High Palladium Prices Incentivize More Mining and Search for Substitutes

(p. B13) Palladium prices are at their highest level in nearly two decades, as investors bet that rising global growth will buoy automobile production and stoke demand for the rare metal.

. . .

Longer term, the auto industry may consider switching to platinum in gasoline engines if the price of palladium continues to climb, some market participants said.

Shree Kargutkar, portfolio manager at Sprott Asset Management, said he thinks platinum provides a better long-term value alternative to palladium given palladium’s sharp rise.

Still, changes in the automotive industry don’t pose an immediate threat to the rally, he said. Those shifts and mining companies’ efforts to bring more areas of supply on line to capitalize on higher prices are likely to take years.

“We’re not at a point where the palladium bulls have something to worry about,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Ira Iosebashvili and Amrith Ramkumar. “Palladium Soars on Hopes for Growth.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017): B13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 23, 2017, and the title “Palladium Prices Soar in Sign of Global Growth and Auto Demand.” Where there are minor differences in wording, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Regulators Allowed New York City to Exploit Taxi Medallion Buyers

(p. A1) . . . The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, (p. A20) and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “New York’s Top Lawyer Begins Inquiry Into Reckless Taxi Loans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 21, 2019): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2019, and has the title “Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor.” Where the online version includes a few extra words, or slightly different wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

“Outsiders” YouTube Excerpt from EconTalk Podcast on Openness to Creative Destruction

A brief YouTube clip on “Outsiders,” excerpted from the EconTalk podcast on Openness to Creative Destruction. The host and interviewer was Russ Roberts of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. If you click above, the podcast should play right within my blog.

Amazon Will Fund Employees to Quit and Found Delivery Startups

(p. B6) First, Amazon made two-day shipping the norm. Now, as it aims to cut that to a single day, the company is encouraging its employees to quit and start their own delivery businesses.

Under a new incentive program, announced on Monday, Amazon said that it would fund up to $10,000 in start-up costs and provide three months of pay to any employee who decides to make the jump.

The new incentives build on a program the company started last June to encourage anyone, employee or not, to get into the competitive business of last-mile package delivery.

“We’ve heard from associates that they want to participate in the program but struggled with the transition,” Dave Clark, senior vice president for worldwide operations, said in a statement. “Now we have a path.”

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “Amazon Has A Novel Idea For Delivery.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 14, 2019): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 13, 2019, and has the title “Amazon Will Pay Workers to Quit and Start Their Own Delivery Businesses.”)

Environmentalist Regulations Inspire Vigilantes to Destroy Fairy Houses

(p. A10) Monhegan and a growing number of other environmentally conscious locales are fighting the scourge of fairy gardens, miniature habitats built by children and young-at-heart adults to attract tiny mythical creatures.

Typically they include a pint-size house with a path leading to its entrance and surrounded with small plants. The houses can range from rustic lean-tos handmade from twigs, bark and pebbles to store-bought plastic castles accompanied by LED lights, artificial plants, colorful glass beads and a family of fairy figurines.

On Monhegan, it is easy to run afoul of the regulations, which forbid picking living plants or using anything brought from the shore. No items are to be used “from your pockets,” including coins, food and anything plastic.

It is also easy to run afoul of Ms. Durst, a retired computer consultant who, like several other like-minded vigilantes, calls herself a “stomper” and has crushed many a fairy house over the years.

. . .

Julie Cole, . . . , is something of a scofflaw. She oversees a 5,564-member fairy-garden discussion group on Facebook, sells fairy furniture online and teaches fairy-gardening classes near her home in Jefferson, Ohio. “It’s a true taste of serendipity to be along a trail and see a little fairy door on a tree,” says Ms. Cole. “I can’t imagine anyone not liking that, but there’s always someone.”

For the full story, see:

Ellen Byron. “‘Fairy Houses’ Are Violating Building Codes.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 18, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 17, 2018, and the title “Hey Tinkerbell, Get Your Fairy House Up to Code or It’s Coming Down.”)

Gardeners Describe Benefits of Global Warming

(p. A15) When Times readers were asked to describe how they saw climate change affecting their area, several people reported that they were already changing their planting habits due to balmier winter conditions.

“I am now able to grow perennials that were once two temperate zones south of me,” wrote William Borucki, of Buffalo.

Raynard Vinson, of Hampton, Va., wrote: “I overwinter plants that once had to be dug up and protected.”

For the full story, see:

NADJA POPOVICH. “As Climate Changes, So Do Growing Zones, and What Plants Will Thrive Where.” The New York Times (Wednesday, MAY 29, 2019): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 23, 2019, and has the title “How Climate Change May Affect the Plants in Your Yard.”)

Spectrum Property Rights Allowed Wireless to Flourish

(p. A15) Economic activity is increasingly conducted wirelessly, under a regulatory regime developed nearly a century ago—one that favors well-heeled incumbents and does little to encourage efficient use of the spectrum. The difficulty that new entrants face in securing spectrum, along with a system that locks in existing technology, chills investment in next-generation infrastructure.

Given the exciting promise of today’s technology, how did we end up hamstrung by such a backward regulatory regime?

. . .

Mr. Hazlett cites as an example the 1930s-era drama surrounding FM radio. From the start, FM had much better sound fidelity than AM—and so threatened existing AM networks operated by NBC, CBS and AT&T’s wired long-distance telephone network. These companies used the Federal Communications Commission to hamper the development of FM and succeeded in having it moved to a different band after World War II. This rendered all existing FM equipment—purchased by consumers at no small expense—useless and limited stations’ transmission power such that their audiences became too small to sustain a competitive business. So distressing was the episode that the father of FM radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong, ended his own life in 1954. The sad saga was merely an early example of the FCC exhibiting the “capture theory” of regulation, according to which regulators and legislators enact rules nominally in the public interest but in fact designed to enrich specific interest groups.

. . .

Mr. Hazlett devotes a substantial portion of his book to arguments for reforms, the most promising of which rest on the Nobel Prize-winning work of British economist Ronald Coase. Coase showed that, absent transaction costs, well-defined assets will wind up in the hands of the entities that value them most. By assigning property rights to frequencies—thereby turning them into assets and enabling the pricing mechanism—immense value can be created from the more efficient employment of bandwidth. For years, the concept of treating bandwidth like property and distributing it through competitive auctions seemed like a pipe dream. In the 1970s, two FCC commissioners said that the odds that this approach would be adopted “were equal to ‘those on the Easter Bunny in the Preakness.’ ” Well, the Easter Bunny won, and in 1994 the FCC started auctioning wireless licenses.

. . .

. . . for consumers and the public, “The Political Spectrum” is a good reminder of how far we have come. Today few economists question the benefits of well-defined rights, flexible use and auctions. That we are debating how to implement these ideas, rather than whether to do so, is reason for cautious optimism about our wireless future.

For the full review, see:

Gregory L. Rosston. “BOOKSHELF; Unlocking the Airwaves; In regulating radio, the FCC enacted rules nominally in the public interest, but which actually enriched specific interest groups.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 17, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 16, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.