As Chinese Government Control of Economy Grows, Entrepreneur Jack Ma Joins Communist Party

(p. B3) HONG KONG — Jack Ma, China’s richest man and the guiding force behind its biggest e-commerce company, belongs to an elite club of power brokers, 89 million strong: the Chinese Communist Party.
. . .
The disclosure of Mr. Ma’s membership reflects the thinking that the party controls the economy and society, said Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a critic of the party.
“It’s going backward from the Deng Xiaoping era, when the party advocated the separation of the party and the government,” she said, referring to the party leader who ultimately governed China during its early years of reform in the 1970s and ’80s.
The disclosure also drew attention because Mr. Ma had in the past tried to keep his distance from the government. When asked at public appearances how he managed government relations, he often said, “Fall in love with the government, but don’t get married.”
But as Mr. Xi tightens ideological controls and the power of the state grows, many successful entrepreneurs have made a point of showing their party loyalty.

For the full story, see:
Li Yuan. “In China, Billionaires Sidle Up to the Party.”The New York Times (Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2018, and has the title “Jack Ma, China’s Richest Man, Belongs to the Communist Party. Of Course.”)

With High Minimum Wages and Living Costs, S.F. Restaurants Cannot Afford, or Even Find, Servers

(p. D1) SAN FRANCISCO — Souvla, a Greek restaurant with a devoted following, serves spit-fired meat two ways: in a photogenic sandwich, or on a photogenic salad, either available with a glass of Greek wine. The garnishes are thoughtful: pea shoots, harissa-spiked yogurt, mizithra cheese.
The small menu is so appealing and the place itself so charming that you almost forget, as a diner, that you have to do much of the work of dining out yourself. You scout your own table. You fetch and fill your own water glass. And if you’d like another glass of wine, you go back to the counter.
Runners will bring your order to the table, but there are no servers to wait on you here, or at the two other San Francisco locations that Souvla has added — or, increasingly, at other popular restaurants that have opened in the last two years: RT Rotisserie, which is roasting cauliflower a few blocks away; Barzotto, a bistro serving hand-rolled pasta in the Mission district; and Media Noche, a Cuban sandwich spot with eye-catching custom tilework.
Inside these restaurants, it’s evident that the forces making this one of the most expensive cities in America are subtly altering the economics of everything. Commer-(p. D6)cial rents have gone up. Labor costs have soared. And restaurant workers, many of them priced out by the expense of housing, have been moving away.
Restaurateurs who say they can no longer find or afford servers are figuring out how to do without them. And so in this city of staggering wealth, you can eat like a gourmand, with real stemware and ceramic plates. But first you’ll have to go get your own silverware.
. . .
On July 1 [2018], the minimum wage in San Francisco will hit $15 an hour, following incremental raises from $10.74 in 2014. The city also requires employers with at least 20 workers to pay health care costs beyond the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to paid sick leave and parental leave.
Despite those benefits, many workers say they can’t afford to live here, or to stay in the industry. And partly as a result of those benefits, restaurateurs say they can’t afford the workers who remain. A dishwasher can now make $18 or $19 an hour. And because of California labor laws, even tipped workers like servers earn at least the full minimum wage, unlike their peers in most other states.
Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that when housing prices rise by 10 percent, the price of local services, including restaurants, rises by about 6 percent. (The median home price in San Francisco has doubled since 2012.)

For the full commentary, see:
Emily Badger. “Hi! You’ll Be Your Server Tonight.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 27, 2018): D1 & D6.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 25, 2018, and has the title “THE UPSHOT; San Francisco Restaurants Can’t Afford Waiters. So They’re Putting Diners to Work.”)

The published version of the Moretti paper, mentioned above, is:
Moretti, Enrico. “Real Wage Inequality.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5, no. 1 (Jan. 2013): 65-103.

Tech Entrepreneurs Know Innovation Thrives in Flexible Labor Markets

(p. B1) A politically awakened Silicon Valley, buttressed by the tech industry’s growing economic power, could potentially alter politics long after President Trump has left the scene. But if the tech industry becomes a political force, what sort of policies will it push?
(p. B6) A new survey by political scientists at Stanford University suggests a mostly straightforward answer — with one glaring twist. The study is the first comprehensive look at the political attitudes of wealthy technologists, whose views have long been misunderstood to the point of caricature by many outside the industry.
. . .
Over all, the study showed that tech entrepreneurs are very liberal — among some of the most left-leaning Democrats you can find. They are overwhelmingly in favor of economic policies that redistribute wealth, including higher taxes on rich people and lots of social services for the poor, including universal health care.
. . .
Now for the twist. The study found one area where tech entrepreneurs strongly deviate from Democratic orthodoxy and are closer to most Republicans: They are deeply suspicious of the government’s efforts to regulate business, especially when it comes to labor. They said that it was too difficult for companies to fire people, and that the government should make it easier to do so. They also hope to see the influence of both private and public-sector unions decline.
. . .
. . . if they’re not libertarians, what accounts for techies’ opposition to regulation? One idea might be that it’s driven by self-interest. A large fraction said they opposed regulating car-sharing services as if they were taxis, for instance; to the extent that the tech elite have a lot of money riding on the sharing economy, they may worry that regulation of such companies could hurt their wallets.
. . .
To tease out whether self-interest was at play in their views on regulation, surveyors asked a question about Uber’s surge-pricing policy, which increases prices during periods of peak demand. But the researchers disguised it with a business unrelated to tech: “On a holiday, when there is a great demand for flowers, sellers usually increase their prices. Do you think it is fair for them to raise their prices like this?”
A majority of Democrats and Republicans said it would be unfair for a florist to do that. But 96 percent of the tech elite thought it would be fair.
“My guess is there’s an underlying principle to their views,” Dr. Broockman said. “They see an entrepreneur trying to do what they want in the marketplace, and they see nothing unfair about that.”

For the full commentary, see:
Farhad Manjoo. “Tech’s Giants Skew Liberal.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 6, 2017, and has the title “STATE OF THE ART; Silicon Valley’s Politics: Liberal, With One Big Exception.”)

The Stanford study, discussed above, has been published online in advance of print publication:
Broockman, David E., Gregory Ferenstein, and Neil Malhotra. “Predispositions and the Political Behavior of American Economic Elites: Evidence from Technology Entrepreneurs.” American Journal of Political Science published online on Nov. 19, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12408.

Star Wars Details Allow “a Fully Believable, Escapist Experience”

(p. A15) Mr. Jameson clearly lays out the qualities that geeks appreciate in their art: realism bolstered by a deep internal history and the sort of “world-building” exemplified by Tolkien. But in Hollywood “Star Wars” changed the game thanks to its verisimilitude, “which immediately and thoroughly convinces viewers that they are watching humans and aliens skip from planet to planet in a vast, crowded other galaxy with its own detailed history.” Similarly, the biological background of the “Alien” series includes Xenomorphs “whose intricate life cycle can be described from beginning to end in grisly detail.” Books like “The Star Trek Encyclopedia,” in which the show’s designers document “all the alien planets and species that they’d invented” and present starship engineering schematics, are quintessential works of geek culture.
Detail is important to geeks, the author suggests, because they want without “any boundaries, any limits. . . . They don’t want the artwork to ever end.” Whether it’s playing a tabletop game filled with lore about previously unknown characters from the “Star Wars” galaxy or reading a “textbook” to study the fantastic beasts of the “Harry Potter” world, geeks want to believe–at least for a bit. As Mr. Jameson says, “geeks have long thought of artworks as places where one can hang out.” That’s one reason why single films have given way to trilogies and why characters have cross-populated to create Marvel’s seemingly endless “cinematic universe.”

For the full review, see:
Brian P. Kelly. “BOOKSHELF; The Geeks Strike Back.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing’ Review: The Geeks Strike Back; The “Star Wars” franchise and Marvel’s superhero films reign supreme in today’s Hollywood. How did that happen?”)

The book under review, is:
Jameson, A. D. I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

False Fears of Killer Robots Distract Us from Real Benefits of Collaborative A.I.

(p. A27) If we spend all of our time looking over our shoulders for killer robots, that means we are not looking ahead to discern the outcomes we might actually want.
. . .
The most successful A.I. systems out there today are dependent on teams of humans, just as the humans depend on those systems to provide insights and perform tasks beyond their own abilities. Image-processing A.I. can outperform human radiologists at spotting tumors in X-rays, if medical personnel get patients in front of the right machine and ask the right questions. But teams of human doctors will be vital to marrying technology and empathy for the effective treatment of complex diseases.

For the full commentary, see:
Ed Finn. “Don’t Fear the Killer Robots.” The New York Times (Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018): A27.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 15, 2018, and has the title “A Smarter Way to Think About Intelligent Machines.”)

Environmentalists Support Logging to Reduce Infernos

(p. A3) FRENCH MEADOWS RESERVOIR, Calif.–Obscured amid the chaos of California’s latest wildfire outbreak is a striking sign of change that may help curtail future devastating infernos. After decades of butting heads, some environmentalists and logging supporters have largely come to agreement that forests need to be logged to be saved.
. . .
The Camp Fire and the 98,400-acre Woolsey Fire in Southern California were fueled by fierce winds in unusually dry weather, which turned much of the state into a tinderbox.
Another dangerous factor, land-management experts say, is that forests have become overgrown with trees and underbrush due to a mix of human influences, including a past federal policy of putting out fires, rather than letting them burn. Washington has also sharply reduced logging under pressure from environmentalists.
Now, the unlikely coalition is pushing new programs to thin out forests and clear underbrush. In 2017, California joined with the U.S. Forest Service and other groups in creating the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, which aims to thin millions of trees from about 2.4 million acres of forest–believed to be the largest such state-federal project in the country.

For the full story, see:
Jim Carlton. “Deadly Fires Shift View of Logging.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018): A3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the same date and has the title “Facing Deadlier Fires, California Tries Something New: More Logging.” The last quoted sentence is the slightly shorter version that appeared in the print version.)

Progress on Cancer Cures Is Slow and Too Few Benefit

(p. 5) The reason is a new generation of cancer treatments that have become available in recent years. Some, called immunotherapy, harness the patient’s own immune system to battle a tumor. Others, known as targeted therapies, block certain molecules that cancers depend on to grow and spread. The medical literature — usually circumspect when it comes to cancer, in light of many overhyped treatments in the past — now fairly gushes with terms like “revolutionary” and “cure.” In this case, the hype feels mostly justified.
. . .
A recent analysis estimated that about 15 percent of patients with advanced cancer might benefit from immunotherapy — and it’s all but impossible to determine which patients will be the lucky ones. Just last week, a study of lung cancer patients demonstrated the overall benefits of combining immunotherapy with traditional chemotherapy. But here, too, the researchers noted that most patients will not respond to the new treatments, and it is not yet possible to predict who will benefit. In some cases, the side effects are terrible — different from those of chemotherapy but often just as dire.

For the full commentary, see:
Robert M. Wachter. “The Problem With Miracle Cancer Cures.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, April 21, 2018): 5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 19, 2018.)

The claim that only 15% benefit, made above, is based on the following:
Howard, Jacqueline. “Hope and Hype around Cancer Immunotherapy.” CNN, Weds., Sept. 27, 2017.
GAY, NATHAN, and VINAY PRASAD. “First Opinion; Few People Actually Benefit from ‘Breakthrough’ Cancer Immunotherapy.” March 8, 2017.