People Root for Billionaires If They Believe They Also Could Become Billionaires

(p. 22) “Billions” manages the feat of making you want the guy who has everything to have even more.
“People still root for billionaires because it reinforces the idea that they can do it too,” Mr. Kirshenbaum said recently. “People don’t want to be in a place where there’s not a lot of magic left in the equation.” Political analysts have long given this explanation for why poor or working-class people vote against tax increases for the wealthy: They want to believe that some day they, too, will have assets to guard.
. . .
Like the TV series, the film “The Big Short” puts you in the position of wanting the investors — or at least the investors depicted on the screen — to win. The movie channels your anger at the banks that came up with the perilous financial instruments that devastated the economy, but it leaves you no room to despise the charmingly eccentric rogue geniuses who made hundreds of millions of dollars shorting the housing market. All that hard work, the culling of documents and the fact-gathering trips to endangered Sun Belt real estate markets — it would be so wrong if they didn’t triumph in the end. Institutions are greedy; people are merely obsessed.

For the full commentary, see:
GINIA BELLAFANTE. “Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least Those Onscreen.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 20, 2016): 22.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 18, 2016, and has the title “Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least on the Screen.”)

Public Policies Choke Off Entrepreneurial Opportunities

George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 1972. He was a fervent advocate for expansion of the federal government.

(p. A12) We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: “Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.” It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.
For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.
Some of the escalation in the cost of health care is attributed to patients suing doctors. While one cannot assess the merit of all these claims, I’ve also witnessed firsthand the explosion in blame-shifting and scapegoating for every negative experience in life.
Today, despite bankruptcy, we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every such incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.

For the full commentary, see:
McGovern, George. “Manager’s Journal: A Politician’s Dream Is a Businessman’s Nightmare.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 1, 1992): A12.

Mokyr Credits the Great Enrichment to a Culture That Values Scientific Inquiry

(p. A13) Life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” Thomas Hobbes proclaimed in 1651, and it had been that way ever since humans had inhabited the Earth. At the time Hobbes wrote those words, life expectancy averaged about 30 years old in his native England and income per person typically was around $5 a day (in 2016 dollars). Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Great Enrichment that followed, the typical subject of Queen Elizabeth II lives to almost 80 and has an income of over $100 a day. Perhaps more impressively, most people in the world today face the prospect of living at least that well within a generation or two.
What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it all start in England? Joel Mokyr, in his fine book, attributes it to the unique and productive culture that evolved there. It was a culture that welcomed change and favored scientific inquiry that spurred radical technological improvements.
. . .
According to Mr. Mokyr, three factors led to the ultimate triumph of the new modern search for scientific truth over the largely inaccurate “science” of the ancients. First, Europe’s fractured political environment was a blessing: Scientists who were banned or ostracized in one political jurisdiction fled to other locales more tolerant of their views. The controversial Franciscan monk, Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564), for example, was often in trouble and moving to evade authorities, leading him to flee from Italy to Switzerland and later, England, Poland and Moravia. Second, the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press around 1440 enormously lowered the cost of widely disseminating knowledge over large areas. Third, an extraordinary intellectual community evolved–Voltaire and others called the Republic of Letters–that made the dissemination of new information (through letters to fellow scientists) obligatory for anyone who wanted to gain respect in the growing international community of scientists.

For the full review, see:
RICHARD VEDDER. “BOOKSHELF; The Genesis of Prosperity; What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it start in England? It had a culture that embraced change and scientific inquiry.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 11, 2016): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 10, 2016.)

The book under review, is:
Mokyr, Joel. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, Graz Schumpeter Lectures. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2016..

“Tax and Regulatory Policies” Influence Intel to Build Arizona Chip Plant

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — Intel, the world’s largest computer chip manufacturer, will invest $7 billion to finish a factory in Arizona, adding 3,000 jobs, the company’s chief executive said on Wednesday after meeting with President Trump at the White House.
The completion of the factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.
Standing beside Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, Brian Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive, said the company had decided to proceed now because of “the tax and regulatory policies we see the administration pushing forward.”

For the full story, see:
VINDU GOEL. “Intel Will Invest $7 Billion in Chip Plant in Arizona.” The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 9, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 8, 2017, and has the title “Intel, in Show of Support for Trump, Announces Factory in Arizona.”)

IBM Advance May Help Sustain Moore’s Law

(p. B3) In the semiconductor business, it is called the “red brick wall” — the limit of the industry’s ability to shrink transistors beyond a certain size.
On Thursday, however, IBM scientists reported that they now believe they see a path around the wall. Writing in the journal Science, a team at the company’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center said it has found a new way to make transistors from parallel rows of carbon nanotubes.
The advance is based on a new way to connect ultrathin metal wires to the nanotubes that will make it possible to continue shrinking the width of the wires without increasing electrical resistance.
One of the principal challenges facing chip makers is that resistance and heat increase as wires become smaller, and that limits the speed of chips, which contain transistors.
The advance would make it possible, probably sometime after the beginning of the next decade, to shrink the contact point between the two materials to just 40 atoms in width, the researchers said. Three years later, the number will shrink to just 28 atoms, they predicted.
. . .
. . . , during the last decade, the pace and power of semiconductor technology has begun to slow. The switching speed of computer chips stopped increasing because heat created by ultrafast processors was rising to the point where the chips would break.
More recently, for most of the industry, the cost of transistors has ceased to decline with each new generation. This has undercut the tremendous power of the technology to create new markets. And this year, Intel announced that the challenges and costs of bringing a new generation of technology to market had forced it to slow the every-two-year pace it had been on for more than a decade.
Now the industry has a new reason for optimism.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “IBM Scientists Find New Way to Shrink Transistors (Measuring in Atoms).” The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 2, 2015): B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 1, 2015, and has the title “IBM Scientists Find New Way to Shrink Transistors.”)

The IBM advance is documented in:
Cao, Qing, Shu-Jen Han, Jerry Tersoff, Aaron D. Franklin, Yu Zhu, Zhen Zhang, George S. Tulevski, Jianshi Tang, and Wilfried Haensch. “End-Bonded Contacts for Carbon Nanotube Transistors with Low, Size-Independent Resistance.” Science 350, no. 6256 (Oct. 2, 2015): 68-72.

Government Job Certification Boards Reduce Opportunities for Former Prisoners

(p. A21) . . . while there’s been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.
. . .
. . . , we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT E. RUBIN. “How to Help Former Inmates Thrive.” The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 3, 2016): A21.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title “The Smart Way to Help Ex-Convicts, and Society.”)

Christian Praise for Ayn Rand Novels

(p. A13) Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE restaurants and a practicing Roman Catholic, finds nothing worrisome in that fact: “I encouraged my six children to read both ‘Fountainhead’ and ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis,” he told me. Each child later read “Atlas Shrugged.” Mr. Puzder argued that “there’s no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels.”
Randall Wallace, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 1995’s “Braveheart,” and the director of 2014’s “Heaven Is for Real,” is such an admirer of Rand’s work that he wrote a screen adaptation of “Atlas Shrugged.” Mr. Wallace, a Southern Baptist, said, “My faith isn’t contradicted by her beliefs. We live in a world of labels, but God surely cares less about the labels we give ourselves than about how we live because of them.” Rand, Mr. Wallace feels, wrote fiercely and fearlessly about bold and brave characters. “I think it would contradictory to my own beliefs not to admire her.”

For the full commentary, see:
JENNIFER ANJU GROSSMAN. “Can You Love God and Ayn Rand?; A friend claims the atheist philosopher at one point saw the appeal of spirituality.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 11, 2016): A13.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 10, 2016.)

The Ayn Rand novels praised above, are:
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943.

Chinese Economic Stimulus Creates Egg Bubble

(p. A1) HONG KONG — China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.
And some of it is going into eggs.
China’s latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country’s hens.
Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China’s chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.
But the market’s usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country’s markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.
The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China’s tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China’s previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly sent money into real estate and the stock market — markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.

For the full story, see:
NEIL GOUGH. “China’s Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures.” The New York Times (Mon., MAY 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 1, 2016, and has the title “China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.”)