Ukrainian Memorial to the Millions Starved by Stalin’s Communism

FamineMemorialKievUkraine.jpg “A memorial to the famine, right, opposite a revered cathedral, was dedicated last November in Kiev. A museum is planned there.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) KIEV, Ukraine — A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.
Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.
The other day, as he stood before a new memorial to the victims of the famine, he recalled his decision as one turning point in a movement lasting decades to unearth the truth about that period. And the memorial itself, shaped like a towering candle with a golden eternal flame, seemed to him in some sense a culmination of this effort.
“It is a sign of our respect for the past,” Professor Kulchytsky said. “Because everyone was silent about the famine for many years. And when it became possible to talk about it, nothing was said. Three generations on.”
. . .
The pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power after the Orange Revolution of 2004, calls the famine a genocide that Stalin ordered because he wanted to decimate the Ukrainian citizenry and snuff out aspirations for independence from Moscow.
The archives make plain that no other conclusion is possible, said Professor Kulchytsky, who is deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History in Kiev.
Professor Kulchytsky is 72, though he looks younger, as if he has somehow withstood the draining effect of so much research into the horrors of that time.
“It is difficult to bear,” he acknowledged. “The documents about cannibalism are especially difficult to read.”
Professor Kulchytsky said it was undeniable that people all over the Soviet Union died from hunger in 1932 and 1933 as the Communists waged war on the peasantry to create farming collectives. But he contended that in Ukraine the authorities went much further, essentially quarantining and starving many villages.
“If in other regions, people were hungry and died from famine, then here people were killed by hunger,” Professor Kulchytsky said. “That is the absolute difference.”

For the full story, see:
CLIFFORD J. LEVY. “Kiev Journal – A New View of a Famine That Killed Millions.” The New York Times (Mon., March 16, 2009): A6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

To Get Things Done “Doesn’t Leave Any Time for Golf or Cocktails”

I am grateful to Matthew Pianetta for calling my attention to this wonderful quotation from the entrepreneurial Admiral Hyman G. Rickover:

(p. 239) “Efficiency isn’t the objective, Dunford, effectiveness is. Don’t confuse effectiveness with efficiency. I’m convinced that the only way to be effective, to make a difference in the real world, is to put ten times as much effort into everything as anyone else thinks is reasonable. It doesn’t leave any time for golf or cocktails, but it gets things done.”

Rickover as quoted in Rockwell, Theodore. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2002.
(Note: paging of quote seems same in both 1992 and 2002 editions.)

Cooking with Cow Shit Adds to Global Warming (and Would Be Ended by Economic Growth)

SootFromCookingIndia.jpg“Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, studies say.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Economic growth is sometimes seen as increasing pollution. But the article quoted below shows that primitive cooking methods, which occur in the absence of economic growth, cause one of the most damaging forms of pollution: black carbon.

(p. A1) KOHLUA, India — “It’s hard to believe that this is what’s melting the glaciers,” said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.
As women in ragged saris of a thousand hues bake bread and stew lentils in the early evening over fires fueled by twigs and dung, children cough from the dense smoke that fills their homes. Black grime coats the undersides of thatched roofs. At dawn, a brown cloud stretches over the landscape like a diaphanous dirty blanket.
In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot — also known as black carbon — from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.
While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the (p. A12) planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming — especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
. . .
Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.
. . .
Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, said that the fact that black carbon was not included in international climate efforts was “bizarre,” but “partly reflects how new the idea is.”

For the full story, see:
ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. “By Degrees; Black Carbon; Soot From Third-World Stoves Is New Target in Climate Fight.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 16, 2009): A1, A12.
(Note: ellipses added; the title of the online version is “By Degrees – Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight.” )


Source of maps: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Entrepreneur’s Dresses “Would Save Mothers Endless Work”

Schumpeter would have loved the passage quoted below—it is a wonderful example for his argument that capitalism mainly benefits ordinary people of modest means.

(p. 147) Listen to how Borgenicht describes his decision to expand beyond aprons:

From my study of the market I knew that only three men were making children’s dresses in 1890. One was an East Side tailor near me, who made only to order, while the other two turned out an expensive product with which I had no desire at all to compete. I wanted to make “popular price” stuff–wash dresses, silks, and woolens. It was
my goal to produce dresses that the great mass of the people could afford, dresses that would–from the business angle–sell equally well to both large and small, city and country stores. With Regina’s help–she always had excellent taste, and judgment–I made up a line of samples. Displaying them to all my “old” customers and friends, I hammered home every point–my dresses would save mothers endless work, the materials and sewing were as good and probably better than anything that could be done at home, the price was right for quick disposal.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

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.

“Whoever Was Prudent, Is Always the One Who Has to Pick Up the Pieces”

(p. A3) “We like a nice, gentle, upward slope,” said Donald E. Goetz, the president of DeMotte State Bank, an 11-branch operation in the northwest part of Indiana.

“This kind of growth, like you see in the stock market” — Mr. Goetz ran his hand through the air, tracing the shape of a mountain range — “that doesn’t interest us.”
. . .
Mr. Goetz, who was wearing a tie and a short-sleeve shirt, started as a teller at DeMotte right after he graduated from college in 1976, and he’s been president since 1988. He is a stolid guy who, when asked what he does for fun, offered two words: “Yard work.”
He sounds somewhat aggrieved. His bank, which opened in 1917, didn’t make any subprime loans, nor did it take any bailout money. Even when bank stocks were soaring, not one of his 246 shareholders needled him to earn more than the 3 to 4 percent dividend that DeMotte has generated for years.
. . .
“We had three or four people panic,” he said. “A couple of them said, ‘It’s not the bank. We just don’t trust the government.’ And I told them, ‘If the government fails, the money you’re taking out of this bank won’t be worth anything.’ ”
Mr. Goetz, like a lot of his competitors, is livid about the mortgage shenanigans born of the securitization craze. But he thinks his public relations problem had many authors.
“The media, Congress, the president, everyone just keeps saying ‘the banks, the banks, the banks,’ like we’re all the same thing,” he said. “Well, we’re not all the same thing.”
. . .
At DeMotte, Mr. Goetz is bracing for a steep increase in a crucial overhead cost: the bill from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is basically an insurance fund underwritten by banks.
Last year, DeMotte paid $42,000 into the fund. This year, because of failures in other parts of the country and particularly among national banks, that sum will rise to $500,000 or more.
“Isn’t that the American way?” he says, folding his arms. “Whoever is left standing, whoever was prudent, is always the one who has to pick up the pieces.”

For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. “We’re Dull, Small Banks Say, and Have Profit to Show for It.” The New York Times (Tues., May 12, 2009): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Past Successful Entrepreneurship is a Predictor of Future Successful Entrepreneurship

DavidowWilliamVentureCapitalist2009-05-31.jpg“William H. Davidow, a venture capitalist, says he would want to know why an entrepreneur’s last deal failed “and what the person learned from it.” ” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The research reported below, goes against the conclusions of some (such as Christensen and Raynor) that entrepreneurs often learn useful lessons from their failures. However, if true, the research has interesting policy implications.
For instance, if it is true that entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the past, are also more likely to succeed in the future, then it makes sense to allow them to keep the wealth from their entrepreneurship. In that case, the wealth is not only an incentive and reward for hard work, and taking risks. It also provides them the seed-funds for ever-more ambitious future entrepreneurial efforts that have a better-than-average chance of success. E.g., the profits from Disney’s cartoon movies, were crucial for funding Disneyland.
(The Gompers et al research is consistent with one of Edwin Mansfield’s papers, that I think I mention in my review of Mansfield’s contributions to the economics of technology.)

(p. 3) Professor Gompers and his co-authors Anna Kovner, Josh Lerner and David S. Scharfstein found that first-time entrepreneurs who received venture capital funding had a 22 percent chance of success. Success was defined as going public or filing to go public; Professor Gompers says the results were similar when using other measures, like acquisition or merger.

Already-successful entrepreneurs were far more likely to succeed again: their success rate for later venture-backed companies was 34 percent. But entrepreneurs whose companies had been liquidated or gone bankrupt had almost the same follow-on success rate as the first-timers: 23 percent.
In other words, trying and failing bought the entrepreneurs nothing — it was as if they never tried. Or, as Professor Gompers puts it, “for the average entrepreneur who failed, no learning happened.”
This finding flies in the face of conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, where failure is regarded as an important opportunity for learning. No less an authority than Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, says that in the Valley, “You’re more valuable because of the experiences you’ve been through under failures.”

For the full article, see:

LESLIE BERLIN. “Prototype; Try, Try Again, or Maybe Not.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 22, 2009): 3.

The research by Gompers et al, can be downloaded from:
Gompers, Paul A., Anna Kovner, Josh Lerner, and David S. Scharfstein. “Performance Persistence in Entrepreneurship.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09-028, 2008.


“Mark Pincus, who founded and then Zynga, says: “As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to failure. It is just part of the path to success.” ” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

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.”

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

Powerful Rail Unions Defend Specious Disability Claims

RailroadDisabilityReport.jpg“LAX REGULATIONS; One examination in 1997 found that 97 percent of workers who applied for disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board were approved. Despite decades of efforts to re-evaluate the standards, the rate is as high or higher today.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) After learning that most of her career employees were retiring early and getting disability payments, the Long Island Rail Road’s president, Helena E. Williams, set out in October to learn more about the obscure federal agency in Chicago that was dispensing the money, a quarter of a billion dollars since 2000.

But when Ms. Williams asked to attend the next meeting of the agency — the federal Railroad Retirement Board, rail workers’ version of Social Security — she got a surprise.
The board, with about $34 billion in assets, had not met formally in nearly two years, and no new meeting was scheduled. The three board members, all full-time presidential appointees, rarely met even in private, employees of the agency say.
Operating out of public view, with little scrutiny from Congress and even from its former inspector general, the retirement board has become the agency that cannot say no, last year approving virtually every single disability application it received — almost 98 percent. It did not matter where rail employees lived or where they worked.
An examination of the board by The New York Times, including dozens of interviews and a review of government records, found a disability program plagued by labor-management infighting, weak standards and a failure to use tests that could better weed out specious disability claims.
. . .
(p. A25) More than a half-dozen state and federal agencies are now investigating the retirement board’s disability payments to former L.I.R.R. employees. In September, two days after The Times published the results of an eight-month investigation that documented those disability payments, federal agents raided the board’s Long Island office.
The L.I.R.R.’s disability rate, which since 2000 has ranged between 93 percent and 97 percent for retired career employees, is three to four times that of the average railroad. Workers at other railroads get disabilities just as easily, but they file for them less often because, unlike L.I.R.R. employees, they cannot retire early with a private pension plan to supplement their disability pay.
. . .
The rail unions, which have remained powerful even as the nation’s labor movement has ebbed, have aggressively defended their interests at the retirement board. Management has largely avoided a showdown, choosing to spend its political capital in other areas, including contract issues, according to current and former board officials.
“The unions have been successful not only in getting a separate system, but keeping it,” said Robert S. Kaufman, a former director of retirement claims for the board.

For the full story, see:
WALT BOGDANICH and NICHOLAS PHILLIPS. “The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn’t Say No.” The New York Times (Mon., December 15, 2008): A1 & A25.
(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title leaves out the word “Railroad.”)


Source of time-line graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Major Advances Seldom Come from Big Incumbent Firms

(p. 109) Most of today’s Fortune 500 were not there fifty years ago. All of the private sector’s net new jobs in the United States during the past twenty years were added by companies not on the Fortune 1000 twenty years ago: two thirds of the net new jobs came from companies with fewer than twenty employees twenty years ago. Ten years ago our automobile giants seemed invincible. Today we wonder whether more than one will survive.

In 1960, Theodore Levitt of Harvard wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Marketing Myopia,” in which he pointed out that every industry was once a growth industry. Perversely, a vicious cycle sets in. After experiencing continued growth for a while, managers in the industry come to believe that continuing growth is assured. They persuade themselves that there is no competitive substitute for their product, and develop too much faith in (p. 110) the benefits of mass production and the inevitable steady cost reduction that results as output rises. Managements become preoccupied with products that lend themselves to carefully controlled improvement and the benefits of manufacturing cost reduction. All of these forces combine to produce an inevitable stagnation or decline.
In Dynamic Economics, the economist Burton Klein puts forward a carefully researched and very similar view: “Assuming that an industry has already reached the stage of slow history, the advances will seldom come from the major firms in the industry. In fact, of some fifty inventions [fifty key twentieth-century breakthrough innovations that he studied] that resulted in new S-shaped curves [major new growth patterns] in relatively static industries, I could find no case in which the advance in question came from a major firm in the industry.” George Gilder elaborates on Klein’s work “The very process by which a firm becomes most productive in an industry tends to render it less flexible and inventive.”
It appears that evolution is continuously at work in the marketplace; that adaptation is crucial; and that few big businesses, if any, pull it off. Many of our excellent companies most probably will not stay buoyant forever. We would merely argue that they’ve had a long run–a much longer and more successful run than most–and are coming much closer than the rest to maintaining adaptability and size at the same time.

Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
(Note: italics and brackets in original.)

Taiwan Government’s Industrial Policy Ruins Economy

ExportsPlungeEastAsia2009-05-31.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) Taiwan, where for years the government encouraged information technology companies with tax breaks, cheap land, loans and more, is probably the most endangered of the small Asian economies. The result of that government largess is an economy extremely dependent on a single industrial sector that has been devastated by plunging worldwide sales of electronics. “Half of the industries just got a bad cold, they probably can recover quickly — the other 50 percent, they’ve got, not cancer, but close,” said Preston W. Chen, a chemicals tycoon who is also the chairman of Taiwan’s Chinese National Federation of Industries.

For the full article, see:
KEITH BRADSHER. “Memo From Singapore – East Asia’s Small Edens of Trade Wilt as Need for Exports Dries Up.” The New York Times (Thurs., March 5, 2009): A8.