Natural Gas Helps U.S. Reduce Carbon Emissions

(p. A11) BONN, Germany — Industrial emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise to record highs in 2017 after a three-year plateau, scientists said Monday [Nov. 13, 2017]. It’s a sign that the world is still far from achieving its goals to limit global warming.
. . .
. . . , after a brief dip last year, China’s emissions are projected to rise approximately 3.5 percent this year. Local governments invested heavily in infrastructure and construction projects to stimulate growth, while unfavorable rainfall patterns have reduced output from the nation’s hydropower dams, said Lauri Myllyvirta, who analyzes China’s energy trends for Greenpeace.
. . .
Much of the fall in American emissions has come as increasing supplies of natural gas, wind and solar power have driven hundreds of coal plants into retirement. .

For the full story, see:
BRAD PLUMER and NADJA POPOVICH . “Carbon Emissions, Once Flat, Are on the Rise.” The New York Times (Tuesday, NOV. 14, 2017): A11.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 13, 2017, and has the title “CO2 Emissions Were Flat for Three; Years. Now They’re Rising Again.”)

Growing Percent of Firms in Developed Countries Are Zombies

ZURICH–The number of profit-constrained “zombie” firms has risen sharply since the late 1980s, according to research published Sunday by the Bank for International Settlements, a sign of the lingering effects from ultralow interest rates since the financial crisis.
Zombie firms are generally defined as companies that can’t service their debt from profits during an extended period. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe, steer resources away from healthier parts of the economy, weighing on productivity and economic growth.
“The prevalence of zombie firms has ratcheted up since the late 1980s,” according to a paper published Sunday by the Switzerland-based BIS, a consortium of central banks, in its quarterly review of financial market developments.
Under a broad definition–the ratio of earnings before interest and taxes to interest paid is less than one for three-straight years in companies more than 10-years old–the percentage of zombie companies rose from 2% in the late 1980s to 12% in 2016. The data used by the authors covered 14 developed economies including the U.S., Japan, Germany and France.
And they seem to stay that way for longer. The authors found that whereas in the late 1980s zombie firms had a 60% chance of staying in that condition the following year, the probability reached 85% in 2016. Low interest rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt.
“Lower rates boost aggregate demand and raise employment and investment in the short run. But the higher prevalence of zombies they leave behind misallocate resources and weigh on productivity growth,” the authors wrote.

For the full story, see:

Brian Blackstone. “Rise of the Zombies: Ranks of Non-Viable Firms Up Sharply Since 1980s, Study Says; Low rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt.” The Wall Street Journal (Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/rise-of-the-zombies-ranks-of-non-viable-firms-up-sharply-since-1980s-study-says-1537718401?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2

(Note: at least as of Oct. 1, 2018, this article appears only to have been published online.)

The study published in BIS Quarterly Review, and mentioned above, is:
Banerjee, Ryan Niladri, and Boris Hofmann. “The Rise of Zombie Firms: Causes and Consequences.” BIS Quarterly Review (Sept. 2018): 67-78.

Origin of False Memories

(p. A19) Memories are subject to serious flaws, given the limitations and imperfections of the biological and psychological processes of recording, retaining and recalling them. Memories aren’t computer files with exacting recall and retrieval functions. They are often disassembled and stored in “packets” in multiple brain locations. People don’t store the fine details of all daily experiences, because of neuron capacity limitations. Even important details can be missed or lost.
Hence the brain must be selective in which memories it stores and must condense them so that many details are left out. Many eyewitnesses and even victims of crimes don’t take note of the facial features of gun-toting assailants or the make and color of getaway cars.
. . .
My colleague Elizabeth Loftus was able to “implant” false memories in a significant subset of laboratory subjects by showing them an official-looking poster of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Many subjects later remembered meeting Bugs Bunny on a childhood trip to Disneyland. Some of them even reported that Bugs had touched them inappropriately.
That was impossible. Bugs Bunny isn’t a Disney character.

For the full commentary, see:
Richard B. McKenzie. “A Stumble Down Memory Lane; Like Kavanaugh’s latest accuser, people often have ‘gaps.’ They don’t always fill them with truth..” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, September 25, 2018): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 24, 2018.)

The commentary quoted above is partly based on McKenzie’s book:
McKenzie, Richard B. A Brain-Focused Foundation for Economic Science: A Proposed Reconciliation between Neoclassical and Behavioral Economics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018..

“An Insular Fortress of Thought Coercion”

(p. A3) WASHINGTON–A day before Google’s chief was set to meet with high-ranking Republicans, critics in a congressional hearing accused the internet giant and other tech firms of being “insular” and dismissive of the free-speech rights of conservatives.
. . .
At Thursday’s House subcommittee hearing, Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) warned that tech companies’ alleged bias is beginning to be noticed by the public. “Americans are beginning to recognize this quiet trend in our society in which one group or another systemically silences another’s beliefs with which they disagree,” he said in his opening statement.
Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing a group of conservative Google employees claiming employment discrimination by the company, directed lawmakers to media reports concerning its alleged blacklisting of phrases, articles and websites, and the blocking of conservative YouTube videos.
“Big Tech has become an insular fortress of thought coercion and vindictive behavioral control,” she said.

For the full story, see:
McKinnon, John D. “Tech Firms Face Political Bias Accusations.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 28, 2018): A3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2018, and has the title “Tech Firms Face Bias Accusations at Congressional Hearing.” The online version includes additional paragraphs, but the passages quoted above appear in both the online and print versions. The formatting above, follows the print version.)

Low Interest Rates Increased Zombie Firms After Economic Crisis of 2008

ZombieFirmsIncreaseGraph2018-10-03.png

Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) Italian clothing maker and retailer Stefanel SpA became famous for its knitted coats and cardigans.

Many economists, investors and bankers know Stefanel as something starkly different: a zombie company. It has posted an annual loss for nine of the last 10 years and restructured its bank debt at least six times, including several grace periods when Stefanel only had to pay interest on what it owed.
After booming during Italy’s post-World War II expansion, Stefanel and its lumbering factories were overwhelmed by Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara and then battered by the economic slowdown that hit Italy in 2008.
Stefanel is still alive but staggering. So are hundreds of other chronically unprofitable, highly indebted companies being kept afloat with new infusions from lenders and shareholders, especially in Southern Europe.
Economists and central bankers say zombies undercut prices charged by healthier competitors, create artificial barriers to entry and prevent the flushing out of (p. A10) weak companies and bad loans that typically happens after downturns.
Now that the European economy is in growth mode, those zombies and their related debt problems could become a drag on the entire continent.
“The zombification of the corporate sector and banks [is] a risk for future living standards,” Klaas Knot, a European Central Bank governor and the head of the Dutch central bank, said in an interview.
. . .
In some ways, zombie firms are an unintended side effect of years of easy money from the ECB, which rolled out aggressive stimulus policies, including negative interest rates, to support lending and growth. Those policies have been sharply criticized in some richer eurozone countries for making it easier for banks to keep struggling corporate borrowers alive.

For the full story, see:
Eric Sylvers and Tom Fairless. “Zombie Companies Haunt Europe’s Economic Recovery.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, November 16, 2017): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 15, 2017, and the title “A Specter Is Haunting Europe’s Recovery: Zombie Companies.”)

Drug Middlemen Create “Perverse Incentive” for Higher List Prices

(p. B1) The Department of Health and Human Services is scrutinizing the system of rebates and discounts paid to middlemen as medicine flows from manufacturers to patients. Those middlemen, such as drug wholesalers, pharmacies, and pharmacy-benefit managers, are often compensated as a percentage of a drug’s list price. That creates a perverse incentive for higher list prices throughout the system.
. . .
Pfizer , which made headlines earlier this month by pausing a slate of planned price increases due to White House criticism, sounds ready for reform. Chief Executive Ian Read on a conference call with analysts last week predicted that rebates are “going away” over the long term. Mr. Read added that the larger gaps between list and net prices amounted to a “subsidy” for companies in the drug supply chain and blamed those subsidies for the relatively weak sales of certain lower-priced versions of blockbuster drugs.

For the full commentary, see:
Charley Grant. ” HEARD ON THE STREET; Skies Darken for Drug Middlemen.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018): B1.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 7, 2018.)

Visionary Manifesto for Driverless Cars

(p. A13) Not surprisingly, optimism leaps off the pages of Lawrence D. Burns’s “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car–and How It Will Reshape Our World,” a combination of memoir and visionary manifesto. In contrast to “the personally owned, gasoline-powered, human-driven vehicles that have dominated the last century,” Mr. Burns writes, “we’re transitioning to mobility services based on electric-powered and driverless vehicles, paid for by trip or through subscriptions.” These services, he says, will get us around “safely and conveniently.” Meanwhile, we will avoid the “hassles of car ownership” and the time lost in parking and pumping gas, not to mention the costs that having a car entails.
. . .
After leaving GM during its 2009 bankruptcy, Mr. Burns became an ever-more emphatic advocate for the reinvention of the automobile, soon teaming up with Mr. Urmson and other technology pioneers at Google. This front-row seat at the project that popularized autonomous cars informs some of the most lively parts of “Autonomy.” At one point, a milestone goal is thought to be needed, with a payout bonus, so when Larry Page (Google’s co-founder) says, “I want this thing on any street in California to drive one hundred percent autonomous,” the Larry1K challenge is launched. The development of Waymo’s “Firefly” low-speed driverless car takes longer than expected and teaches the Silicon Valley team a new respect for Detroit’s skills. In turned out that “designing a vehicle was comparatively easy,” Mr. Burns writes. What was difficult was ” ‘hardening’ the vehicle’s various components”–making every part work under every driving condition. This was “the process at which Detroit engineering talent excelled.” A deal with Ford Motor Co. fails, but an investment banker and analyst, inspired by one of Mr. Burns’s visionary papers, does join Ford on a driverless-car project. As Mr. Burns recounts, personality clashes eventually blew up Google’s dream team and led to a lawsuit over intellectual-property theft against Uber, which had bought a driverless-trucking company founded by a Waymo veteran.

For the full review, see:
Edward Niedermeyer. “BOOKSHELF; Fast-Tracking A Driverless Car.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, August 28, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Autonomy’ Review: Fast-Tracking a Driverless Car; A period of remarkable progress seems to be giving way to a host of challenges that can’t be solved with engineering talent alone.”)

The book under review, is:
Burns, Lawrence D., and Christopher Shulgan. Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car–and How It Will Reshape Our World. New York: Ecco, 2018.