Union Pacific Buying More Chassis to Carry More Containers

(p. B6) Union Pacific is buying more chassis that can carry shipping containers, and opening facilities outside of Los Angeles and in Minnesota to handle the increased volume.

Mr. Foote of CSX said that while supply chains are strained globally, the railroads are handling their role of moving goods between destinations well. A bigger problem of late has been what happens after the cargo gets to its destination.

He said containers carrying finished goods often sit idle because of a lack of truck drivers, equipment to put shipping containers on trucks and warehouse workers to unload them.

For the full story, see:

Paul Ziobro. “Railroads Shun Some Business Amid Congestion.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, October 22, 2021): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 21, 2021, and has the title “Rail-Yard Congestion Holds Down Shipping Volumes,’ CEO Says.”)

Much Is Still Unknown About How the Macroeconomy Works

(p. B5) It has long been a central tenet of mainstream economic theory that public fears of inflation tend to be self-fulfilling.

Now though, a cheeky and even gleeful takedown of this idea has emerged from an unlikely source, a senior adviser at the Federal Reserve named Jeremy B. Rudd. His 27-page paper, published as part of the Fed’s Finance and Economics Discussion Series, has become what passes for a viral sensation among economists.

The paper disputes the idea that people’s expectations for future inflation matter much for the level of inflation experienced today.

. . .

“Macroeconomics behaves like we’re doing physics after the quantum revolution, that we really understand at a fundamental level the forces around us,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview. “We’re really at the level of Galileo and Copernicus,” just figuring out the basics of how the universe works.

“It requires more humility and acceptance that not everything fits into one model yet,” he said.

Or put less politely, as Mr. Rudd writes in the first sentence of his paper, “Mainstream economics is replete with ideas that ‘everyone knows’ to be true, but that are actually arrant nonsense.”

For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. “THE UPSHOT; How Does the Economy Really Work? Your Guess May Be as Good as Policy Experts’.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 5, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated October 15 [sic], 2021, and has the title “THE UPSHOT; Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign.”)

The paper by Rudd, mentioned above, is:

Rudd, Jeremy B. “Why Do We Think That Inflation Expectations Matter for Inflation? (And Should We?),” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2021-062. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, (Sept. 23, 2021). https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2021.062.

Ray Dalio Lacks Principles in His Kowtowing to Chinese Communism

Ray Dalio has authored a book called Principles, but that does not imply that he has any. See the story below.

(p. B1) This year has been unsettling for Chinese business. The ruling Communist Party has gone after the private sector industry by industry. The stock markets have taken a huge hit. The country’s biggest property developer is on the verge of collapse.

But for some of the biggest names on Wall Street, China’s economic prospects look rosier than ever.

BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, urged investors to increase their exposure to China by as much as three times.

“Is China investable?” asked J.P. Morgan, before answering, “We think so.” Goldman Sachs says “yes,” too.

Their bullishness in the face of growing uncertainty has puzzled China experts and drawn criticism from a wide political spectrum, from George Soros, the progressive investor, to congressional Republicans. Mr. Soros has called BlackRock’s stance a “tragic mistake” that’s “likely to lose money” for its clients and would “damage the national security interests of the U.S. and other democracies.”

. . .

(p. B5) Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater, wrote in late July [2021] that people in the West should not interpret Beijing’s crackdowns as “the Communist Party leaders showing their true anticapitalist stripes.” Instead, he wrote, the party believed those moves were “better for the country even if the shareholders don’t like it.”

The relationship has been good to Bridgewater so far. Mr. Dalio’s firm has raised billions of dollars from Chinese clients such as the China Investment Corporation, the sovereign wealth fund, and State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which manages the country’s currency reserves. (Bridgewater declined to comment.)

This is a balance that business has played with China for a long time: Say nice things to Beijing, lobby back home on China’s behalf, then ask for access to markets and capital.

Goldman Sachs became the first foreign bank to seek full ownership of a securities business in China in December. BlackRock, which describes China as an “undiscovered” market, hired a former regulator to head its China business. So many global financial firms are expanding in the country that there’s a talent war.

. . .

The Wall Street firms are apparently betting that China’s past successes will continue. They have a long track record on their side, but they would do well to remember what they constantly tell their customers: Past performance isn’t necessarily indicative of future results.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “Uncertainty Is Rocking China. Why Is Wall Street Bullish?” The New York Times (Saturday, October 7, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 6, 2021, and has the title “China is Rocked by Uncertainty. Why is Wall Street Bullish?”)

Entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield Failed With “Glitch” Before Succeeding With “Slack”

(p. A15) Entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield once tried to build a multiplayer online game but switched to photo sharing, selling Flickr to Yahoo in 2005 for $25 million. Success, but not a home run in Silicon Valley. Mr. Butterfield left Yahoo in 2008 to help found a company called Tiny Speck and build another multiplayer online game called “Glitch.” Persistence! “Glitch” attracted tens of thousands of gamers, but not enough to cover its costs, so Mr. Butterfield killed it in 2012.

Tiny Speck pivoted, which in Silicon Valley means fail and scramble to do something else. The company had built its own crude internal communications system for employees to chat digitally during the development of “Glitch.” Maybe others would use it. Seven months after they started work on Slack, the company announced its preview release. On the first day of the press blitz, 8,000 people requested the preview version. In February 2014 Slack had 16,000 users and by November it had 285,000, with 73,000 paying for it. Now more than 10 million people use it daily. Mr. Butterfield sold Slack to Salesforce for $27.7 billion last year. That’s failing upward!

For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. “INSIDE VIEW; Failure Is Always an Option.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 18, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 17, 2021, and has the title “INSIDE VIEW; Failure Was Always an Option for Elizabeth Holmes.”)

Virtual Reality (VR) Used to Better See Cancer Cell Mutations

(p. R3) Chemist and entrepreneur Jackie von Salm recently walked inside a receptor in the brain to inspect a new drug compound. As she looked at the brightly colored, cascading ribbons around her, she noted something: Part of the atomic structure, a series of thick, orange rods and hexagons, jutted toward her in an odd way, suggesting that the compound, a derivative of the psychedelic DMT, might be effective at treating addiction without having hallucinogenic effects.

“This is weird,” says Dr. von Salm, the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Psilera Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based company working to turn psychedelics into treatments for addiction, neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. “But it might be really unique and special.”

The odd positioning of the compound might be the right shape to latch onto serotonin receptors in the brain that are involved with hallucination and addiction. That insight was possible thanks to a technology more closely associated with gamers than scientists: Virtual reality.

Dr. von Salm is one of a growing number of drug-discovery researchers who are using VR to see, in new ways, the molecules they have long studied on computer screens. Their goal is to investigate subtle changes in the distance, shape and chemical properties of atomic structures that could give them clues about how well a drug might work and speed up the drug-discovery process.

. . .

Since 2018, cancer researchers at the University of California San Francisco have been using VR to better understand the genetic mutations in cancer cells that might make a patient resistant to treatment. For example, in VR, it was clear that the reason a drug didn’t bind properly to its protein target in the cancer cell was because of the movement of a portion of the protein called the P-loop. The movement was caused by a mutation in the target.

On a computer monitor, it was difficult to see the tiny change in the movement. “When there are changes like that, the VR is critical,” says Beth Apsel Winger, a hematologist and oncologist at the university’s department of pediatrics.

For the full commentary, see:

Sara Castellanos. “VR Rx.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 10, 2021): R3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 7, 2021, and has the title “Virtual Reality Puts Drug Researchers Inside the Molecules They Study.”)

Absence of Covid-19 in 9,000 Chinese Samples from Late 2019 Supports Lab-Leak Theory

(p. A17) Where did Covid-19 come from? The answer can be found in the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself. To get to the truth, we need only unleash the power of science.

Based on experience with SARS-1 in 2003 and MERS in 2012, we know that many people are infected by a host animal long before a coronavirus mutates to the point where it can jump from human to human. An extensive data set from late 2019—more than 9,000 hospital samples—is available of people exhibiting flulike (thus Covid-like) symptoms in China’s Hubei and Shaanxi provinces before the epidemic started. Based on SARS-1 and MERS, the natural zoonotic theory predicts 100 to 400 Covid infections would be found in those samples. The lab-leak hypothesis, of course, predicts zero. If the novel coronavirus were engineered by scientists pursuing gain-of-function research, there would be no instances of community infection until it escaped from the laboratory. The World Health Organization investigation analyzed those stored samples and found zero pre-pandemic infections. This is powerful evidence favoring the lab-leak theory.

Within months of the SARS-1 and MERS outbreaks, scientists found animals that had hosted the viruses before they made the jump to humans. More than 80% of the animals in affected markets were infected with a coronavirus. In an influential March 2020 paper in Nature Medicine, Kristian Andersen and co-authors implied that a host animal for SARS-CoV-2 would soon be found. If the virus had been cooked up in a lab, of course, there would be no host animal to find.

Chinese scientists searched for a host in early 2020, testing more than 80,000 animals from 209 species, including wild, domesticated and market animals. As the WHO investigation reported, not a single animal infected with SARS-CoV-2 was found. This finding strongly favors the lab-leak theory. We can only wonder if the results would have been different if the animals tested had included the humanized mice kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

For the full commentary, see:

Richard Muller and Steven Quay. “Science Closes In on Covid’s Origins.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 5, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Rogge and Friedman on Bread and Freedom

At the start and end of the movie above, you can hear the voice and thoughts of my Wabash College mentor Ben Rogge. His interview of Milton Friedman at the end is especially wonderful if you are a libertarian fan of Rogge and Friedman. I believe Rogge had an important hand in the production of this movie, as he did in a couple of movies from Liberty Fund. I think he also advised Milton Friedman on his famous “Free to Choose” television series. Rogge was a libertarian intellectual entrepreneur, who encouraged and enabled many now-more-famous libertarians to think, write, and speak. Whether he is remembered or forgotten, Rogge made a difference.

The movie is based on the book of the same title:

Brown, Susan Love, Karl Keating, David Mellinger, Patrea Post, Stuart Smith, and Catriona Tudor. The Incredible Bread Machine. San Diego: World Research, Inc., 1975.

(Note: the book is based on a poem by R.W. Grant that had the title “Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine.” I believe, but have not confirmed my memory, that a version of Grant’s poem appears in the book by Love et al.)

Former Teacher Union President Says Charter Schools Give Black and Hispanic Children “Access to a Quality Education”

(p. A21) When I became a teacher, it seemed natural to become an advocate for the profession. Somewhere along the way I became more of a union leader than an educational leader.

. . .

I used to oppose charter schools, not because they were bad for kids, but because they were bad for unions.

. . .

I served as president of the Washington Teachers’ Union for six years and recognize the added value unions can bring in securing fair compensation and safe working conditions for teachers. I’m still a union member. But I now work on behalf of charter schools.

Charter schools are also public schools. All of them. They provide more than three million students, mostly black and Hispanic, access to a quality public education. They are innovative and student-centered. They break down barriers that have kept families of color from the educational opportunities they deserve. Another two million children would attend charter schools if there were space for them. How could I work against these kids?

For the full commentary, see:

George Parker. “How My Mind Opened to Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 27, 2021): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 26, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

FTC Slows Serendipitously Discovered Blood Test That Detects 50 Types of Cancer

(p. A13) Scientific breakthroughs are sometimes a matter of serendipity. Eight years ago Meredith Halks-Miller, a pathologist at the genetic-screening company Illumina, stumbled on something unusual while running prenatal blood tests for fetal chromosomal abnormalities. In some blood samples, the fetal genes were normal but the maternal DNA wasn’t. Illumina alerted pregnant women’s doctors to the finding. After further investigation, all the women were diagnosed with cancer, though none had symptoms when their blood was drawn.

This discovery led to the development of a blood test that can now detect 50 types of cancer and has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives a year if it becomes widely available. But regulators may slow the process.

The Federal Trade Commission last month wrapped up an administrative trial in which it seeks to block Illumina’s $8 billion acquisition of Grail, which makes the blood test.

. . .

Grail projects its test could prevent 90,000 to 100,000 cancer deaths each year if it were administered annually to all Americans 50 to 79. The sooner people get access to the test, the more lives will be saved. Illumina estimates that 10,000 lives will be saved over the following nine years for every year that it accelerates bringing the test to market. “By accelerating the global rollout of the test in the European Union, into Africa, into Asia, into Latin America, we believe we can save a lot more lives than that around the world,” Mr. deSouza says.

The company’s dominance in the DNA-testing market, however, attracted regulatory scrutiny. In March the FTC sued Illumina and Grail to block the acquisition, arguing that it would “lessen competition in the U.S. multi-cancer early detection (‘MCED’) test market by diminishing innovation and potentially increasing prices.”

Nonsense, Mr. deSouza says. “Today, there is nobody who is even starting the studies to develop a 50-cancer test like Grail, and once you start the study, it’s still a few years before you actually get the test. We think there will also be blood tests for single cancers, for colorectal cancer and other cancers. Those won’t compete with Grail. They will be complementary to Grail.”

For the full interview, see:

Allysia Finley, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Regulatory Hurdles Block a Cancer Miracle.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 8, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Amazon Hiring 55,000 Workers

(p. B3) Amazon.com Inc. said it is seeking to hire about 55,000 people globally among its corporate and technology ranks during a recruiting event set for Sept. 15, [2021] as the e-commerce giant continues a hiring spree begun at start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Seattle-based company is aiming to fill roles in cloud-computing unit Amazon Web Services, as well as in divisions such as Amazon Studios, advertising and its broadband satellite Project Kuiper. The open positions include more than 40,000 roles in the U.S. across 220 locations, including in New York City; Bellevue, Wash.; and Arlington, Va., where the company is opening a large corporate office.

. . .

The company employs about 950,000 people in the U.S. and has said it has made more than 450,000 hires throughout the country since the public-health crisis began.

For the full story, see:

Dave Sebastian. “Amazon Seeks to Hire 55,000 for Office, Tech Roles.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 1, 2021, and has the title “Amazon Seeks to Hire 55,000 for Corporate, Tech Roles.”)

“The Best Recipe for Economic Growth Is” Freedom and Opportunity

(p. C3) Migration has been central to the American story since the beginning. In the early 19th century, New Englanders left the rocky soil of Massachusetts for the more fertile Ohio River valley. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers fled Oklahoma for California. In the early 20th century, millions of African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to find work in the factories of northern cities. Through the 20th century, mobility was an American tradition: In every year between 1950 and 1992, according to the Current Population Survey, more than 6% of Americans moved across county lines.

In recent years, however, the engine of American migration has been grinding to a halt. People often move to get ahead, which makes mobility a reasonable measure of economic dynamism. So it’s a troubling sign that since 2007, geographic mobility has dropped by one-third, with fewer than 4% of Americans changing counties annually. The reason is clear: In the most prosperous cities and regions, insiders have figured out how to use regulations, laws and institutions to make life easier for themselves and harder for everyone else. In the process, they have made the U.S. a far less dynamic society.

. . .

Most important, we need to stop thinking of growth as a zero-sum game. Today, insiders worry about getting their share of the pie instead of growing the economy for everyone. The best recipe for economic growth is the traditional American one: freedom, combined with robust investment in opportunity for the least advantaged.

For the full commentary, see:

Edward Glaeser and David Cutler. “The American Housing Market Is Stifling Mobility.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.