July 17, 2018

"Meditation Is Demotivating"



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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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






July 16, 2018

Chinese Communists Subsidize Ghost Town Construction



(p. C3) In China's Inner Mongolia province, in the middle of the Gobi desert, row upon row of largely vacant apartment towers line the streets of Kangbashi, a new district of the city of Ordos. Earlier this month, Xu Yongfen and his family moved into one 28-story building. In the hallways there are a few signs of life--tricycles, slippers and pink children's shoes in front of some doors. But most apartments remain unoccupied, their doors still covered in plastic wrap, and at street level, barren storefronts are visible in all directions. "This area is nearly totally empty," Mr. Xu says, tapping a cigarette into a bowl of ashes at his dining room table.

The city has spent 14 years planning, erecting and maintaining Kangbashi, which has the distinction of being one of China's best-known "ghost towns"--gleaming but sparsely populated new urban centers adjacent to older metropolises. Built by the dozen across the country, the new areas reflect--and were meant to accelerate--China's economic boom. As the country's growth has slowed, many of them have become serious liabilities, deep in debt, with little prospect of full occupancy anytime soon.


. . .

Many of China's other ghost towns have yet to figure out how to jumpstart their economies without slipping back into the old pattern of borrowing and building. To become economically viable, some may take 20 or 30 years, or "maybe even forever," said Zhou Jiangping, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong. In some cases, Mr. Zhou said, local officials encouraged ambitious plans to advance their own careers: "You see all these empty towns, these areas at the edge of cities. They may symbolize the power of some officials." Because many of them then move on to other jobs, he said, they didn't think about ensuring long-term growth.


. . .


Ordos City Investment Real Estate Development Co. recently resumed work on two housing projects that it had set aside five years ago, including Mr. Xu's complex. "Kangbashi's real-estate sales improved, so our company decided to restart construction," said Wang Tianyong, a branch manager, noting that the government's subsidy program favors new projects.



For the full story, see:

Dominique Fong. "China's Ghost Towns Haunt Its Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018.)






July 15, 2018

It No Longer Pays to Recycle



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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






July 14, 2018

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

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


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

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






July 13, 2018

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



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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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






July 12, 2018

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market



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


. . .


The reality is more mundane.


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






July 11, 2018

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



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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

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






July 10, 2018

Those Born Poor, Benefit Less from College Degree



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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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


Shell's commentary is related to her forthcoming book:

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






July 9, 2018

Experimental Immunotherapy Holds Hope of Curing Metastasized Solid Tumor Cancers



(p. B3) WASHINGTON--A novel immunotherapy method led to complete regression of breast cancer in a metastatic patient unresponsive to all other treatments, National Cancer Institute researchers said, suggesting a way to reverse some other internal-organ cancers.

The findings, from the NCI laboratory headed by Steven A. Rosenberg, were published Monday in the medical journal Nature Medicine.

The scientific report largely focused on the course of treatment for one patient, Judy Perkins of Port St. Lucie, Fla.


. . .


The research remains experimental, Dr. Rosenberg said in an interview.

"But because this new approach to immunotherapy is dependent on mutations, not on cancer type, it is in a sense a blueprint we can use for the treatment of many types of cancer," he said. "This could be the future of immunotherapy."

Dr. Rosenberg, who has investigated for three decades how the immune system can be employed to fight cancer, said he is hopeful this approach "holds the best opportunities for finding effective immunotherapies for patients with the solid tumors that last year caused over 500,000 deaths in this country."



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Cancer-Fighting 'Blueprint' Seen." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2018, and has the title "Novel Immunotherapy Method Led to Complete Regression of Breast Cancer in Patient.")






July 8, 2018

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



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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

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









Eight Most Recent Comments:



PaulS said:

Wonderful. Let's go for strict temporal gating as well as spatial gating. Exile everyone not made of money to the anti-social hours of the clock as well as the monster commutes of the far reaches of Queens and Staten Island. How about fixing the subways, and abolishing the nonsense that makes it take 90 years to build one small 2nd Ave line? How about dispersing the overconcentration of people a bit? It's a huge country and modern communication exists. How about paying for same by taxing the living daylights out of the billionaire rentier class who create the problem by forcing ever more people to cram into highly dysfunctional megacities as the price of having any income at all? You gotta love the nexus between airheaded liberals who want to pile everyone on Earth with a sob story into a few US-ian megacities (rather than fix their own governments and problems), and economics types who then want to punish the very same folks by blocking off absolutely everything with an extortionate toll gate. Not.



PaulS said:

"when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty"

In the real world, the politics will get "interesting" with respect to folks who *don't* have $10 to pay for what normally costs $1 or $0.10, and will therefore go thirsty, or be stranded, or worse. Then, also be aware of simple resentment. Then, aggravate the anger with runaway inequality so extreme that the elites running the show will not be inconvenienced in the slightest by any likely level of 'gouging'. Then brace for a social explosion.

All told, it seems fatuous to expect very many people to be happy about being charged, say, an entire car payment just to get home across town from the holiday party. (It seems even more fatuous to expect happiness when the 'gouging' comes as an ongoing life-upending surprise, as with I-66 in Virginia.)

It helps to instead ground oneself in reality. After doing so, it's ridiculously easy to imagine the relevant government and/or employer simply declaring, for example: "If you wish to be allowed to drive a taxi at all, then you will make yourself available, to some specified extent, even at times that may be inconvenient for you."

Indeed, such rules and regulations are utterly banal and commonplace. Nary a soul would weep for Uber if it and its drivers were regulated - even rather harshly - in such a manner. Of course, some souls would become exercised over the minor economic inefficiency of such regulation, but they would number far too few to matter.



PaulS said:

"Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of 'brain fossilization.'"

I had no idea. These days, after all, Curry is very much in the doghouse as a "climate denier". Wow. What, then, can we deduce about the typical (or merely politically-correct?) level of hysteria in the "climate community"? Of course, many in said "community" would force most of us back into the Stone Age while they themselves continue to jet across the world at whim to attend "conventions" in order to signal virtue by delivering half-hour diatribes on saving the "planet" from impending doom.

Maybe, then, The Donald is right (???!) that it is fairly safe to behave just as the doomers do, and ignore the threat - and their own diatribes - as a practical matter? Wouldn't that be weird?



PaulS said:

Another case in point: between them, Google, Tesla, and others have spent countless billions on mapping the USA, enough for at least $1000/mile including every last obscure Forest Service track. That should be more than enough to catalog everything down to the embossing style on every manhole cover. And yet a person can find their way to Grandma's new house with vague turn-by-turn directions or a vague line-sketch that shows no details whatsoever about the road surface or the sidewalks or the crosswalks. And a person will manage the task without needing, in advance, a finely detailed map of the current construction projects, including lane changes etc. But that severe incompleteness won't stop morally-posturing politicians from forcing autonomous cars onto the populace years or even decades before they are actually ready for unsupervised consumer use. That is the essentially only kind of use they will get in the real world. After all, politicians love to posture, they love to toady up to rent-seeking billionaires, and they love photo-ops of themselves gawking at shiny new tech gadgets. Note that when signals were first installed on the Chicago El, the accident rate went up for a time, as trained motormen became careless about watching where they were going. Not-so-trained consumers will be far too busy fiddling with their phones to be ready to take over on a split-second's notice.



PaulS said:

And there will be unicorns. So we'll have some remote working, but we'll be jailing ever more techies in a few obscenely overcrowded, otherworldly-expensive megacities. Just as Microsofties once told us wasting two days on the now-infamously godawful airlines just to physically attend an hour meeting was going away, but both the meetings and the airlines only got worse and worse.

So not really a big deal, just another stylistic business fad. Those come and go like mayflies - while being crammed, confined, and nailed down, remains eternally.



rjs said:

there's a lot GDP doesnt capture, but i'm not sure where Feldstein is coming from about statins...the consumption of drugs is included in the non-durable goods component of PCE, consumption of health care services by themselves account for 12% of GDP, and R & D would be included in investment in intellectual property products.. the problem is that everyone is trying to make GDP into something it's not...it's a measure of goods and services produced by the economy, full stop. it's not intended to measure increases in life expectancy or well being, or any other intangibles..



rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..



Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.





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