Restaurants Add Labor Surcharges to Help Pay Minimum Wage Costs

(p. B1) In lieu of steep menu price increases, many independent and regional chain restaurants in states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are adding surcharges of 3% to 4% to help offset rising labor costs. Industry analysts expect the practice to become widespread as more cities and states increase minimum wages.
“It’s the emerging new norm,” said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. She said California restaurants are adding surcharges as the state lifts the minimum wage every year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2023. It is currently at $10.50 an hour for employers with 26 or more workers.
. . .
While adding a surcharge risks turning diners away, some restaurateurs say they want customers to understand the consequences of higher wages on a business with profit margins of generally between 2% and 6%.
. . .
(p. B2) Sami Ladeki added surcharges to the menu at six Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill restaurants in San Diego and eight more across California. He said it was a mistake to call the charge a state mandate, and has changed the wording. But he remains critical of rising minimum wages.
“This is not sustainable,” said Mr. Ladeki, who says he makes a profit of around 1% charging $12 to $14 a pizza. “People are not going to pay $15 or $20 for a pizza.”
. . .
David Cohn, who owns 15 restaurants in San Diego, including BO-beau, said his 3% surcharge wasn’t a stunt.
“We want people to understand there is a cost,” Mr. Cohn said. “How do we stay in business with margins shrinking and competition increasing?”

For the full story, see:
JULIE JARGON. “New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 10, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017.)

“Warfare Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers”

(p. A7) The scene was a lagoon on the shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya. The time about 10,000 years ago. One group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wounds.
The dead, said the scientists who reported the discovery Wednesday [January 20, 2016] in the journal Nature, seem to have been scattered in no apparent order, and eventually covered and preserved by sediment from the lake. Of 12 relatively complete skeletons, 10 showed unmistakable signs of violent death, the scientists said. Partial remains of at least 15 other people were found at the site and are thought to have died in the same attack.
The bones at the lake, in northern Kenya, tell a tale of ferocity. One man was hit twice in the head by arrows or small spears and in the knee by a club. A woman, pregnant with a 6- to 9-month-old fetus, was killed by a blow to the head, the fetal skeleton preserved in her abdomen. The position of her hands and feet suggest that she may have been tied up before she was killed.
Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection. Others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided.
. . .
Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert A. Foley, of Cambridge University and the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a team of other scientists, concluded in Nature that the find represented warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed. “There’s no other find like it,” he said.
With Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Dr. Glowacki has traced the evolutionary roots of human warfare in chimpanzee behavior. And, he said, this find “shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture.”

For the full story, see:
JAMES GORMAN. “Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers.” The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 21, 2016): A7.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 20, 2016, and has the title “Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers.”)

The Nature article mentioned above, is:
Lahr, M. Mirazón, F. Rivera, R. K. Power, A. Mounier, B. Copsey, F. Crivellaro, J. E. Edung, J. M. Maillo Fernandez, C. Kiarie, J. Lawrence, A. Leakey, E. Mbua, H. Miller, A. Muigai, D. M. Mukhongo, A. Van Baelen, R. Wood, J. L. Schwenninger, R. Grün, H. Achyuthan, A. Wilshaw, and R. A. Foley. “Inter-Group Violence among Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya.” Nature 529, no. 7586 (Jan. 21, 2016): 394-98.

China’s “Ruthless” One Child Policy Forced Some Women to Have Abortions

(p. 15) Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader after 1978, had set a target of quadrupling the country’s per capita national income by 2000. China’s planners decided that they could achieve this goal only if, in addition to increasing the size of the pie, there were fewer people to share it.
So they determined, in their words, to “adjust women’s average fertility rate in advance.” The man who ran the program that treated women as if they were production functions was a rocket scientist, Song Jian, who had worked on ballistic missiles. Song went on to help manage the giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. His was a world in which unintended consequences were not important.
Population control was not unusual in the 1980s. India also had a fertility-­control program. The United Nations gave its first-ever population award to the Chinese minister for population planning in 1983 (along with Indira Gandhi). But China’s application of population control was particularly ruthless.
In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a factory worker pregnant with her second child, was taken to a clinic, forced to sign a document consenting to an abortion and injected with an abortifacient. She was in her seventh month. Pictures of her lying next to her perfectly formed seven-month dead fetus went viral. But hers was hardly an unusual case. In the 1990s, population targets became a major criterion for judging the performance of officials. It is no surprise that they carried out the one-child policy ruthlessly. Reading this account, one wonders why rape as a weapon of war is (rightly) seen as a war crime, whereas the forcible violation of women’s bodies in pursuit of government policy wins United Nations awards.

For the full review, see:
JOHN PARKER. “Little Emperors.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 15.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title “”One Child,’ by Mei Fong.”)

The book under review, is:
Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Entrepreneur Rothblatt Was Highest-Paid Female CEO in 2013

(p. 3) Martine Rothblatt, a serial entrepreneur, has a unique perspective on female 1 percenters. She not only founded Sirius Satellite Radio, but also founded and serves as chief executive of United Therapeutics, a pharmaceuticals company. Ms. Rothblatt was the highest-paid female chief executive in the country in 2013, with compensation of $38 million, yet she does not see her success as a victory for women. She was born as Martin and underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1994.
“I’ve only been a woman for half of my life, and there’s no doubt that I’ve benefited hugely from being a guy,” she told Fortune magazine.
In an interview, Ms. Rothblatt had some surprising suggestions for helping women reach the top. She supports eliminating “say on pay” rules that allow shareholders to vote on executive compensation, and eliminating shareholder advisory groups. “If shareholders do not like the pay a woman is receiving as C.E.O., they should simply sell the stock, and vice versa,” she said.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT FRANK. “INSIDE WEALTH; Plenty of Billionaires, but Few Are Women.” The New York Times, Sunday Business Section (Sun., Jan. 1, 2017): 3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 30, 2016, and has the title “INSIDE WEALTH; Why Aren’t There More Female Billionaires?”)

Music Cassettes Still Thrive

(p. D11) . . . thanks to music fans who are rediscovering the format’s appeal–whether the ability to craft heartfelt mixtapes or the comfort of having tangible music–cassettes are making a comeback. Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.
Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum). The Weeknd’s Grammy-winning release “Beauty Behind the Madness” saw similar sales in cassette form, as did over 20 other albums last year, including the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack and reissues of works by Prince and Eminem.
Although four-digit sales figures might seem paltry, Ms. Johnson deemed 2016 “a breakout year” for cassettes. “You can expect to see many more artists embracing tapes this year and next,” she said.
. . .
“I keep waiting for this to be a fad that will fade out,” said Ms. Johnson of UCLA. “But we’re almost a decade into this and it keeps growing.”

For the full story, see:
NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES. “GEAR & GADGETS; Can’t Stop the Music.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 11, 2017): D11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017, and has the title “GEAR & GADGETS; Why Cassette Tapes Are Making a Comeback.”)

Most “Small Firms Do Not Innovate”

(p. A11) The neglect of small businesses stems in part from the sense that they aren’t very dynamic–that in contrast with startups, they don’t really grow or change from year to year. In a 2011 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley of the University of Chicago found that most of the people running these companies are content to stay small and continue offering the same kinds of products or services as competitors.
“Most firms start small and stay small throughout their entire lifecycle,” they write. “Also, most surviving small firms do not innovate along any observable margin.”
Profs. Ruback and Yudkoff are challenging that attitude. Their argument is that well-trained and energetic new managers can bring process innovations to these businesses that can fundamentally alter their trajectories. In many cases, the firms purchased by Harvard Business School graduates have begun hiring and growing. The alumni who are running them can make a good living today–and potentially see very good returns in the future, if and when they sell their better-run, more-profitable firm at a premium.

For the full commentary, see:
NITIN NOHRIA. “Appreciating the Big Role of Small Businesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A11.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2016,)

The published version of the Hurst and Pugsley paper mentioned above, is:
Hurst, Erik, and Benjamin Wild Pugsley. “What Do Small Businesses Do?” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Issue 2 (Fall 2011): 73-118.

Walt Disney “Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook”

(p. 4) Here is something that might surprise you: Walt Disney, that icon of American ingenuity, was in financial straits through most of his career. You probably thought he would have been a business genius — a model for others to study. But Disney was an atrocious businessman, constantly running his company into the ground. At the same time, though, he was a corporate visionary whose aversion to typical business practices led to the colossus that the Walt Disney Company became.
. . .
Disney could have expanded the company steadily, building on the success of Mickey Mouse. Instead, he placed a huge and highly risky bet on feature animation. “Snow White” was four years in production and cost over $2 million ($33.5 million in today’s dollars), most of it borrowed from Bank of America against the receipts of the cartoon shorts. The gamble paid off. “Snow White” earned nearly $7 million ($117 million today), most of which he immediately sank into a new studio headquarters in Burbank, Calif., and a slate of features.
. . .
He didn’t care one whit about money. Even his wife, Lillian, complained that she didn’t understand why he didn’t have more of it. After all, she said, he was Walt Disney. Had he not been the studio’s creative force, had the studio not been so closely identified with him, he almost certainly would have been ousted. As it was, both the bankers and his brother pressured him to rein in his ambitions and compromise on the quality of his films.
. . .
And though Disney’s capriciousness and constant reinvention of his company drove his brother and others crazy, it also kept re-energizing the Disney studio and led, in 1955, to Disneyland — a triumph that at last put the company on solid financial footing. Not incidentally, Disneyland sprang from another of Disney’s beliefs: that it was hard to wring greatness from a bureaucracy. He and his team designed the park as a separate entity from the studio, WED Enterprises.
None of this would have been possible without Roy Disney’s understanding that his primary job was to realize his brother’s dreams. He was the businessman whom Disney needed to deal with other businessmen. Walt Disney, at his core, was an artist who tossed out the corporate playbook and operated, as artists usually do, by inspiration. In the end, the company flourished precisely because Disney was such an indifferent businessman.

For the full commentary, see:
NEAL GABLER. “A Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 13, 2015): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2015, and has the title “Walt Disney, a Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.”)

Some of what Gabler discusses in the commentary quoted above, is also discussed in his biography of Disney:
Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.