“Meditation Is Demotivating”

(p. 6) . . . on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation — striving to obtain a more desirable future — implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.
To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.

For the full commentary, see:
Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack. “GRAY MATTER; Don’t Meditate at Work.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title “GRAY MATTER; Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.”)

The article by Hafenbrack and Vohs, mentioned above, is:
Hafenbrack, Andrew C., and Kathleen D. Vohs. “Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 147 (July 2018): 1-15.

Chinese Communists Subsidize Ghost Town Construction

(p. C3) In China’s Inner Mongolia province, in the middle of the Gobi desert, row upon row of largely vacant apartment towers line the streets of Kangbashi, a new district of the city of Ordos. Earlier this month, Xu Yongfen and his family moved into one 28-story building. In the hallways there are a few signs of life–tricycles, slippers and pink children’s shoes in front of some doors. But most apartments remain unoccupied, their doors still covered in plastic wrap, and at street level, barren storefronts are visible in all directions. “This area is nearly totally empty,” Mr. Xu says, tapping a cigarette into a bowl of ashes at his dining room table.
The city has spent 14 years planning, erecting and maintaining Kangbashi, which has the distinction of being one of China’s best-known “ghost towns”–gleaming but sparsely populated new urban centers adjacent to older metropolises. Built by the dozen across the country, the new areas reflect–and were meant to accelerate–China’s economic boom. As the country’s growth has slowed, many of them have become serious liabilities, deep in debt, with little prospect of full occupancy anytime soon.
. . .
Many of China’s other ghost towns have yet to figure out how to jumpstart their economies without slipping back into the old pattern of borrowing and building. To become economically viable, some may take 20 or 30 years, or “maybe even forever,” said Zhou Jiangping, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong. In some cases, Mr. Zhou said, local officials encouraged ambitious plans to advance their own careers: “You see all these empty towns, these areas at the edge of cities. They may symbolize the power of some officials.” Because many of them then move on to other jobs, he said, they didn’t think about ensuring long-term growth.
. . .
Ordos City Investment Real Estate Development Co. recently resumed work on two housing projects that it had set aside five years ago, including Mr. Xu’s complex. “Kangbashi’s real-estate sales improved, so our company decided to restart construction,” said Wang Tianyong, a branch manager, noting that the government’s subsidy program favors new projects.

For the full story, see:
Dominique Fong. “China’s Ghost Towns Haunt Its Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018.)

It No Longer Pays to Recycle

(p. B1) Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway.
In recent months, in fact, thousands of tons of material left curbside for recycling in dozens of American cities and towns — including several in Oregon — have gone to landfills.
. . .
(p. B5) Recycling companies “used to get paid” by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. “Now they’re paying to have someone take it away.”
In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so.
“There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. “We’ll let our customers make that decision, if they’d like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill.”
Mr. Spendelow said companies in rural areas, which tend to have higher expenses to get their materials to market, were being hit particularly hard. “They’re literally taking trucks straight to the landfill,” he said.

For the full story, see:
Livia Albeck-Ripka. “Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not?” The New York Times (Thursday, May 31, 2018): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2018.)

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size

(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s–inaccurately, as it turned out–that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.
A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.
. . .
Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.
. . .
Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?

For the full commentary, see:
Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. “Stop Propping Up Small Business.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)

The commentary quoted above, is based on:
Atkinson,‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.

The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:
Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. “Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young.” Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.

Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Fall in Price and Rise in Ease of Programming

(p. B4) Robots are moving off the assembly line.
Collaborative robots that work alongside humans–“cobots”–are getting cheaper and easier to program. That is encouraging businesses to put them to work at new tasks in bars, restaurants and clinics.
In the Netherlands, a cobot scales a 26-foot-high bar to tap bottles of homemade gin, whiskey and limoncello so that bartenders don’t need to climb ladders. In Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings. In Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages.
Cobots made up just 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017, according to research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Loup estimates sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025 as demand for the robotic arms rises. About 20 manufacturers around the world have started selling such robots in the past decade.

For the full story, see:
Natasha Khan. “Robots Shift From Factories to New Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 11, 2018): B4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title “Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage.”)

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market

(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .
. . .
The reality is more mundane.
. . .
. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.
Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won’t be a huge problem.

For the full story, see:
Nathaniel Taplin. “China Won’t Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title “China Won’t Dominate Lithium Forever.” The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)

Splendid, Excellent, Salubrious, Salutary, Healthy, Great Jobs Numbers

(p. A16) The real question in analyzing the May jobs numbers released Friday [June 1, 2018] is whether there are enough synonyms for “good” in an online thesaurus to describe them adequately.
So, for example, “splendid” and “excellent” fit the bill. Those are the kinds of terms that are appropriate when the United States economy adds 223,000 jobs in a month, despite being nine years into an expansion, and when the unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent, a new 18-year low.
“Salubrious,” “salutary” and “healthy” work as words to describe the 0.3 percent rise in average hourly earnings, which are up 2.7 percent over the last year — a nice improvement but also not the kind of sharp increase that might lead the Federal Reserve to rethink its cautious path of interest rate increases.
And a broader definition of unemployment, which includes people who have given up looking for a job out of frustration, fell to 7.6 percent. The jobless rate for African-Americans fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest on record, which we would count as “great.”
If anything, some of the thesaurus offerings don’t really do these numbers justice.
. . .
It isn’t perfect — wage growth remains unexceptional despite its growth spurt in May, and the ratio of prime-age adults working remains below its historical levels.
But it has been a strikingly durable and steady expansion, which is what the nation needed after the scars of the 2008 recession. And that’s just plain “good.”

For the full story, see:
Neil Irwin. “How Good? Words Fail Us.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 2, 2018: A16.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2018, and has the title “We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are.” 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.)