Main


November 14, 2014

High Skill Foreign Workers Raise Wages for Native Workers



WageGrowthRelatedToChangesInForeignSTEMworkersGraph2014-10-08.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A6) "A lot of people have the idea there is a fixed number of jobs," said . . . , Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis. "It's completely turned around."

Immigrants can boost the productivity of the overall economy, he said, "because then the pie grows and there are more jobs for other people as well and there's not a zero-sum trade-off between natives and immigrants."

Mr. Peri, along with co-authors Kevin Shih at UC Davis, and Chad Sparber at Colgate University, studied how wages for college- and noncollege-educated native workers shifted along with immigration. They found that a one-percentage-point increase in the share of workers in STEM fields raised wages for college-educated natives by seven to eight percentage points and wages of the noncollege-educated natives by three to four percentage points.

Mr. Peri said the research bolsters the case for raising, or even removing, the caps on H-1B visas, the program that regulates how many high-skilled foreign workers employers can bring into the country.



For the full story, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN and MATT STILES. "Study: Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 23, 2014): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 22, 2014, and has the title "Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay, Study Finds.")


The paper discussed in the passage quoted above, is:

Peri, Giovanni, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber. "Foreign Stem Workers and Native Wages and Employment in U.S. Cities." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Paper Number 20093, May 2014.






November 10, 2014

Pay Gap Widest in Jobs that Value Long Hours, Face Time and Being on Call



GenderGapProfessionsGraph2014-10-08.jpg





















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


















(p. B3) "The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours," [Harvard economist Claudia Goldin] . . . wrote in a paper published [in April 2014] . . . in The American Economic Review.

Occupations that most value long hours, face time at the office and being on call -- like business, law and surgery -- tend to have the widest pay gaps. That is because those employers pay people who spend longer hours at the office disproportionately more than they pay people who don't, Dr. Goldin found. A lawyer who works 80 hours a week at a big corporate law firm is paid more than double one who works 40 hours a week as an in-house counsel at a small business.

Jobs in which employees can easily substitute for one another have the slimmest pay gaps, and those workers are paid in proportion to the hours they work.

Pharmacy is Dr. Goldin's favorite example. A pharmacist who works 40 hours a week generally earns double the salary of a pharmacist who works 20 hours a week, and as a result, the pay gap for pharmacists is one of the smallest.

Pharmacy became such an equitable profession not because of activism but because of changes in the labor market (fewer self-owned pharmacies and more large corporations) and changes in technology (storing patient records on computers where they are easily accessible by any pharmacist).



For the full story, see:

Claire Cain Miller. "Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 24, 2014): B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 23, 2014.)


The Goldin academic paper mentioned above, is:

Goldin, Claudia. "A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter." American Economic Review 104, no. 4 (April 2014): 1091-119.






October 25, 2014

American Poor Are Richer Now than in the Past



PriceChangesBySectorGraph2014-10-07.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?

Americans -- even many of the poorest -- enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago.


. . .


(p. B2) Two broad trends account for much of the change in poor families' consumption over the past generation: federal programs and falling prices.

Since the 1960s, both Republican and Democratic administrations have expanded programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit. In 1967, government programs reduced one major poverty rate by about 1 percentage point. In 2012, they reduced the rate by nearly 13 percentage points.

As a result, the differences in what poor and middle-class families consume on a day-to-day basis are much smaller than the differences in what they earn.

"There's just a whole lot more assistance per low-income person than there ever has been," said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "That is propping up the living standards to a considerable degree," he said, citing a number of statistics on housing, nutrition and other categories.


. . .


. . . another form of progress has led to what some economists call the "Walmart effect": falling prices for a huge array of manufactured goods.

Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods -- virtually anything produced in a factory -- has followed a downward trajectory. The result is that Americans can buy much more stuff at bargain prices.



For the full story, see:

ANNIE LOWREY. "Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2014): A1 & B2 (sic).

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2014, and has the title "Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind.")






October 21, 2014

Apprenticeships as an Alternative to Education Credentials



(p. R3) College degrees and internships don't produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships, says Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System. Employers are seeing "a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level" from college graduates, Mr. Neese says. "Interns do grunt work, generally." In contrast, he says, "an apprenticeship is a real job."


. . .


"The apprenticeship model helps us show people there's a career path within this company," says Robby Hill, owner of HillSouth, a Florence, S.C., technology consulting firm taking advantage of South Carolina's on-the-job training program. New employees see the opportunities ahead, along with a clearly delineated ladder of skill acquisition and salary increases, says Mr. Hill, whose 22-person firm offers apprenticeships for IT and administrative-support employees. The company also asks employees to sign noncompete agreements as they get accredited for new skills.



For the full story, see:

LAUREN WEBER. "JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP IN HR; Here's One Way to Solve the Skills Gap. Apprenticeships Can Help Give Companies the Employees They Need. So Why Aren't There More of Them." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 28, 2014): R3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2014, and has the title "JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP; Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline? Some States Try Extending the Practice to More Professions.")






October 17, 2014

French Socialist Wants to Encourage Entrepreneurs by Reducing Regulations



MacronFrenchSocialist2014-10-07.jpg "Emmanuel Macron, France's new economy minister, has been a major force behind a recent shift by President François Hollande toward a more centrist economic policy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B3) . . . , what is important, Mr. Macron said, as a late train from the nearby Gare de Lyon rumbled beneath his window, is that France continue to streamline and modernize the welfare state.

"For me being a Socialist today is about defending the unemployed, but also defending businessmen who want to create a company, and those who need jobs," he said. "We have to shift the social model from a lot of formal protections toward loosening bottlenecks in the economy."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "France's 36-Year-Old Economy minister Is Face of the New Socialism." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 7, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 6, 2014, and has the title "Emmanuel Macron, Face of France's New Socialism.")






October 14, 2014

Boring Jobs Cause Stress and Lower Productivity



(p. B4) A study published this year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that measurements of people's heart rates, hormonal levels and other factors while watching a boring movie -- men hanging laundry -- showed greater signs of stress than those watching a sad movie.

"We tend to think of boredom as someone lazy, as a couch potato," said James Danckert, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a co-author of the paper. "It's actually when someone is motivated to engage with their environment and all attempts to do so fail. It's aggressively dissatisfying."

It's not just the amount of work, Professor Spector said, also but the type.   . . .

"You can be very busy and a have a lot to do and still be bored," he said. The job -- whether a white-collar managerial position or blue-collar assembly line role -- also needs to be stimulating.


. . .


In a 2011 paper based on the doctoral dissertation of his student Kari Bruursema, Professor Spector and his co-authors found that the stress of boredom can lead to counterproductive work behavior, like calling in sick, taking long breaks, spending time on the Internet for nonwork-related reasons, gossiping about colleagues, playing practical jokes or even stealing. While most workers engage in some of these activities at times, the bored employee does it far more frequently, he said.



For the full story, see:

ALINA TUGEND. "Shortcuts; The Contrarians on Stress: It Can Be Good for You." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 4, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 3, 2014.)


The Experimental Brain Research study mentioned above, is:

Merrifield, Colleen, and James Danckert. "Characterizing the Psychophysiological Signature of Boredom." Experimental Brain Research 232, no. 2 (Feb. 2014): 481-91.


The article mentioned above, that is co-authored by Spector, is:

Bruursema, Kari, Stacey R. Kessler, and Paul E. Spector. "Bored Employees Misbehaving: The Relationship between Boredom and Counterproductive Work Behaviour." Work & Stress 25, no. 2 (April 2011): 93-107.






October 13, 2014

Mexicans Abandon Government Subsidized Housing Developments



(p. A5) ZUMPANGO, Mexico -- In an enormous housing development on the edge of this scrappy commuter town, Lorena Serrano's 11-foot-wide shoe box of a home is flanked by abandoned houses. The neighborhood has two schools, a few bodegas and a small community center that offers zumba classes.

There is very little else.

"There are no jobs, no cinema, no cantina," said Ms. Serrano of the 8,000-home development, called La Trinidad. Her husband's commute to the capital, Mexico City, about 35 miles south, takes two hours each way by bus and consumes a quarter of his salary, she said. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

Ms. Serrano, 39, is among more than five million Mexicans who, over the past decade, bought houses through a government program that made mortgages available to low-income buyers.

The program, initially hailed by some experts as the answer to Mexico's chronic housing deficit, fueled a frenzy of construction and helped inspire similar efforts in Latin America and beyond, including Brazil's "My House, My Life," which aims to build at least 3 million homes by this year.

But the concrete sprawl around Mexico City and other big towns grew faster than demand. Commutes proved unbearable, and residents abandoned their homes.



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "ZUMPANGO JOURNAL; They Built It. People Came. Now They Go." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 9, 2014): A5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 8, 2014.)






October 10, 2014

Labor Process Innovations Increased Productivity



(p. 6) . . . , Greg Clark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, has gone so far as to argue that the Industrial Revolution was in part a self-control revolution. Many economists, beginning with Adam Smith, have argued that factories -- an important innovation of the Industrial Revolution -- blossomed because they allowed workers to specialize and be more productive.

Professor Clark argues that work rules truly differentiated the factory. People working at home could start and finish when they wanted, a very appealing sort of flexibility, but it had a major drawback, he said. People ended up doing less work that way.

Factories imposed discipline. They enforced strict work hours. There were rules for when you could go home and for when you had to show up at the beginning of your shift. If you arrived late you could be locked out for the day. For workers being paid piece rates, this certainly got them up and at work on time. You can even see something similar with the assembly line. Those operations dictate a certain pace of work. Like a running partner, an assembly line enforces a certain speed.

As Professor Clark provocatively puts it: "Workers effectively hired capitalists to make them work harder. They lacked the self-control to achieve higher earnings on their own."

The data entry workers in our study, centuries later, might have agreed with that statement. In fact, 73 percent of them did agree to this statement: "It would be good if there were rules against being absent because it would help me come to work more often."

Of course with newer forms of technology, showing up for work on time need not mean being physically at a given workplace. A study by the economists Nicholas Bloom, John Roberts and Zhichun Ying of Stanford and James Liang of Peking University looked at call center workers in China. In their experiment, some workers were randomly assigned to work at home, others worked in group call centers. The work habits of both groups were carefully monitored electronically, and the workers knew it. The researchers found that those working at home were 13 percent more productive than those in call centers. With modern technology, we now have so many ways to quantify, track and motivate productivity. We do not need to lock factory doors or even have a factory. Yet we have not yet begun to scratch the surface of motivating production in this way.



For the full commentary, see:

SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN. "Economic View; Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 28, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 27, 2014.)


The article mentioned above by Clark is:

Clark, Gregory. "Factory Discipline." Journal of Economic History 54, no. 1 (March 1994): 128-63.


The article mentioned above by Bloom, Liang, Roberts and Ying is:

Bloom, Nicholas, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying. "Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment." August 18, 2014.






September 24, 2014

Less Time in Office Leaves Workers Happier, Less Stressed and Equally Productive



(p. 4) A recent study, published in The American Sociological Review, aimed to see whether the stress of work-life conflicts could be eased if employees had more control over their schedules, including being able to work from home.   . . .

The study, financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved the information technology department of a large corporation.   . . .

As part of the research, department managers received training to encourage them to show support for employees' family and personal lives, said Erin Kelly, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the lead authors of the study. Then employees were given much more control over their schedules than before. They "were free to work where and when they preferred, as long as the work got done," she said.

The results: The employees almost doubled the amount of time they worked at home, to an average of 19.6 hours from 10.2 hours. Total work hours remained roughly the same. Focusing on results rather than time spent at the office, and cutting down on "low value" meetings and other tasks, helped employees achieve more flexibility, Professor Kelly said.

Compared with another group that did not have the same flexibility, employees interviewed by the researchers said they felt happier and less stressed, had more energy and were using their time more effectively, Professor Kelly said. There was no sign that the quality of the work improved or declined with the changed schedules, she added.



For the full story, see:

PHYLLIS KORKKI. "Yes, Flexible Hours Ease Stress. But Is Everyone on Board?." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 24, 2014): C4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 23, 2014.)


The study mentioned above is:

Kelly, Erin L., Phyllis Moen, and Eric Tranby. "Changing Workplaces to Reduce Work-Family Conflict: Schedule Control in a White-Collar Organization." American Sociological Review 76, no. 2 (April 2011): 265-90.






September 3, 2014

Predictors of Technological Doom Have "All Been Wrong"



GrowingAndDecliningJobsGraph2014.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 4) JUST over 50 years ago, the cover of Life magazine breathlessly declared the "point of no return for everybody." Above that stark warning, a smaller headline proclaimed, "Automation's really here; jobs go scarce."

As events unfolded, it was Life that was nearing the point of no return -- the magazine suspended weekly publication in 1972. For the rest of America, jobs boomed; in the following decade, 21 million Americans were added to the employment rolls.

Throughout history, aspiring Cassandras have regularly proclaimed that new waves of technological innovation would render huge numbers of workers idle, leading to all manner of economic, social and political disruption.

As early as 1589, Queen Elizabeth I refused a patent on a knitting machine for fear it would put "my poor subjects" out of work.

In the 1930s, the great John Maynard Keynes predicted widespread job losses "due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour."

So far, of course, they've all been wrong. But that has not prevented a cascade of shrill new proclamations that -- notwithstanding centuries of history -- "this time is different": . . .



For the full commentary, see:

Steven Rattner. "Fear Not the Coming of the Robots." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JUNE 22, 2014): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2014.)






August 15, 2014

Flexibility of System of Industrial Relations Makes German Economy Strong



(p. 183) We have argued that the remarkable transformation of the German economy from the "sick man of Europe" to a lean and highly competitive economy within little more than a decade is rooted in the inherent flexibility of the German system of industrial relations. This system allowed German industry to react appropriately and flexibly over time to the demands of German unification, and the global challenges of a new world economy.


Source:

Dustmann, Christian, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schoenberg, and Alexandra Spitz-Oener. "From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany's Resurgent Economy." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 167-88.






August 7, 2014

Nobel-Prize-Winner Views Success as Rigged (Except for Nobel Prizes)



(p. 245) . . . , Solow interprets the evidence on intergenerational mobility as showing that the economy is not very meritocratic. (Oddly, he exempts the economics profession. He seems to believe that lack of success is often the result of bad luck or a rigged system, unless you are an economist, in which case it's your own fault.) Although I noted in my article that those born into extreme poverty face particularly difficult obstacles, I view the rest of the economy as more meritocratic than Solow does. In addition to the Kaplan and Rauh study, I recommend a popular book called The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko 1996). Written by two marketing professors who extensively surveyed high net worth individuals, the book reports that the typical millionaire is not someone who was born into wealth but rather is someone who has worked hard and lived frugally.


Source:

Mankiw, N. Gregory. "Correspondence: Response from N. Gregory Mankiw." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 244-45.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)


The Stanley and Danko book that Mankiw praises (and I use in my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar) is:

Stanley, Thomas J., and William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. First ed. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996.






July 29, 2014

HR Regulations and Fear of Lawsuits Keep Managers from Firing Workers Who Do Not Work



(p. 1B) The biggest problem in your workplace has a name. His name is Jeff. . . .

Jeff sits two cubicles down from us, or three, or four. His real name may be John, Juan or Joan. He gets to the widget factory late, he leaves early and always mucks up his part of any group project. He complains, loudly, about the smallest things, and when you bring doughnuts for your birthday he probably takes three and then talks with his mouth full, too.


. . .


(p. 2B) . . . , morale suffers greatly when most of a company's employees perceive that their supervisor is failing to deal with their low-performing co-worker, month after month, year after year.

For this, Hoogeveen blames a corporate culture that is so concerned about HR regulations, and the often-imagined threat of litigation, that bosses often fail to take into account how the trouble employee affects the larger climate.


. . .


. . . if Jeff doesn't improve, he needs to be fired. This is perhaps the worst part of a boss's job, Hoogeveen thinks. His eyes mist as he recalls firing an employee whom he liked, but who was simply a bad fit at QLI.

It's human nature to avoid this conflict, to maintain the status quo and let Jeff be, he says. That's what can and does happen at most Omaha companies.

But it's bad for the employees, and it's bad for business.

"A lot of this stuff is incredibly easy to understand," says Omaha's workplace mechanic [Kim Hoogeveen]. "It's incredibly difficult to live."



For the full story, see:

Hansen, Matthew. "Workplace Guru: Don't Let Problem Worker Slide." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., July 21, 2014): 1B-2B.

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

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Hansen: Don't let Jeff -- the problem worker -- slide, workplace guru says.")






July 28, 2014

Entrepreneur Gutenberg's Press Creatively Destroyed the Jobs of Scribes



(p. 32) Poggio possessed . . . [a] gift that set him apart from virtually all the other book-hunting humanists. He was a superbly well-trained scribe, with exceptionally fine handwriting, great powers of concentration, and a high degree of accuracy. It is difficult for us, at this distance, to take in the significance of such qualities: our technologies for producing transcriptions, facsimiles, and copies have almost entirely erased what was once an important personal achievement. That importance began to decline, though not at all precipitously, even in Poggio's own lifetime, for by the 1430s a German entrepreneur, Johann Gutenberg, began experimenting with a new invention, movable type, which would revolutionize the reproduction and transmission of texts. By the century's end printers, especially the great Aldus in Venice, would print Latin texts in a typeface whose clarity and elegance remain unrivalled after five centuries. That typeface was based on the beautiful handwriting of Poggio and his humanist friends. What Poggio did by hand to produce a single copy would soon be done mechanically to produce hundreds.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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






July 26, 2014

Countries that Protect Jobs Stifle Economic Growth



(p. 240) In an "Interview" conducted by Jessie Romero, John Haltiwanger discusses changing patterns of job creation and destruction: "But now we're seeing a decline in the entry rate and a pretty stark decline in the share of young businesses. . . . But it's also important to recognize that the decline in the share of young firms has occurred because the impact of entry is not just at the point of entry, it's also over the next five or 10 years. A wave of entrants come in, and some of them grow very rapidly, and some of them fail. That dynamic has slowed down. . . . If you look at young small businesses, or just young businesses period, the 90th percentile growth rate is incredibly high. Young businesses not only are volatile, but their growth rates also are tremendously skewed. It's rare to have a young business take off, but those that do add lots of jobs and contribute a lot to productivity growth. We have found that startups together with high-growth firms, which are disproportionately young, account for roughly 70 percent of overall job creation in the United States. . . . "I think the evidence is overwhelming that countries have tried to stifle the [job] destruction process and this has caused problems. I'm hardly a fan of job destruction per se, but making it difficult for firms to contract, through restricting shutdowns, bankruptcies, layoffs, etc., can have adverse consequences. The reason is that there's so much heterogeneity in productivity across businesses. So if you stifle that destruction margin, you're going to keep lots of low-productivity businesses in existence, and that could lead to a sluggish economy. I just don't think we have any choice in a modern market economy but to allow for that reallocation to go on. Of course, what you want is an environment where not only is there a lot of job destruction, but also a lot of job creation, so that when workers lose their jobs they either immediately transit to another job or their unemployment duration is low." Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Second Quarter 2013, pp. 30-34. http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q2/pdf/interview.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, ellipses, and bracketed word, in original.)






July 14, 2014

Forecasts of Mass Unemployment from Robots Were Wrong



(p. 215) Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane consider the interaction between workers and machinery in "Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work." "On March 22, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson received a short, alarming memorandum from the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution. The memo warned the president of threats to the nation beginning with the likelihood that computers would soon create mass unemployment: 'A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.' The memo was signed by luminaries including Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling, Scientific American publisher Gerard Piel, and economist Gunnar Myrdal (a future Nobel Prize winner). Nonetheless, its warning was only half right. There was no mass unemployment--since 1964 the economy has added 74 million jobs. But computers have changed the jobs that are available, the skills those jobs require, and the wages the jobs pay. For the foreseeable future, the challenge of "cybernation" is not mass unemployment but the need to educate many more young people for the jobs computers cannot do." Third Way, 2013, http://content.thirdway.org /publications/714/Dancing-With-Robots.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 211-18.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 9, 2014

French Protest Amazon, but Buy There for Low Prices



(p. B1) LONDON -- On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. But his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon. He is bothered by the way the American online retailer treats its warehouse employees.

Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.

"It depends on the price," said Mr. Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a $400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French websites. "If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside."



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "Principles Are No Match for Europe's Love of U.S. Web Titans." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 7, 2014): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 6, 2014.)







June 29, 2014

The Noise of Open-Office Plans Destroys Concentration



CubedBK2014-05-28.jpg










Source of book image: DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; The Office Space We Love to Hate." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 25, 2014): C21 & C31.





(p. C3) Open-office plans--then as now--mean noise, both visual and aural. People used to private offices couldn't concentrate because of all the chatter and typing. For all the supposed egalitarianism of the office landscape, managers usually allotted themselves more space than junior staff, and the creative use of screens and extra plants often let them carve out ad hoc private offices for themselves. By the 1970s, European workers' councils had rejected open-office plans, insisting that employees across the continent be granted private offices.

In the U.S., however, the open-plan remained unchallenged--until Propst. He concluded that office workers needed autonomy and independence--and therefore offered a flexible, three-walled design that could be reshaped to any given need.


. . .


Many workers I've spoken to in open offices find concentration and privacy elusive--and often miss their cubicles.



For the full commentary, see:

NIKIL SAVAL. "When Office Cubicles Looked Like Progress." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 10, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2014, and has the title "A Brief History of the Dreaded Office Cubicle.")


For more of Saval's observations on the cubicle, see:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.






June 25, 2014

Occupational Licensing Hurts Poor and Restricts Innovation and Worker Mobility



StagesOfOccupationalRegulationBK2014-06-01.JPG
















Source of book image: http://www.upjohn.org/sites/default/files/bookcovers/soor_0.JPG



(p. A31) In the 1970s, about 10 percent of individuals who worked had to have licenses, but by 2008, almost 30 percent of the work force needed them.

With this explosion of licensing laws has come a national patchwork of stealth regulation that has, among other things, restricted labor markets, innovation and worker mobility.


. . .


Occupational licensing, moreover, does nothing to close the inequality gap in the United States. For consumers, there is likely to be a redistribution effect in the "wrong" direction, as higher income consumers have more choice among higher quality purveyors of a service and lower income individuals are left with fewer affordable service options.

. . . , government-issued licenses largely protect occupations from competition. Conservatives often see members of the regulated occupation supporting licensing laws under claims of "public health and safety." However, these laws do much more to stop competition and less to enhance the quality of the service.

Also, all consumers do not demand the same level of quality. If licensure "improves quality" by restricting entry into the profession, then some consumers will be forced to pay for more "quality" than they want or need. Not everyone wants a board-licensed hairdresser.



For the full commentary, see:

MORRIS M. KLEINER. "Why License a Florist?" The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 29, 2014): A31.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 28, 2014.)


Kleiner's most recent book on occupational licensing is:

Kleiner, Morris M. Stages of Occupational Regulation: Analysis of Case Studies. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute, 2013.






May 31, 2014

When Labor Markets Are Flexible, Workers Need Not Fear New Technology



(p. 6) Driverless vehicles and drone aircraft are no longer science fiction, and over time, they may eliminate millions of transportation jobs. Many other examples of automatable jobs are discussed in "The Second Machine Age," a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and in my own book, "Average Is Over." The upshot is that machines are often filling in for our smarts, not just for our brawn -- and this trend is likely to grow.

How afraid should workers be of these new technologies? There is reason to be skeptical of the assumption that machines will leave humanity without jobs. After all, history has seen many waves of innovation and automation, and yet as recently as 2000, the rate of unemployment was a mere 4 percent. There are unlimited human wants, so there is always more work to be done. The economic theory of comparative advantage suggests that even unskilled workers can gain from selling their services, thereby liberating the more skilled workers for more productive tasks.


. . .


Labor markets just aren't as flexible these days for workers, especially for men at the bottom end of the skills distribution.


. . .


Across the economy, a college degree is often demanded where a high school degree used to suffice.


. . .


The law is yet another source of labor market inflexibility: The number of jobs covered by occupational licensing continues to rise and is almost one-third of the work force. We don't need such laws for, say, barbers or interior designers, although they are commonly on the books.


. . .


Many . . . labor market problems were brought on by the financial crisis and the collapse of market demand. But it would be a mistake to place all the blame on the business cycle. Before the crisis, for example, business executives and owners didn't always know who their worst workers were, or didn't want to engage in the disruptive act of rooting out and firing them. So long as sales were brisk, it was easier to let matters lie. But when money ran out, many businesses had to make the tough decisions -- and the axes fell. The financial crisis thus accelerated what would have been a much slower process.

Subsequently, some would-be employers seem to have discriminated against workers who were laid off in the crash. These judgments weren't always fair, but that stigma isn't easily overcome, because a lot of employers in fact had reason to identify and fire their less productive workers.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN. "Economic View; Automation Alone Isn't Killing Jobs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)



The Brynjolfsson and McAfee book mentioned is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.


The Cowen book that Cowen mentions is:

Cowen, Tyler. Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. New York: Dutton Adult, 2013.






May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 18, 2014

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth "to Disastrous Effect"



SmithShane2014-04-26.jpg







Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I'm actually worried, because I believe that it's going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we've already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I've said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it's almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.

Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It's our time now. Then, I don't know, it'll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.



For the full interview, see:

Staley, Willy, interviewer. " 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?': The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title "Vice's Shane Smith: 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?'.")






May 10, 2014

Television Improved Test Scores



GentzkowMatthewChicagoBatesClark2014-04-26.jpg "Economist Matthew Gentzkow found media slant to be a function of audience preference." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A2) An economist known for pioneering work on slanted coverage in the news media won the John Bates Clark Medal, one of the profession's most prestigious honors.

Matthew Gentzkow, a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, on Thursday was awarded the Clark medal by the American Economic Association, which every year honors the nation's most promising economist under age 40.


. . .


A big theme in Mr. Gentzkow's work is finding innovative ways to tackle questions that expand economists' tool kits.

. . . , in 2008, he and Mr. Shapiro examined the fact that different parts of the U.S. got access to television at different times to gauge TV's effects on high-school students in the 1960s.

The economists found that children who lived in cities that gave them more exposure to TV in early childhood performed better on tests than those with less exposure. The work also suggested TV helped American children in non-English-speaking households do better in school.



For the full story, see:

NEIL SHAH. "Economist Honored for Work on Media Slant." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Gentzkow and Shapiro paper on the effects of television, is:

Gentzkow, Matthew, and Jesse M. Shapiro. "Preschool Television Viewing and Adolescent Test Scores: Historical Evidence from the Coleman Study." Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 1 (Feb. 2008): 279-323.






May 6, 2014

Aloysius Siow's Obituary for Gary Becker



My friend Aloysius Siow and I were graduate students at the University of Chicago in the mid to late 1970s, where we took courses from Gary Becker, and attended his workshop. In the past, I have posted several entries on Becker on this blog that appear under the Category "Becker, Gary." I expect to write some thoughts on his passing, but am not ready to do so yet. Aloysius drafted an obituary without delay, and kindly said it was OK for me to post it as an entry on this blog.



Obituary: Gary Becker
The Father of Economics Imperialism


By Aloysius Siow, Professor of Economics
University of Toronto
May 4, 2014


Gary Becker, an American economist, died on May 3 at the age of 83.

His major contribution was the systematic application of economics to the analysis of social issues. Before his work, economists primarily studied how markets and market economies worked. He used economics to study discrimination, criminal behavior, human capital, marriage, fertility and other social issues.

He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992. He also won the John Bates Clark medal, awarded to the best American economist under 40, in 1967; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor award by the US president to a civilian, in 2007.

Becker's father, Louis William Becker, migrated from Montreal to the United States at age sixteen and moved several times before settling down in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Becker's mother was Anna Siskind. He was born in Pottsville in 1930. At age five, Gary and his family moved to Brooklyn. He studied in Princeton University as an undergraduate. He did his PhD at the University of Chicago where he met Milton Friedman who would have an enormous influence on his intellectual development. After he obtained his PhD, Becker spent a few years as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and then moved to Columbia University.

His path breaking 1955 dissertation was on the economics of discrimination. It was the first systematic study of a non-traditional economic topic using economics. In it, he argued that the difference in wages between a majority and a minority group can be used to measure the extent of discrimination in the labor market. When one points out today that it is unfair that women earn 80 percent of what men make, they are channeling Becker. His thesis analyzed how the South African system of apartheid benefited Whites at the expense of Blacks in South Africa. This analysis predated the Anti-apartheid Boycott Movement of the West which started in 1959.

The methodology and concern of his thesis previewed his research career. At the time of the publication of his thesis in 1957, economics was a conservative discipline, restricting itself to the study of the behavior of markets and market economies. Becker set for himself the task of systematically applying the tools of economics to the study of social issues. At the beginning, his work was generally ignored if not actually denigrated within the profession. Economists were supposed to study more important concerns.

After studying discrimination, he provided a modern economic theory of criminal behavior. Together with his study on discrimination, this work inspired the development of the law and economics movement.

At Columbia University, he began a systematic study of human capital, the study of the allocation of time and other topics in labor economics. Together with his colleague Jacob Mincer, they wrote many of the important papers in labor economics and also produced many successful graduate students. For example, their graduate student, Michael Grossman, wrote his thesis on health economics where he applied economics to the study of individual maintenance of health. Today, health economics is a major field of study and a central pillar of health policy. Due to the topics they worked on, they also attracted and successfully supervised many female PhD students. Claudia Goldin of Harvard University is perhaps his most illustrious female PhD student.

In 1970, Becker returned to the University of Chicago where he remained as a professor until his death. He continue to apply his economics to the study of the family, including the behavior of marriage markets, allocation of resources within the family and fertility behavior. The discussion of how economics can affect fertility anticipated government policies which seek to increase their native fertility rates. For example, Singapore has over 30 programs which seeks to increase her fertility rate.

Today, Becker's approach is known as the rational choice approach in the social sciences. As the economics profession grew to appreciate his contributions, other social sciences have mixed feelings about his influence. On the one hand, they appreciate how he led economists to study different social issues. On the other hand, other social scientists often feel threatened by the invasion of economists.

Economists systematically use mathematical methods, statistical analysis and often large data sets. They prioritize cost benefit calculus over other factors which may also affect individual behavior. They had little patience with qualitative studies. Thus some social scientists felt that their contributions were unfairly ignored and so resisted the application of economics to their fields. For example, the Critical Legal Studies movement was developed in the 1970s in part in reaction to the success of the law and economics movement in law schools. In political science, rational choice theory is now a core field of study. Yet there are many political scientists who reject this approach.

Interestingly, motivated by the work of psychologists, economists have also begun to reject the purely rational calculus model of Becker as too narrow. Rather, these behavioral economics researchers argue that individuals have bounded rationality and are subject to systematic biases in their behavior. For example, Robert Shiller, a Nobel economist, has argued that bubbles occur in asset markets due to psychological biases. Thus the success of Becker has led to qualifications which is a hallmark of progress in science.

Contrary to many successful economists, Becker did not spend much time consulting for either the government or business. He was a conservative but unlike his mentor Milton Friedman, his direct influence on policy was minimal. Rather, the various economic fields which he instigated have had and continue to have significant influence on public policy. For example, every politician who wants to spend more resources on public education says that they are investing in the human capital of their society. Today, economists systematically contribute to policy discussions on maternity leaves, subsidies for child care and other social issues.

On a personal note, I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the late seventies where I met Gary Becker. I was interested in social issues. But because he was so intimidating as a scholar, I did not write my thesis under him nor was it on those concerns. Ten years after I obtained my PhD, and after I had moved to the University of Toronto, I wrote my first paper on the economics of the family motivated by a discussion in evolutionary psychology. Our interest on the economics of the family overlapped and we subsequently have had many professional interactions. I also began to realize that he did not know everything and that it is fine to work on topics which he had worked on.

Later in his life, he would sometimes introduce me as a former PhD student. At first I would correct him. But later I did not because perhaps he was right.








April 30, 2014

Strategic Conversations: Vital to Creative Adaptation or Reinforcers of Lazy Consensus?



MomentsOfImpactBK2014-04-24.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A15) "Moments of Impact" is at its best on the importance of promoting different perspectives. Businesses need to look at the world through as many disciplinary lenses as possible if they are to cope with the fast-changing threats that confront them. But day-to-day corporate life is all about fences and silos. Strategic conversations give companies a chance to examine their business models from the outside--and, as the authors put it, to "imagine operating within several different yet plausible environments."


. . .


Mr. Ertel and Ms. Solomon argue that companies increasingly face a choice between what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction and what they call creative adaptation--and that strategic conversations are vital to creative adaptation. Perhaps so. But strategic conversations can also reinforce lazy consensus, as people try to justify their jobs and protect their turf. Many bold decisions are driven by the opposite of "conversations"--by senior managers deciding to lop-off functions or take the company in a radically new direction.



For the full review, see:

ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE. "BOOKSHELF; Go Ahead, Strategize; The best 'strategy meetings' unleash fresh thinking and offer maverick views; the worst and dull, unstructured time-sucks." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 27, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 26, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Moments of Impact,' by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon; The best 'strategy meetings' unleash fresh thinking and offer maverick views; the worst and dull, unstructured time-sucks.")


The book under review is:

Ertel, Chris, and Lisa Kay Solomon. Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






April 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College



HarboeLouisYoungTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg



"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.


. . .


Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."



For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)






April 1, 2014

Decline in Hours Worked Shows Weakness in Labor Market



(p. A15) Most commentators viewed the February [2014] jobs report released on March 7 as good news, indicating that the labor market is on a favorable growth path. A more careful reading shows that employment actually fell--as it has in four out of the past six months and in more than one-third of the months during the past two years.

Although it is often overlooked, a key statistic for understanding the labor market is the length of the average workweek. Small changes in the average workweek imply large changes in total hours worked. The average workweek in the U.S. has fallen to 34.2 hours in February from 34.5 hours in September 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That decline, coupled with mediocre job creation, implies that the total hours of employment have decreased over the period.


. . .


. . . , although the U.S. economy added about 900,000 jobs since September, the shortened workweek is equivalent to losing about one million jobs during this same period. The difference between the loss of the equivalent of one million jobs and the gain of 900,000 new jobs yields a net effect of the equivalent of 100,000 lost jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Hidden Rot in the Jobs Numbers; Hours worked are declining, resulting in the equivalent of a net loss of 100,000 jobs since September." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 17, 2014): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 16, 2014.)






March 28, 2014

Paul Ryan Warns that the Safety Net Can Be a Hammock



(p. A21) . . . Mr. Ryan said two years ago: "We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."


For the full commentary, see:

Krugman, Paul. "The Hammock Fallacy." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 7, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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



The original source of the Paul Ryan quote appears to be:

"Paul Ryan Wants 'Welfare Reform Round 2'." The Huffington Post (posted 03/20/2012).


Ryan made similar comments in his January 25th official Republican response to the State of the Union speech:

We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked -- and it won't work now.


Source:

NPR transcript of Paul Ryan response, January 25, 2011.






March 23, 2014

Disabled Workers Are More Likely to Be Free Agent Entrepreneurs



HartfordKevinEntrepreneurWhoStutters2014-03-10.jpg "Kevin Hartford, right, and a colleague at his factory. He started his business after employers failed to hire him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



HR departments have incentives to avoid hiring risky employees. But a determined high-risk employee can hire themselves by becoming a free agent entrepreneur. If we want to truly help the disabled, we should remove obstacles to entrepreneurship, such as burdensome regulations and high taxation.


(p. B4) Mr. Hartford, the father of two sons, thrived as a business consultant in his 20s and 30s. He was used to flying first class, staying at swank hotels and advising CEOs. Then the consulting firm unraveled in the mid-1990s. When he began looking for a new job, a stuttering problem--something he had always considered manageable--put off potential employers.

"I applied for job after job after job," says Mr. Hartford, now 58. "I was one of two finalists; I was one of three finalists. But I never got the job."

In the end, Mr. Hartford concluded that his only shot at a satisfying job was to create a company. He is now president and co-owner of Alle-Kiski Industries, which makes parts, such as exhaust pipes for train locomotives and prototype truck wheels, for larger manufacturers, including Alcoa Inc. and General Electric Co.

Like many before him, Mr. Hartford discovered that one option for people who don't fit into large organizations is to start a small one. That is particularly true for people with disabilities. About 11% of disabled workers are self-employed, compared with 6.5% of those with no disabilities, according to Labor Department data.


. . .


The business has grown to 38 employees from a dozen when Messrs. Hartford and Newell started in 2005. They own more than $2 million of equipment used to drill, groove and otherwise shape metal, arrayed in a 27,000-square-foot factory with an American flag hanging from one of the beams. Last year's sales of $6 million were the highest yet, Mr. Hartford says, and the company is building a 4,000-square-foot addition to house more equipment.



For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY. "Entrepreneur Let No Impediment Stop Him; Out-of-Work Consultant Started His Own Company After Discovering His Stutter Put Off Employers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Jan. 16, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 15, 2014.)






March 13, 2014

How the Brain May Be Able to Control Robots

KakuMichio2014-03-02.jpg











Michio Kaku. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 2) Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and professor at City College of New York. When not trying to complete Einstein's theory of everything, he writes books that explain physics and how developments in the field will shape the future.


. . .


One of the most intriguing things I've read lately was by Miguel Nicolelis, called "Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains With Machines," in which he describes hooking up the brain directly to a computer, which allows you to mentally control a robot or exoskeleton on the other side of the earth.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "Download; Michio Kaku." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 9, 2014): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph is an introduction by Kate Murphy; the next paragraph is part of a response by Michio Kaku.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 8, 2014.)


The book mentioned above is:

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines---and How It Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011.







March 12, 2014

Small Business Will Fire Workers When Minimum Wage Is Raised



(p. B4) . . . , Charlene Conway is watching her numbers. For 22 years, Ms. Conway and her husband have run Carousel Family Fun Centers in Fairhaven and Whitman, Mass. The business has annual revenue of less than $500,000 and depends exclusively on part-time minimum-wage earners, mostly teenagers, to handle tasks like running the snack bar and maintaining the games.

This year, Massachusetts is considering raising its minimum to $9 an hour, from $8. Should that happen, Ms. Conway said, she will probably need to reduce her staff of 20. Her employees currently make an average of $9 an hour, with managers earning from $10 to $15. Like Ms. Riley, Ms. Conway said that an increase in the minimum would force her to raise pay across the board.

And she, too, is reluctant to raise prices again. In 2011 and 2012, she increased her admission fees by a dollar -- they generally run from $5 to $10 now, based on age and time of day. Another increase, she said, would just make things worse: "We will price ourselves out of business."

In the past, when Massachusetts increased the state's minimum, Ms. Conway responded by increasing the minimum age of her workers to 16 from 14. "I'm not going to pay a 14-year-old $9 an hour with no experience, maturity or work ethic," she said. More recently, she has been hiring 18-year-olds with college experience. "What this does," she said, "is eliminate the opportunity for young people to get started in the work force."

Should minimum wage reach $10 an hour, Ms. Conway said she would reduce her staff to 10 employees and double up on work tasks. "This is a slippery slope that could absolutely cause me to shut down and force me into bankruptcy," she said.



For the full commentary, see:

STACY PERMAN. "SMALL BUSINESS; As Minimum Wages Rise, Businesses Grapple With Consequences." The New York Times (Thurs., Feb. 6, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 5, 2014.)






February 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)


The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.






January 31, 2014

70 Percent of Current Jobs May Soon Be Done by Robots



Kelly may be right, but it does not imply that we will all be unemployed. What will happen is that new and better jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities, will be created for humans.

Robots will do the boring, the dangerous, and the physically exhausting. We will do the creative and the analytic, and the social or emotional


(p. A21) Kevin Kelly set off a big debate with a piece in Wired called "Better Than Human: Why Robots Will -- And Must -- Take Our Jobs." He asserted that robots will soon be performing 70 percent of existing human jobs. They will do the driving, evaluate CAT scans, even write newspaper articles. We will all have our personal bot to get coffee. There's already an existing robot named Baxter, who is deliciously easy to train: "To train the bot you simply grab its arms and guide them in the correct motions and sequence. It's a kind of 'watch me do this' routine. Baxter learns the procedure and then repeats it. Any worker is capable of this show-and-tell."


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards, Part 2." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)


The article praised by Brooks is:

Kelly, Kevin. "Better Than Human: Why Robots Will -- and Must -- Take Our Jobs." Wired (Jan. 2013).






January 24, 2014

Artificial Intelligence Is a Complement to Human Intelligence, Not a Substitute for It



Smarter-Than-You-ThinkBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://img2-1.timeinc.net/ew/i/2013/11/05/Smarter-Than-You-Think.jpg




(p. 11) Clive Thompson, a Brooklyn-based technology journalist, uses this tale to open "Smarter Than You Think," his judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence. But he takes it to a more interesting level. The year after his defeat by Deep Blue, Kasparov set out to see what would happen if he paired a machine and a human chess player in a collaboration. Like a centaur, the hybrid would have the strength of each of its components: the processing power of a large logic circuit and the intuition of a human brain's wetware. The result: human-machine teams, even when they didn't include the best grandmasters or most powerful computers, consistently beat teams composed solely of human grandmasters or superfast machines.

Thompson's point is that "artificial intelligence" -- defined as machines that can think on their own just like or better than humans -- is not yet (and may never be) as powerful as "intelligence amplification," the symbiotic smarts that occur when human cognition is augmented by a close interaction with computers.



For the full review, see:

WALTER ISAACSON. "Brain Gain." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)


Book under review:

Thompson, Clive. Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.






January 23, 2014

Peck Shows that Job Interviews Do Not Identify Good Hires



(p. A18) Don Peck looked at how companies assess potential hires in an essay in The Atlantic called "They're Watching You at Work."

Peck demonstrates something that most of us already sense: that job interviews are a lousy way to evaluate potential hires. Interviewers at big banks, law firms and consultancies tend to prefer people with the same leisure interests -- golf, squash, whatever. In one study at Xerox, previous work experience had no bearing on future productivity.

Now researchers are using data to try again to make a science out of hiring. They watch how potential hires play computer games to see who is good at task-switching, who possesses the magical combination: a strict work ethic but a loose capacity for "mind wandering." Peck concludes that this greater reliance on cognitive patterns and game playing may have an egalitarian effect. It won't matter if you went to Harvard or Yale. The new analytics sometimes lead to employees who didn't even go to college. The question is do these analytics reliably predict behavior? Is the study of human behavior essentially like the study of nonhuman natural behavior -- or is there a ghost in the machine?



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards." The New York Times (Fri., December 27, 2013): A18. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 26, 2013, and has the title "The Sidney Awards, Part 1.")


The article praised by Brooks is:

Peck, Don. "They're Watching You at Work." The Atlantic (Dec. 2013).






January 22, 2014

Regulators Forbid Doctor from Curing Dentist's Pelvic Pain



DavidsonDaneilPelvicPain2014-01-16.jpg "Dr. Daniel Davidson, an Idaho dentist, has pelvic pain so severe that he cannot sit, and can stand for only limited periods." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A18) After visiting dozens of doctors and suffering for nearly five years from pelvic pain so severe that he could not work, Daniel Davidson, 57, a dentist in Dalton Gardens, Idaho, finally found a specialist in Phoenix who had an outstanding reputation for treating men like him.

Dr. Davidson, whose pain followed an injury, waited five months for an appointment and even rented an apartment in Phoenix, assuming he would need surgery and time to recover.

Six days before the appointment, it was canceled. The doctor, Michael Hibner, an obstetrician-gynecologist at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, had learned that members of his specialty were not allowed to treat men and that if he did so, he could lose his board certification -- something that doctors need in order to work.

The rule had come from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. On Sept. 12, it posted on its website a newly stringent and explicit statement of what its members could and could not do. Except for a few conditions, gynecologists were prohibited from treating men. Pelvic pain was not among the exceptions.

Dr. Davidson went home, close to despair. His condition has left him largely bedridden. The pain makes it unbearable for him to sit, and he can stand for only limited periods before he needs to lie down.

"These characters at the board jerked the rug out from underneath me," he said.



For the full story, see:

DENISE GRADY. "Men With Pelvic Pain Find a Path to Treatment Blocked by a Gynecology Board." The New York Times (Weds., December 11, 2013): A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 10, 2013.)






January 4, 2014

Ending U.S. Sugar Import Quotas Would Create 20,000 U.S. Jobs in Food Manufacturing



CalvoBacciOwnerCandyShop2013-12-j07.jpg "Erin Calvo-Bacci, the owner of a candy shop, the Chocolate Truffle, in Reading, Mass., lamented the cost of American sugar." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) READING, Mass. -- Inside the Chocolate Truffle candy shop in this Boston suburb are chocolate pizzas, chocolate buffalo wings, even a chocolate wingtip shoe. The owner, Erin Calvo-Bacci, would like to expand her business close to home, but is instead thinking of moving her operations to Canada, where the sugar essential for her products costs far less.

"We are committed to offering locally made affordable products, but the cost of sugar is driving manufacturers out of the country," Ms. Calvo-Bacci said, echoing other American candy producers, like the maker of Dum Dum lollipops, that are moving jobs to Mexico to take advantage of the lower sugar prices there.

Candy makers say the culprit is the federal sugar program, a combination of import restrictions, production quotas and loan programs dating to the 1930s, all designed to keep the price of American sugar well above that of the world market. Now the program is at the center of an intensifying battle as the House and Senate open formal negotiations this week on a long-delayed farm bill.

The price for one type of sugar, wholesale refined beet sugar, averaged 43.4 cents per pound at Midwest markets last year, the Agriculture Department reported, compared with 26.5 cents per pound for the world refined sugar price.


. . .


. . . sugar producers, bolstered by lawmakers from sugar-beet-producing states like Minnesota and sugarcane states like Florida, have spent an estimated $20 million since 2011 to block efforts to change the program. . . . Small candy makers, bakers and others who have lobbied Congress for lower prices say that taking on the sugar lobby is like taking on Goliath.

"We were no match for the sugar people," said Judy Hilliard McCarthy, an owner of Hilliard's House of Candy, a candy maker just outside Boston. Ms. McCarthy said she had made several trips to Washington to lobby on behalf of the industry.

Government and academic studies support claims by candy makers that the sugar program has had an impact on the industry. A widely cited 2006 study by the Commerce Department and a 2011 Iowa State University study found that the price supports had led to job losses among candy makers.

In particular, the Commerce Department study found that three candy-making jobs were lost for each job growing or processing sugar that was saved by higher prices. The Iowa State study found that eliminating price supports and quotas for sugar would create about 20,000 jobs for American food processors, bakeries and candy makers.


For the full story, see:

RON NIXON. "Candy Makers, Pinched by Inflated Sugar Prices in the U.S., Look Abroad." The New York Times (Thurs., October 31, 2013): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 30, 2013, and has the title "American Candy Makers, Pinched by Inflated Sugar Prices, Look Abroad.")



The latest version of the John Beghin Iowa State report, mentioned above, is:

Beghin, John C., and Amani Elobeid. "The Impact of the U.S. Sugar Program Redux." Working Paper No. 13010. Iowa State University, Department of Economics, Staff General Research Papers, May 2013.



SugarPouredForConfection2013-12-07.jpg "Sugar was poured to make a confection for Hilliard's House of Candy, just outside Boston, whose owner has lobbied officials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 16, 2013

Carnegies Liked Pittsburgh Area's Growing Economy and Flexible Labor Market



(p. 32) For all its Old World charms, Dunfermline too had had its epidemics, its scavenging rodents, muddy streets, and clean water shortages. The reason why the Hogans and the Aitkins and the Carnegies and thousands like them had come to the United States in general, and the Pittsburgh area in particular, had less to do with health, hygiene, or the physical environment than with an abundance of well-paid jobs. In this respect, Pittsburgh and Allegheny City were everything that Dunfermline was not: their markets for manufactured goods were expanding rapidly, their economies were diversified, and there were no craft restrictions on the employment of skilled artisans.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






November 15, 2013

Income of Rich Is More Volatile than Income of Poor or Middle Class



VolatileIncomeAndSpendingGraph2013-10-25.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) During the past three recessions, the top 1% of earners (those making $380,000 or more in 2008) experienced the largest income shocks in percentage terms of any income group in the U.S., according to research from economists Jonathan A. Parker and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen at Northwestern University. When the economy grows, their incomes grow up to three times faster than the rest of the country's. When the economy (p. C2) falls, their incomes fall two or three times as much.

The super-high earners have the biggest crashes. The number of Americans making $1 million or more fell 40% between 2007 and 2009, to 236,883, while their combined incomes fell by nearly 50%--far greater than the less than 2% drop in total incomes of those making $50,000 or less, according to Internal Revenue Service figures.


. . .


"High beta" is a term used in financial markets to describe a stock or asset that has exaggerated up and down swings with the market. Tech start-ups and casino stocks have high betas, for example. Yet studies show that today's rich have higher betas than many of the riskiest gambling stocks. Between 1947 and 1982, the beta of the top 1% was a modest 0.72, meaning that their incomes moved relatively in line with the rest of America. Between 1982 and 2007, their beta soared more than three-fold.

What created high-beta wealth? Economists aren't sure. The rise of the high-betas and the rise in inequality started at the same time, suggesting they have a common cause. Mr. Parker and Ms. Vissing-Jorgenssen cite new communication technologies that allow the best workers and products to be scaled over larger markets, thus making them more sensitive to economic changes. Others cite globalization and the rise of "winner-take-all" pay schemes.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT FRANK. "The Wild Ride of the 1%; The once-stable incomes of America's biggest earners now fluctuate dramatically from year to year. And as go the rich, so goes much of the economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 22, 2011): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Parker and Vissing-Jorgenssen paper is:

Parker, Jonathan A., and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen. "The Increase in Income Cyclicality of High-Income Households and Its Relation to the Rise in Top Income Shares." Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 1-70.






October 30, 2013

Fed-Mandated High Sugar Prices Drive Candy Jobs Abroad



CandyJobsLostGraph2013-10-23.jpg











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




(p. A1) On Friday, [Oct. 18, 2013] the U.S. sugar contract in the futures market settled at 22.28 cents a pound, or 14% higher than the benchmark global price.

U.S. prices can't fall much lower because of a federal government program that guarantees sugar processors a minimum price. The rest of the world also has a surfeit of sugar, but fewer price restrictions, and big growers like Brazil are expecting a record crop for the current season.

The squeeze explains why Atkinson Candy Co. has moved 80% of its peppermint-candy production to a factory in Guatemala that opened in 2010. That means it can sell bite-size Mint Twists to retailers for 10% to 20% less.

"It wasn't like we did it for (p. A14) profit reasons. We did it for survival reasons," said Eric Atkinson, president of the family-owned candy maker, based in Lufkin, Texas. "These are 60 jobs down there...that could be in the U.S.," he added. "It's a damn shame."

Jelly Belly Candy Co. is finishing its second expansion of a factory in Thailand that was opened by the Fairfield, Calif., company in 2007. The sixth-generation family-owned firm sells about 20% of its jelly beans, made in flavors from buttered popcorn to very cherry, outside the U.S.

Sugar makes up about half of the ingredients and cost of a typical jelly bean, said Bob Simpson, Jelly Belly's president and chief operating officer. Thailand is the world's fourth-largest sugar producer and gives Jelly Belly access to cheaper sugar, labor and other raw materials than the candy maker has in the U.S.

"You can't compete shipping finished U.S. goods" anymore, Mr. Simpson said. In the U.S., Jelly Belly has had to raise prices "several times" in the past 10 years due to high sugar prices.


. . .


Three candy-making jobs are lost for each sugar-growing and processing job saved by higher sugar prices, according to a Commerce Department report in 2006.

In a sign that candy makers are taking advantage of lower sugar prices elsewhere, the amount of sugar contained in imported products surged 33% from 2002 to 2012, according to the Agriculture Department.



For the full story, see:

Wexler, Alexandra. "Cheaper Sugar Sends Candy Makers Abroad." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 21, 2013): A1 & A14.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 20, 2013.)



JellyBellyCaliforniaFactory2013-10-23.jpg









"Jelly Belly, whose facility in Fairfield, Calif., is shown above, is expanding its factory in Thailand." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






October 23, 2013

Push the Flywheel, in Business and Life




Jim Collins makes wonderful use of the flywheel analogy in his Good to Great book. His point is that many achievements in business require long, gradual work to build to a major achievement that finally gets noticed by the business press and the general public. The business press often assumes that the success is overnight, when it is in fact long-building.


(p. C14) Flywheels - weighted wheels used for absorbing, storing and releasing energy - get used in everything from pottery wheels to car engines. Lately, they have showed up in corporate spin.

"Our more than 19,000 store global footprint, our fast-growing CPG presence and our best-in-class digital, card, loyalty and mobile capabilities are creating a 'flywheel' effect elevating the relevancy of all things Starbucks, and driving profitability," CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement accompanying quarterly earnings last month.

"So we have the flywheel spinning in the right direction because it is spinning one way and letting us generate these margins, contribution margins," said Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne last month. "And so now we can give some of that back and that makes it easier to get it spinning faster."

"We are at the one-mile market (sic) in a marathon," commented Symantec CEO Steve Bennett in an earnings call with analysts last week, "and the flywheel is just starting to spin."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN LAHART. "Overheard." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug 6, 2013): C14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug 6, 2013, and had the title "Ride a Painted Pony, Let the Spinning Wheel Fly." The print version did not identify an author. The versions were slightly different in two or three places--when different, the version quoted above follows the print version.)


The Collins book, mentioned above, is:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.






October 11, 2013

Innovative Entrepreneurs More Likely to Have Engaged in Illicit Activities as Teens



(p. C4) What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? The signs are obvious in future moguls' teenage years: brains, confidence--and illicit activities.

Those are the surprising findings of a new working paper by economists at the University of California at Berkeley and the London School of Economics. The researchers argue that merely being self-employed isn't a particularly good indicator of entrepreneurship, in the sense of taking big risks and mobilizing capital to create new goods and services.


. . .


. . . the professors sorted the self-employed into those who were incorporated and those who were not, with the researchers regarding the former as the genuine entrepreneurs.


. . .


Despite . . . dubious youthful pursuits, the incorporated tended to come from stable, well-educated families with high incomes in 1979. These entrepreneurs were much more likely to be white, male and well-educated than were salaried workers or the unincorporated self-employed.



For the full story, see:

DANIEL AKST. "The Bad-Boy Entrepreneur." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 17, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 16, 2013.)


The working paper discussed is:

Levine, Ross, and Yona Rubinstein. "Smart and Illicit: Who Becomes an Entrepreneur and Does It Pay?" NBER Working Paper # 19276, August 2013.






September 28, 2013

"I Didn't Open My Own Company to Have Someone Else Tell Me How to Run It"



TaylorEdwardEntrepreneur2013-09-25.jpg""They're picking on my employees," Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said, referring to the commission." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A16) The day after Jonathan Sanchez was released from prison in 2010 after serving three years for a burglary, he walked into Down East Seafood in Hunts Point in the South Bronx and asked for a job, and a second chance. He got both.

But now Mr. Sanchez must document the past he has tried to leave behind, in an 11-page application for a photo identification card issued by a city agency that is responsible for ferreting out organized crime. He is one of hundreds of food workers who have come under scrutiny in recent years by the agency, the New York City Business Integrity Commission, not because of any known ties to mob bosses but simply because they work for a company in Hunts Point.


. . .


"This was my brand new start," said Mr. Sanchez, 26, who makes $40,000 a year packing lobster orders.

Mr. Sanchez said he worried that his past crime will follow him from job to job and brand him as an ex-con. "I feel violated because I don't think those things have to be asked," he said. "I feel that it could stigmatize me."


. . .


Edward Taylor, the president of Down East Seafood, said more than half of his 60 employees had told him they did not want to complete the application. A couple of them have even said they would instead quit.

Mr. Taylor, who had to answer similar questions himself to register the company, said he would not have moved to Hunts Point from Manhattan in 2005 if he had known about the commission. The company, which he started in 1990 with $500 borrowed from a friend, supplies more than 700 establishments, including Dean & DeLuca, the Harvard and Yale Clubs and the dining rooms at the United Nations.

"They're picking on my employees," he said. "I didn't open my own company to have someone else tell me how to run it."



For the full story, see:

WINNIE HU. "Food Workers Criticize a Commission's Scrutiny." The New York Times (Sat., September 21, 2013): A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2013, and has the title "Food Workers in Hunts Point Criticize a Commission's Scrutiny.")






September 22, 2013

Growth of Labor Safety Net Made Great Recession Deeper and Longer



TheRedistributionRecessionBK2013-09-05.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VE881_bkrvre_GV_20121101145828.jpg






(p. 309) [Mulligan's empirical results suggest] that employment was dropping not only because of declining demand for the employees' products, but also because employers were substituting capital and other factors for labor. This surprising finding suggests that although a decline in aggregate demand for goods and services was one of the reasons for the decline in labor, other causes were also at play in most sectors of the economy. This fact is consistent with an inward shift in the supply of labor to the marketplace during this period.

In chapter 3, Mulligan introduces the main culprit responsible for this supplycurve shift--the unintended consequences of increases in the social safety net that substantially increased the marginal tax rate on work. In his model, Mulligan operationalizes this force into changes in the replacement rate (the fraction of productivity that the average nonemployed person receives in the form of means-tested benefits) and the self-reliance rate (1 minus the replacement rate), which is the fraction of lost productivity not replaced by means-tested benefits.

His conjecture is that, in a reverse of government policies in the 1990s that made work pay for single mothers by transforming welfare as we knew it into a program that nudged single mothers off the Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls and into the workforce, "temporary" government program expansions to mitigate the (p. 310) short-run consequences of unemployment and the bursting of the housing bubble made a prolonged paid period of nonwork an offer that many Americans found too tempting to refuse.

Mulligan identifies and incorporates the major expansions in eligibility and benefit amounts for Unemployment Insurance and food stamps into an eligibility index that shows that most of the 199 percent growth in these programs between 2007 and 2009 was due to these changes. He uses this growth rate in a weighted index of overall statutory safety-net generosity to determine the degree to which it has influenced overall employment. He does a similar analysis of the means-tested Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which facilitated substantial lender-provided discounts on home mortgage expenses for unemployment insurance-eligible workers. He finds that these market distortions that increased the marginal tax on work grew substantially in 2008, peaked in 2009--at almost triple their 2007 level--and then modestly fell in 2010 to a level appreciably above the 2007 level.


. . .


But his empirical evidence shows that the implementation of these "recession cures" was primarily responsible for the Great Recession's depth and duration.



For the full review, see:

Burkhauser, Richard V. "Review of: "The Redistributive Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy" by Casey B. Mulligan." The Independent Review 18, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 308-11.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)


Book that is under review:

Mulligan, Casey B. The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.






September 18, 2013

To Save Lego, CEO Fired Almost a Third of Workers



BrickByBrickBK2013-09-02.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A15) Only 10 years ago, Lego was posting record losses; retailers were backlogged with unsold Lego toys; and it was unclear whether Lego would survive as an independent company. An internal review discovered that 94% of the sets in its product line were unprofitable. The turnaround story that followed is well told by Wharton professor David Robertson in "Brick by Brick."


. . .


Upon coming to power, Mr. Knudstorp cut 30% of Lego's product portfolio, including many of its newer offerings. To stave off financial doom, he also sold the company's headquarters building and moved into simpler accommodations--and, more painfully, let go almost a third of the workforce.

But how to move beyond the rescue stage and toward growth? Based on input from top retailers and a large customer-research study, Lego executives concluded that even though young fans of buildable toys were a minority, there were enough of them to make a worthwhile market--and their parents were willing to pay premium prices. The company would now organize its innovation efforts around its potentially very profitable core audience.

Mr. Robertson, with the benefit of access to staff at Lego and partner companies, provides unusually detailed reporting of the processes that led to Lego's current hits (and, inevitably, some misses). Among the hits is the Mindstorms NXT, the second generation of Lego's robotics set, which hadn't been updated or advertised since 2001. Mr. Robertson describes how Lego navigated between relying on sophisticated users to determine the product's design and relying on its own expertise in the creation of building experiences.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. PRICE. "BOOKSHELF; The House That Lego Built; Lego balked at licensing warlike 'Star Wars' toys. But then anthropological research convinced company executives that kids like to compete." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 23, 2013): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 22, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Robertson, David. Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. New York: Crown Business, 2013.






September 1, 2013

"Inflexible Labor Laws" Lead Indian Firms "to Substitute Machines for Unskilled Labor"



(p. A19) . . . , India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.

Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.

India's panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor.



For the full commentary, see:

ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN. "Why India's Economy Is Stumbling." The New York Times (Sat., August 31, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






August 3, 2013

Wittgenstein Heirs Lost Family Wealth and "Found Little Happiness"



TheHouseOfWittgensteinBK2013-07-21.jpg














Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. W10) As he lay dying during Christmas 1912 -- from a gruesome throat cancer -- the Viennese industrialist Karl Wittgenstein no doubt took some comfort in the fact that he was leaving to his heirs one of the largest fortunes in Europe. He had acquired his wealth in just 30 years, the period during which Wittgenstein, an engineer, transformed a small steel mill into Europe's largest steel cartel through a combination of hard work, luck and ruthlessness. As der österreichische Eisenkönig (the "Austrian iron king"), he was the chief executive, principal shareholder or director of dozens of industrial companies and banks that provided the ore, manufacturing and financing for most of the steel products of the Habsburg Empire.

In his spare time, Wittgenstein acquired a spectacular house in Vienna, grandly styled as the family's Palais Wittgenstein.


. . .


Today, though, the Wittgenstein millions are gone and the Palais replaced by a hideous concrete apartment block. "Riches," Adam Smith wrote, ". . . very seldom remain long in the same family." Alexander Waugh's grimly amusing "The House of Wittgenstein" shows how the family fortune was lost and how the family members themselves, despite instances of prodigious talent and accomplishment, found little happiness in their own lives or pleasure in their sibling relations.



For the full review, see:

JAMES F. PENROSE. "BOOKS; A Viennese Blend: Riches and Rancor; Blessed by Musical and Intellectual Gifts, and Lots of Money, a Family Still Struggled to Find Harmony." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 1, 2009): W10.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 28, 2009.)


The book under review is:

Waugh, Alexander. The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War. New York: Doubleday, 2009.






August 2, 2013

For Right to Rise, French Youth Must Leave France's "Decrepit, Overcentralized Gerontocracy"



(p. 4) The French aren't used to the idea that their country, like so many others in Europe, might be one of emigration -- that people might actually want to leave. To many French people, it's a completely foreign notion that, around the world and throughout history, voting with one's feet has been the most widely available means to vote at all.


. . .


When the journalist Mouloud Achour, the rapper Mokless and I published a column in the French daily Libération last September, arguing that France was a decrepit, overcentralized gerontocracy and that French youths should pack their bags and go find better opportunities elsewhere in the world, it caused an uproar.


. . .


It was a divide between those who have found their place in the system and believe fervently in defending the status quo, and those who are aware that a country that has tolerated a youth unemployment rate of 25 percent for nearly 30 years isn't a place where the rising generations can expect to rise to much of anything.



For the full commentary, see:

FELIX MARQUARDT. "OPINION; The Best Hope for France's Young? Get Out." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 30, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated June 29, 2013.)






July 17, 2013

"The Million-Dollar Question" for "Our Long Economic Slump": Why "the Severe Downturn in Jobs"?



(p. 5) [There are] . . . two underappreciated aspects of our long economic slump. First, it has exacted the harshest toll on the young -- even harsher than on people in their 50s and 60s, who have also suffered. And while the American economy has come back more robustly than some of its global rivals in terms of overall production, the recovery has been strangely light on new jobs, even after Friday's better-than-expected unemployment report. American companies are doing more with less.

"This still is a very big puzzle," said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard professor who was chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He called the severe downturn in jobs "the million-dollar question" for the economy.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "CAPITAL IDEAS; The Idled Young Americans." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., May 5, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2013.)






June 28, 2013

Discrete Caution Is Not Always Prudent in Corrupt China



TheLittleRedGuardBK2013-06-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) When economic reform and the seductive breeze of political liberalization come to China in the 1980s, the author's cautious father tells his children that if they want to succeed they should be discreet. He urges his son, who is at Shanghai's Fudan University, not to waste his time on useless foreign books. When the son first reads Shakespeare, he thinks that the expression "to be or not to be" is taken from Confucius. His father tells him that asking for too much freedom can land you in jail. "If you are not careful the government could crush you like a bug." Not long after this warning, the student democracy movement was smashed apart at Tiananmen Square, though Mr. Huang's father did not live to see it.

In the end, it is the father who suffers as his world collapses. Toward the end of his life he was told by the Party that he was to be rewarded for devising a money-saving program at his state factory with promotion and a better wage. Instead the promotion went to the girlfriend of the local Party secretary, and the firm's bosses split his wage rise among themselves. Embittered and exhausted, he died of a heart attack in 1988, ahead of his mother.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age In Mao's China; Death cannot be controlled by the party, but disposing of a body can. So the author's father built a coffin in secret at his mother's request.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 30, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 29, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Huang, Wenguang. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012..






June 23, 2013

Remedial Ed Does Not Remediate



(p. C4) Two economists looked at the achievements of 453,000 students who took a basic-skills test upon entering both two- and four-year public colleges in Texas in the 1990s. . . .

. . . the authors focused on the 93,000 students who either barely passed or barely failed the test. Those students, with nearly identical skills, got treated very differently: Most who barely failed took remedial courses; most who barely passed took college-level courses.

But there was no difference in subsequent achievement between those two groups. In fact, students who got remedial help were slightly less likely to finish one year of college. The study found no effects of remediation on income seven years after starting college.



For the full story, see:

CHRISTOPHER SHEA. "Week in Ideas; Education; Remedial Ed Needs Help." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The article summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Martorell, Paco, and Isaac McFarlin, Jr. "Help or Hindrance? The Effects of College Remediation on Academic and Labor Market Outcomes." Review of Economics and Statistics 93, no. 2 (May 2011): 436-54.






June 15, 2013

Cuban Government Employees "Are Known for Surly Service, Inefficiency, Absenteeism and Pilfering"



(p. A10) However small, . . . , the private sector is changing the work culture on an island where state employees earn meager salaries and are known for surly service, inefficiency, absenteeism and pilfering.

Sergio Alba Marín, who for years managed the restaurants of a state-owned hotel and now owns a popular fast-food restaurant, said he was very strict with his employees and would not employ workers trained by the state.

"They have too many vices -- stealing, for one," said Mr. Alba, who was marching with his 25 employees and two large banners emblazoned with the name of his restaurant, La Pachanga. "You can't change that mentality."

"Even if you could, I don't have time," he added. "I have a business to run."



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "HAVANA JOURNAL; Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism." The New York Times (Thurs., May 2, 2013): A6 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2013.)






June 6, 2013

Faculty Unions Oppose MOOCs that Might Cost Them Their Jobs in Five to Seven Years



ThrunSabastianUdacityCEO2013-05-14.jpg "Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford, is Udacity's chief executive officer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education: giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.


. . .


Here at San Jose State, . . . , two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

"We're in Silicon Valley, we (p. A3) breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this," said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president. "In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn't work the first time, we'll figure out what went wrong and do better."


. . .


Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity's for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.

"There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls," he said. "And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include."


. . .


Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes.


. . .


"Our ego always runs ahead of us, making us think we can do it better than anyone else in the world," Dr. Ghadiri said. "But why should we invent the wheel 10,000 times? This is M.I.T., No. 1 school in the nation -- why would we not want to use their material?"

There are, he said, two ways of thinking about what the MOOC revolution portends: "One is me, me, me -- me comes first. The other is, we are not in this business for ourselves, we are here to educate students."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden." The New York Times (Tues., April 30, 2013): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 29, 2013.)



KormanikKatieUdacityStudent2013-05-14.jpg "Katie Kormanik preparing to record a statistics course at Udacity, an online classroom instruction provider in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 3, 2013

World Population Growth Rate "Expected to Hit Zero Around 2070"



(p. C4) In the 1960s, some experts feared an exponentially accelerating population explosion, and in 1969, the State Department envisaged 7.5 billion people by the year 2000. In 1994, the United Nations' medium estimate expected the seven-billion milestone to arrive around 2009. Compared with most population forecasts made in the past half century, the world keeps undershooting.

The growth rate of world population has halved since the '60s and is now expected to hit zero around 2070, with population around 10 billion, though some news outlets prefer to focus on the U.N.'s "high" estimate that it "could" reach 15 billion. The truth is, nobody can know, but if it's below 10 billion in 2100, we will have only increased in numbers by 1.5 times in the 21st century, compared with a fourfold increase in the 20th.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Who's Afraid of Seven Billion People?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 29, 2011): C4.






May 30, 2013

MOOCs "Will Really Scale" Once Credible Credentialing Process Is Mastered




A "MOOC" is a "massive open online course."


(p. 1) Last May I wrote about Coursera -- co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng -- just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.

Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.'s artificial intelligence lab, is now president of edX, a nonprofit MOOC that M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building. Agarwal told me that since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX's first course: an M.I.T. intro class on circuits. "That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history," he said.


. . .


(p. 11) As we look to the future of higher education, said the M.I.T. president, L. Rafael Reif, something that we now call a "degree" will be a concept "connected with bricks and mortar" -- and traditional on-campus experiences that will increasingly leverage technology and the Internet to enhance classroom and laboratory work. Alongside that, though, said Reif, many universities will offer online courses to students anywhere in the world, in which they will earn "credentials" -- certificates that testify that they have done the work and passed all the exams. The process of developing credible credentials that verify that the student has adequately mastered the subject -- and did not cheat -- and can be counted on by employers is still being perfected by all the MOOCs. But once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.

I can see a day soon where you'll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world -- some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh -- paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment. "There is a new world unfolding," said Reif, "and everyone will have to adapt."



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "Revolution Hits the Universities." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., January 27, 2013): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 26, 2013.)






April 25, 2013

The Costs of Green Jobs Policies



Regulating_to_disasterBK2013-04-24.jpg




















Source of book image: http://javelindc.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/regulating_to_disaster.jpg



I caught part of a C-SPAN presentation on the Regulating to Disaster book. It sounded plausible and intriguing---consistent with other evidence I have seen that "green" jobs have been over-hyped and under-delivered.

Perhaps more important, there are the high opportunity costs of the tax dollars devoted to the "green" jobs, in terms of the non-green jobs that would have been created by entrepreneurs if less of their income had been taxed away.

I hope to look at the book in the near future.


Book discussed:

Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy. New York: Encounter Books, 2012.






April 20, 2013

"The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours"



(p. B1) PARIS -- "How stupid do you think we are?"

With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.

"I have visited the factory a couple of times," Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country's industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.

"The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three."

"I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, 'That's the French way!' "



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)



For a similar account, see:

GABRIELE PARUSSINI. "U.S. CEO to France: "How Stupid Do You Think We Are?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title "U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.")






April 16, 2013

Tax Rates Have Big Effect on Labor Supply and Rate of Entrepreneurial Start-Ups



(p. A23) Higher taxes will produce long-term changes in social norms, behavior and growth. Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

The rich tend to be more sensitive to tax-rate changes because they've got advisers who are paid to be. Martin Feldstein, an economics professor at Harvard, looked into tax changes in the 1980s and concluded that raising rates causes people to shift compensations to untaxed fringe benefits and otherwise suppresses their economic activity. A study last year by the economists Michael Keane and Richard Rogerson found that tax rates can have a surprisingly large influence on how much people invest in education, how likely they are to create businesses and which professions they go into.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Progressive Shift." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 18, 2013.)


The Keane and Rogerson paper summarized by Brooks is:

Keane, Michael, and Richard Rogerson. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 2 (June 2012): 464-76.






March 23, 2013

"The Ante for Being in the Room" at Apple Was Brutal Honesty




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 569) I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we've had some rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it's some of the best times I've ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying "Ron, that store looks like shit" in front of everyone else. Or I might say "God, we really fucked up the engineering on this" in front of the person that's responsible. That's the ante for being in the room: You've got to be able to be super honest. Maybe there's a better way, a gentlemen's club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I don't know that way, because I am middle class from California.

I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like (p. 570) for that person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was hard. But somebody's got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn't do it, nobody was going to do it.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 21, 2013

Unemployment Increases Risk of Heart Attack



As a defender of the process of innovation through creative destruction, I try to be alert to evidence on creative destruction's benefits and costs. The highest cost is usually viewed as technological unemployment. The evidence below will have to be examined and, if sound, added to the costs.


(p. D6) Unemployment increases the risk of heart attack, a new study reports, and repeated job loss raises the odds still more.


. . .


After adjusting for well-established heart attack risks -- age, sex, smoking, income, hypertension, cholesterol screening, exercise, depression, diabetes and others -- the researchers found that being unemployed also increased the risk of a heart attack, by an average of 35 percent.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS BAKALAR. "Job Loss Raises Threat of Heart Attack." The New York Times (Tues., November 27, 2012): D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2012.)



The Dupre article mentioned above, is:

Dupre, Matthew E., Linda K. George, Guangya Liu, and Eric D. Peterson. "The Cumulative Effect of Unemployment on Risks for Acute Myocardial Infarction." Archives of Internal Medicine 172, no. 22 (Dec. 10, 2012): 1731-37.

(Note: the Archives of Internal Medicine has been re-named JAMA Internal Medicine.)






February 27, 2013

Steve Jobs' "Nasty Edge" Helped Him Create an Apple "Crammed with A Players"



(p. 565) . . . I think . . . [Jobs] actually could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.

The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "Jobs" added.)






February 16, 2013

IKEA Says Government Bureaucracy Slows Job Creation



OhlssonMikaelCEOofIKEA2013-02-03.jpg "The economy 'will remain challenging for a long time,' says IKEA Chief Executive Mikael Ohlsson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) MALMO, Sweden--IKEA is poised to embark on a global spending spree, but its departing chief executive says red tape is slowing how fast the home-furnishings retailer can open its pocket book.

With the company set to report record sales on Wednesday, CEO Mikael Ohlsson said the amount of time it takes to open a store has roughly doubled in recent years.

"What some years ago took two to three years, now takes four to six years. And we also see that there's a lot of hidden obstacles in different markets and also within the [European Union] that's holding us back," he said in an interview recently at an IKEA store on Sweden's western coast.


. . .


IKEA plans to invest €2 billion in stores, factories and renewable energy this year. But the company fell €1 billion short of its goal of investing €3 billion in new projects last year, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles, he said. For 10 years IKEA has tried unsuccessfully to relocate a store in France, for example. The company also is challenging German policy dictating what can be sold and where, saying the rules are out of sync with EU legislation.

"It's a pity, because it can help create jobs and investments at a time when unemployment is high in many countries," Mr. Ohlsson said. A new IKEA store creates construction and store jobs for about 1,000 workers, he said.


. . .


The company's highest-profile headaches have come in India, an untapped market where IKEA wants to open a first store in at least five years and roll out an additional three soon thereafter.



For the full story, see:

ANNA MOLIN. "IKEA Chief Takes Aim at Red Tape." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 23, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 22, 2013.)






February 11, 2013

Apple's Corporate Culture Under Jobs: "Accountability Is Strictly Enforced"



(p. 531) In theory, you could go to your iPhone or any computer and access all aspects of your digital life. There was, however, a big problem: The service, to use Jobs's terminology, sucked. It was complex, devices didn't sync well, and email and other data got lost randomly in the ether. "Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed to Be Reliable," was the headline on Walt Mossberg's review in the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs was furious. He gathered the MobileMe team in the auditorium on the Apple campus, stood onstage, and asked, "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" After the team members offered their answers, Jobs shot back: "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?" Over the next half hour he continued to berate them. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he said. You should hate each other for having let each other down. Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us." In front of the whole audience, he got rid of the leader of the MobileMe team and replaced him with Eddy Cue, who oversaw all Internet content at Apple. As Fortune's Adam Lashinsky reported in a dissection of the Apple corporate culture, "Accountability is strictly enforced."




Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






February 9, 2013

Ending College Affirmative Action Would Only Cause Minor Lowering in Black Admissions



(p. 113) This research examines the determinants of the match between high school seniors and postsecondary institutions in the United States. I model college application decisions as a nonsequential search problem and specify a unified structural model of college application, admission, and matriculation decisions that are all functions of unobservable individual heterogeneity. The results indicate that black and Hispanic representation at all 4-year colleges is predicted to decline modestly--by 2%--if race-neutral college admissions policies are mandated nationwide. However, race-neutral admissions are predicted to decrease minority representation at the most selective 4-year institutions by 10%.


Source of abstract:

Howell, Jessica S. "Assessing the Impact of Eliminating Affirmative Action in Higher Education." Journal of Labor Economics 28, no. 1 (January 2010): 113-66.





January 20, 2013

Socialism Failed in Jamestown



(p. 226) Stephen Slivinski discusses "Economic History: The Lessons of Jamestown." In the years after the Jamestown settlement of 1607, the settlers often lacked food. "The company sent Sir Thomas Dale, a British naval commander, to take over the office of colony governor in 1611. Yet, upon arrival in May--a time when the farmers should have been tending to their fields--Dale found virtually no planting activity. Instead, the workers were devoted mainly to leisure and 'playing bowls.' . . . All land was owned by the company and farmed collectively. . . . The workers would not hope to reap more compensation from a productive farming of the land any more than the farmers would be motivated by an interest in making their farming operations more efficient and, hence, more profitable. Seeing this, Dale decided to change the labor arrangements: When the seven-year contracts of most of the original surviving settlers were about to expire in 1614, he assigned private allotments of land to them. Each got three acres, 12 acres if he had a family. The only obligation was that they needed to provide two and a half barrels of corn annually to the company so it could be distributed to the newcomers to tide them over during their first year. Dale left Jamestown for good in 1616. By then, however, the new land grants had unleashed a vast increase in agricultural productivity. In fact, upon returning to England with Dale, John Rolfe--one of the colony's former leaders--reported to the Virginia Company that the Powhatans were now asking the colonists to give them corn instead of vice versa."


As quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 219-26.

(Note: ellipses added by Taylor.)


The Slivinski article is:

Slivinski, Stephen. "The Lessons of Jamestown." Region Focus 14, no. 1 (First Quarter 2010): 27-29.






January 16, 2013

Descartes Saw that a Great City Is "an Inventory of the Possible"



(p. 226) Joel Kotkin writes about "The Broken Ladder: The Threat to Upward Mobility in the Global City." "A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the 17th Century, represented 'an inventory of the possible,' a place where people could create their own futures and lift up their families. In the 21st Century--the first in which the majority of people will live in cities--this unique link between urbanism and upward mobility will become ever more critical."


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 4 (Fall 2010): 219-26.






January 5, 2013

Government Job Protection Regulations Reduce Youth Jobs



EuropeYouthUnemploymentGraph2013-01-01.jpg










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




(p. A7) Socialist President François Hollande has come up with a plan to ease the problem: give €4,000 ($5,276) a year for three years to small companies that hire a young person on a permanent contract while committing to keep an employee age 57 or over.


. . .


The French government hopes as many as half a million youths will find permanent jobs over the next five years due to the measure, which could cost the government about €1 billion a year when it is in place.

Economists say the number of real new jobs is likely to be much lower because the government will be subsidizing jobs that would have been created anyway. Only around 100,000 new jobs will be created, according to OFCE, an economic-research think tank in Paris.

French companies say they are reluctant to hire young people on permanent contracts because it gives employees a level of protection the companies say they can't afford to grant--even if they get the subsidy proposed by Mr. Hollande.

"It's great to have €4,000, but if the new recruit isn't good, we don't know how long we'll be stuck with them," said Philippe Lehmann, who runs Lehmann Sarl, a mechanical-parts factory in Molsheim, eastern France that employs seven people.




For the full story, see:

WILLIAM HOROBIN. "France Pins Hopes on Youth Jobs Plan." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 24, 2012): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 23, 2012.)

(Note: the online version of the last two paragraphs quoted above contains a few extra words of elaboration at the end of each paragraph, as compared to the print version. I have underlined these words in the passages quoted above.)






January 4, 2013

How Chavez Punished Those Who Opposed Him



(p. 196) In 2004, the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela distributed the list of several million voters who had attempted to remove him from office throughout the government bureaucracy, allegedly to identify and punish these voters. We match the list of petition signers distributed by the government to household survey respondents to measure the economic effects of being identified as a Chávez political opponent. We find that voters who were identified as Chávez opponents experienced a 5 percent drop in earnings and a 1.3 percentage point drop in employment rates after the voter list was released.


Source:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, Edward Miguel, Daniel Ortega, and Francisco Rodriguez. "The Price of Political Opposition: Evidence from Venezuela's Maisanta." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3, no. 2 (2011): 196-214.







January 2, 2013

Jobs Laid Off 3,000 from Apple to Save It from Bankruptcy



(p. 339) In his first year back, Jobs laid off more than three thousand people, which salvaged the company's balance sheet. For the fiscal year that ended when Jobs became interim CEO in September 1997, Apple lost $1.04 billion. "We were less than ninety days from being insolvent," he recalled.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 7, 2012

Early Retirement Reduces Cognitive Ability



(p. 136) Early retirement appears to have a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s that is both quantitatively important and causal. We obtain this finding using cross-nationally comparable survey data from the United States, England, and Europe that allow us to relate cognition and labor force status. We argue that the effect is causal by making use of a substantial body of research showing that variation in pension, tax, and disability policies explain most variation across countries in average retirement rates.

Further exploration of existing data and new data being collected would allow a considerably deeper exploration of the roles of work and leisure in determining the pace of cognitive aging. For example, the HRS contains considerable information on how respondents use their leisure time that would allow both cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of changes in cognitive exercise that are associated with (p. 137) retirement. In addition, detailed occupation and industry data could be used to understand differences in the pace of technical change to which workers must adjust during the latter part of their careers. Also, in the 2010 wave, the HRS will be adding measures of other components of fluid intelligence. Future work in this area should be able to separate the effects of the "unengaged lifestyle hypothesis" (that early retirees suffer cognitive declines because the work environment they have left is more cognitively stimulating than the full-time leisure environment they have entered) from the "on-the-job retirement hypothesis" (which holds that incentives to invest among older workers are significantly reduced when they expect to retire at an early age).

During the past decade, older Americans seem to have reversed a century-long trend toward early retirement and have been increasing their labor force participation rates, especially beyond age 65. This is good news for the standard of living of elderly Americans, as well as for the fiscal balance of the Social Security and Medicare systems. Our paper suggests that it may also be good news for the cognitive capacities of our aging nation.



Source:

Rohwedder, Susann, and Robert J. Willis. "Mental Retirement." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 119-38.






December 1, 2012

Online Employers Treat Workers More Honestly and Fairly than In-person Employers



(p. 233) John J. Horton surveys "The Condition of the Turking Class: Are Online Employers Fair and Honest?" Amazon Mechanical Turk is a "marketplace for work," as explained at <https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome>. Employers post "Human Intelligence Tasks," which can be tasks like writing keywords that accompany photos or writing bogus product reviews, and workers anywhere in the world can sign up to do them. Horton used Mechanical Turk to survey 200 respondents, who were paid 12 cents apiece for responding to a survey. Of the respondents, 111 were Americans, 58 from India, and the others from other countries. When asked what percentage of employers in their home country treat workers honestly and fairly, the average answer was 64 percent; in comparison, when asked what percentage of Mechanical Turk Requestors treated them (p. 234) fairly, the median answer was 69 percent.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The published version of the article summarized by Taylor is:

Horton, John J. "The Condition of the Turking Class: Are Online Employers Fair and Honest?" Economics Letters 111, no. 1 (April 2011): 10-12.






November 27, 2012

Entrepreneurial Capitalism Offers the Best Chance "for a Life of Engagement and Personal Growth"



(p. 228) Edmund S. Phelps explores "Refounding Capitalism." "One has to conclude that 'generation of wealth' is not special to capitalism. Corporatist economies are quite good at that. . . . A merit of a well-functioning capitalism (again: I do not mean free-market policy: low tax rates, etc.) is the economic freedoms it offers entrepreneurs, managers, employees and consumers--freedoms that socialist, corporatist and statist systems do not provide. . . . Ordinary people, if they are to find intellectual growth and an engaging life, have to look outside the home: these (p. 229) things can be found only at work, if anywhere. And for these rewards to be available for large numbers of people, the economy must be modern. And as a practical matter, that requires that it be based predominantly on a well-functioning capitalist system. Thanks to the grassroots, bottom-up processes of innovation, capitalism at its best can deliver--far more broadly than Soviet communism, eastern European socialism, and western European corporatism can--chances for the mental stimulation, problem-solving, exploration and discovery required for a life of engagement and personal growth."


Nobel-Prize winner Edmund Phelps as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The original source of the Phelps quotes is:

Phelps, Edmund S. "Refounding Capitalism." Capitalism and Society 4, no. 3 (2009).






November 21, 2012

Sclerotic Doctors Resist Change



(p. 177) Atherosclerosis, referring to a progressive and degenerative process of artery walls, is typically translated for a lay audience as "hardening of the arteries." We've never needed a similar word to describe the medical community. It came with sclerosis built in. Of all the professions represented on the planet, perhaps none is more resistant to change than physicians. If there were ever a group defined by lacking plasticity, it would first apply to doctors.

(p. 178) The inherent "hardness" of physicians and the medical community suggests they will have a difficult time adapting to the digital world. Before the emergence of the Internet, physicians were high priests, holding all the knowledge and expertise, not to be challenged or questioned by the lowly consumer patient. "Doctor knows best" was the pervasive sentiment, shared by patients and especially physicians.



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






November 2, 2012

A Rising Tax Gathers No Rolling Stone



life-keith-richardsBK2012-10-31.jpg















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Nhhn-YcP9IY/TjkQHfGGEeI/AAAAAAAAAVA/_jKMGRBm9Ac/s1600/life-keith-richards.jpg



(p. 289) The tax rate in the early '70s on the highest earners was 83 percent, and that went up to 98 percent for investments and so-called unearned income. So that's the same as being told to leave the country. ... The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with the super-super tax is that we'd say, fine, we'll leave. We'll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn't factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did. They didn't believe we'd be able to continue as we were if we didn't live in England. And in all honesty, we were very doubtful too. We didn't know if we would make it, but if we didn't try, what would we do? Sit in England and they'd give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And so we upped and went to France.


Source:

Richards, Keith. Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

(Note: I first saw the quote on the back cover of: Journal of Political Economy 119, no. 1 (Feb. 2011).)

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 23, 2012

Abigail Fisher "Devastated" by "Holistic Review"



FisherAbigailAffirmativeAction2012-10-12.jpg "Abigail Fisher, 22, at the Supreme Court last month. "I probably would have gotten a better job offer had I gone to U.T.," Ms. Fisher said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Abigail Fisher is a slight young woman with strawberry blond hair, a smile that needs little prompting, a determined manner and a good academic record. She played soccer in high school, and she is an accomplished cellist.

But the university she had her heart set on, the one her father and sister had attended, rejected her. "I was devastated," she said, in her first news interview since she was turned down by the University of Texas at Austin four years ago.

Ms. Fisher, 22, who is white and recently graduated from Louisiana State University, says that her race was held against her, and the Supreme Court is to hear her case on Wednesday, bringing new attention to the combustible issue of the constitutionality of racial preferences in admissions decisions by public universities.

"I'm hoping," she said, "that they'll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it."


. . .


(p. A17) The majority opinion in the Grutter case, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, rejected the use of racial quotas in admissions decisions but said that race could be used as one factor among many, as part of a "holistic review." Justice O'Connor retired in 2006, and her replacement by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. may open the way for a ruling cutting back on such race-conscious admissions policies, or eliminating them.


. . .


She said she was trying to come to terms with her role in a case that could reshape American higher education. Asked if she found it interesting or exciting or scary, she said, "All of the above."

But she did not hesitate to say how she would run an admission system. "I don't think," she said, "that we even need to have a race box on the application."



For the full story, see:

ADAM LIPTAK. "Race and College Admissions, Facing a New Test by Justices." The New York Times (Tues., October 9, 2012): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 8, 2012.)






October 18, 2012

Capitalism Is Justified Because It Is an "Engine for Generating Creative Workplaces"



(p. 121) Phelps: . . . Since 2002, I've been trying to develop a new justification for capitalism, at least I think it's new, in which I say that if we're going to have any possibility of intellectual development we're going to have to have jobs offering stimulating and challenging opportunities for problem solving, discovery, exploration, and so on. And capitalism, like it or not, has so far been an extraordinary engine for generating creative workplaces in which that sort of personal growth and personal development is possible; perhaps not for everybody but for an appreciable number of people, so if you think that it's a human right to have that kind of a life, then you have on the face of it a justification for capitalism. There has to be something pretty powerful to overturn or override that.


For the full interview, from which the above is quoted, see:

Vane, Howard R., and Chris Mulhearn, interviewers. "Interview with Edmund S. Phelps." Journal of Economic Perspectives 23, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 109-24.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 12, 2012

School Competition Benefits Students



(p. 150) We study competition between two publicly funded school systems in Ontario, Canada: one that is open to all students, and one that is restricted to children of Catholic backgrounds. A simple model of competition between the competing systems predicts greater effort by school managers in areas with more Catholic families who are willing to switch systems. Consistent with this insight, we find significant effects of competitive pressure on test score gains between third and sixth grade. Our estimates imply that extending competition to all students would raise average test scores in sixth grade by 6 percent to 8 percent of a standard deviation.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Card, David, Martin D. Dooley, and A. Abigail Payne. "School Competition and Efficiency with Publicly Funded Catholic Schools." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2, no. 4 (Oct. 2010): 150-76.






October 8, 2012

Ban of Affirmative Action Does Not Reduce Overall Black Enrollment



(p. 435) Using institutional data on race-specific college enrollment and completion, I examine whether minority students were less likely to enroll in a four-year public college or receive a degree following a statewide affirmative action ban. As in previous studies, I find that black and Hispanic enrollment dropped at the top institutions; however, there is little evidence that overall black enrollment at public universities fell. Finally, despite evidence that fewer blacks and Hispanics graduated from college following a ban, the effects on graduation rates are very noisy.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Backes, Ben. "Do Affirmative Action Bans Lower Minority College Enrollment and Attainment?" Journal of Human Resources 47, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 435-55.







October 7, 2012

"Education Bubble": "A Spurious Inflation of the Credentials Required for Many Jobs"



InTheBasementofIvoryTowerBK2012-09-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-N1hV093ckVc/T8YmCXE2sQI/AAAAAAAAAYc/1B5hWDeXbzQ/s1600/basement.jpg



(p. 17) In June 2008, The Atlantic published an essay by an adjunct instructor of English, identified only as "Professor X," whose job filled him with despair. Although the courses he taught were introductory, success was beyond many of his students, who, he wrote, were "in some cases barely literate." X found giving F's to be excruciating -- "I am the man who has to lower the hammer," he lamented -- in part because he identified with his older students, who seemed to have lost their way in their careers much as X himself had.


. . .


. . . X's function, in the ecology of the colleges where he teaches, is gatekeeper -- most students who fail his classes will drop out -- and he articulates the ethical challenge before him this way: "What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th- to a 10th-grade level of achievement?" X gives F's.


. . .


X and his wife got snookered in the housing bubble, and he wonders if the misery in his classroom might result from a similar education bubble. In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X's opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige. To him, the human cost is more conspicuous.


. . .


Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students' unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.



For the full review, see:

CALEB CRAIN. "Lost in the Meritocracy." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 1, 2011): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 29, 2011.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.






October 4, 2012

Skilled Immigrants Increase U.S. Patents



(p. 31) We measure the extent to which skilled immigrants increase innovation in the United States. The 2003 National Survey of College Graduates shows that immigrants patent at double the native rate, due to their disproportionately holding science and engineering degrees. Using a 1940-2000 state panel, we show that a 1 percentage point increase in immigrant college graduates' population share increases patents per capita by 9-18 percent. Our instrument for the change in the skilled immigrant share is based on the 1940 distribution across states of immigrants from various source regions and the subsequent national increase in skilled immigration from these regions.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Hunt, Jennifer, and Marjolaine Gauthier-Loiselle. "How Much Does Immigration Boost Innovation?" American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2, no. 2 (April 2010): 31-56.






September 30, 2012

A True Tall Tale: Mankiw Lays a Reductio Ad Absurdum on the Egalitarians



(p. 155) Should the income tax system include a tax credit for short taxpayers and a tax surcharge for tall ones? This paper shows that the standard utilitarian framework for tax policy analysis answers this question in the affirmative. This result has two possible interpretations. One interpretation is that individual attributes correlated with wages, such as height, should be considered more widely for determining tax liabilities. Alternatively, if policies such as a tax on height are rejected, then the standard utilitarian framework must in some way fail to capture our intuitive notions of distributive justice.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Mankiw, N. Gregory, and Matthew Weinzierl. "The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution." American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2, no. 1 (Feb. 2010): 155-76.






September 18, 2012

Raising Minimum Wage Hurts Working Poor



(p. 592) Using data drawn from the March Current Population Survey, we find that state and federal minimum wage increases between 2003 and 2007 had no effect on state poverty rates. When we then simulate the effects of a proposed federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, we find that such an increase will be even more poorly targeted to the working poor than was the last federal increase from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Assuming no negative employment effects, only 11.3% of workers who will gain live in poor households, compared to 15.8% from the last increase. When we allow for negative employment effects, we find that the working poor face a disproportionate share of the job losses. Our results suggest that raising the federal minimum wage continues to be an inadequate way to help the working poor.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Sabia, Joseph J., and Richard V. Burkhauser. "Minimum Wages and Poverty: Will a $9.50 Federal Minimum Wage Really Help the Working Poor?" Southern Economic Journal 76, no. 3 (Jan. 2010): 592-623.






September 17, 2012

A Marshmallow Now or an Elegant French Pastry Four Years Later



HowChildrenSucceedBK2012-08-31.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.amazon.com/images/G/01/richmedia/images/cover.gif



(p. 19) Growing up in the erratic care of a feckless single mother, "Kewauna seemed able to ignore the day-to-day indignities of life in poverty on the South Side and instead stay focused on her vision of a more successful future." Kewauna tells Tough, "I always wanted to be one of those business ladies walking downtown with my briefcase, everybody saying, 'Hi, Miss Lerma!' "

Here, as throughout the book, Tough nimbly combines his own reporting with the findings of scientists. He describes, for example, the famous "marshmallow experiment" of the psychologist Walter Mischel, whose studies, starting in the late 1960s, found that children who mustered the self-control to resist eating a marshmallow right away in return for two marshmallows later on did better in school and were more successful as adults.

"What was most remarkable to me about Kewauna was that she was able to marshal her prodigious noncognitive capacity -- call it grit, conscientiousness, resilience or the ability to delay gratification -- all for a distant prize that was, for her, almost entirely theoretical," Tough observes of his young subject, who gets into college and works hard once she's there. "She didn't actually know any business ladies with briefcases downtown; she didn't even know any college graduates except her teachers. It was as if Kewauna were taking part in an extended, high-stakes version of Walter Mischel's marshmallow experiment, except in this case, the choice on offer was that she could have one marshmallow now or she could work really hard for four years, constantly scrimping and saving, staying up all night, struggling, sacrificing -- and then get, not two marshmallows, but some kind of elegant French pastry she'd only vaguely heard of, like a napoleon. And Kewauna, miraculously, opted for the napoleon, even though she'd never tasted one before and didn't know anyone who had. She just had faith that it was going to be delicious."



For the full review, see:

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL. "School of Hard Knocks." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., August 26, 2012): 19.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 23, 2012.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.






September 1, 2012

Mitt Romney on Innovation and Creative Destruction



No-ApologyBK2012-08-31.jpg













Source of book image: http://mittromneycentral.com/uploads/No-Apology1.jpg






(p. 108) Innovation and Creative Destruction

The key to increasing national prosperity is to promote good ideas and create the conditions that can lead them to be fully exploited--in existing businesses as well as new ones. Government is generally not the source of new ideas, although innovations from NASA and the military have provided frequent exceptions. Nor is government where innovation is commercially developed. But government policies do, in fact, have a major impact on the implementation of innovative ideas. The degree to which a nation makes itself productive, and thus how prosperous its citizens become, is determined in large measure by whether government adopts policies that stimulate innovation or that stifle it.

The government policy that has the greatest effect on innovation is simply whether or not the government will allow it. It's sad but true: Government can and often does purposefully prevent innovation and the resulting improvement in productivity. Recall my hypothetical example of a society in which half the farming jobs were lost due to innovation in the use of a plow? Some nations accept and encourage such "creative destruction," recognizing that in the long run it leads to greater productivity and wealth for its citizens. But other nations succumb to the objections of those in danger of becoming unemployed and prevent innovation that may reduce short-term employment.

Two centuries ago, more than three-quarters of our workforce actually did labor on farms. Over the succeeding decades, innovations like irrigation, fertilizer, and tractors were welcomed, and eventually large farming corporations were allowed to prosper, despite protests from family farmers and the often heart-wrenching dislocations that accompanied consolidation of farmlands. The result was the disappearance of millions of agricultural jobs and the large-scale migration of Americans from rural regions to our cities. Once there, they provided the labor that powered America's new industrial age. And at the same time, because farming innovation and productivity were allowed to flourish, America became the leader in agriculture education, research, and industry. Innovations from these sources have enabled us to produce sufficient food to feed not only our growing population but other parts of the world as well.



Source:

Romney, Mitt. No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010.

(Note: bold in original.)






July 25, 2012

Joe Biden's Dad Told Him to "Get Up" in Face of Job Loss







Innovative entrepreneurs, through the process of creative destruction, provide us with wonderful new products and services. But sometimes the process also results in job loss. One response to the job loss is to shut down innovation. Another is to preach resilience. Joe Biden's Dad said "get up." (The clip is from a talk that Joe Biden gave to the National Press Club on August 1, 2007. The full talk is posted to the C-SPAN web site.)


A mainly similar presentation of the "get up" message is on p. xxii of Biden's autobiography:

Biden, Joe. Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. New York: Random House, 2007.






July 21, 2012

Technology Allows Start-Ups to Launch with Fewer Employees



HarelAndShilonOfBiteHunter2012-06-22.jpg "Start-up BiteHunter launched with three employees. Above, co-founders Gil Harel, left, and Ido Shilon." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



Lower costs to entry means more start-ups and that means more innovation, ceteris paribus. All good. For the labor market, there will be fewer initial jobs per start-up. But there will be more start-ups, and more opportunity for erstwhile laborers to themselves become entrepreneurs. So maybe still all good.



(p. B5) New businesses are getting off the ground with nearly half as many workers as they did a decade ago, as the spread of online tools and other resources enables start-ups to do more with less.

The change, which began before the recession, may be permanent, according to some analysts.


. . .


Rather than purchasing the tools and manpower needed to run their companies, more small firms are renting, sharing or outsourcing resources, typically through online services, according to Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, a research and consulting firm for small businesses.


. . .


Last year, Gil Harel launched BiteHunter, a search engine for restaurant discounts, with just three employees. Based in New York, the site used shared screens and other communications tools to work with developers in Russia, Uruguay and Israel.

"Just to build the infrastructure to get a business off the ground used to take a lot of money and people. But things that you couldn't do in the past, you can now do on your own," Mr. Harel says.



For the full story, see:

ANGUS LOTEN. "With New Technology, Start-Ups Go Lean; Web-Based Services Mean Fewer Workers Needed." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., September 15, 2011): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 18, 2012

Neglecting Valid Stereotypes Has Costs



(p. 169) The social norm against stereotyping, including the opposition to profiling, has been highly beneficial in creating a more civilized and more equal society. It is useful to remember, however, that neglecting valid stereotypes inevitably results in suboptimal judgments. Resistance to stereotyping is a laudable moral position, but the simplistic idea that the resistance is costless is wrong. The costs are worth paying to achieve a better society, but denying that the costs exist, while satisfying to the soul and politically correct, is not scientifically defensible.


Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.





July 17, 2012

Web Expedites Labor Market for Small Projects



LangerAndBurksChore2012-06-22.jpg "Liz Langer helped John Burks retrieve his keys." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) A new crop of websites and smartphone applications are allowing people to farm out chores to a growing army of temporary personal assistants. These micro-employees are taking the division of labor to once-unthinkable extremes.


. . .


(p. A14) Some investors see dollar signs. Zaarly Inc., an online marketplace for micro-labor and goods based in San Francisco, recently raised $14.1 million from Google Inc. GOOG -2.18% investor and venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Actor Ashton Kutcher and clothing designer Marc Ecko have also put in money. In October, Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman joined the company's board.

After launching six months ago, Zaarly is processing more than 1,000 transactions a week for jobs that cost around $50 a pop. Chief Executive and cofounder Bo Fishback, 33, says about half the requests involve tangible goods, and the rest involve some sort of service. One of his favorites: a person who hired someone to buy a Michael Jackson-themed dog costume for a puppy.

Sometimes the situation can be dire. John Burks, a 30-year-old actor who also runs an arts organization in Chicago, accidentally dropped his keys in a sewer during a rainstorm over the summer. To replace all the keys--including ones to his home, office and Mercedes--could cost well over $100.

After Googling "lost keys down sewer" to see what tactics others had used, Mr. Burks thought he could recover his keys with a fishing rod and a magnet, but had neither. His girlfriend at the time knew someone who worked at Zaarly, so he posted the job on its site. Liz Langer, a 27-year-old neuroscience graduate student and top Zaarly "fulfiller," spotted the job and within an hour arrived with the needed tools. Fifteen minutes later, they fished the keys out of the sewer. (Price: $80.)

"It's like stranger than fiction," Mr. Burks says. "I thought there was a very small chance that anything like that can happen."



For the full story, see:

EMILY GLAZER. "Serfing the Web: Sites Let People Farm Out Their Chores; Workers Choose Jobs, Negotiate Wages; Mr. Kutcher, Anonymously, Asks for Coffee." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 28, 2011): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 12, 2012

A Firm's Social Responsibility Is to Make a Profit



(p. B1) Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate economist, blasted the very idea of corporate social responsibility four decades ago, calling it a "fundamentally subversive doctrine." Speaking for many capitalists then and now, he said, "there is one and only one social responsibility of business--to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game."

Companies shouldn't spend profits on unrelated job creation or social causes, he said. That money should go to shareholders--the owners of the companies. Pronouncements about corporate social responsibility, he added, are the indulgence of "pontificating executives" who are "incredibly shortsighted and muddleheaded in matters that are outside their businesses." And that indulgence can lead to inefficient markets.


. . .


(p. B2) "Jobs are an input, not an output; they're a cost of doing business, not a goal of doing business," says William Frezza, a Boston-based venture capitalist and fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"From the perspective of defending capitalism, if you accept the premise of your opponent that business has to give back to society, you've already lost," he says. "To put sack cloth and ashes on--you've delegitimized capitalism, which is the goal of the protesters. Businesses give back to society every day by pleasing their customers and employing their employees. There's nothing business owes other than selling the best product at the best price."



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Are Companies Responsible for Creating Jobs?." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., October 28, 2011): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






June 29, 2012

A Renting Labor Force Is More Dynamically Mobil



RentalPropertyGraphic2012-06-12.jpg









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






(p. C2) The U.S. economy needs the dynamism that renting enables as much as--if not more than--it needs the stability that ownership engenders. In the current economy, there are vast gulfs between the employment pictures in different regions and states, from 12% unemployment in Nevada to 3% unemployment in North Dakota. But a steelworker in Buffalo, or an underemployed construction worker in Las Vegas, can't easily take his skills to where they are needed in North Dakota or Wyoming if he's underwater on his mortgage. Economists, in fact, have found that there is frequently a correlation between persistently high local unemployment rates and high levels of homeownership.


For the full essay, see:

DANIEL GROSS. "Renting Prosperity; Americans are getting used to the idea of renting the good life, from cars to couture to homes. Daniel Gross explores our shift from a nation of owners to an economy permanently on the move--and how it will lead to the next boom.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 5, 2012): C1 & C2.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date May 4, 2012.)






June 15, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys Show that Idleness Begets Violence



CostnerAsHatfield2012-06-11.jpg

Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Hatfield clan on the HBO miniseries. Source of photo:
http://www.cowboysindians.com/Blog/May-2012/Blasts-From-Our-Past-With-Kevin-Costner/costner-hatfield.jpg



Kevin Costner plausibly suggests that when the productive activities of capitalism and entrepreneurship are not available or sought, people are more likely to let annoyances lead to violence:



(p. 15) Q. What was the root of the feud?

K.C. It's fair to say that the economics of the time were the provocateurs in this story. I think there was a moment when Hatfield and McCoy would have laid down their guns. But these young guys didn't have jobs anymore as we moved toward industrialization. They started to have children, and their families doubled in size, and suddenly they had to feed 26. Young men killing young men -- it really has a lot to do with the offspring not having enough to do. Look, you're talking about alcohol and guns, and you're talking about unemployment, so there's a reason for the bitterness.



For the full interview, see:

Kathryn Shattuck, interviewer. "Firing Bullets Across a Border And a Bloodline." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., May 27, 2012): 15.

(Note: bold in original.)






June 8, 2012

Happiness Research Undermines European-Style Labor-Market Regulation



Bryan Caplan persuasively pans the book he is revieiwng. But along the way Caplan makes an intriguing observation of his own:



(p. A11) . . . , happiness research makes a powerful case against European-style labor-market regulation. For most economists, the effect on worker well-being is unclear. On the one hand, regulation boosts wages; on the other, it increases the probability that you will have no wages at all. From the standpoint of a happiness researcher, however, this is a no-brainer. A small increase in wages has but a small and ephemeral effect on happiness. A small increase in unemployment, by contrast, has a massive and--unlike most other factors--durable effect on happiness. Supposedly "humane" regulations to boost workers' incomes have a dire cost in terms of human happiness.


For the full review, see:

BRYAN CAPLAN. "BOOKSHELF; Lessons From Cloud Nine; Happiness predicts higher job performance and even future health. But what predicts happiness?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., August 16, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






June 5, 2012

Open Offices Create "the Urgent Desire to Throttle One's Neighbor"



TierneyJohnCubicleWithBookWall2012-06-02.jpg



John Tierney "at his cubicle with a wall of books." Source of caption quote and photo: online version of John Tierney's NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. 18) The original rationale for the open-plan office, aside from saving space and money, was to foster communication among workers, the better to coax them to collaborate and innovate. But it turned out that too much communication sometimes had the opposite effect: a loss of privacy, plus the urgent desire to throttle one's neighbor.

"Many studies show that people have shorter and more superficial conversations in open offices because they're self-conscious about being overheard," said Anne-Laure Fayard, a professor of management at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University who has studied open offices. . . .

Take Mr. Udeshi's office, at the N.Y.U.-Poly business incubator, a SoHo loft with dozens of start-up companies housed in low cubicles. The entrepreneurs there say they sometimes get useful ideas from overheard conversations but also find themselves retreating to a bathroom or a broom closet for private chats. When they have to discuss a delicate matter with someone sitting next to them, they often use e-mail or instant messaging.

"You talk to more people in an open office, but I think you have fewer meaningful conversations," said Jonathan McClelland, an energy consultant working in the loft. "You end up getting interrupted a lot by people's random thoughts."


. . .


Researchers at Finland's Institute of Occupational Health have studied precisely how far those conversations carry and analyzed their effect on the unwilling listener: a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.

"Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain's working memory," said Valtteri Hongisto, an acoustician at the institute. He found that workers were more satisfied and performed better at cognitive tasks when speech sounds were masked by a background noise of a gently burbling brook

.

For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 20, 2012): 1 & 18.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 19, 2012, and has the title "From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz.")






May 27, 2012

Private Equity Firms Increase Efficiency and Create as Many Jobs as They Destroy



(p. A23) Forty years ago, corporate America was bloated, sluggish and losing ground to competitors in Japan and beyond. But then something astonishing happened. Financiers, private equity firms and bare-knuckled corporate executives initiated a series of reforms and transformations.

The process was brutal and involved streamlining and layoffs. But, at the end of it, American businesses emerged leaner, quicker and more efficient.


. . .


As Reihan Salam noted in a fair-minded review of the literature in National Review, in any industry there is an astonishing difference in the productivity levels of leading companies and the lagging companies. Private equity firms like Bain acquire bad companies and often replace management, compel executives to own more stock in their own company and reform company operations.

Most of the time they succeed. Research from around the world clearly confirms that companies that have been acquired by private equity firms are more productive than comparable firms.

This process involves a great deal of churn and creative destruction. It does not, on net, lead to fewer jobs. A giant study by economists from the University of Chicago, Harvard, the University of Maryland and the Census Bureau found that when private equity firms acquire a company, jobs are lost in old operations. Jobs are created in new, promising operations. The overall effect on employment is modest.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "How Change Happens." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated May 21, 2012.)



The "giant study by economists" mentioned by Brooks is:

Davis, Steven J., John C. Haltiwanger, Ron S. Jarmin, Josh Lerner, and Javier Miranda. "Private Equity and Employment." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers: # 17399, Sept. 2011.






May 12, 2012

Some Tasks Are Done Better in Private Offices



QuietBK2012-05-03.jpg
















Source of book image: http://timeopinions.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/quiet-final-jacket.jpg



(p. 4) When the R.C. Hedreen Company, a real estate development firm based in Seattle, commissioned a renovation of a 10,800-square-foot floor in an old downtown office building five years ago, it specified a perimeter of private offices. Collaborative spaces are provided for creative teamwork, but the traditional offices remain the executives' home ports.

''Individually, a lot of our workday is taken up with tasks that are better served by working alone in private offices,'' says David Thyer, Hedreen's president.

Susan Cain, author of ''Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,'' is skeptical of open-office environments -- for introverts and extroverts alike, though she says the first group suffers much more amid noise and bustle.

Introverts are naturally more comfortable toiling alone, she says, so they will cope by negotiating time to work at home, or by isolating themselves with noise-canceling headphones -- ''which is kind of an insane requirement for an office environment, when you think about it,'' she says.

Ms. Cain also says humans have a fundamental need to claim and personalize space. ''It's the room of one's own,'' she says. ''Your photographs are on the wall. It's the same reason we have houses. These are emotional safety zones.''



For the full story, see:

LAWRENCE W. CHEEK. "Please, Just Give Me Some Space: In New Office Designs, Room to Roam and to Think." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 18, 2012): 1 & 4.



The book mentioned is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.






May 5, 2012

The One Percent's Quick History: "We Worked Hard, We Went to College, We Tried to Better Our Lives"



(p. F1) SOON after the Occupy Wall Street encampment was set up at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan last fall, 26-year-old Ryan Quick told his father, Leslie C. Quick III, a financier, that he might drop by the site.

"Don't you even let me see you over there," the father replied.

The senior Mr. Quick later said that he and his son were both "half-kidding" each other. But he need not have worried about any class rebellion. According to Mr. Quick, his son came back from his visit and said: "It just looks like a Phish concert. It's difficult to get engaged by something that doesn't really have a purpose."

As scions of a family that co-founded Quick & Reilly, a pioneering discount brokerage firm acquired for $1.6 billion by another company in 1997, the Quicks are undoubtedly among the "1 percent" -- the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Indeed, having made their fortune in finance, the Quicks might be particular targets.


. . .


(p. F5) "Almost all my clients are self-made," said Christopher J. Cordaro, chief executive of RegentAtlantic Capital, a wealth management firm based in Morristown, N.J., whose clients have at least $2 million in investable assets. "They're saying, 'We worked hard, we went to college, we tried to better our lives. Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?' "

That is also the Quick family's history. When he joined the year-old family firm after graduating from college in 1975, Leslie Quick recalled, "we didn't know if my father was going to declare bankruptcy or this discount brokerage thing was going to work."



For the full story, see:

FRAN HAWTHORNE. "Color the 1 Percent 99 Percent Conflicted." The New York Times (Thurs., February 9, 2012): F1 & F5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 8, 2012.)






April 21, 2012

Workers Want to See Compensation Related to Contribution



This is a great example contra (or at least qualifying) Daniel Pink's claim that all you need do for knowledge workers is provide them enough money so that they can provide for the basic needs of themselves and their family.



(p. 145) The public offering process brought details of the intended allocation of Pixar stock options into view. A registration statement and other documents with financial data had to be prepared for the Securities and Exchange Commission and a prospectus needed to be made ready for potential investors. These documents had to be reviewed and edited, and it was here that the word apparently leaked: A small number of people were to receive low-cost options on enormous blocks of stock. Catmull, Levy, and Lasseter were to get options on 1.6 million shares apiece; Guggenheim and Reeves were to get 1 million and 840,000, respectively. If the company's shares sold at the then-planned price of fourteen dollars, the men would be instant multimillionaires.

The revelation was galling. Apart from the money, there was the symbolism: The options seemed to denigrate the years of work everyone else had put into the company. They gave a hollow feel to Pixar's labor-of-love camaraderie, its spirit that everyone was there to do cool work together. Also, it was hard not to notice that Levy, one of the top recipients, had just walked in the door.

"There was a big scene about all that because some people got (p. 146) huge amounts more than other people who had come at the same time period and who had made pretty significant contributions to the development of Pixar and the ability to make Toy Story," Kerwin said. "People like Tom Porter and Eben Ostby and Loren Carpenter--guys that had been there since the beginning and were part of the brain trust."

Garden-variety employees would also get some options, but besides being far fewer, those options would vest over a four-year period. Even employees who had been with the organization since its Lucasfilm days a decade earlier--employees who had lost all their Pixar stock in the 1991 reorganization--would be starting their vesting clock at zero. In contrast, most of the options of Catmull, Lasseter, Guggenheim, and Reeves vested immediately--they could be turned into stock right away.

"I decided, 'Well, gee, I've been at this company eight years, and I'll have been here twelve years before I'm fully vested,' " one former employee remembered. " 'It doesn't sound like these guys are interested in my well-being.' A lot of this piled up and made me say, 'What am I doing? I'm sitting around here trying to make Steve Jobs richer in ways he doesn't even appreciate.' "



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)


For Daniel Pink's views, see:

Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.






April 20, 2012

Stevenson and Wolfers Find People in Rich Countries Are Happier



StevensonWolfersMaltilda2012-04-04.jpg "Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers are the go-to pair on what some might call "lovenomics," having produced much research on marriage, divorce and child-rearing. They are shown at home with their daughter, Matilda, and family dog, Max." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) . . . when Ms. Stevenson, 40, and Mr. Wolfers, 39, start talking about say, diapers or nursing, the conversation takes an odd turn. Suddenly, words like "inputs" and "outputs" -- the economic kind -- creep in. Mention loading the dishwasher and he tosses out "fungibility." The low cost of two big teddy bears they bought for Matilda gets Ms. Stevenson ruminating on productivity gains.

If they don't quite sound like the rest of us, that's because these two Harvard Ph.D.'s form a sort of power couple in the world of the dismal science, or at least a certain corner of it. Faculty members at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and currently visiting fellows at Princeton, Ms. Stevenson and Mr. Wolfers have become the go-to pair on the economics of marriage, divorce and child-rearing. That they are themselves a couple -- unmarried, for tax reasons they regularly cite -- adds to the allure.


. . .


Their research shows that men have grown happier as women have become unhappier. (Why? They don't really know.) Are people in rich countries happier than people in poor countries? (Yes.) And contrary to popular belief, they show that the divorce rate in America has been falling, not rising, for decades. They cite a number of possible reasons, including more balanced expectations between men and women about how a marriage will actually work, as well as the fact that fewer people are marrying in the first place.


. . .


(p. 4) LAST month, Ms. Stevenson and Mr. Wolfers presented new research into what is known as the Easterlin Paradox. First documented by the economist Richard Easterlin in the 1970s, this concept involves the link between economic growth and happiness. The idea is that, within a given country, people with higher incomes are more likely to be happy, and yet, for the most part, the average level of happiness doesn't vary much from rich countries and poor countries. What's more, as countries become richer, their populations don't become happier.

Using a red laser pointer to highlight PowerPoint graphs, Ms. Stevenson told a group of economists, psychologists and other experts gathered at the Russell Sage Foundation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that earlier research had failed to take into account that as people and countries grow richer, it takes a much bigger amount of absolute dollars to raise incomes, and thus happiness.

So while it could appear that increases in happiness flattened out after incomes reached a certain point, "the richer you are, the more dollars it takes to give you the same increase in well-being," Ms. Stevenson said. "To get a 10 percent increase in income, you need more dollars than when you are poor."



For the full story, see:

MOTOKO RICH. "It's the Economy, Honey." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., February 11, 2012): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated February 11, 2012.)





April 1, 2012

"Being Able to Work on a Great Project"



(p. 133) Recruiting was brisk; the magnet for talent was not the pay, generally mediocre, but rather the allure of taking part in the first fully computer-animated feature film. "Disney gave us a very modest budget [$17.5 million] for Toy Story," Guggenheim said. "Although that budget went up progressively over time, it didn't afford for very high salaries, unfortunately. We tried to make the other working conditions better. Just the enthusiasm of being able to work on a great project is as often as not what attracts artists and animators."


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics and brackets in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 28, 2012

Innovative Entrepreneurs Need to Be Able to Fire People



(p. 116) Jobs met with the remaining employees soon after the layoffs and brought his reality distortion field with him. "You're seeing your friends packing their stuff up and pushing it out to their cars," Phillips remembered, "and yet somehow he had convinced you that that was the greatest possible thing that could happen."

Within the Silicon Valley community, the talk was not of the way Jobs had handled his former employees at Pixar, but of his having kept Pixar going at all. It seemed to make little sense from a business point of view. For all his bravado about RenderMan, his motivation was likely a matter of status as much as economics. After his rise and fall at Apple, the onus was on him either to create another success story or to leave his peers to conclude that the first one had been a quirk of fate.

"It wasn't really working," Smith said of Pixar's early years. "In fact, that's being kind of gentle. We should have failed. But it seemed to me that Steve just would not suffer a defeat. He couldn't sustain it."



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





February 15, 2012

Married Batters Paid More than Equally Good Bachelor Batters



(p. C4) Many studies have found that married men earn more than their single peers, but whether they're actually more productive is harder to answer. To settle the question, researchers looked to baseball.

They took a random sample of nearly 3,500 pro hitters, from 1871 through 2007, comparing their batting averages and other statistics with their salaries (as revealed in MLB archives and other sources). Until 1975, when the market for players became freer, there was no link between marriage, productivity and earnings. After 1975, there was some evidence that hitters who begin their careers in the bottom third of the ability spectrum gained a handful of points in batting average when they married, and a bit of salary, but the evidence was statistically weak.



For the full summary, see:

Christopher Shea. "Marriage Moneyball." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., NOVEMBER 5, 2011): C4.


The paper summarized is:

Cornaglia, Francesca, and Naomi E. Feldman. "Productivity, Wages, and Marriage: The Case of Major League Baseball." CEP Discussion Paper # 1081, September 2011.






February 11, 2012

Jobless Rate Appears Lower as Aging Population Leaves Labor Force



(p. A4) As more baby boomers leave the job market, the participation rate should continue to decline--a group of economists at the Federal Reserve projected in 2006 that it would fall to 62.5% by 2015. While that suggests the economy won't need to create as many jobs to bring down the unemployment rate, said Barclays Capital economist Dean Maki, the downside is that it won't have as large a work force to power it along and pay for the needs of an aging population.

"If you have a greater fraction of the population not working, that will make it harder to pay for costs that will be ballooning," he said.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN LAHART. "Aging Population Eases Jobless Rate." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 5, 2011): A4.








February 5, 2012

Study Finds Lack of Control at Office Is Deadly for Men



(p. C12) . . . Israeli scientists found that the factor most closely linked to health was the support of co-workers: Less-kind colleagues were associated with a higher risk of dying. While this correlation might not be surprising, the magnitude of the effect is unsettling. According to the data, middle-age workers with little or no "peer social support" in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.

But that wasn't the only noteworthy finding. The researchers also complicated longstanding ideas about the relationship between the amount of control experienced by employees and their long-term health. Numerous studies have found that the worst kind of workplace stress occurs when people have little say over their day. These employees can't choose their own projects or even decide which tasks to focus on first. Instead, they must always follow the orders of someone else. They feel like tiny cogs in a vast corporate machine.

Sure enough, this new study found that a lack of control at the office was deadly--but only for men. While male workers consistently fared better when they had some autonomy, female workers actually fared worse. Their risk of mortality was increased when they were put in positions with more control.

While it remains unclear what's driving this unexpected effect, one possibility is that motherhood transforms control at the office--normally, a stress reducer--into a cause of anxiety. After all, having a modicum of control means that women must constantly navigate the tensions between work and family. Should they stay late at their job? Or go home and help take care of the kids? This choice is so stressful that it appears to increase the risk of death.



For the full summary, see:

JONAH LEHRER. "HEAD CASE; Your Co-Workers Might Be Killing You; Hours don't affect health much--but unsupportive colleagues do." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 20, 2011): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The paper referred to in the quote from Lehrer's summary is:

Shirom, Arie, Sharon Toker, Yasmin Alkaly, Orit Jacobson, and Ran Balicer. "Work-Based Predictors of Mortality: A 20-Year Follow-up of Healthy Employees." Health Psychology 30, no. 3 (May 2011): 268-75.





January 30, 2012

Creative Destruction Creates as Many New Jobs as It Destroys



(p. 113) It was Joseph Schumpeter who pointed out that the competition which keeps a businessman awake at night is not that from his rivals cutting prices, but that of entrepreneurs making (p. 114) his product obsolete. As Kodak and Fuji slugged it out for dominance in the 35mm film industry in the 1990s, digital photography began to extinguish the entire market for analogue film - as analogue records and analogue video cassettes had gone before. Creative destruction, Schumpeter called it. His point was that there is just as much creation going on as destruction - that the growth of digital photography would create as many jobs in the long run as were lost in analogue, or that the savings pocketed by a Wal-Mart customer are soon spent on other things, leading to the opening of new stores to service those new demands. In America, roughly 15 per cent of jobs are destroyed every year; and roughly 15 per cent created.


Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





January 18, 2012

You Have More Servants than the Sun King



(p. 36) The Sun King had dinner each night alone. He chose from forty dishes, served on gold and silver plate. It took a staggering 498 people to prepare each meal. He was rich because he consumed the work of other people, mainly in the form of their services. He was rich because other people did things for him. At that time, the average French family would have prepared and consumed its own meals as well as paid tax to support his servants in the palace. So it is not hard to conclude that Louis XIV was rich because others were poor.

But what about today? Consider that you are an average person, say a woman of 35, living in, for the sake of argument, Paris and earning the median wage, with a working husband and two children. You are far from poor, but in relative terms, you are immeasurably poorer than Louis was. Where he was the richest of the rich in the world's richest city, you have no servants, no palace, no carriage, no kingdom. As you toil home from work on the crowded Metro, stopping at the shop on the way to buy a ready meal for four, you might be thinking that Louis XIV's dining arrangements were way beyond your reach. And yet consider this. The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella). You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary . . . You may have no chefs, but you can decide (p. 37) on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour's notice. Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.

You employ no tailor, but you can browse the internet and instantly order from an almost infinite range of excellent, affordable clothes of cotton, silk, linen, wool and nylon made up for you in factories all over Asia. You have no carriage, but you can buy a ticket which will summon the services of a skilled pilot of a budget airline to fly you to one of hundreds of destinations that Louis never dreamed of seeing. You have no woodcutters to bring you logs for the fire, but the operators of gas rigs in Russia are clamouring to bring you clean central heating. You have no wick-trimming footman, but your light switch gives you the instant and brilliant produce of hardworking people at a grid of distant nuclear power stations. You have no runner to send messages, but even now a repairman is climbing a mobile-phone mast somewhere in the world to make sure it is working properly just in case you need to call that cell. You have no private apothecary, but your local pharmacy supplies you with the handiwork of many thousands of chemists, engineers and logistics experts. You have no government ministers, but diligent reporters are even now standing ready to tell you about a film star's divorce if you will only switch to their channel or log on to their blogs.

My point is that you have far, far more than 498 servants at your immediate beck and call. Of course, unlike the Sun King's servants, these people work for many other people too, but from your perspective what is the difference? That is the magic that exchange and specialisation have wrought for the human species.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)





January 13, 2012

Indian Middle Class: "The State Is Preventing Me from Doing What I Want to Do"



NagParthoIndianEntrepreneur2011-11-14.jpg"Partho Nag, a childhood friend of Shubhrangshu Roy's who lives in the same New Delhi suburb. Mr. Nag, who runs an IT service company out of his home, joined Mr. Roy and other friends as they volunteered at the Hazare protests. "We've been told since our childhoods, 'Politics is bad, don't get into politics,'" Mr. Nag said. "But the point is that somebody has to clean it up. We can't just scold people."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) DWARKA, India -- Shubhrangshu Barman Roy and his childhood friends are among the winners in India's economic rise. They have earned graduate degrees, started small companies and settled into India's expanding middle class. They sometimes take vacations together and meet for dinners or parties, maybe to celebrate a new baby or a new business deal.

Yet in August, Mr. Roy and his friends donned white Gandhi caps, boarded a Metro train in this fast-growing suburb of the Indian capital and rode into New Delhi like a band of revolutionaries to join the large anticorruption demonstrations led by the rural activist Anna Hazare. They waved Indian flags, distributed water to the crowds and vented their outrage at India's political status quo.

"I could feel that people really wanted change," Mr. Roy, 36, recalled proudly.

It may seem unlikely that middle-class Indians would crave change. They mostly live in rapidly growing cities and can afford cars, appliances and other conveniences that remain beyond the reach of most Indians. Theirs is the fastest growing demographic group in the country, and their buying power is expected to triple in the next 15 years, making India one of the most important consumer markets in the world.

But buying power is not political power, at least not yet in India. The wealthier India has become, the more politically disillusioned many of the beneficiaries have grown -- an Indian paradox. The middle class has vast economic clout yet often remains politically marginalized in a huge democracy where the rural masses still dominate the outcome of elections and the tycoon class has the ear of politicians.


. . .


(p. 10) "This middle class is less about 'what the state can do for me' than 'the state is preventing me from doing what I want to do,' " said Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Hazare movement rattled India's political establishment because it offered a glimpse of what could happen if the middle class was mobilized across the country. Professionals and college students provided the organizational spine, and money, that brought hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds onto the streets in what many described as a political awakening.


. . .


Mr. Roy and his friends, including Mr. Nag, had grown up in New Delhi in the same government housing development. They were all the sons of government bureaucrats who would later offer similar advice: Get a government job.

"He always insisted," Mr. Nag recalled of his father's prodding. "But we had an idea that a government job was too lousy."

They were teenagers in the early 1990s when Indian leaders embarked on the reforms that began dismantling the stifling licensing regulations that had choked the economy. Private enterprise, large and small, would steadily emerge as the engine of Indian growth and the delivery vehicle of growing aspirations. Mr. Nag would open a small IT service firm. Two other friends would start a textile trading company. Mr. Roy would earn graduate degrees and start a consulting firm.


. . .


On a recent afternoon, Mr. Roy pointed to a crude asphalt scar in the road where workers had installed an underground water connection. The scar extended along the road toward Mr. Roy's house, only to abruptly turn left in the direction of another building.

"You see this?" he asked, angrily. "This is a connection that comes here, but it is illegal."

For Mr. Roy, the scar in the street marks the corruption and collusion and the failure of the state to deliver on its end of India's social contract. His family is supposed to get water from a legal connection for $4 a month. Except that water is unusable. For years, his father had paid a fee to fill large jugs from a private water tanker -- until his father slipped while carrying one of them.

Mr. Roy then spent about $1,000 to build an underground water storage tank beside his home. Now, every week a tanker delivers a $30 shipment of water into the tank, while Mr. Roy also buys bottled water for drinking, bringing his monthly bill to about $160. Mr. Roy suspects that local officials, rather than correcting the situation, allow it to continue in exchange for kickbacks from the owners of the private water tankers. In the end, though, he pays.

These tales of petty graft proliferate across India, but especially in cities, analysts say, for the simple reason that cities now have more money.

McKinsey Global Institute, a consulting group, has estimated that India's middle class could grow to nearly 600 million people by 2030. Today, nearly three-quarters of India's gross domestic product comes from cities, where less than a third of India's population lives, an imbalance that correlates with the divide between middle-class economic and political power.

"For politicians, the city has primarily become a site of extraction, and the countryside is predominantly a site of legitimacy and power," Ashutosh Varshney, an India specialist at Brown University, wrote recently. "The countryside is where the vote is; the city is where the money is. Villages do have corruption, but the scale of corruption is vastly greater in cities."



For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY. "INDIA'S WAY; Protests Help Awaken a Goliath in India." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 30, 2011): 1 & 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 29, 2011 and has the title "INDIA'S WAY; Protests Awaken a Goliath in India.")





January 11, 2012

Gentle Oshman Inspired Loyalty as He Made Work Fun in Silicon Valley



OshmanMKennethSiliconValleyMentor2011-11-14.jpg














"M. Kenneth Oshman" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.




(p. 19) M. Kenneth Oshman, who helped create one of the early successful technology start-up firms in Silicon Valley, one that embodied the informal management style that came to set the Valley apart from corporate America, died on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 71.


. . .


In the 1970s and '80s, Rolm was the best example of an emerging Silicon Valley management style that effectively broke down the barrier between work and play. Setting out to recruit the most talented technical minds, Rolm became known as a great place to work, so much so that it was nicknamed "G.P.W."

Early on as chief executive, Mr. Oshman took funds normally used for company Christmas parties and used them to help construct a company recreational center, consisting of swimming pools, racquetball courts, exercise rooms and other amenities to attract new employees and underline the image that Rolm was a fun place to work.

But there was a tradeoff, said Keith Raffel, who left a staff position on Capitol Hill to become an assistant to Mr. Oshman at Rolm before starting his own company.

"The quid pro quo was you would be driven and work really hard," he said.

With a gentle, understated style, Mr. Oshman stood apart from other well-known leaders in Silicon Valley, many of whom were seen as capricious and even tyrannical. He was a mentor to a generation of Silicon Valley technologists and able to inspire a kind of loyalty in his employees not frequently seen in high-tech industries.



For the full obituary, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "M. Kenneth Oshman, Silicon Valley Mentor, Dies at 71." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 10, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated August 10, 2011 and has the title "M. Kenneth Oshman, Who Brought Fun to Silicon Valley, Dies at 71.")





January 10, 2012

Happiness Depends Most on Being Free to Choose



(p. 27) Getting richer is not the only or even the best way of getting happier. Social and political liberation is far more effective, says the political scientist Ronald Ingleheart: the big gains in happiness come from living in a society that frees you to make choices about your lifestyle - about where to live, who to marry, how to express your sexuality and so on. It is the increase in free (p. 28) choice since 1981 that has been responsible for the increase in happiness recorded since then in forty-five out of fifty-two countries. Ruut Veenhoven finds that 'the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life.'


Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





December 31, 2011

Federal Subsidies Create Few Green Jobs



(p. F2) . . . solar power, which makes extensive use of robots in fabricating the cells, and has no moving parts to service once it is up and running, may be an odd choice for job creation.

"It's just not that labor-intensive," said Howard Axelrod, an engineer and economist. And as for the jobs it creates, there may be a price elsewhere, Dr. Axelrod said.


. . .


Build enough solar plants and some coal plants will shut down; that would amount to firing Peter to hire Paul.


. . .


And, economists point out, some of the work that renewable energy creates goes to people who already have jobs -- roofers who install the panels or truck drivers who move them around, or steel workers who make towers for new wind machines.

Some of the jobs could eventually go elsewhere. Two years ago, Evergreen Solar, which got $58 million in aid from Massachusetts for a factory in Devens, said it would shift production to China instead.


. . .


The debate is part of a larger discussion of what constitutes a "green" job. In October 2009, Congress gave the Bureau of Labor Statistics a special appropriation to count them.


. . .


"Driving a bus is driving a bus, right?" said Connie Mack, Republican of Florida. Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor, said they were "green buses." But aides later clarified that the bureau counted any bus driving job as green because it preserved natural resources.

None of this suggests that green is bad, just that it is not particularly job-heavy. In December 2010, Susan Combs, the comptroller of Texas, reported that school districts in her state were giving tax abatements to lure new jobs, but had to give $1.6 million for every wind energy job. Manufacturing jobs could be created for $166,000 each.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Solar Power Industry Falls Short of Hopes in Job Creation." The New York Times (Weds., October 26, 2011): F2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 25, 2011.)





December 30, 2011

More Firms Adopt 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) Policies to Empower Workers and Cut Costs



CitrixSystemsWorkersPickOwnLaptops2011-11-10.jpg"At Citrix Systems, Berkley Reynolds, left, uses his Alienware laptop, and Alan Meridian, his MacBook Pro, paid for with stipends." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Throughout the information age, the corporate I.T. department has stood at the chokepoint of office technology with a firm hand on what equipment and software employees use in the workplace.

They are now in retreat. Employees are bringing in the technology they use at home and demanding the I.T. department accommodate them. The I.T. department often complies.

Some companies have even surrendered to what is being called the consumerization of I.T. At Kraft Foods, the I.T. department's involvement in choosing technology for employees is limited to handing out a stipend. Employees use the money to buy whatever laptop they want from Best Buy, Amazon.com or the local Apple store.

"We heard from people saying, 'How come I have better equipment at home?' " said Mike Cunningham, chief technology officer for Kraft Foods. "We said, hey, we can address that."

Encouraging employees to buy their own laptops, or bring their mobile phones and iPads from home, is gaining traction in the workplace. A survey published on Thursday by Forrester Research found that 48 percent of information workers buy smartphones for work without considering what their I.T. department supports. By being more flexible, companies are hoping that workers will be more comfortable with their devices and therefore more productive.

"Bring your own device" policies, as they are called, are also shifting the balance of power among electronics makers. Manufacturers good at selling to consumers are increasingly gaining the upper hand, while those focused on bulk corporate sales are slipping.


. . .


(p. B6) Letting workers bring their iPhones and iPads to work can . . . save companies money. In some cases, employees pay for equipment themselves and seek tech help from store staff rather than their company's I.T. department. "You can basically outsource your I.T. department to Apple," said Ben Reitzes, an analyst with Barclays Capital.

A similar B.Y.O.D. program at Citrix Systems, a software maker that also helps its clients implement such programs, saves the company about 20 percent on each laptop over three years. Of the 1,000 or so employees in Citrix's program, 46 percent have bought Mac computers, according to Paul Martine, Citrix's chief information officer. "That was a little bit of a surprise."



For the full story, see:

VERNE G. KOPYTOFF. "More Offices Let Workers Choose Their Own Devices." The New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 22, 2011.)






December 25, 2011

Fantasizing about Achieving Goals Has Opportunity Cost in Terms of Energy to Actually Achieve Goals



(p. C4) Fantasizing about achieving goals can make people less likely to achieve them, by sapping the energy required to do the necessary work, a study finds.


. . .


The researchers concluded: "Positive fantasies will sap job-seekers of the energy to pound the pavement, and drain the lovelorn of the energy to approach the one they like."



For the full story, see:

Christopher Shea. "Week in Ideas; Psychology; Lost in Fantasy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 4, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The article summarized is:

Kappes, Heather Barry, and Gabriele Oettingen. "Positive Fantasies About Idealized Futures Sap Energy." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47 (2011): 719-29.






December 17, 2011

Haltiwanger Paper Says New Firms Create More Jobs than Old Firms



(p. A2) A recent study called into question whether size should matter at all when comparing businesses and their contribution to job creation.

The paper--co-authored by University of Maryland economist John Haltiwanger and two Census Bureau economists--confirmed that small businesses create more net new jobs, per employee, than do bigger businesses.

But the effect vanishes once each company's age is taken into account. It is young businesses that outperform old ones, according to the paper. Size isn't the important factor.

If you control for age, "you wipe out that effect" of small businesses creating a disproportionate share of net new jobs, says Prof. Haltiwanger. "There's no systematic relationship. If anything it goes the opposite way of conventional wisdom."



For the full commentary, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Sizing Up the Small-Business Jobs Machine." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 15, 2011): A2.


The Haltiwanger paper referred to in the passage above is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." NBER Working Paper #16300, August 2010.





December 8, 2011

Berkeley Environmentalist Sticks to Her Knitting



StofleShelbyGathersWool2011-11-10.jpg "Avid knitter Shelby Stofle, gathering wool from sheep in Vacaville Calif., hopes to set up a business making scarves and selling them at craft fairs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) Shelby Stofle graduated in December from the University of California at Berkeley with $10,250 in student-loan debt--and no job offers from a dozen applications.

The 24-year-old had hoped to work in environmental conservation or sustainable agriculture but struck out even at a grocery store near her rural hometown of Suisun City, Calif.


. . .


With many employment options exhausted, she said she feels her best shot is to set up her own business, selling her hand-made scarves at craft fairs and farmers' markets.



For the full story, see:

VAUHINI VARA. "As Jobs Vanish, Sticking to Knitting." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 31, 2011): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)







November 9, 2011

Schumpeter's Simile for Capitalist Mobility



(p. 156) In fact, the upper strata of society are like hotels which are indeed always full of people, but people who are forever changing.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1983.





November 1, 2011

My Jobs Haiku "Most Popular"



Yesterday (10/31/11) the Kauffman Foundation issued a press release reporting the results of their fourth-quarter survey of "top economics bloggers." The URL for the press release is:

http://www.kauffman.org/newsroom/only-half-of-economics-bloggers-expect-employment-growth-in-the-next-three-years.aspx


The last few lines of the press release are summarized below:

In their fourth-quarter survey of "top economics bloggers" the Kauffman Foundation asked the panel of bloggers "to describe the U.S. economy in haiku. Nearly 20 haiku were submitted and subsequently voted on by more than 500 public readers. The most popular was by Professor Art Diamond (http://artdiamondblog.com):"

jobs and Jobs are gone
need more Jobs to get more jobs
innovate to grow






October 31, 2011

More on Jobs Haiku



My Jobs haiku has received some discussion in the blogosphere.


It is reproduced, along with haikus submitted by other economics bloggers, in an entry of the blog of the Economist magazine:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/10/poetry?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/theeconomyinhaiku


I especially like a comment to the Economist blog entry:

CaitP

Oct 26th 2011 7:59 GMT

What a creative way to describe the economy. It is so interesting to see how everyone interprets the economy through poem. I personally like the "jobs and Jobs" one. I think it describes our economy, and gives a snapshot of a major moment in our history.



kbuch5

Nov 2nd 2011 1:41 GMT

It is interesting to see people's opinions about the economy being put into haikus. My favorite out of these is the haiku that refers to the fact that we have lost Steve Jobs and many jobs for US citizens. And in order to regain these jobs we are going to need more people to contribute in ways Steve Jobs has.


(Note: I added kbuch5's comment on 11/7/11.)


CNBC correspondent Jane Wells describes my haiku as "poetic" on her blog:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/45078738






October 20, 2011

Fewer Entrepreneurial Startups Leads to Fewer New Jobs




JobsCreatedByStartupsGraph2011-10-18.jpg
















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






(p. B1) Start-ups fuel job growth disproportionately since by definition they are starting and growing, adding employees, says the Kauffman Foundation, which researches and advocates for entrepreneurship.

Though there was start-up activity during and after the recession, driven partly by unemployed individuals putting out a shingle, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the total number of "births" of new businesses declined sharply from previous years. What's more, the number of people employed by new businesses that are less than a year old--a common definition of a start-up--also declined. That trend started a decade ago.

In a recent report on entrepreneurship, the BLS said the number of new businesses less than a year old that existed in the year ending March 2010 "was lower than any other year" since its research began in 1994. The downdraft started with the recession.

"More people who were self-employed failed and left self-employment than people who entered," says Scott Shane, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University who wrote a study on entrepreneurship and the recession for the Cleveland Fed. "The net effect is negative, not positive, largely because downturns hurt those in business and those thinking of entering business."



For the full story, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Shrinking in a Bad Economy: America's Entrepreneur Class." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 12, 2011): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The BLS report mentioned above can be found at: http://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship.htm


The Scott Shane commentary mentioned above can be found at:
http://www.clevelandfed.org/research/commentary/2011/2011-04.cfm



YoungFirmsGraph2011-10-18.jpg














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










October 19, 2011

Jobs Haiku




jobs and Jobs are gone
need more Jobs to get more jobs
innovate to grow

Arthur Diamond



In his Q4 survey of influential economics bloggers, Tim Kane of the Kauffman Foundation whimsically requested that we create a haiku that speaks to the state of the economy. I sent him my haiku, above, on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

(Do not worry---I have no plans to retire and devote myself to writing poetry.)






October 7, 2011

Another Nod to Planck's "Cynical View of Science"




The Max Planck view expressed in the quote below, has been called "Planck's Principle" and has been empirically tested in three papers cited at the end of the entry.


(p. 12) How's this for a cynical view of science? "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Scientific truth, according to this view, is established less by the noble use of reason than by the stubborn exertion of will. One hopes that the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck, the author of the quotation above, was writing in an unusually dark moment.

And yet a large body of psychological data supports Planck's view: we humans quickly develop an irrational loyalty to our beliefs, and work hard to find evidence that supports those opinions and to discredit, discount or avoid information that does not.



For the full commentary, see:

CORDELIA FINE. "GRAY MATTER; Biased but Brilliant." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 31, 2011): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 30, 2011.)


Three of my papers that present evidence on Planck's Principle, are:

"Age and the Acceptance of Cliometrics." The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 4 (December 1980): 838-841.

"Planck's Principle: Do Younger Scientists Accept New Scientific Ideas with Greater Alacrity than Older Scientists?" Science 202 (November 17, 1978): 717-723 (with David L. Hull and Peter D. Tessner).

"The Polywater Episode and the Appraisal of Theories." In A. Donovan, L. Laudan and R. Laudan, eds., Scrutinizing Science: Empirical Studies of Scientific Change. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988, 181-198.





September 18, 2011

"Unless the Federal Government Takes It All Away"



BoeingSouthCarolinaPlant2011-08-08.jpg "Wayne Gravot, right, and Jeff Sparwasser at the new plant in North Charleston, S.C." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Boeing's gigantic new $750 million airplane factory here is the pride of South Carolina, the biggest single investment ever made in a state that is far more associated with old-line textile mills than state-of-the-art manufacturing. In just a few weeks, 1,000 workers will begin assembling the first of what they hope will be hundreds of 787 Dreamliners.

That is, unless the federal government takes it all away.

In a case that has enraged South Carolinians and become a cause célèbre among Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, the National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of illegally setting up shop in South Carolina because of past strikes by the unionized workers at its main manufacturing base in the Seattle area. The board is asking a judge to order Boeing to move the Dreamliner production -- and the associated jobs -- to Washington State.



For the full story, see:

STEVEN GREENHOUSE. "Boeing Labor Dispute Is Making New Factory a Political Football." The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2011): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 30, 2011.)







September 9, 2011

Occupational Licensing Reduces Job Creation



(p. A15) Only one in 20 workers needed the government's permission to pursue their chosen occupation in the 1950s, notes University of Minnesota Prof. Morris Kleiner. Today that figure is nearly one in three.


. . .


The breadth of jobs is remarkable. Travel and tourist guides, funeral attendants, home-entertainment installers, florists, makeup artists, even interpreters for the deaf are all regulated by various states. Want to work as an alarm installer? In 35 states, you will need to earn the government's permission. Are you skilled in handling animals? You will need more than that skill in the 20 states that require a license for animal training.

There's usually more to these licenses than filling out some paperwork and paying a small fee. Most come with government-dictated educational requirements, examinations, minimum age and grade levels, and other hurdles.


. . .


Instead of looking to the federal government to create jobs, state legislatures could have a real and immediate effect on unemployment in their states by showing how less truly is more. They can remove the barriers to job creation that their predecessors erected and enjoy the job-generating drive of their states' aspiring entrepreneurs.



For the full commentary, see:

CHIP MELLOR And DICK CARPENTER. "Want Jobs? Cut Local Regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)






August 28, 2011

Strong Economic Growth Benefits Workers



(p. A13) Workers do well only when the economy grows at a healthy and consistent pace. The biggest threat to long-term economic growth is government growth of the magnitude that characterized the past two years and that is forecast for our future.

Our current problems are not a result of acts of nature. They stem from policy choices that dramatically increased the size of the government. In the past two years, the federal budget has grown by a whopping 16%.


. . .


. . . , the price of the stimulus is what appears to be a permanent increase in the size of government that will continue to slow economic growth. Most economists believe that high debt and high taxes each contributes to slow economic growth, which hurts workers both in the short and long run.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "OPINION; How Big Government Hurts the Average Joe; Job growth is very closely linked to GDP growth. If the economy is not growing, then jobs aren't being added." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., August 5, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)






August 24, 2011

Krugman Says Economic Policy of Past Two Years "Isn't Working"



(p. A21) . . . we already know what isn't working: the economic policy of the past two years -- and the millions of Americans who should have jobs, but don't.


For the full commentary, see:

PAUL KRUGMAN. "The Wrong Worries." The New York Times (Fri., August 5, 2011): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated August 4, 2011.)






August 13, 2011

Consumption Is More Equal Than Income



HowAmericansSpendTheirMoneyChart2011-08-03.gifSource of graph: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.




Income inequality is widely derided. But inequality in consumption is more meaningful than inequality in income. The wonderful graph above, and the commentary quoted below, show that consumption per person is much more equal than the usually-used income per household.

(Click on the graph to pop up a larger version that is easier to read.)


(p. 14) It's true that the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households rose from 43.6 percent in 1975 to 49.6 percent in 2006, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has complete data. Meanwhile, families in the lowest fifth saw their piece of the pie fall from 4.3 percent to 3.3 percent.

Income statistics, however, don't tell the whole story of Americans' living standards. Looking at a far more direct measure of American families' economic status -- household consumption -- indicates that the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract, income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.



For the full commentary, see:

Cox, W. Michael, and Richard Alm. "You Are What You Spend." The New York Times, Week in Review (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.





August 8, 2011

Much of U.S. Job Gains Are in Texas



(p. 1A) While the nation's job growth has limped along since the economic recovery began two years ago, the Lone Star State is enlarging payrolls in Texas-size fashion.

From June 2009 to June 2011 the state added 262,000 jobs, or half the USA's 524,000 payroll gains, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even by a more conservative estimate that omits states with net job losses, Texas' advances make up 30% of the 1 million additions in the 34 states with net growth.



For the full story, see:

Paul Davidson. "Need a Job? Move to Texas." USA Today (Tues., JULY 20, 2011): 1A.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Texas bucks national unemployment trend.")





July 8, 2011

Private ADP Job Data May Better Capture Startup Job Growth than Government Data




"ADP" in the quote below, stands for Automatic Data Processing Inc. which is a large payroll processing firm that provides job growth data that are an alternative to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. Recent research by Haltiwanger and others, has indicated that startups may have an under-appreciated large role in job growth.


(p. C1) It has been dubbed "Another Dumb Payroll" report and a "random number generator." But the ADP employment report doesn't entirely deserve its bad rap.


. . .


ADP may better capture . . . new business formation than Labor Department estimates. BofA Merrill Lynch economist Michelle Meyer notes that new firms show up in ADP data after two months of existence; the government doesn't have complete records until much later. Indeed, more than half the 187,000 new jobs ADP reported last month came from businesses with fewer than 50 employees.



For the full story, see:

KELLY EVANS. "AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., FEBRUARY 4, 2011): C1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter Than Thought.")


For some of the work showing the importance of startups in job creation, see:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Jarmin. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." NBER Working Paper # 16300, August 2010.






July 7, 2011

Few Good Jobs for China's College Graduates



(p. A13) BEIJING--Young people calling themselves the "ant tribe" and living in Beijing's outskirts have prompted a national discussion about the tough job market for college graduates in China.

The term "ants"--referring to the graduates' industriousness as well as their crowded, modest living conditions--was coined in a book by Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, who in a 2007-09 survey of 600 Beijing-area college graduates found their average monthly income was the equivalent of $300.

The book touched a nerve in China, inspiring both admiration for the young people's striving and indignation at their living conditions. Earlier this year, several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, said they were moved to tears on a visit to the village of Tangjialing when they heard two young men who shared a 50-square-foot room sing a song they composed about their tough lives.


. . .


The "Song of the Ants" is a favorite. Its refrain: "Though we have nothing, we are tough in spirit; though we have nothing, we are still dreaming; though we have nothing, we still have power; though we have nothing, we are not afraid of being deserted."



For the full story, see:

Sue Feng and Ian Johnson. "Job Squeeze in China Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 4, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 3, 2010 and has the title "China Job Squeeze Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.")






June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."


. . .


Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.


. . .


A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.


. . .


Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")





June 14, 2011

Salem Issues Psychic Licenses to Protect Public from the Untrained



StathopoulosLoreleiSupportsFewerLicences2011-06-02.jpg "Lorelei Stathopoulos is concerned Salem will lose its "quaint reputation."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A11) SALEM, Mass. -- Like any good psychic, Barbara Szafranski claims she foresaw the problems coming.

Her prophecy came in 2007, as the City Council was easing its restrictions on the number of psychics allowed to practice in this seaside city, where self-proclaimed witches, angels, clairvoyants and healers still flock 319 years after the notorious Salem witch trials. Some hoped for added revenues from extra licenses and tourists. Others just wanted to bring underground psychics into the light.

Just as Ms. Szafranski predicted, the number of psychic licenses has drastically increased, to 75 today, up from a mere handful in 2007. And now Ms. Szafranski, some fellow psychics and city officials worry the city is on psychic overload.


. . .


"Many of them are not trained," she said of her rivals. "They don't understand that when you do a reading you hold a person's life in your hands."

Christian Day, a warlock who calls himself the "Kathy Griffin of witchcraft," thinks the competition is good for Salem.

"I want Salem to be the Las Vegas of psychics," said Mr. Day, who used to work in advertising and helped draft the 2007 regulations. Since they went into effect, he has opened two stores, Hex and Omen.


. . .


Now, talk has started about new regulations that would include a cap on the number of psychic businesses, but the grumbling has in no way reached the level of viciousness that occurred in 2007, when someone left the mutilated body of a raccoon outside Ms. Szafranski's shop and Mr. Day and Ms. Stathopoulos got into a fight.



For the full story, see:

KATIE ZEZIMA. "Witchy Town's Worry: Do Too Many Psychics Spoil the Brew?" The New York Times (Fri., May 27, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 26, 2011.)



DayChristianSupportsCompetition2011-06-02.jpg "Christian Day, who owns two shops, thinks competition is a good thing." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







June 12, 2011

To Burst Higher Ed Bubble, Peter Thiel Pays Students to Drop Out



ThielPeterPayPal2011-06-02.jpg













"Peter Thiel." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B4) Parents, do you hope that your children have the chance to become like Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and hedge fund manager? If so, Mr. Thiel suggests that you encourage them to drop out of school. In fact, he will help by paying them to do it.

On Wednesday, the Thiel Foundation, funded by Mr. Thiel, announced the first group of Thiel Fellows, 24 people under 20 who have agreed to drop out of school in exchange for a $100,000 grant and mentorship to start a tech company.

More than 400 people applied. The winners include Laura Deming, 17, who is developing antiaging therapies; Faheem Zaman, 18, who is building mobile payment systems for developing countries; and John Burnham, 18, who is working on extracting minerals from asteroids and comets.


. . .


Mr. Thiel, a contrarian investor and libertarian known for his controversial views, knows that suggesting that education is not always worth it strikes at the core of many Americans' beliefs. But that is exactly why is he doing it.

"We're not saying that everybody should drop out of college," he said. The fellows agree to stop getting a formal education for two years but can always go back to school. The problem, he said, is that "in our society the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college."

"I believe you have a bubble whenever you have something that's overvalued and intensely believed," Mr. Thiel said. "In education, you have this clear price escalation without incredible improvement in the product. At the same time you have this incredible intensity of belief that this is what people have to do. In that way it seems very similar in some ways to the housing bubble and the tech bubble."


. . .


"What I really liked about this program is it's giving a lot of people who maybe wouldn't get into Harvard an opportunity to participate in something just as selective and just as valuable and just as educational," Mr. Burnham said. "It's giving them that opportunity even though their personalities and characters don't quite fit the academic mold."

His father, Stephen Burnham, said the decision for his son to skip college, at least for now, was uncontroversial.

"There's a lot of other stuff that you get in college and I would say that would be useful for John," he said. "But I would say in four years there's a big opportunity cost there if you could be out starting your career doing something that could change the world."



For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Changing the World by Dropping Out." The New York Times (Mon., May 30, 2011): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25 (sic), 2011, has the title "Want Success in Silicon Valley? Drop Out of School," and is longer than the published version. Most of what is quoted above appears in both the published and online versions, but some (most notably the paragraph on the education bubble and the quotes from Stephen Burnham) appear only in the online verison.)





June 11, 2011

"Surprisingly Weak Correlation" Between Measures of Maximum Performance and Typical Performance



(p. C12) In the early 1980s, Paul Sackett, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, began measuring the speed of cashiers at supermarkets. Workers were told to scan a few dozen items as quickly as possible while a scientist timed them. Not surprisingly, some cashiers were much faster than others.

But Mr. Sackett realized that this assessment, which lasted just a few minutes, wasn't the only way to measure cashier performance. Electronic scanners, then new in supermarkets, could automatically record the pace of cashiers for long stretches of time. After analyzing this data, it once again became clear that levels of productivity varied greatly.

Mr. Sackett had assumed that these separate measurements would generate similar rankings. Those cashiers who were fastest in the short test should also be the fastest over the long term. But instead he found a surprisingly weak correlation between the rankings, leading him to distinguish between two types of personal assessment. One measures "maximum performance": People who know they're being tested are highly motivated and focused, just like those cashiers scanning a few items while being timed.

The other type measures "typical performance"--measured over long periods of time, as when Mr. Sackett recorded the speed of cashiers who didn't know they were being watched. In this sort of test, character traits that have nothing to do with maximum performance begin to influence the outcome. Cashiers with speedy hands won't have fast overall times if they take lots of breaks.


. . .


The problem, of course, is that students don't reveal their levels of grit while taking a brief test. Grit can only be assessed by tracking typical performance for an extended period. Do people persevere, even in the face of difficulty? How do they act when no one else is watching? Such traits often matter more than raw talent. We hear about them in letters of recommendation, but hard numbers take priority.

The larger lesson is that we've built our society around tests of performance that fail to predict what really matters: what happens once the test is over.



For the full commentary, see:

JONAH LEHRER. "Measurements That Mislead; From the SAT to the NFL, the problem with short-term tests." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 2, 2011): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The classic article correlating maximum and typical performance, is:

Sackett, Paul R., Sheldon Zedeck, and Larry Fogli. "Relationships between Measures of Typical and Maximum Performance." Journal of Applied Psychology 73 (1988): 482-86.





May 14, 2011

Income Inequality Makes People Happy When It Gives Them Hope



(p. A19) If the royal family were to utilize Kate's background to help encourage and spread this culture of entrepreneurship, the effects in Britain--and possibly much of the world--could be incredible. The people of the United Kingdom would be much richer, and not just in material terms. "Earned success gives people a sense of meaning about their lives," writes the social scientist Arthur Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Indeed, studies show that in both the U.S. and U.K., many blue- and white-collar workers prefer to have the opportunity to advance, even if this means a less equal income distribution. A study of thousands of British employees by Andrew Clark, associate chair of the Paris School of Economics, found that measures of these workers' happiness actually rose as their demographic group's average income increased relative to their own.

These findings suggests that as people see members of their peer group gain wealth--even surpassing them--it gives them hope that they can improve their lot as well. As Mr. Clark put it in his study of British workers, "income inequality . . . need not be harmful for economic growth" if it "contains an aspect of opportunity."



For the full story, see:

JOHN BERLAU. "The Entrepreneurs' Princess; For centuries in Britain, commercial activities were looked down upon by the aristocracy, whose wealth lay in landownership." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., APRIL 28, 2011): A17.





May 13, 2011

Data on Race Are Muddled by Melting Pot



LopezMullinsRaceGraph2011-05-09.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) The federal Department of Education would categorize Michelle López-Mullins -- a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent -- as "Hispanic." But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her "Asian" and "Hispanic." And what does Ms. López-Mullins's birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn't mention her race.

Ms. López-Mullins, 20, usually marks "other" on surveys these days, but when she filled out a census form last year, she chose Asian, Hispanic, Native American and white.

The chameleon-like quality of Ms. López-Mullins's racial and ethnic identification might seem trivial except that statistics on ethnicity and race are used for many important purposes. These include assessing disparities in health, education, employment and housing, enforcing civil rights protections, and deciding who might qualify for special consideration as members of underrepresented minority groups.

But when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old "mark one (p. A17) box" limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand. Changes in how Americans are counted by race and ethnicity are meant to improve the precision with which the nation's growing diversity is gauged: the number of mixed-race Americans, for example, is rising rapidly, largely because of increases in immigration and intermarriage in the past two decades. (One in seven new marriages is now interracial or interethnic.)

In the process, however, a measurement problem has emerged. Despite the federal government's setting standards more than a decade ago, data on race and ethnicity are being collected and aggregated in an assortment of ways. The lack of uniformity is making comparison and analysis extremely difficult across fields and across time.



For the full story, see:

SUSAN SAULNY. "Race Remixed; In Multiracial Nation, Many Ways to Tally Can Throw Off Some Numbers." The New York Times, First Section (Thurs., February 10, 2011): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 9, 2011 and has the title "Race Remixed; Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers.")





March 28, 2011

"The Really Good People Want Autonomy"



BethuneGordonContinentalAirlinesFormerCEO2011-03-09.jpg









"Gordon M. Bethune, chief executive of Continental Airlines from 1994 to 2004, says that "being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




Gordon Bethune is usually given credit for introducing marginal cost pricing to the airline industry, and thereby bringing Continental Airlines back from bankruptcy.

His views on how to hire and manage employees are worth serious consideration:


(p. 2) Q. How do you hire people?

A. The really good people want autonomy -- you let me do it, and I'll do it. So I told the people I recruited: "You come in here and you've got to keep me informed, but you're the guy, and you'll make these decisions. It won't be me second-guessing you. But everybody's going to win together. We're part of a team, but you're going to run your part." That's all they want. They want a chance to do it.



For the full interview Adam Bryant conducted with Gordon Bethune, see:

Gordon M. Bethune. "Corner Office; Remember to Share the Stage." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., January 3, 2010): 2.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 2, 2010.)





March 10, 2011

Egypt's Urban Decline as Cause (or Symptom) of Slow Growth




EgyptUrbanChangeAndGrowthGraphs2011-02-27.jpg














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






















We all know that correlation is not the same as causation. The main cause of Egypt's slow growth is its lack of institutions and policies supporting entrepreneurial capitalism, and not the decline of Egyptian cities. (But the decline of Egyptian cities does not help.)



(p. B1) Since then, the cities of Asia have expanded rapidly, drawing in millions of peasant farmers looking for a better life -- and, more often than not, finding it. Almost 50 percent of East Asians now live in cities. And Egypt? It is the only large country to have become less urban in the last 30 years, according to the World Bank. About 43 percent of Egyptians are city dwellers today.

This urban stagnation helps explain Egypt's broader stagnation. As tough as city life in poor countries can be, it's also fertile ground for economic growth. Nearly everything can be done more efficiently in a well-run city, be it plumbing, transportation or the generation of new ideas and businesses. "Being around other people," says Paul Romer, the economist and growth expert, "helps make us smarter."

Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist (and weekly contributor to the Times's Economix blog), has just published a book, "The Triumph of the City, making the case that cities are humanity's greatest invention. Countries that become more urban tend to become far more productive, Mr. Glaeser writes. The effect is even bigger for poor countries than rich ones.


. . .


Three researchers -- Michael Clemens, Lant Pritchett and Claudio Montenegro -- recently found a novel way to measure how well various countries use the workers they have. The three compared the wages of immigrants to the United States with the wages of similar workers from the same country who remained home.

A 35-year-old urban Egyptian man with a high school education who moves to the United States can expect an incredible eightfold increase in living standards, the researchers found. Immigrants from only two countries, Yemen and Nigeria, receive a larger boost. In effect, these are the countries with the biggest gap between what their workers can produce in a different environment and what they are actually producing at home.

No wonder 19 percent of Egyptians told Gallup (well before the protests) that they would move to another country if they could. Mr. Clemens says that for every green card the United States awarded in a recent immigration lottery, 146 Egyptians had applied.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "Economic Scene; For Egypt, a Fresh Start, With Cities." The New York Times (Weds., February 16, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated February 15, 2011.)


The scholarly article summarized is:

Clemens, Michael, Claudio Montenegro, and Lant Pritchett. "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the Us Border." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series # RWP09-004, January 2009.


The Glaeser book is:

Glaeser, Edward L. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.






March 2, 2011

Occupational Licensing Adds Billions a Year to Cost of Services



PercentageWorkersLicensedGraph2011-02-27.jpg














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



(p. A1) . . . economists--and workers shut out of fields by educational requirements or difficult exams--say licensing mostly serves as a form of protectionism, allowing veterans of the trade to box out competitors who might undercut them on price or offer new services.

"Occupations prefer to be li-(p. A16)censed because they can restrict competition and obtain higher wages," said Morris Kleiner, a labor professor at the University of Minnesota. "If you go to any statehouse, you'll see a line of occupations out the door wanting to be licensed."

While some states have long required licensing for workers who handle food or touch others--caterers and hair stylists, for example--economists say such regulation is spreading to more states for more industries. The most recent study, from 2008, found 23% of U.S. workers were required to obtain state licenses, up from just 5% in 1950, according to data from Mr. Kleiner. In the mid-1980s, about 800 professions were licensed in at least one state. Today, at least 1,100 are, according to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation, a trade group for regulatory bodies. Among the professions licensed by one or more states: florists, interior designers, private detectives, hearing-aid fitters, conveyor-belt operators and retailers of frozen desserts.


. . .


Mr. Kleiner, of the University of Minnesota, looked at census data covering several occupations that are regulated in some states but not others, including librarians, nutritionists and respiratory therapists. He found that employment growth in those professions was about 20% greater, on average, in the unregulated states between 1990 and 2000.

Licensing can also drive up costs to consumers. Licensed workers earn, on average, 15% more than their unlicensed counterparts in other states--a premium that may be reflected in their prices, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research and conducted by Mr. Kleiner and Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University.

Mr. Kleiner estimates that across the U.S. economy, occupational licensing adds at least $116 billion a year to the cost of services, which amounts to about 1% of total consumer spending. In a look at dentistry, Mr. Kleiner found that the average price of dental services rose 11% when a state made it more difficult to get a dental license.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE SIMON. "A License to Shampoo: Jobs Needing State Approval Rise." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 7, 2011): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)



JobsNeedingStateLicenseTable2011-02-27cropped.jpg"Some of the jobs that require licensing in one or more states." Source of caption and table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





February 15, 2011

Luddism in 1811 England



(p. 243) The stockingers began in the town of Arnold, where weaving frames were being used to make cut-ups and, even worse, were being operated by weavers who had not yet completed the seven-year apprenticeship that the law required. They moved next to Nottingham and the weaver-heavy villages surrounding it, attacking virtually every night for weeks, a few dozen men carrying torches and using prybars and hammers to turn wooden frames--and any doors, walls, or windows that surrounded them--into kindling. None of the perpetrators were arrested, much less convicted and punished.

The attacks continued throughout the spring of' 1811, and after a brief summertime lull started up again in the fall, by which time nearly one thousand weaving frames had been destroyed (out of the 25.000 to 29,000 then in Nottingham, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire), resulting in damages of between £6,000 and £10.000. That November, a commander using the nom de sabotage of Ned Ludd (sometimes Lud)--the name was supposedly derived from an apprentice to a Leicester stockinger named Ned Ludham whose reaction to a reprimand was to hammer the nearest stocking frame to splinters--led a series of increasingly daring attacks throughout the Midlands. On November 13, a letter to the Home Office demanded action against the "2000 men, many of them armed, [who] were riotously traversing the County of Nottingham."

By December 1811, rioters appeared in the cotton manufacturing capital of Manchester, where Luddites smashed both weaving and spinning machinery. Because Manchester was further down the path to industrialization, and therefore housed such machines in large factories as opposed to small shops, the destruction demanded larger, and better organized, mobs.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics and bracketed word in original.)





February 7, 2011

After a Series of Anonymous Threats, Cartwright Power Looms Were Burned Down



(p. 239) Cartwright constructed twenty looms using his design and put them to work in a weaving "shed" in Doncaster. He further agreed to license the design to a cotton manufacturer named Robert Grimshaw, who started building five hundred Cartwright looms at a new mill in Manchester in the spring of 1792. By summertime, only a few dozen had been built and installed, but that was enough to provoke Manchester's weavers, who accurately saw the threat they represented. Whether their anger flamed hot enough to burn down Grimshaw's mill remains unknown, but something certainly did: In March 1792, after a series of anonymous threats, the mill was destroyed.

Cartwright's power looms were not the first textile machines to be attacked, and they would not be the last.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





February 4, 2011

Healthy Longevity Can Mean You "Get a Do-Over in Life"



PoolGidComic2011-02-02.jpg "Gid Pool performing at the Buford Variety Theater . . . " Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. R1) It's easy, these days, to think about later life and retirement as limiting. And with good reason: The economy remains fragile; nest eggs are smaller than they should be; and Social Security and Medicare are looking pale. Millions of people are delaying retirement and scaling back plans for the future.

And then there's Gid Pool.

Almost five years ago, on something of a lark, he enrolled in a class near his home in North Port, Fla., that taught stand-up comedy. He was 61 years old. Today, he performs in clubs, theaters, colleges and corporate settings throughout much of the South, playing at times to hundreds of people and clearing as much as $1,000 an evening. For good measure, he spends, on average, a week each month on cruise ships, where he teaches comedy classes.


. . .


"I was thinking last night about how lucky I am, at this stage in my life, to have something that really gets me up in the morning," he says. "I saw my grandfather, an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad, turn my age with a body beaten down by his daily job. My father was a pilot in World War II and suffered all his adult life from an injury in a plane crash.

"Today I'm part of a generation that has literally been given a second chance to live a first life. People say you don't get a do-over in life. I beg to differ."



For the full story, see:

GLENN RUFFENACH. "Did You Hear the One About the Retired Real-Estate Agent? He became a stand-up comedian. And he has never been happier." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 20, 2010): R1 & R9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 19, 2011

What Motivated Paterno to Win 400 Games---"Gettin' Paid"



Paterno400WinsGettinPaidClip.jpgSource of image: screen capture from YouTube clip referenced below.


What motivates employees? Economists have emphasized pay as the primary incentive, while recognizing that there may be "compensating differentials" for aspects of the work that are pleasant or unpleasant.

In recent years many non-economists, such as Daniel Pink in Drive, have emphasized non-pecuniary incentives.

Joe Paterno entered the debate at age 83, after he became the first major college coach to win 400 games on November 6, 2010.

Right after the victory, he was interviewed on the field by "Heather" of ESPN. Starting at 1:33 seconds into the clip referenced below, here is the key dialogue:

Heather: "Coach Paterno, what has motivated you to get to this point?"

Paterno: "Oh geez, I don't know---gettin' paid."




Source: YouTube clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQzdVeYtm5w

(Note: the clip was posted on 11/6/10 by shellymic and has the title "Joe Pa FIRST to 400 Wins!")





January 18, 2011

Artisan's Skills Were Still Required for Kay's Flying Shuttle



(p. 223) Kay's flying shuttle made it possible for weavers to produce a wider product, which they called "broadloom," but doing so was demanding. Weaving requires that the weft threads be under constant tension in order to make certain that each one is precisely the same length as its predecessor; slack is the enemy of a properly woven cloth. Using a flying shuttle to carry weft threads through the warp made it possible to weave a far wider bolt of cloth, but the required momentum introduced the possibility of a rebound, and thereby a slack thread. Kay's invention still needed a skilled artisan to catch the shuttle and so avoid even the slightest bit of bounce when it was thrown across the loom.


Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





January 12, 2011

Mutual Benefits from Ending Labor Market Mismatch



(p.6) This is the Mark Twain people love to quote ("Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way"), and whenever he hits his stride in the "Autobiography," you feel happy for him -- e.g., writing about Virginia City, Nev., in 1863:

"I secured a place in a nearby quartz (p. 7) mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn't reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board -- and the board was worthwhile, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company's side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign."



For the full review, see:

GARRISON KEILLOR. "Riverboat Rambler." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 19, 2010): 1, 6-7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 16, 2010, and had the title "Mark Twain's Riverboat Ramblings." )



The book under review, is:

Smith, Harriet Elinor, ed. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.






January 10, 2011

London's Albion Mills Was "Likely" Destroyed By Millers' Arson



(p. 187) The Albion Mills, as it would be called, was built on a scale hitherto unimagined. The largest flour mill in London in 1783 used The Albion Mills, as it would be called, was built on a scale hitherto unimagined. The largest flour mill in London in 1783 used four pairs of grinding stones; Albion was to have thirty, driven by three steam engines, each with a 34-inch cylinder. Within months after its completion, in 1786, those engines were driving mills that produced six thousand bushels of flour every week--which both fed a lot of Londoners and angered a lot of millers.

The Albion Mills was London's first factory, and its first great symbol of industrialization; its construction inaugurated not only great age of steam-driven factories, but also the doomed though poignant resistance to them. That resistance took the shape of direct action--no one knows how the fire that destroyed the Albion Mills in 1791 began, but arson by millers threatened by its success seems likely-- . . .



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 9, 2011

U.S. Sets Capital Requirement Too High for Entrepreneurs' Visas



WongBrian2011-01-02.jpg "Brian Wong, above at his company's office in San Francisco, is a Canadian citizen hoping for a rule change that would ease U.S. visa restrictions." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B7) San Francisco entrepreneur Brian Wong has already hired two employees and secured $300,000 in funding for his start-up, and hopes to have a staff of 40 or more full-time workers by this time next year.

But there's at least one red flag in his business plan: Mr. Wong isn't American; he's Canadian.


. . .


. . . foreign entrepreneurs have long played an outsized role in the U.S. start-up sector, especially in the tech industry. Immigrants are nearly 30% more likely to start a business than nonimmigrants, the Small Business Administration says. University of California researchers estimate about a third of Silicon Valley technology firms were started by Indian or Chinese entrepreneurs, while a joint study with Duke University found at least one immigrant founder in over a quarter of all engineering and technology firms launched in the U.S. since the mid 1990s, together generating nearly 450,000 jobs by 2005. Google Inc., Intel Corp., Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. all had at least one immigrant founder.

Yet many of these companies were also started on a shoestring, leading some tech industry insiders to say the bill's capital requirements are far too high.


. . .


. . . , the start-up visa's high capital requirement is certain to filter out sole-proprietorships, while ensuring it attracts innovative, mostly tech-savvy entrepreneurs, says Bob Litan, a researcher at the Kauffman Foundation. The downside, he says, is that only a handful of immigrant entrepreneurs will qualify.

"Hardly any businesses get venture capital in a given year," Mr. Litan says. "This isn't going to have much of an impact on the U.S. economy and I suspect that's why so few people are opposed to it."


. . .


Without a visa, Mr. Wong says he'll be forced to launch his start-up back in Canada, taking the new jobs with him.



For the full story, see:

ANGUS LOTEN. "New Pitch for Start-Up Visas; Senate Bill Would Make for Smoother U.S. Entry for Foreign Entrepreneurs ." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 16, 2010): B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





January 6, 2011

Supervising a Talented Inventor



(p. 180) Anyone who has ever supervised a talented subordinate with a tendency to set his own priorities will find Watt's letters familiar: "I wish William could be brought to do as we do, to mind the business in hand, and let such as Symington [William Symington, the builder of the Charlotte Dundas, one of the world's first steam-engine boats] and Sadler [James Sadler, balloonist and inventor of a table steam engine] throw away their time and money, hunting shadows."


Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics and bracketed words in original.)





January 4, 2011

Bronson Alcott's Environmentalist Utopia Failed from Too Much Verbal Manure and Too Little Real Manure



(p. 21) Like many educational theorists, Bronson Alcott found his own children hard to manage. And, again like many visionaries, he also found it hard to hold down a job. As a result, the family moved 29 times in as many years. In 1843 Bronson helped found Fruitlands, a utopian community 15 miles west of Boston. Members of the commune, which numbered 13 people at its height, advocated abolitionism, environmentalism, feminism and anarchism, forswearing meat, alcohol, neckcloths, haircuts, cotton (because it was grown by slaves) and leather (because it was harvested from animals). Their rejection of one more animal product, manure, helps explain why Fruitlands failed after only eight months: this new Eden remained barren in the absence of fertilizer.

In "Transcendental Wild Oats," a satiric memoir Louisa based on the diary she kept at Fruitlands, one character asks "Are there any beasts of burden on the place?" and is answered, "Only one woman!" In real life, the expulsion of the lone female convert, probably for helping herself to some fish on the sly, left Louisa's mother, Abigail, to do all the women's work and much of the men's -- especially since Bronson and his sidekick, Charles Lane, made a habit of disappearing on recruiting trips at the very moment farm labor was required.



For the full review, see:

LEAH PRICE. "American Girl." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 12, 2010): 21.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated December 10, 2010.)



The books under review are:

Cheever, Susan. Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Francis, Richard. Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.





December 14, 2010

"Pumping Your Own Gas Is Illegal in New Jersey" and Oregon



CorcoranWillPumpsGasNJ2010-12-13.jpg "Will Corcoran pumps gas at Tim's Westview in Ridgefield Park. Pumping your own gas has been illegal in New Jersey for 61 years." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J.--People in New Jersey pick their own strawberries. They chop down their own Christmas trees. They check themselves in at airports and check themselves out at supermarkets. Lately, a few New Jerseyans have been wondering whether it isn't about time they were allowed to pump their own gas.

Pumping your own gas is illegal in New Jersey. It has been for 61 years. It's also illegal in Oregon, and in the New York town of Huntington, on Long Island. Just about everywhere else, self-serving Americans do it themselves. As paying at the pump gets easier, the gas station attendant is fast going the way of the elevator operator.

Don't tell Will Corcoran. When you pull into Tim's Westview, a Gulf station across from the train tracks in this north Jersey town, you'll sit in your car while he fills your tank.

Under a cold rain one weekday, he stood at the driver's window of a Chevy, bent over, yakking. He wore blue. His cap had Gulf Oil's orange disk on it. After his customer signed the credit slip (Tim's pumps don't process cards), Mr. Corcoran, 42 years old, shook hands and saluted like a gas jockey in an old commercial.




For the full story, see:

BARRY NEWMAN. "Self-Service Nation Ends at Garden State Gas Pumps; Changing Law May or May Not Lower Prices; 'New Jersey Is Heaven!'." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., NOVEMBER 27, 2010): A1 & A14.






November 18, 2010

Some Hispanics Support Arizona Immigration Law



StoletoSpousesDisagreeArizonaLaw2010-11-14.jpg"Shayne Sotelo opposes Arizona's new immigration law, while her husband, Efrain, supports it." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 28) PHOENIX -- Arizona's immigration law, which politicians have debated in the Legislature, lawyers have sparred over in the courtroom and advocates have shouted about on the street, has found its way up a driveway in central Phoenix, through the front door and right onto the Sotelo family's kitchen table.


. . .


That such a divisive social issue would divide some families is not surprising. But what makes the Sotelos stand out is that they are both Latinos, he a Mexican immigrant who was born in the northern state of Chihuahua and she a descendant of Spanish immigrants who grew up in Colorado.

While polls show that a vast majority of Latinos nationwide side with Mrs. Sotelo in opposing Arizona's law, that opposition is not uniform. "All Latinos are not opposed to this law -- that's too simplistic," said Cecilia Menjivar, an Arizona State University sociologist. There are other Mr. Sotelos out there, including an Arizona state legislator, Representative Steve B. Montenegro, a Republican who immigrated from El Salvador and became the only Latino lawmaker to vote in favor of the bill.


. . .


[Mr. Sotelo] thinks his adopted state has been unfairly maligned since the law passed. "I'm a Hispanic, and I don't have any issues walking the streets," he said. "They make it seem like the police or sheriff are out there checking everyone's papers, and that's not so."



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "One Family's Debate Shows Arizona Law Divides Latinos, Too." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 31, 2010): 28.

(Note: ellipses added; bracketed name added to replace "He.")

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 30, 2010 and has the title "Arizona Immigration Law Divides Latinos, Too.")





November 16, 2010

"The Roiling World of Opera More Appealingly Straightforward than the Roiling World of Academe"



GillRichardEconomist2010-11-13.jpgGillRichardOperaSinger2010-11-13.jpg



















At left, Richard Gill as Harvard economist. At right, Richard "Gill as Frère Laurent, one of his numerous singing roles he preformed at the Met." Source of part of caption, and of photos: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. B19) Richard T. Gill, in all statistical probability the only Harvard economist to sing 86 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Monday in Providence, R.I. He was 82.


. . .


Mr. Gill, a longtime Harvard faculty member who wrote many widely used economics textbooks, did not undertake serious vocal training (which he began as an anti-smoking regimen) until he was nearly 40. At the time, he had seen perhaps 10 operas and rarely listened to classical music.


. . .


In some respects, he later said, Mr. Gill found the roiling world of opera more appealingly straightforward than the roiling world of academe.

"Performing is a great reality test," he told Newsweek in 1975. "There's no tenure in it and the feedback is much less complicated than you get in academia. When you go out on that stage, you put your life on the line."



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Richard T. Gill, Economist and Opera Singer, Dies at 82." The New York Times (Thurs., October 28, 2010): B19.

(Note: ellipses added.)





November 13, 2010

Increase in Equality of Happiness Between Blacks and Whites



(p. B1) White Americans don't report being any more satisfied with their lives than they did in the 1970s, various surveys show. Black Americans do, and significantly so.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, the University of Pennsylvania economists who did the study, point out that self-reported measures of happiness usually shift at a glacial pace. The share of whites, for example, telling pollsters in recent years that they are ''not too happy'' -- as opposed to ''pretty happy'' or ''very happy'' -- has been about 10 percent. It was also 10 percent in the 1970s.

Yet the share of blacks saying they are not too happy has dropped noticeably, to about 20 (p. B12) percent in surveys over the last decade, from 24 percent in the 1970s. All in all, Mr. Wolfers calls the changes to blacks' answers, ''one of the most dramatic gains in the happiness data that you'll see.''



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; For Blacks, Progress In Happiness." The New York Times (Weds., September 15, 2010): B1 & B12.


The working paper referred to in the commentary is:

Stevenson, Betsey, and Justin Wolfers. "Subjective and Objective Indicators of Racial Progress." May 12, 2010.





November 1, 2010

Paternalistic Welfare State Discourages Integration of Immigrants



(p. A9) . . . Alf Svensson [is a] former leader of the center-right Christian Democrats.


. . .


Sweden's paternalistic welfare state is partly to blame for some immigrants' marginal status in the economy, said Mr. Svensson. "We had...a system which was 'taking care' of immigrants, which didn't give them a chance to flex their own wings and show what they could do, and this has made integation worse," he said.



For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER And CHARLES DUXBURY. "Far-Right Party Wins Seats in Sweden." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 20, 2010): A9.

(Note: bracketed words and first two ellipses added; last ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated SEPTEMBER 19, 2010.)





October 5, 2010

Cuban Communists to Fire Half a Million Workers, But Will Allow Them to Become Piñata Salesmen



CubanStateStreetSweeperInHavana2010-10-01.jpg"A Cuban State worker (center) sweeps the streets in Havana." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Cuba will lay off more than half a million state workers and try to create hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs, a dramatic attempt by the hemisphere's only Communist country to shift its nearly bankrupt economy toward a more market-oriented system.

The mass layoffs will take place between now and the end of March, according to a statement issued Monday by the Cuban Workers Federation, the island nation's only official labor union. Workers will be encouraged to find jobs in Cuba's tiny private sector instead.

"Our state can't keep maintaining...bloated payrolls," the union's statement said. More than 85% of Cuba's 5.5 million workers are employed by the state.


. . .


(p. A15) Cubans who decide to go into business for themselves will find a series of obstacles, including very high taxes, lack of access to credit and foreign exchange, bans on advertising, limits on the number of people they can hire, and a litany of small-print government regulations, experts say.

Cuba's government has a list of 124 "authorized" activities for people who want to employ themselves. Among them: Toy repairman, music teacher, piñata salesman and carpenter. Carpenters are allowed only to "repair existing furniture or make new furniture upon the direct request of a customer." They cannot make "furniture to sell to the general public."



For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Nicholas Casey. "Cuba Unveils Huge Layoffs in Tilt Toward Free Market." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 14, 2010): A1 & A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Cuba to Cut State Jobs in Tilt Toward Free Market.")



CastroPinata2010-10-01.jpg














This particular piñata model is expected to be a hot seller for the new piñata salesmen. Source of photo: http://cdn.smosh.com/smosh-pit/4/pinata-7.jpg






September 8, 2010

Looking at Gender Gap, Claudia Goldin Sees: "Lots of Evidence of People Making Rational Choices"



(p. A2) Cornell University economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn found that after adjusting for factors such as education, experience, occupation and industry, the remaining, "unexplained" gender gap in 1998 was nine percentage points. Women also are likely to interrupt their careers, often to start a family, and such breaks can derail promotions and raises.

"When you first see the numbers, you would say there is a glass ceiling," says Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. "And yet when you scrutinize the data, you find lots of evidence of people making rational choices."



For the full commentary, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Not All Differences in Earnings Are Created Equal." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 10, 2010): A2.





August 30, 2010

Districts with More Government Pork Have Less Private Hiring



(p. A19) You can't read models, but you do talk to entrepreneurs in Racine and Yakima. Higher deficits will make them more insecure and more risk-averse, not less. They're afraid of a fiscal crisis. They're afraid of future tax increases. They don't believe government-stimulated growth is real and lasting. Maybe they are wrong to feel this way, but they do. And they are the ones who invest and hire, not the theorists.

The Demand Siders are brilliant, but they write as if changing fiscal policy were as easy as adjusting the knob on your stove. In fact, it's very hard to get money out the door and impossible to do it quickly. It's hard to find worthwhile programs to pour money into. Once programs exist, it's nearly impossible to kill them. Spending now creates debt forever and ever.

Moreover, public spending seems to have odd knock-off effects. Professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval and Christopher Malloy of Harvard surveyed 42 years of government spending increases in certain Congressional districts. They found that federal spending increases dampened corporate hiring and investment in those districts.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "A Little Economic Realism." The New York Times (Tues., July 6, 2010): A19.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 5, 2010.)


The research referenced is:

Cohen, Lauren, Joshua D. Coval, and Christopher J. Malloy. "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?" NBER Working Paper No.15839, March 2010.





August 22, 2010

"Pork Actually Pushes Private Investment Out of a State"



Some West Virginia miners may have faced unemployment due to technological progress. But what they needed to improve their situation was economic growth from private enterprise, rather than Senator Robert Byrd's federal pork.


(p. A11) . . . mining companies developed more efficient techniques for extracting coal and natural gas, which eliminated the need for many blue collar jobs. Laid-off workers lacked the skills to attract other types of businesses and college students couldn't find jobs after graduation, so they left. Such dramatic changes would be serious obstacles for any politician.

. . .


By contrast, Byrd's solution was to steer federal largess to his state.


. . .


Take Route 50. Thirty years ago, the federal government extended the route from two lanes to four with the hopes of spurring development. But hit the open road today and you'll notice it's just that--open. "You won't see another car for two hours," says Russell Sobel, a professor of economics at West Virginia University. "You can't just build roads and expect that things will happen. People who want to transport goods and services need to be there."


. . .


"We've created this culture of dependency," warns Mr. Sobel, "Our human capital is not good at competing in the marketplace; it's good at securing federal grants."

Federal funding is a shaky foundation for an economy because no one can replace Big Daddy. In their recently released paper "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?" Harvard professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval and Christopher Malloy found that states that lose chairmanships on important congressional committees lose 20% to 30% in earmarks.

Even worse, they found that pork actually pushes private investment out of a state. When the federal government intrudes, it raises demand for the state's workers and real estate, jacking up prices. Often, companies can't compete, so they flee.



For the full commentary, see:

BRIAN BOLDUC. "CROSS COUNTRY; Robert Byrd's Highways to Nowhere; Government pork hasn't made West Virginia prosperous." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 10, 2010): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The research referenced is:

Cohen, Lauren, Joshua D. Coval, and Christopher J. Malloy. "Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?" NBER Working Paper No.15839, March 2010.





August 19, 2010

Employment Further Below Trend than Any Time in Half Century



EmploymentRelativeToJobGrowthTrendGraph2010-08-05.gif

















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



(p. A15) The number of nonfarm private jobs has been growing steadily since the 1950s. That number reached a peak at the end of 2007. Between 1958 and 2007, the number of U.S. jobs grew to 115.4 million from 43.5 million--about 2% per year on average. The steady upward trend reflects the long-run growth of the economy and increased participation in the labor force.

The nearby chart compares employment and that trend. It shows the percentage difference between employment and the trend line generated from monthly employment figures over the past 50 years (July 1960 through June 2010).

What we see is astounding. For almost 25 years--between 1984 and late 2008--the level of employment never fell to more than 3% below the trend line. Over that period, total employment grew by more than 36 million.

Employment fell briefly to about 6% below the trend during two previous recessions: in 1975 and again in 1982-1983. During those periods, the unemployment-rate peaks were 9% (in 1974) and 10.8% (in 1982). The unemployment rate in 2009 peaked at 10.1%.

By 2010, however, employment had fallen to about 10% below the trend, far below any previous level in the last half-century.



For the full commentary, see:

PAUL GODEK. "Jobless Numbers Are Worse Than You Think; The situation is much more dire now than it was during the 1980s." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 23, 2010): A15.





July 31, 2010

Apple Fired Mike Scott for Firing the Laggards



Wozniak writes of pre-1983 management troubles at Apple, in the passage quoted below. The passage highlights that large companies usually lose flexibility in hiring and firing. Good managers who have tacit (or just insufficiently documented) judgment about who the best employees are, have limited ability to act on that knowledge.

I wonder if this is a necessary disadvantage of size, or a disadvantage that is due to our laws, customs and institutions?


(p. 231) By this time, I should point out, Mike Scott--our president who took us public and the guy who took us through the phenomenally successful IPO--was gone. During the time the Apple III was being developed, he thought we'd grown a bit too large. There were good engineers, sure, but there were also a lot of lousy engineers floating around. That happens in any big company.

It's not necessarily the lousy engineer's fault, by the way. There's always going to be some mismatch between an engineer's interests and the job he's doing.

Anyway, Scotty had told Tom Whitney, our engineering manager, to take a vacation for a week. And meanwhile he did some research. He went around and talked to every engineer in the company and found out who was doing what and who was working and who wasn't doing much of anything.

Then he fired a whole bunch of people. That was called Bloody Monday. Or, at least, that's what it ended up being called in the Apple history books. I thought that, pretty much, he fired all the right ones. The laggards, I mean.

And then Mike Scott himself was fired. The board was just very pissed that he'd done this without a lot of backing and enough due process, the kind of procedure you're supposed to follow at a big company.

Also, Mike Markulla told me Mike Scott had been making a lot of rash decisions and decisions that just weren't right. Mike thought Scotty wasn't really capable of handling the company given the point and size it had gotten to.

I did not like this one bit. I liked Scotty very, very much as a person. I liked his way of thinking. I liked his way of being able to joke and be serious. With Scotty, I didn't see many things fall (p. 232) through the cracks. And I felt that he respected the good work that I did--the engineering work. He came from engineering.

And as I said, Scotty had been our president, our leader from day one of incorporation until we'd gone public in one of the biggest IPOs in U.S. history. And now, all of a sudden, he was just pushed aside and forgotten.

I think it's sad that none of the books today even seem to recall him. Nobody knows his name. Yet Mike Scott was the president that took us through the earliest days.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.





July 19, 2010

HP Turns Down Wozniak Again



(p. 193) But I went to talk to the project manager, Kent Stockwell. Although I had done all these computer things with the Apple I and Apple II, I wanted to work on a computer at HP so bad I would have done anything. I would even be a measely printer interface engineer. Something tiny.

I told him, "My whole interest in life has been computers. Not calculators."

(p. 194) After a few days, I was turned down again.

I still believe HP made a huge mistake by not letting me go to its computer project. I was so loyal to HP. I wanted to work there for life. When you have an employee who says he's tired of calculators and is really productive in computers, you should put him where he's productive. Where he's happy. The only thing I can figure is there were managers and submanagers on this computer project who felt threatened. I had already done a whole computer. Maybe they bypassed me because I had done this single-handedly. I don't know what they were thinking.

But they should've said to themselves, "How do we get Steve Wozniak on board? Just make him a little printer interface engineer." I would've been so happy, but they didn't bother to put me where I would've been happiest.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.





July 13, 2010

More New Jobs Created Are Higher Skill Jobs



(p. A1) As unlikely as it would seem against this backdrop, manufacturers who want to expand find that hiring is not always easy. During the recession, domestic manufacturers appear to have accelerated the long-term move (p. A3) toward greater automation, laying off more of their lowest-skilled workers and replacing them with cheaper labor abroad.

Now they are looking to hire people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.

Makers of innovative products like advanced medical devices and wind turbines are among those growing quickly and looking to hire, and they too need higher skills.


. . .


Manufacturers who profess to being shorthanded say they have retooled the way they make products, calling for higher-skilled employees. "It's not just what is being made," said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "but to the degree that you make it at all, you make it differently."

In a survey last year of 779 industrial companies by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, 32 percent of companies reported "moderate to serious" skills shortages. Sixty-three percent of life science companies, and 45 percent of energy firms cited such shortages.




For the full story, see:

MOTOKO RICH. "Jobs Go Begging as Gap is Exposed in Worker Skills." The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 1, 2010 and has the title "Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage.")





July 12, 2010

Chicago's South Side Welcomes Wal-Mart: "The Audience Stood and Cheered"



WalmartChicagoSupporters2010-06-29.jpg"Supporters of a proposed Wal-Mart store in Chicago demonstrated at a City Coumcil zoning panel hearing Thursday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B4) "We need jobs for our neighborhood, and Wal-Mart is willing to come, and they're willing to provide the jobs," said the Rev. Dr. D. Darrell Griffin, the pastor at Oakdale Covenant Church.

Politicians who supported the Wal-Mart store said they did so in part because of employment and revenue for the city.

"There are major corporations willing to invest significant money within our communities, which has not been done, really, since the '60s, when a lot of the corporations left the communities after the riots," said Howard B. Brookins Jr., a member of the council. "This is huge for us."


. . .


On Thursday, the zoning committee meeting was filled with about 200 onlookers wearing T-shirts with the Wal-Mart logo and slogans like, "Our neighborhood. Our jobs. Our decision."

Before he asked for a simple yes or no vote, Daniel Solis, chairman of the zoning committee, told the crowd, "We are now the model in this country."

After the unanimous vote -- which sends the proposal to the full City Council, where it is expected to pass next week -- the audience stood and cheered.

"It's going to bring jobs and help the community," Shawn Polk, 20, a college student who lives near the proposed store, said afterward.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE CLIFFORD. "Wal-Mart Gains in Its Wooing of Chicago." The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 24, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 10, 2010

Former French Student Protest Leader: "We've Decided that We Can't Expect Everything from the State"



DynamismEuropeAndUnitedStatesGraph.gif
















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




(p. A16) "The euro was supposed to achieve higher productivity and growth by bringing about a deeper integration between economies," says Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank. "Instead, integration is slowing. The lack of flexibility in labor and product markets raises serious questions about the likelihood of the euro delivering on its potential."

Structural changes are the last great hope in part because euro zone members have few other levers for lifting their economies. Individual members can't tweak interest rates to encourage lending, because those policies are set by the zone's central bank. The shared euro means countries don't have a sovereign currency to devalue, a move that would make exports cheaper and boost receipts abroad.

The remaining prescription, many economists say: chip away at the cherished "social model." That means limiting pensions and benefits to those who really need them, ensuring the able-bodied are working rather than living off the state, and eliminating business and labor laws that deter entrepreneurship and job creation.

That path suits Carlos Bock. The business-studies graduate from Bavaria spent months navigating Germany's dense bureaucracy in order to open a computer store and Internet café in 2004. Before he could offer a Web-surfing customer a mug of filter coffee, he said, he had to obtain a license to run a "gastronomic enterprise." One of its 38 requirements compelled Mr. Bock to attend a course on the hygienic handling of mincemeat.

Mr. Bock closed his store in 2008. Germany's strict regulations and social protections favor established businesses and workers over young ones, he said. He also struggled against German consumers' reluctance to spend, a problem economists blame in part on steep payroll taxes that cut into workers' takehome pay, and on high savings rates among Germans who are worried the country's pension system is unsustainable.

"If markets were freer, there might be chaos to begin with," Mr. Bock said. "But over time we'd reach a better economic level."

Even in France, some erstwhile opponents of reforms are changing their tune. Julie Coudry became a French household name four years ago when she helped organize huge student protests against a law introducing short-term contracts for young workers, a move the government believed would put unemployed youths to work.

With her blonde locks and signature beret, Ms. Coudry gave fiery speeches on television, arguing that young people deserved the cradle-to-grave contracts that older employees enjoy at most French companies. Critics in France and abroad saw the protests as a shocking sign that twentysomethings were among the strongest opponents of efforts to modernize the European economy. The measure was eventually repealed.

Today, the now 31-year-old Ms. Coudry runs a nonprofit organization that encourages French corporations to hire more university graduates. Ms. Coudry, while not repudiating her activism, says she realizes that past job protections are untenable.

"The state has huge debt, 25% of young people are jobless, and so I am part of a new generation that has decided to take matters into our own hands," she says. "We've decided that we can't expect everything from the state."




For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER And ALESSANDRA GALLONI. "Europe's Choice: Growth or Safety Net." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 25, 2010): A1 & A16.





July 9, 2010

Smarter Info Technology Frees Workers from Routine and Creates Jobs



(p. A22) Smarter computing technology, experts say, ought to make the most skilled workers -- in science, the arts and business -- even more productive and prosperous by freeing them from routine tasks. Their prosperity translates to spending that creates jobs in stores, schools, gyms, construction and elsewhere.

Artificial intelligence, experts say, should also generate new jobs even as it displaces others. The smart machines of the future will need programming, servicing and upgrading -- work done, perhaps, by a new class of digital technicians. The intelligent machines, experts add, will be specialists in a field, like the medical assistant project at Microsoft. They must be tailored with specialized software, perhaps igniting a new industry for artificial intelligence applications.

Of course, no one really knows just what artificial intelligence will mean for jobs and the economy, but the technology is marching ahead. "Its potential is far greater than simply substituting technology for human labor," said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the M.I.T Sloan School of Management.




For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Jobs Created and Displaced." The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): A22.

(Note: the date of the online version of the article was June 24, 2010.)





June 24, 2010

U.S. Jobs Lost Due to Law Restricting Mexican Truck Drivers



CarbonlessPaperMachine2010-05-20.jpg"Carbonless paper comes off a coating machine at Appleton Papers in March. Mexican tariffs have hit sales." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) APPLETON, Wis.--Congress's vote last year to keep Mexican truck drivers south of the border was good news for DuWayne Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, 49 years old, owns a truck and hauls loads all over the U.S. from his home in Wisconsin. "Why should I have to compete against Third World drivers within my own borders?" Mr. Marshall asked during a break on a run to San Diego. "By closing down the borders, we are saving American jobs."

Elizabeth Villagomez, 38, isn't so sure. A single mother of two teens, she has worked at a paper plant in this community near Green Bay for 15 years. After the Mexican government retaliated against the trucking ban by slapping $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. paper, produce and other goods, orders plunged and managers began slashing shifts and overtime for the unionized work force.

"The company has done all it can to cut costs," Ms. Villagomez said. "I'm at the bottom of the list if they have layoffs. It's kind of scary, not knowing if you're going to have a job."


. . .


At Appleton Papers Inc., the fight over who can drive a truck across a border 1,600 miles away has translated into falling wages and rising anxiety.

Rick Bahr, head of the United Steelworkers union local that represents more than 500 employees at the Appleton plant, said six shifts have already been cut, cutting down on overtime.

"The battle ends up union versus union, truckers versus the paper workers," Mr. Bahr said. The national steelworkers' union has been supporting the Teamsters on the issue of Mexican trucks in the U.S.

Nearly half the company's revenue, about $420 million last year, comes from carbonless paper sales. Its largest foreign customer is Mexico. After Mexico put a 10% tariff on carbonless paper, revenue from Mexico fell to $37 million in 2009 from $46 million in 2008.

Now, more Mexican customers say they will look for alternative suppliers to avoid having to bear part of the tariff costs. Just last month a major customer told Appleton it was going to get its carbonless paper from a European producer.

Even before the tariffs were imposed, the company had seen business hit by the economic slowdown and had cut its work force in 2008 and stopped other benefits, such as reimbursing tuition and matching workers' contributions to their 401K retirement plans. Company officials said it was hard to quantify what part of the business downturn could be blamed directly on the tariffs, but they noted that Appleton sold 18% fewer tons of carbonless paper in the U.S. last year, compared with 2008. The number of tons sold to Mexican customers was down 24%.

Inside the plant, the machine that coats 4,000-pound rolls of paper to make it carbonless was idle one recent afternoon. Once run 24 hours a day, it is now used only half that time.

Kevin Bunnow, 50, a 33-year veteran of the plant, said the reduction in shifts had meant a wage cut of several thousand dollars last year.

"When elephants fight, the grass loses," he said. "It didn't take me long to realize, we're the grass."




For the full story, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Trade Dispute Divides Workers; It's 'Union vs. Union' as Ban on Mexican Trucks Cheers Drivers, Triggers Cut in Hours at Paper Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 24, 2010

FDR Cared About the Politics, But Not the Economics, of Social Security



(p. 116) Roosevelt's social security plan created an array of problems. First, it retarded recovery from the Great Depression by contributing to unemployment. From 1937 to 1940. employers and employees were docked for social security, and that money was out of private hands and lying fallow in the treasury. Lloyd Peck of the Laundryowners National Association concluded, "The burden of this proposal for employers to carry, through a payroll tax, will act as a definite curb on business expansion, and will likely eliminate many businesses now on the verge of bankruptcy."


. . .


(p. 117) When an accountant quizzed Roosevelt about the economic problems with social security, especially its tendency to create unemployment, he responded, "I guess you're right on the economics, but those taxes were never a problem of economics. They are politics all the way through." Roosevelt explained that "with those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program. That's why, as Roosevelt admitted, it's "politics all the way through." Most politicians, following Roosevelt's lead, have taken delight in raising social security payouts and using that gift to plead for votes from the elderly at election time.




Source:

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 2, 2010

Higher Unemployment Benefits May Result in Higher Unemployment Rates




The size and structure of the "safety net" is a subject of hot debate. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom suggested that higher benefits would lead to slower labor market adjustments.

There may have been multiple causes for the high unemployment rate in the U.K. in the 1920s and 1930s. But it is highly plausible that higher unemployment benefits would have made the unemployed more selective in which jobs they would accept, and hence would have contributed to higher rates of unemployment and higher average duration of unemployment.


(p. 7B) The ultimate evidence . . . is from the 1920s, when the Labour Party came to power in the U.K. for the first time. As scholars Daniel K. Benjamin and Levis Kochin pointed out in a Journal of Political Economy paper, the moment was one in which "unemployment benefits were on a more generous scale relative to wages than ever before or since."

The result was the mother of all jobless recoveries. For almost two decades, from 1921 to 1938, U.K. unemployment averaged 14 percent and never got below 9.5 percent.



For the full story, see:

Amity Shlaes. "Help can hurt job hunters." Omaha World-Herald (Friday April 16, 2010): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 8, 2010

If We Want More Jobs, We Need More (Steve) Jobs



(p. A19) Mr. Obama and his advisers need to grasp this essential fact: Entrepreneurs are not just a cute little subsector of the American economy. They are the whole game. They will give us tomorrow's Apples and the multiplier effect of small businesses and exciting new jobs that go with them. Entrepreneurs are necessary to keep our large multinationals on their toes. It's no coincidence that the entrepreneurial flowering of the 1970s forced a managerial revolution in large companies during the 1980s and 1990s. Without Steve Jobs, there would have been no Lou Gerstner to reinvent IBM in the '90s. Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs make everyone better.


For the full story, see:

RICH KARLGAARD. "Apple to the Rescue?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JANUARY 28, 2010): A19.





April 5, 2010

Daniel Pink on What Motivates Workers to Work Well



DriveBK.jpg













Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.




Daniel Pink's Free Agent Nation was a provocative account of how the entrepreneur benefits from being an entrepreneur. I enjoyed the book, and reference it frequently.

I have not had a chance to read Pink's recent Drive, but hope to do so soon.


(p. A17) Science, Mr. Pink says, has shown that we are motivated as much intrinsically, by the sheer joy and purpose of certain activities, as extrinsically, by rewards like pay raises and promotions.

The science that Mr. Pink is referring to rests largely on the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University. These three researchers have found that we do our best work when motivated from within, when we have control over our time and decisions and when we feel a deep sense of purpose. Under such conditions, we can achieve real mastery over whatever it is that we do.

The modern workplace, Mr. Pink laments, is too often set up to deny us this opportunity. Firms that hope to optimize efficiency by making their employees clock in and out, attend compulsory meetings, and receive pay for performance are de-motivating through excessive control. What they should be doing, he argues, is giving workers the chance to do their best work by granting them more autonomy and helping them to achieve the mastery that may come with it.

Mr. Pink cites an Australian software firm, Atlassian, that allows its programmers 20% of their time to work on any software problem they like, provided it is not part of their regular job. The programmers turn out to be much more efficient with that 20% of their time than they are with their regular work hours. Atlassian credits the 20% with many of its innovations and its high staff retention. Companies as large as Google and 3M have similar programs that have produced everything from Google News to the Post-It note.


. . .


. . . : Beyond serving our basic needs, money doesn't buy happiness. We need a greater purpose in our lives. Our most precious resource is time. We respond badly to conditions of servitude, whether the lash of the galley master or the more subtle enslavement of monthly paychecks, quarterly performance targets and the fear of losing health insurance. Work that allows us to feel in control of our lives is better than work that does not.     . . . , these lessons are worth repeating, and if more companies feel emboldened to follow Mr. Pink's advice, then so much the better.




For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "More Than a Paycheck; Workers are more efficient, loyal and creative when they feel a sense of purpose--when work has meaning." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 2, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated Feb. 5, 2010.)





March 27, 2010

An "Entrepreneur's Visa" to Let the Future Sergey Brin In



(p. A19) . . . , there is one way to create a lot more jobs without spending federal money. Let's import them. More precisely, let's import the people who create them: entrepreneurs.

A bipartisan bill that would begin to do just that was introduced on Feb. 24 by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R., Ind.). Their "Startup Visa Act" would create a new, two-year visa for immigrant entrepreneurs whose firms attract at least $250,000 in financing from American angel investors or venture capital firms.


. . .


Here's a way to improve on the Kerry-Lugar plan. Create a true "job creator's visa," one tied directly and only to job creation by new immigrant entrepreneurs. The visa could be a temporary one for immigrants already here on another visa who establish a business. It could then be extended if the firm hires at least one American non-family resident. The visa should become permanent once the enterprise crosses a certain job threshold (such as five or 10 workers). But it would not be tied to financing.


. . .


Google was founded by Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant, and American Larry Page by borrowing funds from their own credit cards. Why on earth would we want to create an entrepreneurs' visa that couldn't let in the future Sergey Brin?



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT E. LITAN. "Visas for the Next Sergey Brin; To create more jobs, let's import more employers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 8, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated MARCH 7, 2010.)





February 25, 2010

Largest Decline in Private Sector Union Members in 25 Years



(p. A3) Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years. The drop is on par with the fall in total employment but threatens to significantly limit labor's ability to influence elections and legislation.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported private-sector unions lost 834,000 members, bringing membership down to 7.2% of the private-sector work force, from 7.6% the year before. The broader drop in U.S. employment and a small gain by public-sector unions helped keep the total share of union membership flat at 12.3% in 2009. In the early 1980s, unions represented 20% of workers.



For the full story, see:

KRIS MAHER. "Union Membership Declines by 10%." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 23, 2010): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Union Membership Drops 10%.")





February 23, 2010

Entrepreneurial Judgment Can Be Right Even When It Is Hard to Articulate



Entrepreneurs may develop a good sense of people, even though they cannot articulate their judgment. Yet their firms, and our economy, might be more efficient and productive if they were allowed to follow their judgments, rather than follow Human Resource Department credentialism and paper trails.

The entrepreneurs might make mistakes, but in an open economy they would pay a price for their mistakes in profits foregone, and hence would have an incentive to correct the mistakes. And there would be plenty of alternative jobs for anyone mistakenly fired.



(p. 91) I've been wrong in my judgments about men, I suppose, but not very often. Bob Frost, one of our key executives on the West Coast, will remember the time he and I were checking out stores, and I got a very unfavorable impression of one of his young managers. As we drove away from the store I said to Bob, "I think you'd better fire that man." "Oh, Ray, come on!" he exclaimed. "Give the kid a break. He's young, he has a good attitude, and I think he will come along."

"You could be right, Bob," I said, "but I don't think so. He has no potential."

Later in the day, as we were driving back to Los Angeles, that conversation was still bugging me. Finally I turned to Bob and yelled, "Listen goddammit I want you to fire that man!"

One thing that makes Bob Frost a good executive is that he has the courage of his convictions. He also sticks up for his people. He's a retired Navy man, and he knows how to keep his head under fire. He simply pursed his lips and nodded solemnly and said, "If you are ordering me to do it, Ray, I will. But I would like to give him another six months and see how he works out."

I agreed, reluctantly. What happened after that was the kind of (p. 92) personnel hocus-pocus that government is famous for but should never be permitted in business, least of all in McDonald's. The man hung on. He was on the verge of being fired several times in the following years, but he was transferred or got a new supervisor each time. He was a decent guy, so each new boss would struggle to reform him. Many years later he was fired. The assessment of the executive who finally swung the ax was that "this man has no potential."

Bob Frost now admits he was wrong. I had the guy pegged accurately from the outset. But that's not the point. Our expenditure of time and effort on that fellow was wasted and, worst of all, he spent several years of his life in what turned out to be a blind alley. It would have been far better for his career if he'd been severed early and forced to find work more suited to his talents. It was an unfortunate episode for both parties, but it serves to show that an astute judgment can seem arbitrary to everyone but the man who makes it.



Source:

Kroc, Ray. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's. Chicago: Henry Regnary Company, 1977.





January 29, 2010

Another Boeing BHAG Takes Flight



BoeingDreamlinerFirstFlight2010-01-23.jpg "Members of the public watched the first test flight of the Boeing 787 on Tuesday in Everett, Wash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



In their stimulating business best-seller Built to Last Collins and Porrus have a chapter in which they argue that one way to attract and retain the best employees is to give them a difficult but important project to work on. They call such projects "BHAGs," which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Among their main examples (e.g., p. 104) of BHAGs were Boeing's development of the 707 and 747.

Boeing's latest BHAG is the 787 Dreamliner.


(p. A25) EVERETT, Wash. -- The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner lifted into the gray skies here for the first time on Tuesday morning, more than two years behind schedule and burdened with restoring Boeing's pre-eminence in global commercial aviation.

"Engines, engines, engines, engines!" shouted April Seixeiro, 37, when the glossy twin-engine plane began warming up across from where spectators had informally gathered at Paine Field. Ms. Seixeiro was among scores of local residents and self-described "aviation geeks" who came to watch the first flight.

Moments after the plane took off at 10:27 a.m., Mrs. Seixeiro was wiping tears from her eyes. A friend, Katie Bailey, 34, cried, too.

"That was so beautiful," Ms. Bailey said.



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "As 787 Takes Flight, Seattle Wonders About Boeing's Future." The New York Times (Weds., December 16, 2009): A25.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "A Takeoff, and Hope, for Boeing Dreamliner" and is dated December 15, 2009.)


The reference for the Collins and Porras book is:

Collins, James C., and Jerry I. Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: HarperBusiness, 1994.





January 25, 2010

Like Cesar Chavez, Union Intimidates Its Own Members



FrankVitaleAmeliaUnionOrganizer2010-01-16.jpg "Amelia Frank-Vitale, a former union organizer, said the practice of pink sheeting sent her into therapy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) After six years working in the laundry of a Miami hotel, Julia Rivera was thrilled when her union tapped her to become a full-time union organizer.

But her excitement soon turned to outrage.

Ms. Rivera said her supervisors at Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers' union, repeatedly pressed her to reveal highly personal information, getting her to divulge that her father had sexually abused her.

Later, she said, her supervisors ordered her to recount her tale of abuse again and again to workers they were trying to unionize at Tampa International Airport, convinced that Ms. Rivera's story would move them, making them more likely to join the union.

"I was scared not to do what they said," said Ms. Rivera, adding that she resented being pressured to disclose intimate information and then speak about it in public. "To me, it was sick. It was horrible."

Ms. Rivera and other current and former Unite Here organizers are speaking out against what they say is a longstanding practice in which Unite Here officials pressured subordinates to disclose sensitive personal information -- for example, that their mother was an alcoholic or that they were fighting with their spouse.

More than a dozen organizers said in interviews that they had often been pressured to detail such personal anguish -- sometimes under the threat of dismissal from their union positions -- and that their supervisors later used the information to press them to comply with their orders.

"It's extremely cultlike and extremely manipulative," said Amelia Frank-Vitale, a Yale graduate and former hotel union organizer who said these practices drove her to see a therapist.

Several organizers grew incensed when they discovered that details of their history had been put into the union's database so that supervisors could use that information to manipulate them.

"This information is extremely personal," said Matthew Edwards, an organizer who had disclosed that he was from a broken home and was overweight when young. "It is catalogued and shared throughout the whole organizing department."


. . .


(p. B5) Several organizers likened pink sheeting to a practice that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, used when he embraced a mind-control practice developed by Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center founded in Santa Monica, Calif. Union staff members were systematically subjected to intense, prolonged verbal abuse in an effort to break them down and assure loyalty.


. . .


Ms. Frank-Vitale, now a graduate student at American University, says she is still haunted by memories of pink sheeting.

"One night my supervisor pushed me and pushed me, and I started talking about being an overweight woman in America, what that was like in high school, that it was very difficult for me," she said. "I felt kind of violated."




For the full story, see:

STEVEN GREENHOUSE. "Some Organizers Protest Their Union's Tactics." The New York Times (Thurs., November 19, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 18, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)





January 19, 2010

Microsoft Hired Good People and Gave Them the Space and Privacy to Think



OfficeSpaceShrinks2010-01-16.jpg Not Microsoft. "Mark Clemente, a Steinreich Communications vice president, in the firm's smaller Hackensack, N.J., office." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


The article quoted below documents the trend in business toward small, and more open offices. I believe that this trend is largely a mistake.

Another trend in business (see Levy and Murnane 2004) is for more jobs to involve thinking and creativity. Thinking and creativity are harder in an environment of noise and frequent and unpredictable interruptions.

David Thielen's book on the secrets of Microsoft's success that said that Microsoft emphasized hiring really good people, and then respected them enough to give them an office with a door, so they could have the space and privacy to think and create (e.g., pp. 17-35 & 147-150).

Microsoft had the right idea.


(p. B7) The office cubicle is shrinking, along with workers' sense of privacy.

Many employers are trimming the space allotted for each worker. The trend has accelerated during the recession as employers seek to cut costs and boost productivity.


. . .

Tighter quarters and open floor plans also can present challenges. David Lewis, president of OperationsInc LLC, a Stamford, Conn., provider of human-resources services to more than 300 U.S. companies, says open floor plans and low cubicle walls can create discord and lead to increased turnover.

"Now everybody knows everybody else's business," he says. "It actually starts to create a level of tension in an office that never existed before. People can't focus on work because they're on top of each other."




For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "THEORY & PRACTICE; Office Personal Space Is Crowded Out; Workstations Become Smaller to Save Costs, Taking a Toll on Employee Privacy." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 7, 2009): B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Levy and Murnane book mentioned above, is:

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.


The Thielen book is:

Thielen, David. The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management: How to Think and Act Like a Microsoft Manager and Take Your Company to the Top. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.





December 29, 2009

Intel's Computer-on-a-Chip "Was Achieved Largely by Immigrants from Hungary, Italy, Israel, and Japan"



(p. 111) By launching the computer-on-a-chip, Intel gave America an enduring advantage in this key product in information technology--an edge no less significant because it was achieved largely by immigrants from Hungary, Italy, Israel, and Japan. Intel's three innovations of 1971--plus the silicon gate process that made them the smallest, fastest, and best-selling devices in the industry--nearly twenty years later remain in newer versions the most powerful force in electronics.




Source:

Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.





December 28, 2009

Doctorow's "Makers" Novel Paints Unrealistically Bleak View of Life with Creative Destruction



MakersBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.globalnerdy.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/makers.jpg



Awhile back I mentioned a science fiction book that made use of the process of creative destruction. Here's a discussion of another one---called Makers, it apparently adopts the unlikely premise that a world of creative destruction would have a 20% unemployment rate. (I say "unlikely" because the evidence is that in a world of creative destruction, as many new jobs are created as old ones are destroyed.)


(p. A19) Consider the world of "Makers," the latest by best-selling writer Cory Doctorow. This novel is set in a not-too distant future, when the creative destruction of technological change has created an economy so efficient, with profit margins so thin, that traditional companies can hardly stay in business.

The inventor-heroes of "Makers" take technology to its conclusion: They figure out a way to use three-dimensional printers to produce copies of machines and most anything else at close to no cost. This sparks "New Work," with geeky investment bankers scouring the country to fund promising artisans who use the technology to build things cheaply. The heroes also run a series of entertainment rides across the country in abandoned Wal-Marts, until Disney unleashes its lawyers on them.

Mr. Doctorow, a Canadian living in London, has a keen eye for the pressures on contemporary business. In the novel, an M.B.A. brought in to work with the inventors explains, "The system makes it hard to sell anything above the marginal cost of goods, unless you have a really innovative idea, which can't stay innovative for long, so you need continuous invention and reinvention, too."


. . .


In the world of "Makers," and perhaps in our own world, "we're approaching a kind of pure and perfect state now, with competition and invention getting easier and easier--it's producing a kind of superabundance."

Mr. Doctorow paints a bleak picture of the process of getting there, even if many of us take a more benign view of increasingly efficient capitalism. "Makers" features widespread unemployment, with 20% of workers relocating to look for jobs. Even with scientific advances--obesity is solved, for example--life is brutal. There are squatter neighborhoods alongside abandoned strip malls.




For the full story, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "Technology Is Stranger Than Fiction; Best-selling writer Cory Doctorow on change and its discontents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 23, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 13, 2009

Young Firms Create Two-Thirds of New Jobs



(p. A25) While a slight improvement over last month's numbers, today's employment update from the Bureau of Labor Statistics presents a dismal picture for American workers. As policy makers search for the best remedies to strengthen our economic performance, they can't afford to overlook new firms and young firms.

Unfortunately, in troubled economic times the language of recovery is too often tilted toward large, established companies or to "small businesses," a broad term that traditionally applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The conventional wisdom is that such businesses account for half of the labor force and are therefore the engine of future job creation.

That's not quite the case. The more precise factor is not the size of businesses, but rather their age. According to the Census Bureau, nearly all net job creation in the U.S. since 1980 occurred in firms less than five years old. A Kauffman Foundation report released yesterday shows that as recently as 2007, two-thirds of the jobs created were in such firms. Put more starkly, without new businesses, job creation in the American economy would have been negative for many years.


. . .


Entrepreneurs have a proven track record of job creation, especially in the early years of their firms. Eliminating or lowering the economic and regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of their success will pave the way for sustained expansion after the government's current stimulus measures come to their inevitable end.




For the full commentary, see:

CARL SCHRAMM, ROBERT LITAN AND DANE STANGLER. "New Business, Not Small Business, Is What Creates Jobs; Nearly all net job creation since 1980 occurred in firms less than five years old." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., NOVEMBER 6, 2009): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 9, 2009

Stimulus Recipients "Have Strong Incentives to Inflate Their Reported Numbers"



(p. A19) After reporting GDP, the government released new numbers claiming that the stimulus programs have "created or saved" over a million jobs. These data were collected from responses by government agencies that received federal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Agencies were required to report "an estimate of the number of jobs created and the number of jobs retained by the project or activity." This report is required of all recipients (generally private contractors) of agency funds.

Unfortunately, these data are not reliable indicators of job creation nor of the even vaguer notion of job retention. There are two major problems. The first and most obvious is reporting bias. Recipients have strong incentives to inflate their reported numbers. In a race for federal dollars, contractors may assume that the programs that show the most job creation may be favored by the government when it allocates additional stimulus funds.

No dishonesty on the part of recipients is implied or required. But when a hire conceivably can be classified as resulting from the stimulus money, recipients have every incentive to classify the hire as such. Classification as stimulus-induced is even more likely if a respondent must only say that, except for the money, an employee would have been fired. In this case, no hiring need occur at all.


. . .


Net labor market figures do exist. Administrations have always been held to the time-tested and well-understood monthly job numbers put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports the unemployment rate and the net job gain or loss for the economy as a whole. It is important to use reliable, accurate and well-understood numbers to determine the true causes of recovery. The unemployment rate, now at 9.8%, has continued to rise, and job losses have remained at high levels throughout the stimulus period. Few will be comforted by the good-news-only claim that the stimulus "created or saved" over one million jobs.




For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "Stimulus and the Jobless Recovery; Jobs 'created or saved' is meaningless. What matters is net job gain or loss, and that means the unemployment rate." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 2, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Nov. 1st.)





December 4, 2009

Calderón's Decision Is Bigger than Reagan's Firing of Air Traffic Controllers



ElectriciansProtestMexico2009-10-29.jpg"The Mexican Union of Electricians protests the government's decision to liquidate the state-owned electricity company in Mexico City." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A19) Eight days ago, just after midnight on a Sunday morning, Mexican President Felipe Calderón instructed federal police to take over the operations of the state-owned electricity monopoly, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which serves Mexico City and parts of surrounding states. The company's assets will stay in the hands of the government but will now be run by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), a national state-owned utility and the major supplier of LyFC's energy.

The net effect of the move is to dethrone 42,000 members of the Mexican Union of Electricians, which had won benefits over the decades to make Big Three auto workers in Detroit blush. When the liquidation is complete, it is expected that the company will employ about 8,000. To appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Calderón's decision, think of Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers--only bigger. As one internationally renowned Mexican economist remarked on Sunday, it is "the most important act of government in 20 years."



For the full commentary, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "Mexico's Calderón Takes on Big Labor; Its state-owned electricity company was bleeding the national treasury dry." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A19.





October 30, 2009

Samuel Johnson Saw Benefits of Free Markets



(p. A19) In "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland," an account of his travels with James Boswell through the Hebrides in 1773, Johnson vividly described the desolation of a feudal land, untouched by commercial exuberance. He was struck by the utter hopelessness in a country where money was largely unknown, and the lack of basic material improvements--the windows, he noticed, did not operate on hinges, but had to be held up by hand, making the houses unbearably stuffy.

He was even more struck by the contrast between places where markets thrived and those where they didn't. In Old Aberdeen, where "commerce was yet unstudied," Johnson found nothing but decay, whereas New Aberdeen, which "has all the bustle of prosperous trade," was beautiful, opulent, and promised to be "very lasting."

Johnson also understood that what Smith would later call the division of labor was instrumental for human happiness and progress. "The Adventurer 67," which he wrote in 1753 at the height of a commercial boom (and 23 years before Smith published "The Wealth of Nations"), delights in the sheer number of occupations available in a commercial capital like London.



For the full commentary, see:

ELIZA GRAY. "Samuel Johnson and the Virtue of Capitalism; The great 18th century writer on commerce and human happiness." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 11, 2009): A19.





October 17, 2009

Happy Entrepreneur: "Even When Things Get Tough, I'm Still in Control"



PeugeotRogerHappyPlumber2009-09-27.jpg "'Roger the Plumber' owns his own business and is excited to go to work every day." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1) By economic yardsticks, Roger the Plumber should be feeling pretty low. Roger Peugeot, owner of the 14-employee Overland Park, Kan., plumbing company that bears his name, is part of a sector hit hard by shrunken credit and slumping sales. He has been forced to reduce staff and is battling new competition from other plumbers fleeing the construction industry.

So why is Mr. Peugeot so happy? He genuinely likes fixing plumbing messes, for one thing, and despite the worst recession he has seen, "I'm still excited to get up and go to work every day," he says. He relishes running into people at the local hardware store whom he has helped in the past. And in hard times, he says, his fate is in his own hands, rather than those of a manager. "Even when things get tough, I'm still in control," he says.

In the broadest, most-comprehensive survey yet of how occupation affects happiness, business owners outrank 10 other occupational groups in overall well-being, based on the landmark survey of 100,826 working adults set for release today. Defined as self-employed store or factory owners, plumbers and so on, business owners surpassed 10 other occupational groups on a composite measure of six criteria of contentment, including emotional and physical health, job satisfaction, healthy behavior, access to basic needs and self-reports of overall life quality.

This puts Roger the Plumber well ahead of movers and shakers typically regarded as the top of the heap in society--professionals such as doctors or lawyers, who ranked second, and executives and managers in corporations or government, who came in third--according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a collaboration between Gallup and Healthways, a Franklin, Tenn., health-management concern. This is despite business owners ranking below those more-prestigious occupations in physical health and access to basic needs, such as health care.


. . .


"Despite the recession, it still pays to be your own boss," says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. The survey, adds John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "reaffirms my view that the more control you have over your work, the happier you are."



For the full story, see:

SUE SHELLENBARGER. "Plumbing for Joy? Be Your Own Boss." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 15, 2009): D1-D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 2, 2009

Empathetic Judges Are Unjust to Bastiat's "Unseen"



(p. A15) . . . , a compassionate judge would tend to base his or her decisions on sympathy for the unfortunate; an empathetic judge on how the people directly affected by the decision would think and feel. What could be wrong with that?

Frederic Bastiat answered that question in his famous 1850 essay, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." There the economist and member of the French parliament pointed out that law "produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them." Bastiat further noted that "[t]here is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen."

This observation is just as true for judges as it is for economists. As important as compassion and empathy are, one can have these feelings only for people that exist and that one knows about -- that is, for those who are "seen."

One can have compassion for workers who lose their jobs when a plant closes. They can be seen. One cannot have compassion for unknown persons in other industries who do not receive job offers when a compassionate government subsidizes an unprofitable plant. The potential employees not hired are unseen.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN HASNAS. "The 'Unseen' Deserve Empathy, Too." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 29, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





August 26, 2009

"How Do We Get on the Special Interests, Special Treatment Bandwagon?"



SodiumSilicatePouredIntoClunker2009-08-12.jpgUncreative destruction. "Jose Luis Garcia pours sodium silicate into a junkyard car engine to render it inoperable at a lot in Sun Valley, Calif., on Tuesday. The process destroys the car's engine in a matter of minutes." Source of photo and part of caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) WASHINGTON -- Who doesn't like the government's "cash for clunkers" program? Your mechanic, for one.

Owners of automotive repair shops say the program to help invigorate sales of new cars is succeeding at their expense.

Bill Wiygul, whose family owns four repair shops in Virginia, said he has already had five or six customers decide against repairs. A man who sits on the board of Mr. Wiygul's bank traded in his car rather than repair it. "He'd been a customer at our Reston store since it opened," Mr. Wiygul said.

The clunkers program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, offers subsidies of as much as $4,500 to consumers who trade in older vehicles and buy new, more fuel-efficient models. The program was initially given $1 billion. That money was spent in one week.

The Senate reached a deal to extend the clunkers program Wednesday night, agreeing to vote on a measure Thursday that would add $2 billion to the program, the Associated Press reported.

The House approve a $2 billion extension last week.

For Mr. Wiygul and other mechanics, until now the recession has brought them more customers as people fixed cars rather than go into debt for new ones. He has hired five people and is expanding one of the shops.

Auto dealers who offer the rebates on new cars in exchange for clunkers must agree to "kill" the old models by disabling the engines and shipping the dead vehicle to a junkyard.

The loss of such potential work -- as many as 250,000 vehicles will be destroyed in the program's first round -- prompted Mr. Wiygul to question the federal program's focus on dealers and big business at the expense of the little guy.

"How do we get on the special interests, special treatment bandwagon? How much is it going to cost me and to whom shall I send the check?" he said. "Who picks the winners in this game 'cause obviously the game is fixed."



For the full commentary, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Clunkers Plan Deflates Mechanics." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., AUGUST 6, 2009): A4.





August 10, 2009

Success Came Late to Author of Wizard of Oz



FindingOzBK.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



I remember a conversation with the late labor economist Sherwin Rosen on the substantial decline in research productivity of economists as they age. My memory is that he said the decline usually wasn't because of inability, but because, at some point, the older economists stop trying.

I think there's some truth to that. The belief that it is too late to succeed, can lead people to stop trying, and thereby make the prediction self-fulfilling.

Fortunately, L. Frank Baum kept trying:


(p. A15) If L. Frank Baum had been listed on the stock exchange in 1900, his shares would have been trading near historic lows. The soon-to-be famous author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" had at that point failed at a long series of energetic attempts to find a career. At 44, Baum had already been a chicken farmer, an actor, a seller of machinery lubricants, a purveyor of novelty goods and a newspaper publisher. All his life he'd written lively prose -- plays, ads, columns -- but most of it seemed to go nowhere.

Then, suddenly, it did. The story of a girl named Dorothy who with her little dog, Toto, travels to the wondrous land of Oz burst from Baum's pencil, almost taking him by surprise. "The story really seemed to write itself," he told his publisher. "Then, I couldn't find any regular paper, so I took anything at all, including a bunch of old envelopes." Turned into a proper book with defining illustrations by W.W. Denslow, the story most of us know as "The Wizard of Oz" was an immediate sensation in 1900. In a review, the New York Times commended it, saying that it was "ingeniously woven out of commonplace material." Baum would produce 13 sequels, though none had quite the sparkle of the first.



For the full review, see:

JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Books; Inventing a New World; The men who engineered the astonishing emergence of the modern age." Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 11, 2009): W8.


The book being reviewed, is:

Schwartz, Evan I. Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.





August 3, 2009

People Do Not Appreciate the Entrepreneur's Accomplishment



(p. A17) Bertrand de Jouvenel, writing in 1951 about popular attitudes toward income inequality in "The Ethics of Redistribution":

The film-star or the crooner is not grudged the income that is grudged to the oil magnate, because the people appreciate the entertainer's accomplishment and not the entrepreneur's, and because the former's personality is liked and the latter's is not. They feel that consumption of the entertainer's income is itself an entertainment, while the capitalist's is not, and somehow think that what the entertainer enjoys is deliberately given by them while the capitalist's income is somehow filched from them.


Source:

"Notable & Quotable." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 5, 2009): A17.

(Note: italics in original.)


Original source of de Jouvenel quote:

Jouvenel, Bertrand de. The Ethics of Redistribution. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund Inc., 1990 (originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1951).






July 18, 2009

"Build a Wall Around the Welfare State"



For a long time, I've been meaning to post a pithy comment on immigration policy from the Cato Institutes's Bill Niskanen.

The comment was related to the proposal to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico, in order to reduce illegal immigration. Some libertarians favor open immigration. Others believe that so long as we have a large welfare state, open immigration would impose high costs on the taxpayer, and thereby reduce economic growth. (I believe that I read Milton Friedman supporting this latter position, in the year or two before he died in 2006.)

In this context, Niskanen's pithy comment has appeal:


"Build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country."


Source:

William A. Niskanen on 11/19/07 at the meetings of the Southern Economic Association in New Orleans.





July 17, 2009

Time Diary Studies Show Most Work Fewer Hours than Reported



OverworkLongNoseCartoon.jpg












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



(p. W13) Sociologists have been studying how Americans spend their time for decades. One camp favors a simple approach: if you want to know how many hours someone works, sleeps or vacuums, you ask him. Another camp sees a flaw in this method: People lie. We may not do so maliciously, but it's tough to remember our exact workweek or average time spent dishwashing, and in the absence of concrete memories, we're prone to lie in ways that don't disappear into the randomness of thousands of answers. They actually skew results.

That's the theory behind the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ATUS, like a handful of previous academic surveys, is a "time diary" study. For these studies, researchers either walk respondents through the previous day, asking them what they did next and reminding them of the realities of time and physics, or in some cases giving them a diary to record the next day or week.

Time-diary studies are laborious, but in general they are more accurate. Aggregated, they paint a different picture of life than the quick-response surveys featured in the bulk of America's press releases. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation claims that Americans sleep 6.7 hours (weekdays) to 7.1 hours (weekends) per night. The ATUS puts the average at 8.6 hours. The first number suggests rampant sleep deprivation. The latter? Happy campers.

The numbers are equally striking with work. Back in the 1990s, using 1985 data, researchers John Robinson and his colleagues compared people's estimated workweeks with time-diary hours. They found that, on average, people claiming to work 40 to 44 hours per week were working 36.2 hours -- not far off. But then, as estimated work hours rose, reality and perception diverged more sharply. You can guess in which direction. Those claiming to work 60- to 64-hour weeks actually averaged 44.2 hours. Those claiming 65- to 74-hour workweeks logged 52.8 hours, and those claiming workweeks of 75 hours or more worked, on average, 54.9 hours. I contacted Prof. Robinson recently to ask for an update. His 2006-07 comparisons were tighter -- but, still, people claiming to work 60 to 69 hours per week clocked, on average, 52.6 hours, while those claiming 70-, 80-hour or greater weeks logged 58.8. As Mr. Robinson and co-author Geoffrey Godbey wrote in their 1997 book "Time for Life," "only rare individuals put in more than a 55-60 hour workweek."



For the full commentary, see:

LAURA VANDERKAM. "Overestimating Our Overworking." Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 29, 2009): W13.





July 13, 2009

Justice Department is Creating Barriers to Companies Trying to Create New Technologies



BarrettCraigIntel2009-06-20.jpg















Intel CEO Craig Barrett. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A9) Craig Barrett is spending the last days of his tenure as Intel chairman the same way he spent his previous 35 years at the corporation: moving at a superhuman pace that leaves exhausted subordinates in his wake.

Mr. Barrett has maintained this lifestyle since he replaced Andrew Grove as CEO of Intel in 1998. "Was it hard to follow a legend?" he asks himself in his typical blunt way, adding, "What do you think?" Mr. Barrett barely broke pace when he became chairman in 2005, and shows no sign of slowing even now, at age 69, as he faces retirement.


. . .


The latest thing that has him animated is the record $1.45 billion antitrust fine levied against Intel by the European Union this week. Mr. Barrett shakes his head and says, "The antitrust rules and regulations seem designed for a different era. When you look at high-tech companies, with the high R&D budgets, specialization and market creation they need to hold their big market shares, it's so very different from the old world of oil companies and auto makers that the antitrust regulations were designed for. They are out of sync with reality.

"And how do you reconcile European regulators, who don't believe that any company should have more than 50% market share -- even a market that company created -- with the way we operate here? Of course, now it seems as if our Justice Department is preparing to march in lock-step behind Europe. In the end, all they are going to do is create barriers to companies growing, entering into new markets, and bringing new technologies into those markets. And when we stop being the land of opportunity, all of those smart immigrant kids getting their Ph.D.s here are going to start heading home after they graduate. Then watch what happens to our competitiveness."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Barrett; From Moore's Law to Barrett's Rules; Intel's chairman on antitrust silliness and the secrets of high-tech success." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 16, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 12, 2009

Small Companies Created 80% of Net New Jobs in 1970s



(p. 298) David L. Birch and his associates at MIT gained a glimpse of this topsy-turvy domain during the late 1970s when they themselves entered the statistical skunkworks of the economy by conducting the most comprehensive and detailed analysis ever performed on the facts of American small business. Using records from a Dun & Bradstreet sample of 5.6 million firms, the Birch team reached the highly publicized conclusion that companies with fewer than 100 employees created 80 percent of the net new jobs in the U.S. economy during the 1970s. Data from the early 1980s confirmed these findings. In launching jobs, the last were manifestly first in U.S. capitalism.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.






June 22, 2009

French People Sleep More Than Those in Other Industrialized Countries



My hypothesis is not that the French are lazier than others, but that their labor policies give them less incentive to work.


(p. A8) PARIS -- When he won the presidential election two years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy urged the French to get up early and work more to earn more.

A study released Monday suggests they missed the wake-up call.

France is the industrialized country where people spend the longest periods sleeping, according to a series of surveys on social habits conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development.

The French sleep a daily average of 530 minutes, compared with 518 for Americans and 469 for Koreans -- the OECD's "most awake" nation, according to the study.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS. "France Wrests Title of Sleeping Giant." Wall Street Journal (Tues., MAY 5, 2009): A8.





June 20, 2009

"Hard Work is a Prison Sentence Only if it Does Not Have Meaning"



(p. 149) When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired and poor and overwhelmed, but he was alive. He was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination. And in his work, there was a relationship between effort and reward: the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.

Those three things -- autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward--are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make (p. 150) that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I'm guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money.

Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful. Being a physician is meaningful. So is being an entrepreneur, and the miracle of the garment industry--as cutthroat and grim as it was--was that it allowed people like the Borgenichts, just off the boat, to find something meaningful to do as well."" When Louis Borgenicht came home after first seeing that child's apron, he danced a jig. He hadn't sold anything yet. He was still penniless and desperate, and he knew that to make something of his idea was going to require years of backbreaking
labor. But he was ecstatic, because the prospect of those endless years of hard labor did not seem like a burden to him. Bill Gates had that same feeling when he first sat down at the keyboard at Lakeside. And the Beatles didn't recoil in horror when they were told they had to play eight hours a night, seven days a week. They jumped at the chance. Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 15, 2009

Becker and Farmer on the Economics of Discrimination



FarmerDonnaAndChildren2009-06-09.jpg "ROYAL SUBJECTS; Donna Farmer, with her children, applauds Disney's efforts." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In Gary Becker's initially controversial doctoral dissertation, he argued that those who discriminate in the labor market pay a price for their prejudice: they end up paying higher wages, than do those employers are not prejudiced.

The bottom line is that the free market provides incentives for the encouragement of diversity and tolerance.

Similarly, Donna Farmer argues, in the passages below, that the marketplace provides the Disney company with incentives to have "The Princess and the Frog" appeal to black audiences.


(p. 1) "THE Princess and the Frog" does not open nationwide until December, but the buzz is already breathless: For the first time in Walt Disney animation history, the fairest of them all is black.


. . .


After viewing some photographs of merchandise tied to the movie, which is still unfinished, Black Voices, a Web site on AOL dedicated to African-American culture, faulted the prince's relatively light skin color. Prince Naveen hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.

"Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worthy of the title of prince," Angela Bronner Helm wrote March 19 on the site. "His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking (p. 8) their head in befuddlement and even rage."

Others see insensitivity in the locale.

"Disney should be ashamed," William Blackburn, a former columnist at The Charlotte Observer, told London's Daily Telegraph. "This princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community."

ALSO under scrutiny is Ray the firefly, performed by Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Yosemite Sam). Some people think Ray sounds too much like the stereotype of an uneducated Southerner in an early trailer.

Of course, armchair critics have also been complaining about the princess. Disney originally called her Maddy (short for Madeleine). Too much like Mammy and thus racist. A rumor surfaced on the Internet that an early script called for her to be a chambermaid to a white woman, a historically correct profession. Too much like slavery.

And wait: We finally get a black princess and she spends the majority of her time on screen as a frog?


. . .


Donna Farmer, a Los Angeles Web designer who is African-American and has two children, applauded Disney's efforts to add diversity.

"I don't know how important having a black princess is to little girls -- my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that -- but I think it's important to moms," she said.

"Who knows if Disney will get it right," she added. "They haven't always in the past, but the idea that Disney is not bending over backward to be sensitive is laughable. It wants to sell a whole lot of Tiana dolls and some Tiana paper plates and make people line up to see Tiana at Disney World."



For the full article, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., May 31, 2009): 1, 8-9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The published version of Becker's doctoral dissertation is:

Becker, Gary S. The Economics of Discrimination. 2nd Rev ed, Economic Research Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.


DisneyPrincessAndFrog2009-06-09.jpg Movie still of Princess Tiana from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" to be released in December 2009. Source of movie still: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 12, 2009

Costs of Entry Were Low in Entrepreneurial Garment Industry in 1900



(p. 146) This was the second great advantage of the garment
industry. It wasn't just that it was growing by leaps and bounds. It was also explicitly entrepreneurial. Clothes weren't made in a single big factory. Instead, a number of established firms designed patterns and prepared the fabric, and then the complicated stitching and pressing and button attaching were all sent out to small contractors. And if a contractor got big enough, or ambitious enough, he started designing his own patterns and preparing his own fabric. By 1913, there were approximately (p. 147) sixteen thousand separate companies in New York City's garment business, many just like the Borgenichts' shop on Sheriff Street.

"The threshold for getting involved in the business was very low. It's basically a business built on the sewing machine, and sewing machines don't cost that much," says Daniel Soyer, a historian who has written widely on the garment industry. "So you didn't need a lot of capital. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was probably fifty dollars to buy a machine or two. All you had to do to be a contractor was to have a couple sewing machines, some irons, and a couple of workers. The profit margins were very low but you could make some money."



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





June 8, 2009

Jewish Immigrant Garment Entrepreneurs "Worked Hard"



(p. 145) "There is no doubt that those Jewish immigrants
arrived at the perfect time, with the perfect skills," says
the sociologist Stephen Steinberg. "To exploit that opportunity,
you had to have certain virtues, and those immigrants
worked hard. They sacrificed. They scrimped and
saved and invested wisely. But still, you have to remember
that the garment industry in those years was growing
by leaps and bounds. The economy was desperate for the
skills that they possessed."



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 4, 2009

The Meaningful Work of Immigrant Sweatshop Entrepreneurs



(p. 141) "To me the greatest wonder in this was not the mere
quantity of garments--although that was a miracle in
itself--" Borgenicht would write years later, after he
became a prosperous manufacturer of women's and children's
clothing, "but the fact that in America even poor
people could save all the dreary, time-consuming labor of
making their own clothes simply by going into a store and
walking out with what they needed. There was a field to
go into, a field to thrill to."

Borgenicht took out a small notebook. Everywhere he
went, he wrote down what people were wearing and what
was for sale--mens wear, women's wear, children's wear. He
wanted to find a "novel" item, something that people would
wear that was not being sold in the stores. For four more
days he walked the streets. On the evening of the final day
as he walked toward home, he saw a half dozen girls playing
hopscotch. One of the girls was wearing a tiny embroidered
apron over her dress, cut low in the front with a tie in the
back, and it struck him, suddenly, that in his previous days
of relentlessly inventorying the clothing shops of the Lower
East Side, he had never seen one of those aprons for sale.

He came home and told Regina. She had an ancient
sewing machine that they had bought upon their arrival in
America. The next morning, he went to a dry-goods store
on Hester Street and bought a hundred yards of gingham
and fifty yards of white crossbar. He came back to their
tiny apartment and laid the goods out on the dining room
table. Regina began to cut the gingham--small sizes for
toddlers, larger for small children--until she had forty (p. 142)
aprons. She began to sew. At midnight, she went to bed
and Louis took up where she had left off. At dawn, she rose
and began cutting buttonholes and adding buttons. By ten
in the morning, the aprons were finished. Louis gathered
them up over his arm and ventured out onto Hester Street.

"Children's aprons! Little girls' aprons! Colored ones,
ten cents. White ones, fifteen cents! Little girls' aprons!"

By one o'clock, all forty were gone.

"Ma, we've got our business," he shouted out to Regina,
after running all the way home from Hester Street.

He grabbed her by the waist and began swinging her
around and around.

"You've got to help me," he cried out. "We'll work
together! Ma, this is our business."




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





May 28, 2009

High State Taxes "Repel Jobs and Businesses"



StatesTaxingRichCartoon.jpg







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


(p. A17) . . . the evidence that we discovered in our new study for the American Legislative Exchange Council, "Rich States, Poor States," published in March, shows that Americans are more sensitive to high taxes than ever before. The tax differential between low-tax and high-tax states is widening, meaning that a relocation from high-tax California or Ohio, to no-income tax Texas or Tennessee, is all the more financially profitable both in terms of lower tax bills and more job opportunities.

Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.

Did the greater prosperity in low-tax states happen by chance? Is it coincidence that the two highest tax-rate states in the nation, California and New York, have the biggest fiscal holes to repair? No. Dozens of academic studies -- old and new -- have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.

. . .

. . . , Barry W. Poulson of the University of Colorado last year examined many factors that explain why some states grew richer than others from 1964 to 2004 and found "a significant negative impact of higher marginal tax rates on state economic growth." In other words, soaking the rich doesn't work. To the contrary, middle-class workers end up taking the hit.




For the full commentary, see:

ARTHUR LAFFER and STEPHEN MOORE. "Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich Americans know how to use the moving van to escape high taxes." Wall Street Journal (Mon., MAY 18, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 26, 2009

Gladwell Misses His Own Central Message: Long Hard Work Matters Most



OutliersBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://bharatkhetan.com/akanksha/?p=19



Malcolm Gladwell is on a roll. His three recent books have been best-sellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, and now Outliers. All three books are well-written, and deal with important issues.

I suspect that sometimes Gladwell over-simplifies and over-generalizes. But he often makes plausible, thought-provoking claims, and he presents academic research in a clear, painless way.

In the Outliers book, I enjoyed his examples: the NHL hockey players who are overwhelmingly born in the same three months, the entrepreneurial immigrant Jews entering the clothing business, silicon valley superstars having access to computers at an early age.

To Gladwell, the main point of the book is that over-achievers owe their success to lucky circumstances. But to me, the main point was a different one: in case after case, the successful put in a huge number of hours (about 10,000) of practice to achieve the mastery of their activities.

To use the memorable analogy from Collins' Good to Great: hour after hour, day after day, year after year, they all kept "pushing the flywheel" to reach the threshold of excellence.


The reference for Outliers is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.


The reference for Collins' book is:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.





May 22, 2009

OSHA Did Not Make the Workplace Safer



OSHAgraphViscusi1992c.gif Source of image of graph: http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/personal_pages/bob_reed/econ3003/book/chap26a.gif (Original source of graph: Viscusi, W. Kip, John M. Vernon, and Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. Economics of Regulation and Antitrust. 2nd ed. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992, page 714.)


The graph above, from a leading textbook on the economics of regulation, strikingly shows that OSHA had no discernible effect on reducing workplace accidents.

(Note: I am grateful to Susan Dudley who mentioned this graph in one of the Association of Private Enterprise Education sessions in Guatemala City, and who graciously elaborated the source in conversation afterwards.)





May 17, 2009

Joe Biden's "First Principle of Life": "Get Up!"



(p. xxii) To me this is the first principle of life, the foundational principle, and a lesson you can't learn at the feet of any wise man: Get up! The art of living is simply getting up after you've been knocked down. It's a lesson taught by example and learned in the doing. I got that lesson every day while growing up in a nondescript split-level house in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. My dad, Joseph Robinette Biden Sr., was a man of few words. What I learned from him. I learned from watching. He'd been knocked down hard as a young man, lost something he knew he could never get back. But he never stopped trying. He was the first one up in our house every morning, clean-shaven, elegantly dressed, putting on the coffee, getting ready to go to the car dealership, to a job he never really liked. My brother Jim said most mornings he could hear our dad singing in the kitchen. My dad had grace. He never, ever gave up, and he never complained. The world doesn't owe you a living, Joey," he used to say, but without rancor. He had no time for self-pity. He didn't judge a man by how many times he got knocked down but by how fast he got up.

Get up! That was his phrase, and it has echoed through my life. The world dropped you on your head? My dad would say, Get up! You're lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself? Get up! You got knocked on your ass on the football field? Get up! Bad grade? Get up! The girl's parents won't let her go out with a Catholic boy? Get up!



Source:

Biden, Joe. Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. New York: Random House, 2007.

(Note: the italics in the quoted passage are in the original.)





May 8, 2009

A Person's Bad Decisions Can't Be Blamed on Capitalism



LeeThomas2009-05-15.jpg "Thomas Lee, one of the men featured in the documentary "A Father's Promise," watching a video of himself from 1996." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) The program, with Al Roker as host, follows up a "Dateline NBC" report from 1996 that recorded several births among black women at a Newark hospital and interviewed the unmarried fathers of the children as they earnestly vowed to be there as their babies grew up. The piece was an attempt to look at the alarming rate of fatherless households among blacks.

It is, of course, a problem that has not gone away since 1996, and Mr. Roker's program tracks down three of those newborns and the fathers who promised to stand by them. That none did -- jail, joblessness, depression and general irresponsibility intervened -- somehow isn't surprising.

. . .


. . . the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers of Azusa Community Church in Boston explains in very personal terms why he discounts the easy economic explanations that so often get the blame for fatherless households.

"I had a child out of wedlock," he says. "That was a bad decision. I can't say capitalism did it to me."



For the full review, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "Television Review; 'A Father's Promise'; Old Pledges Are Broken, Young Hope Stays Intact." The New York Times (Sat., February 7, 2009): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 5, 2009

System of Capitalism without Capitalists Is Failing in Europe



(p. 164) The reason the system of capitalism without capitalists is failing throughout most of Europe is that it misconceives the essential nature of growth. Poring over huge aggregations of economic data, economists see the rise to wealth as a slow upward climb achieved through the marginal productivity gains of millions of workers, through the slow accumulation of plant and machinery, and through the continued improvement of "human capital" by advances in education, training, and health. But, in fact, all these sources of growth are dwarfed by the role of entrepreneurs launching new companies based on new concepts or technologies. These gains generate the wealth that finances the welfare state, that makes possible the long-term investments in human capital that are often seen as the primary source of growth.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





April 26, 2009

Rhee Offers DC Teachers Higher Pay If They Give Up Tenure



RheeMichelle2009-02-15.jpg








"Michelle Rhee, second from left, with faculty and staff members of Washington schools last month at an awards ceremony." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the Washington public schools, thinks teacher tenure may be great for adults, those who go into teaching to get summer vacations and great health insurance, for instance. But it hurts children, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire.

So Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.

Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Ms. Rhee's bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers' Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing.

. . .

Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal's recommendation or face dismissal.



For the full story, see:

SAM DILLON. "A School Chief Takes On Tenure, Stirring a Fight." The New York Times (Thurs., November 13, 2008): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 13, 2009

French Labor Holds Management Hostage---Literally



PolutnikNicolasFrenchHostage2009-04-10.jpg "French Caterpillar executive Nicolas Polutnik, center, with workers after his release Wednesday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) PARIS -- Of the 22,000 workers Caterpillar Inc. plans to lay off this year, the French ones have perhaps the most radical tactic for negotiating their severance deals.

In an aggressive, and peculiarly French, negotiating strategy, they held their managers hostage. The workers detained the director of their plant and four other managers for about 24 hours this week. Workers released them only after the company agreed to resume talks with unions and a government mediator on how to improve compensation for workers who are being laid off.

. . .


Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, surveyed 3,000 companies in 2004 and found that 18 of them had experienced an executive detention in the prior three years.




For the full story, see:

DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS and LEILA ABBOUD. "In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages." Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 3, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 12, 2009

Union Dynamited "True Industrial Freedom"


AmericanLightningBK.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. A23) The turn-of-the-20th-century war of capital and labor is not even half-remembered now. But the glum slab of the Los Angeles Times building will remind anyone who cares to look. The antiunion rallying cry of "True Industrial Freedom" is carved deeply into its façade. Completed in 1935, the building is a cenotaph for the 21 nonunion pressmen and linotype operators who were blown up on an early October morning in 1910 and died in a storm of fire and collapsing masonry.

The dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times was, for Howard Blum in "American Lightning," the war's decisive engagement. After it, a national campaign of union-led terrorism was exposed; labor sympathizers who defended the bombers were proved to be gullible (if not dishonest); and the political force of American socialism was wrecked. Reputations were wrecked, too, principally that of Clarence Darrow, who was then a renowned labor lawyer.

. . .


In 1910, Los Angeles was a young boomtown aching for water and respectability. To the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis, respectability included making sure that the city was uninfested by union labor. It was an era of deep enmity and suspicion between business and labor, when it was not uncommon for strikes to end in riots and death. Otis and the Times preached the open shop with such vehemence that it was almost inevitable that they would become targets of prounion wrath.

The dynamite conspiracy unraveled when a second, unexploded bomb in Los Angeles was found to match another bomb discovered a month earlier by a Burns operative in a rail yard in Peoria, Ill. Burns tied the evidence to a campaign of terror against the National Erectors Association, a union-busting alliance of builders. The target of the association's animus was the union shop in general and the Structural Iron Workers Union in particular. John McNamara was the union's secretary-treasurer. His brother James was a union agent. Their weapons against the association and its allies were nitroglycerine and dynamite.



For the full review, see:

D.J. WALDIE. "Bookshelf; Dynamite and Deadlines." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 16, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The reference to the book under review, is:

Blum, Howard. American Lightning. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.





January 15, 2009

Every Hour of Every Business Day "About 25,000 Jobs Are Destroyed and Created"


(p. A15) It's important to acknowledge that dynamic product markets create dynamic labor markets as well. In recent years, government statistics show that about 25,000 jobs are destroyed and created every hour that America is open for business. All this economic change is essential, but it presents very real challenges to workers.


For the full commentary, see:

MARTIN NEIL BAILY and MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER. "What's Behind the Recent Productivity Slowdown." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): A15.




January 11, 2009

Gains in Productivity Due to "Bipartisan Removal of Regulations that Stifle Competition and Innovation"


In the Clinton administration, Martin Neil Baily was the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. He is one of those Democratic economists, along with Brad DeLong and Larry Summers, who appreciates the importance of innovation through the process of creative destruction, in making our lives better.

(p. A15) The economic attention of U.S. government and business leaders is fixed squarely on the downturn and financial crisis. Whether or not bailouts are proper short-term medicine, economists agree that the long-run solution for restoring economic growth lies in raising productivity.

The single best measure of a country's average standard of living is productivity: the value of output of goods and services a country produces per worker. The more workers produce, the more income they receive, and the more they can consume. Higher productivity results in higher standards of living.

So how has U.S. productivity grown recently? Unfortunately, very slowly. After averaging 2.7% productivity growth from 1995 through 2002, annual growth of productivity in the nonfarming business sector has slowed dramatically -- to just 1.7% in 2005, 1.0% in 2006, and 1.4% in 2007. At this new average rate of under 1.4%, it would take nearly 52 years for average U.S. living standards to double -- versus just 26 years at the earlier average. Signs of this slowdown are apparent, particularly in the waning competitiveness of U.S. sectors like automobiles, financial services and information technology.

On Monday, we are issuing a new report that details a set of policies the government could implement to boost U.S. productivity growth. Time is of the essence in addressing this challenge because the economy-wide impacts of structural policies tend to appear only gradually, in part because of many-year corporate planning horizons. It is also because faster productivity growth will ease the burden of massive U.S. fiscal deficits now projected for the coming years.

A central theme of this report is the critical role that competitive product markets play in spurring productivity growth and boosting standards of living. One of the great U.S. policy successes of recent decades has been the bipartisan removal of regulations that stifle competition and innovation in product markets. U.S. industries that face strong competitive intensity are more productive than highly regulated or otherwise sheltered industries. This competition, in turn, yields higher incomes and greater choices for consumers.

Maintaining the productivity benefits of product market competition requires sound choices in areas including trade and investment, regulation and infrastructure.



For the full commentary, see:

MARTIN NEIL BAILY and MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER. "What's Behind the Recent Productivity Slowdown." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): A15.




January 10, 2009

Good Jobs and Bad Jobs


MathLumberjackCartoon.jpg










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


Labor is usually viewed as a victim of the process of creative destruction, because some old jobs are destroyed when a new technology replaces an old one. But part of the process is the creation of new jobs, and on average, the new jobs are created have better characteristics than the old jobs that are destroyed.

The article quoted below, discusses some of the characteristics that make a job better or worse.

(p. D2) Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation -- mathematician -- has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.

"It's a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school," says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. "It's the science of problem-solving."

The study, released Tuesday from CareerCast.com, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. (CareerCast.com is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)

The findings were compiled by Les Krantz, author of "Jobs Rated Almanac," and are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, as well as studies from trade associations and Mr. Krantz's own expertise.

According to the study, mathematicians fared best in part because they typically work in favorable conditions -- indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise -- unlike those toward the bottom of the list like sewage-plant operator, painter and bricklayer. They also aren't expected to do any heavy lifting, crawling or crouching -- attributes associated with occupations such as firefighter, auto mechanic and plumber.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs; Mathematicians Land Top Spot in New Ranking of Best and Worst Occupations in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 6, 2008): D2.

For the ranking of 200 jobs, and the components that went into the ranking, see:

http://www.careercast.com/jobs/content/JobsRated_Top200Jobs





December 26, 2008

Eastman Was a Self-Financed Entrepreneur


Mark Casson has argued that the more original the entrepreneur's innovation, the more likely he will need to finance all, or a large part, of it himself. To the extent that this is true, it represents an important argument for allowing the accumulation of wealth (and thereby an argument against substantial personal income, and inheritance, taxes.)

Here is an example, consistent with Casson's argument, of a self-financed entrepreneur:

(p. 36) The idea of loading film into a camera, snapping the picture and then sending the film to a store to be processed was the brainchild of an American from Rochester, New York, called George Eastman. One day in 1879, at the bank where he had worked since leaving school at the age of fourteen, he didn't get the promotion he was expecting. So he left and used his savings to set himself up as a "Maker and Dealer in Photographic Supplies." At this time, picture taking was a messy, cumbersome and expensive business, involving glass-late negatives, buckets of chemicals an monster wooden cameras. When Eastman had finished his experiments with the process, his slogan promised, "You press the button. We do the rest."


Source:

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.




November 22, 2008

"Three Generations from Overalls to Overalls"


(p. 156) Because it proceeds by competitively destroying old businesses and hence the existences dependent upon them, there always corresponds to it a process of decline, of loss of caste, of elimination. This fate also threatens the entrepreneur whose powers are declining, or his heirs who have inherited his wealth without his ability. This is not only because all individual profits dry up, the competitive mechanism tolerating no permanent surplus values, but rather annihilating them by means of just this stimulus of the striving for profits which is the mechanism's driving force; but also because in the normal case things so happen that entrepreneurial success embodies itself in the ownership of a business; and this business is usually carried on further by the heirs on what soon become traditional lines until new entrepreneurs supplant it. An American adage expresses it: three generations from overalls to overalls. And so it may be. Exceptions are rare, and are more than compensated for by cases in which the descent is still faster. Because there are always entrepreneurs and relatives and heirs of entrepreneurs, public opinion and also the phraseology of the social struggle readily overlook these facts. They constitute "the rich" a class of inheritors who are removed from life's battle. In fact, the upper strata of society are like hotels which are indeed always full of people, but people who are forever changing.


Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.




November 20, 2008

A Succinct Account of the Rise of Anti-Semitism


James Burke, writing of the ninth-century AD (the century of Charlemagne's death in 814 AD):

(p. 32) It was at this time too that anti-Semitism, previously rare, began to increase. Money-lending, which was forbidden by the Christian Church, was permitted under Jewish law, and the Jews, prevented from owning land, turned to the new business currency. Many of them grew rich and were resented.


Source:

Burke, James. The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo's Telescope Changed the Truth and Other Events in History That Dramatically Altered Our Understanding of the World. Back Bay Books, 1995.




October 30, 2008

Fewer Jobs Under Obama's High-Cost Health Plan


RatnerDavePetStore.jpg "Dave Ratner, owner of four pet stores in Western Massachusetts, is worried about being able to pay into a state health benefits plan." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) AGAWAM, Mass. -- Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City, is pretty sure he is about to get "whacked" by the new state law that requires employers to contribute to health care benefits for their workers or pay a $295-per-employee penalty. In order to avoid thousands of dollars in fines, Mr. Ratner is considering not adding part-time workers at his four pet supply stores in Western Massachusetts.

But the penalty in Massachusetts is picayune compared with what some health experts believe Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, might impose as part of his plan to provide affordable coverage for the uninsured. Though Mr. Obama has not released details, economists believe he might require large and medium companies to contribute as much as 6 percent of their payrolls.

That, Mr. Ratner said, would be catastrophic to a low-margin business like his, which has 90 employees, 29 of them full-time workers who are offered health benefits.

"To all of a sudden whack 6 to 7 percent of payroll costs, forget it," he said. "If they do that, prices go up and employment goes down because nobody can absorb that."



For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK. "Businesses Wary of Details in Obama Health Plan." The New York Times (Mon., October 27, 2008): A16.





October 20, 2008

Women Earn More than Men, in New York City

 

WomenMenNYCearningsOverTime.jpg   Source of the graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  Young women in New York and several of the nation’s other largest cities who work full time have forged ahead of men in wages, according to an analysis of recent census data.

The shift has occurred in New York since 2000 and even earlier in Los Angeles, Dallas and a few other cities.

Economists consider it striking because the wage gap between men and women nationally has narrowed more slowly and has even widened in recent years among one part of that group: college-educated women in their 20s. But in New York, young college-educated women’s wages as a percentage of men’s rose slightly between 2000 and 2005.

The analysis was prepared by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, who first reported his findings in Gotham Gazette, published online by the Citizens Union Foundation. It shows that women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men.

Just why young women at all educational levels in New York and other big cities have fared better than their peers elsewhere is a matter of some debate. But a major reason, experts say, is that women have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, and that many of those women seem to be gravitating toward major urban areas.

 

For the full story, see: 

SAM ROBERTS.  "For Young Earners in Big City, a Gap in Women’s Favor."  The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007):  A1 & A16.

 

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

 




September 29, 2008

Schumpeter Claimed Entrepreneurial Gains Result in New Jobs


From McCraw's summary of an article entitled "The Function of Entrepreneurs and the Interest of the Worker" that Schumpeter published in 1927 in a labor magazine :

(p. 178) Schumpeter's key point here is one he hammered home many times: it is the insatiable pursuit of success, and of the towering premium it pays, that drives entrepreneurs and their investors to put so much of their time, effort, and money into some new project whose future is completely uncertain. High entrepreneurial returns are essential to generate gains not only for individuals but also for society, through the creation of new jobs.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 15, 2008

Supporters of Racial Discrimination Fear Allowing People to Vote


(p. A9) A total of 24 states allow voters to change laws on their own by collecting signatures and putting initiatives on the ballot. It's healthy that the entrenched political class should face some real legislative competition from initiative-toting citizens. Unfortunately, some special interests have declared war on the initiative process, using tactics ranging from restrictive laws to outright thuggery.

The initiative is a reform born out of the Progressive Era, when there was general agreement that powerful interests had too much influence over legislators. It was adopted by most states in the Midwest and West, including Ohio and California. It was largely rejected by Eastern states, which were dominated by political machines, and in the South, where Jim Crow legislators feared giving more power to ordinary people.

But more power to ordinary people remains unpopular in some quarters, and nothing illustrates the war on the initiative more than the reaction to Ward Connerly's measures to ban racial quotas and preferences. The former University of California regent has convinced three liberal states -- California, Washington and Michigan -- to approve race-neutral government policies in public hiring, contracting and university admissions. He also prodded Florida lawmakers into passing such a law. This year his American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) aimed to make the ballot in five more states. But thanks to strong-arm tactics, the initiative has only made the ballot in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.

"The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place," says Donna Stern, Midwest director for the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). "That's the only way we're going to win." Her group's name certainly describes the tactics that are being used to thwart Mr. Connerly.

Aggressive legal challenges have bordered on the absurd, going so far as to claim that a blank line on one petition was a "duplicate" of another blank line on another petition and thus evidence of fraud. In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan completely rewrote the initiative's ballot summary to portray it in a negative light. By the time courts ruled she had overstepped her authority, there wasn't enough time to collect sufficient signatures.

Those who did circulate petitions faced bizarre obstacles. In Kansas City, a petitioner was arrested for collecting signatures outside of a public library. Officials finally allowed petitioners a table inside the library but forbade them to talk. In Nebraska, a group in favor of racial preferences ran a radio ad that warned that those who signed the "deceptive" petition "could be at risk for identity theft, robbery, and much worse."

Mr. Connerly says that it's ironic that those who claim to believe in "people power" want to keep people from voting on his proposal: "Their tactics challenge the legitimacy of our system."



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN FUND. "The Far Left's War on Direct Democracy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 26, 2008): A9.




September 10, 2008

Americans Happy with Work if Advancement is Possible


GrossNationalHappinessBK.gif












Source of book image: http://www.arthurbrooks.net/images/book-2.gif

(p. A13) In "Gross National Happiness," Mr. Brooks has assembled an array of statistics to measure the mood of America's citizens and to discover the reasons they feel as they do. Most often he cites polls that ask for self-described happiness levels, matching up the answers with various beliefs, habits, life choices or experiences.

And what exactly is happiness? Who knows? The term might refer joy or contentment or moral self-approval or material well-being or appetitive pleasure - or some combination of them all. Mr. Brooks is aware of the problem. He says that Potter Stewart, the Supreme Court justice, could have been describing happiness when he said, of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

. . .

He challenges those partial to tales about long-suffering Wal-Mart workers and surly burger flippers to rethink their victimology creed. The woe is not nearly as widespread as rumored: 89% of Americans who work more than 10 hours a week are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs while only 11% are not very satisfied or not at all satisfied. Most surprisingly, Mr. Brooks writes, there "is no difference at all in job satisfaction between those with below-average and above-average incomes."

What really makes Americans hate their jobs is a perception that advancement is impossible. And while Mr. Brooks agrees that the nation's income gap is growing, the national happiness level is steady. Just under one-third of American adults say that they are "very happy"; up to 15% are not too happy; and everyone else is somewhere in the middle. Those numbers have been roughly true since the early 1970s. More government spending doesn't seem to raise happiness levels, though direct government assistance may diminish it. Charitable giving, Mr. Brooks adds, generally lifts the spirits; Americans do a lot of it.



For the full review, see:

DAVE SHIFLETT. "Bookshelf; How to Be of Good Cheer." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 12, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




August 10, 2008

"We Educate Them and Then Tell them to Go Home"


(p. C3) The United States may be synonymous with the high-tech revolution, but it is in danger of losing its high-tech edge, according to Cybercities 2008, a report released Tuesday by AeA, a technology industry trade association.

Because the federal government does not issue a sufficient number of green cards or work visas to talented foreign students studying here, there are a "tremendous number of unfilled jobs," said Christopher Hansen, AeA's chief executive.

"We educate them and then tell them to go home. This is absurd," said Mr. Hansen, whose group has lobbied to increase the number of visas for foreign technology industry workers.



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "U.S. High Tech Said to Slip." The New York Times (Weds., June 25, 2008): C3.




August 7, 2008

Ordinary People Have Prospered in Recent Decades


CareyDrewLivingLarge.jpg




Source of image: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/02/blog-post_2174.html



Stephen Moore is right when he calls Drew Carey's "Living Large" video "wonderful."

It would be even more wonderful, if it gave a bit more emphasis, a la Schumpeter, to the positive effects of new products, in addition to its emphasis on declining prices of already existing products.

(p. W11) A few weeks ago I gave a talk on the state of the economy to a group of college students -- almost all Barack Obama enthusiasts -- who were griping about how downright awful things are in America today. As they sipped their Starbucks lattes and adjusted their designer sunglasses, they recited their grievances: The country is awash in debt "that we will have to pay off"; the middle class in shrinking; the polar ice caps are melting; and college is too expensive.

I've been speaking to groups like this one for more than 20 years, but I have never confronted such universal pessimism from a young audience. Its members acted as if the hardships of modern life are making it nearly impossible for them to get out of bed in the morning. So I conducted a survey of these grim youngsters. How many of you, I asked, own a laptop? A cellphone? An iPod, a DVD player, a flat-screen digital TV? To every question somewhere between two-thirds and all of the hands in the room rose. But they didn't even get my point. "Well, duh," one of them scoffed, "who doesn't have an iPod these days?" I was way too embarrassed to tell them that I, for one, don't. They thought that living without these products would be like going back to prehistoric times.

They seemed clueless that as recently as the early 1980s only the richest people in the world had cellphones and the quality of these products left much to be desired. Watch a movie from 20 years ago and you will laugh out loud seeing big clunky black machines that weighed as much as a brick, gave crackly service and cost $4,200. Now cellphones are practically free -- even disposable. And the cost of making calls has dropped dramatically too.

. . .

There's a wonderful new video on Reason.tv called "Living Large." In it, comedian Drew Carey goes to a lake in California where people are relaxing on $80,000 27-foot boats and goofing around on $25,000 jet skis that they have hitched to their $40,000 SUVs. Mr. Carey asks these boat owners what they do for a living. As it turns out, they aren't hedge-fund managers. One is a gardener, another a truck driver, another an auto mechanic and another a cop.

. . .

After my lecture, one young woman walked up to me on her way out and huffed: "What I favor is a radical redistribution of wealth in America." I tried to tell her that America's greatness is a result of our focus on creating wealth, not redistributing it. But it was too late -- she was already tuning in to her iPod.



For the full commentary, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "DE GUSTIBUS; The Bare Necessities: A Generation Tries to Imagine Life Without iPods." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 14, 2008): W11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The video is:

Carey, Drew. "Living Large: The Middle Class." reason.tv Posted February 8, 2008.




August 6, 2008

Obama Top Economist Likes Wal-Mart and Sees Improved Worker Living Standards


(p. C1) Acting quickly after securing his party's presidential nomination, Barack Obama picked a well-known representative of Bill Clinton's economic policies as his economic policy director and signaled this week that the major players from the Clinton economics team were now in his camp -- starting with Robert E. Rubin.

Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, hired Jason Furman, a Harvard-trained economist closely associated with Mr. Rubin, a Wall Street insider who served as President Clinton's Treasury secretary. Labor union leaders criticized the move, and said that ''Rubinomics'' focused too much on corporate America and not enough on workers.

. . .

(p. C4) Mr. Furman, who served for a while as a special economic adviser in the Clinton administration, has taken some controversial positions. He argued in 2005, for example, that Wal-Mart, despite its conflicts with organized labor over pay and health insurance, was a good business model.

More recently, he argued that while the typical worker suffers from inadequate income, that worker's living standards, broadly measured, are higher today than those of their counterparts 30 years ago -- an argument in dispute among economists.

. . .

Until now, Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago, had been Mr. Obama's chief economic adviser. He remains an unpaid adviser. He said he was not a candidate for Mr. Furman's full-time job because of his university duties.



For the full story, see:

LOUIS UCHITELLE. "Union Critical of Obama's Top Economics Aide." The New York Times (Thurs., June 12, 2008): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 21, 2008

Free Trade Defended By Democratic Leadership Council Founder


(p. A15) Where are the pro-trade Democrats? America won't increase middle-class incomes and create jobs without them.

. . .

History proves that expanding trade and productivity help create growth. We learned that the hard way when the Smoot-Hawley tariff helped crush trade and exacerbate the Great Depression. Conversely, we have seen trade drive the economy during the great expansions of the 1960s and 1990s.

. . .

Trade gives poor people around the globe the opportunity to build a brighter future. During the Clinton administration, new trade programs like the African Growth and Opportunity Act helped key regions in the world succeed, while American workers stood to gain.

I helped found the Democratic Leadership Council in the wake of Walter Mondale's 49-state defeat in 1984, and we have always supported expanded trade. We still have a ways to go to win that argument in the Democratic Party. But the record is clear. Over the past 20 years, our party has grown stronger when we've been willing to do the right thing on the toughest issues, from putting the nation's fiscal house in order to overhauling a broken welfare system that trapped millions in poverty.



For the full commentary, see:

AL FROM. "Confessions of a Pro-Trade Democrat." The Wall Street Journal
(Mon., June 9, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 14, 2008

"Innovation Has Helped Lift Untold Numbers Out of Poverty"


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

(p. A23) . . . the impact of our technological innovation has helped lift untold numbers out of poverty.

This technology has created massive amounts of change. Like the Industrial Revolution before it, the current transformation is anything but pain-free. It's what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction. Google, Craigslist and Microsoft have been prospering. General Motors, United Airlines and the New York Times have not. In the midst of layoffs in the newsroom, it's hard to see anything good happening in the rest of the economy.



For the full commentary, see

BRIAN WESBURY. "Change We Can Believe In Is All Around Us." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 11, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




July 11, 2008

University of Nebraska Foundation Contributes to Racial Discrimination


Some of us believe that the government should not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or religion. Unfortunately, governments in the past and present have sometimes mandated or practiced discrimination. Examples from the past would include the Jim Crow laws that mandated racial discrimination against Afro-Americans.

A present example would be the mis-named "affirmative action" laws that mandate racial discrimination against whites.

In the article quoted below, note who has taken a stand on which side of this issue.

Is it appropriate for the University of Nebraska Foundation to be donating $25,000 to support the continuation of racial discrimination?

Note also the opposing positions of two 2006 Republican candidates for Senate: David Kramer is leading the drive to continue racial discrimination, while Pete Ricketts is contributing to ending racial discrimination.

(p. 1A) LINCOLN -- Leaders of the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative called their anti-affirmative-action push one of the most successful petition drives in recent state history. But it's not yet known whether their proposed ban will go before voters in November.

"The citizens demand the opportunity to vote on the use of race and gender preferences and discrimination in state hiring, state contracts and state education," said Marc Schniederjans, treasurer of the group that said it submitted more than 167,000 signatures Thursday.

. . .

David Kramer, spokesman for the opposition group Nebraskans United, said he wasn't disheartened by the number of petition signatures or over the prospect that petition organizers said they planned to submit more signatures today.

. . .

(p. 2A) Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition provided $370,750 of the $467,250 raised by the Nebraska petition group as of June 25. According to state records, the next largest donors were Paul Singer, a New York businessman, $50,000; William Grewcock, a former executive with Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., $25,000; and failed GOP U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ricketts, $25,000.

For Nebraskans United, the largest donations toward that group's $308,167 war chest have come from Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett, $50,000; philanthropist Richard Holland, $50,000; Dianne Lozier, Lozier corporate counsel, $50,000; Wallace Weitz, president of an Omaha-based mutual fund management company, $50,000; the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, $36,250; the University of Nebraska Foundation, $25,000; and the Nebraska State Education Association, $25,000.



For the full story, see:

MARTHA STODDARD. "Petitions Turned In; Fight Far from Over." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., July 4, 2008): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online title of the article is "Anti-affirmative-action petitions turned in; verifying to begin.")




June 30, 2008

The Inefficiency of a Labor Safety Net


IndiaMilkStall.jpg


"Government milk is sold mostly through curbside milk stalls. Some customers don't find the milk stands appealing since they can be dingy and the milk sometimes bad." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) MUMBAI -- Every workday morning, milkman D.T. Walkar faithfully comes to Worli Dairy to not deliver milk.

Most days, he and his fellow drivers at the government dairy sign in, then move to the rest area. While others read the paper, nap or play rummy, Mr. Walkar likes to do the Sudoku puzzle in the Maharashtra Times, unless someone else has gotten to it first. He then wanders around the complex and talks to friends. The last delivery trucks were sold last year. "The trucks are all gone so we just sit around and talk," says Mr. Walkar, 50 years old. "We are bored."

Once respected civil servants, Mr. Walkar and his 300-odd fellow drivers have been left in a strange limbo. Milk sales at their dairy have plummeted as the state government lost its monopoly on milk and consumer tastes changed. But because Indian work rules strictly protect government workers from layoffs, the delivery men show up for work each morning for eight-hour shifts, as they always did, then proceed to do nothing all day. They rarely, if ever, leave the plant.

. . .

(p. A5) In 2001, the Indian government started opening the dairy market in Maharashtra to competition. Private carriers with higher quality milk swiftly won customers by delivering milk to doorsteps. The government milkmen have always been restricted to delivering mostly to curbside milk stalls so they could cover a greater area.

Customers swiftly deserted. Many switched to heat-treated milk in sealed packages that resist spoiling. Some ditched the government's former best sellers of sweet Pineapple milk and spicy Masala milk for Coca-Cola and Sprite as Indian tastes westernized. Others never found the milk stands appealing -- they can be dingy and the milk sometimes bad.


For the full story, see:

ERIC BELLMAN. "Out to Pasture: India's Milkmen Bide Their Time; No Work, Secure Job Put Them in Limbo; Where's the Sudoku?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 29, 2008): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


IndiaMilkmenSleepingOnJob.jpg "Because Indian work rules protect government workers from layoffs, 300-odd former milk truck drivers show up at the Worli Dairy for work each morning just as they always did, then do nothing all day. To pass the time, the men do puzzles, yoga or just sleep off the hours. Once, they tried planting a garden." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




June 19, 2008

In Many Capitalist Companies "People Think They're Involved in Socialism"


Empirical comparisons between capitalism and socialism are in some ways unfair to capitalism, because many capitalism managers act as though they believed in socialist ideas. The difference in productivity and economic growth would be even greater, if capitalist managers consistently acted as though they believed in capitalism. Consider the following, from a portion of Execution written by Larry Bossidy:

(p. 73) Larry: When I see companies that don't execute, the chances are that they don't measure, don't reward, and don't promote people who know how to get things done. Salary increases in terms of percentage are too close between top performers and those who are not. There's not enough differentiation in bonus, or in stock options, or in stock grants. Leaders need the confidence to explain to a direct report why he got a lower than expected reward.

A good leader ensures that the organization makes these distinctions and that they become a way of life, down throughout the organization. Otherwise people think they're involved in socialism. That isn't what you want when you strive for a culture of execution. You have to make it clear to everybody that rewards and respect are based on performance.



Source:

Bossidy, Larry, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business, 2002.

(Note: in the book, the quotation is presented as being Bossidy's.)




June 5, 2008

Factory Work Was Better than the "Abysmal" Alternatives


Levy and Murnane show that the computer has, on average, benefitted the situation of labor. After I presented a similar example at the Summer Institute in 2007, Dave Mitch asked me if this was in general true of advances in technology, or if it might be an exceptional case.

If computers represent one example of creative destruction, another example, in the process variety, would be the advent of factory production. In the following passage, Rosenberg and Birdzell suggest that factories also benefitted the situation of labor:

The low wages, long hours, and oppressive discipline of the early factories are shocking in that the willingness of the inarticulate poor to work on such terms bespeaks, more forcefully than the most eloquent words, the even more abysmal character of the alternatives they had endured in the past. But this was not the way the romantics of the nineteenth century read the message of the factories. (R & B 1986, p. 173)

In the above passage, Rosenberg and Birdzell suggest that the abysmal alternatives to factory work, that the poor faced, may partly have been the result of the enclosure movement having worsened the situation of the lowest agricultural workers, by denying them access to the fallow lands for animal grazing. But, in the passage below, they also imply that to some extent it may just have been due to the secularly persistent suffering that had long characterized much rural life.

Neither the entrepreneurs who built the factories nor anyone else supposed that they were engaged in a work of charity or an exercise of social conscience. But whatever the moral quality of their intentions, their actions advanced the interests of a down-trodden subproletariat---a subproletariat in part, perhaps, characteristic of pre-industrial societies and, in part, drawn from an agricultural work force hard pressed by the enclosure movement and a high rate of growth in agricultural productivity. (R & B 1986, p. 174)

They further point out that, although everyone was supposed to be compensated for losses from enclosure, the interests of the poorest were not well-represented in the decision-making bodies:

In theory, the acts compensated the cottagers for the loss of their common rights by giving them some of the enclosed land. But the cottagers were not effectively represented in Parliament, and there is much reason to believe that the compensation was in practice inadequate. (R & B 1986, p. 171)

DeLong and Summers note enclosure as one of the major institutional/policy actions that enabled a past episode of creative destruction to create a past 'new economy.' But the fact (if it is a fact) that a majority of farm labor was hurt by the enclosure, does not imply that this had to have been the case. It may in fact illustrate one of the major pints of DeLong and Summers, namely that it is extremely important to try to get institutions and policies right.


Sources mentioned above:

DeLong, J. Bradford, and Lawrence H. Summers. "The "New Economy": Background, Questions and Speculations." Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Review (2001): 29-59.

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.

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.




May 8, 2008

Creative Destruction Brings Triumph of Brain Over Brawn in the Labor Market


(p. 435) . . . , the inexorable growth in the proportion of our GDP that is conceptual, especially technological, has increased the value of intellectual power relative to the value of human brawn many times over many generations. I am old enough to remember when physical prowess on the job was the source of legend and reverence. A large statue of Paul Bunyan, the mythical logger, still oversees the northern Minnesota lake country. Stevedores of a century ago were extolled for their brute strength. Today, the activities once carried out by stevedores are often run by young women at a computer console.

Source:

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.




April 16, 2008

The Free Market Works


The story quoted below tells how outsourcing high-tech jobs to India has bid up the salaries of high-tech Indian engineers, thereby reducing the appeal of further outsourcing. Marvelous how the market works!

Another lesson from the story applies to forecasting: mechanical extrapolation of current trends is inferior to prediction that takes account of predictable changes in prices (in this case, salaries).


(p. A15) Around the century's turn, when U.S. companies first began flooding to India for its cheap labor, pundits warned that the subcontinent could increasingly rob the U.S. of high-end white-collar jobs. Debate was especially sharp in Silicon Valley, then in a slump, because India annually turns out nearly 500,000 engineering graduates.

. . .

Several years on, the forces of globalization are starting to even things out between the U.S. and India, in sophisticated technology work. As more U.S. tech companies poured in, they soaked up the pool of high-end engineers qualified to work at global companies, belying the notion of an unlimited supply of top Indian engineering talent. In a 2005 study, McKinsey & Co. estimated that just a quarter of India's computer engineers had the language proficiency, cultural fit and practical skills to work at multinational companies.

The result is increasing competition for the most skilled Indian computer engineers and a narrowing U.S.-India gap in their compensation. India's software-and-service association puts wage inflation in its industry at 10% to 15% a year. Some tech executives say it's closer to 50%. In the U.S., wage inflation in the software sector is under 3%, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Rafiq Dossani, a scholar at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center who recently studied the Indian market, found that while most Indian technology workers' wages remain low -- an average $5,000 a year for a new engineer with little experience -- the experienced engineers Silicon Valley companies covet can now cost $60,000 to $100,000 a year. "For the top-level talent, there's an equalization," he says.


For the full story, see:

Pui-Wing Tam and Jackie Range. "Second Thoughts: Some in Silicon Valley Begin to Sour on India; A Few Bring Jobs Back As Pay of Top Engineers In Bangalore Skyrockets." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 3, 2007): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 29, 2008

"I Intend to Be Visible, But Only in Ways I Wish to Be Seen"


The passages below are from a WSJ summary of an October 12, 2007 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

(p. A7) After feeling increasingly alienated by college celebrations of black heritage, English Prof. Jerald Walker opted to redefine his role on campus.

. . .

Prof. Walker decided he had had enough during a commencement ceremony for black students. He had misgivings over the concept itself: "After so recently celebrating our country's staunchest promoter of integration, I was being asked to celebrate segregation."

Afterward, he made the decision that he would no longer participate in events simply because of the color of his skin. "I intend to be visible," he says, "but only in ways I wish to be seen."


For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Universities; Black Professor Rebels Against Expected Campus Role." Wall Street Journal (Oct. 13, 2007): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 28, 2008

For First Time, Planet Earth is More Urban than Rural


PushpakExpress.jpg "Sarla Deepak Ire sells guavas on the Pushpak Express, from Lucknow to Mumbai, earning less than $3 a day." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 3) ABOARD THE PUSHPAK EXPRESS, India -- The man with neatly parted hair stood in the doorway of the hurtling train. And then, at the perfect moment, he jumped.

This was not about suicide, however. It was about tea.

Having popped out of the door, he clung to the knobs and rods of the train's exterior with one hand. His other hand gripped a vat of scalding tea tied to his belt.

He glided like a rock climber across the train's epidermis, from one foothold to the next. He reached the steel beam that connected the cars and walked it like a tightrope. Then, arriving at the next car, he hopped onto more footholds and, at last, ducked inside to utter his sales pitch: "Tea! Tea! Get your hot tea!"

Such acrobatics are not required on most of the world's trains, nor in this train's first- and second-class cars, which are connected with inside passageways. But this was third class on the Pushpak Express, a $6, 24-hour ride ferrying migrants from India's bleak heartland to the thriving coastal megalopolis of Mumbai, formerly Bombay. And in an echo of the ancient caste system, these passengers are physically sealed off from the compartments of the luckier born.

These passengers are also part of a great migration that is changing the world. Goldman Sachs, which has published projections about the Indian economy, predicts that 31 villagers will continue to show up in an Indian city every minute over the next 43 years -- 700 million people in all. This exodus, with a similar one in China, helped push the world over a historic threshold this year: the planet, for the first time, is more urban than rural.

. . .

Sonu Gupta, 15, was one of what the veterans call "new men." With his wiry frame, he looked more like 10. He was traveling with a friend from his village. If he can find work in Mumbai, Mr. Gupta will become his family's breadwinner. "I'm happy," he said, "and I'm scared."


For the full story, see:

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS. "Rumbling Across India Toward a New Life in the City." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., November 25, 2007): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


PushpakExpressIndiaMap.jpg







Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




March 25, 2008

Government Post-Doc Funding Creates "Glut" of Scientists


The quotes below from a WSJ summary of a Nov. 16, 2007 The Chronicle of Higher Education article, suggests that we do not need to worry about the sometimes-alleged "shortage" of scientists and engineers:


(p. B14) The federal dollars pumped into university science departments has created more scientists and engineers than the market wants, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, vice president of Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which sponsors research, at a hearing in Congress last week. Mr. Teitelbaum said the federal government should find a way to adjust how it funds university research so that university departments don't end up using the extra money to add graduate students and postdoctoral fellows

For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Science; U.S. Faces a Glut (Really) of Scientists, Engineers." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 13, 2007): B14.




March 14, 2008

Co-Working in the Free Agent Nation


HillmanAlexWebEntrepreneur.jpg








"Web entrepreneur Alex Hillman got together with a group of work-at-home businesspeople to create a hip space to work in Philadelphia." Souce of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1D) "I always felt an obligation to the coffee shop. I was taking up precious space," Hillman said. "I was definitely drinking more coffee than I should have, so I wasn't sleeping."

 Even before he left his job, he had begun to learn about co-working, not to be confused with job-sharing, where two people take turns in the same stall in the cube farm.

Instead, think of co-working as an entrepreneurial version of parallel play, with owners of their own small businesses working side by side in a drop-in place that looks like a coffee cafe, minus the barista, with all the accoutrements of what's hip: high ceilings, beer fridge, pool table and Internet access.

Paying as little as $175 a month, they mostly work on their own. But they also trade ideas, help solve problems, and move in and out of loose collaborations.

Today's technology -- wireless access, cell phones, BlackBerries and laptops -- makes a mobile work force possible.

"I think when people work at home they have to come up with new ways to interact with people," said Daniel H. Pink, one of the first authors to write about independent contractors in his 2001 book "Free Agent Nation."


For the full story, see: 

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.  "Workplace; A step up from working in pj's."   Omaha World-Herald   (Monday, September 17, 2007):  1D & 2D.

 

The refererence to the Pink book is:

 Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




March 8, 2008

Median Household Income Rose, and Poverty Rate Fell, in 2006

 

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

 

(p. A1)  . . .  slight improvements in household income and a drop in the poverty rate came during a period of job growth, particularly toward the end of 2006, and declining inflation as a result of falling oil prices.  .  . .

Some Republicans seized on the new data as evidence that Bush administration policies had been good for people's pocketbooks. In a statement, President Bush said the news was a sign that Congress should not raise taxes. The data, he said, confirmed "that more of our citizens are doing better in this economy, with continued rising incomes (p. A14) and more Americans pulling themselves out of poverty."

. . .

Over all, the nation's median household income rose to $48,201 in 2006, from $47,845 in 2005. It was the second consecutive year in which income rose slightly faster than inflation, after five years of decline.

Douglas J. Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, said that while the year-to-year increase in household income was small, the broader picture over the last few decades was more promising and more important.

"Over all," Mr. Besharov said, "a lot of groups have done better over the last 40 years."

 

For the full story, see: 

ABBY GOODNOUGH.  "Census Presents Mixed View of the Economy."  The New York Times  (Weds., August 29, 2007):  A1 & A14.

(Note:  the online version of the article had the title:   "Census Shows a Modest Rise in U.S. Income.")

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




March 6, 2008

Chinese Wages and Productivity Rise


      "At the Dahon bicycle plant in Shenzhen, China, pay has risen 10 to 15 percent a year, but productivity gains have held down costs."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SHENZHEN, China, Aug. 28 -- At the Dahon bicycle factory here, Zhang Jingming's fingers move quickly and methodically -- grabbing bicycle seats, wrapping them in cardboard and smoothly attaching them to frames.

Working a 45-hour week, Mr. Zhang makes the equivalent of $263 a month; as recently as February, he was making just $197. Some of his higher pay comes from working more efficiently. "When I first started, I wasn't this fast," he said.

But a good portion reflects a raise Mr. Zhang got: to 1.45 cents for each bicycle seat from 1.32 cents. It is a small difference that signifies major change.

Chinese wages are on the rise. No reliable figures for average wages exist; the government's economic data are notably unreliable. But factory owners and experts who monitor the nation's labor market say that businesses are having a hard time finding able-bodied workers and are having to pay the workers they can find more money.

And higher wages in China are likely to lead to higher prices in the United States -- at the mall, at the grocery, even at the gas pump.

Chinese companies are already passing along some of their higher costs to overseas customers. Prices for goods from China, after years of gradual decline, have risen 1.2 percent since February, according to the Labor Department. July's increase was the biggest yet: 0.4 percent compared with June. Chinese companies and contractors are also passing on the cost of the rising value of their currency, the yuan, up 8.8 percent against the dollar in the last two years.

For decades, many labor economists said that China's vast population would supply a nearly bottomless pool of workers. So many people would be seeking jobs at any given time, this rea-(p. A9)soning went, that wages in this country would be stuck just above subsistence levels. As recently as four years ago, some experts estimated that most of the perhaps 150 million underemployed workers in the countryside would be heading to cities.

Instead, sporadic labor shortages started to appear in 2003 at factories in the Pearl River delta of southeastern China. Now those shortages have spread to factories up and down the Chinese coast, specialists say.

. . .

(p. A9) The hardest variable to judge in China's changing labor market is the pace of productivity growth. Since there are few reliable statistics, the best way to assess productivity is to look at individual factories like the Dahon operation here, which produces bicycles that collapse for easy storage.

David T. Hon, chief executive of the privately held Dahon Group, said that while he had been raising wages 10 to 15 percent a year, the average labor cost for each bicycle had actually edged downward. This is possible, he said, because sales are growing 30 percent a year and increasingly large-scale production has brought savings. The cost of engineering a new bicycle design, or handling the accounting and other back-office operations, is spread over more and more bicycles as production rises.


For the full story, see: 

KEITH BRADSHER.  "Wages Are on the Rise in China As Young Workers Grow Scarce."  The New York Times   (Weds., August 29, 2007):  A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

PriceChineseImportsGraph.jpg     Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




March 5, 2008

Britain's "Novel Immigration Problem": Too Few Polish Immigrants


PolishSausage.jpg "Polish women selling sausages at the Borough Market in London. The British have also grown to enjoy Polish food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the International Herald Tribune version of the article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) LONDON, Oct. 18 -- When Piotr Farbiszewski landed here three years ago, he had enough money in his pocket to live for two weeks.

A successful technology consultant in Warsaw, he and his wife, Ela, a schoolteacher, had come to London to try it on for size; if they liked it, they would stay. To earn money, he worked as a builder while she flipped hamburgers.

They decided that they liked London, and within a year, Mr. Farbiszewski was a senior programmer at a software company. In March, the couple bought a small terraced house outside London, where they plan to raise a family.

"We're very happy here," Mr. Farbiszewski, 31, said. "The quality of life is better, the economy is stronger, there is less bureaucracy, it's a multicultural society and the lady in the supermarket will smile at me. People don't smile at each other in Poland."

The Farbiszewskis are small players in one of Europe's most successful immigration stories. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and Britain, unlike France and most other members, welcomed Polish workers, an estimated 1.1 million Poles, mainly young, have come to Britain. Today, they are the third-largest group of immigrants in the country, behind (p. C5) Irish and Indians.

Britain has benefited. On Tuesday, the Home Office estimated that immigration added £6 billion ($12.3 billion) to the nation's economy last year. According to David Blanchflower of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, East European immigration has also reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services.

Indeed, Britain may soon face a novel immigration problem. As Poland's economy has improved this year, immigration has slowed, which economists say could cause labor shortages in British industries.


For the full story, see:

JULIA WERDIGIER. "As the Poles Get Richer, Fewer Seek British Jobs." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2007): C1 & C5.





February 25, 2008

Regular Employees Migrate to Pink's "Free Agent Nation"

 

   "Luis H. Rodriguez, an I.B.M. executive, with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2, often works from his home or on the road."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Daniel Pink in his Free Agent Nation argued that a growing number of American workers would want the control, challenge and freedom of working for themselves as entrepreneurs, or "free agents."  To attract workers who have the option of being free agents, it is plausible that employers increasingly will have to offer jobs that provide workers with greater autonomy.  The article quoted below, suggests that this may in fact be happening, at least in information technology firms. 

 

(p. A1)  SOMERS, N.Y. -- It's every worker's dream: take as much vacation time as you want, on short notice, and don't worry about your boss calling you on it. Cut out early, make it a long weekend, string two weeks together -- as you like. No need to call in sick on a Friday so you can disappear for a fishing trip. Just go; nobody's keeping track. 

That is essentially what goes on at I.B.M., one of the cornerstones of corporate America, where each of the 355,000 workers is entitled to three or more weeks of vacation. The company does not keep track of who takes how much time or when, does not dole out choice vacation times by seniority and does not let people carry days off from year to year.

Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch.

"It's like when you went to college and you didn't have high school teachers nagging you anymore," said Mark L. Hanny, I.B.M.'s vice president of independent software vendor alliances. "Employees like that we put more accountability on them."

. . .

(p. 18)   Aided by broadband connections, cellphones and video conferencing software, 40 percent of I.B.M.'s employees have no dedicated offices, working instead at home, at a client's site, or at one of the company's hundreds of "e-mobility centers" around the world, where workers drop in to use phones, Internet connections and other resources.

. . .

Luis H. Rodriguez, the director of market management in I.B.M.'s software group, said he visits his office here in Somers about once a week, working the rest of the time on the road or at his home in Ridgefield, Conn., where he sat one recent afternoon at the kitchen table with his laptop open.

He said that in six years at I.B.M. he can recall only one time when he asked a co-worker not to take a long weekend off -- when their group was about to buy another company -- and that calling colleagues or checking e-mail while visiting relatives in Texas or Illinois is a fair trade for being able to work from home so he can spend more time with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2.

. . .

"If you look at the organizations that have done more radical things, they tend to be technology companies with salaried people," where flexibility in job performance "is embedded into the culture of the place," noted Max Caldwell, a managing principal in the work force effectiveness area at Towers Perrin, a human resources consultant.

Indeed, I.B.M.'s Mr. Calo said that the flexibility has helped the company compete with the more freewheeling atmosphere at start-up rivals in the technology world that have lured away some of its talent over the years.

 

For the full story, see:

KEN BELSON.  "At I.B.M., a Vacation Anytime, Or Maybe No Vacation at All."   The New York Times  (Fri., August 31, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

The reference for the Pink book, is:

Pink, Daniel H.  Free Agent Nation:  How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




February 24, 2008

Innovative New Products Often Expensive at First, But Price Soon Falls


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

(p. 14) To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn't always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most -- the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.


For the full commentary, see:

W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM. "You Are What You Spend." The New York Times Company, Week in Review section (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.




February 16, 2008

Persistence and Efficiency Matter More than Teamwork and Enthusiasm, for CEO Success

 

 





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

 

(p. B3)  What are the traits that chief executives of successful companies share? A new study suggests that hard-nosed personal virtues such as persistence and efficiency count for more than "softer" strengths like teamwork or flexibility.

The findings are sure to intensify debate about how much toughness is appropriate in a CEO. Some famously hard-charging bosses of big companies have retired or been shunted aside in recent years. Successors at companies such as General Electric Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are seen as quieter, less strident team-builders.

But the new study, by three University of Chicago business-school professors, draws on detailed personal assessments of 313 CEO candidates to present a starker view of good leadership's ingredients. Of these candidates, 225 were hired. Their subsequent performance fuels most of the study's conclusions.

"We found that 'hard' skills, which are all about getting things done, were paramount," says lead author Steven Kaplan, a professor of finance and entrepreneurship. "Soft skills centering on teamwork weren't as pivotal. That was a bit of a surprise to us."

Prof. Kaplan and colleagues Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen didn't size up the CEOs themselves. Instead, they tapped into a consultant's database long coveted by academic researchers. It contains assessments of individuals' strengths and weaknesses compiled by ghSmart Inc. The Chicago management-assessment company evaluates CEO candidates on behalf of corporate clients.


For the full story, see:

GEORGE ANDERS. "THEORY & PRACTICE; Tough CEOs Often Most Successful, A Study Finds."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., November 19, 2007):  B3.



Included with the WSJ article was an interesting summary table:


LEADING PROFILE

Here are five CEO traits that correlate most closely with business success at buyout companies -- and five that score lowest, according to University of Chicago researchers.

Traits that matter...

• Persistence
• Attention to detail
• Efficiency
• Analytical skills
• Setting high standards

...and not so much

• Strong oral communication
• Teamwork
• Flexibility/adaptability
• Enthusiasm
• Listening skills





February 2, 2008

Unhappy Italians: "More Fear than Hope"

 

    "A priest passes an abandoned garage covered with graffiti in Milan. Italy's malaise, an economic, political, and social funk, was summed up in a recent poll: Italians report themselves to be the least happy people in Western Europe."  Source of caption and photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  ROME — All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk.  Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself.   The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister.  “There is more fear than hope.”

. . .

. . .   In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain.  Now Spain, which joined the European Union only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.

Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest.

. . .

(p. A18)  . . .  entrepreneurs complain that they are alone. Politicians offered little help making Italy competitive, and this remains a major impediment to making their gains grow. Businesses want less bureaucracy, more flexible labor laws and large investments in infrastructure to make moving goods around easier.

. . .  

. . .   Many worry . . . that Italy may share the same fate as the Republic of Venice, based in what many say is the most beautiful of cities, but whose domination of trade with the Near East died with no culminating event. Napoleon’s conquest in 1797 only made it official.

Now it is essentially an exquisite corpse, trampled over by millions of tourists.  If Italy does not shed its comforts for change, many say, a similar fate awaits it: blocked by past greatness, with aging tourists the questionable source of life, the Florida of Europe.

. . .  

. . .   “We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.”

“We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

IAN FISHER  "In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment."  The New York Times  (Thurs., December 13, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 




January 30, 2008

Information Technology Increases Choices on Where to Live

 

Stephanie and Bill Faunce moved their marketing company from Los Angeles to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Information technology is making life better by providing greater choice on where to live.  There is still a lively debate about which regions and cities will prosper.

One popular take on this issue is Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class.  

 

(p. A1)  As technology enables people to live and work wherever they want, increasingly they are clustering in resort playgrounds like Steamboat Springs (pop. 9,315) that have natural amenities, good weather — and, now, lots of people like themselves.

In places like Nantucket, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Teton County, Idaho, the migrants are creating hybrid communities, implanting urban incomes, tastes, careers, ambitions, restaurants, cultural activities and networking opportunities into small towns that un-(p. A15)til recently could support none of these, and for which there has been little planning and still no consensus.

“You are seeing a transformation of rural communities,” said Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute in Jackson, Wyo., a nonprofit organization that studies small recreational towns.

Into quiet resort spots the migrants have come, laptops on their knees: fund managers from New York, software developers from California, consultants, proofreaders, engineers, inventors. “The same processes that led to the suburbanization of the United States after World War II,” Mr. Schechter said, “are now producing a virtual suburbanization in places like Jackson or Steamboat Springs.”

From 2000 to 2006, population in the 297 counties rated highest in natural amenities by the United States Department of Agriculture grew by 7.1 percent, 10 times the rate for the 1,090 rural counties with below-average amenities, the department reported.

In towns that once emptied after the ski season or the beach season, these “location-neutral” migrants are complicating the traditional dynamic between tourists and locals. Here as elsewhere, average homes have become unaffordable for teachers, firefighters and others — the people who created the good schools and community closeness that newcomers said drew them. The rate of change “is causing a whiplash,” Mr. Schechter said, “because the towns don’t have the political and economic systems in place to deal with them.”

Routt County, which includes Steamboat Springs, is one of the first places to identify these new émigrés as a source of economic growth and, paradoxically, community stability. A 2005 survey found that as many as 1 in 10 year-round households was involved in a location-neutral business. Unlike retirees and second-home buyers, who are also roosting in vacation towns, they send children to the local schools. “Without kids, you don’t have a community,” said Scott Ford, a counselor at the Small Business Resource Center at Colorado Mountain College.

Cloistered in home offices, isolated from the local economy, location-neutrals are often invisible even to one another, except when they appear on local committees.

Many work as hard as their urban counterparts, often juggling commitments in several time zones, but can step from their offices to a hiking trail or mountain stream.

. . .

For Bill and Stephanie Faunce, who run a marketing company for cable operators, small-town life often means starting work at 7 a.m. and quitting at 11 p.m., but with breaks to hike, ski or be with their two young children. Their goal in coming here was not to slow down but to eliminate urban distractions and pressures.

“There are no stressors here,” said Mr. Faunce, 43. “In L.A., it took 90 minutes to get to the office, so we had a Mercedes and a Land Rover. Now we drive a Suburban. In three years we’ve put 15,000 miles on it.”

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN LELAND.  "Off to Resorts, and Carrying Their Careers."  The New York Times  (Mon., August 13, 2007):  A1 & A15.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The reference for Florida's book, is:

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

 

UrbanRefugeesMaps.gif   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




January 27, 2008

Raghuram Rajan on the Current Economic Downturn and the Subprime Mortgage Mess

 

       "Traders in the oil futures pit of the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday" (January 22. 2008).  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below. 

 

Raghuram Rajan is mentioned in the article quoted below.  I first ran across him as the co-author of a book that was billed as applying Schumpeterian ideas of creative destruction to issues of economic growth and development. 

Then, at the American Economic Association meetings in New Orleans in early January, I was on my way to a History of Economics Society reception, when I stumbled by chance into a modest reception in which Rajan was giving an informal speech on the subprime mortgage crisis.

It was such an interesting presentation, that I ended up totally missing the History of Economics Society reception.  Rajan argued that the main problem was one of misguided incentives.  Bonuses at top investment firms like Merrrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, are supposed to go to those whose investments produce high returns, with modest risks.  The problem with the complicated securities based on the subprime mortgages was that they produced high returns, but the risks were actually also fairly high.  The high-flying investors probably had some knowledge of this, but the public did not.  In most years the investors could invest in the high return, but high risk, securities, and collect huge bonuses.  But now the chickens have come home to roost.

Rajan suggested that the answer would be a change in the way in which the traders are given bonuses.  Instead of handing them out annually, let them become vested only after observing the investment's track record for several years.  If the investment goes south before the bonus is vested, the trader does not get the bonus.  This would provide an incentive and reward for those who accurately accessed the risk of their investments. 

 

(p. A1)  . . . , Wall Street hasn't yet come clean. Even after last week, when JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo announced big losses in their consumer credit businesses, financial service firms have still probably gone public with less than half of their mortgage-related losses, according to Moody's Economy.com. They're not being dishonest; they just haven't untangled all of their complex investments.

"Part of the big uncertainty," Raghuram G. Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said, "is where the bodies are buried."

As Mr. Rajan pointed out, this situation is more severe than the crisis involving Long Term Capital Management in the late 1990s. That was a case in which a limited set of bad investments, largely at one firm, had the potential to drive down the value of other firms' holdings in the short term. Those firms then might have stopped lending money because they no longer had the capital to do so. But their own balance sheets were largely healthy.

This time, the firms are facing real losses, which will almost certainly curtail lending, and economic growth, this year.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; Worries That the Good Times Were Mostly a Mirage."  The New York Times  (Weds., January 23, 2008):  A1 & A23.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

The Schumpeterian book co-authored by Rajan, is:

Rajan, Raghuram G., and Luigi Zingales.  Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists:  Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity.  New York:  Crown, 2003.

 




January 22, 2008

Alaska Air Used Skunk Works to Develop Check-In Innovation

 

AlaskaAirDeparturesTable.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

The innovation described in the article excerpted below is credited as arising from a 'skunk works' project.  There's a neat book called Skunk Works that describes how Lockheed set up an autonomous unit to develop the first stealth air force technology.  (Their plant was in a smelly part of town, so it was dubbed the 'Skunk Works.')

Clayton Christensen has recommended that established incumbent companies set up skunk works operations in order to develop disruptive technologies that would not survive if they were developed within the main corporate culture and infrastructure. 

(In the article excerpted below, it is puzzling to read that Alaska Air went to the trouble to take out a patent, even though they apparently have no intention of enforcing it.) 

 

(p. B1)  ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- When the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was planning a new concourse, prime tenant Alaska Airlines insisted on a counterintuitive design: "The one thing we don't want is a ticket counter," said Ed White, the airline's vice president of corporate real estate.

So the 447,000-square-foot Concourse C, which opened in 2004, has only one small, traditional ticket counter, even though the carrier's 1.2 million Anchorage passengers checked in through that area last year. This unconventional approach -- which uses self-service check-in machines and manned "bag drop" stations in a spacious hall that looks nothing like a typical airport -- has doubled Alaska's capacity here, halved its staffing needs and cut costs, while speeding travelers through the building in far less time.

. . .

(p. B4)  Alaska's design in Anchorage has turned heads in the industry, and in 2006 the airline was awarded a U.S. patent for the check-in process, something it calls the two-step flow-through. Mr. White says his company isn't trying to keep competitors from going down the same path, but pursued the patent more to reward the many employees who helped to bring the idea to fruition.

Other airlines quickly sent scouts up to Anchorage to check out the new concourse, including a team from Delta Air Lines Inc., Mr. White says. A few months ago, Delta completed a $26 million renovation of its check-in hall at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the finished product looks remarkably similar to that of Alaska Airlines. Greg Kennedy, Delta's vice president for customer service there, says the new layout has enabled the airline to process passengers checking in during the peak spring break travel period in 20 to 30 minutes at most, compared with two or three hours three years ago -- and all in the same amount of square footage but 50% more usable space. Mr. Kennedy says he isn't aware of a visit to Anchorage but doesn't dispute it.

. . .  

Alaska, the nation's ninth-largest carrier by traffic, started a "skunk works" lab a decade ago to figure out how to use technology to make air travel less of a hassle for passengers. Out of that effort came the airline's ground-breaking ability to sell tickets on the Internet and allow fliers to check in online, developments other carriers quickly followed.

 

For the full story, see: 

SUSAN CAREY.  "Case of the Vanishing Airport Lines; Alaska Air Speeds Up Flow Of Passengers by Jettisoning Traditional Ticket Counters."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., August 9, 2007):  B1 & B4.

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




January 21, 2008

Inventor's House Had Tunnel to Escape Luddites who Smashed His Invention

 

HeathcoteBoltHole.jpg    "The bolt hole was designed to hide from angry textile workers."  Source of caption and photo:  the BBC article quoted and cited below, and viewable at   http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/leicestershire/4791069.stm

  

A series of secret rooms and a tunnel have been discovered under a building in Loughborough. The secret living quarters belonged to John Heathcote, a man who invited the fury of the Luddites after inventing a lace-making machine in the early 1800s.

 . . .

Keeper of Charnwood Museum Susan Cooke added: "We don't know if (John Heathcote) did actually hide down there because he fled Loughborough and went to Devon."

 . . .

Activists smashed Heathcote's lacemaking machine in Loughborough in 1816.

 

For the full story, see:

"Workmen discover secret chambers."  BBC News online. Last updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2006.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

(Note: Wikipedia spells the name as "Heathcoat.")





December 31, 2007

Only Two Living Americans Are Among 30 All-Time Wealthiest

 

   Source:  screen capture of a flash animated graphic that appears in the online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  The flash animated graphic allows you to move your cursor along the circles representing wealth, and at the top of the graphic appears the picture and a brief bio of the person who owned that amount of wealth (such as Rockefeller in the screen capture above).

 

(p. 18)  Mr. Weill’s beginnings were . . . inauspicious. A son of immigrants from Poland, raised in Brooklyn, a so-so college student, he landed on Wall Street in a low-level job in the 1950s. Harnessing entrepreneurial energy, deftness as a deal maker and an appetite for risk, with a rising stock market pulling him along, he built a financial empire that, in his view, successfully broke through the stultifying constraints that flowed from the New Deal. They were constraints not just on what business could or could not do, but on every high earner’s take-home pay.

“I once thought how lucky the Carnegies and the Rockefellers were because they made their money before there was an income tax,” Mr. Weill said, never believing in his younger days that deregulation and tax cuts, starting in the late 1970s, would bring back many of the easier conditions of the Gilded Age. “I felt that everything of any great consequence was really all made in the past,” he said. “That turned out not to be true and it is not true today.”

 

The Question of Talent

Other very wealthy men in the new Gilded Age talk of themselves as having a flair for business not unlike Derek Jeter’s “unique talent” for baseball, as Leo J. Hindery Jr. put it. “I think there are people, including myself at certain times in my career,” Mr. Hindery said, “who because of their uniqueness warrant whatever the market will bear.”

He counts himself as a talented entrepreneur, having assembled from scratch a cable television sports network, the YES Network. “Jeter makes an unbelievable amount of money,” said Mr. Hindery, who now manages a private equity fund, “but you look at him and you say, ‘Wow, I cannot find another ballplayer with that same set of skills.’ ”

. . .

 

The New Tycoons

The new Gilded Age has created only one fortune as large as those of the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and the Vanderbilts — that of Bill Gates, according to various compilations. His net worth, measured as a share of the economy’s output, ranks him fifth among the 30 all-time wealthiest American families, just ahead of Carnegie. Only one other living billionaire makes the cut: Warren E. Buffett, in 16th place.

. . .

 

“I don’t think it is unreasonable,” he said, “for the C.E.O. of a company to realize 3 to 5 percent of the wealth accumulation that shareholders realize.”

That strikes Robert C. Pozen as a reasonable standard. He made a name for himself — and a fortune — overseeing the investment department at Fidelity.

Mr. Weill makes a similar point. Escorting a visitor down his hall of tributes, he lingers at framed charts with multicolored lines tracking Citigroup’s stock price. Two of the lines compare the price in the five years of Mr. Weill’s active management with that of Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway during the same period. Citigroup went up at six times the pace of Berkshire.

“I think that the results our company had, which is where the great majority of my wealth came from, justified what I got,” Mr. Weill said.

 

New Technologies

Others among the very rich argue that their wealth helps them develop new technologies that benefit society. Steve Perlman, a Silicon Valley innovator, uses his fortune from breakthrough inventions to help finance his next attempt at a new technology so far out, he says, that even venture capitalists approach with caution. He and his partners, co-founders of WebTV Networks, which developed a way to surf the Web using a television set, sold that still profitable system to Microsoft in 1997 for $503 million.

Mr. Perlman’s share went into the next venture, he says, and the next. One of his goals with his latest enterprise, a private company called Rearden L.L.C., is to develop over several years a technology that will make film animation seem like real-life movies. “There was no one who would invest,” Mr. Perlman said. So he used his own money.

 

For the full story, see: 

LOUIS UCHITELLE.  "Age of Riches; The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., July 15, 2007):  1 & 18-19. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   Entrepreneur Leo J. Hindery, Jr.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 18, 2007

Massaging Millions from Google

 

"Bonnie Brown joined Google when it had 40 employees."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 11 — Bonnie Brown was fresh from a nasty divorce in 1999, living with her sister and uncertain of her future. On a lark, she answered an ad for an in-house masseuse at Google, then a Silicon Valley start-up with 40 employees. She was offered the part-time job, which started out at $450 a week but included a pile of Google stock options that she figured might never be worth a penny.

After five years of kneading engineers’ backs, Ms. Brown retired, cashing in most of her stock options, which were worth millions of dollars. To her delight, the shares she held onto have continued to balloon in value.

“I’m happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it’s been pouring,” said Ms. Brown, 52, who now lives in a 3,000-square-foot house in Nevada, gets her own massages at least once a week and has a private Pilates instructor. She has traveled the world to oversee a charitable foundation she started with her Google wealth and has written a book, still unpublished, “Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.”

When Google’s stock topped $700 a share last week before dropping back to $664 on Friday, outside shareholders were not the only ones smiling. According to documents filed on Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google employees and former employees are holding options they can cash in worth about $2.1 billion. In addition, current employees are sitting on stock and unvested op-(p. A16)tions, or options they cannot immediately cash in, that together have a value of about $4.1 billion.

Although no one keeps an official count of Google millionaires, it is estimated that 1,000 people each have more than $5 million worth of Google shares from stock grants and stock options.

 

For the full story, see:

KATIE HAFNER. "Google Options Make Masseuse a Multimillionaire."  The New York Times  (Mon., November 12, 2007): A1 & A16.

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. 

 




December 2, 2007

Effective Foreign Aid

 

   "HOMELAND SECURITY.  Many women in Mexico, like Estela Palacio Calzada, with her granddaughter, rely on money sent back from the U.S. "  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that altruism is more effective when it is directed toward those we know best--mainly our family, and immediate neighbors.

A policy implication may be that the most effective foreign aid is to have more open immigration policies, that then permit the migrants to send back funds to those in their home country who they know best.

 

THE money flows in dribs and drabs, crossing borders $200 or $300 at a time. It buys cornmeal and rice and plaid private school skirts and keeps the landlord at bay. Globally, the tally is huge: migrants from poor countries send home about $300 billion a year. That is more than three times the global total in foreign aid, making “remittances” the main source of outside money flowing to the developing world.

Surveys show that 80 percent of the money or more is immediately spent, on food, clothing, housing, education or the occasional beer party or television set. Still, there are tens of billions available for savings or investment, in places where capital is scarce. While remittances have been shown to reduce household poverty, policymakers are looking to increase the effect on economic growth.

Some migrants, for instance, send home money to savings accounts at small bank-like microfinance institutions, which use the resulting capital pool to lend to local entrepreneurs.

 

For the full story, see:

JASON DePARLE. "Migrant Money Flow: A $300 Billion Current."  The New York Times, Week in Review Section  (Sun., November 18, 2007):  3.

 

   Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




November 17, 2007

"Musing on the Sameness of Princes and Paupers"

 

   King Edward's suite is enjoyed by Münster, Germany resident Henriette Heussner.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4) MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic — Anybody with a little cash in this quaint and quiet spa town can take a bath fit for a king.

Edward VII of Britain visited this bucolic corner of Bohemia six times during his short reign and each time took a bath in the Royal Cabin, as his private bathroom at the Nove Lazne hotel is still called. For about $45, you can, too.

. . .

King Edward’s Royal Cabin, a spacious Turkish-bath-style suite, is outfitted with a metal alloy tub and a medieval-looking oaken chair that serves as a toilet and a scale.

. . .

The windows are as delicately painted as a church’s stained glass, and the walls richly decorated with a tropical mural, just as they were in Edwardian days. Angels wearing miters look down from the ceiling.

Lying in the bath, staring up at the same blue parrot that King Edward surely contemplated on the opposite wall, one cannot help musing on the sameness of princes and paupers and those who are somewhere in between.

Tiny bubbles like the carbonation on a soda straw collect on the skin, and larger bubbles percolate around the bather, producing a peculiarly pleasant sensation.

An archaic water heater in a corner of the room clanks contentedly, keeping the bath at what the hotel staff call an “optimal” 97 degrees. The smell of the water is sulfuric and slightly metallic.

Much history and many baths have passed since the king bathed here. In the end, everyone grabs the same metal handle that he did to hoist himself up and out of the tub.

 

For the full story, see: 

CRAIG S. SMITH.  "MARIANSKE LAZNE JOURNAL; This Year at Marienbad, They’re Still Taking the Waters."  The New York Times  (Tues., July 3, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

CzechMap.jpg   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 16, 2007

"India is Outsourcing Outsourcing"

 

   "Infosys employs workers in Brno, Czech Republic."   Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted, and cited, below.

 

(p. A1)  MYSORE, India — Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model.

Many executives here acknowledge that outsourcing, having rained most heavily on India, will increasingly sprinkle tasks around the globe. Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”

. . .

(p. A14)  Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.

In Europe, too, companies now hire Infosys to manage back offices in their own backyards. When an American manufacturer, for instance, needed a system to handle bills from multiple vendors supplying its factories in different European countries, it turned to the Indian company. The manufacturer’s different locations scan the invoices and send them to an office of Infosys, where each bill is passed to the right language team. The teams verify the orders and send the payment to the suppliers while logged in to the client’s computer system.

More than a dozen languages are spoken at the Infosys office, which is in Brno, Czech Republic.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS.  "Outsourcing Comes Full Circle As India Starts to Export Jobs."  The New York Times   (Tues., September 25, 2007):  A1 & A14.

(Note:  the somewhat different title of the online version was:  "Outsourcing Works So Well, India Is Sending Jobs Abroad.")

 




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 5, 2007

Study Finds Much Smaller Increase in Income Volatility than Hacker Claims

 

    Source of graphs:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

WASHINGTON -- Weighing in on an intensifying debate on income insecurity, three economists -- including two from the Federal Reserve -- have found that American families today are more likely to experience big drops in their income than three decades ago.

Their analysis, however, finds far less volatility in family income than some recent studies.

The authors of the new study, Douglas Elmendorf of the Brookings Institution and senior Fed economists Karen Dynan and Daniel Sichel, caution against interpreting their findings as evidence that families face more risk of hardship than before. They note that financial innovation has given Americans more ways to maintain their spending when their incomes fall. (Read the full study.)

The study found that the volatility of household income rose 23% between the early 1970s and early 2000s. While small changes in family income are no more frequent, large changes in income -- more than 50% -- are.

The probability that a family will experience a decline in annual income of 50% or more, compared with their average income in the previous three years, rose to 1.8% in 1995 from 0.6% in 1973. After 1995, the probability dipped, and has risen back to 1.7%.

"The increase in volatility we document is not trivial," Mr. Elmendorf said in an interview. "Our work is quite consistent with being concerned about the level and increase in volatility of household income."

That said, "I don't think our results support the view that the world is dramatically more adverse for households," he added.

. . .

Yet research into the assumption that income volatility has increased has reached differing conclusions. Yale University political scientist and author Jacob Hacker, in a 2006 book titled "The Great Risk Shift," documents a fivefold increase in household-income volatility between the early 1970s and early 1990s. Mr. Hacker, who described himself as "thunderstruck" by the result, has written widely and testified to Congress on the subject. He couldn't be reached for comment.

By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office, using a different set of data, found that earnings volatility for individuals -- as opposed to households -- has changed little since the early 1980s.

But the authors argue that bigger swings in income need not force households to slash their spending. They cite preliminary findings from other research they have conducted that show financial innovation, such as easier borrowing against the value of a home, has helped to insulate family spending patterns from fluctuations in income.

 

For the full story, see: 

GREG IP.  "Incomes Suffer More Volatility Amid Heightening Risks, Families Find Ways to Cushion Blows."  The Wall Street Journal   (Fri., June 22, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 28, 2007

Most New Jobs Are Good Jobs (High-Skill and High-Pay)

 

Stephen J. Rose, the author of the commentary quoted below, was previously an advisor to Democratic President Clinton's former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.  He is currently a senior economic fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute.  The commentary is based on Rose's report "The Truth About Middle Class Jobs."

 

Economic change is a messy process. New technologies open up many opportunities for those prepared to take advantage of them. At the same time, old firms and their workers are displaced and forced to start over. In 1900, for example, 40% of the U.S. work force was involved in agriculture. Today, that figure is less than 2%, and no serious observer would argue that we are worse off as a result of this transformation.

Yet many of today's most prominent politicians and pundits are making an updated version of precisely this argument. They claim that the decline in the number of manufacturing jobs has led to the replacement of good middle-class jobs by low-skill, low-pay "hamburger-flipping" service jobs.

. . .

 Let us look at the distribution of earnings in 1979, compared with the distribution of earnings of the net new jobs created since that year.  . . .

. . .

Here's the bottom line: For three-quarters of the workforce (women and the top half of male earners), economic growth translated into earnings gains. But for male workers in the bottom half of the earnings distribution, the decline of unionized manufacturing employment has led to the drying up of some middle-class jobs for those with no post-secondary education.

For the clear majority of the workforce, then, the job market has become more welcoming, not less so. But where are these jobs?

Using a framework that I developed in the 1990s, I find that most of the employment gains over the last 30 years have been in business-management activities (administration, sales, finance and business services) as well as in professional services such as health care and education. While the percentage of U.S. jobs derived from manual work in agriculture, mining, timber and manufacturing has declined, the share of jobs related to low-skilled retail and personal/food services has remained steady.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN J. ROSE.  "The Myth of Middle-Class Job Loss."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., October 24, 2007):  A21.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 21, 2007

Labor Unions Endorse Hillary and Edwards

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article excerpted and cited below.

 

Union endorsements could provide a big boost with next year's early, front-loaded primary calendar. Half of all 15.4 million union members live in six states -- California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- and all but Pennsylvania will have voted by Feb. 5.

Major unions have already split their endorsements between three Democratic candidates: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christopher Dodd, and former Sen. John Edwards. Union leaders are loath to repeat the division of support that marred the 2004 election, where major unions endorsed Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean, wasting resources on losing candidates. Only one Republican candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has picked up a major union endorsement.

 

For the full story, see: 

NICK TIMIRAOS.  "HOT TOPIC; U.S. Unions: Still a Political Power?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 29, 2007):  A7.

 




October 15, 2007

Online Job Sites Grow and Evolve

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article excerpted and cited below.

 

Among the hottest Web sites of the past few years were job-search sites such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com. Helped by lavish advertising, they became household names. Newspapers, eager to tap the fast-growing online-ad market, teamed up with them.

Now, the hottest names in online recruitment are increasingly specialized job sites. That poses a threat to the growth prospects of the broad-based online job boards and their newspaper partners, analysts said.

In August, the number of unique visitors to CareerBuilder -- which is jointly owned by Gannett, Tribune, McClatchy and Microsoft -- dropped 2% to 20.2 million, while Monster.com's traffic rose 4% to 16.3 million visitors.

By contrast, technology-focused Dice.com saw its traffic jump 34% to 998,000. At Healthcaresource.com, which posts health-care jobs, traffic rose 36%. 

 

For the full story, see: 

EMILY STEEL.  "ADVERTISING; Job-Search Sites Face a Nimble Threat Online Boards Become Specialized, Threatening Web-Print Partnerships."   The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., October 9, 2007):  B10.

 




September 22, 2007

Florence in Its Prime: Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise"

In my work on the labor economics of the process of creative destruction, I make use of the competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi over who would do the bronze door panels.  Brunelleschi withdrew, after a "tie" decision from the judges.  He then retooled, and bult the marvelous dome that is still one of the world's architectural marvels.

 

If Michelangelo's "David" heads the "must see" list of Renaissance masterpieces for most visitors to Florence, then I suspect "The Gates of Paradise," Lorenzo Ghiberti's monumental doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, rank a close second. The 20-foot-tall portal -- 10 exquisitely articulated gilt bronze reliefs of Old Testament scenes, framed by standing prophets, foliage and projecting heads -- has mesmerized viewers since its completion in 1452. Michelangelo himself is supposed to have given the doors the name by which they are still known.

. . .

Next year, visitors to Florence will again see "The Gates" restored to their full splendor, permanently installed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.  

 

For the full commentary, see: 

KAREN WILKIN.  "Ghiberti's Doors Are Heavenly Again."   The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., June 5, 2007):  D5.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




September 15, 2007

More Millionaires

 

The ranks of the richest Americans expanded last year at an increased pace, driven by a strong economy, but that growth is expected to moderate in coming years, according to a new study.

The 11th annual World Wealth Report, compiled by Merrill Lynch & Co. and Capgemini Group, shows that in 2006, the U.S. population of high-net-worth individuals -- those with at least $1 million in investible assets, excluding their primary residences -- rose 9.4% to 2.92 million. In 2005, the same population increased 6.8% to 2.67 million.

Robert McCann, president of Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Group, attributed the increased pace of wealth generation to gains in economic output and continued growth in the world's stock markets, two primary drivers of wealth creation.

 

For the full story, see:

DAISY MAXEY.  "Ranks of Rich in U.S. Grow at Faster Pace."   The Wall Street Journal   (June 28, 2007):  D6. 

 




September 5, 2007

Europeans Have More Leisure, But Not More Happiness

 

Perhaps the commentary excerpted below goes a bit too far.  I do not believe that paid work is necessary for happiness.  But I do think that a life mainly of leisure can wear thin.  A few months ago I heard Deirdre McCloskey say that we need "projects" to keep us moving forward.  I think that is right, and the best work involves challenging, meaningful projects.

 

By almost every measure, Europeans do work less and relax more than Americans. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans work 25% more hours each year than the Norwegians or the Dutch. The average retirement age for European men is 60.5, and it's even lower for European women. Our vacations are pathetically short by comparison: The average U.S. worker takes 16 days of vacation each year, less than half that typically taken by the Germans (35 days), the French (37 days) or the Italians (42 days).

. . .

For most Americans, work is a rock-solid source of life happiness. Happy people work more hours each week than unhappy people, and work more in their free time as well. Even more tellingly, people with more hours per day to relax outside their jobs are not any happier than those who have less non-work time. In short, the idea that our heavy workloads are lowering our happiness is twaddle.

. . .

This may be one reason why Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys. For example, according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are "completely happy" or "very happy" with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans. Those sweet five-week vacations and 35-hour workweeks don't seem to be stimulating all that much félicité. A good old-fashioned 50-hour week might be a better option.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ARTHUR C. BROOKS.  "Happy for the Work."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., June 20, 2007):  A16. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




August 22, 2007

Why New York City Needs Wal-Mart

 

(p. 7)  . . .  an enduring mystery of the retail economic world: why don't people in New York City want a Wal-Mart in Midtown?


Manhattan is the most underserved market I have ever seen for retail customers. There really is nowhere for bargains on ordinary household goods and groceries in the whole borough. Yes, I know unions hate Wal-Mart. But not every New Yorker is in a union, and every New Yorker needs food and paper towels. (I, by the way, am a member of three unions: the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Writers Guild of America, West. How many unions is Mayor Michael Bloomberg in?)


Don't the consumers deserve a break, too? I know Wal-Mart is not hip, slick and cool. It's for people who have to live within a budget, not for people who see movies with subtitles and have houses on Martha's Vineyard (or would like to). But don't working-class people deserve bargains on their daily bread?


To keep Wal-Mart out of New York -- or my home, Los Angeles -- is simply to inflict a snobby class prejudice on working people. Why they and their representatives put up with this classist, ''let them eat Whole Foods'' nonsense is yet another mystery, and one that could be solved if politicians really cared about consumers.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

BEN STEIN.  "EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS; Assorted Mysteries of Economic Life."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 13, 2007):  7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 




August 21, 2007

Total Retirement Assets Will Increase, Even as Baby Boomers Retire

 

RetirementAssetsGraph.jpg   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

WILL stocks suffer a multidecade bear market as the baby-boom generation sells its shares to support its retirement? Some have predicted such an outcome, but a new study — which projects huge growth in 401(k) assets in future decades — paints a far more sanguine picture.

The study, “New Estimates of the Future Path of 401(k) Assets,” has been circulating since earlier this month as a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Its authors are James M. Poterba, chairman of the economics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Steven F. Venti, an economics professor at Dartmouth; and David A. Wise, a professor of political economy at Harvard. A version is at www.nber.org/papers/w13083.

Despite the baby boomers’ liquidation of retirement assets in coming decades, the study estimates that the total size of 401(k) plans will nevertheless grow markedly. That forecast may come as a surprise to some people, the professors concede, because 401(k)’s now represent only a modest fraction of a typical retiree’s total wealth. But the professors point out that 401(k) plans have existed only since the early 1980s; by the time that today’s younger workers retire, they will have had many more years to contribute to their 401(k)’s than current retirees have had.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARK HULBERT.  "STRATEGIES; Baby Boomers Are Cashing In.  So What?"  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 27, 2007):  5.

 




August 18, 2007

Better Measures of Worker Output, Increase Income Inequality

 

Many of us would say that income inequality is not bad, if it reflects differences in worker productivity.  One argument in the article excerpted below, is that information technology has allowed better measurement of worker productivity, and hence is partly responsible for the increase in income inequality.

 

. . . as companies and compensation consultants began using information technology to determine more accurately the contributions of individual employees, employers began to discriminate among employees based on performance. In a working paper, Professor MacLeod, along with Thomas Lemieux of the University of British Columbia and Daniel Parent of McGill University, mined census data and found that the proportion of jobs with a performance-pay component rose to 40 percent in the 1990s from 30 percent in the late 1970s.

''Since companies are better able to measure precisely what an employee contributes, we've seen a greater range of incomes among people doing roughly the same jobs,'' Professor MacLeod said.

The fact that more Americans are paid less on the basis of a job title and more on their individual output inexorably leads to greater inequality. The authors' conclusion is that the rise of performance-based pay has accounted for 25 percent of the growth in wage inequality among male workers from 1976 to 1993.

''All the bits of evidence we have tend to say that this trend is continuing,'' Professor Lemieux said. In 2003, the authors note, 44.5 percent of workers at Fortune 1000 companies received some form of performance-based pay, up from 34.7 percent in 1996. And think of the growing legions of self-employed -- people selling items on eBay, mortgage brokers and real estate brokers, freelance journalists and consultants of all types -- for whom all pay is performance-based. Among these growing cadres, the dispersion of incomes is rather large.

''When you look at the self-employed and contractors,'' Professor Lemieux said, ''inequality is much higher.''

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DANIEL GROSS.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Income Inequality, Writ Larger."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., June 10, 2007):  7.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




August 17, 2007

Why CEOs Are Paid So Much More than Other Near-Top Execs

 

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

 

(p. A1)  Like most companies, Office Depot has long made sure that its chief executive was the highest-paid employee. Ten years ago, the $2.2 million pay package of its chief was more than double that of his No. 2. The fifth-ranked executive received less than one-third.

But the incentive for reaching the very top of the company is now far greater. Steve Odland, who runs Office Depot today, made almost $12 million last year, more than four times the compensation of the second-highest-paid executive and over six times that of the fifth-ranking executive in the current hierarchy.

As executive pay has surged in most American companies, attention has focused on the growing gap between the earnings of top executives and the average wage of workers in cubicles or on the shop floor. Little noticed, though, is how much the gap has also widened between the summit and the next few echelons down.

. . .

The pay of chief executives, analysts say, is being driven by superstar dynamics similar to those that determine the inordinate rewards for pop stars and athletes — a phenomenon first explained by Sherwin Rosen of the University of Chicago in (p. C7) 1981 and underlined more than a decade ago by the economists Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook in their book “The Winner-Take-All Society” (Free Press, 1995).

As American companies, American hedge funds — and even American lawsuits — have grown in size, it has become ever more valuable to get the “best” chief executive or fund manager or litigator. This has fueled a fierce competition for talent at the top, which has pushed economic rewards farther up the ladder of success, concentrating the richest pay levels even more.

“There is an interaction between technology and scale which is true in all these businesses,” said Steven N. Kaplan, a finance professor at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago. “One person can oversee more assets, and this translates into more money.”

. . .

As companies grow and expand globally, the value of the top executive can grow exponentially. In a study last year, two economists, Xavier Gabaix of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Augustin Landier of New York University, argued that the fast rise in pay of corporate C.E.O.’s mostly reflected the growing size of American corporations.

Processing reams of data, the economists estimated that hiring the most effective chief executive in the country would, statistically, increase the stock value of a company by only 0.016 percent, compared with hiring the 250th chief executive. But at a company like General Electric, which is worth about $380 billion, that tiny difference would amount to $60 million.

This, the economists argued, helps explain why that top chief executive earned five times as much as the 250th. “Substantial firm size leads to the economics of superstars, translating small differences in ability to very large deviations in pay,” the economists wrote.

 

For the full story, see: 

EDUARDO PORTER.  "More Than Ever, It Pays to Be the Top Executive."  The New York Times  (Fri., May 25, 2007):  A1 & C7.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




July 26, 2007

Hispanic Immigrants May Help Rejuvinate Aging Workforce

 

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

 

The article excerpted below sketches one solution to the "problem" of the aging boomer workforce.  Michael Milken has suggested that the problem itself may be bogus, because aging, healthy, boomers will just keep on trucking a lot longer and stronger than is usually believed. 

 

The quality of life for some 80 million graying baby boomers in the U.S. may depend in large part on the fortunes of another high-profile demographic group: millions of mostly Hispanic immigrants and their children.

With a major part of the nation's population entering its retirement years and birth rates falling domestically, the shortfall in the work force will be filled by immigrants and their offspring, experts say. How that group fares economically in the years ahead could have a big impact on everything from the kind of medical services baby boomers receive to the prices they can get for their homes.

Immigrants and baby boomers are two groups whose destinies are converging in the next 20 years," says Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California. "Baby boomers will surrender their economic role to this generation of immigrants and their children," who will evolve into a critical pool of laborers and taxpayers, he says.

Prof. Myers, author of the recent book "Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America," is among a crop of academics studying the link between the giant generation born between 1946 and 1964 and newcomers to the U.S., mainly Latin American immigrants.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MIRIAM JORDAN. "Boomers' Good Life Tied To Better Life for Immigrants." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 7, 2007):  A2.

 




July 22, 2007

Sweden's Welfare State Destroys Work Ethic

 

SicknessBenefitsGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  LULEA, Sweden -- Lotta Landström is allergic to electricity -- so says her doctor. Along with hundreds of other Swedes diagnosed with the condition in recent years, she came to rely on state-funded sick pay.

But last year, Sweden's famously generous welfare system cut off Ms. Landström, a 35-year-old former teacher. Electro-hypersensitivity isn't widely recognized elsewhere in the world as a medical diagnosis. The decision to end her two years of benefits was part of a broad effort to crack down on sickness and disability benefits, according to Swedish welfare officials.

Swedes are among the healthiest people in the world according to the World Health Organization. And yet 13% of working-age Swedes live on some type of disability benefit -- the highest proportion on the globe. To explain this, many Swedish policy makers, doctors and economists blame a welfare system that is too lax and does little to verify individual claims.

At a time when low-cost competition from Asia is clobbering Europe's markets and straining its generous welfare states, governments from Finland to Portugal are trying to cut back and get more people to work. Sweden's bloated sick bay, which includes (p. A15) roughly 744,000 people on extended leave, has caused soul-searching about whether the system coddles Swedes and encourages them to feel sick.

"If we don't look out, we will end up with only two-thirds [of the labor force] in work, and one-third out, living on different kinds of subsidies," said Sweden's new prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, in an interview earlier this year.

At a time when low-cost competition from Asia is clobbering Europe's markets and straining its generous welfare states, governments from Finland to Portugal are trying to cut back and get more people to work. Sweden's bloated sick bay, which includes roughly 744,000 people on extended leave, has caused soul-searching about whether the system coddles Swedes and encourages them to feel sick.

"If we don't look out, we will end up with only two-thirds [of the labor force] in work, and one-third out, living on different kinds of subsidies," said Sweden's new prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, in an interview earlier this year.

. . .

Most of Sweden's boom in sickness absenteeism since the late 1990s is about more than simple fraud. Sick leave for psychological conditions such as depression, burnout or panic attacks has rocketed. Over 20% of the population complain of anxiety syndromes. "We are actually the safest country in the world," says David Eberhard, chief psychiatrist at St. Göran's hospital in Stockholm. But "people are feeling psychologically worse and worse."

Assar Lindbeck, one of Sweden's best-known economists, says the lenient welfare state has changed the country over the past generation. In place of the old Protestant work ethic, it has become acceptable to feel unable to work and to live on benefits, he says. "I would not call it cheating," Prof. Lindbeck says. "I would call it a drift in attitudes and social norms."

By being so accommodating, the Swedish system has encouraged Swedes to treat life's tribulations as clinical issues requiring sick leave, posits Anna Hedborg, a former Social Democrat cabinet minister: "As time has passed, we have medicalized all sorts of problems."

 

For the full story, see:

MARCUS WALKER.  "Rx FOR CHANGE; Sweden Clamps Down On Sick and Disability Pay; Once Freely Dispensed, Benefits Face Scrutiny; Ms. Lanström Is Cut Off."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., May 9, 2007):  A1 & A15.  

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

LandstromLottaElectricityAllergy.gif  A former Swedish teacher who had been receiving government disability payments for being allergic to electricity.   Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ 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.)

 




July 6, 2007

Schumer Surprised at No Increase in Job Volatility

 

JobLossAnxietyGraph.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a study that was arguably the fullest picture of (p. C12) economic volatility anyone has yet put together. Although some academics have taken a crack at the topic in recent years, they have had to rely on surveys in which people are asked how much money they make. The study by the C.B.O., as the budget office is known, used Social Security Administration records, which cover many more people than the surveys and are more reliable.

If you read the C.B.O. report, you can tell that its authors knew they were dealing with a delicate subject. The summary starts by noting that a “significant number of workers experience substantial variability in their total wage earnings,” which is certainly true. Only later do you come to the surprising part: there is the same amount of variability now that there was in the 1980s and 1990s. In journalism, this is known as burying the lead.

“Intuitively, you would think volatility is increasing,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who along with Senator Jim Webb of Virginia requested that the study be done. “But it isn’t, which I guess shows that the American economy has always been very flexible.”

Mr. Schumer’s point about intuition is an important one. We can all tick off reasons that the economy feels so volatile. Hardly a week goes by without another big corporation — the Tribune Company, Citigroup, DaimlerChrysler — announcing a big job cut. The number of temporary jobs, meanwhile, has mushroomed. Globalization and technological innovation are causing many of these changes, and labor unions are too weak to prevent them.

But there is also a whole set of other forces, harder to see and pushing in the other direction. Manufacturing, where furloughs and layoffs have always been the norm, accounts for a much smaller part of the work force than it used to, while more stable industries, like health care, have grown. This is one reason that recessions, and the job cuts they bring, haven’t happened as often as they once did.

. . .

In fact, research by Henry S. Farber, an economist at Princeton, has found that job loss rates have followed a cyclical pattern since the early ’80s, peaking around the same highs during recessions and falling to similar lows during expansions. (The rate has risen for workers who went to college and fallen a bit who those who didn’t.)

Americans, looking at their own jobs, realize that there hasn’t been a big change: in a recent Gallup Poll, 12 percent of respondents said it was very or fairly likely they would be laid off in the coming year. In the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, at similar points in the business cycle, the percentage was virtually identical.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIX; What’s Really Squeezing the Middle Class?"  The New York Times  (Weds., April 25, 2007):  C1 & C12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




Schumer Surprised at No Increase in Job Volatility

 

JobLossAnxietyGraph.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a study that was arguably the fullest picture of (p. C12) economic volatility anyone has yet put together. Although some academics have taken a crack at the topic in recent years, they have had to rely on surveys in which people are asked how much money they make. The study by the C.B.O., as the budget office is known, used Social Security Administration records, which cover many more people than the surveys and are more reliable.

If you read the C.B.O. report, you can tell that its authors knew they were dealing with a delicate subject. The summary starts by noting that a “significant number of workers experience substantial variability in their total wage earnings,” which is certainly true. Only later do you come to the surprising part: there is the same amount of variability now that there was in the 1980s and 1990s. In journalism, this is known as burying the lead.

“Intuitively, you would think volatility is increasing,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who along with Senator Jim Webb of Virginia requested that the study be done. “But it isn’t, which I guess shows that the American economy has always been very flexible.”

Mr. Schumer’s point about intuition is an important one. We can all tick off reasons that the economy feels so volatile. Hardly a week goes by without another big corporation — the Tribune Company, Citigroup, DaimlerChrysler — announcing a big job cut. The number of temporary jobs, meanwhile, has mushroomed. Globalization and technological innovation are causing many of these changes, and labor unions are too weak to prevent them.

But there is also a whole set of other forces, harder to see and pushing in the other direction. Manufacturing, where furloughs and layoffs have always been the norm, accounts for a much smaller part of the work force than it used to, while more stable industries, like health care, have grown. This is one reason that recessions, and the job cuts they bring, haven’t happened as often as they once did.

. . .

In fact, research by Henry S. Farber, an economist at Princeton, has found that job loss rates have followed a cyclical pattern since the early ’80s, peaking around the same highs during recessions and falling to similar lows during expansions. (The rate has risen for workers who went to college and fallen a bit who those who didn’t.)

Americans, looking at their own jobs, realize that there hasn’t been a big change: in a recent Gallup Poll, 12 percent of respondents said it was very or fairly likely they would be laid off in the coming year. In the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, at similar points in the business cycle, the percentage was virtually identical.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DAVID LEONHARDT.  "ECONOMIX; What’s Really Squeezing the Middle Class?"  The New York Times  (Weds., April 25, 2007):  C1 & C12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




July 3, 2007

Neglect of the Important Issues, Is the Opportunity Cost of Pursuing the Cutely Clever

 

The Wall Street Journal summarizes an April 2, 2007 article by Noam Scheiber in The New Republic:

 

A new generation of economists has become so addicted to cleverness that dull but genuinely useful research is under threat.

"Freakonomics," the 2005 best seller that sought to explain the mysteries of everyday life through economics, is only partly to blame, writes Noam Scheiber. The deeper roots lie in a 1980s crisis of faith over economists' ability to reliably crunch numbers. Influential economist H. Gregg Lewis kicked it off by demonstrating that a host of broad, worthwhile empirical surveys of unions' impact on wages came to opposite conclusions, mostly thanks to the differing original assumptions by the studies' authors.

As a result, some economists retrenched, opting to focus on finding "solid answers to modest questions."

 

For the full summary, see:

"Informed Reader; Economics; How 'Freakonomics' Quashes Real Debates." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 28, 2007):  B11.

 




June 26, 2007

"Roosevelt Warned us of Fearing Fear Itself; Now We Fear Life Itself"

 

   Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/159523005X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V46468787_SS500_.jpg

 

I saw Todd Buchholz on C-Span and on CNBC, and I enjoyed hearing his views, so I decided to buy his Bringing the Jobs Home.  I don't like the title, because it sort of implies that the job market is a zero-sum-game, in which one country's gain implies another country's loss.  Us true-blue free marketers believe that the market is a non-zero-sum game in which everyone everywhere can have jobs, and have better ones over time.

But Buchholz's little book is fun to read, and says much that is plausible about how the government hurts the worker and reduces the efficiency of the labor market. 

Read the following excerpt for part of his rousing conclusion to the book.

(And, Aaron, I agree with you that Buchholz is wrong to say the American spirit is "innate.") 

 

(p. 177)  . . . :  Since the 1960s, each year we've lost a little nerve, gained another bureaucrat, another lawyer, another layer of protection against life's uncertainties.  We have gotten used to a government that aims to coddle us but ends up both preventing us from growing and dampening the innate American spirit.  The spirit still stirs but gets buried under the weight of the nanny state.

. . .

(p. 178)  American government officials today cannot put our standard of living in a lockbox to preserve, protect and defend us.  Franklin D. Roosevelt warned us of fearing fear itself; now we fear life itself. 

. . .

(p. 179)  To paraphrase Churchill, Americans did not sail the perilous Atlantic, scale the Appalachians and struggle past the Rockies because we were made of cotton candy.

 

Source: 

Buchholz, Todd G. Bringing the Jobs Home: How the Left Created the Outsourcing Crisis--and How We Can Fix It. New York: Sentinel, 2004.

 




June 21, 2007

Even France Recognizes English as the Language of Business

 

The story below provides further evidence that those who are working hard to make English the mandatory language of the United States, should find themselves a real problem to worry about.

 

PARIS, April 7 — When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

“We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately was not re-elected to his post in December.

In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading business schools that is based in McLean, Va.

“We are shifting to English. Why?” said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief executives.

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students — the French ones — to go everywhere.”

 

For the full story, see: 

DOREEN CARVAJAL.  "English as Language of Global Education."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 11, 2007):  A21.

 




June 15, 2007

Blinder on Free Trade

 

OccupationsVulnerableGraph.gif    Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

For awhile, during the Clinton administration, many Democratic economists, such as Alan Blinder, seemed to solidly support free trade as an engine for economic growth.  But now several Democratic economists, such as Blinder as described in the excerpt below, seem to be returning to the usual Democratic protectionist policies.

If the goal is economic progress and growth, such policies remain ill-advised, no matter how effective they are at helping Democrats to win elections.  To whit:  Ed Leamer provides the arguments and evidence against worries about outsourcing in his long, but excellent, review of Thomas Friedman's hand-wringing in The World is Flat.  (See way below for the reference.)

 

(p. A14)  Mr. Blinder's job-loss estimates in particular are electrifying Democratic candidates searching for ways to address angst about trade. "Alan, because of his stature, provided a degree of legitimacy to what many of us had come to feel anecdotally -- that the anxiety over outsourcing and offshoring was a far larger phenomenon than traditional economic analysis was showing," says Gene Sperling, an adviser to President Clinton and, now, to Hillary Clinton. Her rival, Barack Obama, spent an hour with Mr. Blinder earlier in this year.

Mr. Blinder's answer is not protectionism, a word he utters with the contempt that Cold Warriors reserved for communism. Rather, Mr. Blinder still believes the principle British economist David Ricardo introduced 200 years ago: Nations prosper by focusing on things they do best -- their "comparative advantage" -- and trading with other nations with different strengths. He accepts the economic logic that U.S. trade with large low-wage countries like India and China will make all of them richer -- eventually. He acknowledges that trade can create jobs in the U.S. and bolster productivity growth.

But he says the harm done when some lose jobs and others get them will be far more painful and disruptive than trade advocates acknowledge. He wants government to do far more for displaced workers than the few months of retraining it offers today. He thinks the U.S. education system must be revamped so it prepares workers for jobs that can't easily go overseas, and is contemplating changes to the tax code that would reward companies that produce jobs that stay in the U.S.

His critique puts Mr. Blinder in a minority among economists, most of whom emphasize the enormous gains from trade. "He's dead wrong," says Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who will debate Mr. Blinder at Harvard in May over his assertions about the magnitude of job losses from trade. Mr. Bhagwati says that in highly skilled fields such as medicine, law and accounting, "If we do a real balance sheet, I have no doubt we're creating far more jobs than we're losing."

. . .

He was silent when his former Princeton student, N. Gregory Mankiw, then chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, unleashed a political firestorm by reciting standard theory but appearing indifferent to pain caused to those whose jobs go overseas. "Does it matter from an economic standpoint whether items produced abroad come on planes and ships or over fiber optic cables?" Mr. Mankiw said at a February 2004 briefing. "Well, no, the economics is basically the same....More things are tradable than...in the past, and that's a good thing."

Mr. Blinder says he agreed with Mr. Mankiw's point that the economics of trade are the same however imports are delivered. But he'd begun to wonder if the technology that allowed English-speaking workers in India to do the jobs of American workers at lower wages was "a good thing" for many Americans. At a Princeton dinner, a Wall Street executive told Mr. Blinder how pleased her company was with the securities analysts it had hired in India. From New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman's 2005 book, "The World is Flat," he found anecdotes about competition to U.S. workers "in walks of life I didn't know about."

Mr. Blinder began to muse about this in public. At a Council on Foreign Relations forum in January 2005 he called "offshoring," or the exporting of U.S. jobs, "the big issue for the next generation of Americans." Eight months later on Capitol Hill, he warned that "tens of millions of additional American workers will start to experience an element of job insecurity that has heretofore been reserved for manufacturing workers."

At the urging of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Mr. Blinder wrote an essay, "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?" published last year in Foreign Affairs. "The old assumption that if you cannot put it in a box, you cannot trade it is hopelessly obsolete," he wrote. "The cheap and easy flow of information around the globe...will require vast and unsettling adjustments in the way Americans and residents of other developed countries work, live and educate their children." (Read that full article.)

. . .

Diana Farrell, head of the McKinsey Global Institute, a pro-globalization think-tank arm of the consulting firm that has done its own analysis of vulnerable jobs, calls Mr. Blinder "an alarmist" and frets about the impact he is having on politicians, particularly the Democrats who see resistance to free trade as a political winner. She insists many jobs that could go overseas won't actually go.

Ms. Farrell says Mr. Blinder's work doesn't take into account the realities of business which make exporting of some jobs impractical or which create offsetting gains elsewhere in the U.S. economy. He counters he is looking further into the future than McKinsey -- 10 or 20 years instead of five -- and expects more technological change than the consultants do "even without the Buck Rogers stuff."

 

For the full story, see:

DAVID WESSEL and BOB DAVIS.  "JOB PROSPECTS; Pain From Free Trade Spurs Second Thoughts; Mr. Blinder's Shift Spotlights Warnings Of Deeper Downside."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For Leamer's wonderful riff on why we need not worry about outsourcing, see:

Leamer, Edward E.  "A Flat World, a Level Playing Field, a Small World after All, or None of the Above? A Review of Thomas L. Friedman's the World Is Flat."  Journal of Economic Literature  45, no. 1 (March 2007):  83-126.

 

BlinderAlanS.jpg  Alan S. Blinder.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




June 12, 2007

54 Year-Old Auto Worker Writes Three Novels After Taking Voluntary Buyout

 

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

 

(p. 1)  TALK to Kenneth Doolittle about General Motors, where he once supervised a team of assembly line workers, and he readily speaks with pride about his job and the self-esteem it provided. “I loved all of it — the people, the work,” he says. “I was in a position finally where people listened to me when I spoke. I wasn’t just a Joe-Nobody. I contributed.”

Talk to Mr. Doolittle a little longer and he gradually describes why he decided to take a buyout from G.M. — joining more than 80,000 Big Three employees in the largest exodus of workers from a single American industry in decades.

. . .

The exodus that Mr. Doolittle is joining is voluntary. Some have changed their minds. More than 3,000 workers who signed up over the last year to leave Ford and G.M. subsequently decided to stay. These are, after all, the highest-paying blue-collar jobs left in America. Even so, workers are departing from the auto industry en masse, escaping — as they put it in interviews — increasingly difficult working conditions at companies they fear will desert them.

. . .

(p. 9)  When G.M. decided to close his plant in 2005, Mr. Doolittle’s seniority gave him every right to transfer to a much newer factory right next door, where G.M. is building a popular Cadillac sedan and is likely to do so for as long as Mr. Doolittle might have wanted a job. But he balked because of the change in stature that would accompany the switch.

Since his departure last year, he has struggled to occupy his time. Divorced, with four grown children, he divides his days between an apartment in Lansing and a trailer parked on a small lakefront plot that he owns north of the city. He has typed out on a laptop three novels “about my life experience.” And to make up some of his lost income — his $36,000 pension is 60 percent of his old pay — he works 20 hours a week, at $10 an hour, doing maintenance at Sears stores.

“That is just enough to keep me from watching Jerry Springer every day,” he said. “I don’t want to sit in front of a TV; I’m too young for that.”

. . .

Across America, more than 30 million people have been forced out of jobs since the early 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and regaining lost incomes has not been easy. Nearly 50 million new jobs have been created over that same period, according to the bureau, so there are always new opportunities but more often than not at lower pay. Among those who have lost work, only a third held new jobs two years later that paid as well as those that were lost, according to the bureau’s surveys of displaced workers. Another third of those displaced were in jobs that paid, on average, 15 to 20 percent less than their previous employment — while the final third had dropped out of the labor force entirely.

The Census Bureau reported a jump in net migration out of Michigan last year: some 42,300 people left, up from 29,700 in 2005. That was far and away the largest outflow from the state since 1984, during the Rust Belt crisis, census data show.  . . .

. . .

The exodus is reminiscent of the Dust Bowl migration from the prairie states in the 1930s, when unemployed farmers gave up and trekked west to California. The Dust Bowl migration, on its face, was much more brutal — the number of displaced Okies, as they were called, was far greater than the current number of departing auto workers, and there were not corporate and public subsidies at the time to soften the hardship.

“The Okies did not know whether they would get to their destination before they starved to death,” said Daniel Luria, an economist at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “The labor market prospects for the auto workers are not good, but they have assets. They are not in danger of immediately falling into poverty.”

 

For the full story, see:

UCHITELLE, LOUIS .  "The End of the Line as They Know It."  The New York Times, Section 3   (Sun., April 1, 2007):  1, 9, & 10.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Novelist Kenneth Doolittle.  Source of photo:  screen capture from online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




June 11, 2007

The Safety Net in Europe and the United States

 

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

 

FROM issues of crime and punishment to the proper domain of the spiritual and temporal powers, Americans and Europeans have long cast a skeptical eye at one another across the Atlantic.

Perhaps nowhere has the gaze been more jaundiced than in the area of work. From the perspective of Western Europe, American employers have a relatively free hand to hire and fire, coupled with meager and short-lived unemployment benefits. America’s deregulated labor markets seem to provide hardly any safety net when it comes to economic dislocations of workers.

Americans, by contrast, have found it hard to resist a touch of schadenfreude at the joblessness stoked by European governments’ intervention in labor markets, with rules on everything from wages to layoffs, on top of generous unemployment benefits.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

EDUARDO PORTER.  "Economic View; A Bridge Over the Atlantic, in Labor Policy."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., April 1, 2007):  5.

 




June 9, 2007

Internet Increases Labor's Options

 

   A "local" Phoenix talk show host, Joe Crummey, broadcasts from his home in California.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

The Internet is sometimes viewed as labor's enemy because it reduces the cost of outsourcing.  But it goes both ways:  labor can offer its services to a wider world because of the Internet. 

 

LOS ANGELES, March 27 — When people hear the radio host Joe Crummey on Phoenix’s popular KFYI murmur sarcastically, “We don’t have enough human rights activists in this town,” they know he means Phoenix.

Ditto for when he offers to assess the “east side west side traffic right now.”

As it turns out, Mr. Crummey, whose favorite talk show topics include immigration, patriotism and Arizona politics, is indeed reporting for duty in the valley. Just not in the Phoenix Valley.

Rather, it is here, in the San Fernando Valley, where he works via the Internet from his home on the top of a hill in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. Listeners in Phoenix are none the wiser.

Armed with four computers, a digital recorder, a constant stream of Fox News and a professional microphone, Mr. Crummey holds court for three hours each weekday during Phoenix’s drive-home time slot — from about 400 miles away in a neighboring state.

 

For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER.  "Live, From Station KFYI in ...Well, That’s Complicated."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A11.

 

 




June 8, 2007

Google Hires "Interesting" "Geniuses" & Provides Them a Workplace Where Interesting Geniuses Want to Be

 

   A break lounge at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

You could be forgiven for not knowing that a satellite Google campus is growing in downtown Manhattan. There is no Google sign on the building, and it’s hard to catch a glimpse of a Googler, as employees call themselves, on the street because the company gives them every reason to stay within its candy-colored walls.

From lava lamps to abacuses to cork coffee tables, the offices may as well be a Montessori school conceived to cater to the needs of future science-project winners.

. . .

“These are power geniuses,” said Jane Risen, a statuesque brunette who works in training for the sales staff and is considered among the best dressed on campus — she was wearing a brown blazer from the Gap. “If they don’t have the same social skill or style sense, they’re extremely interesting people or else they don’t get hired.”

. . .

The strategy of keeping employees happy and committed to spending endless hours on campus seems to be working. Richard Burdon, 37, an engineer who joined Google two years ago, has been staying past midnight to prepare for the introduction of a project. (Google’s Manhattan engineers have been responsible for developing Google Maps and are working on some 100 other projects.)

“Google is about as interesting as starting your own startup because you can really follow your own ideas,” said Mr. Burdon, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, Sony and I.B.M. The only time he could remember leaving the office during the workday was to buy a friend a birthday present.

 

For the full story, see: 

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN.  "Can Google Come Out to Play?"  The New York Times  (December 31, 2006).

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

GoogleManhattanActivities.jpg   Work and non-work at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




June 7, 2007

The Peril of Being a Bald Economist

 

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

  

'The term 'income inequality' is a bit misleading because it suggests in a somewhat pejorative way that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor," Edward Lazear, a Stanford University labor economist who is now chairman of Mr. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said last May. While it's a concern that some people are being left behind, he said, "There is some good news...most of the inequality reflects an increase in returns to 'investing in skills.'"

Mr. Lazear has nurtured his relationship with Mr. Bush. His office is decorated with photos of the two mountain biking. When he gave Mr. Bush a copy of the Economic Report of the President this year, Mr. Bush gave him a bear hug and kissed the top of his bald head, according to people who were present.

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and JOHN D. MCKINNON.  "THE OUTLOOK; Bush Reorients Rhetoric, Acknowledges Income Gap."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 26, 2007):  A2.

 

MedianWageGDPgraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




June 3, 2007

More Retirees Choosing to Become Entrepreneurs

 

Call them silver entrepreneurs or senior entrepreneurs or third-age entrepreneurs. They are people who do not want -- or are not financially able -- to idle away their retirement years and, instead, opt to start a business.

. . .  

The numbers of retired people rejecting the unfettered leisure that has been the American model since the 1940's in favor of starting up a small business are not exact. Federal government data suggests there are now at least three million entrepreneurs who are 55 and over -- up one-third from the number counted in 2000.

''It's like this sea swell that has been under the radar,'' said Linda Wiener, the aging issues expert for Monster.com, the jobs search Web site. ''There are people who don't want to work an hourly job, and are wondering what are they going to do for the next 30 years?''

A majority of 800 workers surveyed last year for the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University indicated in their responses that traditional retirement was obsolete. Two-thirds expect to work after 55, and about 15 percent wanted to start their own business after they retired, the survey found.

 

For the full story, see: 

Elizabeth Olson.  "Small Business; In Life's Second Act, Some Take On A New Role: Entrepreneur."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  C6.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




May 29, 2007

Beautiful Downtown Burbank, Runs Amok

Cultural history background for the young:  at the beginning of every installment of the "Rowan and Martin Laugh-In" TV comedy review (circa 1968-1973), someone would sarcastically intone that the show was being broadcast from "beautiful downtown Burbank." 

Excerpted below is Daniel Pink's incredible conversation with a Burbank city clerk:

 

(p. 199)  What led me to this 100,000-person city in California's San Fernando Valley---past the fish fountains, to the steps of City Hall---was a rumor I'd heard that Burbank puts free agents in jail.

. . .

(p. 200)  After fifteen minutes of probing, here's the gist of what he tells me:  If I want to write from a home office in Burbank, I first must apply for a home occupation license.  The city would examine my application, and then come to my house to inspect the office from which I intended to work.  Once the inspector deemed my home office safe for writing and unthreatening to my neighbors, I could begin earning a living, my workplace now officially blessed by the city.

But that was only the beginning.  I'd have to pay a special tax.  And I'd have to abide by the strictures of Burbank Municipal Code Section 31-672---which, among other things, said:  My office couldn't be larger than four hundred square feet or 20 percent of my home's square footage.  I couldn't put my home office in a "garage, carport, or any other area required or designated for the parking of vehicles."  The only "materials, equipment, and/or tools" I could use to do my work were things used by "a normal household."  I couldn't use my home office to repair cars, sell guns, or operate a kennel.  And the only folks who could ever work with me in the office were people who lived with me.

That last provision alarmed me.

Pointing to Section 31-672(c), I ask, "Does this mean I can't have a meeting at my house?"

"Yep," says the clerk.  "You'd have to somewhere else."

"Let me get this straight," I say.  "Let's say I'm a writer collaborating on a screenplay.  If my collaborator comes over and we work on the screenplay together, that's against the law?  It's a misdemeanor to have a meeting at your house?"

"Yep," says the clerk.

"Isn't California a 'three strikes and you're out' state?"

"Yep."

Burbank, we we have a problem.  I hope it's unlikely that a free agent who has three meetings at her house, and gets caught, prosecuted, and convicted each time, goes to jail for the rest of her life.  But the mere possibility reflects a wider problem with America's legal, policy, and tax regimes.  They were built for a (p. 201) work world that has largely disappeared, and are ill equipped for the new world that has arrived.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H.  Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

(Note:  italics in original; ellipsis added.)

 




May 22, 2007

Why Starbucks Coffee is a Bargain

 

(p. 161)  These coffee places, most of which didn't even exist ten years ago, had several virtues.  They were always in convenient locations.  They permitted, even welcomed, patrons to sit and talk for several hours.  And they had tables for spreading out my materials and electrical outlets for plugging in my equipment.  In short, they provided a four-hour office rental for the price of a three-dollar latte.

. . .  

(p. 162)  Starbucks and its caffeinated cousins are part of what I call the free agent infrastructure.  The components of this infrastructure, which I'll review in a moment, include copy shops, office supply superstores, bookstore cafés, overnight delivery services, executive suites, and the Internet.  Like America's system of federal highways, the free agent infrastructures form the physical foundation on which the economy operates.  But unlike the federal highway system, which was planned and paid for by the government, this infrastructure emerged more or less spontaneously.  Like so many other aspects of Free Agent Nation, it is self-organized.  Nobody is in charge of it.  That's why it woks.  It  works so well, in fact, that few people realize that this collection of commercial Establishments even constitutes an infrastructure.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




May 20, 2007

Should Netscape Be Viewed as a Failed Company, or as a Successful Project?

 

(p. 53)  Recall the story of Netscape, once the darling of the New Economy.  Netscape was formed in 1994.  It went public in 1995.  And by 1999, it was gone, purchased by America Online and subsumed into AOL's operation.  Life span:  four years.  Half-life:  two years.  Was Netscape a company---or was it really a project?  Does the distinction even matter?  What matters most is that this short-lived entity put several products on the market, prompted established companies (notably Microsoft) to shift strategies, and (p. 54) equipped a few thousand individuals with experience, wealth, and connections that they could bring to their next project.

And Netscape is not alone.  A University of Texas study found that between 1970 and 1992, the half-life of Texas businesses shrank by 50 percent.  Likewise, a Federal Reserve analysis of New York companies found that the type of firm that created the most new jobs (microbusineses with fewer than ten employees) often had the shortest life span.  The life cycle of companies has been that jobs, too, have diminishing half-lives.  Ten years ago, nobody ever heard of a Web developer.  Ten years from now, nobody may remember Web developers.

Most important, at the very moment the longevity of companies is shrinking, the longevity of individuals is expanding.  Unlike Americans in the twentieth century, most of us today can expect to outlive just about any organization for which we work.  It's hard to imagine a lifelong job at an organization whose lifetime will be shorter--often much shorter--than your own.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




May 18, 2007

"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




May 7, 2007

Under Capitalism, the "Innately Conscientious" Usually Earn More

 

In the excerpt below, the WSJ summarizes an article that appeared in Forbes on March 12, 2007.  The summarized study implies that those who are innately conscientious end up being rewarded with higher income.  I hope it is true.  My guess is that the world comes closer to working that way under capitalist institutions, than under other economic systems.  (Note that this study was done by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which implies that we're talking about what happens in the United States.)

 

The insight originates in 1979, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics paid 12,700 young people $50 to take a range of tests, one of which required a simple code to be deciphered. The BLS has since surveyed the test takers regularly. Going through the data, Carmit Segal, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Business School, found a strong relationship between someone's score in the coding test and his or her income over 20 years later, even taking into account differences in IQ.

Ms. Segal argues those who did well on the test were driven entirely by an innate conscientiousness, because candidates had nothing to gain from doing well on it.

 

For the full story, see: 

"The Informed Reader; Workplace; Job Test That Predicts Effort Gets Help From Professors."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  B6.

(Note:  the online version has a different subtitle:  "A Tricky Test Could Reveal Job Applicants' Work Ethic")

 




April 13, 2007

Wal-Mart Improves Life in Mexico

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

 

(p. A1)  JUCHITÁN, Mexico -- For as long as anyone can remember, shopping for many items in this Zapotec Indian town meant lousy selection and high prices. Most families live on less than $4,000 a year. Little wonder that this provincial corner of Oaxaca, historically famous for keeping outsiders at bay, welcomed the arrival of Wal-Mart.

Back home in the U.S., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is known not only for its relentless focus on low prices but also for its many critics, who assail it for everything from the wages it pays to its role in homogenizing American culture. But while its growth in the U.S. is slowing, Wal-Mart is striking gold south of the border, largely free from all the criticism. Like Wal-Mart fans in less affluent parts of America, most shoppers in developing countries are much more concerned about the cost of medicine and microwaves than the cultural incursions of a multinational corporation.

That fact is making Wal-Mart a dominant force in Latin America. Wal-Mart de México SAB, a publicly traded subsidiary, is not only the biggest private employer in Mexico -- it's the biggest single retailer in Latin America. Sales at Wal-Mex, as the Mexican unit is called, are forecast to rise 16% to $21 billion this year, representing a quarter of Wal-Mart's foreign revenue. International revenue soared 30% to $77.1 billion, accounting for 22% of Wal-Mart's sales, in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31. Wal-Mex profits are forecast to grow 20% to $1.3 billion this year.

. . .

(p. A14)  In Mexico, Wal-Mart has been a counterweight to the powers that control commerce. One of the most closed economies in the world until the late 1980s, Mexico was dominated for decades by a handful of big grocers and retailers. All were members of a national retailing association called ANTAD, and cutthroat competition was taboo. At the local level, towns are still hostage to local bosses, known here as caciques, the Indian word for local strongmen who control politics and commerce.

. . .

In recent months, as rising prices for U.S. corn pushed up the price of Mexico's corn tortilla, a staple for millions of poor, Wal-Mart could keep tortilla prices largely steady because of its long-term contracts with corn-flour suppliers. The crisis turned into free advertising for Wal-Mart, as new shoppers lined up for the cheaper tortillas.

Wal-Mart also overcame a Juchitán cacique, or local boss: Héctor Matus, a trained doctor who goes by La Garnacha, the name for a fried tortilla snack popular in town. Dr. Matus, 55, owns six pharmacies, stationery stores and general stores. He has also held an array of political posts, including Juchitán mayor and state health minister. As town mayor from 2002 to 2004, he says he blocked a national medical-testing chain from opening in town because it meant low-price competition to local businessmen doing blood work.

But Dr. Matus couldn't persuade local and state officials to block Wal-Mart, and he is feeling the pinch. Sales are off 15% at his stores since Wal-Mart arrived, and he is now lowering prices in response. Even so, he's still more expensive. A box of Losec stomach medicine costs 80 pesos ($7.30) at one of Dr. Matus's stores, marked down from 86 pesos. The price at Wal-Mart is 77 pesos ($7.20).

Dr. Matus isn't happy about the competition. "I could still kick them out of town, because I know how to mobilize people," he said, sitting in his living room surrounded by pictures of him with leading Mexican politicians dating back to the 1970s. Despite his bravado, town officials say Wal-Mart is staying. "The ones who have benefited the most [from Wal-Mart] are the poorest," says Feliciano Santiago, the deputy mayor. "I hope another one comes."

. . .

Gisela López, the 31-year-old head of billing at the Juchitán store, benefited from the retailer's system of promoting from within. Raised by her uneducated, Zapotec-speaking grandparents, Ms. López earned a computer degree at Juchitán's small technical college and then left for the booming northern city of Monterrey in search of opportunity.

Lacking connections, she couldn't find the office job she dreamed about, and took a job at one of Wal-Mart's stores. After three months, Ms. López made cashier supervisor, and later moved over to the billing department. When Wal-Mart opened a store in Juchitán, Ms. López jumped at the chance to move home -- and was promoted to billing chief in the process.

"It's a very different place to work, because you can succeed by your own effort," says Ms. López, whose $12,000-a-year salary now puts her in Mexico's middle class.

Ms. López's story of economic mobility is a rare one. Most of her childhood friends don't have steady jobs, she said. The success stories are friends who inherited jobs from their parents at the state oil company's big refinery in Salina Cruz, about an hour away.

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN LYONS.  "SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY; In Mexico, Wal-Mart Is Defying Its Critics; Low Prices Boost Its Sales and Popularity In Developing Markets."   The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 5, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

WalMartJuchitanMap.gif MatusHector.gif LopezGisela.gif Source of map and images:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




April 8, 2007

Kodak Tries to Survive Creative Destruction

   A Kodak digital production printer.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Digital photography replacing film technology is an example of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction, and maybe also of the gradual growth of a disruptive technology.  Leading incumbent firms frequently have trouble prospering, or even surviving, during such a change.  Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had articles on the latest news from Kodak.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times version:  

 

On Tuesday, as the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled its long-anticipated consumer inkjet printer in New York, the mood at the company’s Rochester headquarters could not have been more positive.

“People know we are back on the offensive,” said Frank Sklarsky, Kodak’s chief financial officer.  “And that’s making them a lot more charged up about coming to work.”

But yesterday, Kodak gave them reason again to feel depressed.  The company said it would cut 3,000 more jobs this year, on top of the 25,000 to 27,000 it had already said would be gone by the end of 2007.  At that rate, Kodak will end the year with about 30,000 employees, half the number of just three years ago and a fraction of the 145,000 people it employed in 1988, when its brand was synonymous with photography.

Kodak executives insist that the new cuts do not indicate any snags in the continuing struggle to transform itself from a film-based company into a major competitor in digital imagery.  And analysts, too, say the cuts are inevitable, and probably healthy.

 

For the full NYT story, see: 

CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH.  "Shrinking Pains at Kodak."  The New York Times   (Fri., February 9, 2007): C1 & C4.

 

For the related WSJ story, see: 

WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and ANGELA PRUITT.  "Kodak Sees More Job Cuts, Higher Restructuring Costs."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., February 9, 2007):  B4.

 

 

 KodakJobsBarGraph.gif KodakJobsGraph.gif PrinterMarketSharePieChart.gif   Source of the first and third graphic:  the WSJ article cited above.  Source of the second graphic:  the NYT article cited above.

 




April 4, 2007

Preventing Creative Destruction Slows Economic Growth

 

GrowthRatesUS-Eur-JapanGraphic.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

It would be interesting to explore why the gap in growth rates was smaller last year than previously.  Was it a statistical fluke?  Or did the U.S. labor market become somewhat less flexible?  Or maybe the job market in Europe and Japan became somewhat more flexible? 

 

FOR more than a decade, many American economists have pointed to Europe and Japan as prima facie evidence that layoffs in the United States are a good thing. The economies in those countries were not nearly as robust as this country’s. And the reason? Too much job security in Europe and Japan, the economists said.

American employers, in sharp contrast, have operated with much more “flexibility.” Hiring and firing at will, they shift labor from where it is not needed to where it is needed. If Eastman Kodak is struggling to establish itself in digital photography, then Kodak downsizes and labor moves to industries and companies that are thriving — software, for example, or health care, or Wal-Mart Stores or Caterpillar.

This shuffling out of one job and into another shows up in the statistics as nearly full employment. Never mind that the shuffling does not work as efficiently as the description implies or that many of the laid-off workers find themselves earning less in their next jobs, an income roller coaster that is absent in Europe and Japan. A dynamic economy leaves no alternative, or so the reasoning goes among mainstream economists.

“Trying to prevent this creative destruction from happening is a recipe for less economic growth and less productivity,” said Barry Eichengreen, an international economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

LOUIS UCHITELLE.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Job Security, Too, May Have a Happy Medium."  The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., February 25, 2007):  5.

 




April 3, 2007