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December 18, 2011

When Christopher Hitchens Will Visit Nebraska



HitchensChristopherAfterTreatment2011-11-10.jpg











"Christopher Hitchens, after being released from the Texas hospital where he was treated for esophageal cancer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




A few times I have had the pleasure of seeing Christopher Hitchens interviewed. His wit is always wonderful and he skewers much that deserves skewering. I admire his perseverance at being productive, even as he battles a difficult cancer. And I admire him for sticking to his reasoned principles, even when it might be easier to accept Pascal's Wager.

I have enjoyed the few reviews by Hitchens that I have read. I have purchased, but not yet read, two of his books---when I have read, I will write.

ADDENDUM: I wrote the above words back on November 10th, scheduled to run today. Yesterday I saw in the paper that Hitchens died on Thursday, December 15, 2011.



(p. C1) HOUSTON -- Christopher Hitchens, probably the country's most famous unbeliever, received the Freethinker of the Year Award at the annual convention of the Atheist Alliance of America here on Saturday. Mr. Hitchens was flattered by the honor, he said a few days beforehand, but also a little abashed. "I think being an atheist is something you are, not something you do," he explained, adding: "I'm not sure we need to be honored. We don't need positive reinforcement. On the other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don't believe in Jesus Christ you can't run for sheriff."

Mr. Hitchens, a prolific essayist and the author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," discovered in June 2010 that he had Stage 4 esophageal cancer.


. . .


(p. C5) On balance, he reflected, the past year has been a pretty good one. He won a National Magazine Award, published "Arguably," debated Tony Blair in front of a huge audience and added two states to the list of those he has visited. "I lack only the Dakotas and Nebraska," he said, "though I may not get there unless someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha."



For the full story, see:

CHARLES McGRATH. "A Voice, Still Vibrant, Reflects on Mortality." The New York Times (Mon., October 10, 2011): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 20, 2009

Houston Rejects Irrational Recycling Fad



RecyclingByCityGraph.gif
































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



(p. A13) HOUSTON -- While most large American cities have started ambitious recycling programs that have sharply reduced the amount of trash bound for landfills, Houston has not.


. . .


Landfill costs here are cheap. The city's sprawling, no-zoning layout makes collection expensive, and there is little public support for the kind of effort it takes to sort glass, paper and plastics. And there appears to be even less for placing fees on excess trash.

"We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up," said Mayor Bill White, . . .



For the full story, see:

ADAM B. ELLICK. "Houston Resists Recycling, and Independent Streak Is Cited." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 29, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 7, 2009

Bailouts Damage "System Based on the Premise that Risk Can Bring Failure, as Well as Rewards"


CapitalismCommunismCartoon.jpg Source of the cartoon: online version of the WSJ quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) William O. Perkins III says he turned a $1.25 million profit trading Goldman Sachs Group Inc. stock last week.

You would think that would count as a pretty good paycheck for the Houston energy trader. Instead, the experience left him so angry about the demise of capitalism that he says he has decided to spend his profits on advertisements attacking President George W. Bush's planned $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

. . .

So he says he bought Goldman Sachs at $129 a share. The stock fell, so he bought more at $100 a share. It fell again, and he bought at $90. The next day it rallied and he sold out at an average price of $130 a share, for a net gain of about $1.25 million over three days of trading, he said.

Trouble was, the stock didn't rally because of the fundamental strength of the company, Mr. Perkins said. It rallied because the federal government announced that it would rescue Wall Street from its own subprime follies, he said.

"The stock did OK because the government came in and said, 'No one can fail,'" he said. "It's capitalism on the way up and communism on the way down."

His success left him furious, and he decided that someone had to speak out about the damage such a plan would cause to a system based on the premise that risk can bring failure, as well as rewards.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS. "Trader Makes a Quick $1.25 Million on Rescue, Then Slams It." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 24, 2008): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




July 30, 2008

After Tort Reform, 7,000 M.D.s Have Gone to Texas



(p. A9) When Sam Houston was still hanging his hat in Tennessee in the 1830s, it wasn't uncommon for fellow Tennesseans who were packing up and moving south and west to hang a sign on their cabins that read "GTT" - Gone to Texas.

Today obstetricians, surgeons and other doctors might consider reviving the practice. Over the past three years, some 7,000 M.D.s have flooded into Texas, many from Tennessee.

Why? Two words: Tort reform.

In 2003 and in 2005, Texas enacted a series of reforms to the state's civil justice system. They are stunning in their success. Texas Medical Liability Trust, one of the largest malpractice insurance companies in the state, has slashed its premiums by 35%, saving doctors some $217 million over four years. There is also a competitive malpractice insurance industry in Texas, with over 30 companies competing for business. This is driving rates down.

The result is an influx of doctors so great that recently the State Board of Medical Examiners couldn't process all the new medical-license applications quickly enough. The board faced a backlog of 3,000 applications. To handle the extra workload, the legislature rushed through an emergency appropriation last year.



For the full commentary, see:


JOSEPH NIXON. "CROSS COUNTRY; Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 17, 2008): A9.






March 22, 2008

Former New Orleanians Do Not Miss the Crime and Chaos


ReeseCarlaWithDaughterAndDog.jpg "Carla Reese, left, with her daughter Renee Roussell, who said that "there is nothing to go back to" in New Orleans." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) LAKE CHARLES, La. -- With resignation, anger or stoicism, thousands of former New Orleanians forced out by Hurricane Katrina are settling in across the Gulf Coast, breaking their ties with the damaged city for which they still yearn.

They now cast their votes in small Louisiana towns and in big cities of neighboring states. They have found new jobs and bought new houses. They have forsaken their favorite foods and cherished pastors. But they do not for a moment miss the crime, the chaos and the bad memories they left behind in New Orleans.

This vast diaspora -- largely black, often poor, sometimes struggling -- stretches across the country but is concentrated in cities near the coast, like this one, or Atlanta or Baton Rouge or Houston, places where the newcomers are still reaching for accommodation.

The break came fairly recently. Sometime between the New Orleans mayor's race in spring 2006, when thousands of displaced citizens voted absentee or drove in to cast a ballot, and the city election this fall, when thousands did not -- resulting in a sharply diminished electorate and a white-majority City Council -- the decision was made: there was no going back. Life in New Orleans was over.



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "With Regrets, New Orleans Is Left Behind." The New York Times (Tues., December 18, 2007): A1 & A29.


JonesHurstWilliamsChurchWarehouse.jpg "Cynthia Jones, left, her sister, Pauline Hurst, and their mother, Evelyn Williams, at the church warehouse where they now work." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 5, 2008

The Spontaneous Order of Houston Tunnels

 

   "The three major sections of the tunnel system are connected under the building at 919 Milam Street in downtown Houston."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Houston is one of the most vibrant, free-wheeling cities in the United States.  It is the only major city that does not have zoning laws,  (See:   Bernard Siegan's Land Use Without Zoning.)

The tunnels of Houston appear to be another great example of what Hayek called "spontaneous order." 

 

(p. A14) HOUSTON, Aug. 20 — Where is everybody? 

Seared by triple-digit heat and drenched by tropical storms, midday downtown Houston appears eerily deserted, the nation’s fourth-largest city passing for a ghost town.

On the street, that is.

But below, there are tunnels at the end of the light — nearly seven color-coded miles of them connecting 77 buildings — aswarm with Houstonians lunching, shopping and power-walking in dry, air-chilled comfort.

. . .

It was not centrally planned; it just grew, inspired by Rockefeller Center in New York. But it is not connected to a transit network. And, befitting Texans’ distrust of government, most of it is private; each segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to allow the public access during business hours — and then locks the doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders altogether.

Few claim mastery of the labyrinth.

“It’s one of Houston’s best-kept secrets,” said Sandra Lord, widely known as the Tunnel Lady, a Yankee transplant who dispels the mysteries for $10 a head and roams the downtown underworld with proprietary aplomb, sometimes stopping strangers to ask, “And you are?” Corporations pay Ms. Lord to orient new employees below ground, and nearly 45,000 natives and visitors have taken her Discover Houston Tours since 1988.

. . .

Ms. Lord, a writer and Houston historian, traced the origins of the tunnels to Ross Sterling, an oilman and governor during the Depression, who, inspired by Rockefeller Center, linked two of his downtown buildings underground in the early 1930s. Soon after, an entertainment entrepreneur, Will Horwitz, connected three of his vaudeville and movie theaters to save on air-conditioning.

And the tunnels grew from there, despite the private expense of digging connections. The oil bust of the 1980s forced many building owners to compete for business with amenities like tunnels.

Many were flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, prompting installation of submarine-type doors with inflatable rubber insulation for airtight seals.

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "It’s Lonesome in This Old Town, Until You Go Underground."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 21, 2007):  A14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Top photo shows "Sandra Lord, owner of Discover Houston Tours, leading a tunnel excursion . . . "  Bottom photo shows a map of the tunnels.  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

 




November 15, 2007

U.S. Jobs Moving "Up the Occupational Chains" to Work that "Is Not as Rules-Based"

 

   Source of graphic:  online verion of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  Jeffrey Taft is a road warrior in the global high-technology services economy, and his work shows why there are limits to the number of skilled jobs that can be shipped abroad in the Internet age.

Each Monday, Mr. Taft awakes before dawn at his home in Canonsburg, Pa., heads for the Pittsburgh airport and flies to Houston for the week.

He is one of dozens of I.B.M. services employees from around the country who are working with a Texas utility, CenterPoint Energy, to install computerized electric meters, sensors and software in a “smart grid” project to improve service and conserve energy.

Mr. Taft, 51, is an engineer fluent in programming languages and experienced in the utility business. Much of his work, he says, involves being a translator between the different vernaculars and cultures of computing and electric power, as he oversees the design and building of software tailored for utilities. “It takes a tremendous amount of face-to-face work,” he said.

What he does, in short, cannot be done overseas. But some of the programming work can be, so I.B.M. employees in India are also on the utility project team.

The trick for companies like I.B.M. is to figure out what work to do where, and, more important, to keep bringing in the kind of higher-end work that needs to be done in this country, competing on the basis of specialized expertise and not on price alone.

The debate continues over how much skilled work in the vast service sector of the American economy can migrate offshore to lower-cost nations like India. Estimates of the number of services jobs potentially at (p. C4) risk, by economists and research organizations, range widely from a few million to more than 40 million, which is about a third of total employment in services.

Jobs in technology services may be particularly vulnerable because computer programming can be described in math-based rules that are then sent over the Internet to anywhere there are skilled workers. Already, a significant amount of basic computer programming work has gone offshore to fast-growing Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services.

To compete, companies like I.B.M. have to move up the economic ladder to do more complicated work, as do entire Western economies and individual workers. “Once you start moving up the occupational chains, the work is not as rules-based,” said Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People are doing more custom work that varies case by case.”

In the field of technology services, Mr. Levy said, the essential skill is “often a lot more about business knowledge than it is about software technology — and it’s a lot harder to ship that kind of work overseas.”

 

For the full story, see: 

STEVE LOHR.  "At I.B.M., a Smarter Way to Outsource."  The New York Times   (Thurs., July 5, 2007):  C1 & C4. 

 

Levy has co-authored a book that is relevant to the example and issues raised in the article.  See:

Levy, Frank, and Richard J. Murnane.  The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2004.

 

   IBM engineer Jeffrey Taft (blue shirt) has "local" knowledge of the connection between computer programming and the electric utility business.  Here he is on-site in Houston at the offices of CenterPoint Energy.  Source of graphic:  online verion of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 10, 2007

Texas Shows Tort Reform Works

 

   "Dr. Donald W. Patrick, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, with applications for medical licenses sent to it."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted, and cited, below. 

 

HOUSTON, Oct. 4 — In Texas, it can be a long wait for a doctor: up to six months.

That is not for an appointment. That is the time it can take the Texas Medical Board to process applications to practice.

Four years after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors are responding as supporters predicted, arriving from all parts of the country to swell the ranks of specialists at Texas hospitals and bring professional health care to some long-underserved rural areas.

The influx, raising the state’s abysmally low ranking in physicians per capita, has flooded the medical board’s offices in Austin with applications for licenses, close to 2,500 at last count.

“It was hard to believe at first; we thought it was a spike,” said Dr. Donald W. Patrick, executive director of the medical board and a neurosurgeon and lawyer. But Dr. Patrick said the trend — licenses up 18 percent since 2003, when the damage caps were enacted — has held, with an even sharper jump of 30 percent in the last fiscal year, compared with the year before.

“Doctors are coming to Texas because they sense a friendlier malpractice climate,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "After Texas Caps Malpractice Awards, Doctors Rush to Practice There."  The New York Times  (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A21.

 




September 20, 2007

Think "Passports" When You Hear a Call to Grow the Government

 

     In an earlier blog entry, I expressed my own personal outrage at the passport debacle. 

 

HOUSTON, June 6 — With government phone lines jammed by record numbers of passport-seekers, Veronica Alvarez and three anxious friends hoping to travel to Cancun next week showed up at the federal building here on Wednesday at 3 a.m.

There were 11 people in line ahead of them.

“We’ve been calling for a week every day,” said Ms. Alvarez, 29, a bank clerk, who joined about 1,200 people who have been besieging the downtown office here daily for word on their passports, some of which were requested in February.

The State Department has acknowledged long delays from “unprecedented demand” after new rules requiring passports for travelers returning from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. It expects to announce new measures soon to ease the nationwide crush.

. . .

Much of the spike in applications is attributed to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect Jan. 23 and requires passports, merchant mariner documents or frequent-traveler Nexus cards for air travelers returning from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Next January, the requirement is likely to be extended to ship, rail and road travelers.

But somehow, the government seemed caught by surprise when crowds began besieging passport offices this spring.

. . .

“Basically, they’ve taken my money,” said Kevin Owens, 39, an oil industry employee, who sent in an expedited application April 20 and, with a June 14 trip to Jamaica looming, was still passportless. “The whole process is —” he searched for a word — “lacking.”

. . .

 A nervous Brianna Pollinger, 35, of suburban Katy, Tex., arrived at the passport office on Tuesday not knowing whether she would be able to leave Friday on a 10-year anniversary trip to Mexico with her husband. But after waiting nearly eight hours, she emerged with a prized blue-covered booklet. Was she mollified? “Oh, no,” she said. “I definitely minded.”

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "Travelers Face Frustrations With Passport Rule Changes."  The New York Times   (Thurs., June 7, 2007):  A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  Notice how excited those in line seem to be at hearing what passport official Eric Botts ist telling them.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 31, 2007

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent's solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:


Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 11, 2007

Easily Available Capital and Technology Lower Barriers to Entry in Oil Industry

 

CobaltOilDataAnalysis.jpg   "Cobalt scientists analyze data to help pinpoint oil deposits."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. 1)  HOUSTON.  JOSEPH H. BRYANT, still boyish-looking at 51, jostles with glee among tens of thousands of people here at the Offshore Technology Conference, one of the energy industry’s biggest trade fairs. He is surrounded by newfangled technologies occupying more than half a million square feet of display space: drills stuffed with electronic sensors, underwater wells shaped like Christmas trees, mini-submarines and pipes, pumps, tubes, gauges, valves and gadgets galore.

“There is every little gizmo you need to make this business work,” Mr. Bryant says, joyously. He stops at a plastic model of an offshore oil rig, an exact replica of a huge platform he commissioned while running BP’s business in Angola a few years ago. “I love this stuff.”

Like the pieces of a giant puzzle, the parts showcased here could fit together and build an oil company — and that’s exactly what Mr. Bryant set out to do two years ago after a 30-year career directing energy projects for the likes of Amoco, Unocal and BP. With a team composed largely of retired energy executives, he wants to hunt for oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or offshore West Africa, challenging Big Oil in its own backyard.

The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended period of low oil prices, is on the rebound. Wildcatters like Mr. Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices now hovering around $60 a barrel — three times higher than they were throughout the 1990s — the industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

“The oil industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” Mr. Bryant says. “Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business 100 years or 100 days.”

Easily available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to finance energy projects while leaps in computing power, imaging tech-(p. 7)nology and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest entities to compete on an equal footing with the biggest players.

“There’s a lot of money out there looking for opportunities,” said John Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial Services. “It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now.”

Still, oil exploration remains a costly business fraught with peril. While the odds have improved, success is elusive; three-quarters of all exploration wells come up dry, either because there is no oil or because geologists miss its exact location. All of which means that Mr. Bryant’s start-up, Cobalt International Energy, which plans to begin drilling next year, faces formidable hurdles.

“There’s no sugar-coating this — at the end of the day, it’s a high risk venture,” Mr. Bryant says. “Financially, we’re definitely wildcatting. It’s either all or nothing.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JAD MOUAWADA.  "Wildcatter Pounces; Oil Riches Lure the Entrepreneurs."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  1 & 7.

 

 BryantJosephOilWildcatter.jpg   Wildcatter entrepreneur "Joseph H. Bryant started Cobalt."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




July 9, 2007

Most New Jobs Created in Opportunistic Newcomer Cities

 

Over the past 15 years, it has been opportunistic newcomers -- Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Riverside -- that have created the most new jobs and gained the most net domestic migration. In contrast there has been virtually negligible long-term net growth in jobs or positive domestic migration to places like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area.

. . .

Fortunately the jobs are headed in the same direction. After all, companies depend not only on elite MBAs but upon on the collective skills of middle managers, technicians and skilled laborers. Most companies also tend to be more mindful of basic costs, taxes and regulations than the average hedge-fund manager or trustafarian.

This perhaps explains why the largest companies -- with the notable exception of Silicon Valley -- have continued to move toward the more opportunistic cities. New York and its environs, for example, had 140 such firms in 1960; in 2006 the number had dropped to less than half that, some of those running with only skeleton top management. Houston, in contrast, had only one Fortune 500 company in 1960; today it is home to over 20. Houston companies tend to staff heavily locally; this is one reason the city was able to replace New York and other high-cost locales as the nation's unchallenged energy capital. Another example of this trend is Charlotte's rise as the nation's second-ranked banking center in terms of assets, surpassing San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, indeed all superstar cities except New York.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

JOEL KOTKIN.  "The Myth of 'Superstar Cities'."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., February 13, 2007):  A25.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




March 15, 2007

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Thrive in New York City

   Manuel and mother Mercedes of the entrepreneurial Miranda family, inspect the corn flatbread called "arepa."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Immigrant entrepreneurship contributes to the vitality and dynamism of New York and the nation.  Note the graphic at the bottom of this entry shows that employment increases in the same areas of the city in which immigrant entrepreneurship is thriving.   

 

Manuel A. Miranda was 8 when his family immigrated to New York from Bogotá. His parents, who had been lawyers, turned to selling home-cooked food from the trunk of their car. Manuel pitched in after school, grinding corn by hand for traditional Colombian flatbreads called arepas.

Today Mr. Miranda, 32, runs a family business with 16 employees, producing 10 million arepas a year in the Maspeth section of Queens. But the burst of Colombian immigration to the city has slowed; arepas customers are spreading through the suburbs, and competition for them is fierce. Now, he says, his eye is on a vast, untapped market: the rest of the country.

. . .

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades. “These are precious and important economic generators for New York City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

A report to be issued by the center today highlights both the potential and the challenge for cities full of immigrant entrepreneurs, who often face language barriers, difficulties getting credit, and problems connecting with mainstream agencies that help businesses grow. The report identifies a generation of immigrant-founded enterprises poised to break into the big time — or already there, like the Lams Group, one of the city’s most aggressive hotel developers, or Delgado Travel, which reaps roughly $1 billion in annual revenues.

In Los Angeles, at least 22 of the 100 fastest-growing companies in 2005 were created by first-generation immigrants. In Houston, a telecommunications company started by a Pakistani man topped the 2006 list of the city’s most successful small businesses.

 But even in those cities and New York, where immigrant-friendly mayors have promoted programs to help small business, the report contends that immigrant entrepreneurs have been overlooked in long-term strategies for economic development.

. . .

Now, some children of the early influx are trying to build on their parents’ success — success that itself has increased the cost of doing business, by driving up rents and creating congestion.

One example is Jay Joshua, a Manhattan company that designs souvenirs and then has them manufactured in Asia and imported. Jay Chung, who arrived from South Korea in 1981 as a graduate student in design, started printing his computer-graphic designs for New York logos and peddling them to local T-shirt shops. His company is now one of the city’s leading suppliers of tourist items, from New York-loving coffee mugs to taxicab Christmas ornaments.

Mr. Chung’s son Joshua, 26, who was 3 when he immigrated, joined the company after studying business management in college, and recently helped land orders for a new line of Chicago souvenirs. But frustration mixes with pride when the Chungs, both American citizens now, discuss the company’s growth.

“It’s really hard to conduct a business over here as a wholesaler,” Mr. Chung said in the company’s West 27th Street showroom, chockablock with samples. “We get a ticket every 20 minutes, no matter what. We need more convenient places with less rent, less traffic.”

Thirty years ago their wholesale district was desolate. Now hundreds of Korean-American importers are there, said Jay Chung, who is a leader of the local Korean-American business association. They face a blizzard of parking tickets and high commercial rents — nearly $20,000 a month for 1,400 square feet, he said.

 

For the full story, see:

NINA BERNSTEIN. "Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 6, 2007):  C13.

(Note:  the ellipses are added.)

 

The author of the New York Times article has contributed to a New York Times digital video clip that is based on the article and is entitled "Immigrant Entrepreneurs:  A Tour of One Bustling Ethnic Enclave."

 

 EntrepreneuvsJayJoshua.jpg   Entrepreneur father Jay and son Joshua own a firm that supplies New York City souveniers.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

  Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




February 27, 2007

Guns Deter Crime

 

Knoxville, Tenn.

IT’S a phenomenon that gives the term “gun control” a whole new meaning: community ordinances that encourage citizens to own guns.

Last month, Greenleaf, Idaho, adopted Ordinance 208, calling for its citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of emergency. It’s not a response to high crime rates. As The Associated Press reported, “Greenleaf doesn’t really have crime ... the most violent offense reported in the past two years was a fist fight.” Rather, it’s a statement about preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a culture of self-reliance.

. . .  

Criminals, unsurprisingly, would rather break into a house where they aren’t at risk of being shot. As David Kopel noted in a 2001 article in The Arizona Law Review, burglars report that they try to avoid homes where armed residents are likely to be present. We see this phenomenon internationally, too, with the United States having a lower proportion of “hot” burglaries — break-ins where the burglars know the home to be occupied — than countries with restrictive gun laws.

Likewise, in the event of disasters that leave law enforcement overwhelmed, armed citizens can play an important role in stanching crime. Armed neighborhood watches deterred looting in parts of Houston and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

For the full commentary, see:

GLENN REYNOLDS.  "A Rifle in Every Pot."  The New York Times  (Tues., January 16, 2007):  A31.

 

Glenn Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee, and is the blogger of Instapundit.com.  In 2006, he published:

Reynolds, Glenn. An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2006.

 

    Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/1595550542.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1136930360_.jpg

 




October 3, 2006

Tech Bubble Caused Much of 1990s Inequality Increase

  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

It is widely recognized that income inequality increased in the 1990’s, but nobody knows quite why. Despite the lack of hard evidence, there are plenty of theories.

. . .

Two University of Texas researchers, James K. Galbraith and Travis Hale, added an interesting twist to this debate in a paper, “Income Distribution and the Information Technology Bubble” (utip.gov.utexas.edu/abstract.html#UTIP27).

According to Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Hale, much of the increase in income inequality in the late 1990’s resulted from large income changes in just a handful of locations around the country — precisely those areas that were heavily involved in the information technology boom.

. . .

A big advantage of looking at county data is that it is possible to identify counties that contributed the most to the increase in income inequality from 1994 to 2000.  It turns out that the five biggest winners in this period were New York; King County, Wash. (with both Seattle and Redmond); and Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco, Calif., the counties that make up Silicon Valley.  The five biggest losers were Los Angeles; Queens; Honolulu; Broward, Fla.; and Cuyahoga, Ohio.

What do the counties in the first list have in common?  Their economies were all heavily driven by information technology in the late 90’s.  This is true for the rest of the list of winners as well.  Harris, Tex. (home to Houston and Enron); Middlesex, Mass. (home to Harvard and M.I.T.); Fairfield, Conn.; Alameda, Calif.; and Westchester, N.Y., were also among the top 10 income gainers in this period.

The authors point out that half the 80 American companies in the CNET Tech Index are in those top 10 counties.  Furthermore, when income inequality decreased after 2000, the income drop in the high-tech counties contributed most to the decline. 

 

For the full commentary, see:

HAL R. VARIAN.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; Many Theories on Income Inequality, but One Answer Lies in Just a Few Places."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 21, 2006):   C3.




September 22, 2006

"Free to Choose" Turns Estonia into "Boomtown"


  Source of book image:  http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/imageviewer.asp?ean=9780156334600

 

If, like Mr. Laar, you are only going to read one book in economics, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, is not too bad a choice:

(p. A23) Philippe Benoit du Rey is not one of those gloomy Frenchmen who frets about the threat to Gallic civilization from McDonald's and Microsoft.  He thinks international competition is good for his countrymen.  He's confident France will flourish in a global economy -- eventually.

But for now, he has left the Loire Valley for Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the economic model for New Europe.  It's a boomtown with a beautifully preserved medieval quarter along with new skyscrapers, gleaming malls and sprawling housing developments:  Prague meets Houston, except that Houston's economy is cool by comparison.

Economists call Estonia the Baltic tiger, the sequel to the Celtic tiger as Europe's success story, and its policies are more radical than Ireland's.  On this year's State of World Liberty Index, a ranking of countries by their economic and political freedom, Estonia is in first place, just ahead of Ireland and seven places ahead of the U.S. (North Korea comes in last at 159th.)

It transformed itself from an isolated, impoverished part of the Soviet Union thanks to a former prime minister, Mart Laar, a history teacher who took office not long after Estonia was liberated.  He was 32 years old and had read just one book on economics:  ''Free to Choose,'' by Milton Friedman, which he liked especially because he knew Friedman was despised by the Soviets.

Laar was politically naïve enough to put the theories into practice.  Instead of worrying about winning trade wars, he unilaterally disarmed by abolishing almost all tariffs.  He welcomed foreign investors and privatized most government functions (with the help of a privatization czar who had formerly been the manager of the Swedish pop group Abba).  He drastically cut taxes on businesses and individuals, instituting a simple flat income tax of 26 percent.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "New Europe's Boomtown."  The New York Times  (Tues., September 5, 2006):  A23.

 




April 7, 2006

Wildcatters Find 80% of Oil in U.S.


FindleyRichardL.gif Source of image: WSJ article cited below.


(p. A1) David F. Morehouse, senior geologist with the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, contends there is more new oil to be found in the continental U.S. Finding it, he says, will "depend on people doing the data analysis and, quite frankly, people going in and drilling enough in the right places."

Mr. Findley, who is 54 years old, did just that. Now production in this part of eastern Montana is growing, and new investors are arriving to explore the potential. At least one midsized firm, Marathon Oil Co., has begun buying leases. Halliburton Co., the big Houston-based oil-services company, has invested with Mr. Findley. The state says the proven oil find in the area will likely be in the range of 150 million barrels, hardly what oil-patch hands call an "elephant," but nevertheless boosting the nation's proven oil reserves by about 1%.

. . .

(p. A14) While many people associate big oil finds with big companies, over the years about 80% of the oil found in the U.S. has been brought in by wildcatters such as Mr. Findley, says Larry Nation, spokesman for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Wildcatters search for oil, nail down drilling rights, then seek money from banks or bigger companies to extract it.

Mr. Findley grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, the son of an accountant for a chain of grocery stores. A brother-in-law, a geologist, hired him as a field assistant to hunt for oil in west Texas. "I just fell in love with geology," he recalls. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1975 and got a job as a geologist with Tenneco Oil Co. In 1983 he left to found his own Montana-based consulting and exploration company, a one-man operation.

Three years later, world oil prices crashed, and fluctuating prices dogged Mr. Findley as he tried to stay in the business. In the 1990s, the majors left the area in the belief that it was played out. Mr. Findley felt there was more oil to be found and began putting together small exploration deals.

His income had dropped by more than half to $45,000 a year, and he wasn't sure how much longer that would last. "Many times, my wife and I sat down at the kitchen table and said, 'What are we going to do next?' We always came to the same conclusion. [Geology] is what I know. This is what I love. So we just kept going."


For the full story, see:

JOHN J. FIALKA. "Second Look; Wildcat Producer Sparks Oil Boom On Montana Plains After Majors Pulled Out, Mr. Findley Drilled Anew; Size of Find Still Unclear; A Rival Counts Tanker Trucks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 5, 2006): A1 & A14.


Source of map: WSJ article cited above.




March 7, 2006

Enron's Kenneth Rice in Omaha on 9/11/01


Kenneth Rice exiting a Houston federal courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. Source of image: the online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.


A lot of people remember what they were doing when the first jet crashed into the twin towers on 9/11/01. I was listening to a presentation on the potential of broadband given by Kenneth Rice, at a forum sponsored by Creighton University. A day or two earlier, Creighton had presented Rice with a distinguished alumnus award. I don't remember much detail about Rice's presentation, but remember thinking that he gave a clear and informative analysis of the potential and risks of the broadband business.


(p. 1D) HOUSTON (AP) - Kenneth Rice, former chief of Enron Corp.'s struggling broadband unit, testified Thursday that his boss, Jeffrey Skilling, directed him to paint a rosy, misleading picture for the Enron board of directors that was in line with false statements Rice said he already made to financial analysts in 2001.

But Rice, the former CEO of Enron Broadband Services, said in his third day on the stand at the fraud and conspiracy trial of Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay that he had no documents and "only my recollection" to back up a conversation he had with Skilling, Enron's chief executive, as he prepared for a May 2001 meeting of the company's board.

"What I took from meeting with Mr. Skilling was he wanted me to put a presentation together that was more consistent with the analyst conference and less direct on some of the challenges we were facing at EBS," Rice said.

In January 2001, Rice told Wall Street analysts who influenced the company's stock price that the business was well positioned for strong long-term financial performance. In reality, however, Enron's broadband unit was spending $100 million per quarter and generating little revenue and business, he said.


For the full story, see:

"Skilling said paint rosy picture, Rice says." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, February 17, 2006): 1D.




December 10, 2005

In Defense of Suburban Sprawl


SprawlBK.jpg Image source: web version of WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. P16) For at least half a century, academics, aesthetes and all-purpose agonizers have looked at our ever-sprawling cities with disdain and even horror. The spectacle of rings and rings of humankind nested in single-family homes has inspired in them all sorts of revulsion and, relatedly, a whole discipline of blame: Suburban sprawl has been faulted for exacerbating racial tension, contributing to energy shortages, worsening pollution and heating up the globe -- even expanding waistlines.

Largely missing from this debate has been a sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living. With Robert Bruegmann's "Sprawl: A Compact History," we now have one. What a pleasure it is: well-written, accessible and eager to challenge the current cant about sprawl.

No, Mr. Bruegmann says, don't go blaming the Federal Highway Administration for sprawl or the executives at General Motors and Exxon or racist developers fleeing urban environments. Don't even blame Karl Rove. You really don't need to blame anyone. Mr. Bruegmann notes that contemporary sprawl -- best defined by places like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston -- is nothing new. It represents "merely the latest chapter in a long and curious history."

What propels that curious history is something often overlooked by the makers of grand theories -- the particular choices of individual human beings. Mr. Bruegmann places the urge to sprawl squarely where it belongs: on people's logical desire to escape the high costs, crime, pollution, congestion and lack of privacy that accompanies life in dense cities.



For the full review, read:

JOEL KOTKIN. "In Praise of 'Burbs. Academics, planners and tastemakers may vilify suburbia as an American blight. But even the Romans knew: It can be nice to get out of the city." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2005): P16.

The book that Kotkin's review is praising:

Robert Bruegmann. Sprawl: A Compact History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. (264 pages, $27.50)




November 10, 2005

Rioting Caused by Economy Closed to Creative Destruction


FrenchRiots11-2005.jpg Source of photo: WSJ online version of article quoted and cited below.

The French rioters face very high unemployment. French restrictions on the labor market, and the economy more generally, cause the high unemployment. For example, the French make it hard for firms to fire employees, so as a result, firms are more reluctant to hire workers in the first place, resulting in higher unemployment. Although they do not know it, the rioters are rioting because France is closed to creative destruction. The following commentary is on point:

(p. A16) Like other Americans, immigrants often dramatically improve their quality of life and economic prospects by moving out to less dense, faster growing areas. They can also take advantage of more business-friendly government. Perhaps the most extreme case is Houston, a low-cost, low-tax haven where immigrant entrepreneurship has exploded in recent decades. Much of this has taken place in the city itself. Looser regulations and a lack of zoning lower land and rental costs, providing opportunities to build businesses and acquire property.

It is almost inconceivable to see such flowerings of ethnic entrepreneurship in Continental Europe. Economic and regulatory policy plays a central role in stifling enterprise. Heavy-handed central planning tends to make property markets expensive and difficult to penetrate. Add to this an overall regulatory regime that makes it hard for small business to start or expand, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation and social turmoil. What would help France most now would be to stimulate economic growth and lessen onerous regulation. Most critically, this would also open up entrepreneurial and employment opportunity for those now suffering more of a nightmare of closed options than anything resembling a European dream.



For the full commentary, see:

Joel Kotkin. "Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants." The Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2005): A16.




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