Paul Allen Uses Microsoft Profits for Bold Private Space Project

StratolaunchSpacePlane2012-02-05.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen indicated he is prepared to commit $200 million or more of his wealth to build the world’s largest airplane as a mobile platform for launching satellites at low cost, which he believes could transform the space industry.

Announced Tuesday, the novel, high-risk project conceived by renowned aerospace designer Burt Rutan seeks to combine engines, landing gears and other parts removed from old Boeing 747 jets with a newly created composite craft from Mr. Rutan and a powerful rocket to be built by a company run by Internet billionaire and commercial-space pioneer Elon Musk.
Dubbed Stratolaunch and funded by one of Mr. Allen’s closely held entities, the venture seeks to meld decades-old airplane technology with cutting-edge booster-rocket designs in an unprecedented way to assemble a hybrid that would offer the first totally privately funded space transportation system.

For the full story, see:
ANDY PASZTOR And DIONNE SEARCEY. “Paul Allen, Supersizing Space Flight; Billionaire’s Novel Vision Has Wingspan Wider Than a Football Field, Weighs 1.2 Million Pounds.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 5, 2011): B1 & B5.

“What Success Had Brought Him, . . . , Was Freedom”

(p. 5) The success of Pixar’s films had brought him something exceedingly rare in Hollywood: not the house with the obligatory pool in the backyard and the Oscar statuettes on the fireplace mantel, or the country estate, or the vintage Jaguar roadster–although he had all of those things, too. It wasn’t that he could afford to indulge his affinity for model railroads by acquiring a full-size 1901 steam locomotive, with plans to run it on the future site of his twenty-thousand-square-foot mansion in Sonoma Valley wine country. (Even Walt Dìsney’s backyard train had been a mere one-eighth-scale replica.)
None of these was the truly important fruit of Lasseter’s achievements. What success had brought him, most meaningfully, was freedom. Having created a new genre of film with his colleagues at Pixar, he had been able to make the films he wanted to make, and he was coming back to Disney on his own terms.

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
(Note: ellipsis in title was added.)
(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.)

“Human Progress Is Built on Man’s Desire to Correct His Mistakes”


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

(p. A17) Yu Hua is one of China’s most acclaimed novelists, hugely popular in his own country and the recipient of several international literary prizes. He brings a novelist’s sensibility to “China in Ten Words,” his first work of nonfiction to be published in English. This short book is part personal memoir about the Cultural Revolution and part meditation on ordinary life in China today. It is also a wake-up call about widespread social discontent that has the potential to explode in an ugly way.
. . .
Mr. Yu argues that corruption infects every aspect of modern Chinese society, including the legal system. Historically, Chinese peasants with grievances could go to the capital and petition the emperor for redress. Today, Mr. Yu writes, millions–yes, millions–of desperate citizens flock to Beijing each year hoping to find an honest official who will dispense justice where the law has failed them at home. What will happen when they discover that their leaders at the national level are just as corrupt as those at the local level?
The violence and deprivations of the Cultural Revolution are by now well known, but Mr. Yu’s reminiscences add color and texture to what the world has learned in recent years about that lost decade. The youthful Yu Hua is something of a wise guy and a schemer, pitting himself against bureaucratic inanities. It is sometimes impossible to know whether to laugh or cry.
. . .
As awful as the Cultural Revolution was, in Mr. Yu’s telling its horrors sometimes pale next to those of the present day. The chapter on “bamboozle” describes how trickery, fraud and deceit have become a way of life in modern China. “There is a breakdown of social morality and a confusion in the value system of China today,” he states. He writes, for example, about householders around the country who are evicted from their homes on the orders of unscrupulous, all-powerful local officials.
Mr. Yu’s portrait of contemporary Chinese society is deeply pessimistic. The competition is so intense that, for most people, he says, survival is “like war.” He has few hopeful words to offer, other than to quote the ancient philosopher Mencius, who taught that human progress is built on man’s desire to correct his mistakes. Meanwhile, he writes, “China’s pain is mine.”

For the full review, see:
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. “BOOKSHELF; Cultural Lexicon; People, leader, reading, revolution, disparity, copycat and bamboozle–some words that serve as a springboard for critiques of China.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 7, 2011): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The book under review is:
Yu, Hua. China in Ten Words. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011.

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.

Marco Rubio’s Parents Worked Hard so He Could Do Something He Loves


Marco Rubio. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 10) Your parents came to Miami from Cuba in the 1950s. Your dad became a bartender, and your mom worked as a hotel maid, among other jobs. Was it always clear that you wouldn’t follow them into a service job?

The service industry is hard, honorable work, but early on my parents drove it into us that a job is what you do to make a living; a career is when you get paid to do something that you love. They had jobs so I could have a career.
. . .
Koch Industries, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among your top career campaign contributors. What do you say to people who believe that they’re investing in you so that you’ll push to overhaul the tax code to their benefit?
People buy into my agenda. I don’t buy into anyone’s agenda. I tell people what I stand for, and the things I’ve stood for were the same at the very beginning, when none of those people were giving me money.

For the full interview, see:
ANDREW GOLDMAN, interviewer. “TALK; Marco Rubio Won’t Be V.P.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 29, 2012): 10.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 26, 2012.)

Even Krugman Worries that China Faces “Economic Crisis”

China’s economy is often touted as an exemplar of the success of government stimulus policies at promoting economic growth. So it is worth noting when a Nobel-Prize-winning international economist and advocate of government stimulus policies worries that in China:

(p. A25) . . . the bubble is bursting — and there are real reasons to fear financial and economic crisis.
. . .
I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the Chinese situation, in part because it’s so hard to know what’s really happening. All economic statistics are best seen as a peculiarly boring form of science fiction, but China’s numbers are more fictional than most. I’d turn to real China experts for guidance, but no two experts seem to be telling the same story.

Still, even the official data are troubling — and recent news is sufficiently dramatic to ring alarm bells.
. . .
Real estate investment has roughly doubled as a share of G.D.P. since 2000, accounting directly for more than half of the overall rise in investment. And surely much of the rest of the increase was from firms expanding to sell to the burgeoning construction industry.
Do we actually know that real estate was a bubble? It exhibited all the signs: not just rising prices, but also the kind of speculative fever all too familiar from our own experiences just a few years back — think coastal Florida.
. . .
For what it’s worth, statements about economic policy from Chinese officials don’t strike me as being especially clear-headed. In particular, the way China has been lashing out at foreigners — among other things, imposing a punitive tariff on imports of U.S.-made autos that will do nothing to help its economy but will help poison trade relations — does not sound like a mature government that knows what it’s doing.
And anecdotal evidence suggests that while China’s government may not be constrained by rule of law, it is constrained by pervasive corruption, which means that what actually happens at the local level may bear little resemblance to what is ordered in Beijing.

For the full commentary, see:
PAUL KRUGMAN. “Will China Break?” The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A25.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 18, 2011.)

Pixar as a Case Study on Innovative Entrepreneurship


Source of book image:

Toy Story and Finding Nemo are among my all-time-favorite animated movies. How Pixar developed the technology and the story-telling sense, to make these movies is an enjoyable and edifying read.
Along the way, I learned something about entrepreneurship, creative destruction, and the economics of technology. In the next couple of months I occasionally will quote passages that are memorable examples of broader points or that raise thought-provoking questions about how innovation happens.

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

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.

Creative Destruction Helps Us Be Well

WSJ review quoted and cited below.

Dr. Eric Topol’s credible and thought-provoking comments on the over-use of stents appeared in entries in this blog in August 2006 and in December 2006.

(p. A15) “The U.S. government has been preoccupied with health care ‘reform,’ but this refers to improving access and insurance coverage and has little or nothing to do with innovation,” even though, as Dr. Topol notes, adopting new approaches would improve care and lower costs. . . .
. . .
“The Creative Destruction of Medicine”–an allusion to economist Joseph Schumpeter’s description of “creative destruction” as an engine of business innovation–is a venture capitalist’s delight, describing dozens of medical technologies that show great promise. The book also provides colorful anecdotes about Dr. Topol’s own sampling of these products, as both a doctor and stand-in patient.
. . .
. . . , full adoption of the new tools will require the Food and Drug Administration to alter the way it evaluates products. The FDA, he says, should allow the testing of drugs on patients who are selected for their prospect of deriving a benefit. Right now, the FDA usually requires drugs to be tested in a scattershot fashion on large populations. With drugs being tested on cancer patients, he notes, the “FDA insists on a body count to be able to quantify how much and how long the new drug improves survival”–even though diagnostic markers can sometimes reveal in advance which patients are unlikely to gain a benefit.
Dr. Topol worries that doctors will resist technologies that empower patients because the tools will also diminish the doctors’ gatekeeper role. The American Medical Association, for example, battled firms that provide genetic information directly to patients. “This arrangement ultimately appears untenable,” the author writes, “and eventually there will need to be full democratization of DNA for medicine to be transformed.”

For the full review, see:
SCOTT GOTTLIEB. “BOOKSHELF; Digital Doctoring; It’s hard to fake sleep to avoid your spouse’s bedtime chatter when a ‘Zeo clock’ is displaying your real-time brain waves.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., February 3, 2012): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the title “BOOKSHELF; Digital Doctoring; The digital revolution can spur unprecedented advances in the medical sciences, argues Eric Topol in “The Creative Destruction of Medicine”.”)

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

Euro Haiku

Welfare states’ debt due
Ratings downgrades, states default
Euro muddles through

Arthur Diamond

The haiku above was my entry in response to the haiku challenge in the Kauffman Foundation’s First Quarter 2012 survey “of top economics bloggers.” The haiku challenge was: “The euro is troubled, so what is its fate in 2012 and/or what should policymakers do?”

The results of the Q1 2012 survey can be found at:

Stem Cell Therapy for Dry Macular Degeneration


“Dr. Steven Schwartz, a retina specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted the trial with two patients.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B7) LOS ANGELES — A treatment for eye diseases that is derived from human embryonic stem cells might have improved the vision of two patients, bolstering the beleaguered field, researchers reported Monday.
The report, published online in the medical journal The Lancet, is the first to describe the effect on patients of a therapy involving human embryonic stem cells.
. . ..
Both patients, who were legally blind, said in interviews that they had gains in eyesight that were meaningful for them. One said she could see colors better and was able to thread a needle and sew on a button for the first time in years. The other said she was able to navigate a shopping mall by herself.
. . .
. . . , researchers at Advanced Cell Technology turned embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelial cells. Deterioration of these retinal cells can lead to damage to the macula, the central part of the retina, and to loss of the straight-ahead vision necessary to recognize faces, watch television or read.
Some 50,000 of the cells were implanted last July under the retinas in one eye of each woman in operations that took about 30 minutes.
One woman, Sue Freeman, who is in her 70s, suffered from the dry form of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of severe vision loss in the elderly.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW POLLACK. “Stem Cell Treatment for Eye Diseases Shows Promise.” The New York Times (Thurs., January 26, 2012): B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated January 25, 2012.)


“Sue Freeman said her vision improved in a meaningful way after the treatment, which used embryonic stem cells.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.