About 90% of Current Jobs Include Tasks that Are Hard to Automate

(p. B1) They replaced horses, didn’t they? That’s how the late, great economist Wassily Leontief responded 35 years ago to those who argued technology would never really replace people’s work.
. . .
(p. B6) A research paper published last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development argued that even the occupations most at risk of being replaced by machines contained lots of tasks that were hard to automate, like face-to-face interaction with customers.
It concluded that only 9 percent of American workers faced a high risk of being replaced by an automaton. Austrians, Germans and Spaniards were the most vulnerable, but only 12 percent of them risked losing their jobs to information technology.

For the full commentary, see:
Porter, Eduardo. “ECONOMIC SCENE; Contemplating the End of Human Workhorse.” The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 8, 2016): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 7, 2016, and has the title “ECONOMIC SCENE; Jobs Threatened by Machines: A Once ‘Stupid’ Concern Gains Respect.”)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development paper mentioned above, is:
Arntz, Melanie, Terry Gregory, and Ulrich Zierahn. “The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis.” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189. Paris: OECD Publishing, 2016.

Many Great Inventors Grew Up Poor and Had Little Education

(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives–depending on which side of the gun you were on–because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. “If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?” he wrote. “War would be a thing of the past.” And you wouldn’t need the Gatling gun.
Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in “America the Ingenious” came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, “needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil.” Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York’s Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.

For the full review, see:
PATRICK COOKE. “BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship–as American as apple pie.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)

The book under review, is:
Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 2016.

Berners-Lee Suggests Web Micropayments Replace Ad Revenue

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-seven years ago, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to easily find information. It has since become the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and commerce — but that doesn’t mean Mr. Berners-Lee is happy with all of the consequences.
. . .
So on Tuesday [June 7, 2016], Mr. Berners-Lee gathered in San Francisco with other top computer scientists — including Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive and an internet activist — to discuss a new phase for the web.
. . .
(p. B6) Consider payments. In many cases, people pay for things online by entering credit card information, not much different from handing a card to a merchant for an imprint.”
At the session on Tuesday [June 7, 2016], computer scientists talked about how new payment technologies could increase individual control over money. For example, if people adapted the so-called ledger system by which digital currencies are used, a musician might potentially be able to sell records without intermediaries like Apple’s iTunes. News sites might be able to have a system of micropayments for reading a single article, instead of counting on web ads for money.
“Ad revenue is the only model for too many people on the web now,” Mr. Berners-Lee said. “People assume today’s consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for ‘free,’ even if they’re horrified by what happens with their data. Imagine a world where paying for things was easy on both sides.”

For the full story, see:
QUENTIN HARDY. “World Wide Web’s Creator Looks to Reinvent It.” The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 8, 2016): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 7, 2016, and has the title “The Web’s Creator Looks to Reinvent It.” )

Hillary Clinton Did Not Give a Rat’s Ass About a Rat’s Ass Lawsuit

(p. A4) LITTLE ROCK, Ark.–One of Hillary Clinton’s first assignments as a corporate lawyer landed her far from her roots. She helped overturn a ballot measure that increased electric rates for businesses and lowered them for the poor.
“Instead of defending poor people and righting wrongs, we found ourselves squarely on the side of corporate greed against the little people,” her colleague, Webb Hubbell, later wrote.
The future presidential contender worked for 15 years as a corporate litigator at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas’s capital, longer than any other position in or out of government. Her portrait still hangs in the firm’s downtown offices.
. . .
In her 2003 book, Mrs. Clinton writes only briefly about her work at Rose. She highlights a couple of cases, including her first jury trial, where she defended a canning company sued by a man who found the rear end of a rat in his pork and beans. He claimed he couldn’t kiss his fiancĂ©e because every time he thought about the situation he would spit.
Mrs. Clinton argued the man hadn’t suffered any real damages and because the rodent part had been sterilized it would be considered edible in parts of the world. She said the plaintiff won “only nominal damages.” Mrs. Clinton didn’t identify the name of the man or the company involved.

For the full story, see:
LAURA MECKLER and PETER NICHOLAS. “Clinton’s Forgotten Law-Firm Career.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 29, 2016): A4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 28, 2016, and has the title “Hillary Clinton’s Forgotten Career: Corporate Lawyer.”)

Longer Permit Delays Slow Construction of Houses

(p. A3) Home prices and rents are surging in Denver, but local builder Jared Phifer said his construction work virtually ground to a halt last fall.
The reason: He can’t get permits for new projects.
The process can take as long as eight months, at which point the prices he quoted buyers often are out of date, he said.
The delays are “almost making us go bankrupt,” he said. “We’ve had to put a halt on so many projects that I’m in the process of getting a loan for $150,000 to cover all of our expenses.”
. . .
Developers of single-family homes reported that the median delay was seven months in 2015, compared with four months in 2011, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
. . .
Last July [2015], Denver saw the biggest permit backlog in its history, according to Brad Buchanan, the executive director of community planning and development. Residential projects were taking as long as three months to review, three times the target duration. Apartment and office projects were taking two months to review, although some developers and homeowners reported waiting much longer.
“Last summer our phones were ringing off the wall with people who couldn’t even get permits to change out water heaters,” said Jeff Whiton, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver.

For the full story, see:
LAURA KUSISTO. “Home Builders Slowed by Permit Delays.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 4, 2016): A3.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 3, 2016.)

When People’s Lives Stagnate They “Often Become Angry, Resentful”

(p. 3) Benjamin M. Friedman of Harvard University, in his book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” (Knopf, 2005), said that at a deep level people make judgments about the economic progress that they see in their own lifetimes, and in comparison with the progress made by the previous generation, especially their own parents. Few people study economic growth statistics. But nearly everyone knows what they are being paid. If they realize that they are doing less well than their forebears, they become anxious. And if they can’t see themselves and others in their cohort as progressing over a lifetime, their social interactions often become angry, resentful and even conspiratorial.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT J. SHILLER. “Economic View; Weak Economies Foment Ethnic Nationalism.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., OCT. 16, 2016): 3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 14, 2016, and has the title “Economic View; What’s Behind a Rise in Ethnic Nationalism? Maybe the Economy.”)

The Benjamin Friedman book mentioned in the commentary above, is:
Friedman, Benjamin M. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Tech Start-Up Grows with No Outside Money

(p. B6) . . . , it’s possible to create a huge tech company without taking venture capital, and without spending far beyond your means. It’s possible, in other words, to start a tech company that runs more like a normal business than a debt-fueled rocket ship careening out of control. Believe it or not, start-ups don’t even have to be headquartered in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.
There is perhaps no better example of this other way than MailChimp, a 16-year-old Atlanta-based company that makes marketing software for small businesses. If you’ve heard of MailChimp, it’s either because you are one of its 12 million customers or because you were hooked on “Serial,” the blockbuster true-crime podcast that MailChimp sponsored.
Under the radar, slowly and steadily, and without ever taking a dime in outside funding or spending more than it earned, MailChimp has been building a behemoth. According to Ben Chestnut, MailChimp’s co-founder and chief executive, the company recorded $280 million in revenue in 2015 and is on track to top $400 million in 2016. MailChimp has always been profitable, Mr. Chestnut said, though he declined to divulge exact margins. The company — which has repeatedly turned down overtures from venture capitalists and is wholly owned by Mr. Chestnut and his co-founder, Dan Kurzius — now employs about 550 people, and by next year it will be close to 700.
As a private company, MailChimp has long kept its business metrics secret, but Mr. Chestnut wants to publicize its numbers now to show the road less traveled: If you want to run a successful tech company, you don’t have to follow the path of “Silicon Valley.” You can simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost.
. . .
“Every time we sat down with potential investors, they never seemed to understand small business,” Mr. Chestnut said. Venture capitalists always wanted MailChimp to serve “enterprise companies,” large businesses with thousands of employees and, potentially, thousands to spend.
“Everybody we talked to said, ‘You’re sitting on a gold mine, and if you pivot to enterprise, you could be huge,'” Mr. Chestnut said. “But something in our gut always said that didn’t feel right.”

For the full story, see:
Farhad Manjoo. “STATE OF THE ART; A Road Less Traveled to Success as a Start-Up.” The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 6, 2016): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2016, and has the title “STATE OF THE ART; MailChimp and the Un-Silicon Valley Way to Make It as a Start-Up.”)

Regulatory Restrictions on Business Have Doubled Since 1975

GrowingRegulatoryRestrictionsGraph2016-10-31.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) Measuring the regulatory state is no easy task. The Code of Federal Regulations contains more than a million restrictions, as signified by the use of the words “shall,” “must,” “may not,” “required,” and “prohibited,” according to two scholars from the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The total has doubled since 1975, pausing only during Ronald Reagan’s first term and Bill Clinton’s second.

Rule enforcement is also getting more serious. Responding to accusations of lax oversight in the past, federal authorities have imposed criminal penalties, in particular on financial companies, averaging $7 billion a year in the past four years, up fourfold from the prior 11, according to Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
. . .
Brent Skorup, a scholar at the Mercatus Center, says regulators like the FCC increasingly extract behavioral conditions from companies via transaction approvals rather than rule-making. For example, Comcast Corp. acquired NBC Universal in 2011 after agreeing to a long list of conditions, from not charging for faster network access (aka abiding by “net neutrality”) to expanding local, public-interest and children’s programming.

For the full commentary, see:
GREG IP. “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; AT&T Feels Growing Reach of Presidency.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 27, 2016): A2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 26, 2016 title “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Reaction to AT&T-Time Warner Deal Shows Presidency’s Growing Reach.”)

The data presented in the left panel of the graph above is described in the following article:
Al-Ubaydli, Omar, and Patrick A. McLaughlin. “Regdata: A Numerical Database on Industry-Specific Regulations for All United States Industries and Federal Regulations, 1997-2012.” Regulation and Governance (2015), doi: 10.1111/rego.12107.

The data can be downloaded at:
http://regdata.org/data/

The Garrett results mentioned above, are reported in his article:
Garrett, Brandon L. “The Rise of Bank Prosecutions.” The Yale Law Journal Forum (May 23, 2016): 33-56.

After Global Warming Hits Vietnam: “We Live Better Now”

(p. A9) On a chilly January day recently, Do Van Duy slugged back another shot of rice liquor. It had been a good year for raising fish in the Red River delta of northern Vietnam. He and other villagers in Nam Dien had gathered to toast their success as the Lunar New Year approached–and question whether climate change is such a bad thing after all.
“We live better now,” said Mr. Duy, 31 years old, who now farms grouper, shrimp and crab in the brackish waters of the delta after giving up rice a few years ago. “If you can make the switch there’s a lot more money to be made.”
Nearly three-quarters of households in Nam Dien have abandoned rice farming, said Bui Van Cuong, a fisheries official with the People’s Commune in Nam Dien, as salt water flows farther into the delta’s farmland. “The changes are very apparent over the past 10 years,” Mr. Cuong said.
The shift is focusing attention on a difficult question: Is it better to invest resources in fighting the effects of climate change, or in helping people adapt?
. . .
“Their competitive advantage is changing,” said Le Anh Tuan, a director at the Institute for Climate Change Studies at Can Tho University. “The delta might not always be the best place to grow rice, but people can raise shrimp instead.”

For the full story, see:
JAMES HOOKWAY. “Vietnam’s New Tack in Climate Fight.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 25, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has title “Vietnam Tries New Tack in Climate-Change Battle: Teach a Man to Fish.”)

Immigration Depresses Wages of Low-Wage Americans

(p. A11) Mr. Borjas is himself an immigrant, having at age 12 fled from Cuba to Miami with his widowed mother in 1962, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis shut down legal exits. As a labor economist, he has spent much of his academic career studying the effects of immigration on the American jobs market, often arguing that immigration depresses wages, or job opportunities, at the lower end of the scale. Here he notes that, on balance, the added production supplied by immigrants makes a modest contribution to U.S. economic growth. He generously provides readers with arguments on all sides, including Milton Friedman’s wry observation that illegal immigrants are of more net benefit to the American economy than legals because they make less use of welfare-state services.
. . .
After totting up the pluses and minuses, Mr. Borjas concludes that immigration has very little effect on the lives of most Americans. He does worry, however, that some future wave might bring along with it the “institutional, cultural and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries” from which immigrants often come, and he sees a need for reforms.

For the full review, see:

GEORGE MELLOAN. “BOOKSHELF; The Immigration Debate We Need.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review, is:
Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Unions Spend $108 Million on 2016 Elections

UnionPresidentialElectionSpendingGraph2016-11-14.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) PHILADELPHIA–U.S. labor unions are plowing money into the 2016 elections at an unprecedented rate, largely in an effort to help elect Hillary Clinton and give Democrats a majority in the Senate.

According to the most recent campaign-finance filings, unions spent about $108 million on the elections from January 2015 through the end of August [2016], a 38% jump from $78 million during the same period leading up to the 2012 election, and nearly double their 2008 total in the same period. Nearly 85% of their spending this year has supported Democrats.

For the full story, see:
BRODY MULLINS, REBECCA BALLHAUS and MICHELLE HACKMAN. “Labor Unions Step Up Presidential-Election Spending.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A1 & A4.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 18, 2016, and has the title “Unions Up the Election Ante.”)