Innovative Entrepreneurs Improve Life for All

(p. A19) In a free-market system, society’s most productive members tend to facilitate upward mobility for all of us, not just for themselves. And not only through their philanthropy.
Oil refining made the Rockefellers rich, but in the process, they made oil products much cheaper and thus more widely available to the poor. Prior to Standard Oil, whale oil and candles were a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. The rest had to go to bed early to save money, explains Burton Folsom, a professor of history at Hillsdale College. “By the 1870s, with the drop in the price of kerosene, middle- and working-class people all over the nation could afford the one cent an hour that it cost to light their homes at night. Working and reading became after-dark activities new to most Americans.”
Rockefeller got rich and America got more productive. Henry Ford did something similar in auto manufacturing, as did Sam Walton of Walmart fame with respect to big-box discount stores. Bill Gates has done more for humanity creating his computer-software fortune than he will ever do giving it away through his foundation. Wealth creation plays a far bigger role than philanthropy or government transfer programs in improving our standard of living, something that those forever trying to “stick it to the rich” either don’t understand or choose to ignore out of political expedience.

For the full commentary, see:
Jason L. Riley. “UPWARD MOBILITY; How a Billionaire Spends His Money Is His Own Business; Progressives are more interested in scapegoating the wealthy than they are in relieving poverty.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 29, 2019.)

Aloysius Siow Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Art revives the lost art of business history in the tradition of Alfred Chandler to write a definitive history of American entrepreneurship. He uses economic theories to organize his encyclopedic knowledge of entrepreneurial success stories. Unlike books by successful entrepreneurs which recount why they personally succeeded, Art looks for themes which are common to these success stories. He provides modest policy suggestions to improve the environment for these entrepreneurs to thrive.

Aloysius Siow, Professor of Economics, University of Toronto.

Siow’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Ports Can and Do Adapt to Rising Sea

(p. B5) When the Port of Virginia began a sweeping renovation of its major Norfolk International Terminals, some easy-to-miss line items on the $375 million agenda included boosting the site’s electric power stations several feet off the ground and adding data servers as far back from the water as possible.
The actions at the fifth-largest container gateway in the U.S. are among the small steps seaports are starting to undertake as more reports project rising ocean levels in the coming years and cargo terminals consider the impact of higher waters and increasingly forceful storm surges.
. . .
Most major ports have infrastructure plans that don’t extend as far into the future as the forecasts for climate change, said Walter Kemmsies, an economist specializing in ports and infrastructure at real-estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
. . .
Ports whose berths are at least 14 feet above sea level at high tide should be safe from flooding for the near future, Mr. Kemmsies said. “As long as the probability is really low and it wouldn’t matter if you raised everything by a foot or two, you leave it alone until the cost-benefit ratio might be higher,” he said.
That is the case at the Port of Houston, where officials said container docks stand 18 feet above the water.
Houston is the largest U.S. hub for energy exports and a rapidly growing container port. It also has withstood some of the worst storms to hit the U.S. in recent years, including Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

For the full story, see:
Erica E. Phillips. “Seaports Add Protections as Ocean Levels Rise.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version has the date Feb. 11, 2019, and has the title “At the Water’s Edge, Seaports Are Slowly Bracing for Rising Ocean Levels.”)

Small Spanish Firms Less Likely to Hire with Higher Minimum Wage

(p. B1) MADRID — As Spain grapples with a turbulent political crisis, one of Europe’s last Socialist governments may soon fall amid the rise of a new nationalism in the country. But whatever the outcome, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is leaving behind a signature legacy: a record increase in the minimum wage.
The 22 percent rise that took effect in January, to 1,050 euros (about $1,200) a month, is the largest in Spain in 40 years. Yet the move has ignited a debate over whether requiring employers to pay more of a living wage is a social watershed, or a risky attempt at economic engineering.
. . .
(p. B4) Over 95 percent of businesses in Spain are small and medium-size firms, many of which operate with thin margins, according to Celia Ferrero, the vice president of the National Federation of Self-Employed Workers.
“You won’t find people disputing that higher wages are needed,” said Ms. Ferrero, whose organization represents many smaller businesses. “The question is whether firms can afford it. Higher wages and social security taxes simply make it more expensive for employers to hire or maintain staffers.”
“It’s not that they don’t want to pay; they literally can’t,” she added.
Lucio Montero, the owner of General Events, which makes booths and backdrops for firms displaying wares at big conventions, employs eight workers on the outskirts of Madrid. He pays each €1,400 a month.
The higher minimum wage and increased social security charges will put upward pressure on his labor bill and already thin margins, he said. It is a cost that he can ill afford.
“I would need to think twice about hiring more people,” said Mr. Montero, walking around his tiny, sawdust-covered factory floor.

For the full story, see:
Liz Alderman. “Spain’s Minimum Wage Has Surged. So Has Debate.” The New York Times (Friday, March 8, 2019): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2019, and has the title “Spain’s Minimum Wage Just Jumped. The Debate Is Continuing.”)

Hot Job Market Helps the Least Well-Off

(p. A15) This past weekend [Sat., March 2, 2019], The Wall Street Journal published a series of stories titled “Inside the Hottest Job Market in Half a Century.” As far as I’m concerned, this jobs record is the story of the year. The Journal’s articles transformed a year of economic data into the new daily reality of getting paid to work in America.
“All sorts of people who have previously had trouble landing a job are now finding work,” the Journal reported. “Racial minorities, those with less education and people working in the lowest-paying jobs are getting bigger pay raises and, in many cases, experiencing the lowest unemployment rate ever recorded for their groups. They are joining manufacturing workers, women in their prime working years, Americans with disabilities and those with criminal records, among others, in finding improved job prospects after years of disappointment.”
Example: A 23-year-old woman, Cassandra Eaton, a high-school graduate and single mother who was working for about $8 an hour at a day-care center in Biloxi, Miss., is doing now what previously would have been unimaginable. She’s an apprentice welder making $20 an hour at a shipyard in Pascagoula.
The unemployment rate for high-school dropouts, a status many depressing books and studies show puts one close to the bottom of the barrel for getting ahead in America, is 5%. Their median wages the past year rose 6%.

For the full commentary, see:
Daniel Henninger. “WONDER LAND; Story of the Year; You have to be obtuse to stare at this jobs record and pretend it isn’t happening.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 7, 2019): A15.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2019.)

Chernobyl Discredited Communism, Not Nuclear Power

(p. C2) In his chilling new book, “Midnight in Chernobyl,” the journalist Adam Higginbotham shows how an almost fanatical compulsion for secrecy among the Soviet Union’s governing elite was part of what made the accident not just cataclysmic but so likely in the first place. Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives — an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn’t always be trusted — he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying.
. . .
Higginbotham describes young workers who were promoted swiftly to positions of terrific responsibility. In an especially glaring example of entrenched cronyism, the Communist Party elevated an ideologically copacetic electrical engineer to the position of deputy plant director at Chernobyl: To make up for a total lack of experience with atomic energy, he took a correspondence course in nuclear physics.
Even more egregious than some personnel decisions were the structural problems built into the plant itself. Most fateful for Chernobyl was the baffling design of a crucial safety feature: control rods that could be lowered into the reactor core to slow down the process of nuclear fission. The rods contained boron carbide, which hampered reactivity, but the Soviets decided to tip them in graphite, which facilitated reactivity; it was a bid to save energy, and therefore money, by lessening the rods’ moderating effect. Higginbotham calls it “an absurd and chilling inversion in the role of a safety device,” likening it to wiring a car so that slamming the brakes would make it accelerate.
. . .
. . . Chernobyl exposed the untenable fissures in the Soviet system and hastened its collapse; the accident also encouraged Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue drastic reforms with even more zeal.
Higginbotham observes that the plant was run like the Soviet state writ large — with individuals expected to carry out commands from on high with an automaton’s acquiescence. At the same time, when it came time to assess responsibility for the disaster, any collectivist fellow feeling evaporated, as the ensuing show trials insistently scapegoated a few individuals (some of them already dead) in a desperate attempt to keep a crumbling system intact.
The accident also decimated international confidence in nuclear power, and a number of countries halted their own programs — for a time, that is. Global warming has made the awesome potential of the atom a source of hope again and, according to some advocates, an urgent necessity; besides, as Higginbotham points out, nuclear power, from a statistical standpoint, is safer than the competing alternatives, including wind.

For the full review, see:
Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Nuclear Disaster In Chilling Detail.” The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019): C2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Enthralling and Terrifying History of the Nuclear Meltdown at Chernobyl.”)

The book under review, is:
Higginbotham, Adam. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.

Farsighted Engelbart Saw That Computers “Would Aid Humans, Not Replace Them”

(p. A15) On Dec. 9, 1968, Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute presented what’s now known as “The Mother of All Demos.” Using a homemade modem, a video feed from Menlo Park, and a quirky hand-operated device, Engelbart gave a 90-minute demonstration of hypertext, videoconferencing, teleconferencing and a networked operating system. Oh, and graphical user interface, display editing, multiple windows, shared documents, context-sensitive help and a digital library. Mother of all demos is right. That quirky device later became known as the computer mouse. The audience felt as if it had stepped into Oz, watching the world transform from black-and-white to color. But it was no hallucination.
. . .
The coolest thing about this story is that, starting 20 years ago, Doug Engelbart was my next-door neighbor.
. . .
One of Engelbart’s biggest influences was Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay, “As We May Think,” which envisioned a “memex” machine–a portmanteau of “memory” and “index”–that would enhance human cognition. While I chased my kids’ errant basketballs in his backyard, Doug would tell me about this sort of “human augmentation,” arguing that computer science was developing in ways that would aid humans, not replace them.

For the full commentary, see:
Andy Kessler. “Life as We Know It Turns 50; The 1968 ‘Mother of All Demos’ showed the world a vision for modern computing.” The Wall Street Journal (Monrday, Dec. 3, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 2, 2018.)