When Consumers Want More Trucks and SUVs, Feds Mandate More Hybrids and Electrics

(p. B1) DETROIT — While American consumers were taking advantage of low gas prices to buy trucks and sport utility vehicles in large numbers, some automakers delayed investing in slower-selling electrified vehicles.
But with increases in federal fuel-economy standards looming in 2017, car companies are hustling to bring out hybrid and electric models to help them meet the new rules — even though electrified vehicles make up only 2 percent of overall sales.
The federal government has mandated corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But companies need to meet an interim standard of about 37 m.p.g. by next year.
Now, despite declining gas prices, automakers are showing off a raft of electric and hybrid models this week at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

For the full story, see:
BILL VLASIC. “Going Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap.” The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 12, 2016): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 11, 2016, and has the title “Automakers Go Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap.”)

Sutter Headed BHAG Team that Created Boeing 747

Collins and Porras in Built to Last recommend the pursuit of Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A prime example is the Boeing 747.

(p. B9) Joe Sutter, whose team of 4,500 engineers took just 29 months to design and build the first jumbo Boeing 747 jetliner, creating a gleaming late-20th-century airborne answer to the luxury ocean liner, died on Tuesday [August 30, 2016] in Bremerton, Wash.
. . .
In less time than Magellan spent circumnavigating the globe, Boeing engineers transformed Mr. Sutter’s napkin doodles into the humpbacked, wide-bodied behemoth passenger and cargo plane known as the 747. The plane would transform commercial aviation and shrink the world for millions of passengers by traveling faster and farther than other, conventional jetliners, without having to refuel.
. . .
“If ever a program seemed set up for failure, it was mine,” Mr. Sutter said in his 2006 autobiography, “747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation,” written with Jay Spenser.
. . .
Adam Bruckner of the University of Washington’s department of aeronautics and astronautics later described the 747 as “one of the great engineering wonders of the world, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower or the Panama Canal.”
. . .
“Aviators were more than mere mortals to us,” Mr. Sutter recalled in his autobiography. “They were a different breed, intrepid demigods in silk scarves, puttees and leather flying helmets with goggles.”

For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “Joe Sutter, 95, Is Dead; Guided the Development of Boeing’s 747 Jetliner.” The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): B9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title “Joe Sutter, Who Led an Army in Building Boeing’s Jumbo 747, Dies at 95.”)

Sutter’s autobiography, is:
Sutter, Joe, and Jay Spencer. 747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

Maduro Counts on Marxist Professor to Be Miraculous “Jesus Christ of Economics”

(p. B1) CARACAS, Venezuela–President Nicolás Maduro, hoping for an economic miracle to salvage his country, has placed his trust in an obscure Marxist professor from Spain who holds so much sway the president calls him “the Jesus Christ of economics.”
Alfredo Serrano–a 40-year-old economist whose long hair and beard have also elicited the president’s comparison to Jesus–has become the central economic adviser to Mr. Maduro, according to a number of officials in the ruling United Socialist Party and other government consultants.
. . .
Most international and domestic economists blame Venezuela’s food shortages, which have triggered riots, on price controls and expropriations. Mr. Serrano, though, attributes an “inefficient distribution system in the hands of speculative capitalism,” which he says allows companies to hoard products. He also says foreign and local reactionary forces are waging an economic war against Venezuela.
The adviser has championed urban agriculture in a country where about 40% of fertile land is left fallow by price controls and seed shortages. Mr. Maduro created the Ministry of Urban Agriculture, headed by a 33-year-old member researcher at Mr. Serrano’s think tank, Lorena Freitez. A senior adviser at the think tank, Ricardo Menéndez, heads the planning ministry.
“Serrano is a typical European leftist who came to Latin America to experiment with things no one wants at home: state domination, price controls and fixed exchange rates,” said José Guerra, a Venezuelan opposition lawmaker and former chief economist at the central bank.

For the full story, see:
ANATOLY KURMANAEV and MAYELA ARMAS. “Maduro Turns to Spanish Marxist for a Miracle.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 9, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 8, 2016, and has the title “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro Looks to a Marxist Spaniard for an Economic Miracle.”)

Airline Startups Stall in Bureaucratic Regulatory Headwinds

(p. B4) Mr. Vallas owns California Pacific Airlines, known as CP Air, his latest venture in a peripatetic business career that has included stints in areas as varied as land development and other aviation-related ventures.
CP Air has sat on a metaphorical runway for years — engines idling, ready for takeoff — while awaiting certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mr. Vallas’s patience is wearing thin. After all, he is 95, and he regards the airline as a legacy, an exclamation point to a colorful life.
. . .
. . . then there was that matter with the F.A.A. The agency has repeatedly denied applications. A letter from 2013, one of several from the agency, advised him that the application’s contents were “incomplete, inaccurate and do not appear to have been reviewed for quality.”
. . .
The government shutdown in 2013 and the F.A.A.’s staff reduction did not help matters, the agency acknowledges.
. . .
The process of greenlighting a new airline has become more complicated since Mr. Vallas sold a previous venture, a charter service called Air Resorts, in 1997.
He acknowledges the vast increase in paperwork since that era but contends that the conditions for acceptance have been met.
Mr. Vallas’s airline is not the only one that has encountered bureaucratic headwinds. Other proposed airlines are in limbo for various reasons, including Baltia Airlines, created in 1989 to fly between New York City and Russia, which still lacks the authorities’ blessing.

For the full story, see:
MIKE TIERNEY. “ITINERARIES; A Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway.” The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title “ITINERARIES; Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway, Stymied by Bureaucracy.”)

Innovations Make It Easier to Form and Run Smaller Firms

(p. B3) Unilever is paying $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club, a five-year-old start-up that sells razors and other personal products for men. Every other company should be afraid, very afraid.
The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees.
. . .
Now it is possible to leverage technology and transportation systems that never existed before. Dollar Shave Club used Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service started by the online retailing giant in 2006 that encouraged a proliferation of e-commerce companies. Manufacturing now is just as much a line item as is a distribution apparatus. This is the business strategy of many other disruptive companies, including the home-sharing site Airbnb, which upends the idea of needing a hotel. The ride-hailing start-up Uber could never have been possible without a number of inventions including the internet, the smartphone and, most important, location tracking technology, enabling anyone to be a driver.

For the full commentary, see:
STEVEN DAVIDOFF SOLOMON. “Deal Professor; In Comfort of a Close Shave, a Distressing Disruption.” The New York Times (Weds., JULY 27, 2016): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 26, 2016, and has the title “Deal Professor; $1 Billion for Dollar Shave Club: Why Every Company Should Worry.”)

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease

(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body’s functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn’t so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one’s social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.
Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don’t know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.
. . .
Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to “chronic arousal” (or stress).
. . .
Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.
These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress — from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control — was driving much of the difference in survival.

For the full commentary, see:
SANDEEP JAUHAR. “When Blood Pressure Is Political.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)

The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar’s book:
Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

Cutting Taxes Helps Economy More than Increasing Government Spending

I believe the “policy missteps” diagnosis is mainly the right one, but quote some comments on the “secular stagnation” diagnosis because I want to document that for easy access for my book project.

(p. 3) Economists, like physicians, sometimes confront a patient with an obvious problem but no obvious diagnosis. That is precisely the situation we face right now.

. . .
Secular stagnation Lawrence H. Summers, former economic adviser to President Obama, has suggested that the problem predates the recent financial crisis. He points to the long-term decline in inflation-adjusted interest rates as evidence of reduced demand for capital to fund investment projects. He cites several reasons for the change, including lower population growth, lower prices for capital goods and the nature of recent innovations, like the replacement of brick-and-mortar stores with retail websites. The result, he says, is secular stagnation — a persistent inability of the economy to generate sufficient demand to maintain full employment.
His solution? More government spending on infrastructure, like roads, bridges and airports. If the government takes advantage of lower interest rates to make the right investments in public capital — admittedly a big if — the policy would promote employment in the short run as projects are being built and make the economy more productive when they are put into use.
. . .
Policy missteps When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the economy was in the midst of the Great Recession. President Obama’s advisers relied on standard Keynesian theory when they proposed a large increase in government spending to energize the economy. The stimulus package was the administration’s first economic policy initiative. As the economy recovered, the administration supported tax increases to shrink the budget deficit.
But even at the time, there were reasons to doubt this approach. A 2002 study of United States fiscal policy by the economists Olivier Blanchard and Roberto Perotti found that “both increases in taxes and increases in government spending have a strong negative effect on private investment spending.” They noted that this finding is “difficult to reconcile with Keynesian theory.”
Consistent with this, a more recent study of international data by the economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna found that “fiscal stimuli based on tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based on spending increases.”

For the full commentary, see:
N. GREGORY MANKIW. “Economic View; One Economic Sickness, Five Diagnoses.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JUNE 19, 2016): 5.
(Note: ellipses added, bold font in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 17, 2016.)

A Larry Summers paper on his version of secular stagnation, is:
Summers, Lawrence H. “U.S. Economic Prospects: Secular Stagnation, Hysteresis, and the Zero Lower Bound.” Business Economics 49, no. 2 (April 2014): 65-73.

The Blanchard and Perotti paper mentioned above, is:
Blanchard, Olivier, and Roberto Perotti. “An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117, no. 4 (Nov. 2002): 1329-68.

The Alesina and Ardagna paper mentioned above, is:
Alesina, Alberto, and Silvia Ardagna. “Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending.” In Tax Policy and the Economy. Volume 24, edited by Jeffrey R. Brown. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press; Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010, pp. 35-68.