Is Ignorance Bliss, When Knowledge Is Not Actionable?

(p. C1) . . . even in today’s pandemic world, cancer holds a special place in the anxious imagination. Its advance is often stealthy, its prognosis potentially frightening and its treatments damaging and life-altering. Once its shadow falls on us, we fear it will never go away—that there will always be another relapse and a return to harsh therapies that subsume our lives.

. . .

(p. C2) The borders of “Cancerland”—a term the oncologist David Scadden coined with the title of his 2018 memoir—begin to feel all-encompassing. In the past, entry was reserved for those with a diagnosis of cancer. Today everyone, in one way or another, slowly becomes a citizen.

. . .

The promise of detecting cancer in its earliest stages, together with that of identifying those at genetic risk for future cancer, is powerfully alluring. And yet the prospect of farther-reaching surveillance for this elusive long-term illness also warrants caution. In the 1950s, the sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term “total institution” for a community in which “a great number of similarly situated people, cut off from the wider community for a considerable time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.”

Total institutions, such as mental hospitals, prisons and even boarding schools, have rituals of entry and exit. They inculcate belonging. They invent their own vocabulary and codes of behavior; they have an internal logic, impenetrable to others. They encourage surveillance and create anxiety: Members are united by a common sense of purpose, by the feeling of being chosen or marked. Those who are expelled may feel a sense of betrayal, while those who remain can be consumed by the guilt of survivorship.

In this new era of cancer treatment, I wonder whether we unwittingly, but insidiously, intensify the totality of the “cancer institution” for patients. When I once asked a woman with a rare sarcoma about her life outside the hospital, she observed, “I am in the hospital even when I am outside the hospital.”

For the full commentary, see:

Siddhartha Mukherjee. “Will We All Soon Live in Cancerland?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021): C1-C2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Dec. 17, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Muckherjee’s commentary is adapted from his chapter in The New Deal for Cancer book:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. “The New Borders of Cancerland.” In A New Deal for Cancer: Lessons from a 50 Year War, edited by Abbe R. Gluck and Charles S. Fuchs. New York: PublicAffairs, 2021, pp. 27-42.

“Unsettling” and “Remarkable” That the “Early Atlantification” of the Arctic Was Not Predicted by “Climate Models”

The research summarized below supports the thesis of Steven Koonin’s recent Unsettled book.

(p. D2) Long ago, the two oceans existed in harmony, with warm and salty Atlantic waters gently flowing into the Arctic.

. . .

But everything changed when the larger ocean began flowing faster than the polar ocean could accommodate, weakening the distinction between the layers and transforming Arctic waters into something closer to the Atlantic. This process, called Atlantification, is part of the reason the Arctic is warming faster than any other ocean.

. . .

In a paper published Wednesday [Nov. 24, 2021] in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Tesi and colleagues were able to turn back time with yard-long sediment cores taken from the seafloor, which archived 800 years of historical changes in Arctic waters. Their analysis found Atlantification started at the beginning of the 20th century — decades before the process had been documented by satellite imagery. The Arctic has warmed by around 2 degrees Celsius since 1900. But this early Atlantification did not appear in existing historical climate models, a discrepancy that the authors say may reveal gaps in those estimates.

“It’s a bit unsettling because we rely on these models for future climate predictions,” Dr. Tesi said.

Mohamed Ezat, a researcher at the Tromso campus of the Arctic University of Norway, who was not involved with the research, called the findings “remarkable.”

“Information on long-term past changes in Arctic Ocean hydrography are needed, and long overdue,” Dr. Ezat wrote in an email.

For the full story, see:

Sabrina Imbler. “This Ocean Invaded Its Neighbor Earlier Than Anyone Thought.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The last three sentences quoted above, appear in the online version, but not in the shorter print version. Where there is a slight difference in wording between the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The paper co-authored by Tesi is:

Tesi, Tommaso, Francesco Muschitiello, Gesine Mollenhauer, Stefano Miserocchi, Leonardo Langone, Chiara Ceccarelli, Giuliana Panieri, Jacopo Chiggiato, Alessio Nogarotto, Jens Hefter, Gianmarco Ingrosso, Federico Giglio, Patrizia Giordano, and Lucilla Capotondi. “Rapid Atlantification Along the Fram Strait at the Beginning of the 20th Century.” Science Advances 7, no. 48 (Nov. 24, 2021): eabj2946.

The Koonin book that I mention above is:

Koonin, Steven E. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2021.

Butterworth Made “Steady Forward Progress” an “Ingenious” Business Model for Tractor Success

(p. A15) The story of Ford’s dream of perfecting an affordable, all-purpose tractor—or, as Ford later imagined it, a gasoline-powered “automobile plow”—is seldom told. Neil Dahlstrom’s “Tractor Wars” tells it well.

. . .

By 1918 there were many competitors in America’s great tractor pull. Most were small or mid-sized firms, including the Gas Traction Co. of Minneapolis, and the Moline (Ill.) Plow Co. and the Waterloo (Iowa) Gasoline Engine Co. Two ultimately broke out of the pack with loud, gas-guzzling chugs.

. . .

Early attempts by International Harvester to develop a gas-powered tractor were only moderately successful, but in 1920 its engineers made a breakthrough, converting the two front wheels into “traction wheels,” moving the engine from the rear to the middle, and adding three reverse speeds. All of this, plus enhancements to compatible cultivating attachments, made Harvester’s Farmall tractor competitive with the Fordson.

Ford’s other chief rival was the John Deere Co. Its earliest claim to fame was becoming the “world’s largest manufacturer of steel plows.” The company shifted course in 1907 when William Butterworth, the son-in-law of Charles Deere, took control. According to Mr. Dahlstrom, Butterworth was “cautious with the family money that still financed the company, pushing for long-term gains in a cyclical, low-margin, weather-dependent business.” While some outsiders “mistook Butterworth’s preference for steady forward progress as indecision,” his business model turned out to be ingenious.

. . .

Mr. Dahlstrom, to his credit, has written a superb history of the tractor and this long-forgotten period of capitalism in U.S. agriculture.

For the full review, see:

Michael Taube. “BOOKSHELF; American Power Pull.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 30, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 29, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tractor Wars’ Review: American Power Pull.”)

The book under review is:

Dahlstrom, Neil. Tractor Wars: John Deere, Henry Ford, International Harvester, and the Birth of Modern Agriculture. Dallas, TX: Matt Holt Books, 2022.

Scientists Should Not Censor Contrarian Conjectures from Outsiders

On Nov. 3, 2021 I presented my paper “Galilean Science: The Impediment to Progress When Science as Doctrine Wins Over Science as Process” at Day 3 of the Organisation [sic] for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “Workshop on AI and the Productivity of Science.” The OECD has 38, mainly European, governments as members and has the objective of finding policies to advance the economic progress of the world.

The link above is to OECD’s recently posted YouTube Zoom recording of all of Day 3. My presentation starts at about 1:23.

In the session where I presented my paper, we were asked to answer one of a couple of questions. I chose to focus on the question: “What is the most important impediment to raising the productivity of science, and why?” My answer, in brief, was that science is impeded when authorities require adherence to the dominant doctrines, censoring rather than permitting the contrarian conjectures from outsiders who advance us toward truth.

Galilean science is also discussed on p. 129 of my Openness book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

“Two Self-Made Mill Owners” in Golden Age of Capitalism Collected and Preserved “Literary Treasures”

(p. C6) A consortium of British libraries and museums has announced that it successfully raised more than $20 million to buy a “lost” library containing rare manuscripts by Robert Burns, Walter Scott and the Brontës, heading off an auction and preserving the collection intact.

. . .

“A collection of literary treasures of this importance comes around only once in a generation,” Richard Ovenden, the head of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, said in a news release earlier this month announcing the deal.

. . .

Alfred and William Law, two self-made mill owners who grew up less than 20 miles from the Brontë home in Haworth (which is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum), began collecting what became the Honresfield Library in the 1890s.

. . .

In the announcement, Gabriel Heaton, the Sotheby’s specialist who organized the planned sale, called it “a collection like no other that has come to market in recent decades.”

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Schuessler. “$20 Million Raised to Preserve a ‘Lost Library’.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 25, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2021, and has the title “Group Raises $20 Million to Preserve ‘Lost’ Brontë Library.”)

“Overwhelmed” Volunteers Struggle to Fix Log4j Bug in Open Source Software

In Openness to Creative Destruction, I argue that open source software has severe drawbacks, compared to a system where firms receive higher profits for selling better software. The severe Log4j bug, discussed in the quoted passages below, is an example that strongly supports my argument. Blog entries posted on Dec. 17 and on Dec. 25 also discussed the Log4j bug.

(p. B6) Gary Gregory, a volunteer for the Apache Software Foundation, is spending time off from his day job glued to his computer, striving to help contain the harm from a security flaw in the Log4j tool underpinning much of the digital economy.

. . .

Mr. Gregory, who works from the dining-room table in his Ocala, Fla., home, fueled by black coffee and accompanied by his hound-pit-bull mix, Bella, said he is overwhelmed with hundreds of requests for help from businesses. While Apache is trying to assist companies in updating their systems, he said, the nonprofit’s resources are limited.

“This puts to the forefront the whole issue with open-source [software] and commercial users,” said Mr. Gregory, who is on the Apache Logging Services Project Management Committee of 16 elected members who vote on changes to the software. “The expectations are somewhat out of whack.”

. . .

Many developers rely on the free Log4j framework to help record data such as users’ behavior and applications’ activity in software built with the Java programming language. Cybersecurity experts say the inclusion of the open-source logging tool within so much interconnected software—often embedded without developers’ knowledge—yields a threat that spans economic sectors and national borders.

. . .

Cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc. said it has observed Chinese government hackers trying to exploit the flaw.

After Apache released its planned patch on Friday, Mr. Gregory said he worked through the weekend on a new update along with other volunteer software developers in Japan, New Zealand, Virginia and Arizona. Unveiled Monday, the new version disabled a problematic software module by default and removed a message-lookup feature that could be used to exploit the flaw.

The Apache volunteers are designing another update to Log4j for users who rely on an older version of the Java programming language, meaning more work for Mr. Gregory while he is on vacation from his day job.

“That translates to me getting five hours of sleep last night,” he said of his time off. “Some of the other guys got two or three.”

For the full story, see:

David Uberti. “Fight Against Bug Relies on Volunteers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 16, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 15, 2021, and has the title “Global Fight Against Log4j Vulnerability Relies on Apache Volunteers.”)

My book, mentioned above, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Ross Douthat’s Self-Doctoring Was “Intensely Empirical”

(p. 12) The early chapters of “The Deep Places” unfold like the first act of a horror movie. Feeling the pull of home and burned out by life on Capitol Hill, Ross Douthat (a New York Times columnist) and his wife buy a 1790s farmhouse on three acres of Connecticut pasture.

. . .

Something is lurking in those woods. Back in D.C., Douthat has a swollen lymph node, a stiff neck and strange vibrations in his head and mouth. The urgent care doctor he sees first diagnoses him with a harmless boil. A few weeks later, he is in an emergency room at dawn with an alarming full-body shutdown, “as if someone had twisted dials randomly in all my systems.” The E.R. doctor suggests stress as the culprit — as do, in subsequent visits, an internist, neurologist, rheumatologist and gastroenterologist. A psychiatrist, his 11th doctor in 10 weeks, disagrees.

Only after Douthat completes his move north to Connecticut, namesake of Lyme disease, does it seem obvious to local doctors that he is suffering from something tick-borne.

. . .

He makes his case that tick-borne disease needs more research and its sufferers deserve more respect.

The trouble is that Douthat also wants to present his reckless journey as a road map. His revelation: “Given a stockpile of antibiotics, the array of over-the-counter medications available on Amazon and crowdsourced data from hundreds and thousands of Lyme sufferers sharing their experiences online, I could effectively become my own doctor, mixing and matching to gauge my body’s reaction to different combinations, like a Lyme researcher working on a study with a sample size, an ‘N,’ of only 1.”

This self-doctoring, he adds, “was in its own way intensely empirical and materially grounded — the most empirical work, in fact, that I have ever attempted in my life.” (Comparing this approach to Khakpour’s introspective memoir, I kept thinking of the couples-therapy trope that women prefer to talk through their problems while men leap to solve them.)

. . .

A subsequent bout of undiagnosed Covid-19, and scientists’ stumbles as they’ve worked to understand the new virus, have only hardened Douthat’s distrust of institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. “From the beginning of the pandemic to its still unfinished end,” he writes, “there were weirdos on the internet who were more reliable guides to what was happening, what was possible, and what should actually be done than Anthony Fauci or any other official information source.”

For the full review, see:

Sara Austin. “Darkness Invisible.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 28, 2021): 12.

(Note: ellipses, added; italics, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the Updated Oct. 30, 2021, and has the title “A Transporting and Cozy Biography of a Pottery Pioneer.”)

The book under review is:

Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. New York: Convergent Books, 2021.

Open Source Log4j Software Bug “Poses a Severe Risk”

In Openness to Creative Destruction, I argue that open source software has severe drawbacks, compared to a system where firms receive higher profits for selling better software. The severe Log4j bug, discussed in the quoted passages below, is an example that strongly supports my argument.

(p. B1) The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an urgent alert about the vulnerability and urged companies to take action. CISA Director Jen Easterly said on Saturday, “To be clear, this vulnerability poses a severe risk.”  . . .  Germany’s cybersecurity organization over the weekend issued a “red alert” about the bug. Australia called the issue “critical.”

Security experts warned that it could take weeks or more to assess the extent of the damage and that hackers exploiting the vulnerability could access sensitive data on networks and install back doors they could use to maintain access to servers even after the flawed software has been patched.

“It is one of the most significant vulnerabilities that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Aaron Portnoy, principal scientist with the security firm Randori.

. . .

(p. B2) The software flaw was reported late last month to the Log4j development team, a group of volunteer coders who distribute their software free-of-charge as part of the Apache Software Foundation, according to Ralph Goers, a volunteer with the project. The foundation, a nonprofit group that helps oversee the development of many open-source programs, alerted its user community about the vulnerability on Dec. 9 [2021].

“It’s a very critical issue,” Mr. Goers said. “People need to upgrade to get the fix,” he said. Log4j is used on servers to keep records of users’ activities so they can be reviewed later on by security or software development teams.

Because Log4j is distributed free, it is unclear how many servers are affected by the bug, but the logging software has been downloaded millions of times, Mr. Goers said.

For the full story, see:

Robert McMillan. “Software Flaw Spurs Race to Patch Bug.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, December 13, 2021): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 12, 2021, and has the title “Software Flaw Sparks Global Race to Patch Bug.”)

My book, mentioned above, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Of 176 Countries, 171 Are More Democratic Than Communist China

(p. A12) . . . the University of Würzburg in Germany, . . . ranks countries based on variables like independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and integrity of elections. The most recent put China near the bottom among 176 countries. Only Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Korea and Eritrea rank lower. Denmark is first; the United States 36th.

In China, the Communist Party controls the courts and heavily censors the media. It has suppressed Tibetan culture and language, restricted religious freedom and carried out a vast detention campaign in Xinjiang.

What’s more, China’s vigorous defense of its system in recent months has done nothing to moderate its prosecution of dissent.

Two of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, are expected to face trial at the end of this year on charges that they called for more civil liberties, according to Jerome Cohen, a law professor specializing in China at New York University. A Chinese employee of Bloomberg News in Beijing has remained in detention for a year, as of Tuesday, with almost no word about the accusations against her.

Under Mr. Xi’s rule, intellectuals are now warier of speaking their minds in China than at practically any time since Mao Zedong died in 1976.

“This is an extraordinary time in the Chinese experience,” Mr. Cohen said. “I really think that the totalitarianism definition applies.”

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher and Steven Lee Myers. “Beijing Claims China Uses Its Own Variety Of Democracy to Govern.” The New York Times (Wednesday, December 8, 2021): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 7, 2021, and has the title “Ahead of Biden’s Democracy Summit, China Says: We’re Also a Democracy.”)

The most recent (2020) University of Würzburg ranking can be found at:

https://www.democracymatrix.com/ranking

“Unanticipated Tragedies Are Unpreventable, No Matter How Many Regulations”

(p. A15) Dr. Offit acknowledges the limits of regulatory fixes, noting that, while regulatory guidelines are important, “unanticipated tragedies are unpreventable, no matter how many regulations, training programs, fines, and penalties are put in place.” He contrasts the tragic death in 1999 of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in an early gene-therapy study—aimed at remediating a rare enzyme deficiency—with the triumphant experience of Emily Whitehead, a girl with leukemia treated 11 years later at the same university with genetically manipulated T-cells. Gelsinger’s death has been ascribed to protocol deficiencies, conflicts of interest and inadequate regulation, but “a closer look,” Dr. Offit writes, “shows that the only difference between the outcomes of Emily Whitehead and Jesse Gelsinger were luck and timing.” The specific supportive approach used by Whitehead’s doctors to address a life-threatening complication of her T-cell infusion stemmed directly from the lessons learned during Gelsinger’s ordeal. We recognize successes, Dr. Offit laments, but “never the failures that made those successes possible.”

One anxiety suffusing every page of “You Bet Your Life” is what to make of the Covid-19 vaccines. Dr. Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, has been described in The Wall Street Journal as “an outspoken advocate of the science and value of vaccinations,” including the Covid-19 vaccine. He has described its clinical-trial data as “enormously reassuring” and has seen little evidence of “a very rare, serious side effect that would be something that would cause a long term problem.” Yet his review of the history of vaccination and of its complexities evokes surprising empathy for the vaccine-hesitant. He recounts the early days of the Salk polio vaccine, which saved lives yet also tragically transmitted the disease to some patients when the product was inadequately prepared by one of its manufacturers. He notes that “the first vaccines aren’t always the best, safest, and last” and regrets the “disturbing show of hubris” by the Covid vaccine developers.

Ultimately, Dr. Offit emphasizes, we need to come to terms with the fact that all medical technologies carry risk—as does the decision not to avail oneself of them. “A choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice,” Dr. Offit notes. Either way, he says, “you’re gambling”—so “choose the lesser risk.”

For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. “BOOKSHELF; The Dangers Of Finding a Cure.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 09, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 8, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘You Bet Your Life’ Review: The Dangers of Finding a Cure.”)

The book under review is:

Offit, Paul A. You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation. New York: Basic Books, 2021.

Pandemic Results in “Historic” Increase in Free-Agent Entrepreneurs

In my book Openness to Creative Destruction, I distinguish between free-agent entrepreneurs and innovative entrepreneurs. Free-agent entrepreneurs work for themselves mostly doing what has been done before. Innovative entrepreneurs work for themselves mostly doing something new. (The dividing line is not sharp.) During the pandemic we have seen a large increase in free-agent entrepreneurs. The number of innovative entrepreneurs is hard to measure, but I believe that the loss of health capital, the increase in transaction costs, and the growth of government regulations and lockdowns has reduced their number.

(p. A1) The pandemic has unleashed a historic burst in entrepreneurship and self-employment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are striking out on their own as consultants, retailers and small-business owners.

The move helps explain the ongoing shake-up in the world of work, with more people looking for flexibility, anxious about covid exposure, upset about vaccine mandates or simply disenchanted with pre-pandemic office life. It is also aggravating labor shortages in some industries and adding pressure on companies to revamp their employment policies.

The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic, Labor Department data show, to 9.44 million. That is the highest total since the financial-crisis year 2008, except for this summer. The total amounts to an increase of 6% in the self-employed, while the overall U.S. employment total remains nearly 3% lower than before the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs applied for federal tax-identification numbers to register 4.54 million new businesses from January through October this year, up 56% from the same period of 2019, Census Bureau data show. That was the largest number on records that date back to 2004. Two-thirds were for businesses that aren’t expected to hire employees.

(p. A14) This year, the share of U.S. workers who work for a company with at least 1,000 employees has fallen for the first time since 2004, Labor Department data show. Meanwhile, the percentage of U.S. workers who are self-employed has risen to the highest in 11 years. In October, they represented 5.9% of U.S. workers, versus 5.4% in February 2020.

The self-employment increase coincides with complaints by many U.S. companies of difficulties—in some cases extreme—in finding and retaining enough employees. In September, U.S. workers resigned from a record 4.4 million jobs, Labor Department data show.

Kimberly Friddle, 50 years old, quit her job as head of marketing for a regional mortgage company near Dallas in September 2020.

. . .

. . . when a friend contacted her the next month, she saw an opportunity.

The friend sold home décor items on Amazon.com from his home in Canada, and Covid-related border restrictions were making it difficult to process returns. When he explained what he needed—primarily, someone to examine returned items for damage and ship them back to Amazon—Ms. Friddle felt the work could be a good challenge and a chance for her older daughter, Samantha, to gain some work experience.

They began processing returns for him steadily. When other Amazon sellers he knew needed help with warehouse-related tasks that were also made harder by the pandemic, he referred them to Ms. Friddle.

. . .

Now she runs an Amazon logistics, warehousing and fulfillment business full time from the family’s home outside Houston and rented warehouse space nearby.

. . .

Though the decision to leave that job was an emotional one, she said, a change after 27 years has given her new energy and confidence in addition to the flexibility.

“I didn’t have a plan when I left,” she said. “I wasn’t giving enough attention to the needs of my family. I wasn’t giving enough attention to the job that needed to be done. I felt like I was failing everywhere.”

Now, “I feel so successful and I wake up every day like, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen today.’ ”

. . .

Through the late 19th century, a large share of Americans worked for themselves, as farmers or artisans. With new technology such as electric lighting, manufacturing expanded, and many people left the field for the factory floor. They landed in an environment of strictly defined work hours and hierarchies—workers overseen by managers overseen by executives.

By the time Covid-19 arrived in the U.S., the advent of apps, websites and companies catering to entrepreneurs and freelancers was already giving employees options.

. . .

Marcus Grimm, a 50-year-old in Lancaster, Pa., worked at advertising agencies from the time he finished college. For years, he toyed with freelancing. “I had always considered it, but literally just never had the guts to make the move,” he said. “I was scared I would lose sleep every night worrying about my next dollar.”

Early in the pandemic, Mr. Grimm, a married father of two grown children, was laid off. He logged onto Upwork, a website that connects freelance workers from a wide range of industries with potential clients. He fielded several assignments doing ad campaigns for big companies, charging a low hourly rate.

Business flowed in. He has steadily raised his rate, to $150 an hour. Mr. Grimm said he now earns more than in his old job, which paid $130,000 a year.

His favorite part is not having to deal with corporate politics or any bureaucracy. He can go kayaking in the middle of the day.

“I’m the one who finds the client, I’m the one who does the work, and I’m the one who deals with any of the problems that come up,” he said.

. . .

Part of the current shift to self-employment might prove temporary. The boom in self-employed day traders during the dot-com hoopla of the late 1990s deflated along with the stock bubble.

A sharp rise in savings—boosted by a federal supplement to unemployment benefits, most recently $300 a week, that was paid for as long as 18 months of the pandemic—provides some individuals a financial cushion to pursue self-employment. As they run down those savings, some might again want a regular paycheck, economists say.

In addition, if labor shortages ease, freelancers could face stiffer competition from companies in landing clients. Finally, if the pandemic recedes, so might one piece of the impetus to leave regular work in favor of self-employment. Five percent of unvaccinated adults say they left a job because of a vaccine requirement they opposed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in October [2021].

For the full story, see:

Josh Mitchell and Kathryn Dill. “Workers Quit Jobs in Droves to Become Their Own Bosses.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021): A1 & A14.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 29, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

My book, mentioned at the top, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.