the biological and psychological processes of recording, retaining and recalling them. Memories aren't computer files with exacting recall and retrieval functions. They are often disassembled and stored in "packets" in multiple brain locations. People don't store the fine details of all daily experiences, because of neuron capacity limitations. Even important details can be missed or lost.

Hence the brain must be selective in which memories it stores and must condense them so that many details are left out. Many eyewitnesses and even victims of crimes don't take note of the facial features of gun-toting assailants or the make and color of getaway cars.


. . .


My colleague Elizabeth Loftus was able to "implant" false memories in a significant subset of laboratory subjects by showing them an official-looking poster of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Many subjects later remembered meeting Bugs Bunny on a childhood trip to Disneyland. Some of them even reported that Bugs had touched them inappropriately.

That was impossible. Bugs Bunny isn't a Disney character.



For the full commentary, see:

Richard B. McKenzie. "A Stumble Down Memory Lane; Like Kavanaugh's latest accuser, people often have 'gaps.' They don't always fill them with truth.." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, September 25, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 24, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above is partly based on McKenzie's book:

McKenzie, Richard B. A Brain-Focused Foundation for Economic Science: A Proposed Reconciliation between Neoclassical and Behavioral Economics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018..






October 21, 2018

"An Insular Fortress of Thought Coercion"



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--A day before Google's chief was set to meet with high-ranking Republicans, critics in a congressional hearing accused the internet giant and other tech firms of being "insular" and dismissive of the free-speech rights of conservatives.


. . .


At Thursday's House subcommittee hearing, Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) warned that tech companies' alleged bias is beginning to be noticed by the public. "Americans are beginning to recognize this quiet trend in our society in which one group or another systemically silences another's beliefs with which they disagree," he said in his opening statement.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing a group of conservative Google employees claiming employment discrimination by the company, directed lawmakers to media reports concerning its alleged blacklisting of phrases, articles and websites, and the blocking of conservative YouTube videos.

"Big Tech has become an insular fortress of thought coercion and vindictive behavioral control," she said.



For the full story, see:

McKinnon, John D. "Tech Firms Face Political Bias Accusations." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 28, 2018): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2018, and has the title "Tech Firms Face Bias Accusations at Congressional Hearing." The online version includes additional paragraphs, but the passages quoted above appear in both the online and print versions. The formatting above, follows the print version.)






October 20, 2018

Low Interest Rates Increased Zombie Firms After Economic Crisis of 2008




ZombieFirmsIncreaseGraph2018-10-03.png





















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














(p. A1) Italian clothing maker and retailer Stefanel SpA became famous for its knitted coats and cardigans.

Many economists, investors and bankers know Stefanel as something starkly different: a zombie company. It has posted an annual loss for nine of the last 10 years and restructured its bank debt at least six times, including several grace periods when Stefanel only had to pay interest on what it owed.

After booming during Italy's post-World War II expansion, Stefanel and its lumbering factories were overwhelmed by Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara and then battered by the economic slowdown that hit Italy in 2008.

Stefanel is still alive but staggering. So are hundreds of other chronically unprofitable, highly indebted companies being kept afloat with new infusions from lenders and shareholders, especially in Southern Europe.

Economists and central bankers say zombies undercut prices charged by healthier competitors, create artificial barriers to entry and prevent the flushing out of (p. A10) weak companies and bad loans that typically happens after downturns.

Now that the European economy is in growth mode, those zombies and their related debt problems could become a drag on the entire continent.

"The zombification of the corporate sector and banks [is] a risk for future living standards," Klaas Knot, a European Central Bank governor and the head of the Dutch central bank, said in an interview.


. . .


In some ways, zombie firms are an unintended side effect of years of easy money from the ECB, which rolled out aggressive stimulus policies, including negative interest rates, to support lending and growth. Those policies have been sharply criticized in some richer eurozone countries for making it easier for banks to keep struggling corporate borrowers alive.



For the full story, see:

Eric Sylvers and Tom Fairless. "Zombie Companies Haunt Europe's Economic Recovery." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, November 16, 2017): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 15, 2017, and the title "A Specter Is Haunting Europe's Recovery: Zombie Companies.")






October 18, 2018

Visionary Manifesto for Driverless Cars



(p. A13) Not surprisingly, optimism leaps off the pages of Lawrence D. Burns's "Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car--and How It Will Reshape Our World," a combination of memoir and visionary manifesto. In contrast to "the personally owned, gasoline-powered, human-driven vehicles that have dominated the last century," Mr. Burns writes, "we're transitioning to mobility services based on electric-powered and driverless vehicles, paid for by trip or through subscriptions." These services, he says, will get us around "safely and conveniently." Meanwhile, we will avoid the "hassles of car ownership" and the time lost in parking and pumping gas, not to mention the costs that having a car entails.


. . .


After leaving GM during its 2009 bankruptcy, Mr. Burns became an ever-more emphatic advocate for the reinvention of the automobile, soon teaming up with Mr. Urmson and other technology pioneers at Google. This front-row seat at the project that popularized autonomous cars informs some of the most lively parts of "Autonomy." At one point, a milestone goal is thought to be needed, with a payout bonus, so when Larry Page (Google's co-founder) says, "I want this thing on any street in California to drive one hundred percent autonomous," the Larry1K challenge is launched. The development of Waymo's "Firefly" low-speed driverless car takes longer than expected and teaches the Silicon Valley team a new respect for Detroit's skills. In turned out that "designing a vehicle was comparatively easy," Mr. Burns writes. What was difficult was " 'hardening' the vehicle's various components"--making every part work under every driving condition. This was "the process at which Detroit engineering talent excelled." A deal with Ford Motor Co. fails, but an investment banker and analyst, inspired by one of Mr. Burns's visionary papers, does join Ford on a driverless-car project. As Mr. Burns recounts, personality clashes eventually blew up Google's dream team and led to a lawsuit over intellectual-property theft against Uber, which had bought a driverless-trucking company founded by a Waymo veteran.



For the full review, see:

Edward Niedermeyer. "BOOKSHELF; Fast-Tracking A Driverless Car." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, August 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Autonomy' Review: Fast-Tracking a Driverless Car; A period of remarkable progress seems to be giving way to a host of challenges that can't be solved with engineering talent alone.")


The book under review, is:

Burns, Lawrence D., and Christopher Shulgan. Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car--and How It Will Reshape Our World. New York: Ecco, 2018.






October 17, 2018

Natural Experiment on Consumer Effects of Net Neutrality



(p. A25) TORONTO -- The Federal Communications Commission is planning to jettison its network neutrality rules, and many Americans are distraught. Such a move, the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned, "invites a future where only the largest internet, cable and telephone companies survive, while every start-up, small business and new innovator is crowded out -- and the voices of nonprofits and ordinary individuals are suppressed."

Critics worry that getting rid of neutrality regulation will lead to a "two-tier" internet: Internet service providers will start charging fees to websites and apps, and slow down or block the sites that don't pay up. As a result, users will have unfettered access to only part of the internet, with the rest either inaccessible or slow.

Those fears are vastly overblown.


. . .


So why am I not worried? I worked for a telecommunications company for 25 years, and whatever one may think about corporate control over the internet, I know that it simply is not in service providers' interests to throttle access to what consumers want to see. Neutral broadband access is a cash cow; why would they kill it?


. . .


The good news is that we will soon have a real-world experiment to show who is right and who is wrong. The United States will get rid of its rules, and the European Union and Canada will keep their stringent regulations. In two years, will the American internet be slower, less innovative and split into two tiers, leaving Canadians to enjoy their fast and neutral net?

Or, as I suspect, will the two markets remain very similar -- proving that this whole agonized debate has been a giant waste of time? Let's check back in 2019.



For the full commentary, see:

Ken Engelhart. "Losing Net Neutrality: Nothing to Be Afraid Of." The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 4, 2017, and has the title "Why Concerns About Net Neutrality Are Overblown." The online version says that the New York edition ran the commentary on p. A27, instead of the A25 page on which it appeared in my National Edition copy.)







October 16, 2018

Wrecking Ball for Bureaucracy That "Is Killing the Country"



(p. B4) America's big tech companies are facing some of their toughest political challenges as they flirt with or surpass trillion-dollar valuations. Before lawmakers try to rein them in, Reid Hoffman argues government officials better be careful what they wish for.

Mr. Hoffman was chief operating officer of PayPal while it was still a small payments startup before he co-founded the professional social-network LinkedIn.


. . .


WSJ: You're vociferously opposed to President Trump and even commissioned an anti-Trump card game. Does Silicon Valley have a problem with liberal bias?

Mr. Hoffman: I do think that there is a reflexive bias to liberalism that causes discomfort. I think you have that kind of left bias within the Silicon Valley culture, too, which is, "I'm so convinced that's idiotic, I'm not listening to anything about it." And that's the problem. The problem is not actively listening. But that's human. It's not only here. Part of the reason [for strong negative reactions] to Trump is the flat-out lies.

WSJ: When you talk politics with Peter Thiel, PayPal's co-founder and a well-known Trump supporter, what are those conversations like?

Mr. Hoffman: He's a friend of mine, but we've disagreed about politics since we were college undergraduates. One thing we argue about is how much does Trump lie? I've been trying to advance him the case that there's always been some lying around politicians, but Trump is one or two orders of magnitude worse than ever before. He says Obama is a bigger liar than Trump--based on, for example, the claim that under Obamacare you'd be able to spend as much time with your primary doctor as you did before Obamacare.

Peter thinks that the bureaucracy is killing the country and that you need a wrecking ball to shake it up, and maybe Trump is the only wrecking ball you get. His pro-Trump arguments are that someone needed to stand up to China. Trump at least is, [while] everyone else gave it lip service.



For the full interview, see:

Rolfe Winkler, interviewer. "A Silicon Valley Warning." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added; bolded and bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 26, 2018, and the title "LinkedIn's Co-Founder Warns of Perils in Regulating Big Tech." The last question and answer quoted above, is included in the online, but not the print, version of the interview.)






October 15, 2018

Free Trade Benefits Harley-Riding Econometricians (and All Other Consumers Too)



Roughly 40 years ago, I completed a very useful econometrics course at the University of Chicago taught by the author of the commentary quoted below. Life is hard to predict, with or without econometrics. Who could have predicted that Eddie Lazear would end up on a Harley?



(p. A15) When I served in the George W. Bush administration, a group of Harley-Davidson -riding cabinet members and White House principals led the 2008 Memorial Day Rolling Thunder motorcycle parade. I own a 100th Anniversary Year Road King Classic. I am disappointed to see President Trump singling out the iconic American motorcycle company for harassment--a precedent that could inflict long-run damage on the U.S. economy.


. . .


Mr. Trump may genuinely believe his trade tactics will pressure other countries to reduce their tariffs, resulting in freer trade overall. This is unlikely. In the meantime his policies impose steep costs on American firms, like Harley-Davidson, and the people who want to buy from them. The best way to get others to buy American is to produce high-quality goods inexpensively. Those American products that do well abroad, Harley-Davidson motorcycles among them, succeed because consumers value them, not because tariffs and trade-war threats force them to buy American.



For the full commentary, see:

Edward Lazear. "Keep Your Tariffs off My Harley." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 27, 2018.)







October 9, 2018

"No Clear Path" for AI to Match Humans in "Broad, Integrated, Flexible and Robust Understanding of the World"



The author of the comments quoted below is a Duke University Professor of Computer Science.



(p. A15) For those not working in AI, it can be difficult to interpret achievements in the field.


. . .


. . . the AI system solves problems in a very different way than humans.


. . .


Tasks that require responding to the same kind of standardized input over and over, with a clear measure of success, are a natural fit. Such tasks range from the diagnosis of medical images to flipping burgers. On the other hand, jobs that are messy and unpredictable and require an understanding of people and the broader world--I like to think of kindergarten teachers--will likely remain safe for a long time.

Much progress has been made in AI in a short time, so future breakthroughs are not unthinkable. For now, humans remain unsurpassed in their broad, integrated, flexible and robust understanding of the world.


. . .


. . . currently there is no clear path toward building such systems.



For the full commentary, see:

Vincent Conitzer. "Natural Intelligence Still Has Its Advantages; AI is disruptive, but it hasn't rendered humanity obsolete." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 28, 2018.)






October 8, 2018

Automation Predicted to Destroy 19 Million Old Jobs and Create 21 Million New Jobs



(p. B5) At least 21 new job categories may soon emerge from technological and other societal changes, says a new report from IT-services and consulting firm Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp.

With titles such as "genetic diversity officer," "virtual store sherpa" and "personal memory curator," these roles aren't science fiction, the study's authors argue. Rather, they are identified as jobs many employers will have to fill within the next decade.

"It's easier to understand what types of jobs are going to go away," says Ben Pring, director of Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, . . .   The idea behind the report, he says, was "to craft a credible narrative of what we're going to gain."


. . .


Mr. Pring and his colleagues say the dawning age of intelligent machines won't be without painful upheaval: They estimate about 19 million positions in the U.S. will be automated out of existence in the next 15 years, while employers create some 21 million new roles. At the same time, the majority of existing ones will likely be enhanced. "Work will change, but it won't go away," Mr. Pring says.



For the full story, see:

Vanessa Fuhrmans. "A Future Without Jobs? Think Again." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, November 16, 2017): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 15, 2017, and has the title "How the Robot Revolution Could Create 21 Million Jobs.")


The Cognizant report, mentioned above, is:

Pring, Ben, Robert H. Brown, Euan Davis, Manish Bahl, and Michael Cook. "21 Jobs of the Future: A Guide to Getting - and Staying - Employed for the Next 10 Years." Teaneck, NJ: Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, Nov. 15, 2017.






October 7, 2018

"Much Less" Poverty in U.S. Now Than 30 Years Ago



(p. A15) Instead of focusing on reported incomes, our work measures poverty based on consumption: what food, housing, transportation and other goods and services people are able to purchase. This approach, which captures the effect of noncash programs and accounts for the known bias in the CPI-U, demonstrates clearly that there is much less material deprivation than there was decades ago.

Other indicators support this finding. According to the American Housing Survey, the poorest 20% of Americans live as the middle class did a generation ago as measured by the square footage of their homes, the number of rooms per person, and the presence of air conditioning, dishwashers and other amenities. In terms of housing problems like peeling paint, leaks and plumbing issues, today's poor haven't quite matched the living standards of the 1980s middle class, but they are getting close.



For the full commentary, see:

Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan. "Hardly Anyone Wants to Admit America Is Beating Poverty; The White House tells the truth, but partisans on both sides are wedded to the idea of failure." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 6, 2018.)






October 6, 2018

Hershey Gave the World Chocolate Candy and a Single, Very Rich, Residential School



(p. A19) In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.--a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed "sweetest place on earth." He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.


. . .


Other early-20th-century philanthropists, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, left behind massive general-purpose foundations that underwrote experiments in medicine, science and higher education, Mr. Kurie observes, while Hershey "gave us chocolate candy and a single residential school in south-central Pennsylvania that remains little known outside the region."


. . .


. . . , [Mr. Kurie] suggests that the trust can be viewed as a model of philanthropic responsibility, even by institutions without a devoutly local focus. Mr. Kurie's most significant contribution here is to draw attention to philanthropy's "external stakeholders," those people and organizations "who are neither agents nor subjects of philanthropy but who are, for better or worse, caught up in its activities." He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder's vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.



For the full review, see:

Benjamin Soskis. BOOKSHELF; A Man, a Brand, a School, a Town." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 26, 2018): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 25, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'In Chocolate We Trust' Review: A Man, a Brand, a School, a Town.")


The book under review, is:

Kurie, Peter. In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped. Philadelphai, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.






October 5, 2018

Kilby Invented Transistor While Flouting Mandated Summer Vacation



(p. A15) Sixty years. But how much longer? In 1958 Jack St. Clair Kilby--from Great Bend, Kan.--created one of the greatest inventions, a great bend, in the history of mankind. Kilby recently had started at Texas Instruments as an electrical engineer. Most everyone left on a mandated summer break, but he stayed in the lab and worked on combining a transistor, capacitor and three resistors on a single piece of germanium. On Sept. 12, he showed his boss his integrated circuit. At a half-inch long and not very wide, it had ugly wires sticking out, resembling an upside-down cockroach glued to a glass slide.


. . .


Brace yourself. When Moore's Law finally gives up the ghost, productivity and economic growth will roll over too--unless. The world needs another Great Bend, another Kilbyesque warp in the cosmos, to drive the economy.


. . .


Let's hope the next Jack Kilby skipped this summer's vacation.



For the full commentary, see:

Kessler, Andy. "INSIDE VIEW; The Chip That Changed the World; Jack Kilby built the first integrated circuit 60 years ago. We need a new Moore's Law." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Aug. 27, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 26, 2018.)






October 4, 2018

To Bacharach, Retiring from Music "Is Like Dying"



(p. 6B) NEW YORK (AP) -- At age 90, Burt Bacharach hasn't lost faith in the power of music.

"Music softens the heart, makes you feel something if it's good, brings in emotion that you might not have felt before," he said. "It's a very powerful thing if you're able to do to it, if you have it in your heart to do something like that."


. . .


Bacharach says he has no plans to stop writing or performing. He contributes music to a new album by Elvis Costello, a longtime admirer with whom Bacharach has worked with before, and he continues to tour.

"You can throw up your hands and say, 'I can't do this anymore,' but it's what I do. I'm not just going to stop and retire, that is like dying, you know."



For the full story, see:

AP. "School shootings inspire song by Bacharach, 90." Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, September 28, 2018): 6B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 3, 2018

"Regulatory Humility" Enabled 4G "Entrepreneurial Brilliance"



(p. A15) America dominated 4G because the government largely got out of the way of risk-takers. U.S. regulators, unlike their European counterparts, didn't try to mandate technical standards or require forced sharing of their wireless networks with competitors. Regulatory humility produced one of the greatest explosions of entrepreneurial brilliance in human history, the mobile internet.

Today the FCC is helping speed 5G deployment by modernizing regulations. Last December it removed utility-style regulations placed on wireless broadband by the Obama administration. On Sept. 26, it pre-empted localities from charging outrageous fees for 5G deployment. It is also gearing up to auction more spectrum in November to help connect the Internet of Things. Tax reform and the Trump administration's broader deregulatory agenda have also created a more business-friendly environment.

But more should be done. Antitrust officials should update their definitions of markets to give more clarity to 5G entrepreneurs. As T-Mobile and Sprint argue in their merger filings, 5G and free Wi-Fi will compete head-to-head with cable broadband for in-home use.

Regulators also need to recognize that as 5G emerges, old categories are becoming scrambled. Consumers don't necessarily know, or care, if their content comes from an online provider, a broadcaster, a cable channel or a "tech" company, so long as they can get it on their phone or tablet. Regulations must allow companies to invest, innovate, and merge in this new ecosystem.



For the full commentary, see:

Robert M. McDowell. "To Boost 5G, Keep the Industry Free." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 27, 2018.)






September 30, 2018

Growing Percent of Seniors Choose Entrepreneurship Over Retirement



(p. A17) Fed up, Mr. Grupper decided to try something new: being his own boss.


. . .


"The risks have paid off," he said. "I'm making money doing what I love to do."


. . .


These "encore entrepreneurs" are increasingly finding their niche: Their numbers are growing more than twice as fast as the population of New Yorkers over 50. Now a new report by the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research and policy organization, has documented the trend using an analysis of census and labor data and dozens of interviews with organizations that work with entrepreneurs.

"Ask most New Yorkers to picture an entrepreneur, and they imagine a 20- or 30-something in jeans and sneakers. But the face of entrepreneurship across New York City is changing," reads the report, "Starting Later: Realizing the Promise of Older Entrepreneurs in New York City."

The number of self-employed New Yorkers who were at least 50 rose to 209,972 in 2016, up 63.7 percent from 128,282 in 2000. By comparison, the number of city residents overall who were at least 50 rose just 28.5 percent to 2.67 million from 2.08 million during that same period.

These older New York entrepreneurs are also part of a national trend, driven partly by the financial crisis a decade ago. Still, their numbers have grown even as the economy has rebounded. In August [2018], the national unemployment rate was 3.9 percent overall, and 3.1 percent for those 55 years and over, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For many, it means no more answering to bosses half their age, or making do with part-time jobs bagging groceries to get by in their golden years.



For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu. "They're Over 50, and Excited for a New Start(up)." The New York Times (Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2018, and has the title " of the New York edition with the headline: "Retire? These Graying 'Encore Entrepreneurs' Are Just Starting Up.")






September 29, 2018

Unemployed Robot Can Open Doors, If the Doors Have the Right Handles



(p. B1) WALTHAM, Mass. -- Moving like a large dog, knees bent and hips swaying, the robot walked across a parking lot and into a rain puddle.

There, it danced a jig, splashing water across the asphalt. Then it turned and trotted toward a brick building, climbing over a curb and stopping within inches of a floor-length window. Pausing for several seconds, it seemed to eye its own reflection in the glass.

The scene was mesmerizing -- so mesmerizing, it was easy to forget that a woman was guiding the four-legged machine from across the parking lot, a joystick in her hands and a laptop computer strapped to her waist.

The robot was called SpotMini. It was designed by Boston Dynamics, a company widely known for building machines that move like animals and humans. Thanks to a steady stream of YouTube videos from the otherwise secretive robotics lab, its machines have become an internet phenomenon.

But YouTube fame has not translated to very much revenue. In the coming year, Boston Dynamics, which was founded in 1992, plans to start selling the SpotMini, its first commercial robot. The mechanical dog would be a turning point for an outfit that has bewildered people with both its wondrous technology and its seeming lack of interest in making things someone -- anyone -- would actually want to buy.

Even now, it is not entirely clear what someone would do with one of these robots. That makes it hard to get past a question people have been asking about Boston Dynamics for years: Is this a business or a research lab?


. . .


(p. B4) Walking through the Boston Dynamics lab, Mr. Raibert, 68, wore bluejeans and a Hawaiian shirt, as he does nearly every day. He wants to build robots that can do what humans and animals can do. That was his aim in the early 1980s, when he founded the Leg Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And it was his aim when he moved the lab to M.I.T.


. . .


No machine comes closer to his vision than Atlas, a 165-pound anthropomorphic robot that can run, jump and even do back flips. Mr. Raibert would not let us shoot video of Atlas or other robots while inside the lab. But he did give a brief demonstration of the machine.

Like the SpotMini, Atlas is controlled by a joystick, a laptop computer and a wireless radio. When Mr. Raibert signaled for the demo, an engineer touched the joystick and the 165-pound robot crashed to the floor. Atlas is so large and so lifelike, you feel bad for it.


. . .


SpotMini is smaller and cheaper and has better balance than Atlas. It can carry (small) items on its back, and it can open doors (provided the doors have the proper handles). This requires an extra limb that attaches between its shoulders.



For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. "'For Sale: One Robot In Search Of a Job." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 21, 2018, and has the title "'These Robots Run, Dance and Flip. But Are They a Business?")






September 20, 2018

"Machines Are Not Capable of Creativity"



(p. A11) New York

"I rarely have an urge to whisper," says George Gilder--loudly--as he settles onto a divan by the window of his Times Square hotel room. I'd asked him to speak as audibly as possible into my recording device, and his response, while literal, could also serve as a metaphor: Nothing Mr. Gilder says or writes is ever delivered at anything less than the fullest philosophical decibel.


. . .


Citing Claude Shannon, the American mathematician acknowledged as the father of information theory, Mr. Gilder says that "information is surprise. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us. If it wasn't surprising, we wouldn't need it." However useful they may be, "machines are not capable of creativity." Human minds can generate counterfactuals, imaginative flights, dreams. By contrast, "a surprise in a machine is a breakdown. You don't want your machines to have surprising outcomes!"

The narrative of human obsolescence, Mr. Gilder says, is giving rise to a belief that the only way forward is to provide redundant citizens with some sort of "guaranteed annual income," which would mean the end of the market economy: . . .


. . .


For all the gloom about Silicon Valley that appears to suffuse his new book, Mr. Gilder insists that he's not a tech-pessimist. "I think technology has fabulous promise," he says, as he describes blockchain and cryptocurrency as "a new technological revolution that is rising up as we speak." He says it has generated "a huge efflorescence of peer-to-peer technology and creativity, and new companies." The decline of initial public offerings in the U.S., he adds, has been "redressed already by the rise of the ICO, the 'initial coin offering,' which has raised some $12 billion for several thousand companies in the last year."

It is clear that Mr. Gilder is smitten with what he calls "this cryptographic revolution," and believes that it will heal some of the damage to humanity that has been inflicted by the "machine obsessed" denizens of Silicon Valley. Blockchain "endows individuals with control of their data, their identity, the truths that they want to assert, their transactions, their visions, their content and their security." Here Mr. Gilder sounds less like a tech guru than a poet, and his words tumble out in a romantic cascade.



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan, interviewer. "Sage Against the Machine; A leading Google critic on why he thinks the era of 'big data' is done, why he opposes Trump's talk of regulation, and the promise of blockchain." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Aug. 31, 2018.)


The "new book" by Gilder, mentioned above, is:

Gilder, George. Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 2018.






September 19, 2018

E-Commerce Creates "More and Better Jobs than It Destroys"



(p. A17) . . . , the men and women who go to work each day in e-commerce fulfillment centers are much better-equipped with information technology--and therefore more productive and better-paid. Our research shows that fulfillment center weekly wages are 31% higher on average than brick-and-mortar retail in the same area.


. . .


But does e-commerce destroy more jobs than it creates? So far the answer seems to be no. From the third quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2017, brick-and-mortar retail full-time-equivalent jobs fell by roughly 123,000, or about 1%, according to my think tank's analysis of the latest Labor Department data.

Over the same two-year stretch, the e-commerce industry has added some 178,000 jobs in fulfillment centers and electronic shopping firms. In addition, express delivery companies and other local couriers boosted their full-time-equivalent workers by another 58,000.


. . .


The Internet of Goods--our term for the fast-growing digitization of the production, sorting and movement of physical products--will be the next major step in the internet's evolution.

If e-commerce is any guide, the jobs created for the Internet of Goods will require workers who have a good mix of physical and cognitive skills, just like the industrial jobs of the early-20th century. Moreover, they will be more evenly spread around the country, boosting growth in America's heartland as well as the coasts.



For the full commentary, see:

Michael Mandel. "Get Ready for the Internet of Goods; Already, e-commerce has been creating more and better jobs than it destroys." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 15, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 15, 2017.)






September 18, 2018

Drones Reduce Worker Danger of Many Tasks



(p. B3) Small, swift and agile, drones have all but replaced the more costly and less nimble helicopter for tasks that involve inspections, measurements and marketing images.


. . .


On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes, said Mike Winn, the chief executive of DroneDeploy, a company founded five years ago in San Francisco that creates software for, among other uses, operating drones with mobile apps.

Drones are reducing the travel time for busy executives, Mr. Winn said. "The head office can see what's going on, and the safety team, the costing team, the designers -- all of them can contribute to the project, share data and comment on it, without actually going to the job."

They could also improve safety. In the days before drones, Mr. Winn said, measuring the roof of a house for solar panels would require "a guy with a tape measure to climb up there," which often produced inaccurate results and, like anything involving heights, was dangerous.

Such peril is magnified in the construction of skyscrapers, said John Murphy Jr., a contractor on the Paramount Miami Worldcenter, a 58-story condominium tower being built in downtown Miami. Before drones, Mr. Murphy said, workers seeking access to the exterior of a high-rise were "dropped over the side" in so-called swing stages, small platforms that hang from cables. Often used by window cleaners, swing stages are precarious in high winds.

"No one wants to go out there," he said. "It's scary."



For the full story, see:

Nick Madigan. "'It Can Leap Tall Buildings and Save Money and Lives." The New York Times (Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2018, and has the title "'Need a Quick Inspection of a 58-Story Tower? Send a Drone.")






September 17, 2018

N.Y.C. Regulation of Uber and Lyft Hurts Poor Blacks and Hispanics



(p. A1) Jenine James no longer worries about getting stranded when the subways and buses are unreliable -- a constant frustration these days -- or cannot take her to where she needs to go. Her Plan B: Uber.

So Ms. James, 20, a barista in Brooklyn, sees New York's move to restrict ride-hail services as not just a threat to her own convenience and comfort but also to the alternative transportation system that has sprung up to fill in the gaps left by the city's failing subways and buses. She does not even want to think about going back to a time when a train was her only option, as unlikely as that might be.

"It was bad, so imagining going back, it's terrible," she said.

The ride-hail cars that critics say are choking New York City's streets have also brought much-needed relief to far corners of the city where just getting to work is a daily chore requiring long rides and multiple transfers, often squeezed into packed trains and buses. The black cars that crisscross transit deserts in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island have become staples in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods where residents complain that yellow taxis often refuse to pick them up. They come to the rescue in the rain, and during taxi shift changes, when rides are notoriously hard to find even (p. A19) in the heart of Manhattan.

New York became the first major American city on Wednesday [Aug. 8, 2018] to put a halt on issuing new vehicle licenses for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hail services amid growing concerns around the world about the impact they are having on cities.

The legislation calls for a one-year moratorium while the city studies the booming industry and also establishes pay rules for drivers. It was passed overwhelmingly by the City Council and is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, who attempted to adopt a similar cap in 2015 but abandoned the effort after Uber waged a fierce campaign against him.



For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu and Mariana Alfaro. "'At End of Line, A Cap on Uber Causes Distress." The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 10, 2018): A1 & A19.

(Note: bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2018, and has the title "'Riders Wonder: With Uber as New York's Plan B, Is There a Plan C?")






September 10, 2018

Self-Driving Cars Would Give Amazing Autonomy to the Blind



Self-driving car YouTube video mentioned in the article quoted below.



(p. 1A) In 2012, Steve Mahan, who is blind, climbed into the driver's seat of a self-driving car and rolled up to the drive-thru of a Taco Bell in a video that's been viewed more than 8 million times online.

The piece, produced by Google, captured the potential of autonomous-car technology to change the lives of the visually impaired.

"It was my first time behind the steering wheel in seven years and was absolutely amazing," Mahan said.

Self-driving-car advocates say that in addition to helping the disabled, the vehicles will allow people to do other tasks while driving and make roadways safer by removing human error.



For the full story, see:

JASON DEAREN for the Associated Press. "Driverless Cars Give Hope to Blind, but Are Automakers Onboard Yet?" Omaha World-Herald (Monday, Apr. 16, 2018): 8A.







September 6, 2018

Soichiro Honda Rushed Prototype Car "in Defiance of a Planned Japanese Law"



(p. A10) For many Japanese, Honda reflected the originality and self-confidence that turned the country into an industrial powerhouse after World War II.


. . .


The company was founded in 1946 by Soichiro Honda, a tinkerer who loved to battle the giants with his own innovations. He and a dozen workers took engines intended for small electric generators and attached them to bicycles, the first Honda product. Within 15 years, a Honda motorcycle was beating European rivals at the Isle of Man motorcycle race.

Around that time, Mr. Honda rushed out a prototype automobile despite having almost no experience in building them, in defiance of a planned Japanese law that would have restricted entry in the market.



For the full story, see:

Sean McLain. "Tech Costs Force Honda To Let Go of Engineering Legacy." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Aug. 6, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 5, 2018, and has the title "Honda Took Pride in Doing Everything Itself. The Cost of Technology Made That Impossible.")






September 5, 2018

Africans Vote with Their Feet for Spanish Tolerance and Prosperity



(p. A1) CEUTA, Spain -- For most migrants from Africa, the last stage of their trip to Europe involves some sort of perilous sea crossing. At the border in Ceuta, there is just a fence.

Ceuta (pronounced say-YOU-tah) is one of the two Spanish communities on the north coast of what otherwise would be Morocco, the only places where Europe has land borders with Africa. The other enclave is Melilla, farther east along the same coast.

Here, all that separates Europe from migrants is a double fence, 20 feet high and topped with barbed wire, stretching the four miles across the peninsula and dividing tiny Ceuta from Morocco -- plus 1,100 Spanish federal police and Guardia Civil officers, a paramilitary police force.

They patrol a crossing point that has come under growing pressure.


. . .


(p. A6) On any given day, young migrant men can be seen prowling on the Moroccan side, looking for an opportunity.

Some swim around the fences where they go down into the sea. Others take short, illicit boat trips to Ceuta from Morocco. But mostly they run and climb the fence, or use bolt-cutters to cut holes in it, and they are quickly spotted by motion detectors and guards in observation towers and usually beaten back by policemen using sticks and fists.

Salif, 20, from Cameroon, said he tried 10 times to cross the fence in the past year, until he finally made it over on his 11th effort.


. . .


Morocco has long demanded custody of Ceuta and Melilla, but Spain has refused, saying they were part of Spain for centuries before Morocco was even a state.

"We are in Europe, not in Africa," said Jacob Hachuel, the spokesman for the city. "But we have a border that has the biggest socio-economic differences between the two sides of any border in the world."

Despite the violence used to prevent efforts to cross the border, once inside Ceuta migrants find an easygoing climate. Some 40 to 50 percent of the 84,000 residents are Muslims of Moroccan origin; most of the rest are Spanish Christians. There are also minorities of Jews and Hindus in the seven-square-mile area.

The Jewish community is the oldest one in Spain, having escaped the 1492 expulsion of Jews from the rest of the country. "It's a mix of cultures, and we are used to having the other in our midst," said Mr. Hachuel, who is Jewish.

Anna Villaban, a government employee, said Ceuta's residents were proud of their city, which recently was host to three festivals, commemorating Ramadan for Muslims, Holi for Hindus and a local saint, San Antonio, for Christians.

"Where else would you see that?" she asked.



For the full story, see:

Rod Nordland. "'All of Africa Is Here': Hopes of Climbing to Spain." The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 20, 2018): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 19, 2018, and has the title "'All of Africa Is Here': Where Europe's Southern Border Is Just a Fence.")






September 4, 2018

Americans Today "Are Far Less Likely" to Trust the Government than 40 Years Ago



(p. A16) . . . Suzanne Mettler, a political scientist at Cornell University [was] perplexed by the trends that Americans have come to dislike government more and more, even as they have increasingly relied on its assistance through programs other than welfare. Americans are far less likely today than 40 years ago to say in surveys that they trust the government to do what is right or to look out for people like them.


. . .


People who strongly dislike welfare were significantly less likely to feel government had provided them with opportunities, or to feel government officials cared what they thought, . . .

"Their attitudes about welfare end up being a microcosm for them of government," Ms. Mettler said. "They look at how they think welfare operates, and if they see that as unfair, they think: 'This is basically what government is. Government does favors for undeserving people, and it doesn't help people like me who are working hard and playing by the rules.' "



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "The Outsize Hold Of the Word 'Welfare' On the Public's Mind." The New York Times (Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018): A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 6, 2018, and has the title "The Outsize Hold of the Word 'Welfare' on the Public Imagination." The page of my National Edition was A16; the online edition says the page of the New York Edition was A14.)


Mettler's research is more fully described in:

Mettler, Suzanne. The Government-Citizen Disconnect. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2018.






September 3, 2018

Swedish Welfare Paid for by "the Highest Personal Income Tax Rate in the World"



(p. A17) American liberals sometimes hold up Sweden as a model of social order, equality of the sexes, and respect for parental responsibilities. Its welfare state offers excellent free or subsidized prenatal care, 480 days of paid leave for both natural and adoptive parents, and additional leave for moms who work in physically strenuous jobs. Swedish parents have the option to reduce their normal hours (and pay) up to 25% until a child turns 8.

But all this assistance comes at a steep cost. At 61.85%, Sweden has the highest personal income tax rate in the world. That money pays for the kind of support many American women would welcome, but it comes with pressure on women to return to the workforce on the government's schedule, not their own. The Swedish government also supports and subsidizes institutionalized day care (they call it preschool), promoting the belief that professional care-givers are better for children than their own mothers.

If a mother decides she wants to stay at home with her child beyond the state-sanctioned maternity leave, she receives no additional allowance. That creates an extreme financial burden on those families, and the pressure is social as well. A 32-year-old friend told me that she was in the park with her 2-year-old son, when she was surrounded by a group of women who berated her for not having the boy in day care.



For the full commentary, see:

Erica Komisar. "The Human Cost of Sweden's Welfare State; A group of women berated my friend in a public park because her 2-year-old son wasn't in day care." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 12, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 11, 2018.)






September 2, 2018

AMD Chips Leapfrog Intel Chips



(p. B2) A.M.D.'s shares are easily the best performing among the chip makers in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.

That is quite a reversal.

. . .


For years, A.M.D. produced processors whose main attraction was price. When Lisa Su took over as chief executive of the company in 2014, she sought to change that. But in the semiconductor industry, new products take years to develop, and so the efforts have only recently borne fruit.

The company's Ryzen chips, used in high-performance enterprise and gaming computers, outperform Intel's flagship processors. Many computer makers, including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung, have begun using them in their devices.



For the full story, see:


Jamie Condliffe. "Chip Maker, Once Lagging, Outpaces Its Competitors." The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 24, 2018, and has the title "Why A.M.D.'s Stock Is Outperforming Intel's.")






September 1, 2018

Strong Job Market Increases Opportunities for the Uncredentialed



(p. A1) Americans looking to land a first job or break into a dream career face their best odds of success in years.

Employers say they are abandoning preferences for college degrees and specific skill sets to speed up hiring and broaden the pool of job candidates. Many companies added requirements to job postings after the recession, when millions were out of work and human-resources departments were stacked with résumés.

Across incomes and industries, the lower bar to getting hired is helping self-taught programmers attain software engineering roles at Intel Corp. and GitHub Inc., the coding platform, and improving the odds for high-school graduates who aspire to be branch managers at Bank of America Corp. and Terminix pest control.



For the full story, see:


Kelsey Gee. "Help Wanted, Degree Not Needed." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 30, 2018): A1 & A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 29, 2018, and has the title "Employers Eager to Hire Try a New Policy: 'No Experience Necessary'.")






August 31, 2018

Central Banks Epitomize the Administrative State



(p. A15) The promise of the modern central bank is that it will make its corner of the economic-policy world technocratic and academic--in a word, boring.

The lesson of the past decade is that this promise is a lie. The developed world's four major central banks--the Fed, the Banks of England and Japan, and the European Central Bank--have executed a series of extraordinary policy maneuvers to rescue us from the 2008 financial panic, with debatable success. These include ultralow or negative interest rates; the purchase of sovereign debt in mind-boggling quantities; forays into commercial debt, equity and real-estate markets; and ventures into mortgages, small-business loans and other similar instruments. Central banks have also taken on vast new supervisory powers over the financial system. Each of these measures has had profound effects on our economies: debtors win, savers lose; large, bond-issuing companies get credit, smaller firms don't; owners of assets accumulate wealth, wage earners see their salaries endangered by inflation. Such distributional choices are normally left to elected leaders, but no one elects a central bank.

Mr. Tucker reminds us how this happened. He places the development of modern central banking firmly within the wider story of administrative governance in the 20th century and its expansion at the expense of electoral accountability. "Central banks might well be the current epitome of unelected power," he writes, "but they are part of broader forces that have been reshaping the structure of modern governance." His brief account of the Fed's history starts not at the usual spot--the 1907 panic and its aftermath--but with the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, in 1887, taken by some as the first step in the development of America's modern bureaucracy.



For the full review, see:

Joseph C. Sternberg. "BOOKSHELF; 'Unelected Power' Review: Monetary Mavericks; The question is not whether recent interventions by central banks were effective, but whether they were legitimate." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 27, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Unelected Power' Review: Monetary Mavericks; The question is not whether recent interventions by central banks were effective, but whether they were legitimate.")


The book under review, is:

Tucker, Paul. Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






August 30, 2018

Youths Reject Construction Jobs



(p. A3) The construction business is having trouble attracting young job seekers.

The share of workers in the sector who are 24 years old or younger has declined in 48 states since the last housing boom in 2005, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Issi Romem, chief economist at construction data firm BuildZoom. Nationally, the share of young construction workers declined nearly 30% from 2005 through 2016, according to Mr. Romem.

While there's no single reason why younger folks are losing interest in a job that is generally well-paid and doesn't require a college education, their indifference is exacerbating a labor shortage that has meant fewer homes being built and rising prices, possibly for years to come.



For the full story, see:

Laura Kusisto. "Youths Shrug at Construction Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 31, 2018, and has the title "Young People Don't Want Construction Jobs. That's a Problem for the Housing Market.")






August 29, 2018

Robot Comedian Is an Inconsistent Communist



(p. C4) LONDON -- One recent evening at a London pub, Piotr Mirowski, 39, stood in front of several dozen comedy fans to prove that an artificially intelligent computer program could perform improvised comedy.


. . .


Despite all the improvements, Mr. Mirowski said working with an A.I. was still like having a "completely drunk comedian" on stage, who was only "accidentally funny," by saying things that were totally inappropriate, overly emotional or plain odd.

"Robots are in a way the antithesis of theater and comedy," he said. "Theatre is about the human expression on stage, and it's about the communication and empathy between the actors and the audience. Robots do not have the sensors to perceive any of that."


. . .


During the show on Wednesday, Mr. Mirowski performed several different scenes using the A.I. None were anywhere near as successful as the one involving the couple going for a drive. The climax of the show involved four members of Mr. Mirowski's improv troupe, Improbotics Ltd., performing a scene involving a fictional president, his chief of staff and an office cleaner.

The audience had to guess which actor was controlled by the A.I. The answer became clear soon after the cleaner took to the stage. "I'm a communist!" she said, completely out of the blue. Later, she performed a U-turn. "I'm not a communist!" she said. Then, out of nowhere she asked another member of the troupe, "Look, do you wanna buy a knife?"



For the full story, see:

Alex Marshall. "Hey, That Robot Seems to Think It's a Comedian." The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 8, 2018, and has the title "A Robot Walks Into a Bar. But Can It Do Comedy?")






August 26, 2018

Flying Is Cheaper and More Convenient After Deregulation



(p. 3) Since the industry was deregulated in 1979, increased competition and airline consolidation caused airfares, when adjusted for inflation, to drop 40 percent, according to the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank devoted to transportation issues. In 2016, it found the average domestic round-trip ticket in the United States cost $367 versus $187 in 1979.

"Airlines became very efficient at trying to get as many paying passengers onboard per flight," said Paul Lewis, the vice president of policy and finance at the Eno Center. "Seats got closer, load factors got higher and while we don't tend to like cramming into an airplane, that's how we're able to enjoy relatively low fares."

Technology advancements and the surge in low-cost carriers, particularly on international routes, have made flying more convenient, if not necessarily more comfortable.



For the full commentary, see:


Elaine Glusac. "THE GETAWAY; Tickets From Here to There for Less." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sunday, July 14, 2018): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2018, and has the title "THE GETAWAY; Fly Farther, for Cheaper. For Now..")






August 25, 2018

Ridiculed Nathan Myhrvold Perseveres on Asteroids and Is Vindicated




Nathan Myhrvold has also been ridiculed on his entrepreneurial patent clearinghouse (called Intellectual Ventures), and on his geoengineering solution to global warming.



(p. D1) Thousands of asteroids are passing through Earth's neighborhood all the time. Although the odds of a direct hit on the planet any time soon are slim, even a small asteroid the size of a house could explode with as much energy as an atomic bomb.

So scientists at NASA are charged with scanning the skies for such dangerous space rocks. If one were on a collision course with our planet, information about how big it is and what it's made of would be essential for deflecting it, or calculating the destruction if it hits.

For the last couple of years, Nathan P. Myhrvold, a former chief technologist at Microsoft with a physics doctorate from Princeton, has roiled the small, congenial community of asteroid scientists by saying they know less than they think about these near-Earth objects. He argues that a trove of data from NASA they rely on is flawed and unreliable.


. . .


(p. D4) Dr. Myhrvold's findings pose a challenge to a proposed NASA asteroid-finding mission called Neocam, short for Near-Earth Object Camera, which would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A congressional committee that controls NASA's purse strings just included $10 million more in a budget bill for the development of Neocam.


. . .


When Dr. Myhrvold made his initial claims, the Neowise scientists made fun of a few errors like an equation that mixed up radius and diameter.

"It is too bad Myhrvold doesn't have Google's bug-finding bounty policy," Dr. Wright told Scientific American. "If he did, I'd be rich."

Dr. Mainzer also said at the time, "We believe at this point it's best to allow the process of peer review -- the foundation of the scientific process -- to move forward."


. . .


Earlier this year, Icarus published Dr. Myhrvold's first paper on how reflected sunlight affects measurements of asteroids at the shorter infrared wavelengths measured by WISE. It has now accepted and posted a second paper last month containing Dr. Myhrvold's criticisms of the NASA asteroid data.


. . .


When the scientists reported their findings, they did not include the estimates produced by their models, which would have given a sense of how good the model is. Instead they included the earlier measurements.

Other astronomers agreed that the Neowise scientists were not clear about what numbers they were reporting.

"They did some kind of dumb things," said Alan W. Harris, a retired NASA asteroid expert who was one of the reviewers of Dr. Myhrvold's second paper.

Dr. Myhrvold has accused the Neowise scientists of going into a NASA archive of planetary results, changing some of the copied numbers and deleting others without giving notice.

"They went back and rewrote history," he said. "What it shows is even this far in, they're still lying. They haven't come clean."

Dr. Harris said he did not see nefarious behavior by the Neowise scientists, but agreed, "That's still weird."


. . .


Dr. Myhrvold said NASA and Congress should put planning for the proposed Neocam spacecraft on hold, because it could suffer from the same shortfalls as Neowise. "Why does it get to avoid further scrutiny and just get money directly from Congress?" he asked.



For the full story, see:

Kenneth Chang. "A Collision Over Asteroids." The New York Times (Tuesday, June 19, 2018): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title "Asteroids and Adversaries: Challenging What NASA Knows About Space Rocks.")






August 23, 2018

Technologies Can Offer "Extraordinary Learning" Where "Children's Interests Turn to Passion"



(p. B1) The American Academy of Pediatrics once recommended parents simply limit children's time on screens. The association changed those recommendations in 2016 to reflect profound differences in levels of interactivity between TV, on which most previous research was based, and the devices children use today.

Where previous guidelines described all screen time for (p. B4) young children in terms of "exposure," as if screen time were a toxic substance, new guidance allows for up to an hour a day for children under 5 and distinguishes between different kinds of screen use--say, FaceTime with Grandma versus a show on YouTube.


. . .


Instead of enforcing time-based rules, parents should help children determine what they want to do--consume and create art, marvel at the universe--and make it a daily part of screen life, says Anya Kamenetz, a journalist and author of the coming book "The Art of Screen Time--How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life."

In doing so, parents can offer "extraordinary learning" experiences that weren't possible before such technology came along, says Mimi Ito, director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine and a cultural anthropologist who has studied how children actually use technology for over two decades.

"Extraordinary learning" is what happens when children's interests turn to passion, and a combination of tech and the internet provides a bottomless well of tools, knowledge and peers to help them pursue these passions with intensity characteristic of youth.

It's about more than parents spending time with children. It includes steering them toward quality and letting them--with breaks for stretching and visual relief, of course--dive deep without a timer.

There are many examples of such learning, whether it is children teaching themselves to code with the videogame Minecraft or learning how to create music and shoot videos. Giving children this opportunity allows them to learn at their own, often-accelerated pace.



For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. "KEYWORDS; Not All Screen Time Is Equal Screen Time Isn't Toxic After All." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Jan. 22, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was last updated Jan. 22, 2018, and has the title "KEYWORDS; What If Children Should Be Spending More Time With Screens?")


The book mentioned above, is:

Kamenetz, Anya. The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






August 19, 2018

A Dinner to Remember



(p. 6) The economist Dambisa Moyo, author most recently of "Edge of Chaos," loves Agatha Christie's "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep" Hercule Poirot.


. . .


You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

1) Vikram Seth, the economist turned novelist. His "A Suitable Boy" remains one of my all-time favorite books. 2) Ayn Rand, the philosopher and novelist. I am drawn to her irreverence -- a woman ahead of her time. 3) Maya Angelou, the poet who penned "Still I Rise" and "Phenomenal Woman" ... enough said.



For the full interview, see:


Dambisa Moyo. "'BY THE BOOK; Dambisa Moyo." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 29, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis between sentences added; ellipsis internal to sentence, and bold question, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 26, 2018. The first sentence and the bold question are by the unnamed writer-interviewer. The answer after the bold question is by Moyo.)


Moyo's book, mentioned above, is:

Moyo, Dambisa. Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth, and How to Fix It. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






August 17, 2018

Union Slows UPS Automation



(p. B1) As UPS tries to satisfy America's 21st-century shopping-and-shipping mania, parts of its network are stuck in the 20th century. The company still relies on some outdated equipment and manual processes of the type rival FedEx Corp. discarded or that newer entrants, including Amazon.com Inc., never had.

UPS says about half its packages are processed through automated facilities today. At FedEx, 96% of ground packages move through automated sites. UPS workers are unionized; FedEx's ground-operations workers aren't.


. . .


(p. B2) UPS is negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to renew a five-year contract, which expires July 31. Representing 260,000 UPS drivers, sorters and other workers, the union wants UPS to hire more full-time workers to help handle the surge in packages. It has opposed technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones and is wary of projects that do work with fewer employees.

"The problem with technology is that it does ultimately streamline jobs," says Sean O'Brien, a Teamsters leader in Boston. "It does eliminate jobs. And once they're replaced, it's pretty tough to get them back."

FedEx, with no unionized workforce in its ground network, doesn't have to worry as much about labor strife. And because it built its ground network more recently, it hasn't had to retrofit older facilities with automation. "For an older hub, automating is like heart surgery," says Ted Dengel, FedEx Ground's managing director of operations technology. "We can drop automation in before a package hits a facility."



For the full story, see:

Paul Ziobro. "UPS is Running Late." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018, and has the title "UPS's $20 Billion Problem: Operations Stuck in the 20th Century.")






August 16, 2018

Emmanuel Macron Invokes the Spirit of Joseph Schumpeter



(p. A7) PARIS--Speaking at the annual gathering of the business and political elite in Davos earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked the spirit of one of his favorite early-20th-century thinkers, Joseph Schumpeter.

The economist is the father of "creative destruction," the theory that innovation sustains growth by destroying old business models. The embrace of such thinking has made Mr. Macron, an investment banker turned head-of-state, a darling of the globalist set. But this time, Mr. Macron warned that disruption was descending into a battle for the survival of the fittest.

"Schumpeter is very soon going to look like Darwin. And living in a completely Darwinian world is not good," Mr. Macron said.

France's president is on a mission to save globalism from itself and, lately, that has become a lonely road.



For the full story, see:

Stacy Meichtry and William Horobin. "Macron Walks a Line on Globalism." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title "Macron's Lonely Road: Saving Globalism From Itself." In the last couple of sentences quoted, the wording follows the online version rather than the slightly different print version.)






August 13, 2018

Zuckerberg Calls Musk "Pretty Irresponsible" on A.I. "Doomsday" Fears



(p. 1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Mark Zuckerberg thought his fellow Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk was behaving like an alarmist.

Mr. Musk, the entrepreneur behind SpaceX and the electric-car maker Tesla, had taken it upon himself to warn the world that artificial intelligence was "potentially more dangerous than nukes" in television interviews and on social media.

So, on Nov. 19, 2014, Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, invited Mr. Musk to dinner at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Two top researchers from Facebook's new artificial intelligence lab and two other Facebook executives joined them.

As they ate, the Facebook contingent tried to convince Mr. Musk that he was wrong. But he wasn't budging. "I genuinely believe this is dangerous," Mr. Musk told the table, according to one of the dinner's attendees, Yann LeCun, the researcher who led Facebook's A.I. lab.

Mr. Musk's fears of A.I., distilled to their essence, were simple: If we create machines that are smarter than humans, they could turn against us. (See: "The Terminator," "The Matrix," and "2001: A Space Odyssey.") Let's for once, he was saying to the rest of the tech industry, consider the unintended consequences of what we are creating before we unleash it on the world.


. . .


(p. 6) Since their dinner three years ago, the debate between Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk has turned sour. Last summer, in a live Facebook video streamed from his backyard as he and his wife barbecued, Mr. Zuckerberg called Mr. Musk's views on A.I. "pretty irresponsible."

Panicking about A.I. now, so early in its development, could threaten the many benefits that come from things like self-driving cars and A.I. health care, he said.

"With A.I. especially, I'm really optimistic," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "People who are naysayers and kind of try to drum up these doomsday scenarios -- I just, I don't understand it."



For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. "Moguls and Killer Robots." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud Over Killer Robots.")






August 12, 2018

Chinese Communists Plan to Dominate Memory Chips by Stealing Micron Innovations



(p. B1) JINJIANG, China -- With a dragnet closing in, engineers at a Taiwanese chip maker holding American secrets did their best to conceal a daring case of corporate espionage.

As the police raided their offices, human resources workers gave the engineers a warning to scramble and get rid of the evidence. USB drives, laptops and documents were handed to a lower-level employee, who hid them in her locker. Then she walked one engineer's phone out the front door.

What those devices contained was more valuable than gold or jewels: designs from an American company, Micron Technology, for microchips that have helped power the global digital revolution. According to the Taiwanese authorities, the designs were bound for China, where they would help a new, $5.7 billion microchip factory the size of several airplane hangars rumble into production.

China has ambitious plans to overhaul its economy and compete head to head with the United States and other nations in the technology of tomorrow. The heist of the designs two years ago and the raids last year, which were described by Micron in court filings and the police in Taiwan, represent the dark side of that effort -- and explain in part why the United States is starting a trade war with China.

A plan known as Made in China 2025 calls for the country to become a global competitor in an ar-(p. B2)ray of industries, including semiconductors, robotics and electric vehicles. China is spending heavily to both innovate and buy up technology from abroad.

Politicians in Washington and American companies accuse China of veering into intimidation and outright theft to get there. And they see Micron, an Idaho company whose memory chips give phones and computers the critical ability to store and quickly retrieve information, as a prime example of that aggression.



For the full story, see:


Paul Mozur. "Darker Side Of Tech Bid By China." The New York Times (Saturday, June 23, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 22, 2018, and has the title "Inside a Heist of American Chip Designs, as China Bids for Tech Power.")






August 11, 2018

How Precision Metalwork Was Required for Industrial Revolution



(p. 16) In "The Perfectionists," Simon Winchester celebrates the unsung breed of engineers who through the ages have designed ever more creative and intricate machines. He takes us on a journey through the evolution of "precision," which in his view is the major driver of what we experience as modern life.


. . .


This expert working of metal is traced back to James Watt and his development of the steam engine. The first prototypes leaked copious amounts of steam and weren't very efficient. The problem was that the piston didn't fit exactly in its cylinder -- small imperfections in the surfaces of both allowed pockets of air to escape. Watt enlisted the help of John "Iron Mad" Wilkinson, so called because of his expertise (even obsession) with metal. Wilkinson had previously patented a way to bore out precise cylinders for more accurate cannons, and he suggested the same method be applied to Watt's ill-fitting system. It worked, and the improved engine allowed the conversion of energy to movement on an unprecedented scale. The Industrial Revolution, Winchester declares, could now begin.



For the full review, see:

Roma Agrawal. "Perfect Fit." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 14, 2018, and has the title "Under Modernity's Hood: Precision Engineering.")


The book under review, is:

Winchester, Simon. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2018.






August 10, 2018

Widely-Used HireVue Algorithm Can Lock-In Hiring Biases



(p. A23) The products of a company called HireVue, which are used by over 600 companies including Nike, Unilever and even Atlanta Public Schools, allow employers to interview job applicants on camera, using A.I. to rate videos of each candidate according to verbal and nonverbal cues. The company's aim is to reduce bias in hiring.

But there's a catch: The system's ratings, according to a Business Insider reporter who tested the software and discussed the results with HireVue's chief technology officer, reflect the previous preferences of hiring managers. So if more white males with generally homogeneous mannerisms have been hired in the past, it's possible that algorithms will be trained to favorably rate predominantly fair-skinned, male candidates while penalizing women and people of color who do not exhibit the same verbal and nonverbal cues.



For the full story, see:


Joy Buolamwini. "The Hidden Dangers Of Facial Analysis." The New York Times (Friday, June 22, 2018): A23.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 21, 2018, and has the title "When the Robot Doesn't See Dark Skin.")






August 5, 2018

Drones "Stifled" by Stringent Regulations



(p. B5) The commercial drone industry is being stifled by unnecessarily stringent federal safety rules enforced by regulators who frequently pay only lip service to easing restrictions or streamlining decision-making, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The unusually strongly worded report released Monday [June 11, 2018] urges "top-to-bottom" changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration assesses and manages risks from drones.


. . .

. . . minimal but persistent levels of risk already are accepted by the public,according to the report. A fundamental issue is "what are we going to compare [drone] safety to?" said consultant George Ligler, who served as chairman of the committee that drafted the document.

"We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace, although we know birds can and do bring down aircraft," the report said.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 12, 2018): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 11, 2018, and has the title "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says.")






August 4, 2018

Obits for Gig Economy Are Premature



(p. A21) Data confirm the "gig economy" is taking off--or do they? A 2017 Upwork study found that 36% of the labor force engaged in some form of contract or freelance work in 2017. In 2015 the Mercatus Center counted 1099-MISC and W-2 tax forms, which report contractor and employee income, respectively. The number of W-2s declined 3.5% between 2000 and 2014, while the 1099-MISC count grew 22% (albeit from a much smaller base).

But then the Bureau of Labor Statistics weighed in. Its Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements survey, released last week, caused a flurry of clickbait headlines like "Everything we thought we knew about the gig economy is wrong" and "Gig economy jobs aren't really taking over America's workforce."


. . .


A notable study by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger used the same questions as the BLS survey, but worked with a different sample population (the RAND American Life Panel) and used an internet survey. It found that alternative employment arrangements as a worker's primary form of employment grew more than 50% between 2005 to 2015, when they collected their data.

It would at least be hasty to conclude that alternative employment arrangements declined between 2005 to 2017. And more important, the BLS data are not an accurate description or measure of gig-economy work, since they exclude most workers engaged in this type of work through supplementary income.



For the full commentary, see:

Liya Palagashvili. "Don't Be So Sure the Gig Is Up; Contract work has fallen as a share of employment, a BLS study finds. But there are reasons to doubt it.." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 12, 2018.)


They study by Katz and Krueger, mentioned above, is:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers: 22667, 2016.

Also relevant is their:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Role of Unemployment in the Rise in Alternative Work Arrangements." American Economic Review 107, no. 5 (May 2017): 388-92.






August 3, 2018

History of Energy Shows Power of Human Ingenuity to Solve Problems



(p. 16) In this meticulously researched work, Rhodes brings his fascination with engineers, scientists and inventors along as he presents an often underappreciated history: four centuries through the evolution of energy and how we use it. He focuses on the introduction of each new energy source, and the discovery and gradual refinement of technologies that eventually made them dominant. The result is a book that is as much about innovation and ingenuity as it is about wood, coal, kerosene or oil.


. . .


Moreover, there is a familiar pattern when one energy source supplants another: As each obstacle is cleared, a new one appears. The distillation of Pennsylvania "rock oil," for instance, established that itt offered a superior mode of lighting, a discovery that immediately presented the challenge of producing such oil -- then collected from places where it bubbled to the surface -- in sufficient quantities. Similarly, the invention of the petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine required Charles F. Kettering and Thomas Midgely Jr. to resolve the pressing problem of "engine knock" that resulted from small, damaging explosions in the cylinders.


. . .


. . . , by the end one gets a sense of boosted confidence about the ability of technology and human ingenuity to solve even those problems that at first seem insurmountable.



For the full review, see:

Meghan L. O'sullivan. "Power On." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 24, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 18, 2018, and has the title "A History of the Energy We Have Consumed.")


The book under review, is:

Rhodes, Richard. Energy: A Human History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.






August 2, 2018

Regulations Support Car Incumbents and Undermine Tesla Profitability



(p. A13) . . . governments everywhere have decided, perversely, that electric cars will not be profitable. In every major market--the U.S., Europe, China--the same political dispensation now applies: Established auto makers effectively will be required to make and sell electric cars at a loss in order to continue profiting from gas-powered vehicles.

This has rapidly become the institutional structure of the electric-car industry world-wide, for the benefit of the incumbents, whether GM in the U.S. or Daimler in Germany. Let's face it, the political class always had a bigger investment in these incumbents than it ever did in Tesla.

Tesla has a great brand, great technology and great vehicles. To survive, it also needs to mate itself to a nonelectric pickup truck business. . . .

We'll save for another day the relating of this phenomenon to Mr. Musk's recently erratic behavior and pronouncements. . . . Keep your eye on the bigger picture--the bigger picture is the global regulatory capture of the electric car moment by the status quo. And note the irony that Tesla's home state of California was the original pioneer of this insiders' regulatory bargain with its so-called zero-emissions-vehicle mandate.

Electric cars were going to remain a niche in any case, but public policy is quickly ruling out the possibility (which Tesla needed) of them at least being a profitable niche.



For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Tesla Crackup Foretold; The real problem is that governments everywhere have ordained that electric cars will be sold at a loss." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 23, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2018.)







August 1, 2018

In a Robustly Redundant Labor Market Most "Will Find New Jobs Quickly"



(p. A1) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [June 12, 2018] said it will cut about 9% of its workforce in an effort to deliver its first profit during a make-or-break period of building a mass-market electric car.

The layoffs of about 3,500 employees come as Chief Executive Elon Musk reorganizes Tesla's management structure to make it flatter, and as the company tries to ramp up production of the all-electric Model 3 compact sedan.

In a memo to employees, Mr. Musk said the job cuts are mostly aimed at salaried staff and won't affect production workers assembling the company's vehicles. "This will not affect our ability to reach Model 3 production targets in the coming months," he wrote.


. . .


(p. A8) "What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable," Mr. Musk wrote in the email to employees Tuesday. "That is a valid and fair criticism of Tesla's history to date."


. . .


On Twitter, Mr. Musk acknowledged that he was losing good people. "I think they will find new jobs quickly," he said.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla to Cut Workforce by 9%, In Bid for Sustainable Profit." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A1 & A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2018, and has the title "Tesla Cutting About 9% of Global Workforce.")






July 31, 2018

Libertarian Peter Thiel Predicts Communist China's Tech Success (What?)



(p. B1) The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world's No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company -- once a symbol of China's progress and engineering know-how -- will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.

China's technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.

The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country's Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.

"We realized," said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, "that China's prosperity was built on sand."


. . .


(p. B3) . . . many in China -- and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene -- . . . found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing's grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China's lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.

And it wasn't just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China "is leaving Donald Trump's America behind." Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.

The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China's surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn't ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.



For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. "China's Sputnik Moment." The New York Times (Monday, June 11, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2018, and has the title "THE NEW NEW WORLD; ZTE's Near-Collapse May Be China's Sputnik Moment.")






July 29, 2018

A.I. Assists, but Does Not Replace, Humans



(p. B4) Some Phoenix-area residents have been hailing rides in minivans with no drivers and no human safety operators inside. But that doesn't mean they're on their own if trouble arises.

From a command center, employees at Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo driverless-car unit monitor the test vehicles on computer screens, able to wirelessly peer in through the minivan's cameras. If the robot brain maneuvering the vehicle gets confused by a situation--say, a car unexpectedly stalled in front of it or closed lanes of traffic--it will stop the vehicle and ask the command center to verify what it is seeing. If the human confirms the situation, the robot will calculate how it should navigate around the hazard.



For the full story, see:

Tim Higgins. "Driverless Autos Get Help From Humans Watching Remotely." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 7, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2018, and has the title "Driverless Cars Still Handled by Humans--From Afar.")






July 24, 2018

Rats, Mice, and Humans Fail to Ignore Sunk Costs



(p. D6) Suppose that, seeking a fun evening out, you pay $175 for a ticket to a new Broadway musical. Seated in the balcony, you quickly realize that the acting is bad, the sets are ugly and no one, you suspect, will go home humming the melodies.

Do you head out the door at the intermission, or stick it out for the duration?

Studies of human decision-making suggest that most people will stay put, even though money spent in the past logically should have no bearing on the choice.

This "sunk cost fallacy," as economists call it, is one of many ways that humans allow emotions to affect their choices, sometimes to their own detriment. But the tendency to factor past investments into decision-making is apparently not limited to Homo sapiens.

In a study published on Thursday [July 12, 2018] in the journal Science, investigators at the University of Minnesota reported that mice and rats were just as likely as humans to be influenced by sunk costs.

The more time they invested in waiting for a reward -- in the case of the rodents, flavored pellets; in the case of the humans, entertaining videos -- the less likely they were to quit the pursuit before the delay ended.

"Whatever is going on in the humans is also going on in the nonhuman animals," said A. David Redish, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and an author of the study.

This cross-species consistency, he and others said, suggested that in some decision-making situations, taking account of how much has already been invested might pay off.



For the full story, see:

Erica Goode. "'Sunk Cost Fallacy' Claims More Victims." The New York Times (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): D6

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 12, 2018, and has the title "Mice Don't Know When to Let It Go, Either.")






July 20, 2018

Human Intelligence Helps A.I. Work Better



(p. B3) A recent study at the M.I.T. Media Lab showed how biases in the real world could seep into artificial intelligence. Commercial software is nearly flawless at telling the gender of white men, researchers found, but not so for darker-skinned women.

And Google had to apologize in 2015 after its image-recognition photo app mistakenly labeled photos of black people as "gorillas."

Professor Nourbakhsh said that A.I.-enhanced security systems could struggle to determine whether a nonwhite person was arriving as a guest, a worker or an intruder.

One way to parse the system's bias is to make sure humans are still verifying the images before responding.

"When you take the human out of the loop, you lose the empathetic component," Professor Nourbakhsh said. "If you keep humans in the loop and use these systems, you get the best of all worlds."



For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. "WEALTH MATTERS; Can Artificial Intelligence Keep Your Home Secure?" The New York Times (Saturday, June 30, 2018): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 29, 2018.)


The "recent study" mentioned above, is:

Buolamwini, Joy, and Timnit Gebru. "Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification." Proceedings of Machine Learning Research 81 (2018): 1-15.







July 19, 2018

Earned Income Matters More Than Equal Income



(p. A13) The concept of a universal basic income, or UBI, has become part of the moral armor of Silicon Valley moguls who want a socially conscious defense against the charge that technology is making humanity obsolete.


. . .


We need policies that encourage job creation and working, not policies that pay people not to work.

In the mid-1960s, about 5% of men aged 25 to 54 were jobless. For 40 years that share has risen, and for much of the past decade the rate has remained over 15%. Suicide, divorce and opioid abuse are all associated with nonemployment, and many facts suggest that the misery of joblessness is far worse than that of a low-paying job. According to the most recent data, only 7% of working men in households earning less than $35,000 report being dissatisfied with their lives. But that share soars to 18% among the nonemployed of all incomes. This suggests that promoting employment is more important than reducing inequality.

. . . 50 years of evidence about labor supply in the U.S. suggests that giving people money will lead them to work less.

The Negative Income Tax experiments of the 1970s--when poorer households in a number of states received direct cash payments to keep them at a minimum income--are the closest America has come to a UBI. But they did not show "minimal impact on work," as Mr. Yang suggests. Rather, they produced a quite significant work-hours reduction of between 5% and 25%, as well as "employment rate reductions . . . from about 1 to 10 percentage points," according to one capable study.



For the full review, see:


Edward Glaeser. "'BOOKSHELF; 'Give People Money' and 'The War on Normal People' Review: The Cure for Poverty? A guaranteed income does nothing to address the misery of joblessness, nor the associated plagues of divorce, opioid abuse and suicide." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, July 10, 2018): A13.

(Note: first two ellipses added; third ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 9, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Give People Money' and 'The War on Normal People' Review: The Cure for Poverty? A guaranteed income does nothing to address the misery of joblessness, nor the associated plagues of divorce, opioid abuse and suicide.")






July 18, 2018

Entrepreneur Mackay Deserved to Be Dealt Four Aces



(p. C9) One evening sometime in the 1850s, John Mackay, a prospector, was playing poker with his fellow silver miners in Virginia City, Nev. The wagering was furious, and Mackay was playing well. In one hand, he was dealt an improbable three aces. The man next to him was "betting like a cyclone," when Mackay drew the astonishing fourth ace, whereupon he laid down his cards and walked away without picking up the pot. "Leave me out, boys," he said. He didn't need it. At this point in his life, he had more money than he could ever spend.


. . .


With not a cent to his name, Mackay began swinging a pick ax for subsistence wages on other peoples' claims, eventually working his way up to mine supervisor. "Mackay tried to cast his imagination into the rock," Mr. Crouch says, "looking for clues that would lead him to a greater understanding of what wealth lay underground." By 1865 he had acquired enough cash to buy a stake in a promising mine called the Kentuck. At first the investment looked to be another bust, but it suddenly hit big, paying out $1.6 million of the "precious needful," as miners called valuable ore, over the next two years.


. . .


The author saves for last an account of the delicious comeuppance Mackay delivered to the American businessman Jay Gould --"the most hated man of the age." Gould had secured a monopoly on trans-Atlantic telegraphy. Without competition, he gouged users, prompting Mackay, a believer in private enterprise, to lay his own undersea cable, thus breaking Gould's stranglehold and winning public admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Crouch clearly admires his protagonist, at times nearly to distraction. He portrays Mackay throughout this well-written and worthwhile book as a man of high principle--kind, charitable and fair, dependably doing the noble thing. Strong and silent, he is the Gary Cooper of the sagebrush set. It ever so lightly strains credulity, however, to believe that Mackay didn't harbor a little larceny in his heart, like nearly everybody on the Comstock during the mad rush. But readers may well want to take the author's word that a man of such humility and generosity was exactly that. Nowhere will you read John Mackay's name among the robber barons of his era. Some men who are dealt four aces in life deserve them.



For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "'The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 7, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2018, and has the title "'The Bonanza King' Review: The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode.")


The book under review, is:

Crouch, Gregory. The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West. New York: Scribner, 2018.






July 17, 2018

"Meditation Is Demotivating"



(p. 6) . . . on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation -- striving to obtain a more desirable future -- implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.

To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.



For the full commentary, see:

Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack. "GRAY MATTER; Don't Meditate at Work." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title "GRAY MATTER; Hey Boss, You Don't Want Your Employees to Meditate.")


The article by Hafenbrack and Vohs, mentioned above, is:

Hafenbrack, Andrew C., and Kathleen D. Vohs. "Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 147 (July 2018): 1-15.






July 15, 2018

It No Longer Pays to Recycle



(p. B1) Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway.

In recent months, in fact, thousands of tons of material left curbside for recycling in dozens of American cities and towns -- including several in Oregon -- have gone to landfills.


. . .


(p. B5) Recycling companies "used to get paid" by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. "Now they're paying to have someone take it away."

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so.

"There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value," said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. "We'll let our customers make that decision, if they'd like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill."

Mr. Spendelow said companies in rural areas, which tend to have higher expenses to get their materials to market, were being hit particularly hard. "They're literally taking trucks straight to the landfill," he said.



For the full story, see:

Livia Albeck-Ripka. "Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not?" The New York Times (Thursday, May 31, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2018.)






July 14, 2018

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size



(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s--inaccurately, as it turned out--that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.

A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.


. . .


Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.


. . .


Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?



For the full commentary, see:

Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. "Stop Propping Up Small Business." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Atkinson,‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.


The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:

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






July 13, 2018

Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Fall in Price and Rise in Ease of Programming



(p. B4) Robots are moving off the assembly line.

Collaborative robots that work alongside humans--"cobots"--are getting cheaper and easier to program. That is encouraging businesses to put them to work at new tasks in bars, restaurants and clinics.

In the Netherlands, a cobot scales a 26-foot-high bar to tap bottles of homemade gin, whiskey and limoncello so that bartenders don't need to climb ladders. In Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings. In Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages.

Cobots made up just 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017, according to research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Loup estimates sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025 as demand for the robotic arms rises. About 20 manufacturers around the world have started selling such robots in the past decade.



For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan. "Robots Shift From Factories to New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 11, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage.")






July 12, 2018

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market



(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .


. . .


The reality is more mundane.


. . .


. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.

Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won't be a huge problem.



For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Taplin. "China Won't Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "China Won't Dominate Lithium Forever." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 11, 2018

Splendid, Excellent, Salubrious, Salutary, Healthy, Great Jobs Numbers



(p. A16) The real question in analyzing the May jobs numbers released Friday [June 1, 2018] is whether there are enough synonyms for "good" in an online thesaurus to describe them adequately.

So, for example, "splendid" and "excellent" fit the bill. Those are the kinds of terms that are appropriate when the United States economy adds 223,000 jobs in a month, despite being nine years into an expansion, and when the unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent, a new 18-year low.

"Salubrious," "salutary" and "healthy" work as words to describe the 0.3 percent rise in average hourly earnings, which are up 2.7 percent over the last year -- a nice improvement but also not the kind of sharp increase that might lead the Federal Reserve to rethink its cautious path of interest rate increases.

And a broader definition of unemployment, which includes people who have given up looking for a job out of frustration, fell to 7.6 percent. The jobless rate for African-Americans fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest on record, which we would count as "great."

If anything, some of the thesaurus offerings don't really do these numbers justice.


. . .


It isn't perfect -- wage growth remains unexceptional despite its growth spurt in May, and the ratio of prime-age adults working remains below its historical levels.

But it has been a strikingly durable and steady expansion, which is what the nation needed after the scars of the 2008 recession. And that's just plain "good."



For the full story, see:

Neil Irwin. "How Good? Words Fail Us." The New York Times (Saturday, June 2, 2018: A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2018, and has the title "We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






July 10, 2018

Those Born Poor, Benefit Less from College Degree



(p. A23) It's a cruel irony that a college degree is worth less to people who most need a boost: those born poor. This revelation was made by the economists Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein. Using a body of data, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which includes 50 years of interviews with 18,000 Americans, they were able to follow the lives of children born into poor, middle-class and wealthy families.

They found that for Americans born into middle-class families, a college degree does appear to be a wise investment. Those in this group who received one earned 162 percent more over their careers than those who didn't.

But for those born into poverty, the results were far less impressive. College graduates born poor earned on average only slightly more than did high school graduates born middle class. And over time, even this small "degree bonus" ebbed away, at least for men: By middle age, male college graduates raised in poverty were earning less than nondegree holders born into the middle class. The scholars conclude, "Individuals from poorer backgrounds may be encountering a glass ceiling that even a bachelor's degree does not break."


. . .


It shouldn't here, either: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 20 percent of American jobs actually require a bachelor's degree. By 2026, the bureau estimates that this proportion will rise, but only to 25 percent.

Why do employers demand a degree for jobs that don't require them? Because they can.

What all this suggests is that the college-degree premium may really be a no-college-degree penalty.



For the full commentary, see:


Ellen Ruppel Shell. "College May Not Be Worth It Anymore." The New York Times (Thursday, May 17, 2018): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 16, 2018. The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The research by Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein, mentioned above, is:

Bartik, Timothy J., and Brad J. Hershbein. "Degrees of Poverty: The Relationship between Family Income Background and the Returns to Education." Upjohn Institute Working Paper 18-284, March 2018.


Shell's commentary is related to her forthcoming book:

Shell, Ellen Ruppel. The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change. New York: Currency, 2018.






July 8, 2018

"Plumbing Industry Is Throwing the Kitchen Sink at Job Candidates"



(p. A1) FORT COLLINS, Colo.--The fast-growing business offers all the perks a pampered Silicon Valley tech worker might expect: An on-site tap flows with craft beer and the kitchen is stocked with locally roasted espresso beans. There is a putting green and a smoker for brisket lunches. Next up: a yoga studio.

Welcome to the gushing job market...for plumbers.

Colorado's Neuworks Mechanical Inc. employs 75 plumbers but needs 15 to 20 more. To keep them happy, it offers "a lot of Zen," says business-development manager Jackie Sindelar. That includes a sharing exercise that "brings out your raw emotions and makes you vulnerable," she says.

Drained from a labor shortage, the plumbing industry is throwing the kitchen sink at job candidates.

Bonfe's Plumbing, Heating & Air Service Inc. of South St. Paul, Minn., boasts an array of arcade games and a "quiet room"--a plush hangout space with insulated walls painted a calming sky blue. It has a lockable door, a comfy couch, a recliner and a sound machine that babbles with the soothing audio of ocean waves.


. . .


U.S. job openings hit a record 6.6 million in March, with the construction industry--where plumbers are heavily employed--seeing one of the largest jumps.

Building, needed repairs and retirements are fueling demand for plumbers at the same time the U.S. jobless rate in April fell below 4% for the first time since late 2000.

The annual median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was nearly $53,000 a year in 2017, according to federal data, but it isn't uncommon to see jobs advertised for far higher wages, from $70,000 up to six figures.



For the full story, see:

Levitz, Jennifer. "Plumbing Firms, Drained by Labor Shortage, Tap Perks." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 24, 2018): A1 & A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 23, 2018, and has the title "Perks for Plumbers: Hawaiian Vacations, Craft Beer and 'a Lot of Zen'." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 6, 2018

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators



(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were "inevitable." But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.

We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers--or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.

These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.

Defenders of the current system often say that we don't give away our personal data for free. Rather, we're paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here's my data. What are you willing to pay for it?

An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand--into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses--they will need vast amounts of data to function.

And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.



For the full commentary, see:

Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. "Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






July 5, 2018

Hot Students Learn Less




More evidence on why air conditioning increases our mental acuity:



(p. A5) Hot weather makes it more difficult for high-school students to learn, a new study suggests.


. . .


The study was circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper by Mr. Goodman and three other researchers.

They found that, on average, every increase of 1 degree Fahrenheit in the average temperature during the school year reduced learning by about 1%.



For the full story, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "Heat Found to Hurt Studies." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title "American Students Don't Learn Well When It's Hot Outside." The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The NBER paper, mentioned above, is:

Goodman, Joshua, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, and Jonathan Smith. "Heat and Learning." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series, # 24639, May 2018.






July 4, 2018

After Losing Circus Job, Clown Applies His Skills by Running for Congress as a Democrat



(p. A1) As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

Last May, the circus closed down after 146 years traveling the country and thrilling millions with "the Greatest Show on Earth." In the year since, the contortionists, acrobats, stilt walkers and other per-(p. A8)formers have walked a tightrope trying to adapt to more-conventional jobs, while sometimes using their circus skills. It takes some professional clowns a while to find a second act: One is now running for Congress.

Former clown Sandor Eke, of Las Vegas, Nev., wanted to put his entertaining and juggling skills to work behind a bar after 20 years with the circus. But nobody would hire him without experience. He's now picking up random clown jobs and painting houses. "I try to have fun with it, but it's not exactly what I wanted with life. I mean, I used to be a clown!"

In April, Mr. Eke auditioned for a mascot job with the Oakland Raiders once they move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. He tried on the "Rushing Raider" costume, and did what he called a "crowd-pleasing routine." He's waiting to hear back, but remains hopeful. "I got good vibes," he says.


. . .


Former clown Steve Lough, of Camden, S.C., who left the circus in 2004, later found employment working for McDonald's at special events and volunteering for political campaigns.

This spring, Mr. Lough decided to run for office himself and is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Congress in South Carolina. "I juggle at every campaign stop now," he says.

He did a pratfall at the South Carolina Democratic Convention in April that "got a big reaction and laugh."


. . .


. . . Mr. Lough says the crowds love his clown skills.



For the full story, see:

John Clarke. "Ex-Clown Is Hard to Hide on a Résumé." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 22, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 21, 2018, and has the title "What's A Clown to Do After the Circus? One Is Running for Congress.")






July 3, 2018

"Entrepreneurial Capitalism Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid"



(p. A15) Some 44% of millennials believe they do more to support social causes than the rest of their family, according to the 2017 Millennial Impact report. If you're volunteering at shelters or working for most nonprofits, that's all very nice, but it's one-off. You're one of the privileged few who have the education to create lasting change. It may feel good to ladle soup to the hungry, but you're wasting valuable brain waves that could be spent ushering in a future in which no one is hungry to begin with.

There's a word that was probably never mentioned by your professors: Scale. No, not the stuff on the bottom of your bong or bathtub. It's the concept of taking a small idea and finding ways to implement it for thousands, or millions, or even billions. Without scale, ideas are no more than hot air. Stop doing the one-off two-step. It's time to scale up.


. . .


If you don't think I'm credible, you too can listen to Bono. As he told Georgetown students a few years ago, "Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid." Of course it does. Want to change the world? Stop doing one-off volunteering and scale up.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. "Advice to New Grads: Scale or Bail." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 21, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2018.)






July 1, 2018

Stornetta and Nakamoto Invented Bitcoin



(p. C18) In 1990, the physicist Scott Stornetta had a eureka moment while getting ice cream with his family at a Friendly's restaurant in Morristown, N.J. He and his cryptographer colleague, Stuart Haber, had been thinking about the proliferation of digital files that accompanied the rise of personal computing and the ease with which files could be altered. They wondered how we might know for certain what was true about the past. What would prevent tampering with the historical record--and would it be possible to protect such information for future generations?

The sticking point was the need to trust a central authority. But at Friendly's, an answer came to Dr. Stornetta: He realized that instead of a central record-keeper, the system could have many dispersed but interconnected copies of a shared ledger. The truth could never be typed over if there were too many linked ledgers to alter.

Drs. Haber and Stornetta were working at the time at Bellcore, a research center descended from the legendary Bell Labs. The pair set out to build a cryptographically secure archive--a way to verify records without revealing their contents.


. . .


. . . there is no mistaking their crucial contribution. When the founding document of bitcoin was published in 2008 under the name " Satoshi Nakamoto "--a pseudonym for one or more scientists--it had just eight citations of previous works. Three of them were papers co-authored by Drs. Haber and Stornetta.


, , ,


The Nakamoto paper revolutionized the foundational work of Drs. Stornetta and Haber by adding the concept of "mining" cryptocurrencies. It created financial incentives for participation in retaining and verifying parts of the blockchain ledger.



For the full commentary, see:

Amy Whitaker. "The Eureka Moment That Made Bitcoin Possible; A key insight for the technology came to a physicist almost three decades ago at a Friendly's restaurant in New Jersey." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 26, 2018): C18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 25, 2018.)






June 30, 2018

Trump's Judges Constrain the Administrative State



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- It has been practically a given that anyone nominated for a federal judgeship by a Republican president had to pass an unspoken litmus test -- usually on abortion but often on any number of divisive social issues.

The Trump administration has a new litmus test: reining in what conservatives call "the administrative state."

With surprising frankness, the White House has laid out a plan to fill the courts with judges devoted to a legal doctrine that challenges the broad power federal agencies have to interpret laws and enforce regulations, often without being subject to judicial oversight. Those not on board with this agenda, the White House has said, are unlikely to be nominated by President Trump.


. . .


(p. A13) That the concept of "the administrative state" has become so central to politics today shows how successful the Trump administration has been in elevating to the mainstream ideas that once thrived mainly on the edges of conservative and libertarian thought.

A year ago it was a term known mostly among academics to describe the vast array of federal departments and the unelected functionaries who run them. It entered the mainstream political lexicon last year after the president's former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, pledged a "deconstruction of the administrative state" under Mr. Trump.


. . .


But this thinking has been advanced by many libertarian-minded conservatives who have long doubted whether the founders envisioned the creation of many New Deal and Great Society programs and the abundance of regulations that flowed from them.

"A lot of this, if you unpack it, I think it will get back to fundamental fairness," said Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, which is led by Charles G. and David H. Koch, two of the biggest financial backers of the effort to elect office holders committed to deregulation and free-market enterprise.

The Trump judicial selection process, Mr. Holden added, was ultimately focused on "the size and scope of government and scaling it back, to the extent that it's counterproductive and contrary to due process."



For the full story, see:

Jeremy W. Peters. "New Litmus Test for Trump's Court Picks: Taming the Bureaucracy." The New York Times (Wednesday, March 28, 2018): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 26, 2018, and has the title "Trump's New Judicial Litmus Test: Shrinking 'the Administrative State'.")






June 29, 2018

"Infatuation with Deep Learning May Well Breed Myopia . . . Overinvestment . . . and Disillusionment"



(p. B1) For the past five years, the hottest thing in artificial intelligence has been a branch known as deep learning. The grandly named statistical technique, put simply, gives computers a way to learn by processing vast amounts of data.


. . .


But now some scientists are asking whether deep learning is really so deep after all.

In recent conversations, online comments and a few lengthy essays, a growing number of A.I. experts are warning that the infatuation with deep learning may well breed myopia and overinvestment now -- and disillusionment later.

"There is no real intelligence there," said Michael I. Jordan, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of an essay published in April intended to temper the lofty expectations surrounding A.I. "And I think that trusting these brute force algorithms too much is a faith misplaced."

The danger, some experts warn, is (p. B4) that A.I. will run into a technical wall and eventually face a popular backlash -- a familiar pattern in artificial intelligence since that term was coined in the 1950s. With deep learning in particular, researchers said, the concerns are being fueled by the technology's limits.

Deep learning algorithms train on a batch of related data -- like pictures of human faces -- and are then fed more and more data, which steadily improve the software's pattern-matching accuracy. Although the technique has spawned successes, the results are largely confined to fields where those huge data sets are available and the tasks are well defined, like labeling images or translating speech to text.

The technology struggles in the more open terrains of intelligence -- that is, meaning, reasoning and common-sense knowledge. While deep learning software can instantly identify millions of words, it has no understanding of a concept like "justice," "democracy" or "meddling."

Researchers have shown that deep learning can be easily fooled. Scramble a relative handful of pixels, and the technology can mistake a turtle for a rifle or a parking sign for a refrigerator.

In a widely read article published early this year on arXiv.org, a site for scientific papers, Gary Marcus, a professor at New York University, posed the question: "Is deep learning approaching a wall?" He wrote, "As is so often the case, the patterns extracted by deep learning are more superficial than they initially appear."



For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. "Researchers Seek Smarter Paths to A.I." The New York Times (Thursday, June 21, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 20, 2018, and has the title "Is There a Smarter Path to Artificial Intelligence? Some Experts Hope So." The June 21st date is the publication date in my copy of the National Edition.)


The essay by Jordan, mentioned above, is:

Jordan, Michael I. "Artificial Intelligence -- the Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet." Medium.com, April 18, 2018.


The manuscript by Marcus, mentioned above, is:


Marcus, Gary. "Deep Learning: A Critical Appraisal." Jan. 2, 2018.








June 28, 2018

We Underestimate How Entrepreneurial the Americans Were in the 1800s



(p. C6) Jim DeFelice's "West Like Lightning," a history of the Pony Express, begins with an anxious young rider waiting to take the news to California that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. The delivery service lasted only about 18 months, but its revolutionary speed left an indelible mark on the country. Many, including Mark Twain, marveled at riders' courage and the spectacle of their switching horses every 10 miles or so for a fresh burst of speed.


. . .


In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Historians, God bless them, they do a lot of debunking of legends. They can sometimes come off as schoolmarms. The reality is, those legends are fun. They're the exciting part. I separate fact and fiction, but I love those stories -- and underneath them, there's a much deeper truth. There's a reason we value these 19- and 20-year-old kids pushing themselves against the elements.

I knew there would be some debunking involved. What I didn't know was how true a lot of those stories turned out to be. If I were a Pony Express rider, I'd be bragging about how fast I made it. These guys didn't brag about that -- they bragged about how far they went. They were bragging about endurance and dealing with the elements. That impressed me, the resilience.

I also think sometimes we underestimate -- and I'm guilty of this -- just how entrepreneurial and into technology people were in the past. We think we're cool because we can fly somewhere and be there tomorrow. But for these guys, 10 days was huge. If you gave them something in downtown New York, it would be in San Francisco two weeks later. At the time, that would be like going from dial-up to the fastest speeds we have today.



For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer, " Making Good Time and Even Better Tales." The New York Times (Monday, May 21, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 20, 2018, and has the title "Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Making Good Time With the Pony Express." The first paragraph and the bold question are John Williams. The paragraphs following the bold question, are Jim DeFelice's answer.)


The book discussed in the interview quoted above, is:

DeFelice, Jim. West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. New York: William Morrow, 2018.






June 27, 2018

Fewer Summer Jobs Filled by Teenagers



(p. D8) You can still find high school and college students boiling hot dogs and cleaning the fryer at the clam shacks, country clubs and state fairs that spring to life when the weather turns hot. But the food that fuels a summer vacation is now more likely being prepared by temporary workers from other countries or local adults trying to make the gig economy work for them.


. . .


Although youth employment in the United States still spikes in the warmer months, the number of teenagers in the summer labor force fell to 43 percent in 2016, from almost 72 percent at its peak in 1978, according to the most recent figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pressure has come from several directions. School started stretching into summer. Employment laws became more restrictive. Scooping cones or running a dough-filled Hobart were no longer considered worthy résumé builders.

At the same time, demand for summer workers rose.



For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. "Where Have All the Teenagers Gone?" The New York Times (Wednesday, May 23, 2018): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 22, 2018, and has the title "That Summer Food-Stand Job Is No Longer Just for Teenagers.")






June 23, 2018

"Some Things Are True Even if Donald Trump Believes Them!"



(p. A21) One of the hardest things to accept for all of us who want Donald Trump to be a one-term president is the fact that some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them! And one of those things is that we have a real trade problem with China. Imports of Chinese goods alone equal two-thirds of the global U.S. trade deficit today.


. . .


. . . , I sat down with David Autor, the M.I.T. economist who's done some of the most compelling research on the impacts of China trade. The first problem he raised has to do with the "shock" that China delivered to U.S. lower-tech manufacturers in the years right after Beijing joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, when it gained more open access to the U.S. and other world markets.


. . .


Autor and his colleagues David Dorn and Gordon Hanson found in a 2016 study that roughly 40 percent of the decline in U.S. manufacturing between 2000 and 2007 was due to a surge in imports from China primarily after it joined the W.T.O. And it led to the sudden loss of about one million factory jobs in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won all of those states.

This "China shock," said Autor, led not only to mass unemployment but also to social disintegration, less marriage, more opioid abuse and more people dropping out of the labor market and requiring government aid. "International trade creates diffuse benefits and concentrated costs," he added. "China's rapid rise, while enormously positive for world welfare, has created identifiable losers in trade-impacted industries and the labor markets in which they are located."

The second problem has to do with access to China's market for the goods U.S. companies sell. There, noted Autor, "China has not only taken our lunch, they've opened a restaurant that's serving it to their citizens."

. . . China kept a 25 percent tariff on new cars imported from the U.S. (our tariff is 2.5 percent) and similarly steep tariffs on imported auto parts.



For the full commentary, see:


Friedman, Thomas L.. "Trump's Right About China, To a Point." The New York Times (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 13, 2018, and has the title "Some Things Are True Even if Trump Believes Them." My print edition is in this case, and is almost always, the National Edition. I have discovered that sometimes the page number, and even the title and date, differ between the National and the New York print editions.)


The Autor co-authored paper mentioned above, is:


Autor, David H., David Dorn, and Gordon H. Hanson. "The China Shock: Learning from Labor Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade." Annual Review of Economics (2016): 205-40.







June 22, 2018

Wages Rise as Fast-Food Jobs Go Unfilled



(p. A10) . . . in an industry where cheap labor is an essential component in providing inexpensive food, a shortage of workers is changing the equation upon which fast-food places have long relied. This can be seen in rising wages, in a growth of incentives, and in the sometimes odd situations that business owners find themselves in.

This is why Jeffrey Kaplow, for example, spends a lot of time working behind the counter in his Subway restaurant in Lower Manhattan. It's not what he pictured himself doing, but he simply doesn't have enough employees.

Mr. Kaplow has tried everything he can think of to find workers, placing Craigslist ads, asking other franchisees for referrals, seeking to hire people from Subways that have closed.



For the full story, see:

Rachel Abrams and Robert Gebeloff. "A Fast-Food Problem: Where Have All The Teenagers Gone?" The New York Times (Friday, May 4, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 3, 2018.)






June 21, 2018

Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists "Fantasize about Relocating" to "Detroit and South Bend"



(p. B1) It was pitched as a kind of Rust Belt safari -- a chance for Silicon Valley investors to meet local officials and look for promising start-ups in overlooked areas of the country.

But a funny thing happened: By the end of the tour, the coastal elites had caught the heartland bug. Several used Zillow, the real estate app, to gawk at the availability of cheap homes in cities like Detroit and South Bend and fantasize about relocating there. They marveled at how even old-line manufacturing cities now offer a convincing simulacrum of coastal life, complete with artisanal soap stores and farm-to-table restaurants.


. . .


(p. B4) Mr. McKenna, who owns a house in Miami in addition to his home in San Francisco, told me that his travels outside the Bay Area had opened his eyes to a world beyond the tech bubble.

"Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it's 'I hate Trump' or 'I'm going to do blockchain and Bitcoin,'" he said. "It's the worst part of the social network."


. . .


Recently, Peter Thiel, the President Trump-supporting billionaire investor and Facebook board member, became Silicon Valley's highest-profile defector when he reportedly told people close to him that he was moving to Los Angeles full-time, and relocating his personal investment funds there. (Founders Fund and Mithril Capital, two other firms started by Mr. Thiel, will remain in the Bay Area.) Mr. Thiel reportedly considered San Francisco's progressive culture "toxic," and sought out a city with more intellectual diversity.

Mr. Thiel's criticisms were echoed by Michael Moritz, the billionaire founder of Sequoia Capital. In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Mr. Moritz argued that Silicon Valley had become slow and spoiled by its success, and that "soul-sapping discussions" about politics and social injustice had distracted tech companies from the work of innovation.

Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself. Jim Clark, the co-founder of Netscape, famously decamped for Florida during the first dot-com era, complaining about high taxes and expensive real estate. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, has pledged to invest mostly in start-ups outside the Bay Area, saying that "we've probably hit peak Silicon Valley."


. . .


This isn't a full-blown exodus yet. But in the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country, according to data from Redfin, the real estate website. A recent survey by Edelman, the public relations firm, found that 49 percent of Bay Area residents, and 58 percent of Bay Area millennials, were considering moving away. And a sharp increase in people moving out of the Bay Area has led to a shortage of moving vans. (According to local news reports, renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip from San Jose to Las Vegas now costs roughly $2,000, compared with just $100 for a truck going the other direction.)



For the full commentary, see:

Kevin Roose. "THE SHIFT; Silicon Valley Toured the Heartland and Fell in Love." The New York Times (Monday, March 5, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 4, 2018, and has the title "THE SHIFT; Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley.")






June 20, 2018

"The Future Is Rich in Opportunity"



(p. A13) Ken Langone, 82, investor, philanthropist and founder of Home Depot, has written an autobiography that actually conveys the excitement of business--of starting an enterprise that creates a job that creates a family, of the joy of the deal and the place of imagination in the making of a career. Its hokey and ebullient name is "I Love Capitalism" which I think makes his stand clear.


. . .


Can capitalism win the future? "Yes, but we have to be more emphatic and forthright about what it is and its benefits. A rising tide does lift boats."

Home Depot has changed lives. "We have 400,000 people who work there, and we've never once paid anybody minimum wage." Three thousand employees "came to work for us fresh out of high school, didn't go to college, pushing carts in the parking lot. All 3,000 are multimillionaires. Salary, stock, a stock savings plan."

Mr. Langone came up in the middle of the 20th century--the golden age of American capitalism. Does his example still pertain to the 21st? Yes, he says emphatically: "The future is rich in opportunity." To see it, look for it. For instance: "Look, people are living longer. They're living more vibrant lives, more productive. This is an opportunity to accommodate the needs of older people. Better products, cheaper prices--help them get what they need!"

Mr. Langone grew up in blue-collar Long Island, N.Y. Neither parent finished high school. His father was a plumber who was poor at business; his mother worked in the school cafeteria. They lived paycheck to paycheck. He was a lousy student but he had one big thing going for him: "I loved making money." He got his first job at 11 and often worked two at a time--paperboy, butcher-shop boy, caddie, lawn work, Bohack grocery clerk. He didn't mind: "I wanted to be rich."



For the full commentary, see:

Peggy Noonan. "DECLARATIONS; Wisdom of a Non-Idiot Billionaire." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 12, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 10, 2018.)


The book mentioned in the commentary, is:

Langone, Ken. I Love Capitalism!: An American Story. New York: Portfolio, 2018.






June 19, 2018

Blockchain May Enable "Consent-Based Ad Models"



(p. A13) Internet advertising started simply, but over time organically evolved a mess of middle players and congealed into a surveillance economy. Today, between end users, publishers and advertisers stand a throng of agencies, trading desks, demand side platforms, network exchanges and yield optimizers. Intermediaries track users in an attempt to improve revenue.

It's an inevitable consequence of such a system that users end up treated as a resource to be exploited. When you visit the celebrity website TMZ, for instance, you face as many as 124 trackers, according to a Crownpeak test. Your data is stored and profiled to retarget promotions that shadow you around the Internet. You become the product. Some claim your data is not "sold," but access is certainly rented out.


. . .


For a solution, look to blockchain technology. More than a word peppering earnings calls, it can deliver the change brands, publishers and users need. Put simply, it's an immutable database that records transactions and produces trustworthy data.

In advertising, blockchain's reliable data can radically shrink the ad-tech blob and provide the foundation for consent-based ad models. Improved blockchain reporting and transparency would obviate much of the need for companies focused on measurement, verification and even some data suppliers. Companies like Brave are using blockchain to build software that allows for more-direct relationships between advertisers and publishers, as it was before the blob. (Earlier this month Brave announced a partnership with Dow Jones Media Group, a division of this newspaper's parent company.) Anonymous data on the blockchain or on a device can even replace the need for the mining of individual user data. Users should be compensated for their attention and seen as customers again.

The internet need not be characterized by predation and parasitism. It can once again be a place of infinite possibility. Innovation got us into this situation; it can get us out.



For the full commentary, see:

Brendan Eichand and Brian Brown. "The Internet's 'Original Sin' Endangers More Than Privacy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 27, 2018.)






June 18, 2018

Lack of "Air-Conditioning Can Be Deadly"



(p. A10) The number of air-conditioners worldwide is predicted to soar from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by midcentury, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Energy Agency.


. . .


While 90 percent of American households have air-conditioning, "When we look in fact at the hot countries in the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where about 2.8 billion people live, only about 8 percent of the population owns an air-conditioner," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the energy agency.

As incomes in those countries rise, however, more people are installing air-conditioners in their homes. The energy agency predicts much of the growth in air-conditioning will occur in India, China and Indonesia.

Some of the spread is simply being driven by a desire for comfort in parts of the world that have always been hot.


. . .


And when it gets hot, forgoing air-conditioning can be deadly. The heat wave that plagued Chicago in 1995 killed more than 700 people, while the 2003 European heat wave and 2010 Russian heat wave killed tens of thousands each.



For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "World Tries to Stay Cool, but It Could Warm Earth." The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 15, 2018, and has the title "The World Wants Air-Conditioning. That Could Warm the World.")






June 17, 2018

Jeff Bezos Is "Exploring Strange New Worlds"



(p. A15) Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person. Amazon is on a tear--sales grew 43% last quarter--and may soon pass Apple as the world's most valuable company. Amazon has ruptured retail, floated in the cloud, and even made superhero TV shows like "The Tick." But what makes Mr. Bezos tick?


. . .


. . . , Mr. Bezos is now channeling pioneers, be they Columbus or James T. Kirk, exploring strange new worlds. His strategy is that he doesn't let business models get in his way while exploring on the edge.


. . .


I'm convinced the real secret to Mr. Bezos's success is that he hates PowerPoint slides. He insists instead on six-page narratives at meetings. Stories codify exploration. Here's one: Put Alexa in every doctor's office to listen and correctly fill in medical records automatically from the transcripts, freeing doctors to actually care for patients! Business model to come (but pretty obvious).



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. " INSIDE VIEW; Columbus Discovers the Amazon." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 7, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 6, 2018.)






June 16, 2018

"Politicians Use Economics the Way a Drunk Uses a Lamppost"



(p. A13) Mr. Blinder cites what he calls the Lamppost Theory: "Politicians use economics the way a drunk uses a lamppost--for support, not for illumination."


For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; What They Don't Teach in Econ 101." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 17, 2018): A13.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Advice and Dissent' Review: What They Don't Teach in Econ 101.")


The book under review, is:

Blinder, Alan S. Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






June 15, 2018

Paying Consumers for Their Data



(p. B4) WASHINGTON--For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.

An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.'s Google.



For the full story, see:

McKinnon, John D. "Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title "Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.")






June 13, 2018

China's "Double Whammy for Prospective Entrepreneurs"



(p. B12) China's past attempts to stoke indigenous innovation have a checkered history. A flood of cheap capital and high, state-set solar power rates in the mid-2000s secured China's place as the world's number one solar cell manufacturer. But it also led to enormous overcapacity, which sank prices and pushed debt burdens higher, making investment in real R&D more difficult. For investors, China's solar champions have been a losing proposition--American depositary receipts of top firms such as JinkoSolar are worth less than half of their peak in 2010. Robotics, a key element of Beijing's "Made in China 2025" plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing, is exhibiting similar tendencies.

The state-centric nature of China's financial system--and its weak intellectual property protection--represents a double whammy for prospective entrepreneurs. Small private-sector firms often only have access to capital through expensive shadow banking channels, and face the risk that some better connected, state-backed firm will make off with their designs--with very little recourse.



For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'Chinese Innovation Won't Come Easily Without U.S. Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 23, 2018): B12.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "Can China's Red Capital Really Innovate?")






June 11, 2018

San Francisco Suffers Net Loss of People as Tech Booms



(p. A3) San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.

In 2016 and 2017, more people moved out of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area--an urban core of 4.7 million people in a broader region known as the Bay Area--than moved into it from other parts of California or the U.S., according to U.S. census data.

In the year that ended July 1, the region showed a net loss of nearly 24,000 residents to the rest of the country, roughly double the loss of the previous year and a sharp reversal from net annual gains of about 15,000 as recently as 2013-14.

Economists said the outflow is being driven by the high cost of housing in the area, where the average home value in several counties surpasses $1 million.



For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'San Francisco's Boom Leads to an Exodus." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 23, 2018): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "San Francisco Has a People Problem.")






June 9, 2018

More Firms Educate In-House



(p. B5) . . . Atlanta-based aluminum-products maker Novelis started a school within the company to impart lessons pulled from the factory floor with a faculty and nine "deans" to oversee it.

Federal policy for decades has pushed more people to go to four-year colleges, promoting a college-preparatory high-school curriculum and easing access to student loans. But technology is changing faster than colleges can keep up and employers say too many schools aren't teaching students the skills they need--or even basic critical thinking.

With the labor market the tightest it has been in a generation, this misalignment is causing big--and expensive--headaches for employers. So companies are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Major employers like CVS Health Corp., Novelis, International Business Machines Corp., Aon PLC and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are hiring workers because of what they can do, or what the company believes they can teach them, instead of the degrees they hold.



For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. "'Education Is Moving to the Factory Floor." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 23, 2018): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018.)






June 7, 2018

California Regulation Adds $9,500 to Average Home Cost



(p. A1) The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 to approve a mandate that residential buildings up to three stories high, including single-family homes and condos, be built with solar installations starting in 2020.

The commission estimates that the move, along with other (p. A2) energy-efficiency requirements, would add $9,500 to the average cost of building a home in California. The state is already one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, with a median price of nearly $565,000 for a single-family home, according to the California Association of Realtors.



For the full story, see:

Erin Ailworth. "Solar Panel Mandate Jols Housing Industry." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): A1-A2.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 9, 2018, and has the title "California Takes Big Step to Require Solar on New Homes.")






June 6, 2018

Hundreds of Years of CO2 Emissions Could Be Stored Forever in Oman's Rocks



(p. A10) IBRA, Oman -- In the arid vastness of this corner of the Arabian Peninsula, out where goats and the occasional camel roam, rocks form the backdrop practically every way you look.

But the stark outcrops and craggy ridges are more than just scenery. Some of these rocks are hard at work, naturally reacting with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into stone.

Veins of white carbonate minerals run through slabs of dark rock like fat marbling a steak. Carbonate surrounds pebbles and cobbles, turning ordinary gravel into natural mosaics.

Even pooled spring water that has bubbled up through the rocks reacts with CO2 to produce an ice-like crust of carbonate that, if broken, re-forms within days.

Scientists say that if this natural process, called carbon mineralization, could be harnessed, accelerated and applied inexpensively on a huge scale -- admittedly some very big "ifs" -- it could help fight climate change. Rocks could remove some of the billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the air since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

And by turning that CO2 into stone, the rocks in Oman -- or in a number of other places around the world that have similar geological formations -- would ensure that the gas stayed out of the atmosphere forever.

"Solid carbonate minerals aren't going anyplace," said Peter B. Kelemen, a geologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who has been studying the rocks here for more than two decades.

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide is drawing increased interest. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that deploying such technology is essential to efforts to rein in global warming.


. . .


The rocks are so extensive, Dr. Kelemen said, that if it was somehow possible to fully use them they could store hundreds of years of CO2 emissions. More realistically, he said, Oman could store at least a billion tons of CO2 annually. (Current yearly worldwide emissions are close to 40 billion tons.)



For the full story, see:


Henry Fountain. "How Oman's Rocks Could Help Save the Planet." The New York Times (Saturday, APRIL 28, 2018: A10-A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 26, 2018.)






June 4, 2018

Robots Free Humans for More and Better Jobs



(p. A8) For companies, choosing the appropriate tasks to automate is important. Auto maker BMW AG automated some of the physical labor at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina while retaining tasks involving judgment and quality control for workers.

Robots fit black, soundproofing rubber tubes to the inner rim of car doors, a task once done entirely by hand, on the more than 5,000 or so car doors that pass through the production line each day. Human workers do final checks on the tube's placement. The division of labor speeds up the process.

Since BMW introduced this and other automated processes over the past decade, it has more than doubled its annual car production at Spartanburg to more than 400,000. The workforce has risen from 4,200 workers to 10,000, and they handle vastly more complex autos--cars that once had 3,000 parts now have 15,000.

Being spared strenuous activities gives workers the time and energy to tackle more demanding and creative tasks, BMW said in a statement.

James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, said automation like that at the Spartanburg plant has enabled a huge increase in the quality and variety of products, which help spur consumer demand. BMW's share of luxury-car sales in the U.S. has risen sharply, with over 300,000 cars sold last year compared with just over 120,000 in 1997, company figures show.

Tesla Inc., by contrast, has struggled with production of the Model 3 car at its Fremont, Calif., plant after its use of robots got out of balance. Undetected errors in parts built by robots caused bottlenecks in production, meaning it could build only 2,020 cars a week compared with the 5,000 it originally promised, according to the company.

Analysts at investment research firm Bernstein said Tesla automated welding, paint and body work processes, as other manufacturers have done, but also automated final assembly work, in which parts, seats and the engine are installed in the car's painted shell. Errors in this work caused production bottlenecks. "Automation in final assembly doesn't work," said analyst Max Warburton.

"Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake...Humans are underrated," wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a tweet last month.


. . .


At an aggregate level, however, the jobs created by automation outnumber those that are being destroyed, according to analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's David Autor and Utrecht University's Anna Salomons.



For the full story, see:

William Wilkes. "Big Companies Fine-Tune The Robot Revolution." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 15, 2018): A1 & A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 14, 2018, and has the title "How the World's Biggest Companies Are Fine-Tuning the Robot Revolution.")


More of James Bessen's views on these issues, can be found in his discussion of ATMs in:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.


The analysis by Autor and Salomons, mentioned above, appears in:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Is Automation Labor-Displacing? Productivity Growth, Employment, and the Labor Share." In Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Feb. 27, 2018.






June 3, 2018

Finnish Public Push to End Universal Basic Income Experiment



(p. B1) LONDON -- For more than a year, Finland has been testing the proposition that the best way to lift economic fortunes may be the simplest: Hand out money without rules or restrictions on how people use it.

The experiment with so-called universal basic income has captured global attention as a potentially promising way to restore economic security at a time of worry about inequality and automation.

Now, the experiment is ending. The Finnish government has opted not to continue financing it past this year, a reflection of public discomfort with the idea of dispensing government largess free of requirements that its recipients seek work.



For the full story, see:

Peter S. Goodman. "Finland Will Stop Offering Unconditional Pay for Jobless." The New York Times (Wednesday, April 25, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2018, and has the title "Finland Has Second Thoughts About Giving Free Money to Jobless People." The print version cited above is the National Edition.)






June 2, 2018

Spreadsheets Created More and Better Jobs Than They Destroyed



BookkeepingVersusAnalystJobsGraph2018-05-19.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A2) Whether truck drivers or marketing executives, all workers consider intelligence intrinsic to how they do their jobs. No wonder the rise of "artificial intelligence" is uniquely terrifying. From Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk, we are told almost daily our jobs will soon be done more cheaply by AI.


. . .


Until the 1980s, manipulating large quantities of data--for example, calculating how higher interest rates changed a company's future profits--was time-consuming and error-prone. Then along came personal computers and spreadsheet programs VisiCalc in 1979, Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983 and Microsoft Excel a few years later. Suddenly, you could change one number--say, this year's rent--and instantly recalculate costs, revenues and profits years into the future. This simplified routine bookkeeping while making many tasks possible, such as modeling alternate scenarios.


. . .


The new technology pummeled demand for bookkeepers: their ranks have shrunk 44% from two million in 1985, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet people who could run numbers on the new software became hot commodities. Since 1985, the ranks of accountants and auditors have grown 41%, to 1.8 million, while financial managers and management analysts, which the BLS didn't even track before 1983, have nearly quadrupled to 2.1 million.



For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; We Survived Spreadsheets; We'll Survive AI." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, August 3, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Aug. 2, 2017, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; We Survived Spreadsheets, and We'll Survive AI.")






June 1, 2018

AI "Will Never Match the Creativity of Human Beings or the Fluidity of the Real World"



(p. A21) If you read Google's public statement about Google Duplex, you'll discover that the initial scope of the project is surprisingly limited. It encompasses just three tasks: helping users "make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours."

Schedule hair salon appointments? The dream of artificial intelligence was supposed to be grander than this -- to help revolutionize medicine, say, or to produce trustworthy robot helpers for the home.

The reason Google Duplex is so narrow in scope isn't that it represents a small but important first step toward such goals. The reason is that the field of A.I. doesn't yet have a clue how to do any better.


. . .


The narrower the scope of a conversation, the easier it is to have. If your interlocutor is more or less following a script, it is not hard to build a computer program that, with the help of simple phrase-book-like templates, can recognize a few variations on a theme. ("What time does your establishment close?" "I would like a reservation for four people at 7 p.m.") But mastering a Berlitz phrase book doesn't make you a fluent speaker of a foreign language. Sooner or later the non sequiturs start flowing.


. . .


To be fair, Google Duplex doesn't literally use phrase-book-like templates. It uses "machine learning" techniques to extract a range of possible phrases drawn from an enormous data set of recordings of human conversations. But the basic problem remains the same: No matter how much data you have and how many patterns you discern, your data will never match the creativity of human beings or the fluidity of the real world. The universe of possible sentences is too complex. There is no end to the variety of life -- or to the ways in which we can talk about that variety.


. . .


Today's dominant approach to A.I. has not worked out. Yes, some remarkable applications have been built from it, including Google Translate and Google Duplex. But the limitations of these applications as a form of intelligence should be a wake-up call. If machine learning and big data can't get us any further than a restaurant reservation, even in the hands of the world's most capable A.I. company, it is time to reconsider that strategy.



For the full commentary, see:

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis. "A.I. Is Harder Than You Think." The New York Times (Saturday, May 19, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 18, 2018.)






May 31, 2018

Philosopher Argued Artificial Intelligence Would Never Reach Human Intelligence



(p. A28) Professor Dreyfus became interested in artificial intelligence in the late 1950s, when he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He often brushed shoulders with scientists trying to turn computers into reasoning machines.


. . .


Inevitably, he said, artificial intelligence ran up against something called the common-knowledge problem: the vast repository of facts and information that ordinary people possess as though by inheritance, and can draw on to make inferences and navigate their way through the world.

"Current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers intelligent are like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon," he wrote in "Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer" (1985), a book he collaborated on with his younger brother Stuart, a professor of industrial engineering at Berkeley.

His criticisms were greeted with intense hostility in the world of artificial intelligence researchers, who remained confident that success lay within reach as computers grew more powerful.

When that did not happen, Professor Dreyfus found himself vindicated, doubly so when research in the field began incorporating his arguments, expanded upon in a second edition of "What Computers Can't Do" in 1979 and "What Computers Still Can't Do" in 1992.


. . .


For his 2006 book "Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions," Nicholas Fearn broached the topic of artificial intelligence in an interview with Professor Dreyfus, who told him: "I don't think about computers anymore. I figure I won and it's over: They've given up."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Hubert L. Dreyfus, Who Put Computing In Its Place, Dies at 87." The New York Times (Wednesday, May 3, 2017): A28.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 2, 2017, and has the title "Hubert L. Dreyfus, Philosopher of the Limits of Computers, Dies at 87.")


Dreyfus's last book on the limits of artificial intelligence, was:

Dreyfus, Hubert L. What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.






May 30, 2018

Plenty of Good Blue-Collar Jobs



(p. A1) ELKHART, Ind.--The self-proclaimed RV capital of the world gives a glimpse of what the American economy looks like when operating at full tilt.

High-school students around here skip college for factory jobs that offer great pay and benefits. For-hire signs sprout like roadside weeds. And workers are so flush that car dealers can't keep new pickups on the lot.

At the same time, the strains are showing. Employers can't hang on to employees, and house prices are zooming. The worker shortage prompted a local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to offer $150 signing bonuses. A McDonald's failed to open for lunch last fall because managers couldn't corral enough hands at $8 an hour to serve the lines waiting at the door.

No place in the U.S. has seen a labor-market turnaround like this metropolitan region of 110,000 workers, a mix of blue-collar whites, Mexican immigrants and Amish. "It's like 1955," said Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist. "If you show up and have minimal literacy skills, you can find a job here."



For the full story, see:

Bob Davis. "Economy's Future Plays Out in Rust Belt." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): A1 & A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13 [sic], 2018, and has the title "The Future of America's Economy Looks a Lot Like Elkhart, Indiana.")






May 29, 2018

Google Further Reduces Small Payments to Content Creators



YouTube is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google.


(p. A15) SAN FRANCISCO -- The authorities believe a woman who shot three people at YouTube's headquarters before killing herself on Tuesday [April 3, 2018] was angered by the social media outlet's policies.

While the police did not specifically say what those policies were, they likely had to do with a concept called "demonetization."


. . .


One of those creators was Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman the police said had shot YouTube employees in San Bruno, Calif. She frequently posted videos to several YouTube channels and had become increasingly angry over the money she was making from them.

"My Revenue For 300,000 Views Is $0.10?????" Ms. Aghdam wrote on her website, while calling YouTube "a dictatorship."


. . .


Video creators take a share of the money from ads running before or alongside their videos. But YouTube has been raising the bar on qualifications for running ads.

Last April, the company said it would set a requirement for 10,000 cumulative lifetime views before allowing videos to gain ads. In January, the company raised that requirement to 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year and 1,000 subscribers.



For the full story, see:

NELLIE BOWLES and JACK NICAS. "YouTube Complaints From Attacker Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars." The New York Times (Thursday, April 5, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 4, 2018, and has the title "YouTube Attacker's Complaints Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.")






May 26, 2018

Discovery of Several Centuries Worth of Rare-Earth Metals



(p. A13) TOKYO--Japan has hundreds of years' worth of rare-earth metal deposits in its waters, according to new research that reflects Tokyo's concern about China's hegemony over minerals used in batteries and electric vehicles.

The deposits were found in the Pacific Ocean seabed near remote Minamitori Island, about 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo. Extracting them would likely be costly, but resource-poor Japan is pushing ahead with research in hopes of getting more control over next-generation technologies and weapon systems.

A roughly 965-square-mile seabed near the island contains more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides, estimated to hold 780 years' worth of the global supply of yttrium, 620 years' worth of europium, 420 years' worth of terbium and 730 years' worth of dysprosium, according to a study published this week in Nature Publishing Group's Scientific Reports.


. . .


In 2010, China pushed rare-earth prices up as much as 10 times by cutting its export quota on 17 elements by 40% from the previous year. It said it wanted to clean up a polluting industry, but the move left Japan seeking more independence from prices dictated by its neighbor. Japanese manufacturers have since lowered the amount of rare-earth metals in batteries and motors.



For the full story, see:

Mayumi Negishi. "In Rare-Earth Find, Hope of an Edge Against China." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, April 12, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2018, and has the title "Japan Hopes Rare-Earth Find Will Give It an Edge Against China.")


The study mentioned above, is:

Takaya, Yutaro, Kazutaka Yasukawa, Takehiro Kawasaki, Koichiro Fujinaga, Junichiro Ohta, Yoichi Usui, Kentaro Nakamura, Jun-Ichi Kimura, Qing Chang, Morihisa Hamada, Gjergj Dodbiba, Tatsuo Nozaki, Koichi Iijima, Tomohiro Morisawa, Takuma Kuwahara, Yasuyuki Ishida, Takao Ichimura, Masaki Kitazume, Toyohisa Fujita, and Yasuhiro Kato. "The Tremendous Potential of Deep-Sea Mud as a Source of Rare-Earth Elements." Scientific Reports 8, no. 1 (April 10, 2018): 1-8.






May 23, 2018

Happiness "Emerges from the Pursuit of Purpose"



(p. C7) The modern positive-psychology movement-- . . .--is a blend of wise goals, good studies, surprising discoveries, old truths and overblown promises. Daniel Horowitz's history deftly reveals the eternal lessons that underlie all its incarnations: Money can't buy happiness; human beings need social bonds, satisfying work and strong communities; a life based entirely on the pursuit of pleasure ultimately becomes pleasureless. As Viktor Frankl told us, "Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to 'be happy.' " That reason, he said, emerges from the pursuit of purpose.


For the full review, see:

Carol Tavris. "''How Smiles Were Packaged and Sold." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 31, 2018): C5 & C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2018, and has the title "''Happier?' and 'The Hope Circuit' Reviews: How Smiles Were Packaged and Sold.")


The book under review, is:

Horowitz, Daniel. Happier?: The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.







May 16, 2018

Silicon Valley Warms to Trumps Lower Taxes and Deregulation



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Two days after Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, executives at Google consoled their employees in an all-staff meeting broadcast around the world.

"There is a lot of fear within Google," said Sundar Pichai, the company's chief executive, according to a video of the meeting viewed by The New York Times. When asked by an employee if there was any silver lining to Mr. Trump's election, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said, "Boy, that's a really tough one right now." Ruth Porat, the finance chief, said Mr. Trump's victory felt "like a ton of bricks dropped on my chest." Then she instructed members of the audience to hug the person next to them.

Sixteen months later, Google's parent company, Alphabet, has most likely saved billions of dollars in taxes on its overseas cash under a new tax law signed by Mr. Trump. Alphabet also stands to benefit from the Trump administration's looser regulations for self-driving cars and delivery drones, as well as from proposed changes to the trade pact with Mexico and Canada that would limit Google's liability for user content on its sites.

Once one of Mr. Trump's most vocal opponents, Silicon Valley's technology industry has increasingly found common ground with the White House. When Mr. Trump was elected, tech executives were largely up in arms over a leader who espoused policies on immigration and other issues that were antithetical to their companies' values. Now, many of the industry's executives are growing more comfortable with the president and how his (p. B5) economic agenda furthers their business interests, even as many of their employees continue to disagree with Mr. Trump on social issues.


. . .


. . . quietly, the tech industry has warmed to the White House, especially as companies including Alphabet, Apple and Intel have benefited from the Trump administration's policies.

Those include lowering corporate taxes, encouraging development of new wireless technology like 5G and, so far, ignoring calls to break up the tech giants. Mr. Trump's tougher stance on China may also help ward off industry rivals, with the president squashing a hostile bid to acquire the chip maker Qualcomm this month. And Mr. Trump let die an Obama-era rule that required many tech start-ups to give some workers more overtime pay.

Mr. Trump "has been great for business and really, really good for tech," said Gary Shapiro, who leads the Consumer Technology Association, the largest American tech trade group, with more than 2,200 members including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Mr. Shapiro said that he had voted for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump's opponent, in 2016, but that he and many tech executives had come around on Mr. Trump. While they disagree with him on immigration and the environment, they have found areas where their interests align, like deregulation and investment in internet infrastructure.

"This isn't Hitler or Mussolini here," Mr. Shapiro said. And even though the president's new tariffs on steel and aluminum could hurt American businesses and consumers, "disagreement in one area does not mean we cannot work together in others," Mr. Shapiro said. "Everyone who is married knows that."



For the full story, see:


JACK NICAS. "Silicon Valley, Wary of Trump, Warms to Him." The New York Times (Saturday, March 31, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 30, 2018, and has the title "Silicon Valley Warms to Trump After a Chilly Start.")






May 15, 2018

Brain as Computer "Is a Bad Metaphor"



(p. A13) In "The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are," Mr. Jasanoff, the director of the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, presents a lucid primer on current brain science that takes the form of a passionate warning about its limitations. He argues that the age of popular neurohype has persuaded many of us to identify completely with our brains and to misunderstand the true nature of these marvelous organs.

We hear constantly, for example, that the brain is a computer. This is a bad metaphor, Mr. Jasanoff insists. Computers run on electricity, so we concentrate on the electrical activity within the brain; yet there is also chemical and hormonal signaling, for which there are no good computing analogies.



For the full review, see:

Steven Poole. ""BOOKSHELF; Identify Your Self." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'The Biological Mind' Review: Identify Your Self.")


The book under review, is:

Jasanoff, Alan. The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






May 14, 2018

Finding Workers Is Top Restaurant Challenge



(p. D1) WASHINGTON -- The owner of Taco Bamba Taqueria peered out from the kitchen at the line of customers snaking around the corner at his latest spot in a suburban Virginia strip mall, and felt terror. Who was going to cook, serve and clean up for all these people?

"The cooks had left," overwhelmed by the crowds, said Victor Albisu, who owns four Taco Bambas in the region, with a new upscale Mexican place on the horizon. "The wait staff had left. The chef and sous-chef had walked out because of the amount of business. It doesn't stop."

A tight labor market and an explosion of new restaurants have made finding and keeping help ever more difficult across the country.

(p. D5) In 2017, the National Restaurant Association reports, 37 percent of its members said labor recruitment was their top challenge, up from 15 percent two years ago. With low profit margins leaving little room to do what most businesses do in tight labor markets -- increase wages -- restaurant owners are having to find other ways to attract and hold onto workers.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER. "Tight Labor Market Squeezes Restaurants." The New York Times (Wednesday, April 11, 2018): D1 & D5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 5 [sic], 2018, and has the title "A Worker Shortage Is Forcing Restaurants to Get Creative.")






May 12, 2018

Amazon Hires Thousands of Low-Tech Workers



(p. B1) TROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- Brandon Williams arrived at an Amazon fulfillment center here, about an hour outside of Chicago, around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday [August 2, 2017], one of thousands across the country who turned up for the company's first Jobs Day. While he appeared to wilt slightly during the five hours he waited before an M.C. summoned him for a tour, his enthusiasm did not wane.

"What's not great about a company that keeps building?" he said, seated in a huge tent the company erected in the parking lot as a kind of makeshift waiting room.

The event was a vivid illustration of the ascendance of Amazon, the online retail company that, to a far greater extent than others in the tech industry, has a seemingly insatiable need for human labor to fuel its explosive growth.

Like other tech giants, Amazon is recruiting thousands of people with engineering and business degrees for high-paying jobs. But the vast majority of Amazon's hiring is for what the company calls its "fulfillment network" -- the armies of people who pick and pack orders in warehouses and unload and drive delivery trucks, and who take home considerably smaller incomes.

The event on Wednesday, held at a dozen locations including Romeoville, Ill., was intended to help fill 50,000 of those lower-paying positions, 40,000 of them full-time jobs.

Those high-low distinctions did not seem to bother the attendees of the jobs fair, many of them united in the conviction that Amazon represented untapped opportunity -- that a foot in the door could lead to a career of better-compensated, more satisfying work, whether in fulfillment, I.T., marketing or even fashion.

Mr. Williams, a military veteran studying computer network security at a nearby community college, said he hoped to eventually work his way up to an I.T. job with Amazon. But even those whose ambitions were more in line (p. B7) with the vast majority of available jobs could not hide their excitement.


. . .


Arun Sundararajan, a professor of information, operations and management sciences at New York University's Stern School of Business, said Amazon's employment needs are unique among tech companies.


. . .


"While the digital disruption is destroying the traditional retail business model," Dr. Sundararajan said, "the Amazon model that replaces it will continue to live in the physical world and require human labor for the foreseeable future."



For the full story, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER and NICK WINGFIELD. "Amazon's Clear Message: Hiring." The New York Times (Thursday, August 3, 2017): B1 & B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 2, 2017, and has the title "Amazon's Jobs Fair Sends Clear Message: Now Hiring Thousands.")






May 10, 2018

Blockchain Could Give People "Ownership of Their Own Data"



(p. B1) The first blockchain was created in 2009 as a new kind of database for the virtual currency Bitcoin, where all transactions could be stored without any banks or governments involved.

Now, countless entrepreneurs, companies and governments are looking to use similar databases -- often independent of Bitcoin -- to solve some of the most intractable issues facing society.

"People feel the need to move away from something like Facebook and toward something that allows them to have ownership of their own data," said Ryan Shea, a co-founder of Blockstack, a New York company working with blockchain technology.

The creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has said the blockchain could help reduce the big internet companies' influence and return the web to his original vision.


. . .


(p. B4) Blockstack has built a way to record the basic details about your identity on a blockchain database and then use that identity to set up accounts with other online projects that are built on top of it.

The animating force behind the project is that users -- rather than Blockstack or any other company -- would end up in control of all the data they generate with any online service.

Blockstack is one of several blockchain-based projects hoping to create a new generation of online services that don't rely on having unfettered access to our personal information.

The idea has gained enough steam that in the days after news of Facebook's relationship with Cambridge Analytica broke, Twitter was filled with people calling for blockchain-based alternatives.



For the full story, see:


NATHANIEL POPPER. "Tech's Answer For Security: Blockchain." The New York Times (Monday, April 2, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2018, and has the title "Tech Thinks It Has a Fix for the Problems It Created: Blockchain.")






May 8, 2018

Dockless Scooter Startups Follow Uber in Asking Regulators for Forgiveness Instead of Permission



(p. B1) Electric scooters have arrived en masse in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, with companies competing to offer the dockless and rechargeable vehicles. Leading the pack is Mr. VanderZanden's Bird, with rivals including Spin and LimeBike. The start-ups are buoyed with more than $250 million in venture capital and a firm belief that electric scooters are the future of transportation, at least for a few speedy blocks.

The premise of the start-ups is simple: People can rent the electric scooters for about a $1, plus 10 cents to 15 cents a minute to use, for so-called last-mile transportation. To recharge the scooters, (p. B5) the companies have "chargers," or people who roam the streets looking to plug in the scooters at night, for which they get paid $5 to $20 per scooter.

The problem is that cities have been shocked to discover that thousands of electric scooters have been dropped onto their sidewalks seemingly overnight. Often, the companies ignored all the usual avenues of getting city approval to set up shop. And since the scooters are dockless, riders can just grab one, go a few blocks and leave it wherever they want, causing a commotion on sidewalks and scenes of scooters strewn across wheelchair ramps and in doorways.

So officials in cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., have been sending cease-and-desist notices and holding emergency meetings. Some even filed charges against the scooter companies.

"They just appeared," said Mohammed Nuru, director of the San Francisco Public Works, which has been confiscating the scooters. "I don't know who comes up with these ideas or where these people come from."

Dennis Herrera, the San Francisco city attorney who sent cease-and-desist letters to Bird and others, described the chaos as "a free for all."

Mr. VanderZanden said given how enormous a social shift he believes his scooters are, he was not surprised it ruffled some feathers. But people would eventually adjust, he said.

"Go back to the early 1900s, and people would have a similar reaction to cars because they were used to horses," he said. "They had to figure out where to park all the dockless cars."

If there is something familiar about these scooter companies' strategy of just showing up in cities without permission, that's because that has now become a tried-and-true playbook for many start-ups. In its early days, Uber, the ride-hailing giant, also barreled into towns overnight to launch its service and only asked for forgiveness later.

"Cities don't know what it is," Caen Contee, the head of marketing for LimeBike, said of the arrival of electric scooters. "They don't know how to permit it until they've seen it."


. . .


"My brother and sister legislators from Santa Monica warned me that that phenomenon has hit their cities," said Aaron Peskin, who is on San Francisco's board of supervisors, the city's legislative branch. Referring to the scooter start-ups, he added, "These people are out of their minds."



For the full story, see:

Nellie Bowles and David Streitfeld. "Charged Up Over Scooters Despite Uproar." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title "Electric Scooters Are Causing Havoc. This Man Is Shrugging It Off.")






May 7, 2018

The Role of Progressives in the Forced Sterilization of Thousands



(p. 22) Progressivism was always more than a single cause, however. Attracting reformers of all stripes, it aimed to fix the ills of society through increased government action -- the "administrative state." Progressives pushed measures ranging from immigration restriction to eugenics in a grotesque attempt to protect the nation's gene pool by keeping the "lesser classes" from reproducing. If one part of progressivism emphasized fairness and compassion, the other reeked of bigotry and coercion.

"Imbeciles," by Adam Cohen, the author of "Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America," examines one of the darkest chapters of progressive reform: the case of Buck v. Bell. It's the story of an assault upon thousands of defenseless people seen through the lens of a young woman, Carrie Buck, locked away in a Virginia state asylum. In meticulously tracing her ordeal, Cohen provides a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism -- ­human survival of the fittest -- to its rise as a popular movement, advocating the state-sponsored sterilization of "feeble­minded, insane, epileptic, inebriate, criminalistic and other degenerate persons."



For the full review, see:

DAVID OSHINSKY. "No Justice for the Weak." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2018): 1 & 22-23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2018, and has the title "'Imbeciles' and 'Illiberal Reformers'.")


The book under review, is:

Cohen, Adam. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.






May 4, 2018

Workers Rejecting Big-Rig Trucking Jobs



(p. B1) Trucking companies eager to hire more drivers but facing a slim pipeline of new recruits aren't finding much to encourage them at the James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Enrollment in commercial-driving courses at the school dropped to its lowest point in about 15 years this winter, a signal that the industry's efforts to sell workers on truck driving haven't gained much traction. "Recruiters said all the schools were down this winter," said instructor Michael Timmer, although he added that more students are trickling in as the weather warms.

Freight volumes in the U.S. are surging on the back of strong economic growth, as retailers and manufacturers hire more trucks to haul imports from seaports to distribution centers and raw materials to factories. But the flow of new truck drivers is lagging far behind the roaring freight market.

With unemployment at a nearly two-decade low, the downsides of life behind the wheel are making recruitment tough. Many workers are opting for construction or energy jobs that offer more time at home or better pay.



For the full story, see:

Jennifer Smith. "Trucking's Big-Rig Life Stays a Tough Sell." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 4, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 3, 2018, and has the title "Trucking Companies Are Struggling to Attract Drivers to the Big-Rig Life.")






May 3, 2018

"Searing Portrait" of Uber Entrepreneur Travis Kalanick



(p. B3) Mr. Lashinsky's book gives readers an inside view of the ride-hailing giant's creation and what created the broken corporate culture that yielded so many negative news stories this year.

"Wild Ride" offers a searing portrait of Uber's former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, whom Mr. Lashinsky shows to be both a genius and wildly headstrong (and not in a good way). Because of when it was published, the book does not include many of the episodes that consumed Uber in 2017, including Susan Fowler's viral blog post about the company's misogynistic culture and the ouster of Mr. Kalanick. But until that book is written -- and it surely will be -- "Wild Ride" is a good primer.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Lashinsky book mentioned above, is:

Lashinsky, Adam. Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






May 2, 2018

Debt-Free, Focused Year of Tech Ed Yields Good Jobs for High School Grads



(p. A3) As a high-school senior in Hampton, Va., Aidan Cary applied last year to prestigious universities like Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia.

Then he clicked on the website for a one-year-old school called MissionU and quickly decided that's where he wanted to go.

Mr. Cary, 19 years old, is enrolled in a one-year, data-science program. He studies between 40 and 50 hours a week, visits high-tech, Bay Area companies as part of his education, and will pay the San Francisco-based school a percentage of his income for three years after he graduates.

This new type of postsecondary education is proving a hit: The school says it has received more than 10,000 applications for 50 spots.

"I think people feel backed into a corner by the cost of college," Mr. Cary said. "They've been waiting for something like this so when it finally came around they could instantly see the value proposition."

MissionU, which enrolled its first class in September [2017], is part of new breed of institutions that bill themselves as college alternatives for the digital age. The schools--whose admission rates hover in the single digits--comparable to the Ivy League, according to the schools--offer a debt-free way to attain skills in hot areas and guaranteed apprenticeships with high-tech companies. Together those create a pipeline to well-paying high-tech jobs.



For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. "One-Year Alternatives to College Pop Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 10, 2018): A3.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2018, and has the title "One Year of 'College' With No Degree, But No Debt And a Job at the End." In the penultimate paragraph quoted above, the print version has "value" where the online version has "value proposition." I use the online version.)






May 1, 2018

Individualistic Cultures Foster Innovation



IndividualismProductivityGraph2018-04-20.pngSource of graph: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Luther matters to investors not because of the religion he founded, but because of the cultural impact of challenging the Catholic Church's grip on society. By ushering in what Edmund Phelps, the Nobel-winning director of Columbia University's Center on Capitalism and Society, calls the "the age of the individual," Luther laid the groundwork for capitalism.


. . .


(p. B10) Mr. Phelps and collaborators Saifedean Ammous, Raicho Bojilov and Gylfi Zoega show that even in recent years, countries with more individualistic cultures have more innovative economies. They demonstrate a strong link between countries that surveys show to be more individualistic, and total factor productivity, a proxy for innovation that measures growth due to more efficient use of labor and capital. Less individualistic cultures, such as France, Spain and Japan, showed little innovation while the individualistic U.S. led.

As Mr. Bojilov points out, correlation doesn't prove causation, so they looked at the effects of country of origin on the success of second, third and fourth-generation Americans as entrepreneurs. The effects turn out to be significant but leave room for debate about how important individualistic attitudes are to financial and economic success.



For the full commentary, see:

James Mackintosh. "STREETWISE; What Martin Luther Says About Capitalism." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 3, 2017): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 2, 2017, and has the title "STREETWISE; What 500 Years of Protestantism Teaches Us About Capitalism's Future." Where there are minor differences in wording in the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






April 30, 2018

Macron Gives France Hope That "Tomorrow Can Be Better Than Today"



(p. A27) PARIS -- When people used to ask me what I missed about America, I would say, "The optimism." I grew up in the land of hope, then moved to one whose catchphrases are "It's not possible" and "Hell is other people." I walked around Paris feeling conspicuously chipper.

But lately I've had a kind of emotional whiplash. France is starting to seem like an upbeat, can-do country, while Americans are less sure that everything will be O.K.


. . .


The French haven't become magically cheerful, but there's a creeping sense that hope isn't idiotic, and life can actually improve. As is common with a new president, there was a jump in optimism after Emmanuel Macron was elected last year. But this time, optimism has remained strong, and in January it hit an eight-year high.

It helps that France's economy is finally growing more and that Mr. Macron has made good on promises ranging from overhauling the labor laws to shrinking class sizes at kindergartens in disadvantaged areas.


. . .


"The France of the optimists has won, and is dragging the other part of France toward its own side," said Claudia Senik, an economist who heads the Well-Being Observatory, an academic think tank here.

The French are even taking an intellectual interest in this alien idea. There are optimism clubs, conferences and school programs, scholars of positivity and books like "50+1 Good Reasons to Choose Optimism." In September Mr. Macron was a patron of the Global Positive Forum, a study group of "positive initiatives" in business and government. ("Tomorrow can be better than today," the forum's website insists.)



For the full commentary, see:

Druckerman, Pamela. "The New French Optimism." The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A27.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "Are the French the New Optimists?")






April 29, 2018

Case Study of Effects of Closing a Factory



(p. B1) Perhaps the most illuminating business book of the year, for me, is Amy Goldstein's "Janesville: An American Story." If you really want to understand what's going on in today's real economy -- beyond the headlines about new stock-market highs, tax policy or the latest list of billionaires -- spend some time with this true tale of what happened in the middle-class town of Janesville, Wis., after General Motors closed a factory there.

Ms. Goldstein admirably shows all sides of this story, capturing in microcosm all of the issues that so many communities across the United States are facing. You will probably be left doing some hard thinking about what is driving the politics of the moment, although Ms. Goldstein brilliantly, and respectfully, paints the book's characters with such nuance that readers from across the ideological spectrum are likely to arrive at different conclusions about heroes and villains.

In crafting this deeply reported and riveting read, Ms. Goldstein spent considerable time in Janesville. As a result, you get a palpable sense of what life is like there; of the financial and psychological impact that a major plant closing has; and of the knock-on effects such an event has on other businesses and institutions. She paints vivid portraits of characters who include laid-off workers seeking retraining, union officials and local politicians, Speaker Paul D. Ryan among them. If you liked "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," J. D. Vance's best-seller about growing up in Ohio and the decline of the industrial Midwest, I think you'll find that "Janesville" makes these issues real in a new and compelling way.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Goldstein book mentioned above, is:

Goldstein, Amy. Janesville: An American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






April 28, 2018

Blacks Hurt by Increase in Irrelevant Degree Requirements for Jobs



(p. A15) Some 61% of employers have rejected applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they didn't have a college degree, according to a 2017 Harvard Business School study. If current trends continue, the authors found, "as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by degree inflation--meaning their lack of a bachelor's degree could preclude them from qualifying for the same job with another employer."

The pernicious effects of degree inflation are obvious, as tuition and student debt rise and qualified workers arbitrarily lose employment opportunities. But the practice also flouts federal law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) the Supreme Court unanimously interpreted this to mean that when minority groups are disproportionately affected--or suffer a "disparate impact"--from the selection process, employers must show that any requirements are directly job-related and an accurate predictor of job performance.


. . .


. . . degree inflation has obvious disparate-impact implications. The Harvard report found that groups with college graduation rates below the national average are disproportionately harmed by the practice.


. . .


Employers also fail the Griggs test by demanding college degrees without evidence they are necessary for the job. In a 2014 survey, Burning Glass Technologies found that employers are increasingly requiring bachelor's degrees for positions whose current workers do not have one. For example, 65% of job postings for executive assistant and secretary positions call for a degree even though only 19% of people currently employed in such roles hold a degree.



For the full commentary, see:

Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison. "Degree Inflation and Discrimination; Could civil-rights laws and 'disparate impact' protect job applicants who haven't finished college?" The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 3, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Harvard Business School study mentioned above, is:

Fuller, Joseph B., and Manjari Raman. "Dismissed by Degrees: How Degree Inflation Is Undermining U.S. Competitiveness and Hurting America's Middle Class." Accenture, Grads of Life, and Harvard Business School, Oct. 2017.






April 26, 2018

Blockchain Tested to Speed Property Transfers



(p. B8) The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could change the way property deals are done and recorded more than any other new technology, real-estate and technology experts say.

And Sweden's nearly 400-year-old land mapping and registration authority is likely to become one of the first government agencies to test using blockchain technology for conducting property sales.

The Lantmäteriet expects to conduct the first such transaction in the next few months and is shortlisting volunteers who want to buy or sell a property using the blockchain system. "From the technology point of view, we are quite ready," said Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet's chief digital officer.

Proponents of blockchain say the technology would make recording and transferring titles faster and much more efficient. Transactions that today take months to complete could take days or even hours, they say.

Blockchain technology also is practically bulletproof when it comes to fraudulent transactions, experts say.



For the full story, see:

Shefali Anand. "Test of Blockchain for Real Estate Is Readied." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 7, 2018): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2018, and has the title "A Pioneer in Real Estate Blockchain Emerges in Europe.")






April 25, 2018

Mackenzie Was Wrong in Thinking He Was a Failure, but Was Right About the Northwest Passage



(p. 10) In the summer of 1789, a young fur trader named Alexander Mackenzie led an expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. He and his voyageurs and Chipewyan guides were attempting, 14 years before Lewis and Clark, to cross North America, paddling birch bark canoes down a river they hoped would pierce the Rocky Mountains. Mackenzie was a businessman who wanted to speed the pace of trade by connecting New York and China via an interior passage through the continent. He did find such a route, without knowing it. Mackenzie died thinking he was a failure, when he was really just 200 years early.

Some ideas are fantastically ahead of their time. In 1636, René Descartes created contact lenses, using glass tubes filled with water; unfortunately, the wearer was unable to blink. Charles Babbage invented digital "difference engines" -- essentially modern programmable computers but powered by steam -- in the 1820s. And Kodak developed digital cameras in 1974 but discarded the product idea because it thought no one wanted to look at photos on televisions.

In a particularly ill-timed episode, Giovanni Caselli invented the fax machine in 1856. Letter writers could scribble a message onto electrically charged foil, and the portions covered by ink would block the flow of current. The stylus of Caselli's device then scanned each line of text, transmitting the signal via telegraph lines to a second machine, which would scrawl out a "fac simile" of the letter.

To be practical, the system required a coordinated investment throughout a region, and Napoleon III had plans to modernize all of France with Caselli's pantelegraph, more than a decade before Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. But before it could be installed, Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War, his government fell, and Paris descended into the brutal anarchy of the Commune. Caselli faded into obscurity, and his technology was forgotten for a century.

Like the fax machine and computer, Alexander Mackenzie's Northwest Passage was too forward-looking to be practical or useful. Today the melting Northwest Passage -- along the North Slope of Alaska, through the maze of Canadian Arctic islands, then back down along Greenland's west coast, to the Atlantic -- is regularly in the news. A holy grail for generations of explorers is now finally open, because of climate change. Giant cargo and oil tankers regularly ply those seas, and even the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, with 1,700 people onboard (many in black tie), has made the journey the past two summers.


. . .


Ideas do not exist only on their own merits. Timing matters.



For the full commentary, see:

Brian Castner. "The Northwest Passage That Might Have Been." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2018.)


Castner's commentary is related to his book:

Castner, Brian. Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage. New York: Doubleday, 2018.






April 21, 2018

Chinese Economy "on the Brink of a Precipitous Downturn?"



(p. A15) Reporters in China often run up against Potemkin projects--gleaming science parks sitting half empty, new districts with eerily few residents, solar-powered cities where most of the panels are disconnected. These wasteful investments, designed to fulfill local-government ambitions to boost construction and drive short-term growth, can be a nuisance when researching stories about innovation or environmental foresight. But what if such projects are not a distraction but the story itself? What if China's economy is, in fact, on the brink of a precipitous downturn? That is the question Dinny McMahon asks in "China's Great Wall of Debt."

Mr. McMahon, a former Beijing-based correspondent for this newspaper, suggests that China has powered ahead for as long as it has not because it is immune to crises but because its government has so far managed to intervene to stave them off. When China's stock market plunged in 2015, the central government directed fund managers to buy instead of sell and pressured journalists to write only optimistic reports. One reporter who strayed from the official line was trotted out on state television to apologize.

Such intervention has created a false sense of confidence, Mr. McMahon argues, which in turn has led to a bad case of economic bloating.



For the full review, see:

Mara Hvistendahl. ""BOOKSHELF; The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country's pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 13, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'China's Great Wall of Debt' Review: The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country's pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price.")


The book under review, is:

McMahon, Dinny. China's Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans and the End of the Chinese Miracle. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.






April 20, 2018

Government Obstacles Slow 5G Innovation



(p. A13) . . . , governmental obstacles threaten to block a new wave of wireless innovation, known as fifth generation or "5G." It will multiply download speeds by at least 10 times, allowing wireless carriers to compete with cable companies for high-speed internet access. With superfast speeds and low lag times, 5G will enable advances in everything from driverless cars to the "tactile internet," in which surgeons can perform operations and builders operate construction equipment remotely, and entertainment can include sensations beyond the audiovisual.


. . .


In some places, outdated local requirements prohibit carriers from placing small cells in local rights-of-way and on government-owned utility poles. Zoning ordinances designed for much larger towers often require local zoning boards to approve small cells. Some localities refuse altogether to negotiate right-of-way access, while others impose prohibitive fees and other unreasonable conditions.



For the full story, see:

Robert McDowell. "Local Laws Imperil 5G Innovation; Misapplied zoning rules and huge fees block antennas the size of pizza boxes." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 3, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2018.)






April 19, 2018

"Overblown" Worries that A.I. Will Make Humans Obsolete



(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple has hired Google's chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals.


. . .


Mr. Giannandrea, a 53-year-old native of Scotland known to colleagues as J.G., helped lead the push to integrate A.I. throughout Google's products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant.

He joined Google in 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, a start-up where he served as chief technology officer. Metaweb was building what it described as a "database of the world's knowledge," which Google eventually rolled into its search engine to deliver direct answers to users' queries. (Try googling "How old is Steph Curry?") During Mr. Giannandrea's tenure, A.I. research became increasingly important inside Google, with its primary A.I. lab, Google Brain, moving into a space beside the chief executive, Sundar Pichai.


. . .


On the debate over whether humanity should be worried about the rapidly accelerating improvements in A.I., Mr. Giannandrea told MIT Technology Review in an interview last year that the concerns were overblown.

"What I object to is this assumption that we will leap to some kind of superintelligent system that will then make humans obsolete," he said. "I understand why people are concerned about it but I think it's gotten way too much airtime. I just see no technological basis as to why this is imminent at all."



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS and CADE METZ. "Lagging Rivals in A.I., Apple Adds A Top Google Executive to Its Team." The New York Times (Wednesday, April 4, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 3, 2018, and has the title "Apple Hires Google's A.I. Chief.")






April 18, 2018

University of Chicago Defends Free Speech and Tough Intellectual Inquiry



(p. A15) Chicago

Snow carpets the ground at the University of Chicago, and footfalls everywhere are soft, giving the place a hushed serenity. Serene, too, is Robert Zimmer, the university's 70-year-old president, as he talks about a speaking invitation that could turn his campus turbulent.

Steve Bannon is scheduled to talk at the school early next month--there's no confirmed date--and Mr. Zimmer is taking criticism for the imminent appearance of Donald Trump's former right-hand man, a paladin of alt-robust conservatives. Mr. Bannon is precisely the sort of figure who is anathema on American campuses, yet Mr. Zimmer is unfazed by the prospect of his visit, confident that it will pass with no great fuss.


. . .


Mr. Bannon was invited to the university by Luigi Zingales, a finance professor. Would Mr. Zimmer ever contemplate having a quiet word with the prof and asking him to withdraw his invitation to Mr. Bannon? "I wouldn't even think of it," Mr. Zimmer answers, in a mildly but unmistakably indignant tone. And no, he won't be attending the Bannon event. "We have many, many talks," he says. "I'm really pretty busy."

Mr. Zingales's attitude is consistent with the norm Mr. Zimmer seeks to uphold. When I asked the professor by email why he extended the invitation, he replied that Mr. Bannon "was able to interpret a broad dissatisfaction in the electorate that most academics had missed. Remember the shock on November 9, 2016? Regardless of what you think about his political positions, there is something faculty and students can learn from a discussion with him."


. . .


The University of Chicago has long enjoyed a reputation for tough, even remorseless, intellectual inquiry. Its world-famous economics faculty, for instance, is not a place where faint-hearted academics go to road-test their research. In recent years, as colleges across America have censored unfashionable views, Chicago has also come to be known for setting the gold standard for free expression on campus. Mr. Zimmer, who became president in 2006, deserves much credit. He has been outspoken in defense of free speech and in 2014 even set up a committee--under the constitutional law scholar Geoffrey Stone --that produced the Chicago Principles, the clearest statement by any American university in defense of uninhibited debate.



For the full interview, see:


Tunku Varadarajan, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Free-Speech University; Steve Bannon is giving a talk at Chicago. Its president is confident he won't be shouted down." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Feb. 16, 2018.)






April 17, 2018

Early Industrial Workers' Living Standards Improved Over Their Lifetimes



(p. C6) Historians have long debated whether the Industrial Revolution was a net benefit to those who labored in the mills. The first generation of workers generally enjoyed higher wages and liberation from the confines of rural life. Yes, there was child labor, but one girl who entered a New England mill at age 11 recalled: "It was paradise here because you got your money, and you did whatever you wanted to with it." In her book "Liberty's Dawn" (2013), Emma Griffin studied those early industrial workers longitudinally and found that their living standards improved markedly over a lifetime.


. . .


William Blake's "dark Satanic Mills" are now brightly lit in China, but are they still infernal? Today, Mr. Freeman reports, Foxconn offers "a library, bookstores, a variety of cafeterias and restaurants, supermarkets, . . . swimming pools, basketball courts, soccer fields, and a stadium, a movie theater, electronic game rooms, cybercafés, a wedding-dress shop, banks, ATMs, two hospitals, a fire station, a post office, and huge LED screens that show announcements and cartoons." But Chinese worker dormitories impose a positively Victorian regime of moral supervision: no drinking, gambling or visiting the opposite sex. Work rules are draconian. And surveillance cameras are everywhere (though, come to think of it, we have plenty of those in the West).

Ultimately, Mr. Freeman can't decide whether industrialism represents progress or dystopia, and that ambivalence reflects his clear eyes and fair-mindedness. He often lets workers speak for themselves, and they don't always agree. Xu Lizhi, one of those Foxconn employees who killed himself, was also a poet: "They've trained me to become docile / Don't know how to shout or rebel / How to complain or denounce / Only how to silently suffer exhaustion." But another worker from a small Hunan village was amazed by his company dormitory: "I had never lived in a multi-story building, so it felt exciting to climb stairs and be upstairs." Mr. Freeman reminds us that, benevolent or tyrannical, the factory was an exponential leap in the human experience.



For the full review, see:

Rose, Jonathan. "The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers' paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 23, 2018, and has the title "Review: The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers' paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory.")


The book under review, is:

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.


The book by Emma Griffin, mentioned above, is:

Griffin, Emma. Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.







April 15, 2018

Human Ancestors May Have Had Capacity for Symbolic Thought 600,000 Years Ago



(p. D1) On Thursday [February 22, 2018], a team of researchers offered compelling evidence that Neanderthals bore one of the chief hallmarks of mental sophistication: they could paint cave art. That talent suggests that Neanderthals could think in symbols and may have achieved other milestones not preserved in the fossil record.

"When you have symbols, then you have language," said João Zilhão, an archaeologist at the University of Barcelona and co-author of the new study.


. . .


(p. D6) But a second study, which Dr. Zilhão and his colleagues published Thursday [February 22, 2018], in the journal Science Advances, hints that Neanderthals might well have been painting long before 64,000 years ago.

The scientists traveled to a cave on the coast of Spain where Dr. Zilhão had earlier discovered shells that had been drilled with holes and painted with ocher.


. . .


He and his colleagues discovered a layer of flowstone sitting atop the rock where they had found the shell jewelry. That flowstone turned out to be about 115,000 years old.


. . .


The colored, pierced shells themselves are probably not much older than that. Up until about 118,000 years ago, the cave was flooded, thanks to higher sea levels.

That finding provides strong evidence that the shells were made by Neanderthals. They were definitely living in Spain 115,000 years ago, while modern humans would not arrive in Europe for another 70,000 years.

The two new studies don't just indicate that Neanderthals could make cave art and jewelry. They also establish that Neanderthals were making these things long before modern humans -- a blow to the idea that they simply copied their cousins.

The earliest known cave paintings made by modern humans are only about 40,000 years old, while Neanderthal cave art is at least 24,000 years older. The oldest known shell jewelry made by modern humans is about 70,000 years old, but Neanderthals were making it 45,000 years before then.

"These results imply that Neanderthals were not apart from these developments," said Dr. Zilhão. "For all practical purposes, they were modern humans, too."

The new studies raise another intriguing possibility, said Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum: that the capacity for symbolic thought was already present 600,000 years ago in the ancestors of both Neanderthals and modern humans.

He agreed with Dr. Zilhão that the new study supports the idea that Neanderthals used language. In addition to the evidence of symbolic thought, researchers have also found that the inner ears of Neanderthals were tuned to the frequencies of speech, much like our own.

"We don't know how they spoke or what they said," said Dr. Finlayson. "But they had the ability of speech."

The cave paintings that Dr. Pike and his colleagues have dated are generally abstract. There's no evidence so far that Neanderthals painted images of lions and other animals, as modern humans did thousands of years later.

But Dr. Pike doesn't think a lack of animal imagery marks a mental deficiency in Neanderthals. It could simply reflect a cultural preference.'



For the full story, see:

Zimmer, Carl. "MATTER; The Neanderthal, the Artist." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 27, 2018): D1 & D6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2018, and has the title "MATTER; Neanderthals, the World's First Misunderstood Artists.")


The first article mentioned above and co-authored by Zilhão, is:


Hoffmann, D. L., C. D. Standish, M. García-Diez, P. B. Pettitt, J. A. Milton, J. Zilhão, J. J. Alcolea-González, P. Cantalejo-Duarte, H. Collado, R. de Balbín, M. Lorblanchet, J. Ramos-Muñoz, G. Ch Weniger, and A. W. G. Pike. "U-Th Dating of Carbonate Crusts Reveals Neandertal Origin of Iberian Cave Art." Science 359, no. 6378 (Feb. 23, 2018): 912-915.



The second article mentioned above and co-authored by Zilhão, is:

Hoffmann, Dirk L., Diego E. Angelucci, Valentín Villaverde, Josefina Zapata, and João Zilhão. "Symbolic Use of Marine Shells and Mineral Pigments by Iberian Neandertals 115,000 Years Ago." Science Advances 4, no. 2 (Feb. 22, 2018): 1-6.






April 14, 2018

Xerox Will Cease to Exist as Independent Firm



(p. A1) When Xerox introduced its popular copying machines in 1959, their wizardry was considered as high tech as the iPhone when Steve Jobs presented it to the world almost 50 years later.

But just as Xerox made carbon paper obsolete, the iPhone, Google Docs and the cloud made Xerox a company of the past.

On Wednesday [January 31, 2018], Xerox said that, after 115 years as an independent business, it would combine operations with Fujifilm Holdings of Japan. The deal signaled the end of a company that was once an American corporate powerhouse.

"Xerox is the poster child for monopoly technology businesses that cannot make the transition to a new generation of technology," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

The move offers a stark reminder that no matter how high a company may fly, it is still vulnerable to the next big breakthrough. Xerox joins once formidable tech companies like Kodak and BlackBerry that lost the innovation footrace.

Under the deal, Fujifilm will own just over 50 percent of the Xerox business. There are plans to cut $1.7 billion in costs in coming (p. A11) years. Fujifilm said its joint venture with Xerox would cut its payroll by 10,000 workers worldwide.

How Xerox fell so far is a case study in what management experts call the "competency trap" -- an organization becomes so good at one thing, it can't learn to do anything new.

Xerox traces its origins to the founding in 1903 of the M. H. Kuhn Company. But it was an invention dreamed up in a makeshift Queens lab in the 1930s -- a forerunner of the Silicon Valley garages used by the likes of Mr. Jobs -- that changed Xerox's trajectory.

That invention, by Chester Carlson, a patent lawyer, led to the creation of the modern copy machine. He even came up with a term for the process: "xerography." In 1959, Xerox, which had won the right to explore the technology, offered the office copier that went mainstream.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR and CARLOS TEJADA, "Xerox, Tech Icon That Became a Verb, Is Suddenly Past Tense." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018): A1 & A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JAN. 31, 2018, and has the title "After Era That Made It a Verb, Xerox, in a Sale, Is Past Tense." The online version says that the New York edition also had title "After Era That Made It a Verb, Xerox, in a Sale, Is Past Tense." My copy was the "National Edition.")






April 13, 2018

Upward Mobility from Moving to the Robust Redundant Labor Markets of Open Boomtowns



(p. B3) Chicago in 1850 was a muddy frontier town of barely 30,000 people. Within two decades, it was 10 times that size. Within another two decades, that number had tripled. By 1910, Chicago -- hog butcher for the world, headquarters of Montgomery Ward, the nerve center of the nation's rail network -- had more than two million residents.

"You see these numbers, and they just look fake," said David Schleicher, a law professor at Yale who writes on urban development and land use. Chicago heading into the 20th century was the fastest-growing city America has ever seen. It was a classic metropolitan magnet, attracting anyone in need of a job or a raise.

But while other cities have played this role through history -- enabling people who were geographically mobile to become economically mobile, too -- migration patterns like the one that fed Chicago have broken down in today's America. Interstate mobility nationwide has slowed over the last 30 years. But, more specifically and of greater concern, migration has stalled in the very places with the most opportunity.

As Mr. Schleicher puts it, local economic booms no longer create boomtowns in America.


. . .


Some people aren't moving into wealthy regions because they're stuck in struggling ones. They have houses they can't sell or government benefits they don't want to lose. But the larger problem is that they're blocked from moving to prosperous places by the shortage and cost of housing there. And that's a deliberate decision these wealthy regions have made in opposing more housing construction, a prerequisite to make room for more people.

Compare that with most of American history. The country's economic growth has long "gone hand in hand with enormous reallocation of population," write the economists Kyle Herkenhoff, Lee Ohanian and Edward Prescott in a recent study of what's hobbling similar population flows now.


. . .


Were it not for all the restrictions on housing in the most productive places -- if workers were able to more freely migrate to them -- Mr. Herkenhoff and his co-authors and the economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh have estimated that the nation's G.D.P. would be substantially higher. By their calculations, there are millions of workers missing from the Bay Area and metropolitan New York today.


The population growth that is occurring in these metro areas is fueled almost entirely by immigration, as Ryan Avent points out in "The Gated City," where he makes a similar argument to Mr. Schleicher. If we consider only domestic moves, about 900,000 more people have moved away from New York than to it since 2010. On net, about 47,000 have left both San Jose and Washington, D.C., while Boston has lost a net 36,000.



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "Why New York and the Bay Area Are Missing Millions of Workers." The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 8, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 6, 2017, and has the title "What Happened to the American Boomtown?")


The Herkenhoff et al. paper mentioned above, is:

Herkenhoff, Kyle F., Lee E. Ohanian, and Edward C. Prescott. "Tarnishing the Golden and Empire States: Land-Use Restrictions and the U.S. Economic Slowdown." Journal of Monetary Economics 93 (Jan. 2018): 89-109.


The Moretti and Hsieh paper mentioned above, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation." Working paper, May 18, 2017.


The book by Ryan Avent, mentioned above, is:

Avent, Ryan. The Gated City. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2011.






April 12, 2018

Millions of Dollars and 30 Years Later, A.I. Still Has Lacks Crucial Common Sense



(p. B6) SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday [February 28, 2018] that he was pumping an additional $125 million into his nonprofit computer research lab for an ambitious new effort to teach machines "common sense."


. . .


"To make real progress in A.I., we have to overcome the big challenges in the area of common sense," said Mr. Allen, who founded the software giant Microsoft in the 1970s with Bill Gates.


. . .


In the mid-1980s, Doug Lenat, a former Stanford University professor, with backing from the government and several of the country's largest tech companies, started a project called Cyc. He and his team of researchers worked to codify all the simple truths that we learn as children, from "you can't be in two places at the same time" to "when drinking from a cup, hold the open end up."

Thirty years later, Mr. Lenat and his team are still at work on this "common sense engine" -- with no end in sight.

Mr. Allen helped fund Cyc, and he believes it is time to take a fresh approach, he said, because modern technologies make it easier to build this kind of system.

Mr. Lenat welcomed the new project. But he also warned of challenges: Cyc has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, running into countless problems that were not evident when the project began. He called them "buzz saws."



For the full story, see:

CADE METZ, "A.I.'s Greatest Challenge: Digitizing Common Sense." The New York Times (Thursday, March 1, 2018): B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 28, 2018, and has the title "Paul Allen Wants to Teach Machines Common Sense.")






April 9, 2018

By Many Metrics, Life Is Better Than Ever



(p. A15) . . . , Mr. Easterbrook argues, "at no juncture in American history were people better off than they were in 2016: living standards, per-capita income, buying power, health, safety, liberty, and longevity were at their highest."

A potent counter to today's unwarranted pessimism, the author claims, is not just the evidence that can be seen (rising employment, wages, wealth, health, lifespans and so on) but what has not been seen. Granaries, for instance, are not empty: The many predictions made since the 1960s that billions would die of starvation have not come true. "Instead, by 2015, the United Nations reported global malnutrition had declined to the lowest level in history. Nearly all malnutrition that persists is caused by distribution failures or by government corruption, not by lack of supply." In fact, obesity is rapidly becoming a global problem.

Similarly, even though there are occasional panics, "resources have not been depleted despite the incredible proliferation of people, vehicles, aircraft, and construction." Instead of oil and gas running out by the year 2000, as some in the 1970s predicted, both "are in worldwide oversupply" along with minerals and ores.


. . .


Data supporting this author's optimistic observations are presented throughout "It's Better Than It Looks." Similar catalogues can be found in books like Steven Pinker's "Enlightenment Now" (2018), Johan Norberg's "Progress" (2016), Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's "Abundance" (2012) and Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" (2010). I even touched on some of the same points in my own "The Moral Arc" (2015). Apparently, though, this chorus is not loud enough, since pessimism remains as prominent as it ever was.



For the full review, see:

Michael Shermer. "BOOKSHELF; Why Things Are Looking Up; Though declinists in both parties may bemoan our miserable lives, Americans are healthier, wealthier, safer and living longer than ever." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'It's Better Than It Looks' Review: Why Things Are Looking Up; Though declinists in both parties may bemoan our miserable lives, Americans are healthier, wealthier, safer and living longer than ever.")


The book under review, is:

Easterbrook, Gregg. It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






April 8, 2018

The More Governments Tax, the Less Workers Work



(p. A17) European countries trail the U.S. in working hard and controlling taxes, and their economies have lagged in comparison. France has a tax-to-GDP ratio of about 44%, and in Italy it's 43%. The French and Italians work almost 30% fewer hours per person than Americans. Notably, the French economy has flatlined since 2010 while Italy's has contracted.

These patterns are not a coincidence: High taxes discourage work and capital formation. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that a 1% increase in a nation's tax rate is associated with a 1.4% decrease in hours worked per person in the working-age population. U.S. data dating to the 1970s also shows that higher taxes cause workers to limit their hours, reducing economic output.



For the full commentary, see:

Winkler, Rolfe and Justin Lahart. "Government Spending Discourages Work; The French and Italians pay higher taxes and put in 30% fewer hours per person than Americans." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2018.)






April 6, 2018

Art Diamond Predicts a 40% Chance that Elon Musk Will Make It to Mars



(p. A1) What are the chances that readers will make it to the end of this article? About 40%.

If you do make it, that prediction will look smart. If you don't, well, we said the odds were against it.

Such is the nature of the 40% rule, a favorite forecasting tactic of Wall Street analysts and other prognosticators trying to make a bold call without being too bold.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said last month there's a 40% chance that Brexit will be reversed; Citigroup Inc. analyst Jim Suva wrote that there's a 40% chance Apple Inc. buys Netflix Inc.; and Nomura Holdings Inc. economist Lewis Alexander said there's a 40% chance Nafta gets ripped up.

The nice thing about 40% is that you never have to say you were wrong, says Peter Tchir, a market strategist at Academy Securities. Say you predict the Dow Jones Industrial Average has a 40% chance of hitting 30000 before year-end.

"Get it right and you can say 'See, I was telling everyone it could happen,' " he says. "Get it wrong and you can weasel your way out: 'I didn't say it was likely, I just said it was a strong possibility.' "



For the full story, see:

Winkler, Rolfe and Justin Lahart, "How Pundits Never Get It Wrong: Call a 40% Chance." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 26, 2018, and has the title "How Do Pundits Never Get It Wrong? Call a 40% Chance.")






April 5, 2018

Independent Snapchat Entrepreneurs Turned Down Facebook's Three Billion Dollars



(p. A17) Snap Inc. provides a remarkable story, not only because it has accumulated so many users so rapidly but also because it has remained an independent company in the shadow of Facebook, which in 2012 acquired Instagram, also photo-centered, for $1 billion. A year later, noticing Snapchat's power to attract young users, Facebook offered Snap's founders $3 billion for the company, a figure that the book's publisher has rounded down for the title. Mr. Spiegel, the chief executive, said "no," and Snap's current market capitalization, around $23 billion, would seem to be sweet vindication. But Snap has yet to figure out how to convert its many users into net profits, and Instagram has shown no compunction about copying Snapchat features and has grown even faster.


. . .


In Mr. Spiegel's view, sharing snaps--of anything--was enjoyable because the images were ephemeral and didn't have to be composed for posterity. "It seems odd that at the beginning of the internet everyone decided everything should stick around forever," he said.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 12, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 11, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users.")


The book under review, is:

Gallagher, Billy. How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018.






April 4, 2018

Italian Bureaucracy Leaves Innovative Restaurateur Feeling "Psychologically Violated"



(p. A7) ROME--The campaign leading up to Italy's national elections on March 4 [2018] has featured populist promises of largess but neglected what economists have long said is the real Italian disease: The country has forgotten how to grow.

Take Gianni Angelilli's pizzeria in downtown Rome. He uses an innovative dough mix and flexible cooking methods, drawing long lines and rave reviews. But Italy is too bureaucratic, the locals have no money and his ambition isn't what it used to be, Mr. Angelilli said. If he opens more outlets, they will be abroad.

"Now, foreigners have more desire to eat well than Italians," he said. "Italy is dead. Italy is finito."


. . .


Italian politics have become measurably more chaotic since the country's old party system--largely frozen during the Cold War--collapsed amid corruption scandals in the early 1990s. Data collected by Einaudi economist Luigi Guiso and others show that since 1992, coalitions have become more likely to crumble, lawmakers to defect and governments to need confidence votes in parliament. Politicians jostling for attention push more frequent, longer and more-complicated legislation.

"An excess has cluttered the bureaucratic machine," says Mr. Guiso. "The country has become cumbersome."

Yet the weakness of transient politicians has paradoxically made the public administration more powerful, at the same time as constant legal changes immobilize it, he says.

Mr. Guiso has practical experience. He is helping to set up a government-supported program to send young Italians to learn about entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and at U.S. business schools, and he said Italian civil servants decided a tender offer inviting U.S. organizations to participate could be published in Italian only. After much persuasion, the civil servants agreed to publish the tender in English too--but insisted all applications must be in Italian, said Mr. Guiso. He said political friends apologized, saying there was nothing they could do.

Mr. Angelilli said his encounters with Italian bureaucracy while running his Pinsere pizzeria have left him feeling "psychologically violated." He said he had to pay a fine recently because his oven's air extraction, made to comply with European, national and regional laws, ran afoul of new city rules.



For the full story, see:

Marcus Walker and Giovanni Legorano. "The Real Italian Job: Rev Up Productivity." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 27, 2018, and has the title "Italy: The Country That Forgot How to Grow.")






April 2, 2018

High Energy Costs Killed 15,000 of the Poor in Britain in Winter of 2014-2015



(p. A15) Higher costs from policies like stringent emissions caps and onerous renewable-energy targets make it even harder for the poorest citizens to afford gas and electricity.


. . .


In the U.K., the cost of electricity has increased by 36% in real terms since 2006, while the average income has risen only 4%. Environmentalists point out that energy usage has fallen as a result. But they ignore the fact that the poorest households cut back their consumption much more than average, while the richest have not reduced electricity consumption at all. Meanwhile, the share of income the bottom tenth of Britons spend on energy has increased rapidly, to almost 10%, while the share of income spent by the top tenth is still under 3%.

One 2014 poll shows that one-third of British elderly people leave at least part of their homes cold, and two-thirds wear extra layers of clothing, because of high energy costs. According to a report in the Independent, 15,000 people in the U.K. died in the winter of 2014-15 because they couldn't afford to heat their homes properly.

Climate change is a real challenge for every country, but we need to maintain some perspective. The United Nations' climate-change panel estimates that global warming could cause damage amounting to 2% of global gross domestic product toward the end of the century. That makes it a problem, but not the Armageddon produced by some feverish imaginations.



For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. "Climate-Change Policies Can Be Punishing for the Poor; America should learn from Europe's failure to protect the needy while reducing carbon emissions." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 5, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 4, 2018.)






April 1, 2018

Victorian Britain Was "the Most Innovative, Advanced, Sophisticated and Prosperous Economy on the Planet"



(p. A19) Britain rose to global power over a long 18th century that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution and closed at Waterloo in 1815. Decline marked the 20th century, especially with the loss of both empire and commercial dynamism under the strain of two world wars. David Cannadine's "Victorious Century" charts the period between--one in which Britain could be seen as the most innovative, advanced, sophisticated and prosperous economy on the planet.


. . .


Mr. Cannadine presents the liberal spirit of progress as the hero of his tale. It guided Britain through conflicts, social disparities and political transitions while pointing toward a better society.



For the full review, see:

William Anthony Hay. "BOOKSHELF; The Spirit of Progress; Britain managed to balance change and continuity as turmoil and revolution overtook the Continent. Still, the change proved decisive." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 19, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The U.K.'s 'Victorious Century'; Britain managed to balance change and continuity as turmoil and revolution overtook the Continent. Still, the change proved decisive.")


The book under review, is:

Cannadine, David. Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906, The Penguin History of Britain. New York: Viking, 2017.






March 30, 2018

Decline in Startups Reduces Labor Market Dynamism



DynamismDeclineGraph2018-03-02.pngSource of graphs: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) . . . a broad sweep of statistics reveals a peculiar weariness spreading through the economy. Belying breathless headlines about the fabulous opportunities that technology is about to bestow on society, it suggests that many rich market democracies have lost much of their dynamism. Their companies are getting old, and their labor markets are getting stuck. Productivity growth has slumped. And many workers in their prime are peeling off from the labor force.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . , the economy's ability to generate and support new businesses -- agents of creative destruction that bring new products and methods into the marketplace -- appears to be faltering across the world. In the United States, the rate of company formation is half what it was four decades ago. And it is slowing in many industrialized countries.


. . .


In a study published on Tuesday [February 6, 2018] by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, Jay Shambaugh, Ryan Nunn and Patrick Liu explore what economists have figured out about the American economy's inertia and the fallout for wages and living standards.

The evidence paints a distinct picture of decline: Fewer start-ups mean fewer new ideas and fewer young, productive businesses to replace older, less productive ones. Researchers have found that the decline in companies entering the market since 1980 has trimmed productivity growth by about 3.1 percent.

The dearth of new businesses is also cutting off one of the main paths to workers' advancement: the outside job offer. Changing jobs allows workers to shift to positions in which they are more productive, and better paid. But labor market fluidity -- job switching, creation and destruction -- has been declining since the 1980s.

Clear though the pattern may be, the researchers acknowledge that we haven't yet figured out what is holding the economy's dynamism back. "This is one of those big, economywide trends," Mr. Shambaugh told me. "There is room for a lot of stories."



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; What to Worry About: Decrease in Start-Ups Is a Sign of Stagnation." The New York Times (Wednesday, February 7, 2018): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 6, 2018, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Where Are the Start-Ups? Loss of Dynamism Is Impeding Growth.")


The paper by Shambaugh, Nunn, and Liu, that is mentioned above, is:

Shambaugh, Jay, Ryan Nunn, and Patrick Liu. "How Declining Dynamism Affects Wages." In Revitalizing Wage Growth Policies to Get American Workers a Raise, edited by Jay Shambaugh and Ryan Nunn, Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2018, pp. 11-23.






March 29, 2018

Blockchain May Bring Property Rights to the Poor



(p. A15) The great economic divide in the world today is between the 2.5 billion people who can register property rights and the five billion who are impoverished, in part because they can't. Consider what happens without a formal system of property rights: Values are reduced for privately owned assets; wages are devalued for workers using these assets; owners are denied the ability to use their assets as collateral to obtain credit or as a credential to claim public services; and society loses the benefits that accrue when assets are employed for their highest and best purpose.


. . .


Fortunately there is a new technology that could make a global property-rights registration system feasible. Patrick Byrne, an e-commerce pioneer and the CEO of Overstock.com, has committed a professional staff and significant resources to modernizing the collection and maintenance of property-rights records on a global scale. Blockchain is an especially promising technology because of its record-keeping capacity, its ability to provide access to millions of users, and the fact that it can be constantly updated as property ownership changes hands.

If Blockchain technology can empower public and private efforts to register property rights on a single computer platform, we can share the blessings of private-property registration with the whole world. Instead of destroying private property to promote a Marxist equality in poverty, perhaps we can bring property rights to all mankind. Where property rights are ensured, so are the prosperity, freedom and ownership of wealth that brings real stability and peace.



For the full commentary, see:

Phil Gramm and Hernando de Soto. "How Blockchain Can End Poverty; Two-thirds of the world's population lacks access to a formal system of property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Jan. 26, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 25, 2018.)






March 24, 2018

Virtual Reality Was Intended as a Complement to Physical Reality, Not as a Substitute



(p. A17) The illusion of presence is what drove Mr. Lanier from the start. He envisioned VR not as an alternative to physical reality but as an enhancement--a way to more fully appreciate the wonder of existence. More conventional individuals, their senses dulled by the day-to-day, may be drawn to virtual reality because it seems realer than real; he considered it a new form of communication. "I longed to see what was inside the heads of other people," he writes. "I wanted to show them what I explored in dreams. I imagined virtual worlds that would never grow stale because people would bring surprises to each other. I felt trapped without this tool. Why, why wasn't it around already?"

"Dawn of the New Everything" is full of such self-revelatory moments. The author grew up an only child in odd corners of the Southwest, first on the Texas-Mexico border, then in the desert near White Sands Missile Range. When he was nine, his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was killed in a car crash on the way home from getting her driver's license. The tract house they'd bought burned down the day after construction was completed. The insurance money never came, so Jaron and his father lived in tents in the desert until they could afford to build a real home--which turned out to be a mad concoction of geodesic domes of Jaron's own design. They called it Earth Station Lanier.


. . .


Lacking a degree from high school, never mind college, he nonetheless parlayed his virtual-reality obsession into a company, VPL Research, that for a few years in the late '80s made VR seem real, if only in a lab setting. Then came board fights and bankruptcy, and VR disappeared from public view for more than 20 years.

What went wrong at VPL? Unfortunately, you won't find out here. Mr. Lanier warns us he isn't going to deliver a blow-by-blow; instead we get a disjointed sequence of half-remembered anecdotes. What does come through is his ambivalence about going into business at all, and his even deeper ambivalence toward writing about it.



For the full review, see:

Frank Rose. "BOOKSHELF; The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers.")


The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.






March 23, 2018

Reporters Celebrate Union Before Losing Jobs



(p. A23) A week ago, reporters and editors in the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of New York City's leading digital purveyors of local news, celebrated victory in their vote to join a union.

On Thursday [November 2, 2018], they lost their jobs, as Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who owned the sites, shut them down.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN and JOHN LELAND. "DNAinfo and Gothamist Shut Down After Workers Join a Union." The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2017): A23.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 2, 2017, and has the title "DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize." The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was A21. The page number of my edition, probably midwest, was A23.)






March 21, 2018

Entrepreneur Claims Intel Is Not "Doing What Comes Next"



(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over 28 years at the giant computer chip maker Intel, Renée James climbed to its No. 2 position, becoming one of Silicon Valley's prominent female leaders.

Now she is taking aim at Intel's most lucrative business, one that she helped build.

Ms. James, who announced in 2015 that she would resign from Intel, on Monday revealed a start-up backed by the private equity firm Carlyle Group to sell chips to handle calculations in servers. Those computers run most internet services and corporate back-office operations.


. . .


Ms. James emphasized her respect for her former employer and played down potential competition. She said her new company, Ampere, was designing chips for new, specialized jobs at cloud services that aren't Intel's primary focus.

"I think they're the best in the world at what they do," Ms. James said of Intel. "I just don't think they're doing what comes next."


. . .


Ms. James learned management skills from Andrew Grove, the acclaimed former Intel chief. Before he died in 2016, she said, Mr. Grove encouraged her to follow her dream of a chip start-up -- a plan with parallels to the 1968 founding of Intel as a breakaway from a chip pioneer, Fairchild Semiconductor.

"He said, 'I just want you to know, this is a really hard job,'" Ms. James recalled. "I said: 'I know. But it's so much fun.'"

Her venture is the latest in a series of largely unsuccessful attempts, dating back more than seven years, to shake up the server market with technology licensed by ARM Holdings that is used as a mainstay of smartphones. One selling point is reduced power consumption, a hot topic in data centers.



For the full story, see:

DON CLARK. "Intel's Former No. 2 Aims At Lucrative Chip Market." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 5, 2018, and has the title "She Was No. 2 at Intel. Now She's Taking Aim at the Chip Maker.")






March 20, 2018

Obstacles and Conflicts Were Too Much for Lanier's "VPL Research" Startup



(p. 11) Lanier's book is, . . . , intimate and idiosyncratic. He carries us through his quirky and fascinating life story, with periodic nerdy side trips through his early thinking on more technical aspects of virtual reality. If you liked Richard Feynman's autobiographical "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" but thought it was rather self-indulgent, this book will prompt similar reactions. You could almost say that Lanier's vivid and creative imagination is a distinct character in this book, he discusses it so much. Midway through, Feynman himself makes an appearance, and it seems as if we're meeting an old friend.

Lanier has been credited with inventing the term "virtual reality," and he founded one of the original companies to produce it, VPL Research. He goes over the technology's history in detail, outlining not only the obstacles to getting consistent hardware but some personalities and interpersonal conflicts that ultimately led to his company's breaking up. He also demonstrates the role personal connections and interactions play in Silicon Valley.



For the full review, see:

CATHY O'NEIL. "Enter the Holodeck." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, February 4, 2018): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 30, 2018.)


The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.






March 19, 2018

Technology Increases Time at Home, Reducing Energy Use



(p. A15) A new study in the journal Joule suggests that the spread of technologies enabling Americans to spend more time working remotely, shopping online -- and, yes, watching Netflix and chilling -- has a side benefit of reducing energy use, and, by extension, greenhouse gas emissions.


. . .


Researchers found that, on average, Americans spent 7.8 more days at home in 2012, compared to 2003. They calculated that this reduced national energy demand by 1,700 trillion BTUs in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the nation's total energy use.


. . .


"Energy intensity when you're traveling is actually 20 times per minute than when spent at home," said Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author on the story.

One of his co-authors, Eric Williams, an associate professor of sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, made the point a different way. "This is a little tongue in cheek, but you know in 'The Matrix' everyone lives in those little pods? For energy, that's great," he said, because living in little pods would be pretty efficient. "In the Jetsons, where everyone is running around in their jet cars, that's terrible for energy."


. . .


. . . , the study suggests that workers are spending less time at work because faster and better online services make it easier for us to work from home. As a result, we're spending less time in office buildings, which use more energy than our homes, and employers are consolidating office space.



For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "Tech Creates Homebodies, And Energy Use Declines." The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2018, and has the title "Americans Are Staying Home More. That's Saving Energy.")


The "in press" version of the article mentioned above, is:

Sekar, Ashok, Eric Williams, and Roger Chen. "Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States." Joule (2018).






March 18, 2018

"We Have to Entrepreneurialize Society"



Economist Klaus Schwab is the founder and organizer of the annual Davos gatherings of government and corporate insiders.


(p. R15) MR. BAKER: There has been a tremendous growth in industrial concentration, big companies getting bigger. Small companies are essentially being squeezed out. There's a concern that it's not just bureaucracies and supernational institutions, but companies themselves, are just too big and too remote. What can be done to address those concerns?

PROF. SCHWAB: We have to entrepreneurialize society. If we look where jobs will come from, they will come mainly from new enterprises, from medium-size enterprises. So companies and countries have to create an ecosystem which allows young people to create their own companies. We have to create new Facebook s, new Googles, and so on. Then we have the necessary dynamic situation which maintains a certain degree of competition in the economy.



For the full interview, see:

Gerard Baker, interviewer. "Nationalism vs. Globalism: A Question of Balance; Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, on how to deal with a fractured world." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018): R15.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has a date of Jan. 22, 2018.)






March 16, 2018

Serial Breakthrough Innovators Have "Almost Maniacal Focus"



(p. C4) It's 6 a.m., and I'm rushing around my apartment getting ready to fly to California to teach an innovation workshop, when my 10-year-old son looks at me with sad eyes and asks, "Why are you always busy?" My heart pounds, and that familiar knife of guilt and pain twists in my stomach. Then a thought flickers through my head: Does Jeff Bezos go through this?

I recently finished writing a book about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology over the past two centuries. Of the eight individuals I wrote cases about, only one, Marie Curie, is a woman. I tried to find more, even though I knew in my scientist's heart that deliberately looking for women would bias my selection process. But I didn't find other women who met the criteria I had laid out at the beginning of the project.


. . .


The politically correct thing to say at this point is that expanding the roster of future innovators to include more women will require certain obvious changes in how we handle family life: Men and women should have more equal child-care responsibilities, and businesses (or governments) should make affordable, quality child care more accessible. But I don't think it is as simple as that.

In my own case, I can afford more child care, but I don't want to relinquish more of my caregiving to others. From the moment I first gave birth, I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs. Nature is extremely clever, and she has crafted an intoxicating cocktail of oxytocin and other neurochemicals to rivet the attention of parents on their children.

The research on whether this response is stronger for mothers than for fathers is inconclusive. It is tough to compare the two, because there are strong gender differences in how hormones work. Historically, however, women have taken on a larger share of the caregiving responsibilities for children, and many (myself included) would not have it any other way.

Is such a view hopelessly retrograde, a rejection of hard-won feminist achievements? I don't think so.

The need to connect with our children does not prevent women from being successful. There are many extremely successful women with very close relationships with their children. But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.

I'm no Marie Curie, but I do have obsessive tendencies. If I did not have a family, I would routinely work until 4 a.m. if I had an interesting problem to chase down. But now I have children, and so at 5 p.m., I need to dial it back and try to refocus my attention on things like homework and making dinner. I cannot single-mindedly focus on my work; part of my mind must belong to the children.

This doesn't mean that mothers cannot be important innovators, but it might mean that their careers play out differently. Their years of intense focus might start later, or they might ebb and surge over time. The more we can do to enable people to have nonlinear career paths, the more we will increase innovation among women--and productivity more generally.



For the full commentary, see:

Melissa Schilling. "Why Women Are Rarely Serial Innovators; A single-minded life of invention is hard to combine with family obligations. One solution: 'nonlinear' careers." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


Schilling's commentary is related to his book:

Schilling, Melissa A. Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






March 15, 2018

Regulating A.I. "Is a Recipe for Poor Laws and Even Worse Technology"



(p. A27) "Artificial intelligence" is all too frequently used as a shorthand for software that simply does what humans used to do. But replacing human activity is precisely what new technologies accomplish -- spears replaced clubs, wheels replaced feet, the printing press replaced scribes, and so on. What's new about A.I. is that this technology isn't simply replacing human activities, external to our bodies; it's also replacing human decision-making, inside our minds.

The challenges created by this novelty should not obscure the fact that A.I. itself is not one technology, or even one singular development. Regulating an assemblage of technology we can't clearly define is a recipe for poor laws and even worse technology.



For the full commentary, see:


ANDREW BURT. "Leave Artificial Intelligence Alone" The New York Times (Friday, January 5, 2018): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 4, 2018, and has the title "Leave A.I. Alone.")






March 14, 2018

Musk's Slow Hunch May Be Undone by Smaller Satellites



(p. B3) SpaceX 's long-delayed Falcon Heavy rocket, slated for its maiden flight on Tuesday [February 6, 2018], faces uncertain commercial prospects and lacks a clear role in efforts to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon or deeper into the solar system.

The company conceived the rocket at the beginning of the decade, when SpaceX was an underdog fighting to increase its share of launches and needed a beefed-up alternative to a fleet of underpowered boosters. But after spending some $1 billion and grappling with five years of delays and huge technical challenges related to reliably harnessing power from 27 engines, the company is contending with significantly eroded commercial demand for such a potent heavy-lift booster.

The primary reason for the weakened demand is that both national security and corporate satellites continue to get smaller and lighter. So now, even if it performs as advertised, the Falcon Heavy might be Elon Musk's biggest contrarian bet since he founded SpaceX over 15 years ago.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "SpaceX Launch to Test Contrarian Bet." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 4, 2018, and has the title "New Falcon Heavy Rocket Represents a Major Bet for SpaceX.")






March 9, 2018

Free Trade Increases Economic Growth



(p. 3) When President Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, I was reminded of a line from George Orwell: "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

. . . , my subject is economics, and to most people in my field, the benefits of an unfettered system of world trade are obvious.


. . .


. . . , economists have emphasized how trade affects productivity. In a model pioneered by my Harvard colleague Marc Melitz, when a nation opens up to international trade, the most productive firms expand their markets, while the least productive are forced out by increased competition. As resources move from the least to the most productive firms, overall productivity rises.


. . .

A skeptic might say that all this is just theory. Where's the evidence?

One approach to answering this question is to examine whether countries that are open to trade enjoy greater prosperity. In a 1995 paper, the economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew Warner studied a large sample of nations and found that open economies grew significantly faster than closed ones.


. . .


Trade restrictions often accompany other government policies that interfere with markets. Perhaps these other policies, rather than trade restrictions, impede growth.

To address this problem, a third approach to measuring the effects of trade, proposed by the economists Jeffrey A. Frankel of Harvard and David C. Romer of the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on geography. Some countries trade less because of geographic disadvantages.

For example, New Zealand is disadvantaged compared with Belgium because it is farther from other populous countries. Similarly, landlocked nations are disadvantaged compared with nations with their own seaports. Because these geographic characteristics are correlated with trade, but arguably uncorrelated with other determinants of prosperity, they can be used to separate the impact of trade on national income from other confounding factors.

After analyzing the data, Mr. Frankel and Mr. Romer concluded that "a rise of one percentage point in the ratio of trade to G.D.P. increases income per person by at least one-half percent."



For the full commentary, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW. ''Economic View; Reviewing the Tenets of Free Trade." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., February 18, 2018): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 16, 2018, and has the title ''Economic View; Why Economists Are Worried About International Trade.")


The Melitz article mentioned above, is:

Melitz, Marc. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity." Econometrica 71, no. 6 (Nov. 2003): 1695-1725.


The Sachs and Warner article mentioned above, is:

Sachs, Jeffrey D., and Andrew Warner. "Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration " Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 26, no. 1 (1995 ): 1-95.


The Frankel and Romer article mentioned above, is:

Frankel, Jeffrey A., and David H. Romer. "Does Trade Cause Growth?" American Economic Review 89, no. 3 (June 1999): 379-99.






March 8, 2018

Politicians Build Costly Megaprojects to Burnish Their Legacy



(p. 14) Petroski, a professor of both engineering and history at Duke and the author of such books as "The Pencil" and "The Evolution of Useful Things," brings an eye for the little things: what kinds of guardrails are best, how roads can be made safer through better signage, which paving materials last longest. One of his key lessons is that small thinking can be a virtue, because the history of infrastructure is a series of experimental and incremental improvements.

Local governments tried endless variations of asphalt and concrete before developing paving surfaces that didn't produce excess dust or deteriorate quickly under rain and snow. They gradually built longer bridges, learning from earlier designs that worked, and that didn't. They tried out different paint colors for lane markings, finding the ones that drivers could see best.

This little-things perspective is needed at a time when America's infrastructure agenda is simultaneously characterized by grandiose ambitions and limited budgets. Money is tight, and infrastructure needs are going unaddressed. At the same time, despite funding limitations, politicians have a tendency to fall in love with novel, pathbreaking, expensive projects that frequently go astray, resulting in arguments against spending more on infrastructure.


. . .


Politicians aren't drawn to megaprojects just because they believe the initial rosy cost projections and therefore underestimate the risk of complications. They also see an opportunity to build their legacy: It's more fun to say "I built that bridge" than "I retrofitted that bridge."



For the full review, see:

JOSH BARRO. "Getting There." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2016): 14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 18, 2016, and has the title "'The Road Taken,' by Henry Petroski.")


The Petroski book under review, is:

Petroski, Henry. The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2016.






March 7, 2018

The Only Duty of a Firm "Is to Produce Profits"



(p. B1) On Tuesday [January 16, 2018], the chief executives of the world's largest public companies will be receiving a letter from one of the most influential investors in the world. And what it says is likely to cause a firestorm in the corner offices of companies everywhere and a debate over social responsibility that stretches from Wall Street to Washington.

Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, is going to inform business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits -- they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock.


. . .

(p. B3) Companies often talk about contributing to society -- sometimes breathlessly -- but it is typically written off as a marketing gimmick aimed at raising profits or appeasing regulators.

Mr. Fink's declaration is different because his constituency in this case is the business community itself. It pits him, to some degree, against many of the companies that he's invested in, which hold the view that their only duty is to produce profits for their shareholders, an argument long espoused by economists like Milton Friedman.

"What does it mean to say that 'business' has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities," Friedman wrote, almost rhetorically, back in 1970 in this very newspaper. "Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. ''DEALBOOK; A Demand For Change Backed Up By $6 Trillion." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 16, 2018): B1 & B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 15, 2018, and has the title ''DEALBOOK; BlackRock's Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support.")


The Milton Friedman classic article mentioned above by Sorkin, is:

Friedman, Milton. "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., Sept. 13, 1970): 32-33, 122, 124 & 126.






March 4, 2018

Clarence Darrow Did Not Always Defend Working People



(p. 12) Kersten frames Darrow's penchant for representing murderers and other criminals, for instance, as the only way he could underwrite his political work. And he doesn't even mention some of Darrow's more unseemly efforts, like the case of the good ship Eastland, when labor's beloved lawyer mounted a defense of the steamboat's chief engineer, whose negligence had been a cause of the drowning deaths of 844 working people out for a day of fun on the Chicago River.

Farrell has no such compunctions. He agrees that Darrow had core principles. "He was Jefferson's heir," he says, "his time's foremost champion of personal liberty," raging against the concentration of wealth and power that had accompanied the nation's industrialization. But Darrow also thought of the law as blood sport. He shamelessly seduced juries with his common man routine -- the rumpled suits and suspenders, the gentle country drawl -- and his extraordinary closing statements, which he packed with philosophy, poetry and cheap emotions meant to make men cry. Those were the benign manipulations, Farrell argues. In some of his biggest cases Darrow bought the testimony he needed. And when he was apparently caught in the act in 1911, he hired as his counsel the most ruthless criminal lawyer he could find -- a flashy-dressing, hard-drinking, anti-union conservative -- because there was no point in confusing means and ends.

A similarly callous streak ran through Darrow's personal life. He divorced his first wife because she wasn't sophisticated enough; married his second because she doted on him; then took a mistress 21 years his junior. He cheated on his law partners too, handing them work he didn't want to do and pocketing fees they were supposed to share. And for all his radicalism, Darrow loved a big payday: according to Farrell, he took on Leopold and Loeb, two sons of privilege, primarily because their parents offered him a $65,000 retainer.



For the full review, see:

KEVIN BOYLE. "Equal Opportunity Defender." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 10, 2011): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 8, 2011, and has the title "Clarence Darrow, Equal Opportunity Defender.")


The books under review, are:

Farrell, John A. Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. New York: Doubleday, 2011.

Kersten, Andrew E. Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






March 3, 2018

Musk Poured PayPal Money into SpaceX and Tesla



(p. A15) Mr. Musk's first success was X.com, an email payment company. It merged with Peter Thiel's Confinity to form PayPal--and avoid competition. They had the market to themselves for a long time because fraud, especially from Eastern Europe, was so rampant on early internet payment platforms. They solved the fraud problem and enjoyed an uncontested market, eventually selling for $1.5 billion to eBay .

Then Mr. Musk headed further into the future. He took the nine-figure payout from PayPal and pushed ahead with SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City. Literally his last $20 million went to Tesla in 2008. "I was tapped out. I had to borrow money for rent after that," he later recalled.


. . .


[Google's Larry] Page reportedly once told a venture capitalist, "You know, if I were to get hit by a bus today, I should leave all of it to Elon Musk." He later explained to Charlie Rose he liked Mr. Musk's idea of going to Mars "to back up humanity." Good luck with that. But then again, I would love to see them try.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. ''Elon Musk's Uncontested 3-Pointers; What does the Tesla and SpaceX founder have in common with Stephen Curry?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 26, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2018.)






March 2, 2018

Stronger Labor Market May Increase Productivity



(p. B3) . . . the provocative conclusion of new research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the in-house think tank of the consulting giant, . . . suggests we should change how we think about the advancements that make society richer over time. It implies that as the economy returns to full employment, an outburst of faster growth in productivity -- and hence economic growth -- is a real possibility.


. . .


For years, McKinsey researchers have tried to understand what drives productivity growth from the ground up. They've studied how innovations that enable a company to make more goods and services per hour of labor spread across the economy.

The latest wrinkle is that the researchers now believe that productivity growth depends not just on the supply side of the economy -- what companies produce and what technologies they use to do it -- but also significantly on the demand side. That is to say, productivity advancements don't happen in a vacuum just because technology is available. They also happen because companies need to increase production to match demand for their goods, and a shortage, either of workers or of materials, forces them to think creatively about how to do so.


. . .


. . . consider how this dynamic might apply in the restaurant industry (or retail, or tourism).

The basic technology for self-serve kiosks has been around for years. But when the unemployment rate was at its post-crisis highs, employers could have their pick of good workers at relatively low prices. Now, with the jobless rate at 4.1 percent, good workers are harder to find. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, companies have been more open to installing technology that may have a significant upfront cost and require reworking how a restaurant is organized, but allow more sales without hiring more workers.



For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. "Why Researchers Believe a Productivity Boom Is Now a Real Possibility." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 21, 2018, and has the title "The Economy Is Getting Hotter. Is a Productivity Boom Next?")


The McKinsey report discussed above, is:

Remes, Jaana, James Manyika, Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Woetzel, Jan Mischke, and Mekala Krishnan. "Solving the Productivity Puzzle." Report McKinsey Global Institute, Feb. 2018.






February 27, 2018

Sri Lanka Encourages Poachers to Kill Elephants




In my micro principles class each semester, I recount the argument in a text by Baumol and Blinder, that if governments want to save elephants, they would not crush or burn their ivory, they would supply it to the market, reducing the price, and hence reducing the incentives for poachers to kill elephants.



(p. A4) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A group of saffron-robed monks chanted as officials crushed more than 300 elephant tusks in a seaside ceremony on Tuesday [January 26, 2016], as the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor by sending a powerful message of intolerance for elephant poaching.


. . .


The ceremonial crushing of the 359 tusks began with two minutes of silence, after which the group of Buddhist monks chanted prayers for a "rebirth without suffering" for the elephants killed. In a show of religious solidarity, Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders joined the monks in their prayers.

After the ceremony, the crushed ivory was transported to a factory in Puttalam, a district in the island's northwest, for incineration, government officials said.



For the full story, see:

DHARISHA BASTIANS and GEETA ANAND. "Sri Lanka Destroys an Illegal Ivory Cache." The New York Times (Weds., January 27, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2016, and has the title "Sri Lanka Destroys Illegal Elephant Tusks.")






February 26, 2018

Environmentalists Deprive the Poor of Cool Comfort



(p. A1) DELHI -- A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur every time another working-class family brings home its first air-conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 117 degrees in May.

"You wake up totally fresh," exulted Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May. "I wouldn't say we are middle class," she said. "But we are closer."

But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi.


. . .


(p. A8) Sandhya Chauhan and her family live in two musty, windowless subterranean rooms, which turn stifling on summer nights, leaving six sweat-soaked adults to fidget, toss and pace until morning. They have lived there for 20 years, unable to find other lodging on the household's combined earnings of around 30,000 rupees a month, or less than $450.

But it was never as awful as this May, when temperatures crept so high that Ms. Chauhan's friends speculated that the earth was colliding with the sun. After a doctor warned Mrs. Chauhan that heat exhaustion was affecting their oldest son's health, her husband bought an air-conditioner on credit. Though they are hardly middle class -- "we have never let this thought cross our minds," Mrs. Chauhan said -- the purchase has changed the way they see themselves.

"My children sleep in peace," she said. "There was a sense of happiness from inside. There was a sense that father has done a great job."

Among the changes that have come with increasing wealth, Ms. Devi said, is the confidence to spend on the family's comfort, rather than squirreling every bit of savings away.

"Education is teaching people to take care of themselves," she said. "Now that we are used to air-conditioners, we will never go back."



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY and CORAL DAVENPORT. "A Climate Deal Could Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., October 13, 2016): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Emerging Climate Accord Could Push A/C Out of Sweltering India's Reach." The online version of the article says that the New York edition had the headline "Accord May Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach" and appeared on p. A12. In my paper, which is probably the midwest edition, the title was as cited in the main citation above, and appeared on pp. A1 and A8.)






February 23, 2018

Innovations Make Internal Combustion Engines Much More Efficient



(p. B4) . . . gas- and diesel-powered engines are not done yet. Just as electrified cars -- whether hybrids or pure battery-powered models -- seem headed for market dominance, Mazda announced a breakthrough in gasoline engines that could make them far more efficient. It is the latest plot twist in a century of improvements for internal combustion engines, a power source pronounced dead many times that has persisted nevertheless.


. . .


Mazda said it had made a big advance in a combustion method commonly known as homogeneous charge compression ignition, which would result in gasoline engines that are 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the company's best existing engines. Researchers around the world have tried to crack this process for years, but it has never really left the laboratory.

Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture -- very little gas for the amount of air -- that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.



For the full story, see:

NORMAN MAYERSOHN. "Advances Mean Plenty of Life Left for Internal Combustion Engine." The New York Times (Fri., August 18, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 17, 2017, and has the title "WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet.")






February 22, 2018

NYC Fee for Plastic Bags Is "a Tax on the Poor and the Middle Class"



(p. A18) The ubiquitous, easily torn, often doubled-up plastic bags from the grocery store -- hoarded by dog owners, despised by the environmentally concerned and occasionally caught in trees -- will soon cost at least a nickel in New York City.

The City Council voted 28 to 20 on Thursday to require certain retailers to collect a fee on each carryout bag, paper or plastic, with some exceptions. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the measure.


. . .


Mr. Bloomberg offered a proposal in 2008 for a 6-cent bag fee -- 5 cents for stores; a penny for the city -- before dropping it several months later amid strong opposition. At the time, one of the opponents on the Council was Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now a state senator. Last month, Senator Felder introduced a bill that would prohibit the levying of local fees on bags; it passed a committee this week.

In discussing his opposition this week, Mr. Felder traced the 200-year history of how people have carried their groceries home, progressing from cloth bags to boxes to paper to plastic, and said that reusing bags presented a health hazard. He said he would hold a hearing on his bill in the city next month.

"That's nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class -- the most disadvantaged people," he said.

Opposition to the measure has also come from the plastic bag industry -- via its lobbying arm, the American Progressive Bag Alliance -- as well as from those who, like Mr. Felder, said the fee amounted to a regressive tax, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority New Yorkers . . . .



For the full story, see:

J. DAVID GOODMAN. "Council Approves a Fee on Checkout Bags." The New York Times (Fri., May 6, 2016): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 5, 2016, and has the title "5¢ Fee on Plastic Bags Is Approved by New York City Council.")







February 21, 2018

Washington, D.C. Tax Rate Cuts Increased Economic Growth AND Tax Revenue



(p. B1) The capital's financial affairs were in such disarray by the mid-1990s that they were taken over by a federal financial control board that operated until 2001. Yet in 2014 the council cut corporate and business taxes, reduced individual rates for everyone earning less than $1 million and broadened the tax base by eliminating many loopholes.

As a headline on the conservative website The Daily Caller put it, "Hell Freezes Over: DC Passes Tax Reform."

In the ensuing years, economic growth and tax receipts have surged, enabling the city to accelerate cuts that were being phased in. The legislation was not revenue neutral, in the sense that broadening the tax base offset the reduction in rates. It was a tax cut. But in a development that would surely warm the hearts of pro-growth Republicans, the economic lift was so strong that tax receipts increased, and last (p. B3) year hit a record.



For the full commentary, see:


JAMES B. STEWART. ''For Tax Reform Lessons, Congress Needn't Look Far Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., September 1, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 31, 2017.)







February 15, 2018

Farmers Buy Inputs Cheaper Online



(p. B4) Brandon Sinclair spent $26,000 on herbicides for his corn and soybean fields last year, roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-operative.

The savings came from a source many U.S. farmers have been slow to tap: the internet.

Farmers have long made pilgrimages to farm stores and co-operatives to purchase seeds, fertilizer and weed and pest killers. Now, with a commodity glut pressuring crop prices and pushing farm incomes to an eight-year low, farmers are scouring the web for better deals on the products they use to grow their crops.

The shift could upend a decades-old system built around small-town suppliers that also offer farming advice and sell services such as spraying for weeds. Mr. Sinclair says the math is simple: Using savings found online, the 31-year old Illinois farmer was able to spring for a helicopter to wrangle his herd of cattle. Now he is urging his neighbors to shop online, too.

"I've always been kind of a tech guru and a tight-ass," Mr. Sinclair said.



For the full story, see:

Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge. "U.S. Farmers Buy in Bulk Online."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 16, 2017, and has the title "E-Commerce for Farmers: Shopping Online for $26,000 of Herbicides.")






February 13, 2018

Musk "Could Be Completely Delusional"



(p. B2) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [January 23, 2018] unleashed a bold pay package for Chief Executive Elon Musk that again ties his compensation entirely to key performance benchmarks. This time, the goals take the electric-car maker to cosmic heights, including an ultimate aim of hitting $650 billion in market value.


. . .


Mr. Musk could net billions of dollars by hitting only a few of the milestones. Tesla said in a proxy filing the 20.26 million stock options today would have a preliminary value of about $2.62 billion. But if Tesla were to reach the audacious market value of $650 billion--as much as Amazon.com Inc. is worth today--the company said Mr. Musk's stock award would reap him as much as $55.8 billion fully vested.

That total, however, assumes the company's shares outstanding won't be diluted. Tesla has added tens of millions of shares over the past several years, so that total dollar figure is unlikely.


. . .


Mr. Musk is saying, "I want to set an audacious goal, and then if I achieve it, then pay me audaciously," said John Challenger, a longtime expert in corporate compensation as chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "He is in some ways capturing the spirit of Silicon Valley."


. . .


Mr. Musk had previously committed the company to reaching a market cap of $700 billion, something he reiterated last year. "I could be completely delusional, but I think I see a clear path to that outcome," he told analysts in May.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla Primes Musk's Pay for Blastoff." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 24, 2018): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "Elon Musk Could Net Billions by Hitting Tesla's New Milestones." Where the wording of the two versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the wording of the online version.)






February 12, 2018

Value of Higher Education Is in the Signaling, Not the Learning



(p. A13) Mr. Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, argues that most of the value of education--especially higher education--comes from "signaling," not from the content of learning. As a result, Americans are "overeducated," and it's time to stop spending so much money (both private and public) on schools.


. . .


After surveying the research on the "transfer of learning," Mr. Caplan concludes: "Students learn only the material you specifically teach them . . . if you're lucky." Generally, they don't know how to transfer their reasoning from one topic to a related one. As to informal reasoning--the ability to come up with arguments for or against a particular proposition--education's effect, he says, has been "tiny." He similarly dispenses with the claim that schools teach common values or civic education. As college attendance has skyrocketed, he notes, voter turnout has declined.



For the full review, see:

Naomi Schaefer Riley. "BOOKSHELF; Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?" The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to second paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?")


The book under review, is:

Caplan, Bryan. The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






February 11, 2018

Trump Tax Plan Induces Firms to Repatriate Hundreds of Billions



(p. A23) Apple's announcement on Wednesday [January 17, 2018] that it will repatriate most of the estimated $274 billion that it holds in offshore earnings is great news for the United States. Uncle Sam will get a one-time $38 billion tax payment. The company promises to add 20,000 jobs to its U.S. work force, a 24 percent increase, and build a new campus. Another $5 billion will go toward a fund for advanced manufacturing in America.

C'mon. What's with the long face?

In December this column warned that hysterical opposition to the Republican tax bill was a fool's game for Democrats that could only help Donald Trump. Yes, there were things to dislike in the legislation, from both a liberal and a conservative perspective.

But it was not the moral and fiscal apocalypse its critics claimed. And its central achievement -- a dramatic cut in corporate rates to 21 percent from 35 percent -- was an economic no-brainer that many Democrats, including President Obama, had supported (albeit less steeply) just a few years ago.

Apple will not be the only multinational that will soon bring back gigantic profits to take advantage of new low repatriation rates. Microsoft holds $146 billion in overseas earnings, Pfizer $178 billion, General Electric $82 billion, Alphabet $78 billion, and Cisco $71 billion, according to estimates from the Zion Research Group. The total stash is about $3 trillion -- by one measure nearly three times what it was just a decade ago.

Assume that just half of that money comes home to the United States. It's still the equivalent of Canada's entire gross domestic product. Not too shabby, especially considering all the hyperbolic predictions of economic doom that went with Trump's election



For the full commentary, see:


Stephens, Bret. "Clueless Versus Trump." The New York Times (Sat., January 20, 2018): A23.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

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






February 10, 2018

With Cuts in Red Tape, Firms Invest More



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation -- and may finally raise wages significantly.

While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration's regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.

"It's an overall sense that you're not going to face any new regulatory fights," said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. "We're not spending more, which is the main thing. We're not seeing any savings, but we're not seeing any increases."


. . .


(p. A10) Only a handful of the federal government's reams of rules have actually been killed or slated for elimination since Mr. Trump took office. But the president has declared that rolling back regulations will be a defining theme of his presidency. On his 11th day in office, Mr. Trump signed an executive order "on reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs," including the stipulation that any new regulation must be offset by two regulations rolled back.

That intention and its rhetorical and regulatory follow-ons have executives at large and small companies celebrating. And with tax cuts coming and a generally improving economic outlook, both domestically and internationally, economists are revising growth forecasts upward for last year and this year.


. . .


. . . economists see a plausible connection between Mr. Trump's determination to prune the federal rule book and the willingness of businesses to crank open their vaults. Measures of business confidence have climbed to record heights during Mr. Trump's first year.


. . .


"We have spent the past dozen years or longer operating in environments that have had an increasing regulatory burden," said Michael S. Burke, the chairman and chief executive of Aecom, a Los Angeles-based multinational consulting firm that specializes in infrastructure projects. "That burden has slowed down economic growth, it's slowed down investment in infrastructure. And what we've seen over the last year is a big deregulatory environment."


. . .


The White House sees its efforts as having their intended effect. Mr. Trump boasted about his deregulatory efforts last month at an event where he stood in front of a small mountain of printouts representing the nation's regulatory burden and ceremonially cut a large piece of "red tape."

The chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, said in an interview that the administration's freeze on new regulations, in particular, appeared to have buoyed confidence. Though he cautioned that it could take years of research to pin down the magnitude of the effects, he said deregulation was "the most plausible story" to explain why economic growth in 2017 had outstripped most forecasts.

"Our view is, the 'no new regulations' piece has to be more powerful than we thought," he said.



For the full story, see:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and JIM TANKERSLEY. "With Red Tape Losing Its Grip, Firms Ante Up." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Trump Effect: Business, Anticipating Less Regulation, Loosens Purse Strings.")






February 8, 2018

Innovation Skeptics Fail to See Its Broad Benefits



(p. B11) Professor Juma died on Dec. 15 [2017] at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64. His wife said the cause was cancer. At his death he was widely credited as having been an important force in ensuring that biotechnology would play a critical role in improving economic life in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. "So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change."

Professor Juma's latest book, "Innovation and Its Enemies" (2016), described how technological change is often greeted with public skepticism. Beneath such opposition, he argued, is the belief that only a small segment of society will benefit from potential progress, while the much broader society bears the greatest risk.


. . .


Professor Juma could be lighthearted in the classroom or in public in order to make his points. With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, he shared with them cartoons that teased skeptics of science and innovation. One of his last posts featured a game show called "Facts Don't Matter." In it, a contestant is told: "I'm sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points."



For the full obituary, see:

ADEEL HASSAN. "Calestous Juma, 64, Advocate of African Progress, Dies." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "Calestous Juma, 64, Dies; Sought Innovation in African Agriculture.")


The most recent book by Juma, mentioned above, is:

Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






February 7, 2018

Incentive Packages to Big Incumbent Firms Hurt Local Start-Ups



(p. A1) When New Jersey announced a $7 billion package of tax incentives to try to lure Amazon's second headquarters to Newark, local officials saw a chance to jump-start a city that has long struggled with poverty and joblessness.

Many economists, however, saw something else: a failed development strategy that they had hoped was falling out of favor.


. . .


(p. A15) Gina Schaefer, who owns a dozen hardware stores in the Washington area, said she did not mind paying taxes, and had learned to deal with the bureaucratic hurdles that come with running a small business in the area. But she said it was frustrating to watch local governments -- three of the 20 finalists for the Amazon project are in the Washington area -- roll out the red carpet for a multibillion-dollar corporation. Suddenly, she said, her tax dollars could be flowing to one of her most daunting competitors.

"There are no incentives for those of us who are already here," Ms. Schaefer said. Alluding to Amazon's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, she added, "Why should the richest man in the history of the world get money to open his business?"

Indeed, tax incentives tend to flow overwhelmingly to big, established companies, rather than to the local start-ups that research has shown are a more significant source of job growth. And some who have studied the issue say incentives rarely work: Companies will play cities and states off one another to save money, but ultimately base site-selection decisions mostly on other factors.



For the full story, see:

BEN CASSELMAN. "Risks for Cities In Sweetening Amazon's Pot." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 27, 2018): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2018, and has the title "Promising Billions to Amazon: Is It a Good Deal for Cities?")






February 6, 2018

45 Start-Ups Working on New Processor Chips



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, tech industry financiers showed little interest in start-up companies that made computer chips.

How on earth could a start-up compete with a goliath like Intel, which made the chips that ran more than 80 percent of the world's personal computers? Even in the areas where Intel didn't dominate, like smartphones and gaming devices, there were companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia that could squash an upstart.

But then came the tech industry's latest big thing -- artificial intelligence. A.I., it turned out, works better with new kinds of computer chips. Suddenly, venture capitalists forgot all those forbidding roadblocks to success for a young chip company.

Today, at least 45 start-ups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars, and at least five of them have raised more than $100 million from investors. Venture capitalists invested more than $1.5 billion in chip start-ups last year, nearly doubling the investments made two years ago, according to the research firm CB Insights.

The explosion is akin to the sudden proliferation of PC and hard-drive makers in the 1980s. While these are small companies, and not all will survive, they have the power to fuel a period of rapid technological change.



For the full story, see:

CADE METZ. "Bets on A.I. Open a New Chip Frontier." The New York Times (Mon., January 15, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 14, 2018, and has the title "Big Bets on A.I. Open a New Frontier for Chip Start-Ups, Too.")






February 5, 2018

Trump Argues Regulations Impede Infrastructure Investment



(p. A18) Mr. Trump is pursuing a similar shift in regulation, seeking to reverse or rewrite a host of rules intended to protect workers and consumers, under the theory that freeing companies from "red tape" will allow businesses to prosper, with wide-ranging benefits.

In remarks at the White House last week, Mr. Trump argued that regulation was impeding private investment in infrastructure. He held up a long, multicolored chart that he said reflected the permitting process for the construction of "a highway or a roadway."

"By the time you finished, you probably gave up," Mr. Trump said.



For the full story, see:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and ANA SWANSON. "Trump Bets on Business to Lift Workers." The New York Times (Thurs., December 21, 2017): A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2017, and has the title "Republican Economic Policies Put Business First." The online version says that the page number for the print New York edition was A19. My print paper was probably the midwest edition.)






February 4, 2018

Cognitive Abilities Highest After Waking in Morning



(p. A15) A raft of studies in disciplines ranging from medicine to economics have yielded all sorts of data on the science of timing. Daniel Pink, an author who regularly applies behavioral science to the realm of work, has handily distilled the findings in "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing."


. . .


For a slim book, "When" brims with a surprising amount of insight and practical advice. In amiable, TED-talk-ready prose, Mr. Pink offers scheduling tips for everything from workouts to weddings. Exercise, for example, is best done in the morning for those who hope to lose weight, build strength and boost their mood through the day.


. . .


Moods are not the only things that shift every 24 hours. Our cognitive abilities also morph in foreseeable ways. We are often sharpest in the hours after waking up, which makes morning the best time to take exams or answer logic problems. Researchers analyzing four years of test results for two million Danish schoolchildren found that students consistently scored higher in mornings than afternoons.



For the full review, see:

Emily Bobrow. "BOOKSHELF; Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon."


The book under review, is:

Pink, Daniel H. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2018.






February 2, 2018

Tinkerers Create Cheap Prosthetic Hands with 3-D Printers



(p. D1) The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations as a result of lawn mower accidents, according to a study in Pedatrics..

State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices, powered by batteries and electronic motors, and they can cost thousands of dollars. Even if children are able to manage the equipment, they grow too quickly to make the investment practical. So most do without, fighting to do with one hand what most of us do with two.

E-nable, an online volunteer organization, aims to change that. Founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, the group matches children like Dawson in need of prosthetic hands and fingers with volunteers able to make them on 3-D printers. Designs may be downloaded into the machines at no charge, and members who create new models share their software plans freely with others.

The materials for a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand can cost as little as $20 to $50, and some experts say they work just as well, if not better, than much costlier devices. Best of all, boys and girls usually love their D.I.Y. prosthetics.



For the full story, see:

Mroz, Jacqueline. "Hand of a Superhero." The New York Times (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): D1 & D6..

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 16, 2015. I do not have the print version, so I cannot confirm if there are differences between the online and print versions, and am not sure if the whole passage quoted above appears on p. D1, or if some or all of it is from p. D6.)






February 1, 2018

Firms Invest in France as Rules "Make It Easier to Hire and Fire"



(p. B1) PARIS -- The announcements came in a steady drumbeat. Around 1,300 job cuts at France's biggest automaker. At least 2,500 at France's largest supermarket chain. Over 200 sought at a major clothing retailer. And thousands more are on the way.

Just weeks after France's labor overhaul went into effect, companies are readily taking advantage of new rules that make it easier to hire and fire.


. . .


Perceptions of France, long derided as a difficult place to do business for its onerous labor rules, are changing.

Growth has recently picked up after being stagnant for nearly five years. And there are signs that the changes, a major piece of the president's economic program, are drawing the interest of investors.

Amazon will open a new distribution center south of Paris this year, creating over 1,000 jobs. Facebook and Google announced Monday they would invest in artificial intelligence development in France. Also Monday, Toyota announced it would invest 300 million euros, or $367 million, to increase capacity at a plant in northern (p. B3) France, creating up to 700 jobs through 2020.

"The complex labor laws have historically been the No. 1 obstacle to the competitiveness and attractiveness of France," said Olivier Marchal, the chairman of Bain & Company France, a business consulting firm. The changes, together with other business-friendly measures such as a gradual reduction in the corporate tax, have "drastically changed investor perceptions," he said.



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Newfound Freedom ... to Fire." The New York Times (Weds., January 24, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis in article title, in original; ellipsis between quoted paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "French Companies Have Newfound Freedom ... to Fire.")






January 30, 2018

Kodak Using Blockchain to Manage Digital Photo Property Rights



(p. B1) Shares of Eastman Kodak more than doubled after the company waded into the digital-currency world with plans to launch an initial coin offering.

Kodak on Tuesday [January 9, 2018] said the coin, KodakCoin, would be the backbone of a new platform that will help photographers license their work and track the unlicensed use of their images. The coin uses the technology behind bitcoin, called blockchain, to keep a digital ledger of the photographs.


. . .


"For many in the tech industry, 'blockchain' and 'cryptocurrency' are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who've long struggled to assert control over their work and how it's used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem," said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke in a statement.

For the past several years, people have been experimenting with ways to use blockchain. At its essence, blockchain is an open record of transactions, maintained in an online ledger that is distributed across a network of computers, that cannot be tampered with. That makes it like an indelible time stamp, which could be useful in a case of copyright and digital-rights management.



For the full story, see:


Erik Holm and Paul Vigna. "Kodak Snaps Is Crypto-Moment."The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan 10, 2018): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan 9, 2018, and has the title "Kodak Catches Crypto Fever." The online version has two additional paragraphs between the last two paragraphs quoted above.)






January 29, 2018

"Without Amazon, We Wouldn't Be Here"



(p. B1) KANATA, Ontario -- Truth be told, the headquarters of Instant Pot don't look much like a church.

But inside this sterile, gray office building on the outskirts of Ottawa, behind a door marked only by a small metal sign, a new religion has been born.

Its deity is the Instant Pot, a line of electric multicookers that has become an internet phenomenon and inspired a legion of passionate foodies and home cooks. These devotees -- they call themselves "Potheads" -- use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget's praises to the unconverted.


. . .


(p. B5) I went to Kanata to get a peek behind the scenes of the Instant Pot phenomenon and meet its creator: Robert Wang, who invented the device and serves as chief executive of Double Insight, its parent company. What I found was a remarkable example of a new breed of 21st-century start-up -- a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth. It is also a testament to the enormous power of Amazon, and its ability to turn small businesses into major empires nearly overnight.


. . .


In 2010, after several months of sluggish sales in and around Ontario, Mr. Wang listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device's pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat.

Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.


. . .


Mr. Wang credits the device's technological advances -- most notably, a group of sensors that keep the cooker from overheating or exploding under pressure.

Instant Pot's internet fandom also gives it a leg up. The food bloggers behind popular recipe sites like Nom Nom Paleo were early converts to electric pressure-cooking, and cookbook authors took note of the device's cult appeal. Mr. Wang says that more than 1,500 Instant Pot cookbooks have been written, including several of Amazon's current best-sellers.

Amazon has played a particularly large role in Instant Pot's rise. Early on, Instant Pot joined the "Fulfillment by Amazon" program, in which Amazon handles the packing and shipping of a seller's products in exchange for a cut of each item sold. Eventually, Instant Pot sent Amazon wholesale shipments directly from factories in China, and Amazon began promoting the machines in its major annual sales. At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot's sales came through Amazon.

"Without Amazon, we wouldn't be here," Mr. Wang said.



For the full story, see:

KEVIN ROOSE. "The Shift; Instant Pot's Inner Sanctum." The New York Times (Mon., December 18, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 17, 2017, and has the title "The Shift; Inside the Home of Instant Pot, the Kitchen Gadget That Spawned a Religion.")






January 28, 2018

Trying to Explain Low AI Productivity Gains as Due to Slow Adapting and Old Habits



(p. A2) In a recent paper Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chad Syverson of the University of Chicago note electric motors based on alternating current were introduced in the late 1800s but even by 1919 half of U.S. factories still weren't electrified. The integrated circuit was commercialized in the 1960s yet 25 years later computers still represented just 5% of the value of all business equipment. Indeed, since the introduction of computers labor productivity has behaved much as it did after the introduction of electric motors and the internal combustion engine.

The authors blame these lags on the cost and time it takes for businesses to adapt to new technologies, obstacles they see at work today. Online shopping came along in the 1990s but retailers struggled to adapt business processes to the internet. They needed to build complementary infrastructure such as fulfillment centers, and, the authors note, customers had to adapt their habits, as well.


. . .


. . . perhaps the U.S. is at a point when technology and an economy growing solidly with low unemployment become mutually reinforcing. "Entrepreneurs are more willing to take risks, including investments in new technologies and new business models when the economy is running hotter," says Mr. Brynjolfsson. "This will speed up the adoption of the kinds of conventions needed to take full advantage of artificial intelligence and other new technologies," he said.



For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Technology-Driven Boom Is Finally Coming." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 27, 2017, and has the title ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; A Tech-Driven Boom Is Coming; Please Be Patient.")


The Brynjolfsson, Rock and Syverson paper, mentioned above, is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Daniel Rock, and Chad Syverson. "Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics." NBER Working Papers # 24001. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Nov. 2017.






January 26, 2018

Apple Orchard Must Focus on "Placating a Government Regulator"



(p. A1) ALTAMONT, N.Y. -- For eight weeks every fall, Indian Ladder Farms, a fifth-generation family operation near Albany, kicks into peak season.

The farm sells homemade apple pies, fresh cider and warm doughnuts. Schoolchildren arrive by the busload to learn about growing apples. And as customers pick fruit from trees, workers fill bins with apples, destined for the farm's shop and grocery stores.

This fall, amid the rush of commerce -- the apple harvest season accounts for about half of Indian Ladder's annual revenue -- federal investigators showed up. They wanted to check the farm's compliance with migrant labor rules and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets pay and other requirements for workers.

Suddenly, the small office staff turned its focus away from making money to placating a government regulator.

The investigators arrived on a Friday in late September and interviewed the farm's management and a group of laborers from Jamaica, who have special work visas. The investigators hand delivered a notice and said they would be back the following week, when they asked to have 22 types of records available. The request included vehicle registrations, insurance documents and time sheets -- reams of paper in all.

Over the next several days, the Ten Eyck family, which owns the farm, along with the staff devoted about 40 hours to serving the investigators, who visited three times before closing the books.

"It is terribly disruptive," said Peter G. Ten Eyck II, 79, who runs the farm along with a daughter (p. A14) and son. "And the dimension that doesn't get mentioned is the psychological hit: They are there to find something wrong with you. And then they are going to fine you."

This is life on the farm -- and at businesses of all sorts. With thick rule books laying out food safety procedures, compliance costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and ever-changing standards from the government and industry groups, local produce growers are a textbook example of what many business owners describe as regulatory fatigue.

Over the past five decades, Mr. Ten Eyck said, there has been an unending layering of new rules and regulations on his farm of over 300 acres, as more government agencies have taken an interest in nearly every aspect of growing food, and those agencies already involved have become even more so.

Now, a new rule is going into effect that will significantly expand the oversight of one regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, at the farm.


. . .


Researchers at the Mercatus Center, a conservative-leaning economic think tank at George Mason University, say apple orchards are facing a growing federal regulatory burden. Quantifying that burden is difficult, but using a computer algorithm that analyzes regulations through keyword searches, researchers from the center's RegData Project estimated the federal regulatory code contains 12,000 restrictions and rules on orchards, up from about 9,500, or an increase of 26 percent, from a decade ago.

Many of those rules apply to other businesses as well, and some restrict the actions of government regulators, not the orchard owners. Using the Mercatus Center data, and screening for such exceptions, The New York Times identified at least 17 federal regulations with about 5,000 restrictions and rules that were relevant to orchards.


. . .


. . . regulation streamlining is a winning message across the political spectrum when it comes to making life easier for small businesses, according to more than 20 interviews with business owners and others in the produce industry.

Industry by industry, small businesses have been lobbying governments -- from town health departments to federal cabinet agencies -- to simplify rules and eradicate redundancy.


. . .


The grievances relate largely to the sheer amount of time and money that it takes to comply, and what farmers see as a disconnect between them -- the rule followers -- and the rule makers, who Mr. Ten Eyck describes as "people looking at a computer screen dreaming up stuff."

"The intentions are not bad," he said. "It is just that one layer after another gets to be -- trying to top the people before them."



For the full story, see:

STEVE EDER. "One Apple Orchard and 5,000 Government Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A14-A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "When Picking Apples on a Farm With 5,000 Rules, Watch Out for the Ladders.")






January 25, 2018

"The Transforming Power of the Individual Will"



(p. A10) "These deep transformations have started and will continue with the same force, the same rhythm, the same intensity in 2018," the French president told his compatriots in his New Year's Eve greetings a few days before.

Mr. Macron was hinting at the real disruptions he has brought about in French political life -- in employment and fiscal policy so far, with other big jolts promised soon. Remarkably in so hidebound a country he is getting away with it.


. . .


Mr. Macron imbibed from his mentor, the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a belief in the transforming power of the individual will. As proof, the young president can point to his own quick rise to the top, a stunning success that undergirds many of his pronouncements.

Similarly, the changes he has pushed through so far -- like his lightening of the mammoth French labor code, with barely a whimper from the opposition -- only buttress the narrative of individual determination, which he now hopes to infuse in his fellow citizens.

It is an unusual position for a French politician, who for generations have emphasized the protective power of the state -- and the proof of any success will come only with a significant drop in the stubborn 10-percent jobless rate, elusive so far. But already surveys show higher levels of confidence among business executives than have been seen in many years.



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "French President Opens Year With Scolding for Journalists." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title "Macron Opens Year Pulling No Punches With Journalists, or Anyone.")






January 24, 2018

Automation Is "About Doing More with the People We've Got"



(p. A1) Mr. Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.

He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Mr. Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.

"I'm not really worried," he says. "There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us."


. . .


(p. A8) The Garpenberg mine has been in operation more or less since 1257. More than a decade ago, Boliden teamed up with Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, to put in wireless internet. That has allowed miners to talk to one another to fix problems as they emerge. Miners now carry tablet computers that allow them to keep tabs on production all along the 60 miles of roads running through the mine.

"For us, automation is something good," says Fredrik Hases, 41, who heads the local union chapter representing technicians. "No one feels like they are taking jobs away. It's about doing more with the people we've got."



For the full story, see:

PETER S. GOODMAN. "Sweden Adds Human Touch to a Robotic Future." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine.")






January 22, 2018

Is a Michelin Star the Best Metric of Good Food?



(p. A4) MONTCEAU-LES-MINES, France -- It is like giving up your Nobel, rejecting your Oscar, pushing back on your Pulitzer: Jérôme Brochot, a renowned and refined chef, decided to turn in his Michelin star.

He is renouncing the uniquely French distinction that separates his restaurant from thousands of others, the lifetime dream of hundreds. But Mr. Brochot's decision was not a rash one, born of arrogance, ingratitude or spite. Rather, it was for a prosaic, but still important, reason: he could no longer afford it.


. . .


Even in a region famed for its culinary traditions, this declining old mining town deep in lower Burgundy could not sustain a one-star Michelin restaurant. Mr. Brochot, a youthful-looking 46, had gambled on high-end cuisine in a working-class town and lost.


. . .


Already Mr. Brochot's strategy appears to be working. He has cut his prices and is offering a more down-to-earth cuisine of stews, including the classic blanquette de veau, and serving cod instead of the more expensive sea bass.

It had depressed him deeply, he said, to have to throw away costly bass and turbot, like gold even in France's street markets, at the end of every sitting because his customers couldn't afford it. "There was a lot of waste," he said.

"Since we changed the formula, we've gotten a lot more people," Mr. Brochot said. Above all, the effect has been psychological. "In the heads of people, a one-star, it's the price," he said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, most of the tables had diners, including Didier Mathus, the longtime former mayor, a Socialist.


. . .


"Maybe the star scared people," Mr. Mathus said. "I understand. He's saying, 'Don't be scared to come here.' Here, it's simple people, with modest incomes."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Rejected Honor Reflects Hardships of 'the Other France'." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "Chef Gives Up a Star, Reflecting Hardship of 'the Other France'.")






January 20, 2018

Health Info from Apple Watches Will Allow Patients to "Take More Control"



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In the last months of Steve Jobs's life, the Apple co-founder fought cancer while managing diabetes.

Because he hated pricking his finger to draw blood, Mr. Jobs authorized an Apple research team to develop a noninvasive glucose reader with technology that could potentially be incorporated into a wristwatch, according to people familiar with the events, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.


. . .


In September [2017], Apple announced that the Apple Watch would no longer need to be tethered to a smartphone and would become more of a stand-alone device. Since then, a wave of device manufacturers have tapped into the watch's new features like cellular connectivity to develop medical accessories -- such as an electrocardiogram for monitoring heart activity -- so people can manage chronic conditions straight from their wrist.


. . .


(p. B4) A digital health revolution has been predicted for years, of course, and so far has been more hype than progress. But the hope is that artificial intelligence systems will sift through the vast amounts of data that medical accessories will collect from the Apple Watch and find patterns that can lead to changes in treatment and detection, enabling people to take more control of how they manage their conditions instead of relying solely on doctors.

Vic Gundotra, chief executive of AliveCor, a start-up that makes portable electrocardiograms, said this would put patients on a more equal footing with doctors because they would have more information on their own conditions.

"It's changing the nature of the relationship between patient and doctor," he said, adding that doctors will no longer be "high priests."


. . .


Apple is also looking at potentially building an electrocardiogram into future models of the Apple Watch, according to a person familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. It is unclear whether the EKG development, earlier reported by Bloomberg, would be introduced; such a product would most likely require F.D.A. clearance.

Separately, Apple is continuing research on a noninvasive continuous glucose reader, according to two people with knowledge of the project. The technology is still considered to be years away, industry experts said.

The current solution used by many diabetics is also coming to the Apple Watch. Dexcom, a maker of devices measuring blood sugar levels for diabetics, said it was awaiting F.D.A. approval for a continuous glucose monitor to work directly with the Apple Watch. Continuous glucose monitors use small sensors to pierce the skin to track blood sugar levels and relay those readings through a wireless transmitter.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "As Wearable Devices Evolve, The Apple Watch Offers an EKG." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Freed From the iPhone, the Apple Watch Finds a Medical Purpose.")






January 18, 2018

"Reject the Dark Side: Free the Net!"



(p. C5) HEALY Matt, what's a culture/politics tidbit most people don't know?

FLEGENHEIMER Washington's most prolific consumer of pop culture is very likely ... Ted Cruz. Amateur "S.N.L." historian, '80s movie buff and instigator of a Twitter feud with Mark Hamill over net neutrality. He explained the meaning of "Star Wars" to Luke Skywalker. It was very Cruz: @HammillHimself Luke, I know Hollywood can be confusing, but it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet. That's why giant corps (Google, Facebook, Netflix) supported the FCC power grab of net neutrality. Reject the dark side: Free the net! Ted Cruz 12:25 PM - Dec 17, 2017

ROGERS '80s movie buff?

FLEGENHEIMER "The Princess Bride"! Life on the campaign trail with Ted Cruz was basically months of "Princess Bride" imitations with an occasional discussion of Obamacare.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT FLEGENHEIMER and KATIE ROGERS. "'S.N.L.' Kimmel. Covfefe." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis, bold and caps, in original.).

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Kimmel, Covfefe, 'Wonder Woman': Washington on Pop Culture in 2017." The commentary/discussion is credited to Flegenheimer and Rogers, but Patrick Healy also participated. There are a few minor differences in how the print and online versions present the Cruz tweet. The quote above, follows the print version.)






January 14, 2018

Tax Overhaul "Armageddon"



(p. A19) To travel the liberal byways of social media over recent weeks was to learn that Donald Trump was on the precipice of axing Robert Mueller and was likely to use the days just before Christmas, when we were distracted by eggnog and mistletoe, to lower the blade.

Christmas has come. Christmas has gone. Mueller has not.

To listen to Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, the tax overhaul that Trump just signed into law is no mere plutocratic folly. It's "Armageddon" (Pelosi's actual word). Their opposition is righteous, but how will millions of voters who notice smaller withholdings from their paychecks and more money in their pockets square that seemingly good fortune with such prophecies of doom on a biblical scale?

Some of these Americans may decide that the prophets aren't to be trusted -- and that the president isn't quite the pestilence they make him out to be.



For the full commentary, see:

Bruni, Frank. "The Dangers Of Trump Delirium." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "The End of Trump and the End of Days.")






January 13, 2018

Some Elevator Operator Jobs Remain



(p. 10) There are 69,381 passenger elevators in this vertically obsessed city, and nearly all of them promise a journey about as exotic and exciting as making toast. You get in, you push a button, the doors open a few seconds later at your destination.

But there remain quite a few machines, manually controlled and chauffeur-driven, where climbing aboard is more like taking a short trip on the Orient Express.


. . .


Most of the elevators are in residential buildings, but a few war horses serve heavy duty in commercial complexes.

Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock. No one knows how many there are, exactly. The city Department of Buildings offered a list of more than 600, but spot checks indicated that most had gone push-button long ago. On the other hand, officials at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, to which most doormen and elevator operators belong, said they knew of only one or two.

A non-exhaustive field survey this fall turned up 53 buildings with manual passenger elevators. There are undoubtedly dozens more, but probably not hundreds.

Why they still exist in such relative profusion, when the city is down to its last few seltzer men and its final full-time typewriter repair shop, when replacement parts are no longer made and must be machined by hand, is a question with many answers. But sentiment plays a large part.


. . .


Push-button elevators had actually been around since the 1890s, but were not practical for larger buildings. They were slow. Initially they could make only one stop per trip. Later, they could make multiple stops, but only in the order the buttons were pressed.

It took until 1950 for Otis to perfect a push-button system smart enough to handle the traffic and shifting demands for service over the course of the day in a multi-elevator building. The company's Autotronic system, Otis boasted in advertisements, "minimizes the human element" and "gives tenants a sprightly feeling of independence."

The elevator man's fate was sealed.

Almost.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "Riding a Time Capsule to Apt. 8G." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 17, 2017): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2017, and has the title "Riding a Time Capsule to Apartment 8G.")






January 12, 2018

DeepMind Mastered "Go" Only After It Was Told the Score



(p. C3) To function well outside controlled settings, robots must be able to approximate such human capacities as social intelligence and hand-eye coordination. But how to distill them into code?

"It turns out those things are really hard," said Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.


. . .


Even today's state-of-the-art AI has serious practical limits. In a recent paper, for example, researchers at MIT described how their AI software misidentified a 3-D printed turtle as a rifle after the team subtly altered the coloring and lighting for the reptile. The experiment showed the ease of fooling AI and raised safety concerns over its use in real-world applications such as self-driving cars and facial-recognition software.

Current systems also aren't great at applying what they have learned to new situations. A recent paper by the AI startup Vicarious showed that a proficient Atari-playing AI lost its prowess when researchers moved around familiar features of the game.


. . .


Google's DeepMind subsidiary used a technique known as reinforcement learning to build software that has repeatedly beat the best human players in Go. While learning the classic Chinese game, the machine got positive feedback for making moves that increased the area it walled off from its competitor. Its quest for a higher score spurred the AI to develop territory-taking tactics until it mastered the game.

The problem is that "the real world doesn't have a score," said Brown University roboticist Stefanie Tellex. Engineers need to code into AI programs so-called "reward functions"--mathematical ways of telling a machine it has acted correctly. Beyond the finite scenario of a game, amid the complexity of real-life interactions, it's difficult to determine what results to reinforce. How, and how often, should engineers reward machines to guide them to perform a certain task? "The reward signal is so important to making these algorithms work," Dr. Tellex added.


. . .


If a robot needs thousands of examples to learn, "it's not clear that's particularly useful," said Ingmar Posner, the deputy director of the Oxford Robotics Institute in the U.K. "You want that machine to pick up pretty quickly what it's meant to do."



For the full commentary, see:

Daniela Hernandez. "'Can Robots Learn to Improvise?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 16, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 15, 2017.)


The paper by the researchers at Vicarious, is:

Kansky, Ken, Tom Silver, David A. Mely, Mohamed Eldawy, Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla, Xinghua Lou, Nimrod Dorfman, Szymon Sidor, Scott Phoenix, and Dileep George. "Schema Networks: Zero-Shot Transfer with a Generative Causal Model of Intuitive Physics." Manuscript, 2017.


The paper, mentioned above, from the MIT Media Lab, is:

Athalye, Anish, Logan Engstrom, Andrew Ilyas, and Kevin Kwok. "Synthesizing Robust Adversarial Examples." Working paper, Oct. 30, 2017.






January 11, 2018

Will Ending Firm Hierarchy Create "a Blissful Business Utopia"?



(p. 18) "The Kingdom of Happiness" doesn't take place in Silicon Valley per se, but it is definitively about tech culture. Groth follows Tony Hsieh, the creator of Zappos, as he pours $350 million of his personal wealth into downtown Las Vegas with the goal of reinventing the area as . I won't be giving away the story by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Hsieh, . . ."


. . .


When she's sober, Groth documents Hsieh's attempt to integrate "holacracy" into his organizations, a term that rids a company of hierarchy and titles, and instead creates an all-for-one do-what-you-want mentality. (No, I'm not kidding.) It gave me a panic attack just thinking of working in a place like that.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Groth, Aimee. The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh's Zapponian Utopia. New York: Touchstone, 2017.






January 10, 2018

Rise in Cobalt Price Will Increase Quantity Supplied, and Increase Search for Substitutes



(p. B14) . . . the dreaded shortage of cobalt, which is used in the cathode of the batteries, is a bit more complicated than industry projections would suggest.


. . .


Like cobalt, rare earths aren't so rare. China's move to restrict exports in 2010 exacerbated the perceived shortage, sending the prices of some varieties up 10-fold. Companies such as Molycorp, Rare Element Resources Ltd. and Quest Rare Mineral Ltd., which all had some connection to reserves, saw their shares surge based on supposedly rosy prospects. Since then, all have lost nearly all of their value.

Already, Mr. Heppel explains, other users of the metal, for example in the pigments industry, are searching for alternatives. Meanwhile, some batteries, such as a design by Tesla, use less of the metal. Lower-performing batteries use none at all, and those batteries' capabilities may improve with technological tweaks.

Supply will react too. Companies that operate copper and nickel mines, where cobalt is co-produced, are targeting expansion, and there are some pure-play cobalt mines being planned that could start producing shortly after the projected shortage hits.

For electric vehicles, this looks more like a speed bump than a cliff.



For the full commentary, see:

Spencer Jakab. "Will a Shortage of Cobalt Kill Electric-Vehicle Makers?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Will Tesla Die for Lack of Cobalt?.")






January 9, 2018

Only 5% of Jobs at Risk of Total Automation



(p. B6) About 15% of all hours worked globally could be automated by 2030 using technology that is currently available, McKinsey estimates. The new report builds on McKinsey's earlier research, published in January [2017], which found that 60% of all occupations could be at least partially automated with current tools, though fewer than 5% are at risk of total automation.

Like prior waves of technological change, the adoption of new tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence will likely create more jobs than it destroys, says the Institute, the think-tank arm of consulting firm McKinsey & Co.



For the full story, see:

Lauren Weber. "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Can Kill More Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Could Be Bigger Job Killers.")






January 8, 2018

Supersonic Technology Constrained by Regulators



(p. B5) Japan Airlines Co. 9201 -0.09% has become the first carrier to invest in Boom Technology Inc., a U.S. startup seeking to build a faster-than-sound airliner capable of flying more than four dozen premium passengers to Tokyo from the West Coast in roughly five hours.


. . .


With a one-third scale version now scheduled to start flight tests in late 2018--nearly a year later than initially planned--JAL's involvement is expected to influence cabin design and various operational issues. Blake Scholl, Boom's founder and chief executive, said such cooperation is intended "to determine whether airlines will really be happy to have this airliner in their fleets," including from a maintenance perspective.


. . .


Boom's project has initial support from several venture funds and is taking an unusual approach by adopting various technologies already certified by regulators.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "Supersonic Jet Gets Boost." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 6, 2017): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2017, and has the title "Japan Airlines Invests in Fledgling Supersonic Aircraft Company." The online version differs significantly in wording from the print version. Where different, the passages quoted above, follow the online wording.)






January 7, 2018

Kid Paid $100,000 to Skip College and Mine Asteroids



(p. 18) As I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles, I placed a copy of "Valley of the Gods," by Alexandra Wolfe, on the table, and a waitress walking by stopped to peer at the cover. . . .

"It's about Silicon Valley," I began. "It follows this young kid, John Burnham, who gets paid $100,000 by this weird billionaire guy, Peter Thiel, whom you've probably heard of; he's a big Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican National Convention?" -- a blank stare from the waitress. "Anyway, Thiel pays him (and a bunch of other kids) to forgo college so Burnham can mine asteroids, but he doesn't actually end up mining the asteroids and. . . ."


. . .


The book begins with the protagonist, Burnham (or antagonist, depending whose side you're on), who isn't old enough to drink yet but is debating dropping out of college to follow the Pied Piper of libertarian and contrarian thinking, Peter Thiel, to Silicon Valley. As Wolfe chronicles, Thiel, who has a degree from Stanford University and largely credits where he is today (a billionaire) to his time at that school, started the Thiel Fellowship, in 2011, which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old to say no to M.I.T., Stanford or, in Burnham's case, the University of Massachusetts, to pursue an Ayn Randian dream of disrupting archetypal norms.

It won't be giving away the ending by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Burnham.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipsis at end of second paragraph, in original; other two, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Wolfe, Alexandria. Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






January 6, 2018

Congestion Pricing Rises Again, as Crises Loom



(p. A18) For decades, urban planners, economists, city officials and business leaders have revived again and again some version of a toll system both to manage the city's worsening traffic and provide more revenue for public transit. Over and over it was batted down, only to be resurrected, most recently in August when Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared that "congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come."

Now a state task force, called Fix NYC, has been assembled with the goal of developing another congestion pricing plan. It has been nine years since the last major effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg died in Albany after state legislative leaders refused to bring it to a vote. Mr. Cuomo, after once expressing doubt about congestion pricing's chances, is expected to unveil a plan early next year and make it a centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

This time congestion pricing is back at a moment of crisis -- above ground, streets are becoming increasingly snarled in large part because of the boom in ride-hailing apps, while below ground the problem is even worse as the city's aging subway system is riddled with delays and in dire need of money. The state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, faces a litany of problems, including antiquated signals and overcrowded cars, that have led to frequent breakdowns -- much of it documented by smartphone-toting commuters for the world to see.



For the full story, see:

WINNIE HU. "A Solution to Gridlock, Years in the Making." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 29, 2017): A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 28, 2017, and has the title "New York's Tilt Toward Congestion Pricing Was Years in the Making.")






January 5, 2018

Hundreds of Thousands of Californians Moving to Texas, Arizona and Nevada



(p. A18) For more than three decades, California has seen a net outflow of residents to other states, as less expensive southern cities like Phoenix, Houston and Raleigh supplant those of the Golden State as beacons of opportunity.


. . .


. . . , for many Californians, the question is always sitting there: Is this worth it? Natural disasters are a moment to take stock and rethink the dream. But in the end, the calculation almost always comes down to cost.


. . .


California was once a migration magnet, but since 2010 the state has lost more than two million residents 25 and older, including 220,000 who moved to Texas, according to census data. Arizona and Nevada have each welcomed about 180,000 California expatriates since the start of the decade.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Californians Brave Fires, but Flee Cost of Living." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 13, 2017): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 12, 2017, and has the title "Quakes and Fires? It's the Cost of Living That Californians Can't Stomach.")






December 31, 2017

Robots May Be a Threat After They Learn How to Open a Door



(p. A1) Robots may enslave us all someday. In the meantime, if one of them goes berserk, here's a useful tactic: Shut the door behind you.

One after another, robots in a government-sponsored contest were stumped by an unlocked door that blocked their path at an outdoor obstacle course. One bipedal machine managed to wrap a claw around the door handle and open it but was flummoxed by a breeze that kept blowing the door shut before it could pass through.

Robots excel at many tasks, as long as they don't involve too much hand-eye coordination or common sense. Like some gifted children, they can perform impressive feats of mental arithmetic but are profoundly klutzy on the playground.

The machines stumble over tasks requiring even toddler-level balance, like kicking a ball, getting out of a car or (p. A9) climbing stairs. Grasping objects of varying size and weight is also perplexing.



For the full story, see:

Daniela Hernandez. "If the Robot Apocalypse Comes, Try Closing the Door." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 11, 2017): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 10, 2017, and has the title "How to Survive a Robot Apocalypse: Just Close the Door.")






December 28, 2017

Union Blocks Firing of Teachers Who Do Not Teach



(p. A1) Francis Blake has not held a permanent position in a New York City public school in at least five years. At his last job, in a Bronx elementary school, records show he was disciplined for incompetence, insubordination and neglect of duties -- he had been caught sleeping in a classroom when he was supposed to be helping with dismissal.

Felicia Alterescu, a special-education teacher, has been without a permanent post since 2010, despite high demand for special education teachers. According to records, in addition to getting a string of unsatisfactory ratings, she was disciplined for calling in sick when she actually went to a family reunion. She also did not tell the Education Department that she had been arrested on harassment charges.

This month, Mr. Blake, Ms. Alterescu and hundreds of other teachers who are part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve could be permanently back in classrooms, as the city's Education Department places them in jobs at city schools.

The reserve is essentially a parking lot for staff members who have lost their positions, some because of school closings and budget cuts, others because of disciplinary problems, but cannot be fired. It grew significantly as a result of a 2005 deal between the Bloomberg administration, which wanted to give principals control over hiring, and the teachers' un-(p. A17)ion. Since then, the union has fiercely protected the jobs of teachers in the reserve, resisting attempts to put a time limit on how long a teacher can remain there.



For the full story, see:

KATE TAYLOR. "Caught Sleeping or Worse, Idled Teachers Head Back to Class." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 23, 2017): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 22, 2017, and has the title "Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms.")






December 27, 2017

High Demand for STEM Workers Is Mainly High for Workers in Info Tech



(p. 10) A working grasp of the principles of science and math should be essential knowledge for all Americans, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, an expert on science education and policy. But he believes that STEM advocates, often executives and lobbyists for technology companies, do a disservice when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.

"When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it's misleading," said Mr. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. "We're misleading a lot of young people."

Unemployment rates for STEM majors may be low, but not all of those with undergraduate degrees end up in their field of study -- only 13 percent in life sciences and 17 percent in physical sciences, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation survey. Computer science is the only STEM field where more than half of graduates are employed in their field.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Where the STEM Jobs Are/Aren't." The New York Times, Education Life Section (Sun., NOV. 5, 2017): 10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2017, and has the title "Where the STEM Jobs Are (and Where They Aren't).")






December 25, 2017

"Please Do Not Forget the Poor"



(p. A1) Last week, Peter Mattaliano, 66, an acting coach and screenwriter, put up Christmas decorations in his Hell's Kitchen apartment and laid out presents for the children: Mary and Alfred.

These are not Mr. Mattaliano's children, and they are no longer living. But a century ago they lived in what is now Mr. Mattaliano's home.

He has honored Mary and Alfred every December for the past 15 years, ever since he learned of their existence when he renovated his fireplace. It had been sealed with brick for more than 60 years.

"My brother does construction, and I had him open up the fireplace," he said. "We were joking that we might find Al Capone's money. Then my brother yelled to me and said, 'You're not going to believe this.' "

In the rubble and dust, Mr. Mattaliano's brother found a delicate piece of paper with faint children's scrawl bearing a request to Santa from a century earlier.

"I want a drum and a hook and ladder," read the letter, adding that the fire truck should be one with an "extentionisting" ladder. (p. A22) It was dated 1905 and signed "Alfred McGann," who included the building's address.

There was another item in the rubble: a small envelope addressed to Santa in "Raindeerland." Inside was a second letter, this one dated 1907 and written by Alfred's older sister, Mary, who had drawn a reindeer stamp as postage.

"The letters were written in this room, and for 100 years, they were just sitting there, waiting," said Mr. Mattaliano.

He learned through online genealogical research that the siblings were the children of Patrick and Esther McGann, Irish immigrants who married in 1896. Mary was born in 1897 and Alfred in 1900.


. . .


Patrick McGann died in 1904, so by the time the children wrote the letters left in the chimney, they were being raised by Ms. McGann, a dressmaker.

Mary's letter is as poignant as Alfred's is endearing.

"Dear Santa Claus: I am very glad that you are coming around tonight," it reads, the paper partly charred. "My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to bring him whatever you think best. Please bring me something nice what you think best."

She signed it Mary McGann and added, "P.S. Please do not forget the poor."

Mr. Mattaliano, who has read the letter countless times, still shakes his head at the implied poverty, the stoicism and the selflessness of the last line, all from a girl who requests a wagon for her brother first and nothing specific for herself.

"This is a family that couldn't afford a wagon, and she's writing, 'Don't forget the poor,' " he said. "That just shot an arrow through me. What did she think poor was?"



For the full story, see:

COREY KILGANNON. "Poignant Notes to Santa, Lost for a Century." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 22, 2015): A1 & A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date DEC. 21, 2015, and has the title "A Chimney's Poignant Surprise: Letters Santa Missed, Long Ago.")






December 24, 2017

Steel Mills Repurposed as Online Warehouses



(p. A1) BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Ellen Gaugler remembers driving her father to the Bethlehem Steel mill, where he spent his working years hauling beams off the assembly line and onto rail cars.

When the Pennsylvania plant shut down about two decades ago, Ms. Gaugler thought it was the last time she or anyone in Bethlehem would come to its gates to find a job that paid a decent wage for a physical day of work.

But she saw an ad in the paper last year for a position at a local warehouse that changed her mind. She'd never heard of Zulily, the online retailer doing the hiring, but she knew the address: It was on the old mill site, steps from where her father worked.

"When I came for the interviews I looked up and said, 'Oh, my God, I feel like I am at home,'" Ms. Gaugler said. She got the job.

As shopping has shifted from conventional stores to online marketplaces, many retail workers have been left in the cold, but Ms. Gaugler is coming out ahead. Sellers like Zulily, Amazon and Walmart are competing to get goods to the buyer's doorstep as quickly as possible, giving rise to a constellation of vast warehouses that have fueled a boom for workers without college degrees and breathed new life into pockets of the country that had fallen economically behind.



For the full story, see:

NATALIE KITROEFF. " Idle Steel Mills Rumble to Life As Online Sellers' Warehouses." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A1 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 22, 2017, and has the title "Where Internet Orders Mean Real Jobs, and New Life for Communities.")






December 22, 2017

The System Is "Rigged" by the "Unelected Permanent Governing Class"



(p. 10) With its broad historical scope, Eisinger's book lacks the juicy, infuriating details of "Chain of Title," David Dayen's chronicle of foreclosure fraud -- another instance of white-collar crime that went largely unpunished. With its emphasis on institutions and incentives, it doesn't serve up the red meat of Matt Taibbi's "The Divide," a stinging indictment of the justice system's unequal treatment of corporate executives and street-level drug offenders. But for someone familiar with the political landscape of the contemporary United States, Eisinger's account has the ring of truth.

After decades in which Wall Street masters of the universe were lionized in the media and popular culture, star investment bankers -- rich, usually white men in nice suits -- just don't match the popular image of criminals. Democrats as well as Republicans cozied up to big business, outsourcing the Treasury Department to Wall Street and the Justice Department to corporate law firms. Even after the financial system collapsed, the Obama administration's priority was to bail out the megabanks -- to "foam the runway," in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's words. The Justice Department became increasingly staffed by intelligent, status-seeking, conformist graduates of the nation's top law schools -- all of whom had friends on Wall Street and in the defense bar. In that environment, the easy choice was to play along, strike a deal with an impressive-sounding fine (to be absorbed by shareholders) that held no one responsible, and avoid risking an acquittal or a hung jury. (The book's title comes from then-U.S. Attorney James Comey's name for prosecutors who had never lost a trial.) Corruption can take many forms -- not just bags of cash under the table, but a creeping rot that saps our collective motivation to pursue the cause of justice. As Upton Sinclair might have written were he alive today: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his résumé depends upon his not understanding it.

There's just one problem. While the "unelected permanent governing class" may have been willing to look the other way when highly paid bankers wrecked the economy, many of the workers who lost their jobs and families who lost their homes were not. Outside the Beltway, the fact that the Wall Street titans who blew up the financial system suffered little more than slight reductions in their bonuses only reinforced the perception that the "system" is "rigged" -- with the consequences we know only too well. Many people simply want to live in a world that is fair. As Eisinger shows, this one isn't.



For the full review, see:

JAMES KWAK. "Getting Away With It." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, JULY 9, 2017): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 5, 2017, and has the title "America's Top Prosecutors Used to Go After Top Executives. What Changed?")


The book under review, is:

Eisinger, Jesse. The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






December 20, 2017

Lobstermen Retooling as Oyster Farmers



(p. A10) COREA, Me. -- The boats start up around 3:30 in the morning, stirring the village with the babble of engines before they motor out to sea. They will return hours later, loaded with lobster.

Joe Young's boat has not gone out lately. Instead, he puts on waders and sloshes into the salt pond behind his house, an inlet where water rushes in and out with the tides. After a lifetime with most of his income tied to what he finds in the sea, this lobsterman -- and sixth-generation fisherman -- is trying his hand at something new. He is farming oysters.

"Said I would never have a garden," Mr. Young, 64, says, as he tends to his briny nursery. Tens of thousands of oysters the size of peanuts are growing inside porous boxes, stacked up like underwater file drawers, in a contraption called an "oyster condo." He gives one of the boxes a shake, hoping to dislodge a slimy orange growth that has taken up residence, and flings away a green crab. Nearby, kelp he is growing sways lazily from a long underwater rope.

Reaching into the glassy water, Mr. Young plucks larger oysters from among the smooth stones, popping the mottled mollusks into a big white bucket.

"It's different from lobstering," Mr. Young said, "because I'm in the whole process."


. . .


"Lobstermen are saying, 'Boy, not (p. A11) only personally, but community level, we're all invested in lobsters,' " Jon Lewis, the director of the state's aquaculture division, said. " 'Natural resources tend to come and go. If this happens, what do I do?' "


. . .


To Mr. Young, aquaculture does not look so different from catching lobsters. "Fishermen are farmers," he said. "There's one crop, and it's lobster."



For the full story, see:

JESS BIDGOOD. "A Lobsterman Tries a New Line: Oyster Farmer." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 10, 2017, and has the title "A FISHERMAN TRIES FARMING.")






December 17, 2017

Can Incremental Oil Innovations Preserve Combustion Engines?



(p. A10) Big oil companies and giant auto makers are teaming up to preserve the internal combustion engine, as tough regulation and electric vehicles put the car industry's century-old technology at risk. Their secret weapon: high-tech engine oil.

Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and other oil companies are spending millions of dollars a year in concert with auto makers such as Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to create the next generation of super-slick engine lubricants. They are betting that the new, thinner oils will help them squeeze even more efficiency out of traditional car engines, allowing them to comply with stricter environmental rules and remain relevant as new technologies such as zero-emission electric vehicles gain traction.



For the full story, see:

Sarah Kent and Chester Dawson. "Combustion Engines Catch New Spark." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOV. 20, 2017): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2017, and has the title "Big Oil and Auto Makers Throw a Lifeline to the Combustion Engine.")






December 16, 2017

Google Did Evil in Firing Damore



(p. C2) I was fired by Google this past Monday [Aug. 7, 2017] for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company's code of conduct and "cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."


My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company's "ideological echo chamber." My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?


. . .


For many, including myself, working at Google is a major part of their identity, almost like a cult with its own leaders and saints, all believed to righteously uphold the sacred motto of "Don't be evil."



For the full story, see:


James Damore. "Why I Was Fired by Google." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 12, 2017): C2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2017.)






December 15, 2017

Knowledge Transforms a Weed into a Resource



(p. A10) ZADAR, Croatia -- For generations, residents of Zadar, an idyllic town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, used the dry, stringy stems and yellow blossoms of a common variety of a wild daisy as kindling, mostly to singe the hair off pigs destined for the spit.

But about five years ago, cosmetics manufacturers and the essential oils industry started using a rare extract from the flower -- known as the curry plant for its spicy aroma -- as a critical ingredient in high-end creams, ointments and tinctures, sold for their purported rejuvenating powers.

So let the pigs shave themselves, local residents decided, turning their attention to gathering bushels of the once widely ignored weed, in hopes of creating a new local industry to add to an economy based on construction, fruit farming, olive oil and a touch of tourism.



For the full story, see:

JOSEPH OROVIC. "ZADAR JOURNAL; Croatian Farmers' Hopes of New Life Rest on a Weed Called Immortelle." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 24, 2017): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 23, 2017, and has the title "ZADAR; JOURNAL; Can a Wild Daisy Rejuvenate Croatia's Farming Economy?")






December 11, 2017

Price "Gouging" Encourages Demanders to Conserve and Suppliers to Supply



(p. A17) . . . price hikes are a response to scarcity, and signals that reveal the true severity of scarcity are critical during storms and other crises. Price hikes let consumers know that fuel is scarcer than it was. Price hikes prompt consumers to use fuel more judiciously, buying less gasoline than they would at a lower price. They take fewer unnecessary trips, diminishing pressure on supplies. Price hikes also create a financial incentive for suppliers from outside the area to move their product into high-demand zones. As supplies return to normal, so do prices.


. . .


Year's revelers in New York City welcomed 2015, Uber's surge-pricing algorithm stopped working for nearly 30 minutes. Without the guarantee of extra pay, drivers had little incentive to brave New Year's traffic. Requests spiked 300%, wait times doubled, and the rate of completed trips fell 80%. People who really needed Ubers--and would have been willing to pay surge pricing--couldn't get a ride.


. . .


Price increases are an important means of encouraging as many people as possible to cope as well and as creatively as possible with natural disasters. True, the rising price of goods like gasoline can create problems for consumers, particularly the poor. But these drawbacks are negligible compared to the life-threatening shortages that can result when ill-informed public outrage keeps prices artificially low. Even a poor person is better off being able to buy a bottle of water for $10 when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty.



For the full commentary, see:

Donald J. Boudreaux. "'Price Gouging' After a Disaster Is Good for the Public; If government prohibits suppliers from charging more, consumers hoard, exacerbating shortages." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCT. 4, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 3, 2017.)






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success



(p. A17) Muhammad Yunus has big goals: zero world poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.


. . .


Mr. Yunus has long been a hero of mine for his innovative faith in the resourcefulness of low-income people.


. . .


If you want to motivate support for social enterprise, a utopian promise of "A World of Three Zeros" makes for a better book title than "Helping 60 Albanian Farmers Grow Herbs." And Mr. Yunus's paean to entrepreneurship does indeed deliver inspiration about the power of human creativity. But problematic arguments remain, especially his imprecise criticisms of the current economic system and the implausibility of replacing the whole system with social entrepreneurship.

A major problem is one of scale. Mr. Yunus's many social-enterprise examples are all on the same micro level as the 60 Albanian herb farmers. And while there's nothing wrong with making a large number of small-scale efforts to help a great many people, it doesn't qualify as a whole new system for the $76 trillion global economy. Mr. Yunus doesn't confront the scaling problem. He could have noted, for instance, that successful social entrepreneurs, unlike successful private entrepreneurs, by definition don't get the high profits to reinvest in scaling up successes.



For the full review, see:

William Easterly. "BOOKSHELF; How to Solve Global Poverty." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 3, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 2, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Yunus, Muhammad. A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.






December 5, 2017

Firms Compete in Product Market and Cooperate in Parts Market



(p. B1) When the iPhone X goes on sale next month, Apple Inc.'s rival, Samsung Electronics Co., has good reason to hope it is a roaring success.

The South Korean company's giant components division stands to make $110 from for each top-of-the-line, $1,000 iPhone X that Apple sells.

The fact reflects a love-hate dynamic between the phone makers that is one of the more unusual relationships in business. While each company vies to get consumers to buy its gadgets, Samsung's parts operation stands to make billions of dollars supplying screens and memory chips for the new iPhone--parts that Apple relies on for its most important product.



For the full story, see:

Timothy W. Martin and Tripp Mickle. "Samsung To Benefit If iPhone X Is a Success." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 3, 2017): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 2, 2017, and has the title "Why Apple Rival Samsung Also Wins If iPhone X Is a Hit.")






December 2, 2017

FCC Spectrum Regulations Drive Innovators to Bankruptcy



(p. A17) In 2004 the FCC moved to relax L-Band rules, permitting deployment of a terrestrial mobile network. Satellite calls would continue, but few were being made, and sharing frequencies with cellular devices made eminent sense. By 2010, L-Band licensee LightSquared was ready to build a state-of-the-art 4G network, and the FCC announced that the 40 MHz bandwidth would become available. LightSquared quickly spent about $4 billion of its planned $14 billion infrastructure rollout. Americans would soon enjoy a fifth nationwide wireless choice.

But in 2012 the FCC yanked LightSquared's licenses. Various interests, from commercial airlines to the Pentagon, complained that freeing up the L Band could cause interference with Global Positioning System devices, since they are tuned to adjacent frequencies. Yet cheap remedies--such as a gradual roll-out of new services while existing networks improved reception with better radio chips--were available. In reality, the costliest spectrum conflicts emanate from overprotecting old services at the expense of the new. With its licenses snatched away, LightSquared instantly plunged into bankruptcy.


. . .


. . . regulatory impediments continue to block progress. Years after the L-Band spectrum was slated for productive use in 4G, it lies fallow--now delaying upgrades to 5G.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas W. Hazlett. "How Politics Stalls Wireless Innovation; The FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan in 2010--but couldn't stick to it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 2, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 1, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






December 1, 2017

Musk Fires Under-Performing Workers to Speed Output of Mass-Market Electric Sedans



(p. B4) DETROIT -- The electric-car maker Tesla fired hundreds of workers this week after a series of performance reviews conducted during the biggest expansion in the company's history.

Tesla said Friday [Oct. 13, 2017] that the dismissals were not out of the ordinary, even though they came as the automaker tries to increase the production of its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3 sedan.

The company has been criticized for the slow pace of its early production of the new model, which has generated hundreds of thousands of deposits from prospective buyers.

Tesla built about 25,000 vehicles in the three months that ended Sept. 30, but only 260 of those were Model 3s -- considerably fewer than the 1,500 it had projected. The automaker has attributed the low production rate of the new car to unexpected bottlenecks in its manufacturing system.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC. "Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 14, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 13, 2017, and has the title "Tesla Fires Hundreds as It Tries to Speed Production of an Electric Sedan.")






November 29, 2017

Rate of Inflation Is Still a "Mystery" to Economists



(p. A2) CLEVELAND--Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Tuesday [Sept. 26, 2017] defended the central bank's projection for a gradual path of rate increases over the next few years despite the past few months of unexpectedly low inflation.


. . .


Inflation, under the Fed's preferred measure, has undershot the central bank's 2% target for much of the past five years. Although Ms. Yellen said she expects inflation to gradually move up to the target, she acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding that prediction.


. . .


"How should policy be formulated in the face of such significant uncertainties? In my view, it strengthens the case for a gradual pace of adjustments," Ms. Yellen told a National Association for Business Economics conference in Cleveland.


. . .


Still, the Fed's understanding of inflation is "imperfect," she said, calling the shortfall in inflation "a mystery." "We recognize that something more persistent may be responsible for the current undershooting."



For the full story, see:

David Harrison. "Yellen Firm on Rates; Inflation a 'Mystery'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 27, 2017): A2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 26, 2017, and has the title "Yellen Defends Fed Rate-Rise Plan Despite 'Mystery' of Low Inflation.")






November 28, 2017

"The Tabula Rasa of the American Dream"



(p. 22) The four Keats siblings, John and George, sister Fanny, and a third brother, "star crossed" Tom, dead of tuberculosis at 19, were all well schooled in the World of Pains. The orphaned children of a shiftless stable hand, they survived on the miserly dole of a tea merchant appointed their guardian. "The lives of these orphans," Gigante remarks, "do have the makings of fairy tale." John trained in medicine before taking up the far riskier profession of poetry; reviews of his ambitious long poem "Endymion" were so harsh that Byron cruelly joked he was "snuffed out by an article." George limped along as a clerk in various mercantile firms, dreaming of something more ­adventurous.

Gigante has had the clever idea of telling the stories of John and George as parallel lives, a dual biography of brothers.


. . .


In her view, George's departure to America with his young wife, Georgiana, was "an imaginative leap across 4,000 miles onto the tabula rasa of the American dream." And yet, nothing -- nothing, that is, beyond his famous brother -- distinguishes George from thousands of other immigrants who joined in the Western migration during the tough years following the French Revolution, when it became painfully clear that possibilities for advancement in class-stratified Great Britain were severely curtailed.


. . .


The land of opportunity was also the land of crushing disappointment. On his second trip to America, after blowing his inheritance on a dubious investment with his elegant friend and neighbor Audubon, and retreating from the bleak prairies to more civilized Louisville, George finally completed his sawmill. (He would have been wiser to invest in Audubon's pictures of otters and buzzards than a crackpot steamboat scheme.) After a few years of profit, when he built a columned mansion equipped with slaves near the center of town, George lost it all again in the Panic of 1837.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER BENFEY. "Ode to Siblings." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "A Keats Brother on the American Frontier.")


The book under review, is:

Gigante, Denise. The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.






November 25, 2017

Nursing Unions "Keep Aides from Encroaching on Their Turf"



(p. B2) There are a few reasons long-term care is such a bad job. "Most people see it as glorified babysitting," said Robert Espinoza, vice president for policy at PHI, an advocacy group for personal care workers that also develops advanced training curriculums to improve the quality of the work force.

The fact that most workers are immigrant women does not help the occupation's status. Occupational rules that reserve even simple tasks for nurses, like delivering an insulin shot or even putting drops into a patient's eye, also act as a barrier against providing care workers with better training.


. . .


. . . there are the powerful nursing unions, ready to fight tooth and nail to keep aides from encroaching on their turf. Carol Raphael, former chief executive of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the largest home health agency in the United States, told Professor Osterman that when the association tried to expand the role of home-care aides, the "nurses went bonkers."



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Rethinking Home Health Care as a Path to the Middle Class." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 30, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 29, 2017, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Home Health Care: Shouldn't It Be Work Worth Doing?")






November 22, 2017

"The Regulations Are Absurd"



(p. A6) CIUDAD del ESTE, Paraguay--This remote South American country, long known for contraband traffickers and a 35-year dictatorship, is now becoming something else: a manufacturing hub.

Paraguay has attracted scores of foreign factories since 2013, as predominantly Brazilian companies respond to new incentives by flocking to this gritty border city to make everything from toys to motor scooters for export.

Koumei SA, a family-run Brazilian light-fixtures company, is typical. Its owners moved the plant and about 150 jobs here last year, saying they were fed up with Brazil's high taxes and complicated labor rules.

"It's just easier here," said Seijii Abe, who directs the company with his father.


. . .


Brazil ranked 123rd out of 190 in the World Bank's 2017 survey on ease of doing business, right behind Uganda and Egypt. Companies there say they are bedeviled by rules that smother entrepreneurial impetus. They point to labor regulations that make hiring and firing difficult, high energy bills, a legal system that encourages employee lawsuits and taxes of up to 35% on imported goods.

"The regulations are absurd," said João Carlos Komuchena, owner of Kompar SA, a company which makes small plastic bottles used for packing soy sauce and other products that moved to Paraguay from Brazil last year. "We need to wake up in Brazil; there is a lot of prejudice against business."



For the full story, see:

Jeffrey T. Lewis. "Businesses Flee Brazil Rules for Paraguay." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 28, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2017, and has the title "Brazil's Woes Multiply as Manufacturers Move to Paraguay.")






November 21, 2017

The Ship that Held the Antikythera Mechanism Was Greek, Not Roman



(p. A12) A bronze statue's orphaned arm. A corroded disc adorned with a bull. Preserved wooden planks. These are among the latest treasures that date back to the dawn of the Roman Empire, discovered amid the ruins of the Antikythera shipwreck, a sunken bounty off the coast of a tiny island in Greece.


. . .


For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau's documentary "Diving for Roman Plunder," but the team's findings since 2012 -- such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship's equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them -- are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. "It's starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "A Bronze Arm Points to More Treasure Below." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2017, and has the title "Bronze Arm Found in Famous Shipwreck Points to More Treasure Below.")






November 17, 2017

On Private Property, Innovator "Can Try New Ideas Without as Much Red Tape"



(p. B1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Molly Jackson, an 82-year-old retired nurse, was sitting in the back seat of a self-driving taxi when the vehicle jerked to a halt at a crossing as its computer vision spotted an approaching golf cart.

When the vehicle, a modified Ford Fusion developed by a start-up named Voyage, started to inch forward, it abruptly stopped again as the golfers pressed ahead and cut in front of the car.

Ms. Jackson seemed unfazed by the bumpy ride. As a longtime resident of the Villages Golf and Country Club, a retirement community in San Jose, Calif., she knew all about aggressive golf cart drivers.

"I like that; we made a good stop there," Ms. Jackson said. "I stop for them. They say we don't have to, but I do."


. . .


The speed limit, just 25 miles an hour, helps reduce the risk if something goes wrong. And because it is private property, the company does not have to share ride information with regulators and it can try new ideas without as much red tape.

(p. B6) Cars that can drive themselves could be a great benefit to older people. Residents at the Villages say that once people stop driving, they often pull back from activities and interacting with friends.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "Where Cars Brake for Golf Carts." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 5, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 4, 2017, and has the title "Where Driverless Cars Brake for Golf Carts.")






November 16, 2017

Can "Radical Transparency" Work "in Today's Polarized and Litigious World"?



(p. B1) In 1993, Ray Dalio, the chairman of what is today the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates, received a memo signed by his top three lieutenants that was startlingly honest in its assessment of him.

It was a performance review of sorts, and not in a good way. After mentioning his positive attributes, they spelled out the negatives. "Ray sometimes says or does things to employees which makes them feel incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, pressed or otherwise bad," the memo read. "If he doesn't manage people well, growth will be stunted and we will all be affected."

To Mr. Dalio, the message was both devastating and a wake-up call. His reaction: "Ugh. That hurt and surprised me."

That moment helped push Mr. Dalio to rethink how he approached people and to begin developing a unique -- and sometimes controversial -- culture inside his firm, one based on a series of "principles" that place the idea of "radical transparency" above virtually all else.


. . .


(p. B5) Of course, the larger question is whether Mr. Dalio's version of utopia -- a place where employees feel comfortable offering blunt and in some cases brutal feedback -- can exist outside Bridgewater's controlled environment of mostly self-selecting individuals who either embrace the philosophy or quickly exit. Given the intense environment, as you might expect, there are horror stories of employees who have left in tears. Turnover among new employees is high.

Mr. Dalio's critics -- and there are many -- say his principles offer permission to be verbally barbaric, and they question whether the $160 billion firm's success is a product of such "radical transparency" or whether he can afford such a wide-ranging social experiment simply because the firm is so financially successful.

In truth, it is hard to imagine how harsh individual critiques in the workplace can work at many other organizations in today's polarized and litigious world, where people are increasingly looking for "safe spaces" and those who say they are offended by a particular argument are derided as "fragile snowflakes."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 5, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2017, and has the title, "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." )


The Dalio book, discussed above, is:

Dalio, Ray. Principles: Life and Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






November 15, 2017

"There Comes a Time When You Get Tired of Being a Slave"



(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO -- In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a "form of slave labor."

Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island's Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba's most valuable export.

But the doctors get a small cut of that money, and a growing number of them in Brazil have begun to rebel. In the last year, at least 150 Cuban doctors have filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement, demanding to be treated as independent contractors who earn full salaries, not agents of the Cuban state.

"When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to," said Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez, one of the doctors who filed suit. "There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave."


. . .


(p. A10) . . . , Dr. Jiménez, 34, found the work rewarding, but also began to harbor feelings of resentment.

"You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?" she said. "You wind up paying for it your whole life."


. . .


"We keep one another strong," said Dr. Jiménez, who says she has been unemployed since being fired in June and is now barred from re-entering Cuba for eight years.

Dr. Álvarez and her husband were among the lucky ones to keep their jobs and get what amounted to a huge pay raise. They also managed to bring their children to Brazil.

"It's sad to leave your family and friends and your homeland," she said. "But here we're in a country where you're free, where no one asks you where you're going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government."



For the full story, see:

ERNESTO LONDOÑO. "'Slave Labor'": Cuban Doctors Rebel in Brazil." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 29, 2017): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Cuban Doctors Revolt: 'You Get Tired of Being a Slave'.")






November 12, 2017

Gig Workers Have More Control Over Retirement Savings



(p. 2D) "There's this myth that the Gig Economy equals Uber driver," said Diane Mulcahy, who recently wrote a book on the subject. "If you are not a full-time employee in a full-time job, you are part of the Gig Economy."

While gig workers have been around as long as there have been handymen, tutors, writers and musicians, what's new about the Gig Economy is how quickly it has infiltrated white-collar professions and industries such as health care, finance, the law and technology, Mulcahy said. She is a private equity adviser for the Kauffman Foundation, which studies and supports entrepreneurship. As proof, she said, look at the growth of national online placement services like Toptal for tech and finance workers and Axiom for lawyers.


. . .


Managing volatile income can come down to ongoing business development and networking. Gig workers must make sure to keep business flowing through the development pipeline and writing contracts in a way that ensures ongoing cash flow, Mulcahy said.

Saving for retirement is one of the few areas where the independent contractor has an advantage because through IRAs and 401(k)s for the self-employed, they can save more quickly and at higher levels than their full-time brethren, she said.

This all comes as the economy has fundamentally changed.

"This is the future of work," Mulcahy said. "The full-time employee is getting to be the worker of last resort."



For the full story, see:

Miami Herald. "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 6, 2017): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title, "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs.")


The Mulcahy book, mentioned above, is:

Mulcahy, Diane. The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want. New York: AMACOM, 2016.







November 9, 2017

Free-Market Capitalism Benefits "Ordinary Working People"



(p. A8) MANCHESTER, England--U. K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond on Monday offered a staunch defense of free-market capitalism in Britain, in a speech that underscores the disquiet in the ruling Conservative Party over the rise of the country's left-wing opposition leader.


. . .


"By abandoning market economics, Corbyn's Labour has abandoned the aspirations of ordinary working people," Mr. Hammond said.

Mr. Hammond's appeal comes amid signs voters in the U.K. are moving away from the embrace of free markets that was ushered in by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and broadly sustained by Labour under Tony Blair.


. . .


A survey of 2,000 adults published Friday [Sept. 29, 2017] by polling firm Populus for the Legatum Institute, a free-market think tank, found widespread public support for nationalizing railways, utilities and banks.



For the full story, see:

Jason Douglas. "U.K. Official Defends Free-Market Capitalism," The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 3, 2017): A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 2, 2017, and has the title "U.K. Treasury Chief Defends Free-Market Capitalism Against Resurgent Opposition,")






November 8, 2017

Has Jeff Bezos Given Up on Well-Paying Jobs for Average Citizens?





I have not read Scott Galloway's new book, but suspect that there will be much in it to disagree with. But he makes a thought-provoking, and plausible, point, in the passage below, quoted from a Galloway op-ed piece.



(p. C3) I recently spoke at a conference the day after Jeff Bezos. During his talk, he made the case for a universal guaranteed income for all Americans. It is tempting to admire his progressive values and concern for the public welfare, but there is a dark implication here too. It appears that the most insightful mind in the business world has given up on the notion that our economy, or his firm, can support that pillar of American identity: a well-paying job.


For the full commentary, see:

Scott Galloway. "Amazon Takes Over the World." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Galloway, Scott. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






November 6, 2017

Baseball Immigrants Learn English by Watching "Friends"



(p. D1) When he returns home from the stadium, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis often gets into bed and watches reruns of "Friends."


. . .


For at least one generation of Americans, "Friends" endures as a cultural touchstone, a glowing chunk of 1990s amber. But its runaway popularity stretched far beyond the United States, and for some Latino baseball players it is something more: a language guide, a Rosetta Stone disguised as six 20-somethings commingling in a Manhattan apartment.

And also just a funny show.

"Now that it's on Netflix, I always put it on and watch it," said Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, 26, who is from Venezuela. "When I get up in the morning, I turn on the TV, and whatever episode is there I'll watch and keep watching. I stop it when I come to the stadium. When I come home from the stadium, I pick up where I left off."

What has the sitcom done for his English proficiency?

"It's near perfect," said Flores's teammate, Jerry Blevins, who is from Tennessee. "When he doesn't know something, it's surprising."


. . .


(p. D2) For Galvis, the English-language broadcast with Spanish subtitles on Venezuelan television, was an excellent learning tool. "You can compare what's going on that way," he said. "If they say 'happy,' you see he's happy and the subtitle says 'feliz', then you can learn. You might not learn 100 percent, but you'll learn to associate."


. . .


Like Flores, Galvis is evangelical about "Friends." He tells young Spanish-speaking players that he is living proof that consuming popular culture in English can help. And although he is now a capable English speaker, he still watches "Friends" with subtitles in Spanish so that his wife can learn English.

Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of the show, said she was delighted to hear about its unlikely and unintended impact on certain players. She compared the phenomenon to how Viagra was originally designed to treat heart problems but later was embraced for a very different purpose.



For the full story, see:

JAMES WAGNER. "For Some Major Leaguers, It's Always Great to See 'Friends'." The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 18, 2017): D1-D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "'Friends,' the Sitcom That's Still a Hit in Major League Baseball.")






November 5, 2017

For Innovators to Seek the Way to San Jose, City's Bureaucrats Should "Get Out of the Way"





The passages quoted below are authored by the Democratic mayor of the city of San Jose, California.



(p. A17) Recently, states and cities have been luring companies with subsidies. . . . The commonwealth of Massachusetts and city of Boston brought General Electric headquarters to Beantown with a $145 million incentive deal.


. . .


But my city won't be offering incentives to Amazon. Why? Because they are a bad deal for taxpayers. With many subsidies, the jobs a company brings to an area don't generate revenues commensurate with public expenditures. The GE deal will cost taxpayers more than $181,000 for every job created in Boston. Most experts insist that other factors--particularly the presence of a skilled workforce--play a far larger role in determining boardrooms' corporate location decisions. Moreover, some 95% of Silicon Valley's job growth comes from new small-business formation and when those homegrown companies develop into larger firms.


. . .


A healthy economic ecosystem that supports innovation and growth is what makes a community attractive to a company like Amazon.


. . .


As elected officials, we would do well to resist ribbon-cutting and take the longer view. To attract innovative employers, let's all stay in our lanes, create safe and attractive cities for talented people to live in, and clear bureaucratic red tape. In other words: Get out of the way.



For the full commentary, see:


Sam Liccardo. "Why I'm Not Bidding for Amazon's HQ; San Jose won't offer subsidies for favored corporations, which are a bad deal for city taxpayers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 5, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 4, 2017.)






November 1, 2017

Keys to Good Jobs: Honesty, Work Ethic, and Ability to Be Trained



(p. A13) . . . , Mr. Funk is chairman, CEO and founder of Express Employment Professionals, one of the nation's largest job agencies. Informally, he sees himself as a man who makes a living by giving people hope--that is, by matching workers looking for good jobs with employers looking for good workers. Along the way he also served as chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.


. . .


He shares a small brochure his company puts out summarizing a recent survey of employers. "So many people do not realize how important the soft skills are to unlocking job opportunity," he says.

In order, the survey found the top five traits employers look for are as follows: attitude, work ethic/integrity, communication, culture fit, critical thinking.

Drugs are a huge problem today, with many would-be employees putting themselves out of the running when they fail drug tests. A certified truck driver can start at $55,000 to $60,000 a year, for example, but no one's going to hire you if you do drugs.


. . .


And while education is vital, Mr. Funk says the most important thing for most people is the ability to be trained--which starts with basic competence in reading, writing and arithmetic. Mr. Funk also says institutions such as Oklahoma's CareerTech, which works with local employers to train people for jobs that actually exist in their communities, are probably a better investment for many people than college.


. . .


"I've helped a lot of people find jobs in my life," he says. "And I've learned that if you are honest, have a strong work ethic, and stay off drugs, there's a great future for you out there."



For the full commentary, see:


William McGurn. "MAIN STREET; Bring Back the Work Ethic; 'There's a person for every job and a job for every person,' says Bob Funk." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 5, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2017.)






October 30, 2017

Wisconsin Regulators Protect Consumers from Delicious Imported Kerrygold Butter



(p. A3) Attorneys with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty are taking the state to court over a 1953 law that mandates all butter sold in Wisconsin be graded and labeled on factors such as flavor, texture and color by state-licensed tasters.

Those convicted of selling unlabeled butter in the state more than once could pay up to $5,000 in fines and spend a year in county jail.

The statute has enraged devotees of the popular Kerrygold brand of butter, which is produced in Ireland and hasn't been tested by the state. Local retailers say their inability to sell the grass-fed, gold-packaged spread has affected their bottom line. WILL is representing four consumers in counties across Southeast Wisconsin in the suit, as well as a health-food store in Grafton.

"I think the issue is important because it's a specific instance of a larger problem," Rick Esenberg, WILL President and lead counsel, said of the obscure, 64-year-old ordinance. "The government should not restrict our liberties--particularly our ability to engage in a legitimate business and make a living."


. . .


Wisconsin laws have shielded the dairy industry from out-of-state competition for decades, but have often crumbled under judicial scrutiny.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1927 ruled unconstitutional a law prohibiting the sale of oleomargarine and other butter substitutes in the state, and in 1952 turned back an attempt to ban the sale of Dairy Queen soft-serve.

In 1895, Wisconsin forbade the sale of artificially colored margarine, forcing neighbors to pool funds and make "oleo runs" to the Illinois border to buy yellow-hued margarine in bulk. That law wasn't repealed until 1967.

A half-century later, Wisconsin residents are now embarking on similar Midwestern voyages to stock up on Kerrygold.

"It has a richness to it and a taste to it that's uncomparable to the other butters," said Jean Smith, an avid consumer of Kerrygold and one of the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin suit.

Ms. Smith especially enjoys adding the Irish butter to her tea on mornings when she doesn't have time for a full breakfast, and is a member of a Facebook group where neighbors keep each other abreast of the few Wisconsin stores supplying Kerrygold.

She buys the product whenever she travels out of state, picking up roughly a dozen bricks of butter on two trips to Nebraska this summer and then again when visiting Montana in May for her nephew's graduation.

"The fact that I have to do that is absolutely ridiculous," Ms. Smith said. "If it's not related to safety, it's not the government's decision whether they should offer a product or not."



For the full story, see:

Quint Forgey. "Wisconsin Lawsuit Aims to Whip Butter Statute." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 31, 2017): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 30, 2017, and has the title "Wisconsin Lawsuit Aims to Cut Through Butter Laws." Of the last eight short paragraphs quoted above, the first and third appear in both the online and the print version of the article. The rest only appear in the online version.)






October 29, 2017

"We Grow at Night, While the Government Sleeps"



HarareNightStreetMarket2017-09-10.jpg"In Harare, unauthorized street vendors wait until dark to avoid the police. The government says 95 percent of the work force is involved in the informal economy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



I remember my Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, telling us that during one of his visits to Brazil, many decades ago, he asked an entrepreneur how the Brazilian economy managed to grow in spite of the heavy government regulations. With a smile, the entrepreneur told Ben: "We grow at night, while the government sleeps."



(p. 6) HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Dusk falls and thousands of vendors fan out across central Harare. Through the night, they hawk their wares -- vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils, cellphones -- from carts, wheelbarrows or even the pavement, transforming the city's staid business district into a giant, freewheeling village market.

On Robert Mugabe Road, around the corner from the city's remaining colonial-era luxury hotel, the Meikles, Victor Chitiyo has sold dress shirts since losing his job as a machine operator at a textile factory several years ago.

"Since then, I've never been employed," Mr. Chitiyo, 38, said under the dim light of a street lamp. "If the economy improves, I'd want to be employed at a company again. But I don't think that will happen. It's been a long time since we were optimistic in Zimbabwe."

Harare's night market is the most visible evidence of Zimbabwe's swelling informal economy, which the government estimates now employs all but a small share of the country's work force.

Even as Zimbabwe's government, banks, listed companies and other members of the formal economy lurch from one crisis to another, the thriving informal economy of street vendors, traders and others unrepresented in official statistics helps keep the country afloat. For the government of President Robert Mugabe, that parallel economy is both a source of stability -- and a potential challenge.

Once one of Africa's most advanced economies, Zimbabwe has rapidly deindustrialized and shed formal wage-paying jobs, forcing millions like Mr. Chitiyo to hustle on the streets in cities and towns.

From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of Zimbabweans scrambling to make a living in the informal economy shot up to an astonishing 95 percent of the work force from 84 percent, according to the government. And of that small number of salaried workers, about half are employed by the government, including patronage beneficiaries with few real duties.


. . .


The government has occasionally cracked down -- sometimes violently -- on the street vendors, who are not licensed, describing their activities, near the seat of government and businesses, as an eyesore. Some of the vendors have also staged protests against Mr. Mugabe's rule.

But the government mostly turns a blind eye, clearly calculating that a permanent crackdown on the livelihoods of an increasing number of its citizens would result in greater political instability. According to an unspoken rule, the street vendors are allowed to operate only after dark on weekdays and starting in late afternoon on weekends.

"If I come too early, the police will take my wares away and I'll be broke," said Norest Muza, 28, who sold popcorn and chips while carrying her 2-year-old son on her back. "Evenings, the police don't come."

Many of the street vendors arrive in Harare's business district at dusk and spend the night on the streets before going home at dawn with the morning's first taxis and buses.


. . .


Mr. Mugabe's violent seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000 precipitated a decline in manufacturing and a process of deindustrialization. Manufacturing peaked in 1992, accounting for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it is 11 percent and declining.


. . .


With the government now strictly controlling the transfer of dollars outside Zimbabwe, companies dependent on trade are finding it increasingly difficult to import critical goods.

"We have companies scaling down or discontinuing certain lines that are heavy on import requirements," said Busisa Moyo, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.


. . .


As the formal economy keeps shrinking, more and more people have been crowding the area where Mr. Chitiyo sells shirts on Robert Mugabe Road.

Across the street, a girl's voice was crying, "Twenty-five cents for a cob!" It belonged to Tariro Dongo, 13, on her first evening working as a street vendor. It was past 9 p.m. Tariro said she was good in school and wanted to become a teacher.

She had bought 20 corn cobs for $2 near her home in Epworth, a poor township outside Harare. If she sold everything, her profit, after transportation, would amount to a couple of dollars. Sitting on a black bucket and fanning the coals in a small charcoal burner with a piece of cardboard, Tariro roasted the cobs.

She was happy with the money she had made on her first day, Tariro said.

"Twenty-five cents," she cried. "One cob left!"



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI and JEFFREY MOYO. "Trade on the Streets, and Off the Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 4, 2017, and has the title "Trade on Streets, and Off Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat.")






October 27, 2017

Brooklyn Reinvented Through Creative Destruction



(p. A13) The Wythe Hotel sits in the heart of Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood directly across the river from Manhattan. Opened to rave reviews in 2012, the hotel offers luxury dining at Reynard restaurant and spectacular city views from the rooftop bar. (Beers: $11.) Not long ago, the Williamsburg waterfront was a postindustrial wilderness, abandoned but for squatting artists; today it's lined with glass towers and strolling millennials. The Wythe, set in a 1901 factory that once produced barrels for local breweries, features rooms with exposed-brick walls, spare concrete floors and beds made from salvaged wood. The streetscape retains a gritty feel--except at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, when party kids pour out of the nearby nightclubs and limos jostle for curb space with Ubers.

It's easy to mock such scenes. But the borough's boom deserves to be taken seriously, argues Kay S. Hymowitz in her engaging book, "The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back." Ms. Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, recounts how "a left-for-dead city"--"a cultural and economic peasant enviously eyeing the seigneur just across the East River"--has reinvented itself in recent decades and emerged as "just about the coolest place on earth." What, she asks, turned Brooklyn into a global brand?


The history of the borough, according to Ms. Hymowitz, embodies what economist Joseph Schumpeter dubbed the "creative destruction" of capitalism--the continual obliteration of old modes of production by rising industries and new technologies. In colonial times, Dutch and English farmers tamed the lush hills of Long Island's southwestern tip. Slavery flourished; the indigenous Canarsee people disappeared. In the 19th century, industrial growth annihilated the bucolic past, while immigration reshaped the city's culture. Factories closed and capital fled in the postwar decades, shattering communities and leaving the built landscape to decay. That destruction, though, cleared the decks for another burst of creative energy--one that has made Brooklyn a model, and a cautionary tale, for the cities of tomorrow.



For the full review, see:


Michael Woodsworth. "BOOKSHELF; Kings County Comeback." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 17, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 16, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Hymowitz, Kay S. The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.






October 25, 2017

Silicon Valley Firm Defies Disruption



(p. A1) LOS GATOS, Calif.--Companies that resist change don't tend to last long in the caldron of innovation called Silicon Valley.

Then there's the Z.A. Macabee Gopher Trap Co.

Founded in 1900 by local barber and inventor Zephyr Albert Macabee to manufacture his patented metal gopher traps, the company is a stickler for tradition.

The traps' design has remained exactly the same, including their forest green color--despite complaints that the hue makes them hard to spot. Some customers gripe of hitting them with mowers, and have repainted them bright red or other colors. Still, the company doesn't waver.

Macabee operates out of the same small Victorian house where "Zeph" Macabee started it all on a quiet residential street. Even the packaging---Spartan white boxes of 24--remain unchanged since the postearthquake edition of 1906.

"We have a strong product identity," says Ronald Fink, the company's cheerful septuagenarian general manager, who grew up on a nearby apricot farm.

But existential questions loom. The company's patent expired in 1917. The threat of cheap Asian knockoffs led the company in (p. A10) 2008 to shift all production to China and lay off the eight Cambodian refugees who built traps in the basement on decades-old machines.

Another new competitor has popped up: a pest exterminator named Steve Albano, founder of Trapline Products in Redwood City, who used and studied Macabee traps and came up with what he considers a better design. "I think they just work better," says Mr. Albano.


. . .


As the owners sort out their differences, copycat traps are flooding the market. Most retail for about a third less than the roughly $9 a Macabee commands, including several that even mimic the forest color.

"But people still buy us, because they know they're getting quality," says Mr. Fink.



For the full story, see:

Timothy Aeppel. "Old Time Rodent-Trap Company Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years." The New York Times (Fri., June 19, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Macabee, an Old Time Maker of Rodent Traps, Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years.")






October 22, 2017

California Elite Regulates to Reduce Affordable Housing



(p. A11) In Silicon Valley the median home costs $1.2 million, about 2.5 times as much as in Seattle. Houses are less expensive inland--about $350,000 in Riverside and Sacramento--but living there often means a long commute. The weather also isn't much better than in Phoenix or Dallas, so why not move to another state? A net 800,000 people did just that between 2005 and 2015, and many of them earned less than $30,000.


. . .


The state Legislative Analyst Office notes that in California's coastal metros more than two-thirds of cities and counties have policies explicitly aimed at restricting housing growth, such as limits on density. When a developer wants to break ground, local governments impose multilayered reviews that can mean getting approval from the municipal building department, health department, fire department and planning commission as well as elected officials.

Neighbors can delay or block projects using the state's 1970 Environmental Quality Act. It isn't coincidental that California's housing prices soared during the 1970s. Getting a building permit in San Francisco takes about three times as long as in the typical American metro.

There are more-direct costs, too: Local governments tack on hefty development fees, which run about three to four times as high in California as in the rest of the country. Politicians often attach conditions to projects requiring developers to pay workers "prevailing wages," determined by local unions. This is one reason the cost of construction labor in California is about 20% higher than nationwide. Stringent building codes and energy-efficiency standards can add tens of thousands to the price of a house--even though low-flow appliances often cause people to use more water.

All told, it costs between $50,000 and $75,000 more to build a home in California than in the rest of the country. Building a low-income housing unit costs $332,000--about $80,000 more than the median home in Dallas or Phoenix.


. . .


Zoning is generally the biggest obstacle to development in coastal areas.


. . .

California's housing policies are intrinsically regressive. Limiting the supply drives up home values in well-to-do coastal communities, while pricing everyone else out of the market.



For the full commentary, see:

Allysia Finley. "Why Housing Is Unaffordable in California; What could really help is deregulation, but residents aren't likely to get it from Democratic lawmakers." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 30, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 29, 2017.)






October 21, 2017

"Vinyl Rose from the Ashes"



(p. A10) LODENICE, Czech Republic -- He was a businessman, not a clairvoyant. Zdenek Pelc did not really foresee, a generation ago, that vinyl records would one day make a return from near extinction.

But he was smart enough to keep a vinyl record factory here, a relic of the Communist era, through all those years when albums gave way to CDs and then to iTunes and streaming, and to be ready when vinyl suddenly got hot again.

And that is why this village of 1,800, nestled in a lush furl of the Bohemian hills, improbably finds itself a world leader in the production of vinyl albums.

"I realized when I came to the company 33 years ago that vinyl would be finished one day," said Mr. Pelc, 64, who now owns GZ Media and serves as president. "But I wanted our company to be the last one to stop making them."

The trajectory of the company -- and the village it once dominated -- traces the Czech Republic's transition to quirky capitalist colt from cranky Communist nag, all played to the kind of rock soundtrack that accompanies many modern Czech tales.

Instead of getting rid of the old equipment and moving CD-making machines into their space -- as most music production companies around the world did in the late 1980s and early '90s -- Mr. Pelc kept only enough machines running to meet the dwindling demand, moving the rest into storage and cannibalizing their parts as needed.

"Frankly, if someone had told me back then that vinyl would return, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.


. . .


"Vinyl rose from the ashes," Mr. Pelc said happily.


. . .


"From around 2005, the demand for vinyl grew steadily," said Michael Sterba, GZ Media's chief executive. "Then, it really took off in the last two or three years, like, whoosh."


. . .


"Only an idiot thinks this can go on forever," Mr. Sterba said. "Maybe making vinyl is a fashion that will disappear in a few years. Who knows? No one predicted this."



For the full story, see:

RICK LYMAN. "LODENICE JOURNAL; Long-Playing Czech Company Rides a Resurgence to the Top." The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 6, 2015, and has the title "LODENICE JOURNAL; Czech Company, Pressing Hits for Years on Vinyl, Finds It Has Become One.")






October 17, 2017

Inventor's Semiconductor Background Was Source of New, Safer Lithium Battery



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Zimmerman likes to shock his guests by using a hammer to drive a nail through a solid polymer lithium metal battery.

Nothing happens -- and that's a good thing.

Mr. Zimmerman's battery is a new spin on lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in products from smartphones to cars. Today's lithium-ion batteries, as anyone who has followed Samsung's recent problems with flammable smartphones may know, can be ticking time bombs. The liquids in them can burst into flames if there is a short circuit of some sort. And driving a nail into one of them is definitely not recommended.

With that in mind, Mr. Zimmerman's demonstration commands attention.

His Woburn, Mass., start-up, Ionic Materials, is at the cutting edge of an effort to design safer batteries. The company is working on "solid" lithium polymer batteries that greatly reduce their combustible nature.

A solid lithium polymer metal battery -- when it arrives commercially -- will also allow electronics designers to be more creative, because they will be able to use a plasticlike material (the polymer) that allows smaller and more flexible packaging and requires fewer complex safety mechanisms.

"My dream is to create the holy grail of solid batteries," Mr. Zimmerman said.

After four years of development, he believes he is nearly there and hopes to begin manufacturing within the next two years. Ionic Materials is one of a new wave of academic and commercial research ef-(p. B4)forts in the United States, Europe and Asia to find safer battery technologies as consumers demand more performance from phones and cars.


. . .


Mr. Zimmerman's background is in the world of semiconductors; he worked at Bell Labs and then a company called Quantum Leap Packaging. Several university researchers who have worked with the company believe that has lead him to a technology that will be more manufacturable than competing polymer and ceramic battery technologies now being explored.

"What is so intriguing about Mike and his folks is they are using known production techniques borrowed from the semiconductor packaging industry," said Jay Whitacre, a Carnegie Mellon University physicist who was involved with Ionic Materials when it first started and who now is chief scientist at Aquion Energy, a maker of home storage and industrial batteries based in Mt. Pleasant, Pa.

The new progress has led a number of technologists in the field to believe that batteries may finally be getting out of their rut.

"We're in a golden age of new chemistry development which probably hasn't been seen in thirty or 40 years, since the last energy crisis," said Paul Albertus, a program manager at the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. "It's a pretty exciting time to be developing energy storage technology.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Creating a Safer Phone Battery (This One Won't Catch Fire)." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2016, and has the title "Designing a Safer Battery for Smartphones (That Won't Catch Fire).")






October 16, 2017

Costs Rise in Single-Payer Health Countries



(p. A25) As Democrats and other policy makers debate the merits of Senator Sanders's proposal, here are a few important observations about international systems that they ought to consider.

First, a vanishingly small number of countries actually have single-payer systems. . . .


. . .


Some of the highest-rated international systems rely on private health insurers for most health care coverage -- Germany's, for example, is something like Obamacare exchanges for everyone, but significantly simpler and truly universal. The Netherlands and Switzerland have both moved recently to add more competition and flexibility to systems that were already built on the use of private insurers.

Second, single-payer countries have also failed to control rising health care costs. This is important, given that Mr. Sanders's proposal was released without a cost estimate or financing plan. For historical reasons, many other countries started with lower levels of health care spending than we did. Several analyses have shown that this has almost nothing to do with higher administrative costs or corporate profits in the United States and almost everything to do with the higher cost of health care services and the higher salaries of providers here.

Although they started at a lower base -- with, for example, doctors and nurses receiving lower salaries -- countries around the world have all struggled with rising costs. From 1990 to 2012, the United States' rate of health care cost growth was below that of many countries, including Japan and Britain. In 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that rising health care costs across all countries were unsustainable.behavior, more hotel rooms are available to individuals and families who need them most."

Third, it is simply untrue that single-payer systems produce a better quality of care across the board.



For the full commentary, see:

LANHEE J. CHEN and MICAH WEINBERG. "'Medicare for All' Is No Miracle Cure." The New York Times (Tues., Sept. 19, 2017): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "The Sanders Single-Payer Plan Is No Miracle Cure.")






October 15, 2017

Regulations Reduce Health Care Quality and Increase Health Care Cost



(p. A15) There are two million home health aides in the U.S. They spend more time with the elderly and disabled than anyone else, and their skills are essential to their clients' quality of life. Yet these aides are poorly trained, and their national median wage is only a smidgen more than $10 an hour.

The reason? State regulations--in particular, Nurse Practice Acts--require registered nurses to perform even routine home-care tasks like administering eyedrops. That duty might not require a nursing degree, but defenders of the current system say aides lack the proper training. "What if they put in the cat's eyedrops instead?" a health-care consultant asked me. In another conversation, the CEO of a managed-care insurance company wrote off home-care aides as "minimum wage people."

But aides could do more. With less regulation and better training, they could become as integral to health-care teams as doctors and nurses. That could improve the quality of care while saving buckets of money for everyone involved.


. . .


. . . the potential cost savings are considerable. There are 2.3 million Medicaid patients receiving long-term care at home. Imagine if even half of them replaced one hourlong nurse's visit a month with a stop by a trained aide. Assuming the nurse makes $35 an hour and the aide $15, that's an immediate savings of roughly $275 million a year.



For the full commentary, see:

Paul Osterman. "Why Home Care Costs Too Much; Regulations often require that nurses do simple tasks like administer eyedrops." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Osterman, Paul. Who Will Care for Us? Long-Term Care and the Long-Term Workforce. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2017.






October 3, 2017

The "Grit" of the Successful Consists of "Passion and Perseverance"



(p. A11) Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including "The Cider House Rules" and "The World According to Garp." But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is "grit," which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. "Grit" is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, . . .


. . .


Ms. Duckworth first realized the importance of grit as a teacher. Before she became an academic, she worked as a seventh-grade math teacher at a public school in New York. Some of her students were more inherently gifted with numbers than others. But not all of these capable students, to her surprise, got the best grades. Those who did weren't always "math people": For the most part, they were those who consistently invested more time and effort in their work.


Ms. Duckworth decided to become a research psychologist to figure out what explained their success. One of her first studies was of West Point cadets. Every year, West Point enrolls more than 1,000 students, but 20% of cadets drop out before graduation. Many quit in their first two months, during an intense training program known as Beast Barracks, or Beast. The most important factor in West Point admissions is the Whole Candidate Score, a composite measure of test scores, high-school rank, leadership potential and physical fitness. But Ms. Duckworth found that this score, which is essentially a measure of innate ability, did not predict who dropped out during Beast. She created her own "Grit Scale," scored using cadets' responses to statements like "I finish whatever I begin" or "New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones." Those who scored highest on the Grit Scale were the most likely to make it to the end of Beast.


. . .


Grit may be defined by strenuous effort, but what drives that work, Ms. Duckworth finds, is passion, and a great service of Ms. Duckworth's book is her down-to-earth definition of passion. To be gritty, an individual doesn't need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show "consistency over time." The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. "Enthusiasm is common," she writes. "Endurance is rare."



For the full review, see:


Emily Esfahani Smith. "BOOKSHELF; The Virtue of Hard Things; A study of Ivy League undergraduates showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less they persevered." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 3, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner, 2016.







October 2, 2017

Venezuelan Communist Economy Continues to Collapse



EmptyShelvesVenezuela2017-09-11.jpg"Empty cases and shelves in a grocery store in Cumaná, Venezuela, last year." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) CARACAS, Venezuela -- Food shortages were already common in Venezuela, so Tabata Soler knew painfully well how to navigate the country's black market stalls to get basics like eggs and sugar.

But then came a shortage she couldn't fix: Suddenly, there was no propane gas for sale to do the cooking.

And so for several nights this summer, Ms. Soler prepared dinner above a makeshift fire of broken wooden crates set ablaze with kerosene to feed her extended family of 12.

"There was no other option," said Ms. Soler, a 37-year-old nurse, while scouting again for gas for her stove. "We went back to the past where we cooked soup with firewood."

Five months of political turmoil in Venezuela have brought waves of protesters into the streets, left more than 120 people dead and a set off a wide crackdown against dissent by the government, which many nations now consider a dictatorship.

An all-powerful assembly of loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro rules the country with few limits on its authority, vowing to pursue political opponents as traitors while it rewrites the Constitution in the government's favor.

But as the government tries to stifle the opposition and regain a firm grip on the nation, the country's economic collapse, nearing its fourth year, continues to gain steam, leaving the president, his loyalists and the country in an increasingly precarious position.


. . .


In one nine-day stretch in late July and early August, the price of the bolívar, the national currency, fell by half against the dollar on the black market, cutting earnings for people who make the minimum wage to the equivalent of just $5 per month.


. . .


"Bolívars are like ice cubes now," said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, who leads the Latin America practice at Greenmantle, a macroeconomic advising firm, and teaches at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "If you're going to go to the fridge and take one, it's something you have to use right now, because soon it's going to be gone."



For the full story, see:

ANA VANESSA HERRERO and NICHOLAS CASEY. "In Venezuela, That Empty Feeling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., SEPT. 3, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2017, and has the title "In Venezuela, Cooking With Firewood as Currency Collapses.")






October 1, 2017

Simple App Takes Entrepreneur from Rags to Riches



(p. B1) When Facebook bought WhatsApp for more than $19 billion in 2014, Jan Koum, a founder of the messaging company, arranged to sign a part of the deal outside the suburban social services center where he had once waited in line to collect food stamps.

Mr. Koum, like many in the tech industry, is an immigrant. He was a teenager when he and his mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s, in part to escape the anti-Semitic tide then sweeping his native Ukraine. As Mr. Koum later told Forbes, his mother worked as a babysitter and swept floors at a grocery store to survive in the new country; when she was found to have cancer, the family lived off her disability payments.

Tales of immigrant woe are not unusual in Silicon Valley. But Mr. Koum's story carries greater resonance because his app has quietly become a mainstay of immigrant life. More than a billion people regularly use WhatsApp, which lets users send text messages and make phone calls free over the internet. The app is particularly popular in India, where it has more than 160 million users, as well as in Europe, South America and Africa.


. . .


(p. B7) One of the secrets to WhatsApp's growth has been a focus on simplicity. The app is purposefully unflashy, and it does just a few things -- texts, voice calls and video calls. As a result, it is supremely easy to use even for people who are neophytes to digital technology. This is one reason immigrants find it so powerful; it has given them access to a wider set of relatives who might have shunned the social networks that came before.

Adoption of WhatsApp often follows a curious pattern -- older relatives often suggest it to younger ones, rather than the other way around.

"My aunt, who's in her late 70s, was the one who really pushed me to get on it," Ms. Reef said. Now, she said, she uses it nearly every day; lately she's even gotten her children to use it.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; A Shared Lifeline for Millions of Migrants." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 22, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: eilipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 21, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; For Millions of Immigrants, a Common Language: WhatsApp.")






September 30, 2017

Tech Startup Rejects Gig Economy



(p. 1) SEATTLE -- When Glenn Kelman became the chief executive of his online real estate start-up, he defied the tech industry's conventional wisdom about how to grow.

Instead of hiring independent contractors, he brought in full-time employees and put them on the payroll -- with benefits. That decision over a decade ago made Mr. Kelman and his company, Redfin, iconoclasts in the technology world.

Many tech start-ups lean on the idea of the "gig economy." They staff up rapidly with freelancers, who are both cheaper to hire (none of the insurance, 401(k) and other expenses) and more flexible (they can work as much or as little as needed). It's the model Uber has used to upend the taxi business.


. . .


Mr. Kelman argues that full-time employees allow him to offer better customer service. Redfin gives its agents salaries, health benefits, 401(k) contributions and, for the most productive ones, Redfin stock, none of which is standard for contractors. Redfin currently employs more than 1,000 agents.

Now with his company on a stronger footing, Mr. Kelman says he believes his approach has been vindicated. He has even (p. 5) become an informal counselor to other tech entrepreneurs exploring a shift to employees from contractors.


. . .


A number of technology companies have switched or are in the process of switching their contractors to employees for reasons similar to those of Redfin, including Shyp, a parcel shipping service; Luxe Valet, which offers a valet parking app; and Munchery, a food delivery service. Honor, an on-demand service for home health care professionals, is making the move to improve training.



For the full story, see:

NICK WINGFIELD. "A Start-Up Shies Away from Gig Economy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JULY 10, 2016): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2016, and has the title "Redfin Shies Away From the Typical Start-Up's Gig Economy.")






September 27, 2017

Factory Workers Collaborate with Robots



(p. B1) MARION, Ohio--A new worker is charming the staff at Whirlpool Corp.'s plant here: a robot called Chappy.

Employees at the dryer factory say they have taken a shine to one-armed, programmable robots that have assumed some repetitive tasks, working in concert with their human colleagues. One, nicknamed after a worker whose rote duties it has inherited, snaps photographs to scan for defects.

"If I can get some help doing my job, I'm all for that," said Karen "Chappy" Beidler, who is now free to focus on checking and fixing wiring connections. "It's technology helping manpower--you can't beat it."



For the full story, see:

Andrew Tangel. "Latest Robots Lend an Arm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 9, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 8, 2016, and has the title "Latest Robots Lend a Helping Arm at Factories.")






September 22, 2017

47% Believe College Degree Will NOT Lead to Good Job



(p. A3) Americans are losing faith in the value of a college degree, with majorities of young adults, men and rural residents saying college isn't worth the cost, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows.

The findings reflect an increase in public skepticism of higher education from just four years ago and highlight a growing divide in opinion falling along gender, educational, regional and partisan lines.


. . .


Overall, a slim plurality of Americans, 49%, believes earning a four-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings, compared with 47% who don't, according to the poll of 1,200 people taken Aug. 5-9. That two-point margin narrowed from 13 points when the same question was asked four years earlier.

Big shifts occurred within several groups. While women by a large margin still have faith in a four-year degree, opinion among men swung significantly. Four years ago, men by a 12-point margin saw college as worth the cost. Now, they say it is not worth it, by a 10-point margin.

Likewise, among Americans 18 to 34 years old, skeptics outnumber believers 57% to 39%, almost a mirror image from four years earlier.

Today, Democrats, urban residents and Americans who consider themselves middle- and upper-class generally believe college is worth it; Republicans, rural residents and people who identify themselves as poor or working-class Americans don't.



For the full story, see:

Josh Mitchell and Douglas Belkin. "Fewer Americans Value a College Degree, Poll Finds." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., SEPT. 8, 2017): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 7, 2017, and has the title "Americans Losing Faith in College Degrees, Poll Finds." The order of paragraphs was different in the online and print versions; the passages quoted above are from the online version.)






September 21, 2017

Students Learn More in Charter Schools



(p. A17) On Sept. 8, 1992, the first charter school opened, in St. Paul, Minn. Twenty-five years later, some 7,000 of these schools serve about three million students around the U.S. Their growth has become controversial among those wedded to the status quo, but charters undeniably are effective, especially in urban areas. After four years in a charter, urban students learn about 50% more a year than demographically similar students in traditional public schools, according to a 2015 report from Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

The American cities that have most improved their schools are those that have embraced charters wholeheartedly. Their success suggests that policy makers should stop thinking of charters as an innovation around the edges of the public-school system--and realize that they simply are a better way to organize public education.

New Orleans, which will be 100% charters next year, is America's fastest-improving city when it comes to education. Test scores, graduation and dropout rates, college-going rates and independent studies all tell the same story: The city's schools have doubled or tripled their effectiveness in the decade since the state began turning them over to charter operators.


. . .


The teachers unions hate this model, because most charter schools are not unionized. But if someone discovered a vaccine to cure cancer, would anyone limit its use because hospitals and drug companies found it threatening?



For the full commentary, see:

David Osborne. "Charter Schools Are Flourishing on Their Silver Anniversary; The first one, in St. Paul, Minn., opened in 1992. Since then they've spread and proven their success." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 8, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to Osborne's book:

Osborne, David. Reinventing America's Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2017.






September 19, 2017

Reducing Taxes and Regulations Can Boost Growth



(p. A2) The angst was on display this weekend at the annual conference of the American Economic Association, the profession's largest gathering. The conference is a showcase for agenda-setting research, a giant job fair for the nation's most promising young economists and, this year, the site of endless discussion about how to rebuild trust in the discipline.

Many academic economists have been champions of free trade and globalization, ideas under assault among rising populist movements in advanced economies around the world. The rise of President-elect Donald Trump, with his fierce rhetoric against elites, in particular, left many at this conference questioning their place in the world.

"The economic elite did many things to undermine their credibility while people's economic fortunes were taking a turn for the worse," said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago.


. . .


Stanford University's John Taylor and Columbia's Glenn Hubbard said Mr. Trump's plans to simplify the tax and regulatory codes could indeed boost the economy's growth. Both economists served in the past in the White House Council of Economic Advisers, long populated by academics who present at the AEA conference every January.

This year, academics are out in the cold. During the election The Wall Street Journal contacted every former member of the CEA, including those going back to President Richard Nixon. None had been tapped as an adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign, nor did any publicly endorse him.

The president-elect is "not particularly interested in hearing from the academic economist club," Mr. Davis said.



For the full story, see:

Josh Zumbrun. "Economists Grapple With Public Disdain." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 9, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 8, 2017, and has the title "Top Economists Grapple With Public Disdain for Initiatives They Championed.")







September 17, 2017

Courageous Grover Cleveland Belongs in "Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame"



(p. A11) Mr. Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, "The High Cost of Good Intentions," on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate "attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill" on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, "Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase," Mr. Cogan says. "When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was 'signed into law by President Richard Nixon.' "

The Nixon episode shows, says Mr. Cogan, that entitlements have been the main cause of America's rising national debt since the early 1970s. Mr. Trump's pact with the Democrats is part of a pattern: "The debt ceiling has to be raised this year because elected representatives have again failed to take action to control entitlement spending."


. . .


Mr. Cogan conceived the book about four years ago when, as part of his research into 19th-century spending patterns, he "saw this remarkable phenomenon of the growth in Civil War pensions. By the 1890s, 30 years after it had ended, pensions from the war accounted for 40% of all federal government spending." About a million people were getting Civil War pensions, he found, compared with 8,000 in 1873, eight years after the war. Mr. Cogan wondered what caused that "extraordinary growth" and whether it was unique.

When he went back to the stacks to look at pensions from the Revolutionary War, he saw "exactly the same pattern." It dawned on him, he says, that this matched "the evolutionary pattern of modern entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps."


. . .


Who would feature in an Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame? Mr. Cogan's blue eyes shine contentedly at this question, as he utters the two words he seems to love most: Grover Cleveland. "He was the very first president to take on an entitlement. He objected to the large Civil War program and thought it needed to be reformed." Cleveland was largely unsuccessful, but was a "remarkably courageous president." In his time, Congress had started passing private relief bills, giving out individual pensions "on a grand scale. They'd take 100 or 200 of these bills on a Friday afternoon and pass them with a single vote. Incredibly, 55% of all bills introduced in the Senate in its 1885 to 1887 session were such private pension bills.".



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with John F. Cogan; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . .." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 9, 2017): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 8, 2017, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . ..".)


The Cogan book, mentioned above, is:

Cogan, John F. The High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.






September 16, 2017

GDP Neglects Benefits of New Goods



(p. A13) . . . [one] source of underestimation of growth is the failure to capture the benefit of new goods and services. Here's how the current procedure works: When a new product is developed and sold to the public, its market value enters into nominal gross domestic product. But there is no attempt to take into account the full value to consumers created by the new product per se.

Think about statins, the remarkable class of drugs that lower cholesterol and reduce deaths from heart attacks. By 2003 statins were the best-selling pharmaceutical product in history. The total dollar amount of statin sales was counted in GDP, but the government's measure of real income never included anything for improvements in health that resulted from statins--such as a one-third decrease in the death rate from heart disease among those over 65 between 2000 and 2007.

Or consider consumer electronics. New York University economist William Easterly recently tweeted an image of a 1991 RadioShack newspaper ad and noted that all the functions of the devices on sale--clock radio, calculator, cellphone, tape-recorder, compact-disk player, camcorder, desktop computer--are "now available on a $200 smartphone." The benefits to consumers from these advances don't show up in GDP.



For the full commentary, see:


Martin Feldstein. "We're Richer Than We Realize; The official economic statistics fail to account for quality improvements and new products." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 9, 2017): A13.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 8, 2017.)






September 15, 2017

When 4% Economic Growth Was Routine



(p. R3) Starting in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was in the middle of his first presidential term, the American economy reeled off three straight years of 4% growth. The economy went on to hit that politically important target in nine of the next 17 years. In fact, even as Mr. Bush ran for re-election, the economy actually was revving up after a two-year lull, though the surge came too late for voters to realize it.

Then, at the turn into a new millennium, that streak stopped. In the last 15 years, the American economy hasn't grown at a 4% annual rate even once.

But it isn't just the U.S. In the last 15 years, according to International Monetary Fund data, exactly one of the traditional seven major industrialized nations achieved annual economic growth of 4%, one time: Japan in 2010.

In sum, the kind of economic growth that used to be relatively routine in the industrialized world has become virtually extinct.

This low-growth era leaves political leaders facing two unsavory tasks. The first is to explain to unhappy voters why growth is so anemic, and the second is to convince them that they know what to do about it.



For the full commentary, see:

Gerald F. Seib. "Politicians Pine for Elusive Solution to Voters' Discontent: 4% Growth." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 17, 2017): R3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 16, 2017.)







September 14, 2017

Lower 50% Have Largely Stagnated in Recent Decades



(p. B1) Even with all the setbacks from recessions, burst bubbles and vanishing industries, the United States has still pumped out breathtaking riches over the last three and half decades.

The real economy more than doubled in size; the government now uses a substantial share of that bounty to hand over as much as $5 trillion to help working families, older people, disabled and unemployed people pay for a home, visit a doctor and put their children through school.

Yet for half of all Americans, their share of the total economic pie has shrunk significantly, new research has found.

This group -- the approximately 117 million adults stuck on the lower half of the income ladder -- "has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s," the team of economists found. "Even after taxes and transfers, there has been close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50 percent."


. . .


(p. B3) By 2014, the average income of half of American adults had barely budged, remaining around $16,000, while members of the top 1 percent brought home, on average, $1,304,800 or 81 times as much.

That ratio, the authors point out, "is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world's poorest countries, the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Burundi."

The growth of incomes has probably increased a bit since 2014, the latest year for which full data exists, said Mr. Zucman, who, like Mr. Saez, also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. But it is "not enough to make any significant difference to our long-run finding, and in particular, to affect the long-run stagnation of bottom-50-percent incomes."


. . .


Mr. Piketty, Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman concluded that the main driver of wealth in recent years has been investment income at the top. That is a switch from the 1980s and 1990s, when gains in income were primarily generated by working.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. ""A Bigger Pie, but Uneven Slices; Research Shows Slim Gains for the Bottom 50 Percent." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 7, 2016): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2016, and has the title "A Bigger Economic Pie, but a Smaller Slice for Half of the U.S." The print article shares the title "A Bigger Pie, but Uneven Slices" with a commentary by Eduardo Porter. The Cohen article has the unique subtitle "Research Shows Slim Gains for the Bottom 50 Percent.")


The July 7, 2017 draft of Piketty, Saez and Zucman's working paper, mentioned above, is:

Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States." Working Paper, July 6, 2017.






September 12, 2017

Warren Buffett: High-Tech Especially Hard to Predict



(p. 1D) Turns out that Warren Buffett spoke out in IBM's favor, sort of, 37 years ago when the government accused "Big Blue" of illegal
anti-competitive practices.


. . .


But Buffett was one of 87 witnesses who testified on behalf of the International Business Machines Corp. during the federal government's antitrust trial.


. . .


In his testimony, Buffett said he asked the Price, Waterhouse accounting firm to calculate the debt levels of 104 other computer-oriented companies that, according to federal prosecutors, were harmed by IBM's low prices and other alleged anti-competitive actions.

Buffett said his hypothesis was that the competing companies had trouble raising money to finance their growth because they had too much debt. The accounting analy-(p. 2D)sis, Buffett said in court, "bore that hypothesis out in a very conclusive manner."

So why didn't he buy IBM stock in 1980?

Because, he told the court, with high-tech companies it's "particularly difficult to have a clear view of a long-term future. ... High-technology companies are ones where both the product and the customer's use of it are (areas in which) I don't feel I have a full understanding."



For the full commentary, see:

Steve Jordon. "WARREN WATCH; What Buffett said in court about IBM in 1980." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Jan 22, 2017): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "WARREN WATCH; What Warren Buffett said in court about IBM in 1980.")






September 11, 2017

Half of Today's 36-Year-Olds Earn Less Than Their Parents Did at Same Age



FadingAmericanDreamGraph2017-09-08.pngSource of graph: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/




(p. 2) These days, people are arguably more worried about the American dream than at any point since the Depression. But there has been no real measure of it, despite all of the data available. No one has known how many Americans are more affluent than their parents were -- and how the number has changed.

The beginnings of a breakthrough came several years ago, when a team of economists led by Raj Chetty received access to millions of tax records that stretched over decades. The records were anonymous and came with strict privacy rules, but nonetheless allowed for the linking of generations.

The resulting research is among the most eye-opening economics work in recent years.


. . .


After the research began appearing, I mentioned to Chetty, a Stanford professor, and his colleagues that I thought they had a chance to do something no one yet had: create an index of the American dream. It took them months of work, using old Census data to estimate long-ago decades, but they have done it. They've constructed a data set that shows the percentage of American children who earn more money -- and less money -- than their parents earned at the same age.

The index is deeply alarming. It's a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different.


. . .


About 92 percent of 1940 babies had higher pretax inflation-adjusted household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age.


. . .


For babies born in 1980 -- today's 36-year-olds -- the index of the American dream has fallen to 50 percent: Only half of them make as much money as their parents did.



For the full commentary, see:

Leonhardt, David. "The American Dream, Quantified at Last." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 11, 2016): 2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 8, 2016.)


The Chetty co-authored paper mentioned above, is:

Chetty, Raj, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, and Jimmy Narang. "The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility since 1940." Science 356, no. 6336 (2017): 398-406.







September 10, 2017

Venture Capital Stars Invested in Over-Hyped "Symbol of Silicon Valley's Insular Excess"



(p. B2) MONTEREY, Calif. -- From the moment it started, Juicero stood out as a symbol of Silicon Valley's insular excess.

The company sold a $700 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer, trying to solve a problem that did not exist. It also raised some $120 million, and attracted a mountain of attention.

But on Friday, the company said it was shutting down operations -- joining the hordes of other Silicon Valley start-ups that could not deliver business results to match the hype.

Started by a health fanatic with a checkered history as an entrepreneur, Juicero devised an elaborate scheme to deliver small glasses of expensive cold pressed juice to kitchens around the country. The machine scanned codes printed on pouches of chopped produce to help assess the freshness of the contents inside. Doug Evans, the founder, hired engineers, food scientists and fashionable industrial designers to work alongside him.

The company was a particularly bold bid to capitalize on the hype around the so-called internet of things and interest in the juice business. Mr. Evans believed there was a legion of customers who, once they tasted his juice, would find it superior to the many varieties that can be bought at convenience stores, juice bars or even Walmart.

Top venture capital firms including Google's venture capital spinoff and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as big companies like Campbell Soup, invested heavily in the company.



For the full story, see:


DAVID GELLES. "Start-Up That Sold $700 Juicer Shuts Down." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 2, 2017): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 1, 2017, and has the title "Juicero, Start-Up With a $700 Juicer and Top Investors, Shuts Down." )






September 9, 2017

"Bankruptcies and Losses Concentrate the Mind on Prudent Behavior"



(p. A18) Allan H. Meltzer, an influential conservative economist who strongly opposed government bailouts and was credited with coining the anti-bailout slogan, "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin," died on Monday in Pittsburgh. He was 89.


. . .

In books like "Why Capitalism?" (2012), Dr. Meltzer promoted the view that countries and investors should suffer the consequences of their mistakes, whether flawed fiscal measures or bad lending decisions.

In coining the slogan "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin," he added another maxim: "Bankruptcies and losses concentrate the mind on prudent behavior."


. . .


In recent years Mr. Meltzer found a new interest in law and regulation. He and other scholars were working on a book, "Regulation and the Rule of Law."



For the full obituary, see:

ZACH WICHTER. "Allan H. Meltzer, Economist Averse to Bailouts, Dies at 89." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 13, 2017): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 12, 2017, and has the title "Allan H. Meltzer, Conservative Economist, Dies at 89.")


Meltzer's book on capitalism, mentioned above, is:

Meltzer, Allan H. Why Capitalism? New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.






September 8, 2017

Cashless Toll Technology Enables Congestion Pricing in Manhattan



(p. A15) As debate about creating a toll system to limit traffic in the most congested parts of Manhattan heats up, a transformation in technology could make congestion pricing a far more realistic notion than when it was last proposed a decade ago.

By the end of the year, nine crossings around the city will employ an open-road, cashless collection system that does away with tollbooths, toll lanes and toll collectors. Instead, sensors and cameras installed both above the road and in the pavement itself will capture cars and trucks as they zip by at full speed - automatically charging the 90 percent of drivers with E-ZPass transponders, and billing the other 10 percent by mail.

A decade ago, when the Bloomberg administration first proposed congestion pricing, such tolling technology was in its infancy and not widely used. Now, it is in place in some 35 jurisdictions, and its deployment in New York is the most ambitious use of the technology in a complicated urban setting.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had not shown any enthusiasm for congestion pricing, has embraced the idea of late as a way to raise billions of dollars for the city's ailing subway system. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has been steadfast in his opposition, and has instead pushed a plan to raise transportation funds by increasing taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

Mr. Cuomo has yet to release a detailed congestion-pricing plan, but most schemes being discussed call for tolling vehicles to enter crowded parts of Manhattan, and doing so in a way that that does not slow the flow of traffic. By making toll-collecting all but invisible, Mr. Cuomo hopes congestion pricing will be more politically viable this time around.



For the full story, see:

MARC SANTORA. "Cashless Toll System Could Pave the Way for Manhattan Congestion Pricing." The New York Times (Sat., AUG. 26, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 25, 2017, and has the title "Open-Road Tolls Could Pave the Way for Manhattan Congestion Pricing.")






September 7, 2017

More Workers Benefit from Driverless Cars, Than Are Hurt



(p. A2) Self-driving vehicles have the potential to reshape a wide range of occupations held by roughly one in nine American workers, according to a new U.S. government report.

About 3.8 million people drive taxis, trucks, ambulances and other vehicles for a living. An additional 11.7 million workers drive as part of their work, including personal care aides, police officers, real-estate agents and plumbers. In all, that's roughly 11.3% of total U.S. employment based on 2015 occupational data, according to the analysis by three Commerce Department economists.

If businesses embrace autonomous vehicles on a large scale, workers in the first category are "more likely to be displaced" from their jobs, while workers in the latter group "may be more likely to benefit from greater productivity and better working conditions," wrote David Beede, Regina Powers and Cassandra Ingram in the report, released Friday.



For the full story, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "Driverless Cars May Alter 1 in 9 Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug 15, 2017): A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug 14, 2017, and has the title "Self-Driving Cars Could Transform Jobs Held by 1 in 9 U.S. Workers.")


The report summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Beede, David, Regina Powers, and Cassandra Ingram. "The Employment Impact of Autonomous Vehicles." ESA Issue Brief, #05-17, Aug. 11, 2017.






September 3, 2017

3-D Printing Promises Goods Quicker, Cheaper, More Local, and More Customized



(p. B3) With the rise of new technologies like smartphones and 3-D printers, fashion start-ups like Feetz are changing the ways goods are ordered, made and sold.

Like Ms. Beard, several founders of these companies don't have fashion backgrounds. Instead, they consider technology the answer to off-the rack, mass-produced goods, which are increasingly shunned by millennials. Consumers with hard-to-find sizes -- like petite, or big and tall -- will find shopping simpler.

Traditionally, manufacturing is the most expensive part of the retail supply chain. Creating goods in small batches is difficult and costly. Most are manufactured overseas, and shipping goods to the United States adds time and cost to the process. So even "fast fashion" can take about six weeks to hit store shelves.

The beauty of instant, customized fashion, experts say, is that goods can be made at a lower cost and more quickly -- yet in a personalized style.


. . .


These are still early days for 3-D printing, said Uli Becker, the former chief executive of Reebok and an investor in Feetz. The offerings are not very diversified, and they are limited to basic goods. And fabric cannot yet be printed.

But he sees great potential for 3-D printing. "You can start producing in America, for America," he said. "Production facilities can be in the same place where you sell products, which creates jobs."


. . .


"We're a technology company that creates T-shirts," said Walker Williams, 27, chief executive of Teespring, who started the company with Evan Stites-Clayton, a friend from Brown University. "The future of fashion is in smaller brands that have relationships with customers."



For the full story, see:

CONSTANCE GUSTKE. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; With Analytics and 3-D Printers, a Faster Fashion Just for You." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 15, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 14, 2016, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Your Next Pair of Shoes Could Come From a 3-D Printer.")






August 30, 2017

Higher-Paid Finance Jobs Moving from NYC and San Francisco to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Dallas



FinanceJobsMigrateFromNYCandSF2017-08-15.pngSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. B1) Traditional finance hubs have yet to recover all the jobs lost during the recession, but the industry is booming in places like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Dallas. The migration has accelerated as investment firms face declining profitability and soaring real estate costs.


. . .


"San Francisco is a wonderful place, but unfortunately it's an expensive place from a real estate standpoint," said Brian McDonald, a senior vice president for Schwab. "So we had to identify other places where we could make things work."

While the finance industry has been relocating entry-level jobs since the late 1980s, today's moves are claiming higher-paid jobs in human resources, compliance and asset management, chipping away at New York City's middle class, said (p. B2) Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit that represents the city's business leadership.

"This industry isn't just a bunch of rich Wall Street guys," Ms. Wylde said. "It's a big source of employment that's disappearing from New York."



For the full story, see:

Asjylyn Loder. "Wall Street's New Frontier." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 27, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 26, 2017, and has the title "Passive Migration: Denver Wins Big as Financial Firms Relocate to Cut Costs.")






August 29, 2017

Seattle Increase in Minimum Wage Results in Fewer Hours Worked, and Lower Incomes



(p. A13) By now you have read 15 articles on the Seattle minimum-wage fiasco. Since the city boosted its local minimum from $9.47 in 2014 to $13 last year (on its way to $15), a detailed investigation by University of Washington economists finds that beneficiaries actually saw their incomes fall by a net $125 a month because employers cut their hours.


. . .


The impetus came from people who don't actually earn the minimum wage--labor-union leaders and think-tankers and activist organizations.


. . .


Organizers look fondly to Denmark, where a McDonald's line worker receives $41,000 a year and five weeks of paid vacation. As the Atlantic put it two years ago, "Unionizing workers at McDonald's and other fast-food chains might be a long shot, but if it succeeds, it might help lift a million or more workers into the middle class (or at least into the lower middle class) and create a model for low-wage workers in other industries."

This sounds pretty but is misleading in a fundamental way. The workers a McDonald's franchise would hire at $15 an hour are different from those it would hire at $8.29, the average earned by a fast-food worker today.

Costs would go up. The industry would likely shrink, it would likely replace workers with automation, but it would still create jobs at $15 an hour for people whose productivity can justify $15 an hour. The people who work at McDonald's today, typically, would already be earning $15 an hour somewhere else if their productivity could justify $15 an hour.

Everybody needs to start somewhere, including the unskilled and those who lack a work history. Some need a job that doesn't demand much of them. They have other obligations. They accept less pay to maximize flexibility and freedom from responsibility. They don't plan to make a career of it. The fast-food industry in America is built on such people.



For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "Seattle Aims at McDonald's, Hits Workers." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 1, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 30, 2017.)


The Seattle minimum wage paper, mentioned above, is:

Jardim, Ekaterina, Mark C. Long, Robert Plotnick, Emma van Inwegen, Jacob Vigdor, and Hilary Wething. "Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle." National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, # 23532, June 2017.






August 28, 2017

"Splendid Tutorial" of Bitcoin, Distributed Ledgers, and Smart Contracts



(p. A13) 'The future is already here--it's just not very evenly distributed." The aphorism coined by novelist William Gibson explains why Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson's tour of the technologies that are shaping the future of business, "Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future," contains sights that are already familiar and others that are not. This is a book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep--yet.


. . .


In the penultimate chapter, the authors present a splendid tutorial on things that are too new for most civilians to have gained a good understanding of--cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The authors present the theoretical possibility that conventional contracts and the human handling of disputes could be rendered obsolete by dense networks of sensors in the physical world and extremely detailed contracts anticipating all contingencies so that machines alone can handle enforcement. But they show that computing power, however much it grows, seems unlikely to replace the human component for dispute resolution.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; The Future On Fast Forward; GE used 'crowdfunding' to gauge interest in a new ice maker. McDonald's has begun adding self-service ordering in all its U.S. locations.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 6, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

McAfee, Andrew, and Erik Brynjolfsson. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






August 27, 2017

Some New Jobs Require Same Skills as Old Jobs Did



(p. B1) . . . many of the skills needed to do fading jobs are applicable to growing jobs.


. . .


(p. B2) A New York Times review of the activities and skills that jobs entail, based on the Labor Department's O*Net database, shows how much overlap there is between many seemingly dissimilar occupations. Service industry jobs, for example, require social skills and experience working with customers -- which also apply to sales and office jobs.


. . .


. . . , employers hire based on credentials that job applicants can't change -- a college degree or previous job title -- rather than assessing the skills an applicant has developed, said Mr. Auguste, who was an economic adviser in the Obama administration. He said the approach should instead be, "If you learned it at Harvard or Cal State Northridge or on the job as a secretary or in the Navy or as a volunteer, awesome."



For the full commentary, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER and QUOCTRUNG BUI. "The Upshot; Old Skills, New Career." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 28, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2017, and has the title "The Upshot; Switching Careers Doesn't Have to Be Hard: Charting Jobs That Are Similar to Yours.")






August 25, 2017

A.I. "Continues to Struggle in the Real World"





The passages quoted below are authored by an NYU professor of psychology and neural science.



(p. 6) Artificial Intelligence is colossally hyped these days, but the dirty little secret is that it still has a long, long way to go. Sure, A.I. systems have mastered an array of games, from chess and Go to "Jeopardy" and poker, but the technology continues to struggle in the real world. Robots fall over while opening doors, prototype driverless cars frequently need human intervention, and nobody has yet designed a machine that can read reliably at the level of a sixth grader, let alone a college student. Computers that can educate themselves -- a mark of true intelligence -- remain a dream.

Even the trendy technique of "deep learning," which uses artificial neural networks to discern complex statistical correlations in huge amounts of data, often comes up short. Some of the best image-recognition systems, for example, can successfully distinguish dog breeds, yet remain capable of major blunders, like mistaking a simple pattern of yellow and black stripes for a school bus. Such systems can neither comprehend what is going on in complex visual scenes ("Who is chasing whom and why?") nor follow simple instructions ("Read this story and summarize what it means").

Although the field of A.I. is exploding with microdiscoveries, progress toward the robustness and flexibility of human cognition remains elusive. Not long ago, for example, while sitting with me in a cafe, my 3-year-old daughter spontaneously realized that she could climb out of her chair in a new way: backward, by sliding through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. My daughter had never seen anyone else disembark in quite this way; she invented it on her own -- and without the benefit of trial and error, or the need for terabytes of labeled data.

Presumably, my daughter relied on an implicit theory of how her body moves, along with an implicit theory of physics -- how one complex object travels through the aperture of another. I challenge any robot to do the same. A.I. systems tend to be passive vessels, dredging through data in search of statistical correlations; humans are active engines for discovering how things work.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY MARCUS. "Gray Matter; A.I. Is Stuck. Let's Unstick It." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JULY 30, 2017): 6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 29, 2017, and has the title "Gray Matter; Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here's How to Move It Forward.")






August 20, 2017

Inventor Haber and Entrepreneur Bosch Created "an Inflection Point in History"



(p. C7) . . . , Mr. Kean's narrative of scientific discovery jumps back and forth. The first episode narrated in detail is Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch's conversion of nitrogen into ammonia, the crucial step in producing artificial fertilizer, which Mr. Kean characterizes as "an inflection point in history" that in the 20th century "transformed the very air into bread." The process consumes 1% of the global energy supply, producing 175 million tons of ammonia fertilizer a year and generating half the world's food. Haber and Bosch both won Nobel Prizes but were subsequently tainted by their involvement in developing chlorine gas for the German military.

The book's middle section turns back the clock to steam power, the technology that launched the Industrial Revolution. James Watt was its master craftsman, though Mr. Kean confesses that, as "a sucker for mechanical simplicity," he regards Watt's pioneering engine, with its separate condenser, as "a bunch of crap cobbled together." A more elegant application of gases was Henry Bessemer's process for making steel, which used blasts of compressed air to make obsolete the laborious and energy-hungry mixing of liquid cast iron and carbon.



For the full review, see:

Mike Jay. "Adventures in the Atmosphere." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Kean, Sam. Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.






August 18, 2017

Russian Regulators Jail Entrepreneur for Innovating "Too Fast and Too Freely"



(p. A1) AKADEMGORODOK, Russia -- Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia's future economic health.

Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin's Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.

A court last Thursday [August 3, 2017] extended Mr. Trubitsyn's house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family. Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.

Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.

It is a case that highlights the tensions between Mr. Putin's aspirations for a dynamic private sector and his determination to enhance the powers of Russia's security apparatus. Using a 2014 law meant to protect Russians from counterfeit medicine, investigators from the Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet KGB, and other agencies have accused Mr. Trubitsyn of leading a criminal conspiracy to, essentially, innovate too fast and too freely.


. . .


(p. A9) Irina Travina, the founder of a software start-up and head of the local technology-business association, said Akademgorodok was "the best place in Russia," with "outstanding schools, low crime and a high concentration of very smart people."

But she said Mr. Trubitsyn's arrest had delivered a grave blow to the community's sense of security.

"In principle, anyone can fall into this situation," Ms. Travina said, praising Mr. Trubitsyn as a patriot because he had not moved abroad and had invested time and money in science education for local children. "It can happen to anybody," she added. "Everyone has some sort of skeleton in their closet. Maybe nothing big, but they can always find something to throw you in jail for."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "Russia Wants Innovation, but Jails Innovators." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 10, 2017): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2017, and has the title "Russia Wants Innovation, but It's Arresting Its Innovators.")






August 16, 2017

"Shannon's Principles of Redundancy and Error Correction"



(p. C7) There were four essential prophets whose mathematics brought us into the Information Age: Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Alan Turing and Claude Shannon. In "A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age," Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman make a convincing case for their subtitle while reminding us that Shannon never made this claim himself.


. . .


The only one of the four Information Age pioneers who was also an electrical engineer, Shannon was practical as well as brilliant.


. . .


Wiener's theory of information, drawing on his own background in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and the study of random processes, was cloaked in opaque mathematics that was impenetrable to most working engineers.


. . .


"Before Shannon," Messrs. Soni and Goodman write, "information was a telegram, a photograph, a paragraph, a song. After Shannon, information was entirely abstracted." He derived explicit formulas for rates of transmission, the capacity of an ideal channel, ability to correct errors and coding efficiency that could be understood by anyone familiar with logarithms to the base 2.

Mathematicians use mathematics to understand things. Engineers use mathematics to build things. Engineers love logarithms as a carpenter loves a familiar tool. The electronic engineers who flooded into civilian life in the aftermath of World War II adopted Shannon's theory as passionately as they had avoided Wiener's, bringing us the age of digital machines.


. . .


Despite the progress of technology, we still have no clear understanding of how memories are stored in our own brains: Shannon's principles of redundancy and error correction are no doubt involved in preserving memory, but how does the process work and why does it sometimes fail? Shannon died of Alzheimer's disease in February 2001. The mind that gave us the collective memory we now so depend on had its own memory taken away.



For the full review, see:

George Dyson. "The Elegance of Ones and Zeroes." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Soni, Jimmy, and Rob Goodman. A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






August 15, 2017

Code Schools Provide Intense 12 Week Training, and Jobs



(p. B1) Across the U.S., change is coming for the ecosystem of employers, educational institutions and job-seekers who confront the increasingly software-driven nature of work. A potent combination--a yawning skills gap, stagnant middle-class wages and diminished career prospects for millennials--is bringing about a rapid shift (p. B4) in the labor market for coders and other technical professionals.

Riding into the breach are "code schools," a kind of vocational training that rams students through intense 12-week crash courses in precisely the software-development skills employers need.



For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. "Code-School Boot Camps Offer Fast Track to Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2017, and has the title "A New Kind of Jobs Program for Middle America.")






August 14, 2017

Fanjul Sugar Family Donated to Inauguration and Now Seeks Sugar Price Protection



(p. B1) MEXICO CITY -- The sugar barons of Florida, Alfonso and José Fanjul, have been equal-opportunity political donors for decades, showering largess on the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike to ensure that lawmakers will protect the American sugar industry.

When Donald J. Trump was preparing to take office as president, the Fanjul brothers wrote another check. Among the contributors to Mr. Trump's inaugural festivities in January was Florida Crystals, a Fanjul-owned company that contributed half a million dollars.

The brothers most likely had more on their mind than a sumptuous ball. Led by the Fanjuls, large American sugar producers and refiners were eager for the new administration to tackle some business left unfinished by the Obama administration: an agreement to control imports of Mexican sugar.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump's Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade." The New York Times (Mon., June 5, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2017, and has the title "Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade.")






August 13, 2017

Petsitting Is Illegal Without a License



CorderoRaulPetsitterNYC2017-08-08.jpg"Raul Cordero with his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty. Mr. Cordero operates a dog-care business in East Harlem that appears to run afoul of city rules regarding the care of pets for pay in homes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A18) Raul Cordero and his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty, often have canine houseguests overnight at their East Harlem home, part of Mr. Cordero's dog-care business, for which he carries special petsitter's insurance that costs about $800 a year.

Yet despite Mr. Cordero's efforts to do everything by the book, he was shocked to discover that his petsitting business -- and in fact, any of the ubiquitous, your-home-or-mine variety -- is against New York City's rules.

According to long-established but little-noticed regulations of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, anyone offering petsitting for pay must be licensed to board animals, and do so in a permitted kennel. Running such a kennel out of a home is not allowed in the city.


. . .


The newcomers are large, app-based pet-care businesses, with names like Wag and Rover, that operate in a similar style to Airbnb, enabling New Yorkers to open their apartments and dog beds as à la carte dog hostels.

. . . Rover and its ilk have run afoul of similar stipulations in places like California and Colorado, and John Lapham, Rover's general counsel, said that Rover was currently embroiled in similar concerns in several cities in New Jersey.


. . .


The department's rule "deprives dog owners of the most obvious, safe and affordable care," Mr. Lapham said.

"And it deprives sitters of the opportunity to make ends meet," he said.

Mr. Lapham noted that in New York City, babysitting, for example, is permitted, no license necessary.


. . .


. . . to Mr. Cordero, 27, regulating small-time dogsitters like him and his Rhodesian sidekick feels like government overreach. Petsitting "is like taking care of you own pet in your house," he said, adding: "So if you have a license, that means you are certified to feed a dog or a cat? That's crazy."



For the full story, see:

SARAH MASLIN NIR. "Paid Petsitting in Homes Is Illegal in New York. That's News to Some Sitters." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 22, 2017): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 21, 2017.)






August 12, 2017

Employment Grows as Productivity Rises



(p. C3) In a recent paper prepared for a European Central Bank conference, the economists David Autor of MIT and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University looked at data for 19 countries from 1970 to 2007. While acknowledging that advances in technology may hurt employment in some industries, they concluded that "country-level employment generally grows as aggregate productivity rises."

The historical record provides strong support for this view. After all, despite centuries of progress in automation and recurrent warnings of a jobless future, total employment has continued to increase relentlessly, even with bumps along the way.

More remarkable is the fact that today's most dire projections of jobs lost to automation fall short of historical norms. A recent analysis by Robert Atkinson and John Wu of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation quantified the rate of job destruction (and creation) in each decade since 1850, based on census data. They found that an incredible 57% of the jobs that workers did in 1960 no longer exist today (adjusted for the size of the workforce).

Workers suffering some of the largest losses included office clerks, secretaries and telephone operators. They found similar levels of displacement in the decades after the introduction of railroads and the automobile. Who is old enough to remember bowling alley pin-setters? Elevator operators? Gas jockeys? When was the last time you heard a manager say, "Take a memo"?


. . .


. . . , if artificial intelligence is getting so smart that it can recognize cats, drive cars, beat world-champion Go players, identify cancerous lesions and translate from one language to another, won't it soon be capable of doing just about anything a person can?

Not by a long shot. What all of these tasks have in common is that they involve finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning.


. . .


But it is misleading to characterize all of this as some extraordinary leap toward duplicating human intelligence. The selfie app in your phone that places bunny ears on your head doesn't "know" anything about you. For its purposes, your meticulously posed image is just a bundle of bits to be strained through an algorithm that determines where to place Snapchat face filters. These programs present no more of a threat to human primacy than did automatic looms, phonographs and calculators, all of which were greeted with astonishment and trepidation by the workers they replaced when first introduced.


. . .


The irony of the coming wave of artificial intelligence is that it may herald a golden age of personal service. If history is a guide, this remarkable technology won't spell the end of work as we know it. Instead, artificial intelligence will change the way that we live and work, improving our standard of living while shuffling jobs from one category to another in the familiar capitalist cycle of creation and destruction.



For the full commentary, see:

Kaplan, Jerry. "Don't Fear the Robots." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 22, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2017.)


The David Autor paper, mentioned above, is:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Does Productivity Growth Threaten Employment?" Working Paper. (June 19, 2017).



The Atkinson and Wu report, mentioned above, is:

Atkinson, Robert D., and John Wu. "False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850-2015." (May 8, 2017).


The author's earlier book, somewhat related to his commentary quoted above, is:

Kaplan, Jerry. Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






August 11, 2017

Toyota's Solid-State, Lithium-Ion Batteries Increase Electric Car Range



(p. B6) TOKYO--Toyota Motor Corp. believes it has mastered the technology and production process for a new lithium-ion battery that could slash charging time and double the range of electric vehicles, according to U.S. patent filings and one of the inventors.

On Tuesday [July 25, 2017] Toyota said that by the early 2020s it planned to sell cars equipped with solid-state batteries, which replace the damp electrolyte used to transport lithium ions inside today's batteries with a solid glass-like plate.

Behind Toyota's brief statement lay years of research aimed at solving issues that have long bedeviled batteries for electric cars. Current lithium-ion batteries can't be packed too tightly together because of fire risk. That is one reason electric cars tend to have limited range compared with traditional gasoline-powered cars.

With the solid-state battery, "you can improve the output and reduce the charge time--hopefully," said Ryoji Kanno, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Prof. Kanno led a team including Toyota scientists that discovered the materials for the glass-like electrolyte.



For the full story, see:

McLain, Sean. "Toyota: Battery Can Make Electric Cars Go Farther." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 28, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 27, 2017, and has the title "Toyota's Cure for Electric-Vehicle Range Anxiety: A Better Battery.")






August 10, 2017

Process Innovations Increase Access to Natural Resources



(p. B6) SUPERIOR, Ariz.--One of the world's largest untapped copper deposits sits 7,000 feet below the Earth's surface. It is a lode that operator Rio Tinto PLC wouldn't have touched--until now.


. . .


Advances in mining technology are making that possible--just as developments in oil and gas drilling heralded the fracking revolution. Now, using everything from sensors and data analytics to autonomous vehicles and climate-control systems, Rio aims to pull ore from more than a mile below ground, where temperatures can reach nearly 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

. . .


While a deep underground block-cave mine costs much more to develop, Rio says it can match the operating costs per ton of ore of a surface mine, partly because it is so mechanized.


. . .

As with the development of new hydraulic-fracturing and horizontal-drilling techniques to extract oil from shale-rock deposits, locating and extracting the copper successfully requires deployment of new technologies such as cheaper, more powerful sensors and breakthroughs in the use of data.


, , ,


Electrical gear buzzes constantly, and a network of pipes pumps water out of the shaft at the rate of 600 gallons a minute. A ventilation system cools the area to 77 degrees.

Over the next few years, Rio plans to deploy tens of thousands of electronic sensors, as well as autonomous vehicles and complex ventilation systems, to help it bring 1.6 billion tons of ore to the surface over the more than 40-year projected life of the mine.



For the full story, see:

Steven Norton. "Rio Digs Deeper for Copper." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 8, 2017): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2017, and has the title "Mining a Mile Down: 175 Degrees, 600 Gallons of Water a Minute.")






August 8, 2017

Disney Stories Give Happiness to the Poor



(p. 1B) If the arts community had been blossoming in north Omaha when Adrienne Brown-Norman was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s, she may never have moved to California and become a senior illustrator for Disney Publishing Worldwide.


. . .


"Of course, though, I would not ever have met Floyd."

That would be her husband, Floyd Norman, the now-legendary first African-American artist at Walt Disney Studios.

Floyd Norman, 82, began working for Disney in 1956 and was named a Disney Legend in 2007.


. . .


The Normans recently collaborated with legendary songwriter Richard Sherman ("Mary (p. 5B) Poppins") on a picture book called "A Kiss Goodnight."

The book tells the story of how the young Walt Disney was enchanted by fireworks and subsequently chose to send all of his Magic Kingdom guests home with a special kiss goodnight of skyrockets bursting overhead.


. . .


Walt Disney later picked Norman to join the team writing the script for "The Jungle Book." Disney had seen Norman's gags posted around the office and recognized a talented storyteller.

"I didn't think I was a writer, but the old man did," Norman said. "Then I realized that maybe I am good at this."

Norman named "The Jungle Book" as his favorite project, because he worked alongside Disney.


. . .


"What I learned from the old man was the technique of storytelling and what made a movie work," Norman said.

"I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the master. If you were in the room with Walt, it was for a reason. There are a lot of people who wanted to be in that room but didn't get an invitation."


. . .


One day at the studio the Normans recall pausing to watch the filming of "Saving Mr. Banks," the story of Disney's quest to acquire the rights to film "Mary Poppins." Norman had worked on the movie and was interested in seeing Tom Hanks' portrayal of his old boss.

"Tom Hanks rushed from his trailer in full costume to meet Floyd, shouting, 'Where is that famous animator?' " Brown-Norman said. "You don't expect a man like Tom Hanks to come running up. Then Tom wouldn't let us leave. He wanted to know more about Walt, and if he was getting it right."


. . .


"What I enjoy is the love of Disney that made so many people happy," [Floyd Norman] said. "Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were in a bad home, but they tell me Disney stories gave them an escape. They gave them happiness, and that's what I like."



For the full story, see:


Kevin Cole. "Legendary Animator Spread Love of Disney." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., Aug. 7, 2017): 1B & 5B.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "During Native Omaha Days, Disney's Floyd Norman and Adrienne Brown-Norman reflect on careers.")


The book mentioned above, co-authored by Sherman (and illustrated by the Normans), is:

Sherman, Richard, and Brittany Rubiano. A Kiss Goodnight. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2017.







August 7, 2017

Health Innovations Launch Where Regulations Are Few



(p. A15) One type of mobile device that is likely to appear first in the Far East and be widely adopted there is the digital stethoscope. This device is able to detect changes in pitch and soon will be able to detect asthma in children, pneumonia in the elderly, and, in conjunction with low-cost portable electrocardiographs, cardiopulmonary disease.


An additional advantage is that this part of the world--particularly India and Africa--has limited regulation, which makes it much easier to launch these kinds of health-care tools. In India and much of Africa, there are few government drug agencies or big insurance companies to throw up barriers.

Companies that make medical devices and their accompanying smartphone apps could establish themselves almost overnight. Then, once they have built a large, profitable base of users, they could consider jumping through the legal and regulatory hoops to bring the technology to developed countries.



For the full commentary, see:

Michael S. Malone. "Silicon Valley Trails in Medical Tech; With smartphones everywhere and little regulation, India and Africa are set to lead.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 24, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2017.)






August 6, 2017

How to Use Dyslexia and ADHD to Become a Better Leader



(p. R7) Leading a company without using email, reading memos or going to endless meetings sounds like a pipe dream. But it's a reality for Selim Bassoul, chief executive and chairman of Middleby Corp., the Elgin, Ill., kitchen-supply maker with such popular brands as Viking and Aga Rangemaster.

Mr. Bassoul, 60, has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conditions that weren't diagnosed during his childhood in Lebanon, when he initially struggled in school. Years later, when he was a graduate student at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, a professor suggested he get tested, he says.


. . .


WSJ: What are some ways that having dyslexia and ADHD affects your leadership style?

MR. BASSOUL: Dyslexia has forced me to be quite conceptual, because I'm not good with detail. I think in general rather than in specific [terms]. That allows me to step back and take in the big picture rather than get bogged down in details. Because of my weaknesses and handicaps, I've learned other ways to accomplish the same goal at faster speed.

As a dyslexic you have no choice but to rely on others for help with detail and tactical tasks. You become a great judge of character. You have to select the best team around you.

Then you have ADHD, which makes you restless but it can also be a huge motivator for action. It prompts you to go out of the office and into the field. You find yourself constantly on the front line. I don't like to be confined to the office. I hate meetings. I am constantly visiting customers, our field offices, our manufacturing plants. I know the operations of my customers better than them, which helps create solutions for them prior to them knowing what they need.



For the full interview, see:

Rachel Emma Silverman, interviewer. "How a Chief Executive with Dyslexia and ADHD Runs His Company." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 17, 2017): R7.

(Note: ellipses added. Bold and italics, in original. The italics question is from the WSJ interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 16, 2017, and has the title "How a CEO With Dyslexia and ADHD Runs His Company.")






August 5, 2017

Regulations, Not Robots, Cause Slower Job Growth



(p. A19) Some anxious forecasters project that robotics, automation and artificial intelligence will soon devastate the job market. Yet others predict a productivity fizzle. The Congressional Budget Office, for instance, expects labor productivity to grow at the snail's pace of 1.3% a year over the next decade, well below the historical average.

There's reason to reject both of these dystopian scenarios. Innovation isn't a zero-sum game. The problem for most workers isn't too much technology but too little. What America needs is more computers, mobile broadband, cloud services, software tools, sensor networks, 3-D printing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and, yes, robots.

For the sake of explanation, let's separate the economy into two categories. In digital industries--technology, communications, media, software, finance and professional services--productivity grew 2.7% annually over the past 15 years, according to the findings of our report, "The Coming Productivity Boom," released in March. The slowdown is concentrated in physical industries--health care, transportation, education, manufacturing, retail--where productivity grew a mere 0.7% annually over the same period.

Digital industries have also experienced stronger job growth. Since the peak of the last business cycle in December 2007, hours worked in the digital category rose 9.6%, compared with 5.6% on the physical side. If health care is excluded, hours worked in physical jobs rose only 3%.

What is holding the physical industries back? It is no coincidence that they are heavily regulated, making them expensive to operate in and resistant to experimentation. The digital economy, on the other hand, has enjoyed a relatively free hand to invest and innovate, delivering spectacular and inexpensive products and services all over the world.

But more important, partially due to regulation, physical industries have not deployed information technology to the same extent that digital industries have.



For the full commentary, see:


Bret Swanson and Michael Mandel. "Robots Will Save the Economy; The problem today is too little technology. Physical industries haven't kept up." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 15, 2017): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 14, 2017.)






August 4, 2017

Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Wage U.S. Workers



(p. C1) Research published a decade after the Mariel boatlift, as well as more recent analyses, concluded that the influx of Cuban migrants didn't significantly raise unemployment or lower wages for Miamians. Immigration advocates said the episode showed that the U.S. labor market could quickly absorb migrants at little cost to American workers.

But Harvard University's George Borjas, a Cuban-born specialist in immigration economics, reached very different conclusions. Looking at data for Miami after the boatlift, he concluded that the arrival of the Marielitos led to a large decline in wages for low-skilled local workers.


. . .


(p. C2) Dr. Borjas, who left Cuba in 1962, when he was 12 years old, has long challenged the idea that immigration has few downsides. One of his studies in the early 2000s analyzed decades of national data to conclude that immigrants generally do push down wages for native workers, particularly high-school dropouts.

One Sunday morning in 2015, while working on his book, Dr. Borjas recalls, he decided to revisit the Mariel boatlift. He focused on U.S.-born high-school dropouts and applied more sophisticated analytical methods than had been available to Dr. Card a quarter-century earlier.

Dr. Borjas found a steep decline in wages for low-skilled workers in Miami in the years after the boatlift--in the range of 10% to 30%. "Even the most cursory reexamination of some old data with some new ideas can reveal trends that radically change what we think we know," he wrote in his initial September 2015 paper.


. . .


Dr. Borjas has spent decades swimming against the tide in his profession by focusing on immigration's costs rather than its benefits. He said that he sees a parallel to the way many economists look at international trade. Long seen as a positive force for growth, trade is now drawing attention from some economists looking for its ill effects on factory towns. "I don't know why the profession has this huge lag and this emphasis on the benefits from globalization in general without looking at the other side," Dr. Borjas said.


. . .


Dr. Borjas's research, including his recent work on Mariel, has found fans on the other side of the debate. When he testified at a Senate hearing in March 2016, then-Sen. Sessions welcomed his rebuttal to Dr. Card's paper. "That study, I could never understand it because it goes against common sense of [the] free market: greater supply, lower costs," Mr. Sessions said. "That's just the way the world works."


. . .


Dr. Borjas welcomes what he calls a more realistic approach to immigration under the Trump administration. "If you knew what the options are, who gets hurt and who wins by each of these options, you can make a much more intelligent decision rather than relying on wishful thinking," he said. "Which is what a lot of immigration, trade debates tend to be about--that somehow this will all work out, and everybody will be happy."



For the full commentary, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "The Immigration Experiment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 16, 2017, and has the title "The Great Mariel Boatlift Debate: Does Immigration Lower Wages?")


The book by Borjas, mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.






August 3, 2017

U.S. Has 250,000 Less Jobs Due to Obamacare



(p. A15) Democrats loudly complain that people will lose health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. They never mention those who lose jobs because the ACA remains.

The ACA includes a penalty on employers that fail to provide "adequate" insurance for full-time workers. Thanks to the ACA, hiring the 50th full-time employee effectively costs another $70,000 a year on top of the normal salary and benefits.


. . .


In partnership with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, in March 2017 I was able to commission Hanover Research to survey small businesses nationwide regarding their hiring and compensation practices. The result was a sample of 745 small businesses, representing every major industry and together employing almost 50,000 people.


. . .

Many businesses, when they do not offer coverage, keep their payrolls just below 50 full-time employees and thereby narrowly escape the ACA's penalty. This pattern is not visible among businesses that offer coverage.

When we followed up, the businesses employing just fewer than 50 often said the ACA caused them to hire less and cut hours below the full-time threshold. The penalty caused payrolls to shrink or prevented them from growing.

Nationwide, we estimate the ACA-inspired practice of keeping payrolls below 50 has cost roughly 250,000 jobs. This does not count jobs lost when businesses close (we didn't survey closed businesses) or shrink because of other ACA incentives.



For the full commentary, see:


Casey B. Mulligan. "How Many Jobs Does ObamaCare Kill? We surveyed managers at small businesses and put the count at 250,000." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 6, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 5, 2017.)






August 2, 2017

"90 Is the New 65"



(p. A15) In this era full of baby boomers caring for frail parents, we've seen plenty of documentaries, plays and memoirs about dementia, infirmity, loss. But in the HBO documentary "If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast," Carl Reiner and friends take up another side of the phenomenon of longer life spans: the many people in their later years who are still sharp and vigorous and engaged.

The film, . . . , doesn't pussyfoot around when setting its bar; no "life after 65" theme here. Mr. Reiner is interested in people 90 and above.


. . .


There is chagrin on occasion; no one likes the condescension that is often showered on people of this age.

"I think the culture stereotypes everything," Norman Lear says. "Because I'm 93 I'm supposed to behave a certain way. The fact that I can touch my toes shouldn't be so amazing to people." (Mr. Lear is now 94.)


. . .


. . . there is plenty of life yet in the population born before the Great Depression. Now the broader culture needs to consider how to change its preconceptions if 90 is the new 65.



For the full review, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "Life Goes On (The 90-and-Up Crowd." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 5, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 4, 2017, and has the title "Review: 'If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast' Finds Vigor After 90.")






July 30, 2017

Workers Are Empowered, Not Threatened, by Robots



(p. A15) Most computer scientists agree that predictions about robots stealing jobs are greatly exaggerated. Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, consider instead what we might call Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.

Multiplicity is not science fiction. A combination of machine learning, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing already underlies tasks Americans perform every day: searching for documents, filtering spam emails, translating between languages, finding news and movies, navigating maps, and organizing photos and videos.

Consider Google's search engine. It runs on a set of algorithms with input from a large number of human users who share valuable feedback every time they click on or skip over a link. The same is true for spam filters. Every time someone marks an email as spam or overrides a filter, it helps fine-tune the system for determining what is relevant.


. . .


Multiplicity is collaborative instead of combative. Rather than discourage the human workers of the world, this new frontier has the potential to empower them.



For the full commentary, see:

Ken Goldberg. "The Robot-Human Alliance; Call it Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 12, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 11, 2017.)






July 22, 2017

Small, Obscure Firm Innovates to Keep Moore's Law Alive



(p. B1) VELDHOVEN, the Netherlands-- ASML Holding NV, a little-known company based next to corn fields here, may hold the answer to a question hanging over the global semiconductor industry: how to make chips do more while keeping them the same, compact size.

The industry's past prowess has been codified into what's been called Moore's Law, named after an observation Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore first made in 1965. He postulated that chip makers could double the number of transistors in--and boost the performance of--a typical microprocessor every two years.

Last year, though, Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich warned that after decades of incredible leaps, that timeline was slipping closer to every 2.5 years. Some in the industry feared the eventual death of Moore's Law, a rule of thumb underpinning modern computing.

ASML believes its breakthrough technology can postpone the demise. "I'm not concerned yet about the next 10-plus years," said Hans Meiling, who oversees ASML's effort trying to solve this problem.

Many in the industry, including big backers like Intel itself and Samsung Electronics Co. , are hoping ASML can quicken the pace of innovation once again. With around 15,000 employees and €6.3 billion ($7.05 billion) in revenue last year, the company manufactures equipment that makes chips--specializing in a field called photolithography. Specifically, ASML uses light rays to essentially lay out billions of transistors--the brain cells of a chip--in a microprocessor.



For the full story, see:

Stu Woo and Maarten van Tartwijk. "Dutch Company Aims to Make Chips Do More." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 3, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Can This Little-Known Chip Company Preserve Moore's Law?")






July 18, 2017

"Startling" Chinese Government Report Faults Slow and Tepid Reform "Stalemate"



(p. B1) BEIJING -- China's ambitious plan to revamp its economy has bogged down. Flabby state conglomerates have thwarted attempts to whip them into commercial shape. Rules that treat millions of city-dwelling rural migrants like second-class citizens have barely budged.

Such criticisms are common from skeptical foreign economists who have long argued that President Xi Jinping's efforts to remake China's economy and fix pernicious social problems have been too slow and tepid.

But these withering findings on China's reforms come from a startling place: from within the government itself.

Just as striking, this unflattering report card from a Chinese state think tank -- published this month with little fanfare -- faults misconceived "top-level design" in policies, as well as local bureaucrats and state managers reluctant to change.


. . .


It concludes: "Reform has to some extent fallen into stalemate."

The report brings into focus a sharpening debate in China about economic priorities. Experts inside and outside China say the country's economy needs to be overhauled to continue growing fast enough to provide jobs and higher incomes for its people.


. . .


(p. B5) The new report, a 217-page study titled "The Reform Obstruction Phenomenon," was written by researchers from the Economic System and Management Institute of China's National Development and Reform Commission, which steers policy on industry, energy and many other sectors. The head of the commission, He Lifeng, and his deputy, Liu He, both have ties to Mr. Xi. But nothing in the report suggests that it had their blessing. The authors declined to be interviewed.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "Still Waiting for Reforms." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 28, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 27, 2017, and has the title "In Rare Move, Chinese Think Tank Criticizes Tepid Pace of Reform.")






July 16, 2017

Level 3 Failed, In Spite of a Well-Executed, Plausible Business Plan



Level3StockPricesGraph2017-06-09.jpgSource of graph: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1D) Thomas Dowd and hundreds of other Omahans soon will be digging out their Level 3 Communications Inc. stock records. • The reason: This week, Level 3 shareholders are voting to sell the company to Century Link Communications. • The sale marks the end of an investment saga that began 20 years ago with hopes of riches but ended with big losses for most shareholders, despite the efforts of some of Omaha's biggest names in business. • "It was a very bad experience," said Dowd, a retired attorney and former director of the Metropolitan Utilities District. "It's just one purchase at a time, and you think everything's going good and then, bam! Anyway, lesson learned." • Although his loss was "substantial," he said, it didn't disrupt his lifestyle, and he figures he's better off than shareholders who lost their retirement savings or other vital funds. He's still a Level 3 shareholder and will get some cash and Century Link shares in the sale, which is scheduled for September [2017].

(p. 4D) But it works out to about $4.43 for shares he bought years ago, some of them costing more than $100.


. . .


On March 20, 2000, someone sold and someone bought Level 3 shares for $132.25, a price that made the company's publicly traded stock worth nearly $20 billion. By 2002, the price had nearly collapsed, putting most shareholders into the red.

Level 3 might have an information highway, but its toll system wasn't collecting enough to earn a profit. It was clear that the nation had a "bandwidth glut," a huge overcapacity of fiber networks.

Level 3 had installed its network, at an eventual cost of $14 billion, and could cheaply add more lines by stringing extra cable through its conduits.

But others had built networks, too, and the demand for bandwidth wasn't growing as Crowe had hoped. Researchers also found ways to send more data along existing fibers, meaning greater capacity along existing lines.

Most of the new fiber networks were unused, or "dark." Only a fraction of fibers in the buried bundles were "lit" by the light waves that carried digital communications and brought in revenue for companies like Level 3.

The supply of fiber far outran the demand, and Level 3's losses mounted, along with its stock price. Investors lost confidence that the company would begin making profits anytime soon. In fact, that didn't happen until 2014.


. . .


Dowd, the retired attorney, said he held onto the shares because it didn't seem worthwhile to sell at the lower prices and he figured someone would buy the company and he would get some of his money back.

"I always thought Walter Scott was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat," he said. "He never did."



For the full story, see:

STEVE JORDON. "END OF THE LINE FOR LEVEL 3; Omaha-born company, which laid fiber-optic cable, will cease to exist." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., March 12, 2017): 1D & 4D.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 14, 2017

Equal Opportunity Gene Innovation



(p. R4) Kian Sadeghi has postponed homework assignments, sports practice and all the other demands of being a 17-year-old high-school junior for today. On a Saturday afternoon, he is in a lab learning how to use Crispr-Cas9, a gene-editing technique that has electrified scientists around the world--. . .


. . .


Crispr-Cas9 is easier, faster and cheaper than previous gene-editing techniques.


. . .


A do-it-yourself Crispr kit with enough material to perform five experiments gene-editing the bacteria included in the package is available online for $150. Genspace, the Brooklyn, N.Y., community lab where Mr. Sadeghi is learning how to use Crispr to edit a gene in brewer's yeast, charges $400 for four intensive sessions. More than 80 people have taken the classes since the lab started offering them last year.


. . .


In the workshop, if the participants correctly edit the gene in brewer's yeast, the cells will turn red. In between the prep work, the classmates swap stories on why they are there. Many have personal Crispr projects in mind and want to learn the technique.

Kevin Wallenstein, a chemical engineer, takes a two-hour train ride to the lab from his home in Princeton, N.J. Crispr is a hobby for him, he says. He wants to eventually use it to edit a gene in an edible fruit that he prefers not to name, to restore it to its historical color. "I always wondered what it would look like," he says.

At the workshop, Mr. Wallenstein shares his Crispr goal with Will Shindel, Genspace's lab director. Mr. Shindel is enthusiastic; he has started his own Crispr project, a longtime dream to make a spicy tomato. Both men say they aren't looking to commercialize their ideas--but they would like to eat what they create someday, if they get permission from the lab. "I'm doing it for fun," Mr. Shindel says.

When Mr. Sadeghi first wanted to try Crispr, the teenager emailed 20 scientists asking if they would be willing to let him learn Crispr in their labs. Most didn't respond; those that did turned him down. So he did a Google search and stumbled upon Genspace. When he shared the lead with his science teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, Essy Levy Sefchovich, she agreed to take the course with him.

When Mr. Shindel describes the steps of the experiment, Ms. Sefchovich takes notes. She is hoping to create a modified version of the yeast experiment so all her students can try Crispr in class.

Later, Mr. Sadeghi recounts that the hardest part of the day was handling the micropipette, the lab tool he used to mix small amounts of liquid. He says he still feels clumsy. Ms. Sefchovich reassures him he'll get the hang of it; he just needs to practice.

"It's like driving," she tells him. "You learn the right feel." Mr. Sadeghi doesn't have his driver's license yet. He figures he'll do Crispr first.



For the full story, see:

Marcus, Amy Dockser. "JOURNAL REPORTS: HEALTH CARE; DIY Gene Editing: Fast, Cheap--and Worrisome; The Crispr technique lets amateurs enter a world that has been the exclusive domain of scientists." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 27, 2017): R4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 26, 2017.)






July 13, 2017

Australian Government's Centrally Planned "Costly Internet Bungle"



(p. A6) BRISBANE, Australia -- Fed up with Australian internet speeds that trail those in most of the developed world, Morgan Jaffit turned to a more reliable method of data transfer: the postal system.

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by his studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days.

"It's really the big file sizes that kill us," said Mr. Jaffit, the company's co-founder and creative director. "When we release an update and there's a small bug, that can kill us by three or four days."

Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.


. . .


The story of Australia's costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country's 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

The government-led push to modernize its telecommunications system was unprecedented, experts say -- and provides a cautionary tale for others who might like to try something similar.

"Australia was the first country where a totally national plan to cover every house or business was considered," said Rod Tucker, a University of Melbourne professor and a member of the expert panel that advised on the effort.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW McMILLEN. "How Australia Bungled Internet Modernization." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 12, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 11, 2017, and has the title "How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout.")









July 12, 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cannot Automate All Legal Tasks



(p. B1) "There is this popular view that if you can automate one piece of the work, the rest of the job is toast," said Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "That's just not true, or only rarely the case."

An artificial intelligence technique called natural language processing has proved useful in scanning and predicting what documents will be relevant to a case, for example. Yet other lawyers' tasks, like advising clients, writing legal briefs, negotiating and appearing in court, seem beyond the reach of computerization, for a while.


. . .


(p. B3) Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Mr. Levy studied the automation threat to the work of lawyers at large law firms. Their paper concluded that putting all new legal technology in place immediately would result in an estimated 13 percent decline in lawyers' hours.

A more realistic adoption rate would cut hours worked by lawyers by 2.5 percent annually over five years, the paper said. The research also suggests that basic document review has already been outsourced or automated at large law firms, with only 4 percent of lawyers' time now spent on that task.

Their gradualist conclusion is echoed in broader research on jobs and technology. In January, the McKinsey Global Institute found that while nearly half of all tasks could be automated with current technology, only 5 percent of jobs could be entirely automated. Applying its definition of current technology -- widely available or at least being tested in a lab -- McKinsey estimates that 23 percent of a lawyer's job can be automated.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won't Replace Lawyers, Yet.." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 20, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 19, 2017, and has the title "A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won't Replace Lawyers, Yet.")


The Remus and Levy article, mentioned above, is:

Remus, Dana, and Frank S. Levy. "Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law." Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (forthcoming).






July 7, 2017

"The Data Run Counter to Your Anecdotes"



(p. A13) "Shattered," by campaign reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, narrates the petty bickering, foolish reasoning and sheer arrogance of a campaign that was never the sure thing that its leader and top staffers assumed. The authors, in a mostly successful attempt to get their sources to talk candidly, promised them that they wouldn't be identified.


. . .


The juicy quotes would mean more if they were on the record, but mostly it works: You can't pinpoint the identity of any one "top aide" or "close Hillary ally," but the authors' language leads you to believe they include the most senior Clinton advisers--Mr. Podesta, longtime Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, campaign manager Robby Mook, speechwriter Dan Schwerin, policy adviser Jake Sullivan --and probably the candidate herself.


. . .


Successful politicians must have a tacit sense of what voters want to hear and how they might be persuaded. Mrs. Clinton--in stark contrast to her husband--was never interested in that component of campaigning. You got the feeling she didn't like people all that much.

Mr. Mook's scientific "model" of how the campaign should run emphasized demographics, constituents' voting histories, regional electoral patterns, and so on. When staffers objected to his directives, the authors record, the response was always the same: "The data," as Mr. Mook at one point put it to former President Bill Clinton, "run counter to your anecdotes."



For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. "BOOKSHELF; Hillary the Unready." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 18, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 17, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; How Hillary Lost the White House.")


The book under review, is:

Allen, Jonathan, and Amie Parnes. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. New York: Crown, 2017.






July 4, 2017

Fed Throws Seniors Under Bus



(p. A1) The average one-year CD hasn't paid more than 1% since 2009, according to Bankrate.com.

The drop in interest rates since the financial crisis cost U.S. savers almost $1 trillion in lost income from savings accounts, CDs and bonds from the start of 2008 through 2015, taking into account money saved on debt costs, according to April 2016 research (p. A2) by insurer Swiss Re.

There are few signs of imminent improvement. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has risen since the election to nearly 2.6%, but it is still below the 2.9% it yielded when U.S. stocks hit their low on March 9, 2009.


. . .


Lawmakers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) have criticized the Fed's low-rate policy as harmful to savers. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) in 2013 said it amounted to "throwing seniors under the bus."



For the full story, see:

Corrie Driebusch and Aaron Kuriloff. "Stocks Have Tripled Since Crisis, but Low Rates Are Still Squeezing Savers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 9, 2017): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2017, and has the title "Stocks Have Tripled Since Crisis, but Low Rates Are Still Squeezing Savers.")






July 2, 2017

Apple Hits Record Market Capitalization for Any U.S. Company in History



(p. B20) The world's most valuable listed company just got even more valuable.

Shares of Apple rose 0.6% to an all-time high of $153.99 Tuesday [May 9, 2017], sending its market capitalization above $800 billion, a first for any U.S. company. That level, the latest evidence of how much the stock has risen this year, is a milestone sure to stoke speculation about whether it will be the first public company to be worth $1 trillion.



For the full story, see:


BEN EISEN AND CHRIS DIETERICH. "Apple's Latest Record: An $800 Billion Market Cap." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 10, 2017): B20.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2017, and has the title "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing.")






July 1, 2017

Introvert Was Student of Schumpeter and Hayek



(p. A9) As a boy, David Rockefeller idolized his big brother Nelson, a self-assured bon vivant who didn't let the family name stand in the way of a good time--and sometimes furtively shot rubber bands at his siblings during the morning prayer periods imposed by their austere father.

David, by contrast, was shy, insecure and often lonely, retreating into his hobby of collecting beetles and reliant on tutors for companionship.


. . .


A family friend advised him that studying economics would dispel the idea that any job he obtained was due to his family's influence. He took graduate courses at Harvard, including an introduction to economics from Joseph Schumpeter.

He furthered his studies at the London School of Economics, where his tutor was Friedrich von Hayek, a future Nobel laureate. He won a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940 after writing a dissertation on overcapacity in industrial plants.



For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. "Former Chase Leader Overcame Shyness as Child." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 25, 2017): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 24, 2017, and has the title "David Rockefeller Overcame Youthful Shyness and Insecurities.")






June 30, 2017

Amazon Increases Rewards to Live-Video-Content-Creators



(p. B4) Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch is allowing more broadcasters to make money on its platform, a move that could help the live-streaming business seize on challenges facing bigger rivals YouTube and Facebook Inc.

On Friday, Twitch said it will open up its revenue-sharing program next week for more broadcasters to get paid whenever they receive "bits"--custom, animated emoticons that act as an online currency for viewers to tip them. Twitch says bits are a way for those in the broadcasters' channels to cheer them on.

Twitch will add more money-making opportunities to its new "affiliate program" in the future, the company said. Currently, only the top 1% of the 2.2 million people who stream on Twitch at least once a month--members of its so-called "partner program"--can generate revenue on the platform.


. . .


Twitch said its top earners in the partner program, who are its most popular broadcasters, make more than $100,000 a year. Under the new affiliate program, creators with fewer fans must meet certain criteria to demonstrate their commitment to streaming, such as a minimum number of hours spent on the air, to earn revenue. The amount of money the platform shares with its broadcasters varies depending on how it is earned.

Twitch sells bits to viewers in bundles ranging from $1.40 for 100 to $308 for 25,000. Broadcasters then earn one cent every time a viewer uses one.



For the full story, see:

Sarah E. Needleman. "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 22, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2017, and has the title "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing.")






June 29, 2017

Dynamism Dying from Bad Attitudes or Bad Policies?




I agree with Tyler that the U.S. is less dynamic than it once was. But I mainly blame our bad government policies, while he mainly blames our own bad attitudes.



(p. A15) Is the "land of opportunity," with dynamic labor markets and fresh sources of renewal, a thing of the past?

That's the fear of Tyler Cowen, who argues in "The Complacent Class" that America is increasingly defined by an aversion to risk as well as to anything that is unfamiliar or different. He sees a broad swath of the American population losing "the capacity to imagine or embrace a world where things do change rapidly for most if not all people." This mind-set, he says, has "sapped us of the pioneer spirit that made America the world's most productive and innovative economy."


. . .


To make his case, Mr. Cowen draws a contrast between the changes that Americans experienced in the first half of the 20th century and the changes of the past 50 years. The earlier period saw dramatic improvements in health and education as well as a proliferation of automobiles, airplanes and telephones. By comparison, the changes since 1965 have been modest. "A lot of our technological world seems to have stood pretty much still," he writes, "albeit with a variety of quality improvements along the way." He even notes that, while popular narcotics in the past were mind-altering (LSD) or activity-inciting (cocaine), today's drugs of choice, such as heroin and opioids, "induce a dreamlike stupor and passivity."


. . .


Given Mr. Cowen's own innovative thinking, it's disappointing that he does not focus more on potential remedies to the torpor he describes.



For the full review, see:


Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How American Workers Got Lazy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cowen, Tyler. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.







June 28, 2017

Retiring Later Improves Health in Old Age



(p. 3) Despite what may seem like obvious benefits, scholars can't make definitive statements about the health effects of working longer. The research is inherently difficult: Just as retirement can influence health, so can health influence retirement.

"I would say, in my experience, the research is mixed," said Dr. Maestas of Harvard Medical School. "The studies I have seen tend to show that there are health benefits to working longer."

As the economists Axel Börsch-Supan and Morten Schuth of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy put it in an article for the National Bureau of Economic Research, "Even disliked colleagues and a bad boss, we argue, are better than social isolation because they provide cognitive challenges that keep the mind active and healthy."

Other studies have examined the impact of work and employment on the richness of social networks and social connectedness. The economists Eleonora Patacchini of Cornell University and Gary Engelhardt of Syracuse University tapped into a database of some 1,300 people from ages 57 to 85 that asked about their social networks in 2005 and 2010. After controlling for marital status, age, health and income, they concluded that people who continued to work enjoyed an increase in the size of their networks of family and friends of 25 percent. The social networks of retired people, on the other hand, shrank during the five-year period. In the study, the gains were found to be largely limited to women and older people with postsecondary education.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER FARRELL. "Retiring; Their Jobs Keep Them Healthy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 3, 2017, and has the title "Retiring; Working Longer May Benefit Your Health.")


The article by Börsch-Supan and Schuth, is:

Börsch-Supan, Axel, and Morten Schuth. "Early Retirement, Mental Health, and Social Networks." In Discoveries in the Economics of Aging, edited by David A. Wise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014, pp. 225-50.






June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"



(p. 13) In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers. The hope -- naturally -- was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California's electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or ­smartphone.

Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent dec­ades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.


. . .


As in the case of Zelenograd, hubs of genius do not arise from government planning or by acting on the observations of a traveler. They're happy accidents. To attempt to clone such things or pinpoint their characteristics is futile.



For the full review, see:

ASHLEE VANCE. "Smart Sites." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''The Geography of Genius,' by Eric Weiner.")


The book under review, is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.







June 24, 2017

On-Site Work "Is a Remnant of the Industrial Era"



(p. B5) Studies show that when employees have the choice to work remotely, "business is a whole lot better" for "people, the planet and profit," said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a consulting firm that focuses on emerging workplace trends.

Gallup's State of the American Workplace report, released in February [2017], showed that more American employees were working remotely and for longer periods. The "sweet spot" was employees who spend three to four days a week off site; they reported feeling most engaged at work.

Mohammed Chahdi, global human resources services director for Dell, said a large percentage of its 140,000 employees already worked remotely and the goal was to have 50 percent do so by 2020. The strategy has helped the company "grow smart," he said, by reducing its real estate and environmental footprints and retaining talented employees.

"We have data that show employees are more engaged when they enjoy flexibility," said Mr. Chahdi, who works remotely from Toronto. "Why insist that they be in an office when it simply doesn't matter?"

A new study, Future Workforce, released in February [2017] by Upwork, a marketplace for online work, surveyed more than 1,000 hiring managers in the United States. It found that only one in 10 believed location was important to a new hire's success; nearly two-thirds said they had at least some workers who did a significant portion of their work from a remote location, and about half agreed that they had trouble finding the talent they needed locally.

"Remote work has gone mainstream," said Stephane Kasriel, Upwork's chief executive. On-site work between the hours of 9 and 5 "is a remnant of the industrial era."



For the full story, see:

TANYA MOHN. "ITINERARIES; Digital Nomads Wander World Without Missing a Paycheck." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 4, 2017): B5.

(Note: bracketed years added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 3, 2017, and has the title "ITINERARIES; The Digital Nomad Life: Combining Work and Travel.")






June 22, 2017

Oregon Gadfly Fined for Practicing Engineering Without a License



(p. B2) Mats Jarlstrom acknowledges that he is unusually passionate about traffic signals -- and that his zeal is not particularly appreciated by Oregon officials.

His crusade to make traffic lights remain yellow longer -- which began after his wife received a red-light camera ticket -- has drawn some interest among transportation specialists and the media. But among the power brokers in his hometown, Beaverton, it has elicited ridicule and exasperation.

"They literally laughed at me at City Hall," Mr. Jarlstrom recalled of a visit there in 2013, when he tried to share his ideas with city counselors and the police chief.

Worse still was getting hit recently with a $500 fine for engaging in the "practice of engineering" without a license while pressing his cause. So last week, Mr. Jarlstrom filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, charging the state's licensing panel with violating his First Amendment rights.

"I was working with simple mathematics and applying it to the motion of a vehicle and explaining my research," said Mr. Jarlstrom, 56. "By doing so, they declared I was illegal."

The lawsuit is the latest and perhaps most novel shot in the continuing campaign against the proliferation of state licensing laws that can require costly training and fees before people can work. Mr. Jarlstrom is being represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization partly funded by the billionaire brothers and activists Charles G. and David H. Koch.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without License." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2017): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2017, and has the title "Yellow-Light Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without a License.")






June 21, 2017

FDR's Attorney General Warned Black Newspapers That He Would "Shut Them All Up"



(p. 12) . . . as the former Chicago Defender editor and reporter Ethan Michaeli shows in his extraordinary history, "The Defender," the Negro press barons attacked military segregation with a zeal that set Roosevelt's teeth on edge. The Negro press warned black men against Navy recruiters who would promise them training as radiomen, technicians or mechanics -- then put them to work serving food to white men. It made its readers understand that black men and women in uniform were treated worse in Southern towns than German prisoners of war and sometimes went hungry on troop trains because segregationists declined to feed them. It focused unflinchingly on the fistfights and gun battles that erupted between blacks and whites on military bases. And it reiterated the truth that no doubt cut Roosevelt the most deeply: His government's insistence on racial separation was of a piece with the "master race" theory put in play by Hitler in Europe.

This was not the first time The Defender and its sister papers had attacked institutional racism. That part of the story begins with Robert S. Abbott, the transplanted Southerner who created The Defender in 1905 and fashioned it into a potent weapon.


. . .


The black press was considerably more powerful and self-assured by 1940, when Abbott died and his nephew John H. Sengstacke succeeded him.


. . .


Things stood thus in 1942, when Sengstacke traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke found Biddle in a conference room, sitting at a table across which was spread copies of black newspapers that included The Defender, The Courier and The Afro-American. Biddle said that the black papers were flirting with sedition and threatened to "shut them all up."



For the full review, see:

BRENT STAPLES. "'A 'Most Dangerous' Newspaper." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 4, 2016, and has the title "''The Defender,' by Ethan Michaeli.")


The book under review, is:

Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






June 20, 2017

Government Regulations Suppress Poor Street Entrepreneurs



(p. 7) HANOI, Vietnam -- As strips of tofu sizzle beside her in a vat of oil, Nguyen Thu Hong listens for police sirens.

Police raids on sidewalk vendors have escalated sharply in downtown Hanoi since March [2017], she said, and officers fine her about $9, or two days' earnings, for the crime of selling bun dau mam tom -- vermicelli rice noodles with tofu and fermented shrimp paste -- from a plastic table beside an empty storefront.

"Most Vietnamese live by what they do on the sidewalk, so you can't just take that away," she said. "More regulations would be fine, but what the cops are doing now feels too extreme."

Southeast Asia is famous for its street food, delighting tourists and locals alike with tasty, inexpensive dishes like spicy som tam (green papaya salad) in Bangkok or sizzling banh xeo crepes in Ho Chi Minh City. But major cities in three countries are strengthening campaigns to clear the sidewalks, driving thousands of food vendors into the shadows and threatening a culinary tradition.


. . .


. . . some experts say street food is not inherently less sanitary than restaurant food. "If you're eating fried foods or things that are really steaming hot, then there's probably not much difference at all," said Martyn Kirk, an epidemiologist at the Australian National University.


. . .


Ms. Hong, the Hanoi vendor, said her earnings had cratered by about 60 percent since the start of the crackdown, when she moved to her present location from a busy street corner as a hedge against police raids.



For the full story, see:

MIKE IVES. "Food So Popular, Asian Cities Want It Off the Streets." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 30, 2017): 7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 29, 2017, and has the title "Efforts to Ease Congestion Threaten Street Food Culture in Southeast Asia.")






June 19, 2017

"The System Is Totally Crazy"



(p. D1) Mr. Ahmed, 46, is in the business of chicken and rice. He immigrated from Bangladesh 23 years ago, and is now one of two partners in a halal food cart that sets up on Greenwich Street close to the World Trade Center, all year long, rain or shine. He is also one of more than 10,000 people, most of them immigrants, who make a living selling food on the city's sidewalks: pork tamales, hot dogs, rolled rice noodles, jerk chicken.

These vendors are a fixture of New York's streets and New Yorkers' routines, vital to the culture of the city. But day to day, they struggle to do business against a host of challenges: byzantine city codes and regulations on street vending, exorbitant fines for small violations (like setting up an inch too close to the curb) and the occasional rage of brick-and-mortar businesses or residents.


. . .


(p. D6) Mr. Ahmed ties on his apron and pushes a few boxes underneath the cart so he can squeeze inside and get to work. Any boxes peeking out beyond the cart's footprint could result in a fine (penalties can run up to $1,000), as could parking his cart closer than six inches to the curb, or 20 feet to the building entrance. Mr. Ahmed knows all the rules by heart.


. . .


He applied for a food vendor's license, took a required health and safety class, bought a used cart and took it for an inspection by city officials. (The health department inspects carts at least once a year, and more frequently if a violation is reported.)

Mr. Ahmed still needed a food-vending permit, though, and because of a cap on permits imposed in the 1980s, only 4,000 or so circulate. He acquired his from a permit owner who has charged him and his partner $25,000 for two-year leases (for a permit that cost the owner just $200), which they are still paying off.

A day ago, Mr. Ahmed received a text message: 100 vendors were protesting the cap. Organized by the Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit group that is part of the Urban Justice Center and offers legal representation to city vendors, they hoped to pressure the City Council to pass legislation introduced last fall that would double the number of food-vending permits, gradually, over the next seven years. Mr. Ahmed, who believes the costs for those starting out should be more manageable, wanted to join them, but like many vendors, he couldn't get away from work.

"The system is totally crazy," Mr. Ahmed says. "Whoever has a license, give them a permit. It's good for all of us."



For the full story, see:

TEJAL RAO. "A Day in the Lunch Box." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 19, 2017): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2017, and has the title "A Day in the Life of a Food Vendor.")






June 16, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Would Help Older Adults Continue to Live at Home



(p. B4) Single, childless and 68, Steven Gold has begun to think about future mobility and independence. Although in good health, he can foresee a time when he won't be a confident driver, if he can drive at all. While he hopes to continue to live in his suburban Detroit home, he wonders how he will be able to get to places like his doctor's office and the supermarket if his driving becomes impaired.

For Mr. Gold and other older adults, self-driving cars might be a solution.

The number of United States residents age 70 and older is projected to increase to 53.7 million in 2030, from 30.9 million in 2014, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Nearly 16 million people 65 and older live in communities where public transportation is poor or nonexistent. That number is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers remain outside of cities.

"The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society," said Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology AgeLab in Cambridge.

He said that 70 percent of those over age 50 live in the suburbs, a figure he expects to remain steady despite a recent rise in moves to urban centers. Further, 92 percent of older people want to age in place, he said.



For the full story, see:

MARY M. CHAPMAN. "Wheels; For the Aged, Self-Driving Cars Could Bridge a Mobility Gap." The New York Times (Fri., March 24, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2017, and has the title "Wheels; Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdles.")






June 14, 2017

Lower Ivory Prices Reduce Incentives to Poach Elephants



(p. A9) NAIROBI, Kenya -- Finally, there's some good news for elephants.

The price of ivory in China, the world's biggest market for elephant tusks, has fallen sharply, which may spell a reprieve from the intense poaching of the past decade.

According to a report released on Wednesday [March 29, 2017] by Save the Elephants, a respected wildlife group in Kenya, the price of ivory is less than half of what it was just three years ago, showing that demand is plummeting.



For the full commentary, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Ivory Prices May Mean a Reprieve for Elephants." The New York Times (Thurs., March 30, 2017): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 29, 2017, and has the title "Elephants Get a Reprieve as Price of Ivory Falls.")






June 13, 2017

Banks Often Less Transparent and Less Flexible than Bank Alternatives



I saw a C-Span interview on their weekend Book TV today (3/16/17), with Professor Lisa Servon. She pointed out that many of the highly regulated, and much-criticized, alternative banking services, offer a more transparent, more flexible, and more friendly service environment than the incumbent banking industry. She even argues that for those with low-incomes, and low-education, the alternative services are often less expensive. This happens because those with low-incomes and low education are often those who by mistake or by difficult circumstance, incur high fees at banks.

She points out that many who are bankless, previously made use of bank services, but decided to go with the alternatives. She suggested that in a free market environment, some of the alternatives might creatively destroy the incumbent banks.

Servon is clearly no libertarian, but much of what she says is thought-provoking.


Servon's book is:

Servon, Lisa. The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2017.






June 12, 2017

DARPA's $66 Million Fails to Develop Tech to Match Dog Noses



(p. A2) "What's cool about dogs is when they do come into contact with an odor, they can track it to its source," said L. Paul Waggoner, co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University. "There is not an instrument out there that replicates a dog's nose."

That's not for lack of effort.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense spent $66 million between 1997 and 2010 drawing on the expertise of at least 35 different research institutions to develop sensors that could detect explosives as ably as a dog and identify other chemicals.


They couldn't do it.


. . .


Surprisingly, pigs and ferrets outperformed German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, breeds often chosen for odor detection.

But overall, dogs won out because of their combination of qualities: Not only do they have strong noses, they are compatible with people, they respond to training, and--for now--they beat technology paws down.



For the full commentary, see:

Jo Craven McGinty. "THE NUMBERS; Dogs Still Beat Technology in the Smell Test." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 25, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2017, and has the title"THE NUMBERS; Making Sense of a Dog's Olfactory Powers.")






June 11, 2017

Mainstream Economist William Baumol Celebrated Innovative Entrepreneurs




William J. Baumol is a key source in my book project on Innovation Unbound. I had hoped he would be able to read, and comment on, the current draft, but that is not to be. He was one of the heroes of the economics of entrepreneurship.



(p. A13) The disease that bears William J. Baumol's name is not what led to his death on May 4 [2017] at age 95, but it is what cemented his legacy as one of the pre-eminent economists of the 20th century.


. . .


Professor Baumol was "one of the great economists of his generation," Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, said in an interview, adding, "The series of insights he had about managerial economics, the role of innovation -- a whole series of innovational breakthroughs over a long period of time -- had a profound effect on economics."


. . .


"Nobody ever explained to him the difference between work and play," Daniel Baumol said of his father. "During a long trip, he would sit in the back of the car, oblivious to the world, and as we pulled in, he would announce, 'I just finished that article.'"

Patrick Bolton, a professor of economics at Columbia, described Professor Baumol as "someone who could come to a big problem and bring an extremely simple analysis that really shaped the way people would think about it."



For the full obituary, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "William J. Baumol, 95, Leading Thinker in Economics." The New York Times (Fri., May 12, 2017): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 10, 2017 and has the title "William J. Baumol, 95, 'One of the Great Economists of His Generation,' Dies.")


My favorite Baumol paper, is:

Baumol, William J. "Education for Innovation: Entrepreneurial Breakthroughs Versus Corporate Incremental Improvements." In Innovation Policy and the Economy, edited by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 33-56.






June 10, 2017

Apple Funds Corning's Glass Innovation



(p. B6) SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple is seeding the next generation of American-made glass for its iPhones and iPads, and its investments may have the side benefit of helping the company win favor in Washington.

Apple announced Friday [May 12, 2017] that it was giving $200 million to Corning, which makes the tough, scratch-resistant face for every iPhone and iPad, to support the glass maker's efforts to develop and build more sophisticated products at its factory in Harrodsburg, Ky.

Corning has made the glass for every iPhone since the original 10 years ago. Apple's investment, the first from the technology giant's $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing in the United States, will help Corning develop thinner, more versatile glass for iPhones as well as other product lines that Apple is exploring, such as screens for self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses.

The move goes beyond Apple's traditional practice of subsidizing suppliers, said Tim Bajarin, president of the technology consulting firm Creative Strategies.

"I would see this more as an Apple-Corning partnership to flesh out what other kinds of things you would use glass for," he said. "They are literally thinking about stuff you and I aren't thinking about yet."



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Apple Gives $200 Million to Advance Phone Glass." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 13, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 12, 2017, and has the title "Apple Gives Corning $200 Million to Invent Better Phone Glass.")






June 8, 2017

Silicon Valley Funding Big Dings in the Universe




When Steve Jobs was trying to recruit Pepsi's John Sculley to become Apple CEO, Jobs asked him something like: 'do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want a chance to make a ding in the universe.'



(p. B1) One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news -- most recently the one selling a $700 juicer -- and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.

But don't be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn't just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you've ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren't just funding big things -- they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; These Days, Moon Shots Are Domain of the Valley." The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 17, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 17, 2017, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Google, Not the Government, Is Building the Future.")






June 5, 2017

Going Postal



(p. 19) Over all, Leonard emphasizes a darker side of postal history, from the corruption scandals that periodically erupted after Andrew Jackson politicized the service, creating a gargantuan patronage machine, to oppressive government censorship campaigns. He devotes much of a chapter to Anthony Comstock, the longtime postal inspector and self-styled "weeder in God's garden," who banned and prosecuted the mailing of birth control pamphlets, "marriage aids" and "indecent" literary works like Walt Whitman's poems, lest they pollute public morals. Still another chapter charts the spree of mass killings by overworked, underpaid and aggrieved postal workers in the 1980s and early 1990s.


For the full review, see:

LISA McGIRR. "We Had Mail." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 10, 2016): 19.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 8, 2016, and has the title "Two Books Recount How Our Postal System Created a Communications Revolution.")


The book under review, is:

Leonard, Devin. Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service. New York: Grove Press, 2016.






June 4, 2017

Lower Quality Restaurants Most Hurt by Minimum Wage Hike



(p. A17) "There's only so much you can charge for tamales," the owner of a small eatery said in 2015 to explain one reason he was closing.

For some empirical backup, consider an April [2017] study from Michael Luca at Harvard Business School and Dara Lee Luca at Mathematica Policy Research. They used Bay Area data from the review website Yelp to estimate that a $1 minimum-wage hike leads to a 14% increase in "the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant."

Put differently, San Francisco's minimum wage experiment may be dangerous for your favorite white-tablecloth restaurant--the kind of place where the food is exquisite and can command a premium--but it's downright deadly for your local white-apron diner.



For the full commentary, see:


Michael Saltsman. "The Minimum Wage Eats Restaurants; A San Francisco ex-owner says: 'There's only so much you can charge for tamales.'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 9, 2017): A17.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2017,)


The Luca and Luca paper, mentioned above, is:

Luca, Dara Lee and Luca, Michael. "Survival of the Fittest: The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Firm Exit." (April 2017). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 17-088.






June 3, 2017

"Mind-Bending" Automatic Braking Trickles Down to Cheaper Cars



(p. B4) I first experienced radar-assisted cruise control in a $70,000 Mercedes in 2001. Slowing automatically to keep from hitting the car ahead felt like a magic trick. In 2009, I was told to drive a new $50,000 Volvo into the back of a "parked car" (really, an inflatable mock-up). Every fiber of my body wanted to stomp on the brake pedal. Instead, the car did it for me. Automatic braking is mind-bending the first time.

Both of these technologies are standard equipment on 2017 Toyota Corollas, which start at $19,385. So is lane-keeping assist, which nudges the car back between the road stripes if you wander. Automatic high-beam headlamps, too.

Huzzah for technology trickle down!



For the full story, see:

TOM VOELK. "Tech Trickles Down into a Safer Corolla." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 16, 2017, and has the title "Video Review: Not-So-Standard Equipment on the Otherwise Standard Corolla.")






May 29, 2017

Employers Less Likely to Hire Older Workers



(p. A3) Using a method of uncovering discrimination well known in economics, David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, led a study that sent out 40,000 fake résumés to employers who had posted openings. Mr. Neumark and his co-authors found that résumés suggesting an applicant was 64 to 66 years old got a response 35 percent less often than résumés suggesting that the applicant was 29 to 31.

Labeling it discrimination is another matter, however. "The one thing that people always point out is that acceptability for age stereotyping is extremely high," Mr. Neumark said. "The number of people who make age-related jokes are way more frequent than people who make race-related jokes. For whatever reason, the social stigma for age discrimination is really weak."

Aside from fairness, evidence suggests that finding ways to keep older Americans working has benefits to the broader society: Working keeps older Americans happier, healthier and more mentally engaged. And forestalling retirement could relieve some of the pressure a large aging population places on this country's social safety net.

"Governments all over the world are trying to figure how to get old people to stay at work longer," Mr. Neumark said. "If we have discriminatory barriers, then all these reforms will be less effective."



For the full story, see:

Quoctrung Bui. "As More Older People Look for Work, They Are Put Into 'Old Person Jobs'." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 18, 2016): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "More Older People Are Finding Work, but What Kind?")


The Neumark paper mentioned above, is:

Neumark, David, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button. "Experimental Age Discrimination Evidence and the Heckman Critique." American Economic Review 106, no. 5 (May 2016): 303-08.






May 28, 2017

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits



(p. A17) The Soviet Union may have pioneered in space with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, but today Russia has less than 1% of the world commercial market in space telecommunications, the most successful commercial product so far stemming from space exploration. Russians may have won Nobel Prizes for developing the laser, but Russia today is insignificant in the production of lasers for the world market. Russians may have developed the first digital computer in continental Europe, but who today buys a Russian computer? By missing out on the multi-billion-dollar markets for lasers, computers and space-based telecommunications, Russia has suffered a grievous economic loss.

Accompanying this technical and economic failure was a human tragedy. Russian achievements in science and technology occurred in an environment of political terror. The father of the Russian hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, wrote in his memoirs that the research facility in which he worked was built by political prisoners, and each morning he looked out the window of his office to see them marching under armed guard to their construction sites. The "chief designer" of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, was long a prisoner who worked in a special prison laboratory, or sharashka. The dean of Soviet airplane designers, A.N. Tupolev, also labored for years as a prisoner in a special laboratory. Three of the Soviet Union's Nobel Prize-winning physicists were arrested for alleged political disloyalty. Probably half of the engineers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s were eventually arrested. In 1928 alone 648 members of the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were purged.

When one looks at these statistics and at the genuine achievements of Soviet science, one is forced to ask basic questions about the relation of freedom to scientific progress.


. . .


Mr. Ings admirable effort to reach nonspecialized readers sometimes leads him to make exaggerated statements. He claims that we have "good agricultural and climate data for Russia going back over a thousand years" when in fact the data is incomplete and unreliable.


. . .


The claim that the Soviet Union was a scientific state brings Mr. Ings close, in his conclusion, to condemning science itself. He sees science and technology as causing a coming global ecological collapse, and he thinks that in some ways the demise of the Soviet Union was a preview of what we will all soon face. In one of his final sentences he says: "We are all little Stalinists now, convinced of the efficacy of science to bail us out of any and every crisis." "Stalin and the Scientists" deserves attention, but a very critical form of attention. It is based on an impressive amount of study, and most readers will learn a great deal. It is, however, incomplete and overdrawn.



For the full review, see:

LOREN GRAHAM. "BOOKSHELF; No Good Deed Went Unpunished." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 21, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 20, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Science Under Stalin.")


The book under review, is:

Ings, Simon. Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.







May 27, 2017

Chinese Government Stimulus Inflated Egg Futures Bubble



(p. A1) HONG KONG -- China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.

And some of it is going into eggs.

China's latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country's hens.

Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China's chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.

But the market's usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country's markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.

The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China's tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China's previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly (p. B2) sent money into real estate and the stock market -- markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.

"Many commodities prices have gone up crazily," said Du Shaoxing, a futures trader in Guangzhou, in southern China. "We surely hope for a more stabilized trend where futures can reflect economic fundamentals. The way in which recent commodity prices went up is worrisome."

China's latest bubble illustrates the potential risks of its newest effort to spur growth. The Chinese economy is already burdened with too much debt, economists say. And sometimes, stopgap measures to help the economy create long-term problems.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "China's Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures." The New York Times (Weds., May 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 1, 2016, and has the title "China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.")






May 26, 2017

Amateur Tinkerers Keep Steam Power Alive



(p. D4) Most people, when they think of steam power, they think of rusty farm tractors from 150 years ago. But there's such a thing as modern steam power. Steam is the most direct way to get power out of heat. You can't build an internal combustion engine in your garage. But you can build a steam engine, and the interesting thing is, it can run on anything that will burn, even sawdust.

At my farm, I have about 100 steam engines, many of them homemade, plus a library of technical papers, patents, and books on steam technology. I have Volkswagen engines converted to steam, outboard boat engines, etc. I collect and preserve this stuff. I get a lot of it from old widows whose deceased husbands were tinkerers; these women are so happy to get rid of it. Some of the engines are well built, others not, but you can learn as much from a bad example as a good one.



For the full story, see:


Kimmel, Tom (as told to A.J. BAIME). "MY RIDE; Never Before Has Steam Been Quite This Cool." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 2, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 1, 2015, and has the title "MY RIDE; Never Has Steam Been So Cool." )






May 23, 2017

More Than 100 Video Stores Still Open in U.S.



(p. A15) "Whoa, a video store!" said a man recently walking by Video Free Brooklyn, loud enough to be heard inside the shop.

It's true: Video-store holdouts still exist. Their goal is to keep pushing DVDs, Blu-Rays and even VHS tapes in an age when streaming movies is second-nature.

Owners and customers of the more than 100 independent and nonprofit video stores still kicking throughout the U.S., often in places with strong locavore food scenes, say the stores offer variety film lovers can't find elsewhere. It might be a deep roster of anime films by Hayao Miyazaki, or one of Dario Argento 's more obscure grindhouse efforts. They allow a browsing experience impossible online and serve as libraries for movies and TV shows that will likely never transfer to an online format.



For the full story, see:


ERIN GEIGER SMITH. "Revenge of the Video Store." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 28, 2016): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 26, 2016.)






May 21, 2017

Nano-Enhanced Fabrics Can Clean Themselves



(p. D3) Scientists in Australia, one of the sunniest places on the planet, have discovered a way to rid clothes of stubborn stains by exposing them to sunlight, potentially replacing doing the laundry.

Working in a laboratory, the researchers embedded minute flecks of silver and copper--invisible to the naked eye--within cotton fabric. When exposed to light, the tiny metal particles, or nanostructures, released bursts of energy that degraded any organic matter on the fabric in as little as six minutes, said Rajesh Ramanathan, a postdoctoral fellow at RMIT University, in Melbourne.

The development, reported recently in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces, represents an early stage of research into nano-enhanced fabrics that have the ability to clean themselves, Dr. Ramanathan said. The tiny metal particles don't change the look or feel of the fabric. They also stay on the surface of the garment even when it is rinsed in water, meaning they can be used over and over on new grime, he said.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL PANNETT. "An End to Laundry? The Promise of Self-Cleaning Fabric." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 26, 2016): D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2016.)


The academic article describing the self-cleaning fabric, is:

Anderson, Samuel R., Mahsa Mohammadtaheri, Dipesh Kumar, Anthony P. O'Mullane, Matthew R. Field, Rajesh Ramanathan, and Vipul Bansal. "Robust Nanostructured Silver and Copper Fabrics with Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Property for Effective Visible Light Induced Reductive Catalysis." Advanced Materials Interfaces 3, no. 6 (2016): 1-8.






May 20, 2017

"The Powers of a Man's Mind Are Directly Proportioned to the Quantity of Coffee He Drinks"



(p. C9) . . . certain aspects of 18th-century Parisian life diluted the importance of sight. This was, after all, a time before widespread street lighting, and, as such, activities in markets (notably Les Halles) were guided as much by sound and touch as by eyes that struggled in the near dark conditions. Natural light governed the lives of working people, principally because candles were expensive. Night workers--such as baker boys known as "bats," who worked in cheerless basements--learned to rely on their other senses, most notably touch.


. . .


"For Enlightenment consumers, a delicious food or beverage had more than just the power of giving a person pleasure," writes Ms. Purnell; taste, it was held, could influence personality, emotions and intelligence. Take coffee, "the triumphant beverage of the Age of Enlightenm ent." Considered a "sober liquor," it stimulated creativity without courting the prospect of drunkenness. Sir James Mackintosh, the Scottish philosopher, believed that "the powers of a man's mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks." Voltaire agreed and supposedly quaffed 40 cups of it every day. Taste was also gendered: Coffee was deemed too strong for women; drinking chocolate was thought more suitable.



For the full review, see:

MARK SMITH. "The Stench of Progress." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Purnell, Carolyn. The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






May 18, 2017

"Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast"



(p. B2) WASHINGTON -- Jeff Bezos, the billionaire chief executive of Amazon, founded a rocket company as a hobby 16 years ago. Now that company, Blue Origin, finally has its first paying customer as it ramps up to become a full-fledged business.

Mr. Bezos announced that customer, the satellite television provider Eutelsat, on Tuesday. In about five years, Eutelsat, which is based in Paris, will strap one of its satellites to a new Blue Origin rocket to be delivered to space, a process it has done dozens of times with other space partners.


. . .


Blue Origin's deal with Eutelsat is a "definite statement to the industry that Blue Origin will be a viable commercial launch vehicle," said Carissa Bryce Christensen, the chief executive of Bryce Space and Technology, a consulting firm.


. . .


Mr. Bezos "is investing because he wants to transform people's lives with space capabilities, but the expectation has always been that this will be a successful business," Ms. Christensen said.


. . .


Mr. Bezos said he was approaching his space project with an abundance of patience.

"I like to do things incrementally," he said, noting that Blue Origin's mascot is a tortoise. With such high costs and risks with each rocket launch, it is important not to skip steps, he said.

"Slow is smooth and smooth is fast," said Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post and a clock that will keep time for 10,000 years. "I've seen this in every endeavor I've been in."



For the full story, see:

CECILIA KANG. "Blue Origin, Bezos's Moon Shot, Gets First Paying Customer." The New York Times (Weds., March 8, 2017): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2017, and has the title "Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos's Moon Shot, Gets First Paying Customer.")






May 16, 2017

Panopticon: "Bentham's Most Infamous Idea"



(p. C6) Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of the book, highlighting Mr. Crawford's ability to mix philosophy and reporting, is the one about the panopticon. The idea of an annular building with a central observation tower was conceived by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The utilitarian is known most superficially by students of and visitors to University College, London, as the eccentric who willed that, after his death, his body be preserved seated on a chair in a glass case.

Mr. Crawford fleshes out the story, noting that, in fact, the smartly dressed Bentham figure that sits inside a glass display case today is actually a skeleton of the man, his head a wax replica of the real one that did not survive the preservation process. When I was a regular at University College one summer, I was told that the cabinet holding the "Auto-Icon" (Bentham's term) was rolled over to the lecture hall on occasion, something that I don't recall witnessing.

The author's real purpose in discussing Bentham's most infamous idea is to describe the utopian--or dystopian, depending upon one's point of view--concept. In one embodiment, it took the form of a rimless wagon wheel, in which someone situated at the hub could oversee activities in all directions, making the layout ideal for insuring that workers in a factory did not take more breaks than allowed, inmates did not misbehave in a prison or students did not cheat on an exam.

Bentham's insight was that the mere fact that those being observed knew that they were being watched would cause them to alter their behavior for the better. Could Bentham have imagined that his idea would form the foundation of our surveillance society? Looking at our culture today--with its CCTV, smartphones and so on--to some it surely seems that we live in a permanent panopticon. "All this," Mr. Crawford writes, "from a 'simple idea in architecture.' "



For the full review, see:

HENRY PETROSKI. "What Goes Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017, and has the title "The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, James. Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings. New York: Picador, 2017.






May 15, 2017

For $9,000, No Chicken Need Die, When You Eat a Pound of Chicken



(p. B3) A Bay Area food-technology startup says it has created the world's first chicken strips grown from self-reproducing cells without so much as ruffling a feather.

And the product pretty much tastes like chicken, according to people who were offered samples Tuesday [March 14, 2017] in San Francisco, before Memphis Meats Inc.'s formal unveiling on Wednesday.

Scientists, startups and animal-welfare activists believe the new product could help to revolutionize the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat industry. Their goal: Replace billions of cattle, hogs and chickens with animal meat they say can be grown more efficiently and humanely in stainless-steel bioreactor tanks.


. . .


On Tuesday [March 14, 2017], Memphis Meats invited a handful of taste-testers to a San Francisco kitchen and cooked and served their chicken strip, along with a piece of duck prepared à l'orange style.

Some who sampled the strip--breaded, deep-fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast--said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety. Their verdict: They would eat it again.


. . .


The cell-cultured meat startups are a long way from replacing the meat industry's global network of hatcheries, chicken barns, feed mills and processing plants. But they say they're making progress. Memphis Meats estimates its current technology can yield one pound of chicken meat for less than $9,000. That is half of what it cost the company to produce its beef meatball about a year ago. The startups, however, aspire to produce meat that can be cost-competitive with the conventionally raised kind.



For the full story, see:

JACOB BUNGE. "Startup Serves Chicken From the Lab." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 16, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 15, 2017, and has the title "Startup Serves Up Chicken Produced From Cells in Lab.")






May 14, 2017

As Consumers Accept Surge Pricing, More Will Accept Congestion Pricing Too



(p. B2) With remarkable consistency, the research finds the same thing: Whenever a road is built or an older road is widened, more people decide to drive more. Build more or widen further, and even more people decide to drive. Repeat to infinity.

Economists call this latent demand, which is a fancy way of saying there are always more people who want to drive somewhere than there is space for them to do it. So far anyway, nothing cities have done to increase capacity has ever sped things up.

The extent of this failure was chronicled in a 2011 paper called "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion," by the economists Gilles Duranton, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Turner, from Brown University.

The two went beyond road building to show that increases in public transit and changes in land use -- basically, building apartments next to office buildings so that more people can walk or bike to work -- also fail to cut traffic (or do so only a little).

This doesn't mean public transit and land planning are bad ideas, or that widening freeways is a bad idea. When roads are bigger, more people can get around. More people see family; more packages are delivered; more babies are lulled to sleep. It just means that none of those measures have done much to reduce commute times, and self-driving cars seem unlikely to either.

That's where charging people during busy times comes in. "Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions," Mr. Turner said. "But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing."

This is because the average person prefers the privacy and convenience of riding in a car.


. . .


"This idea of congestion pricing is not completely dismissed the way it once was," said Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Winston said the eventual introduction of self-driving cars would probably lessen consumer opposition to paying more to use roads during peak periods. Ride-hailing apps have taught consumers to accept surge pricing, and people are generally less resistant to paying for something new. The result would be something like variably priced lanes dedicated to fleets of robot vehicles.

If that happens, one of the hidden benefits of this revolutionary new technology will be that it got people to accept an idea that economists started talking about at least a century ago. And you get home a half-hour earlier.



For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. "A Cure for Traffic Jams." The New York Times (Weds., March 8, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Self-Driving Cars Can't Cure Traffic, but Economics Can.")






May 11, 2017

Fewer Regulations and Lower Taxes Rouse "Animal Spirits" in Small Businesses



(p. B1) More than any other president since Ronald Reagan, President Trump is moving to strip away regulations and slash taxes, said Jeffrey Korzenik, an investment strategist with Fifth Third, a large regional bank in the Midwest and Southeast. In meetings with clients, Mr. Korzenik has been making the case that these policies will rouse the slumbering animal spirits in businesses across America.

"And now we have seen this huge spike in small-business confidence since the election," Mr. Korzenik said, pointing to a chart. "So I have to ask you: Do you feel more confident now?"

There was a moment of silence, broken only by a howling northwestern Ohio wind that rattled the floor-to-ceiling windows in the bank's boardroom.

Then, with rapid-fire speed, came the responses.

The president of a trucking company spoke of a "tremendous dark cloud" lifting when he realized he would no longer be feeling the burden of rules and regulations imposed by the Obama administration.

The owner of an automotive parts assembler gave thanks that he would not be receiving visits from pesky envi-(p. B3)ronmental and workplace overseers.

And the head of a seating manufacturer expressed hope that, finally, his health care costs would come down when the Affordable Care Act was repealed.

"My gut just feels better," said Bob Fleisher, president of a local car dealership. "With Obama, you felt it was personal -- like he just didn't want you to make money. Now we have a guy who is cutting regulations and taxes. And when I see my taxes going down every quarter -- well, that means I am going to start investing again."


. . .


A heavier regulatory burden and uncertainty born of a weak economic recovery have kept small-business owners from making big bets in investments or hiring.

But in Toledo, this reluctance is changing -- and quickly.

Louis M. Soltis owns a small company that manufactures control panels for large factories and machines. After four years of not adding to his work force of 22, he has seen orders for panels jump in the last two months and is looking to take on as many as six new workers.

There may not be a direct correlation between his surging order book and the new president, but there is no doubting the psychological boost.

"That guy is a junkyard dog, doing his tweets at 3 a.m. and taking on the news media -- I just get strength from him," Mr. Soltis said over a wine-soaked dinner with a large group of his small-business friends and peers from around town. "And I have to say, it makes you feel gutsy -- ready to step up and start investing again."


. . .


Yet there is a downside to animal spirits that persist too long, especially in labor markets, like Toledo's, that are operating on the tight side.

And that is a sharp uptick in inflation.

In his presentation to Fifth Third's banking clients, Mr. Korzenik raised this issue, suggesting that the broader economy was in the "seventh inning" of what has been a pretty long business cycle.


. . .


Still, no one in the room seemed overly concerned. As the group saw it, the party was just beginning.

"Most businesses I know are just taking a deep breath, happy that there is finally someone in the White House who understands what they do," said Mr. Fleisher, the owner of the Lincoln car dealership. "So you say we are in the seventh inning -- well, I am not sure we are."



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "Small Businesses' Hopes Are Up." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 13, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 12, 2017, and has the title "The President Changed. So Has Small Businesses' Confidence.")






May 10, 2017

Restaurants Add Labor Surcharges to Help Pay Minimum Wage Costs



(p. B1) In lieu of steep menu price increases, many independent and regional chain restaurants in states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are adding surcharges of 3% to 4% to help offset rising labor costs. Industry analysts expect the practice to become widespread as more cities and states increase minimum wages.

"It's the emerging new norm," said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. She said California restaurants are adding surcharges as the state lifts the minimum wage every year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2023. It is currently at $10.50 an hour for employers with 26 or more workers.


. . .


While adding a surcharge risks turning diners away, some restaurateurs say they want customers to understand the consequences of higher wages on a business with profit margins of generally between 2% and 6%.


. . .


(p. B2) Sami Ladeki added surcharges to the menu at six Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill restaurants in San Diego and eight more across California. He said it was a mistake to call the charge a state mandate, and has changed the wording. But he remains critical of rising minimum wages.

"This is not sustainable," said Mr. Ladeki, who says he makes a profit of around 1% charging $12 to $14 a pizza. "People are not going to pay $15 or $20 for a pizza."


. . .


David Cohn, who owns 15 restaurants in San Diego, including BO-beau, said his 3% surcharge wasn't a stunt.

"We want people to understand there is a cost," Mr. Cohn said. "How do we stay in business with margins shrinking and competition increasing?"



For the full story, see:

JULIE JARGON. "New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 10, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017.)






May 7, 2017

Entrepreneur Rothblatt Was Highest-Paid Female CEO in 2013



(p. 3) Martine Rothblatt, a serial entrepreneur, has a unique perspective on female 1 percenters. She not only founded Sirius Satellite Radio, but also founded and serves as chief executive of United Therapeutics, a pharmaceuticals company. Ms. Rothblatt was the highest-paid female chief executive in the country in 2013, with compensation of $38 million, yet she does not see her success as a victory for women. She was born as Martin and underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1994.

"I've only been a woman for half of my life, and there's no doubt that I've benefited hugely from being a guy," she told Fortune magazine.

In an interview, Ms. Rothblatt had some surprising suggestions for helping women reach the top. She supports eliminating "say on pay" rules that allow shareholders to vote on executive compensation, and eliminating shareholder advisory groups. "If shareholders do not like the pay a woman is receiving as C.E.O., they should simply sell the stock, and vice versa," she said.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT FRANK. "INSIDE WEALTH; Plenty of Billionaires, but Few Are Women." The New York Times, Sunday Business Section (Sun., Jan. 1, 2017): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 30, 2016, and has the title "INSIDE WEALTH; Why Aren't There More Female Billionaires?")







May 6, 2017

Music Cassettes Still Thrive



(p. D11) . . . thanks to music fans who are rediscovering the format's appeal--whether the ability to craft heartfelt mixtapes or the comfort of having tangible music--cassettes are making a comeback. Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.

Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA's Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album "Purpose" in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum). The Weeknd's Grammy-winning release "Beauty Behind the Madness" saw similar sales in cassette form, as did over 20 other albums last year, including the "Guardians of the Galaxy" soundtrack and reissues of works by Prince and Eminem.

Although four-digit sales figures might seem paltry, Ms. Johnson deemed 2016 "a breakout year" for cassettes. "You can expect to see many more artists embracing tapes this year and next," she said.


. . .


"I keep waiting for this to be a fad that will fade out," said Ms. Johnson of UCLA. "But we're almost a decade into this and it keeps growing."



For the full story, see:

NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES. "GEAR & GADGETS; Can't Stop the Music." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 11, 2017): D11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017, and has the title "GEAR & GADGETS; Why Cassette Tapes Are Making a Comeback.")






May 5, 2017

Most "Small Firms Do Not Innovate"



(p. A11) The neglect of small businesses stems in part from the sense that they aren't very dynamic--that in contrast with startups, they don't really grow or change from year to year. In a 2011 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley of the University of Chicago found that most of the people running these companies are content to stay small and continue offering the same kinds of products or services as competitors.


"Most firms start small and stay small throughout their entire lifecycle," they write. "Also, most surviving small firms do not innovate along any observable margin."

Profs. Ruback and Yudkoff are challenging that attitude. Their argument is that well-trained and energetic new managers can bring process innovations to these businesses that can fundamentally alter their trajectories. In many cases, the firms purchased by Harvard Business School graduates have begun hiring and growing. The alumni who are running them can make a good living today--and potentially see very good returns in the future, if and when they sell their better-run, more-profitable firm at a premium.



For the full commentary, see:

NITIN NOHRIA. "Appreciating the Big Role of Small Businesses." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2016,)


The published version of the Hurst and Pugsley paper mentioned above, is:

Hurst, Erik, and Benjamin Wild Pugsley. "What Do Small Businesses Do?" Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Issue 2 (Fall 2011): 73-118.







April 26, 2017

Wall Street Needs Return to Partnership Culture



(p. A17) Ever since the crisis of 2008, banks have been subject to ferocious attack and more regulation. In "Why Wall Street Matters," William Cohan, the author of earlier books on Goldman Sachs and Lazard Frères, mounts a defense of Wall Street banking institutions and argues that much of the regulation after 2008 has been counterproductive. In his view, the main culprit in the financial meltdown was Wall Street's compensation culture, and he presents some controversial proposals to reform it.


. . .


So what went wrong? Where did useful innovation morph into lunacy that almost brought down the whole system? The sea change began in 1969, Mr. Cohan says, when the first investment bank (Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette) sold equity to the public. Previously investment banks were partnerships whose capital came from the net worth of the individual partners, who would assume only the most modest risk since investment failure might endanger their life savings. But once a firm's capital could be increased by debt and equity financing--in essence, by other people's money--the calculus shifted.


. . .


Mr. Cohan's solution is to replace Wall Street's broken compensation system: the bonus culture that creates incentives to take big bets with other people's money while avoiding accountability when the bets go bad. He says that we need to "return to a compensation system that more closely resembles that of the partnership culture" of earlier times. Going well beyond calls for a claw-back of bonuses when trouble hits, Mr. Cohan proposes that the leaders of Wall Street firms be required to put their entire net worth on the line. Their co-op apartments, houses in the Hamptons, art collections and bank accounts would all be "fodder for the bank's creditors" if something goes wrong.



For the full review, see:

Burton G. Malkiel . "BOOKSHELF; Big Bonus, Big Problem; Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule address the wrong problems and did nothing to fix Wall Street's broken compensation culture." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 1, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb, 28, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cohan, William D. Why Wall Street Matters. New York: Random House, 2017.







April 25, 2017

Increasing Number of Free Agent Entrepreneurs



(p. A3) A tiny segment of U.S. manufacturing appears to be thriving--the one with no employees.

A mix of technology, economic necessity and adventure is leading more Americans to found companies that plan to stay very small. That entrepreneurial spark also highlights challenges facing the economy, from difficulty re-entering the job market to the diminishing role of fast-growing young firms.

Nicholas Hollows wants to be his own boss, and not anyone else's.

"I definitely don't intend to switch my role from a person who makes things to a person who manages people," said the 32-year-old sole proprietor of Hollows Leather in Eugene, Ore. "Being hands-on is the whole reason I do this."

The number of businesses classified as manufacturers with no employees has been rising steadily since the depths of the recession. The tiny operations often make food, craft beer, toiletries or other niche products. Their growth stands out in a sector that has been shedding workers for decades.

U.S. food manufacturers with no employee but the owner nearly doubled from 2004 to 2014. One-worker beverage and tobacco makers expanded 150%. Such chemical manufacturers--a category that includes makers of soap and perfume--grew almost 70%.

In all, there were more than 350,000 manufacturing establishments with no employee other than the owner in 2014, up almost 17% from 2004, according to the most recent Commerce Department data. By comparison, there were 292,543 establishments with other employees, down 12%. The shift creates a challenge for building back the number of jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector.



For the full story, see:

Sparshott, Jeffrey. "Tiny Firms Stay That Way." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 29, 2016): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 28, 2016, and has the title "Big Growth in Tiny Businesses.")






April 24, 2017

Kenneth Arrow Had Broad Knowledge Beyond Economics



(p. A21) Professor Arrow was widely hailed as a polymath, possessing prodigious knowledge of subjects far removed from economics. Eric Maskin, a Harvard economist and fellow Nobel winner, told of a good-natured conspiracy waged by junior faculty to get the better of Professor Arrow, even if artificially. They all agreed to study the breeding habits of gray whales -- a suitably abstruse topic -- and gathered at an appointed date at a place where Professor Arrow would be sure to visit.

When, as expected, he showed up, they were talking out loud about the theory by a marine biologist -- last name, Turner -- which purported to explain how gray whales found the same breeding spot year after year. As Professor Maskin recounted the story, "Ken was silent," and his junior colleagues amused themselves that they had for once bested their formidable professor.

Well, not so fast.

Before leaving, Professor Arrow muttered, "But I thought that Turner's theory was entirely discredited by Spencer, who showed that the hypothesized homing mechanism couldn't possibly work."



For the full obituary, see:

MICHAEL M. WEINSTEIN. "Kenneth Arrow, Influential Economist and Nobel Laureate, Is Dead at 95." The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 22, 2017): A21.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date FEB. 21, 2017, and has the title "Kenneth Arrow, Nobel-Winning Economist Whose Influence Spanned Decades, Dies at 95.")






April 22, 2017

Entrepreneur Marconi Was Driven by Wireless Communication Project



(p. C5) Marconi is another example of the Victorian "self-made man," in this case a precocious youth fascinated by electricity and electrical wave pulses.


. . .


Sending the letter "S" in Morse code to his assistant, Mignani, on the far side of the meadow several hundred yards away was great, but not enough. What if, instead, Mignani took the receiver to the other side of the hill, out of sight of the house, and then fired a gunshot if the pulses got through? "I called my mother into the room to watch the momentous experiment. . . . I waited to give Mignani time to get to his place. Then breathlessly I tapped the key three times. . . . Then from the other side of the hill came the sound of a shot. . . . That was the moment when wireless was born."


. . .


A combination of technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen gave him, like Steve Jobs in the next century, his place in history. To the end of his life Marconi was driven by a vision of the whole world communicating through wireless waves in the air.


. . .


. . ., Mr. Raboy exhaustively if deftly tells the tale of the next few critical years: Marconi's long stay in England, the search for funding (without losing control), the critical establishment of patents, the embrace by officia