Increasing Minimum Wage Hurts Low Productivity Workers

(p. B1) CHICAGO — A growing number of economists have found that many cities and states have considerable room to raise the minimum wage before employers meaningfully cut back on hiring.
But that conclusion may gloss over some significant responses to minimum-wage increases by individual employers, according to two new studies. And those reactions may, in turn, raise questions about the effectiveness of the minimum wage in helping certain workers.
The findings, presented over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the nation’s premier gathering of academic economists, come as many cities and states are raising their minimum wages. California and New York last year approved gradual increases to $15 per hour. Proponents argue that raising the minimum is one of the most practical ways of improving living standards for the working poor and reducing inequality.
To test that proposition, John Horton of New York University conducted an experiment on an online platform where employers post discrete jobs — including customer service support, data entry, and graphic design — and workers submit a proposed hourly wage for completing them.
Mr. Horton, working with the platform, was able to impose a minimum wage at random on one-quarter of about 160,000 jobs posted over roughly a (p. B4) month and a half in 2013. If a worker proposed an hourly wage that was below the minimum, the platform’s software asked him or her to raise the bid until it cleared the threshold. In some cases the minimum wage was $2 per hour, in some cases $3, and in some cases $4.
At first glance, the findings were consistent with the growing body of work on the minimum wage: While the workers saw their wages rise, there was little decline in hiring. But other results suggested that the minimum wage was having large effects. Most important, the hours a given worker spent on a given job fell substantially for jobs that typically pay a low wage — say, answering customer emails.
Mr. Horton concluded that when forced to pay more in wages, many employers were hiring more productive workers, so that the overall amount they spent on each job changed far less than the minimum-wage increase would have suggested. The more productive workers appeared to finish similar work more quickly.

For the full story, see:
NOAM SCHEIBER. “Studies Find Higher Minimum Wage May Have Losers.” The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 11, 2017): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date JAN. 10, 2017, and has the title “Higher Minimum Wage May Have Losers.”)

The paper that Horton presented at the 2017 AEA meetings in Chicago, is:
Horton, John J. “Evidence from a Minimum Wage Experiment.” Working Paper, Leonard N. Stern School of Business. New York University, Jan. 10, 2017.

Entrepreneur Hires for Perseverance

Max Levchin, who is quoted below, is an entrepreneur who played an important role in the early days of PayPal.

(p. 2) How do you think your parents and grandparents influenced your leadership style today?

My grandmother was exceptionally formative. She basically was willpower personified. If she wanted something to happen, it would happen. She had this walk-through-walls style where you did not ask for permission or forgiveness; you just did what you needed to get it done. I still judge some of my decisions based on: What would Grandma decide? Was I sufficiently tenacious or not enough?
And one thing I have found over the years is that in hiring, the dominant characteristic I select for is this sense of perseverance in really tough situations. It’s like the difference between endurance athletes and sprinters. I think it is a really good predictor for how people behave under severe stress.
Working in a start-up means there is a baseline of stress with occasional spikes. There are people who are really good at handling spikes. In fact, most people are really good at handling spikes. But normal isn’t normal. There is constant stress. And so I look for endurance athletes, in the business sense.

For the full interview, see:
ADAM BRYANT. “Corner Office; Looking for Signs of Endurance.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 11, 2016): 2.
(Note: bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 9, 2016, and has the title “Corner Office; Max Levchin of Affirm: Seeking the Endurance Athletes of Business.” The bold words are Adam Bryant’s question; the non-bold words are Max Levchin’s answer.)

“Patients Should Be the Owners of Their Own Medical Data”

(p. A21) THERE’S quite a paradox when it comes to our health data. Most of us still cannot readily look at it, but there’s been an epidemic of cybercriminals and thieves hacking and stealing this most personal information.
. . .
. . . , giving consumers control of their own medical data would revolutionize who owns medical data and how it is used. Concerns about researchers losing access to this amassed data are overstated. Patients have shown an overwhelming willingness to share their information for altruistic reasons (which far exceeds the track record of doctors and health systems when it comes to sharing data).
. . .
We need to move on from the days of health systems storing and owning all our health data. Patients should be the owners of their own medical data. It’s an entitlement and civil right that should be recognized.

For the full commentary, see:
KATHRYN HAUN and ERIC J. TOPOL. “The Health Data Conundrum.” The New York Times (Tues., January 3, 2017): A21.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 2, 2017.)

British Government Ignored Scurvy Cure

(p. C14) Scurvy, we know today, has a single and simple cause: lack of vitamin C. But between the years 1500 and 1800, when an estimated two million sailors died from the disease, it seemed to defy all logic.
. . .
The conventional medical narrative holds that the mystery was solved by James Lind’s announcement, in his “Treatise of the Scurvy” (1753), that it could be cured by drinking lemon juice. But in “Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery,” Jonathan Lamb, a professor at Vanderbilt University, shows that the story is nowhere near so simple and that scurvy was a much stranger condition than we imagine, with effects on the mind that neuroscience is only now beginning to elucidate. The result is a book that renders a familiar subject as exotic and uncanny as the tropical shores that confronted sailors in the grip of scurvy’s delirium.
James Lind was not the first person to recommend the lemon-juice cure. Contemporaries of Francis Drake had discovered it 150 years before, but the secret was lost and found again many times over the centuries. Some citrus juices were much more effective than others, and their efficacy was reduced considerably when they were preserved by boiling. The British admiralty ignored Lind’s researches, . . .

For the full review, see:
MIKE JAY. “The Disease of the Enlightenment.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C14.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title “Scurvy: The Disease of the Enlightenment.”)

The book under review, is:
Lamb, Jonathan. Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

Superagers Engage in “Strenuous Mental Effort”

(p. 10) Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds.
. . .
Of course, the big question is: How do you become a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort. My father-in-law, for example, swims every day and plays tournament bridge.
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.

For the full commentary, see:
LISA FELDMAN BARRETT. “Gray Matter; How to Become a ‘Superager’.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., January 1, 2017): 10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 31, 2016.)

The passages quoted above are related to Barrett’s academic paper:
Sun, Felicia W., Michael R. Stepanovic, Joseph Andreano, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Alexandra Touroutoglou, and Bradford C. Dickerson. “Youthful Brains in Older Adults: Preserved Neuroanatomy in the Default Mode and Salience Networks Contributes to Youthful Memory in Superaging.” The Journal of Neuroscience 36, no. 37 (Sept. 14, 2016): 9659-9668.

Uber Fights Regulations by Asking Forgiveness, Not Permission

(p. B3) For seven years, Uber’s stance on complying with regulations has been consistent: Ask forgiveness, not permission.
On Friday [December 16, 2016], the ride-hailing company stuck to that position. It said it had no intention of ending a new test of its self-driving vehicles in San Francisco, even though California regulators had said the service was illegal because Uber had not obtained the necessary permits. Uber said its self-driving cars were still on the road and picking up passengers.
The dispute is rooted in Uber’s refusal to seek a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which would allow it to test autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Companies like Google, Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz have all gotten such permits.
Uber officials contend that under the letter of California law, the company does not need a permit because the motor vehicles department defines autonomous vehicles as those that drive “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” Uber said its modified, self-driving Volvo XC90s require human oversight, and therefore do not fit California’s definition of an autonomous vehicle.
. . .
The episode serves the latest volley in Uber’s war with local and state regulators — not only in the United States, but in many of the more than 70 countries in which the company operates. Uber has previously grappled with the authorities in California over safety concerns. And Otto, the self-driving trucking start-up founded by Mr. Levandowski and acquired by Uber in August, has flouted state laws in Nevada in the past.

For the full story, see:
MIKE ISAAC. “Uber Defies California Officials Over Self-Driving Cars.” The New York Times (Sat., December 17, 2016): B3.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2016, and has the title “Uber Defies California Regulators With Self-Driving Car Service.”)

Everybody Is Seeking “a Life that Provides Them with Dignity”

(p. A11) I want to end this dramatic year writing of a man whose great and constructive work I discovered in 2016. He is the photojournalist Chris Arnade.
. . .
In his work you see an America that is battered but standing, a society that is atomized–there are lonely people in his pictures–but holding on.
. . .
Mr. Arnade didn’t intend to discover virtue in a mighty corporation, but McDonald’s “has great value to community.” He sees an ethos of patience and respect. “McDonald’s is nonjudgmental.” If you have nowhere to go all day they’ll let you stay, nurse your coffee, read your paper. “The bulk of the franchises leave people alone. There’s a friendship that develops between the people who work there and the people who go.” “In Natchitoches, La., there’s a twice-weekly Bible study group,” that meets at McDonald’s. “They also have bingo games.” There’s the Old Man table, or the Romeo Club, for Retired Old Men Eating Out.
I’ve written of the great divide in America as between the protected and the unprotected–those who more or less govern versus the governed, the facts of whose lives the protected are almost wholly unaware. Mr. Arnade sees the divide as between the front-row kids at school waving their hands to be called on, and the back-row kids, quiet and less advantaged. The front row, he says, needs to learn two things. “One is how much the rest of the country is hurting. It’s not just economic pain, it’s a deep feeling of meaninglessness, of humiliation, of not being wanted.” Their fears and anxieties are justified. “They have been excluded from participating in the great wealth of this country economically, socially and culturally.” Second, “The front-row kids need humility. They need to look in the mirror, ‘We messed this up, we’ve been in charge 30 years and haven’t delivered much.’ ” “They need to take stock of what has happened.”
Of those falling behind: “They’re not lazy and weak, they’re dealing with bad stuff. Both conservative and progressive intellectuals say Trump voters are racist, dumb. When a conservative looks at a minority community and says, ‘They’re lazy,’ the left answers, ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at the larger context, the availability of jobs, structural injustice.’ But the left looks at white working-class poverty and feels free to judge and dismiss.”
. . .
I asked how he describes his work. I see it as an effort to help America better understand itself. He said he was trying to show that “Everybody is kind of working in the same direction, trying to get by, get a life that provides them with dignity.” In this, he suggests, we are more united than we know.

For the full commentary, see:
PEGGY NOONAN. “Shining a Light on ‘Back Row’ America; Chris Arnade’s photos reveal an America that is battered but standing, atomized but holding on.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 31, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 29, 2016.)