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.)

How Wilson and the Feds Turned “Only Influenza” into “The Great Influenza”

Here is the core of John Barry’s account of how President Woodrow Wilson, and his administration, turned what might have been an ordinary flu, into what, by some measures, was the worst pandemic in human history:

(p. 396) . . . , whoever held power, whether a city government or some private gathering of the locals, they generally failed to keep the community together. They failed because they lost trust. They lost trust because they lied. (San Francisco was a rare exception; its leaders told the truth, and the city responded heroically.) And they lied for the war effort, for the propaganda machine that Wilson had created.

It is impossible to quantify how many deaths the lies caused. It is impossible to quantify how many young men died because the army refused to follow the advice of its own surgeon general. But while those in authority were reassuring people that this was influenza, only influenza, nothing different from ordinary “la grippe,’ at least some people must have believed them, at least some people must have exposed themselves to the virus in ways they would not have otherwise, and at least some of these people must have died who would otherwise have lived. And fear really did kill people. It killed them because those who feared would not care for many of those who needed but could not find care, those who needed only hydration, food, and rest to survive.

Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. Revised ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

How Government Universal Health Care Works in India

JahanAmirIndianWeaver2009-09-26.jpg “Amir Jahan found her health insurance wouldn’t pay for all of her $200 stomach surgery; she continues to work with an untreated tumor.” Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A14) PANIPAT, India — Amir Jahan can spin thick, white thread into magnificent cloth, but the 46-year-old weaver has been unable to unravel her health plan to pay for stomach surgery.

Under a health-insurance program introduced a few years ago, the Indian government has provided health-insurance coverage for the country’s hand-loom weavers, a group of 6.5 million workers, 60% of them female, who are mostly illiterate and invariably poor. Yet holding an insurance card hasn’t helped Ms. Jahan, who says the coverage only pays for minor ailments and not for major problems, such as the removal of a stomach tumor.
“The health care is all a sham,” Ms. Jahan says angrily. “I was refused treatment on grounds of huge expense. I won’t ever go to be humiliated again.”
Ms. Jahan’s health-care issues represent the problems that come with trying to provide insurance to India’s poor. Access to quality care remains a distant dream for many in this country of 1.1 billion.
Last year, the Indian government launched the National Health Insurance Program on (sic) promised health coverage of $700 per person for families earning less than $100 a year.
Holders of health cards have to register in their home states to access benefits, thereby precluding a large population of migrant laborers. Those who can get past the complex state-identification and qualification process often can’t cope with hospital bureaucracies.

For the full story, see:
VIBHUTI AGARWAL. “Indian Weavers Shun Health Plan.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept., 2009): A14.

Gallup Finds Highest Doubts of Government in Decades

(p. A23) If you want to know why Americans are so fearful of a government takeover of the health-care system, take a look at the results of a new Gallup poll on government waste released Sept. 15. One question posed was: “Of every tax dollar that goes to Washington, D.C., how many cents of each dollar would you say is wasted?” Gallup found that the mean response was 50 cents. With Uncle Sam spending just shy of $4 trillion this year, that means the public believes that $2 trillion is wasted.

In a separate poll released on Monday, Gallup found that nearly twice as many Americans believe that there is “too much government regulation of business and industry” as believe there is “too little” (45% to 24%).
Perhaps most significantly, in both of these polls Gallup found that skepticism about government’s effectiveness is the highest it’s been in decades. “Perceptions of federal waste were significantly lower 30 years ago than today,” say the Gallup researchers. Even when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 with the help of the antigovernment revolt of that era, Americans believed only 40 cents of every dollar was wasted, according to Gallup.
. . .
Over the last decade, the federal government has become bloated and inefficient. Voters are on to the scam. Mr. Obama keeps calling federal spending an “investment,” but Americans apparently feel this is the worst investment they’ve ever made. They’ve come to regard Washington as a $2 trillion Bridge to Nowhere. They are right.

For the full commentary, see:
STEPHEN MOORE. “Our $2 Trillion Bridge to Nowhere; Americans believe Washington squanders half of every tax dollar.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 23, 2009): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Government Actions Helped Spread 1918 Influenza


Source of book image: http://www.virology.ws/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/great-influenza.jpg

I like John Barry’s The Great Influenza very much, although not entirely for the reasons that I had expected to like it. I wanted to learn more of the details of the worst flu pandemic in history, and the book delivers those details.
But I had not expected that there would be substantial discussion of the epistemology of science and medicine, and of the political and global context that preceded and affected the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic.
As an added bonus, the book gives substantial coverage to the life and work of one of my heroes, Oswald Avery. As a result of his research related to the pandemic, he discovered that DNA was the genetic material—a huge milestone in the history of medicine. But he never received the Nobel Prize because the Nobel Committee didn’t want to be seen endorsing controversial work that had not stood the test of time.
On the other hand, the Nobel Committee had no such compunctions about giving the Nobel Peace Prize to President Woodrow Wilson. Barry’s book indicts Wilson for having major responsibility for the severity of the pandemic. His administration drafted huge numbers of young men to fight in WWI, bringing them into close contact in shoddy, incomplete training camps. Some of these young men already had the flu, and they quickly spread it to many of their fellow soldiers. The Wilson administration continued to move these soldiers around the country and to Europe, vastly speeding the spread of the disease.
Barry also documents that the Wilson administration, in the name of patriotism and morale, punished those who told the truth about the severity of the pandemic. The results extended far beyond the trampling of civil liberties. For example, there was a huge parade in Philadelphia to sell war bonds, a parade that could easily have been canceled, but was not—igniting the rapid spread of the disease in that hard-hit city. If the newspapers had been allowed to print the truth about the pandemic, then there probably would have been sufficient outcry to cancel the parade; or at the very least, many better-informed citizens would have avoided the parade, and saved their lives, and the lives of their family members.
There is also a lot in book about the biology of the disease that is of interest, and about the suffering of those who experienced it.
But what I found eye-opening was the extent to which the severity of the disease was due to avoidable actions by Woodrow Wilson and his administration.

Source of book discussed above:
Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. Revised ed: New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

For another eye-opening account about Woodrow Wilson and WWI, see:
Raico, Ralph. The Spanish-American War and World War I, Parts 1 & 2: Knowledge Products, 2006.

For a neat little paper on Oswald Avery, see:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “Avery’s ‘Neurotic Reluctance’.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 26, no. 1 (Autumn 1982): 132-36.

Tax Cuts Better Than Stimulus Spending for Raising GDP

(p. A23) The global recession and financial crisis have refocused attention on government stimulus packages. These packages typically emphasize spending, predicated on the view that the expenditure “multipliers” are greater than one–so that gross domestic product expands by more than government spending itself. Stimulus packages typically also feature tax reductions, designed partly to boost consumer demand (by raising disposable income) and partly to stimulate work effort, production and investment (by lowering rates).

The existing empirical evidence on the response of real gross domestic product to added government spending and tax changes is thin. In ongoing research, we use long-term U.S. macroeconomic data to contribute to the evidence. The results mostly favor tax rate reductions over increases in government spending as a means to increase GDP.
. . .
The bottom line is this: The available empirical evidence does not support the idea that spending multipliers typically exceed one, and thus spending stimulus programs will likely raise GDP by less than the increase in government spending. Defense-spending multipliers exceeding one likely apply only at very high unemployment rates, and nondefense multipliers are probably smaller. However, there is empirical support for the proposition that tax rate reductions will increase real GDP.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT J. BARRO AND CHARLES J. REDLICK. “Stimulus Spending Doesn’t Work; Our new research shows no evidence of a Keynesian ‘multiplier’ effect. There is evidence that tax cuts boost growth.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCTOBER 1, 2009): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

A longer and much more detailed account of Barro and Redlick’s recent research on this topic can be found in:
Barro, Robert J., and Charles J. Redlick. “Macroeconomic Effects from Government Purchases and Taxes.” NBER Working Paper # w15369, Sept. 2009.

Dutch Were Too Busy Trading to Build a Church

NewAmsterdamPrint2009-09-26.jpg “Print of New Amsterdam by Joost Hartgers, 1626.” Source of caption and image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) The financial collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession have had, not surprisingly, a major adverse impact on the economy of the country’s financial center, New York City. There have been over 40,000 job losses in the financial community alone and both city and state budgets are deeply dependent on tax revenues from this one industry. There has been much talk that New York might take years to recover–if, indeed, it ever can.

But if one looks at the history of New York there is reason for much optimism. The city’s whole raison d’être since its earliest days explains why.
The Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland first and foremost came to what would be the United States to find the freedom to worship God as they saw fit. The Dutch–who invented many aspects of modern capitalism and became immensely rich in the process–came to Manhattan to make money. And they didn’t much care who else came to do the same. Indeed, they were so busy trading beaver pelts they didn’t even get around to building a church for 17 years.
Twenty years after the Dutch arrived, the settlement at the end of Manhattan had only about a thousand inhabitants. But it was already so cosmopolitan that a French priest heard no fewer than 18 languages being spoken on its streets.
. . .
Deep within the heart of this vast metropolis–like the child within the adult–there is still to be found that little hustly-bustly, live-and-let-live, let’s-make-a-deal Dutch village. And the creation of wealth is still the city’s dearest love.

For the full commentary, see:
JOHN STEELE GORDON. “Opinion; Don’t Bet Against New York; The financial crisis has been devastating, but the city has reinvented itself many times before..” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 19, 2009): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)