“Politicians Use Economics the Way a Drunk Uses a Lamppost”

(p. A13) Mr. Blinder cites what he calls the Lamppost Theory: “Politicians use economics the way a drunk uses a lamppost–for support, not for illumination.”

For the full review, see:
Matthew Rees. “BOOKSHELF; What They Don’t Teach in Econ 101.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 17, 2018): A13.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Advice and Dissent’ Review: What They Don’t Teach in Econ 101.”)

The book under review, is:
Blinder, Alan S. Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

Paying Consumers for Their Data

(p. B4) WASHINGTON–For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.
An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

For the full story, see:
McKinnon, John D. “Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title “Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.”)

Government Uses Cruel Painful Snare Traps to Kill Gorgeous Respectful Foxes

(p. A18) BRIGANTINE, N.J. — Red foxes can be found all over New Jersey, wandering out of the woods and poking through garbage at dusk in search of a meal. In many places, they might be overlooked, if not seen as a disease-carrying nuisance. But not in Brigantine, an island community where the fox has become an unofficial ambassador.
Many residents warmly share stories of their encounters, like the fox that would routinely come up to a back door or the time a children’s soccer game had to pause so one could cross the field. A fox makes an appearance on the cover of the city’s tourism guide, as much of an attraction as its golf course and pristine beaches. A real estate company regularly sends its mascot, Briggy the Fox, to community events.
Yet the island is also the seasonal home to piping plovers, a small bird that returns every year to dig its nests on the beach. The bird is an endangered species in New Jersey that state wildlife officials closely watch and fiercely protect, including from foxes, creating a bitter conflict that has caused an uproar as residents protest the trapping and killing of the animals.
Some are challenging the use of snare traps, a contraption that they describe as cruel and painful. The contretemps has also stirred a wider debate: Is it fair to kill one animal for the sake of protecting another?
“It disgusts me,” said Donna Vanzant, who owns a marina. “Why go after these gorgeous animals? Just let nature take its course.”
State lawmakers recently wrote a letter to wildlife officials expressing their “deep concern,” and the City Council passed a resolution condemning the “inhumane and indiscriminate killing of red foxes.” Briggy the Fox attended the meeting and held a sign: “Please stop killing my friends.”
“Everyone on the island cherishes the foxes and does not want them killed,” said Donna Grazioli DeAngelis, a retired teacher who started a petition online, which about 90,000 people have signed. “They have been so respectful, so perfect in every way,” she said of the foxes. “People paint them, photograph them. They haven’t been a nuisance in any way.”
. . .
“It’s an overreach and overreaction,” Philip J. Guenther, Brigantine’s longtime mayor, said of the fox trapping. “It just doesn’t seem to make any sense from a protection standpoint.”

For the full story, see:
Rick Rojas. “To Save One Precious Animal, a Town Must Sacrifice Another.” The New York Times (Monday, May 7, 2018: A18.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 6, 2018, and has the title “Trapping Foxes to Save Plovers Sets Off Showdown at Jersey Shore.” The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)

China’s “Double Whammy for Prospective Entrepreneurs”

(p. B12) China’s past attempts to stoke indigenous innovation have a checkered history. A flood of cheap capital and high, state-set solar power rates in the mid-2000s secured China’s place as the world’s number one solar cell manufacturer. But it also led to enormous overcapacity, which sank prices and pushed debt burdens higher, making investment in real R&D more difficult. For investors, China’s solar champions have been a losing proposition–American depositary receipts of top firms such as JinkoSolar are worth less than half of their peak in 2010. Robotics, a key element of Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing, is exhibiting similar tendencies.
The state-centric nature of China’s financial system–and its weak intellectual property protection–represents a double whammy for prospective entrepreneurs. Small private-sector firms often only have access to capital through expensive shadow banking channels, and face the risk that some better connected, state-backed firm will make off with their designs–with very little recourse.

For the full story, see:
Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. “‘Chinese Innovation Won’t Come Easily Without U.S. Tech.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 23, 2018): B12.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title “Can China’s Red Capital Really Innovate?”)

The Diversity That Matters Most Is Diversity of Thought

(p. A15) If you want anyone to pay attention to you in meetings, don’t ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: “Just to play devil’s advocate . . .” If you disagree with something, just say it and hold your ground until you’re convinced otherwise. There are many such useful ideas in Charlan Nemeth’s “In Defense of Troublemakers,” her study of dissent in life and the workplace. But if this one alone takes hold, it could transform millions of meetings, doing away with all those mushy, consensus-driven hours wasted by people too scared of disagreement or power to speak truth to gibberish. Not only would better decisions get made, but the process of making them would vastly improve.
. . .
In the latter part of her book, Ms. Nemeth explores in more detail how dissent improves the way in which groups think. She is ruthless toward conventional “brainstorming,” which tends toward the uncritical accumulation of bad ideas rather than the argumentative heat that forges better ideas. It’s only through criticism that concepts receive proper scrutiny. “Repeatedly we find that dissent has value, even when it is wrong, even when we don’t like the dissenter, and even when we are not convinced of his position,” she writes. “Dissent . . . enables us to think more independently” and “also stimulates thought that is open, divergent, flexible, and original.”
. . .
Ms. Nemeth’s punchy book also has an invaluable section on diversity in groups. All too often, she writes, in pursuit of diversity we focus on everything but the way people think. We look at a group’s gender, color or experience, and once the palette looks right declare it diverse. But you can have all of that and still have a group that thinks the same and reinforces a wrong-headed consensus.
By contrast, you can have a group that is demographically homogeneous yet violently heterogeneous in the way it thinks. The kind of diversity that leads to well-informed decisions is not necessarily the kind of diversity that gives the appearance of social justice. That will be a hard message for many organizations to swallow. But as with many of the arguments that Ms. Nemeth makes in her book, it is one that she gamely delivers and that all managers interested in the quality and integrity of their decision-making would do well to heed.

For the full review, see:
Philip Delves Broughton. “BOOKSHELF; Rocking The Boat.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 9, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipsis internal to a paragraph, in original; ellipses between paragraphs, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 10, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘In Defense of Troublemakers’ Review: Rocking the Boat.”)

The book under review, is:
Nemeth, Charlan. In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

San Francisco Suffers Net Loss of People as Tech Booms

(p. A3) San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.
In 2016 and 2017, more people moved out of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area–an urban core of 4.7 million people in a broader region known as the Bay Area–than moved into it from other parts of California or the U.S., according to U.S. census data.
In the year that ended July 1, the region showed a net loss of nearly 24,000 residents to the rest of the country, roughly double the loss of the previous year and a sharp reversal from net annual gains of about 15,000 as recently as 2013-14.
Economists said the outflow is being driven by the high cost of housing in the area, where the average home value in several counties surpasses $1 million.

For the full story, see:
Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. “‘San Francisco’s Boom Leads to an Exodus.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 23, 2018): A3.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title “San Francisco Has a People Problem.”)

Ecosocialism: The “Green-and-Red Agenda” to Eradicate Capitalism

Not all environmentalists are motivated by a desire to destroy capitalism. But some are. See below.

(p. 26) Joel Kovel, a former Freudian psychiatrist who evolved into an apostle of what he called ecosocialism, a so-called green-and-red agenda against the environmental evils of globalization and in favor of the nonviolent eradication of capitalism, died on Monday [April 30, 2018] in Manhattan.
. . .
Whenever he launched an ideological crusade, he did so zealously — even if, as in the case of ecosocialism, its very definition and the collateral demand for an appealing alternative to capitalism were not self-evident.
Under ecosocialist theory, income would be guaranteed, most property and means of production would be commonly owned, and the abolition of capitalism, globalism and imperialism would unleash environmentalists to vastly curtail industrialization and development whose pollution would otherwise cause catastrophic global warming.
“Capitalist production, in its endless search for profit, seeks to turn everything into a commodity,” Dr. Kovel wrote in 2007 on the socialist website Climate and Capitalism. “It is plain that production will have to shift from being dominated by exchange — the path of the commodity — to that which is for use, that is for the direct meeting of human needs.”

For the full obituary, see:
Sam Roberts. “Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 6, 2018): 26.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 4, 2018, and has the title “Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81.”)