Stephen Moore Was a Threat to Groupthink at Fed

(p. A15) The following declaration may shock many of my academic colleagues: I support the nomination of Stephen Moore to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

I say so despite being immersed in the “professor standard” Herman Cain recently decried. I received my doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral work at Harvard, was a professor of business economics at the University of Chicago, and for the past 43 years have taught finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The truth is that “professor standards” change. Early models of gross domestic product emphasized John Maynard Keynes’s model of aggregate demand—the amount of goods consumers and businesses’ desire to buy—as the source of national prosperity. Today, the vast majority of economists recognize that it is the supply side—increases in productivity driven by technological innovation—that creates long-term economic growth.

. . .

I’ve been supportive of Fed policy since the financial crisis. But any organization, even a great one, can easily fall victim to groupthink. Continue reading “Stephen Moore Was a Threat to Groupthink at Fed”

New Opiod Regulations Make Life Harder for Those in Severe Pain

(p. C4) There’s a great deal in “Dopesick” that’s incredibly bleak, but the most chilling moment for me was a quote from one of Macy’s journalist friends. Synthetic opioids had allowed this woman, despite a severe curvature of her spine, to lead an active life without risky surgery. She resented new rules that made it more onerous for her to get the pills. “My life,” she told Macy, “is not less important than that of an addict.”

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Ground-Level Look At the Opioid Epidemic.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 26, 2018): C1 & C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 25, 2018, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; ‘Dopesick’ Traces the Opioid Crisis, From Beginning to Blow Up.”)

The book under review, is:

Macy, Beth. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

With Tariffs, What Goes Around Comes Around

(p. A1) CLYDE, Ohio—After the Trump administration announced new tariffs on imported washing machines in January, Marc Bitzer, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corp., celebrated his win over South Korean competitors LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

“This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool,” he said on an investor conference call.

Nearly six months later, the company’s share price is down 15%. One factor is a separate set of tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed by the U.S. in March and later expanded, that helped drive up Whirlpool’s raw-materials costs. Net income, even with the added benefit of a lower tax bill, was down $64 million in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

. . .

(p. A10) Whirlpool had campaigned for protection from what it called unfair foreign competition. Things became more complicated as the trade conflict spread beyond its industry.

“Raw-material costs have risen substantially,” Mr. Bitzer said on the April investor call, primarily blaming steel and aluminum tariffs. Most of the 200-pound weight of a washing machine is in its steel and aluminum parts.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Tangel and Josh Zumbrun. “From Washer Tariffs to Trade Showdown.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 16, 2018, and has the title “Whirlpool Wanted Washer Tariffs. It Wasn’t Ready for a Trade Showdown.”)

Obamacare Architect Ezekiel Emanuel “Will Be Satisfied” with 75 Years

(p. A13) Ezekiel Emanuel, a 61-year-old oncologist, bioethicist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, says he will be satisfied to reach 75. By then, he believes, he will have made his most important contributions, seen his kids grown, and his grandkids born. After his 75th birthday, he won’t get flu shots, take antibiotics, get screened for cancer or undergo stress tests. If he lives longer, that’s fine, he says. He just won’t take extra medical steps to prolong life.

“People want to live to 100 but your horizon of what life is becomes much, much narrower,” he says.

For the full story, see:

Clare Ansberry. “TURNING POINTS; The Advantages—and Limitations—of Living to 100.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 21, 2019): A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Leapfrogged Technologies, with a Few Traits Some Value, Often Persist in Small Numbers

(p. A1) Magnus Jern was sitting around with some programmers at Google headquarters when he remembered he needed to answer an email. But when he pulled out his phone and started tapping, the room grew silent.

“What is that?” one woman asked.

The reaction was no surprise to Mr. Jern, part of a die-hard band devoted to a device that was once a status symbol, then was ubiquitous, and now is almost an endangered species: the BlackBerry. Continue reading “Leapfrogged Technologies, with a Few Traits Some Value, Often Persist in Small Numbers”

Sulston Earned Nobel, Not by “Bold Theories,” But by “Gathering Data for the Sake of Seeing the Whole Picture”

(p. A9) The nematode worm known as C. elegans is only a millimeter long and leads what appears to be a fairly dull existence. It eats bacteria, wriggles around and reaches adulthood in three days. “It consists basically of two tubes, one inside the other,” the English biologist John Sulston wrote in a memoir.

Although some colleagues thought he was wasting time, Dr. Sulston for years spent up to eight hours a day peering through microscopes at these worms. His findings on the genetics of worms won him a Nobel Prize for physiology in 2002.

. . .

His work didn’t involve “bold theories or sudden leaps of understanding,” he wrote in a 2002 memoir, “The Common Thread.” Instead, he saw his role as “gathering data for the sake of seeing the whole picture.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Exhaustive Study of a Worm Ended in Nobel Prize.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 17, 2018): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 16, 2018, and has the title “Sulston’s Work on Lowly Worm Led to Major Role in Mapping Human Genome.”)

Sulston’s 2002 memoir, mentioned above, is:

Sulston, John, and Georgina Ferry. The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics and the Human Genome. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2002.

Ruth Gates Helped Create Strains of Coral Resilient to Acid and Heat

(p. B12) Ruth Gates, a renowned marine biologist who made it her life’s work to save the world’s fragile coral reefs from the deadening effects of warming water temperatures, died on Oct. 25 [2018] in Kailua, Hawaii.

. . .

Dr. Gates was one of the leading scientists trying to protect coral from such a fate. As director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, which is part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she was developing a “super coral” that could be bred to be more resilient to the heat and acidity assaulting the marine environment.

. . .

In 2013, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation offered $10,000 for the most promising proposal to mitigate problems caused by an increasingly acidic ocean. Dr. Gates and Madeleine van Oppen, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, won the challenge with their plan to develop highly resilient coral strains, much the way farmers breed stronger crops.

The foundation subsequently awarded them a five-year, $4 million grant, with the longer-term goal of creating a stock of tough coral strains that could replace dying coral reefs around the world.

For the full obituary, see:

Katharine Q. Seelye. “Ruth Gates, a Champion of Coral Reefs in a Time of Their Decline, Dies at 56.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 5, 2018, and has the title “Ruth Gates, Who Made Saving Coral Reefs Her Mission, Is Dead at 56.”)

Amish Embrace Smartphones and Internet, at Least for Entrepreneurship

(p. 6) A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone. She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.

New technology has created fresh opportunities for prosperity among the Amish, just as it has for people in the rest of the world. A contractor can call a customer from a job site. A store owner’s software can make quick work of payroll and inventory tasks. A bakery can take credit cards.

But for people bound by a separation from much of the outside world, new tech devices have brought fears about the consequence of internet access. There are worries about pornography; about whether social networks will lead sons and daughters to date non-Amish friends; and about connecting to a world of seemingly limitless possibilities.

“Amish life is about recognizing the value of agreed-upon limits,” said Erik Wesner, an author who runs a blog, Amish America, “and the spirit of the internet cuts against the idea of limits.”

. . .

Referring to technology, Mr. Smucker said, “You have to do what you have to do to stay in business. People are starting to understand that.”

There are probably 2,000 successful Amish businesses in the Lancaster area, many of them multimillion-dollar enterprises, said Donald B. Kraybill, a retired professor at Elizabethtown’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

This “very entrepreneurial, very capitalistic” tendency, he said, was all the more remarkable because it was channeled through a “culture of restraint.”

Many Amish people draw a bright line between what is allowed at work — smartphones, internet access — and what remains forbidden at home.

For the full story, see:

Kevin Granville and Ashley Gilbertson. “In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017): 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 15, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

Fire Marshall Regulations Reduce Use of Hospital Hand Sanitizers, Helping Spread Dangerous Bacteria

(p. A11) With the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer — often more effective and convenient than soap and water — it’s far easier to keep hands clean than clothing.

But the placement of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for health workers isn’t as convenient as it could be, reducing its use. The reason? In the early 2000s, fire marshals began requiring hospitals to remove or relocate dispensers because hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol, making them flammable.

Fire codes now limit where they can be placed — a minimum distance from electrical outlets, for example — or how much can be kept on site.

Hand sanitizers are most often used in hallways, though greater use closer to patients (like immediately before or after touching a patient) could be more effective.

. . .

Although there have been fires in hospitals traced to alcohol-based hand sanitizer, they are rare. Across nearly 800 American health care facilities that used alcohol-based hand sanitizer, one study found, no fires had occurred. The World Health Organization puts the fire risk of hand sanitizers as “very low.”

For the full commentary, see:

Frakt, Austin. “Lab Coat Can Host Dangerous Bacteria.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 30, 2019): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 29, 2019, and has the title “Why Your Doctor’s White Coat Can Be a Threat to Your Health.” The last two sentences quoted above, occur in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

The the rarity of hand sanitizer hospital fires was documented in:

Boyce, John M., and Michele L. Pearson. “Low Frequency of Fires from Alcohol-Based Hand Rub Dispensers in Healthcare Facilities.” Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 24, no. 8 (Aug. 2003): 618-19.

Lacking Absolute Certainty, Evidence Can Get Us to “True Enough”

(p. A17) As in his earlier books, Mr. Blackburn displays a rare combination of erudite precision and an ability to make complex ideas clear in unfussy prose.

If truth has seemed unattainable, he argues, it is because in the hands of philosophers such as Plato and Descartes it became so purified, rarefied and abstract that it eluded human comprehension. Mr. Blackburn colorfully describes their presentation of truth as a “picture of an entirely self-enclosed world of thought, spinning frictionless in the void.”

The alternative is inspired by more grounded philosophers, like David Hume and especially the American pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Mr. Blackburn repeatedly returns to a quote from Peirce that serves as one of the book’s epigraphs: “We must not begin by talking of pure ideas—vagabond thoughts that tramp the public highways without any human habitation—but must begin with men and their conversation.” The best way to think about truth is not in the abstract but in media res, as it is found in the warp and weft of human life.

Put crudely, for the pragmatists “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” We take to be true what works. Newton’s laws got us to the moon, so it would be perverse to deny that they are true. It doesn’t matter if they are not the final laws of physics; they are true enough. “We must remember that a tentative judgment of truth is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty,” says Mr. Blackburn, a sentence that glib deniers of the possibility of truth should be made to copy out a hundred times. Skepticism about truth only gets off the ground if we demand that true enough is not good enough—that truth be beyond all possible doubt and not just the reasonable kind.

For the full review, see:

Julian Baggini. “BOOKSHELF; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 25, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 24, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘On Truth’ Review: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.”)

The book under review is:

Blackburn, Simon. On Truth. Reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Academic Progress in New Orleans Charter Schools Is “Remarkable”

(p. A19) This month, the New Orleans overhaul entered a new stage. On July 1, [2018] the state returned control of all schools to the city. The charter schools remain. But a locally elected school board, accountable to the city’s residents, is now in charge. It’s a time when people in New Orleans are reflecting on what the overhaul has, and has not, accomplished.

So I decided to visit and talk with students, teachers, principals, community leaders and researchers. And I was struck by how clear of a picture emerged. It’s still a nuanced picture, with both positives and negatives. But there are big lessons.

New Orleans is a great case study partly because it avoids many of the ambiguities of other education reform efforts. The charters here educate almost all public-school students, so they can’t cherry pick. And the students are overwhelmingly black and low-income — even lower-income than before Katrina — so gentrification isn’t a factor.

Yet the academic progress has been remarkable.

Performance on every kind of standardized test has surged. Before the storm, New Orleans students scored far below the Louisiana average on reading, math, science and social studies. Today, they hover near the state average, despite living amid much more poverty. Nationally, the average New Orleans student has moved to the 37th percentile of math and reading scores, from the 22nd percentile pre-Katrina.

This week, Douglas Harris — a Tulane economist who leads a rigorous research project on the schools — is releasing a new study, with Matthew Larsen, another economist. It shows that the test-score gains are translating into real changes in students’ lives. High-school graduation, college attendance and college graduation have all risen.

One example: In most of Louisiana, the share of 12th graders going directly to college has fallen in recent years, probably because of budget cuts to higher education. In New Orleans, Harris and Larsen report, the share has jumped to 32.8 percent, from 22.5 percent before Katrina.

People here point to two main forces driving the progress: Autonomy and accountability.

For the full commentary, see:

Leonhardt, David. “A Better Way to Run Schools.” The New York Times (Monday, July 16, 2018): A19.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2018, and has the title “How New Orleans Is Helping Its Students Succeed.” Where the two versions differ, the passages above follow the online version, which includes a few sentences not included in the print version.)

The Harris and Larsen report, mentioned above, is:

Harris, Douglas N., and Matthew F. Larsen. “The Effects of the New Orleans Post-Katrina Market-Based School Reforms on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes.” In Technical Report: Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, 2018.