Long Beach Supermarket Workers Lose Jobs Due to Higher Minimum Wage

(p. A15) As these things always do, it started out with the best intentions. In January [2021] the City Council of Long Beach, Calif., adopted an ordinance requiring large grocery-store chains to pay employees an extra $4 an hour. The idea was to reward them for the risks they took by doing their jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

It didn’t turn out that way. In response to the ordinance, Kroger Co. announced it would close two Long Beach supermarkets.

. . .

As one of the world’s largest retailers, Kroger makes an easy villain. But instead of blaming “reckless capitalism,” might the fault lie with the reckless politicians who passed this measure? Thanks to their intervention, instead of finding an extra $4 an hour in their paychecks, nearly 200 grocery workers will now have no paychecks at all unless they are transferred to another store or find another job. It’s but the latest illustration of economist Thomas Sowell’s dictum that whatever a government might set it at, “the real minimum wage is always zero.”

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. “The Human Cost of a Minimum Wage.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 16, 2021): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 15, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Members of the Elite Exempt Themselves from Rules They Impose on the Hoi Polloi

(p. 12) SAN FRANCISCO — It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor.

Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.

. . .

The photos of the gathering, taken by a diner at a nearby table and shared with a local television station, also showed the chief executive for the California Medical Association and the organization’s top lobbyist.

. . .

In a 2019 review of the French Laundry and two other Napa restaurants, the New York Times critic Tejal Rao described being “overwhelmed by the opulence” and feeling as if transported onto a “spaceship for the 1 percent, now orbiting a burning planet.” Mr. Newsom said in October that his children, who attend private school, returned to in-person classes even as most of the state struggles with remote learning.

“Newsom and the first partner eschewed state public health guidelines to dine with friends at a time when the governor has asked families to scale back Thanksgiving plans,” wrote the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Friday. It added, “If the governor can eat out with friends — and if his children can attend their expensive school — why must everyone else sacrifice?”

For the full story, see:

Thomas Fuller. “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 22, 2020): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 18, 2020, and has the title “For California Governor the Coronavirus Message Is Do as I Say, Not as I Dine.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version was “California Governor Calls” and appeared on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The title of my National print version was “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians” and appeared on Sunday, November 22, 2020.)

For California Electricity Regulator: “Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing”

(p. A1) PG&E’s collapse has exposed the California Public Utilities Commission’s failure to hold the utility accountable on safety. The CPUC (p. A12) for years focused attention elsewhere, on setting rates and pushing for cleaner power.

Now, the agency tasked with regulating utility safety is struggling to refocus on the issue while also grappling with its failure to prevent the state’s second electricity crisis in two decades.

. . .

From the early 2000s, the commission’s focus was on setting rates and implementing Sacramento’s renewable-energy goals. Starting in 2002, three consecutive governors, two Democrats and a Republican, signed bills ratcheting up the percentage of wind and solar power utilities had to buy.

These mandates required investor-owned utilities such as PG&E to change their mix of generation, effectively phasing out burning coal and lowering reliance on natural gas while signing contracts to buy electricity from new solar and wind farms. The CPUC oversaw these deals, as well as figuring out how to integrate thousands of new rooftop solar installations.

“Was there a considerable amount of resources placed on policy? Yeah, there was,” says Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner between 2007 and 2012 and now a utilities consultant. “It’s a challenge to balance between the safety aspects and the need for policy deliberation.”

Michael Peevey, a former Southern California Edison president, and CPUC president between 2002 and 2014, was a vocal champion of renewable-energy policies. Now retired, he says the regulator was large enough to focus on safety and renewables simultaneously but that it was tough to get Sacramento lawmakers excited about funding safety.

When compared with eliminating coal and adding solar energy, he says, “Safety is not a glamorous thing.”

For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. “PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 9, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 8, 2019, and has the title “‘Safety Is Not a Glamorous Thing’: How PG&E Regulators Failed to Stop Wildfire Crisis.”)

California Energy Shortage Partly Due to Government Mandated Price Ceiling on Energy Imported from Out-of-State

(p. B9) As California keeps facing electricity shortages, the discussion around its grid often veers to extremes.

. . .

Should California . . . have shut down less natural gas and nuclear power? That is definitely part of the issue, and future shutdowns might need to slow.

. . .

. . . at least some of the shortage is addressable through market rules.

For example, California has a hard import bid cap of $1,000 per megawatt hour. Christopher DaCosta, regional director of western power markets at Wood Mackenzie, says that surrounding areas have a softer cap and are able to pay more. During this summer, that meant power plants often rerouted electricity to higher bidders than California.

For the full commentary, see:

Jinjoo Lee. “To Keep Lights On, California Needs Power Play.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, September 17, 2020): B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 16, 2020, and has the title “How to Keep the Lights On in California.”)

California Government Allowed “Buildup” of “Fuel for Future Blazes”

(p. A1) California is one of America’s marvels. By moving vast quantities of water and suppressing wildfires for decades, the state has transformed its arid and mountainous landscape into the richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation.

. . .

(p. A16) The intensity of the fires . . . reflects decades of policy decisions that altered those forests, according to Robert Bonnie, who oversaw the United States Forest Service under President Barack Obama. And the cost of those decisions is now coming due.

In an effort to protect homes and encourage new building, governments for decades focused on suppressing fires that occurred naturally, allowing the buildup of vegetation that would provide fuel for future blazes. Even after the drawbacks of that approach became clear, officials remained reluctant to reduce that vegetation through prescribed burns, wary of upsetting residents with smoke or starting a fire that might burn out of control.

That approach made California’s forests more comfortable for the estimated 11 million people who now live in and around them. But it has also made them more susceptible to catastrophic fires. “We’ve sort of built up this fire debt,” Mr. Bonnie said. “People are going to have to tolerate smoke and risk.”

For the full story, see:

Christopher Flavelle. “Mankind’s Feats Place California At Climate Risk.” The New York Times (Monday, September 21, 2020): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2020, and has the title “How California Became Ground Zero for Climate Disasters.”)

Covid-19 May Shift Restaurants Toward Fewer Workers and More Take-Out, Even in Long Run

(p. B4) Andrew Snow was supposed to be ramping up by now. Mr. Snow, who owns the Golden Squirrel, a restaurant and bar in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, cut his staff of 28 people to two after the pandemic hit.

. . .

Now business is slowing again, as California is averaging about 8,000 new cases a day, about triple the level a month ago. Mr. Snow’s plans to bring back workers over the holiday weekend didn’t come to pass, and he has put further hiring on hold.

“People are scared,” he said in an interview. “The math for having more people doesn’t work out anymore.”

. . .

The longer the pandemic’s disruption, the more likely it is that some jobs will never come back. For instance, a number of restaurants had already switched to counter service, even for fairly high-end meals, to avoid the need for servers who have a hard time affording housing in big cities. Now virtually every restaurant in California is operating around counter service or delivery, and some may not change back.

Mr. Snow, for example, envisions a restaurant where people order at the bar, eat far from other patrons, then leave with a bag of groceries. The Golden Squirrel would have fewer employees, compensating for a less-full restaurant with expanded takeout orders.

“Some of the changes will make us a better business in the future,” Mr. Snow said. “The challenge is getting to that future.”

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. “After Riding a Boom, California Braces for Hard Times.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 14, 2020, and has the title “California, After Riding a Boom, Braces for Hard Times.”)

California Places the Regulatory “Final Straw” on Elon Musk’s Tesla

(p. A15) Informed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s authorities that his factory in Fremont had to remain in lockdown, Mr. Musk tweeted: “Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.”

The keyword here is “final straw,” suggesting that Mr. Musk’s cost-of-doing-business problems with California predate this virus. Hundreds of businesses already have relocated out of California, fleeing the uncountable regulatory straws the state has laid across the backs of anyone doing business there.

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Henninger. “WONDER LAND; Elon Musk’s ‘Final Straw’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 21, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

Is Jeff Bezos Still a “Project Entrepreneur”?

In my Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, I suggest that different innovative entrepreneurs have different motives. Some mainly want money for its own sake, some mainly want fame, some mainly want to win the competition. Then there are those who mainly want to bring their project into the world. These are the project entrepreneurs, who often sacrifice for their project, forgoing conspicuous consumption in order to “make a ding in the universe.” (The phrase is due to Steve Jobs.) In my book I give Walt Disney as one example, and Jeff Bezos as another. Was I wrong? Or has Bezos changed? Or is there some other way to account for what looks like Bezos’s conspicuous consumption, as described below?

(p. B4) The national housing market has cooled, but in Los Angeles the ultrarich are still shattering price records. An heiress to the Formula One racing empire sold her home for $119.75 million last July. In December, Lachlan Murdoch paid $150 million for a home in Bel Air.

The latest buyer at the top: Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief and world’s richest person.

Setting a new high for a home sold in California, Mr. Bezos is paying $165 million for a Beverly Hills estate owned by David Geffen, the media mogul and co-founder of DreamWorks, according to two people familiar with the purchase.

That wasn’t all. In a separate transaction, Bezos Expeditions, which oversees The Washington Post and Mr. Bezos’ charitable foundation, is buying 120 undeveloped acres in Beverly Hills for $90 million, the two people said.

For the full story, see:

Candace Jackson. “Bezos Is Setting Record By Paying $165 Million To Buy Geffen’s Estate.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 15, 2020): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 14, 2020, and has the title “Jeff Bezos Buying $165 Million Estate, a California Record.”)

My book is:

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

Progressive Opposes Job-Destroying Minimum Wage Increase

(p. A15) Seattle

This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all due to the policy change. That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment.

I work for Tom Douglas, one of the best-known restaurateurs in Seattle. Mr. Douglas is in many ways responsible for the city’s reputation as a foodie paradise, and he recently celebrated his 30th anniversary in business. He’s a great boss, and his employees tend to stay at the company for a long time.

. . .

So now, after six years working at Mr. Douglas’s restaurant Tanakasan, I need to find a new work home. My first thought was to go back to Sitka & Spruce, a restaurant where I had once worked.   . . .

As it turns out, I can’t return to Sitka & Spruce. Its James Beard Award-winning owner, Matt Dillon, is closing Sitka after 14 years, defeated by the one-two punch of rising rents and labor costs.

As a worker, you’re attracted to restaurateurs like Messrs. Douglas and Dillon because they offer job security and you know you’ll make money. That’s no longer the case here with a high minimum wage that ignores tip income.

. . .

I’m proudly progressive in my politics, but my experience shows that progressives should reconsider minimum-wage laws that hurt the very workers they’re trying to protect.

For the full story, see:

Simone Barron. “Seattle’s Wage Mandate Kills Restaurants.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 13, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 12, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Bay Area Californians Moving to Where Living Costs Less

(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO — Christine Johnson, a public-finance consultant with an engineering degree, was running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

She crisscrossed her downtown district talking about her plans to stimulate housing construction, improve public transit and deal with the litter of “needles and poop” that have become a common sight on the city’s sidewalks.

Today, a year after losing the race, Ms. Johnson, who had been in the Bay Area since 2004, lives in Denver with her husband and 4-year-old son. In a recent interview, she spoke for millions of Californians past and present when she described the cloud that high rent and child-care costs had cast over her family’s savings and future.

“I fully intended San Francisco to be my home and wanted to make the neighborhoods better,” she said. “But after the election we started tallying up what life could look like elsewhere, and we didn’t see friends in other parts of the country experiencing challenges the same way.”

. . .

(p. A12) Greg Biggs is adding more machines and moving jobs to cheaper locations. Mr. Biggs is the chief executive of Vander-Bend Manufacturing, a company in San Jose that makes metal products including surgical components and racks where data centers store computer servers. Vander-Bend has doubled its head count over the past five years, to about 900 employees, and pays $17 to $40 an hour for skilled technicians who need training but not a college degree.

This is precisely the sort of middle-income job needed in the Bay Area, which like many urban areas is bifurcating into an economy of high-wage knowledge jobs and low-wage service jobs.

The problem is he can’t find enough workers. The unemployment rate in San Jose is around 2 percent, and many of Vander-Bend’s employees already commute two or more hours to work. To compensate, Mr. Biggs has bought several van-size robot arms that pull metal panels from a pile then stamp them flush, bend their edges and assemble them into racks. He has opened a second location 75 miles away in Stockton, where labor and housing costs are a lot lower.

This is in most ways a success story. Vander-Bend is raising wages and training workers. The machines aren’t replacing jobs but instead make them more efficient, and the company is bringing higher-wage positions to a region that needs more of them. But for workers, even substantial income gains are being offset by rising costs.

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. “True, California Is Booming. Also True: California’s a Mess.” The New York Times (Monday, December 30, 2019): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 29, 2019, and has the title “California Is Booming. Why Are So Many Californians Unhappy?”)

Napa Vineyards Adapting to Global Warming

(p. D8) Few in Napa Valley feel the urgency to address climate change more than Beth Novak Milliken, president and chief executive of Spottswoode, a family estate that makes superb cabernet sauvignons here on the western edge of St. Helena.

. . .

Ms. Milliken and Aron Weinkauf, the winemaker and vineyard manager, are experimenting with rootstocks that might do better in drought conditions, and grapes like alicante bouschet, mourvèdre and touriga nacional that, as Napa warms, might be blended with cabernet sauvignon to maintain freshness, structure and acidity.

. . .

Like Ms. Milliken, Larkmead is experimenting with different grapes. Mr. Petroski has already initiated a study, planting three acres with a variety of grapes like touriga nacional, tempranillo and aglianico to determine over the next 30 years what might be better able to withstand a hotter environment than cabernet sauvignon.

“I just want people to think that Napa Valley makes great, delicious California-style wines,” he said. “If this is a great vineyard site, it will grow great grapes. It doesn’t have to be only cabernet or merlot.”

For the full story, see:

Eric Asimov. “The Pour; Napa Valley Confronts Climate Change.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 6, 2019): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 7 [sic], 2019, and has the title “The Pour; In Napa Valley, Winemakers Fight Climate Change on All Fronts.”)