California Regs Requiring Electric Trucks at Ports, Raise Supply Chain Costs, Fueling Inflation for Consumers

(p. B1) Neri Diaz thought he was ready for a crucial juncture in California’s ambitious plans, closely watched in other states and around the world, to phase out diesel-powered trucks.

His company, Harbor Pride Logistics, acquired 14 electric trucks this year to work alongside 32 diesel vehicles, in anticipation of a rule that says diesel rigs can no longer be added to the list of vehicles approved to move goods in and out of California’s ports. But in August the manufacturer of Mr. Diaz’s electric vehicles, Nikola, took back the trucks as part of a recall, saying it would return them in the first quarter of the new year.

“It’s a brand-new technology, first generation, so I knew things were going to happen, but I wasn’t expecting all my 14 trucks to be taken back,” he said. “It is a big impact on my operations.”

. . .

(p. B5) Large companies, with deep pockets and big facilities, are best positioned to make the green transition. Mike Gallagher, a California-based executive at Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, said the company had a fully electric fleet, comprising some 85 vehicles made by Volvo and BYD, the Chinese automaker, for transporting goods up to 50 miles out of the ports of Southern California. And it has worked with landlords to install scores of chargers at its depots.

“We’re well ahead of the curve,” he said.

But smaller trucking fleets do most of the port runs — accounting for some 70 percent at the Los Angeles port — and they are going to find the transition hard. The California Trucking Association has filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s trucking rules, including the one focused on port trucks, contending that they represent “a vast overreach that threatens the security and predictability of the nation’s goods movement industry.”

Matt Schrap, the chief executive of the Harbor Trucking Association, another trade group, said the port truck rules lacked exemptions that would help smaller businesses survive the transformation. Getting access to chargers is particularly difficult for smaller fleets, he said: They are expensive, and the truck yard landlords may be reluctant to install them, forcing the operators to rely on a public charging system that is only just getting built.

“The landlord is, like, ‘There’s not a snowball’s chance in Bakersfield that you’re going to tear up my parking lot to put in some heavy-duty charging,’” Mr. Schrap said.

Concern exists beyond the trade groups. Mr. Gallagher, the Maersk executive, said that if the clean truck rules caused serious problems for smaller operators, it could be “a significant disruption to the supply chain.”

. . .

Mr. Diaz, the operator whose Nikola trucks were recalled, said that charging the trucks cost roughly 40 percent less than diesel, and that he was impressed with their performance. Even with the help of state grants, he estimates that the electric trucks cost him as much as 50 percent more than diesel models. During the recall, Nikola has been covering the payments on the loans Mr. Diaz took out to buy the trucks, but he said he was concerned about the truck maker’s financial situation.

. . .

Rudy Diaz, president of Hight Logistics, said the new regulations had pushed up some of his costs as his company brought drivers onto its payroll and reduced its reliance on contract drivers using their own diesel trucks.

“It’s extra headaches, extra costs,” he said. “But consumers are asking for products that are more sustainable, and they’re willing to pay the price.”

For the full story, see:

Peter Eavis and Mark Abramson. “California Is Pushing E.V.s As the Future of Freight.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 30, 2023): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 29, 2023, and has the title “California Pushes Electric Trucks as the Future of Freight.”)

Highly-Taxpayer-Subsidized Lincoln Airline Collapses After Three Months

The “American Rescue Plan Act” was also called the “Covid-19 Stimulus Package” or the “American Rescue Plan.” (To paraphrase Shakespeare on a rose: a “boondoggle” by any other name smells just as foul.)

(p. B2) LINCOLN — Red Way, the startup airline that had been providing service from Lincoln to destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando, is ceasing operations at the end of the month.

. . .

The Lancaster County Board issued a written statement Wednesday [Aug. 23, 2023], saying it “is deeply disappointed and troubled at this unexpected and sudden turn of events.”

The board said there are “many unanswered questions regarding the Red Way project, (and it) looks forward to receiving a full accounting of this situation as the Lincoln Airport Authority charts a new path forward to serve our community.”

Board member Matt Schulte lamented the $3 million in lost American Rescue Plan Act funds — $1.5 million each from Lancaster County and the City of Lincoln — but called the air travel experiment a chance worth taking.

“I personally voted for this project believing that the air service would develop long term service,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I hope this failed experiment does not have a negative impact on the ability to expand service to the city of Lincoln.”

. . .

Airport officials had seemed optimistic about the airline’s prospects, noting that it had sold 10,000 tickets in just its first two weeks of operation.

In fact, Red Way flew just over 13,000 total passengers in June and July.

But cracks had started to show recently.

Red Way announced in July that it was dropping seasonal flights to Atlanta, Austin and Minneapolis in early August, months earlier than planned, because of poor ticket sales. That news came just two days after the airline had announced new flights to Tampa and Phoenix over the winter months.

Nick Cusick, who resigned from the Airport Authority Board in July after serving more than 10 years, confirmed to the Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday that Red Way had already burned through most of a $3 million incentive fund provided through ARPA dollars.

It used more than $900,000 in the first month and it withdrew even more in the second month, Cusick said.

For the full story, see:

MATT OLBERDING, Lincoln Journal Star. “Red Way Airline Ceasing Operations.” Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 30, 2023, and has the title “Lincoln’s Red Way ceasing operations less than 3 months after inaugural flight.”)

Chinese Communists Suspend Release of Record High Youth Unemployment Rate

(p. B1) The Chinese government, facing an expected seventh consecutive monthly increase in youth unemployment, said Tuesday [Aug. 15, 2023] that it had instead suspended release of the information.

The unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas hit 21.3 percent, a record, in June and has risen every month this year. It was widely forecast by economists to have climbed further last month.

The decision to scrub a widely watched report could exacerbate the concerns expressed by investors and executives who say ever-tightening government control of information is making it harder to do business in China.

Fu Linghui, a spokesman of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news briefing that the government would stop making public employment information “for youth and other age groups.” He said the surveys that government researchers use to collect the data “need to be further improved and optimized.”

China’s youth unemployment rate has doubled in the last four years, a period of economic volatility induced by the “zero Covid” measures imposed by Beijing that left companies wary of hiring, interrupted education for many students, and made it hard to get the internships that had often led to job offers.

The announcement drew more than 140 million views on the Chinese social media site Weibo within a few hours. Many people (p. B3) commenting online, some turning to sarcasm, said they believed the government suspended the report to try to hide negative information. Others said they believed the public had the right to be informed.

. . .

Young people in China are facing a big gap between labor demand and supply. According to official data, 11.6 million students were expected to graduate college or university this year — the most ever and nearly one million more than last year. Future classes are expected to be even larger, while economic growth had started to slow even before the pandemic.

. . .

Even becoming an entry-level civil servant working for the government is harder these days. Last year, a record 2.6 million people applied to take the national civil service exam to compete for only 37,100 entry-level positions.

Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader, has called for young people to go to remote areas to find work — to “eat bitterness,” a Chinese expression that refers to enduring hardship.

For the full story, see:

Claire Fu. “China Scraps Jobs Report On the Young.” The New York Times (Wednsday, August 16 2023): B1 & B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 15, 2023, and has the title “China Suspends Report on Youth Unemployment, Which Was at a Record High.”)

The Talented, Wealthy, Ambitious, and Hardworking Vote with Their Feet Against Communist China

(p. B12) Is China reopening to the world or turning inward again?

Many would argue the latter, but in one important way, the country is still going global: Residents appear to be leaving at a faster clip than they have in years, including a significant number of the wealthy and well-educated the nation needs to keep modernizing and investing.

. . .

Rebounding emigration is also striking in the context of a declining overall birthrate, and suggests that Beijing must do far more to convince talent, both domestic and foreign, that China is a good place to put down roots if it wants to avoid a steeper growth slowdown in the years ahead.

. . .

Rising net emigration also mirrors much smaller influxes of foreign talent in recent years—another trend that threatens to slow China’s climb up the technological ladder. Foreign residents of Shanghai and Beijing numbered just 163,954 and 62,812 in 2020, according to official data, down 21% and 42%, respectively, since 2010. The pandemic is clearly a major factor. But given the well-publicized rising tensions between China and the West, slowing growth and the rising risks of detention and investigation for what used to be considered routine business by foreigners in China, a portion of that decrease seems very likely to persist.

For much of the new millennium, China has been a place where the ambitious, hardworking and lucky could often get ahead. But in today’s China—more focused on security and control, less on growth—it is no longer clear how true that really is.

Some people, at least, seem to be voting with their feet.

For the full commentary, see:

Nathaniel Taplin. “HEARD ON THE STREET; China’s Brain Drain Threatens Its Future.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 6, 2023): B12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 5, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

In 2021 Summers and Blanchard Worried That Biden’s Covid Stimulus Would Fuel Inflation

(p. A2) When Congress passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in early 2021, which included checks to households, enhanced jobless benefits and aid to state and local governments, inflation was around 2% and unemployment, though coming down, still above 6%.

At the time many forecasters thought the stimulus could push demand above the economy’s potential to supply goods and services and unemployment below its long-run natural rate of around 4%. Yet few thought this would meaningfully raise inflation. In previous decades unemployment had remained similarly low without raising price pressures.

A few disagreed, notably former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and Blanchard. Both warned the stimulus was so large it would push the economy dangerously into overheating territory.

For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Why Did Inflation Take Off? Two Top Economists Answer.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, May 24, 2023): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 23, 2023, and has the title “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Why Inflation Erupted: Two Top Economists Have the Answer.”)

A 2021 article that documented Summers’s and Blanchard’s worry that Biden’s huge stimulus might fuel inflation is:

Ip, Greg. “Inflation Risk: Little Now, but Some See Danger Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 2, 2021).

Towns Flourish When Entrepreneurs Want to Live in Them

(p. B1) SIDNEY, Neb. — The forest green roof and pair of bronze stags frozen in combat are impossible to miss as you drive down Interstate 80.

. . .

For 54 years, Cabela’s made its home here, a juggernaut that kept the town humming. But in 2017, the sporting goods store sold for $5 billion to Bass Pro Shops — a takeover that eventually made 2,000 jobs vanish in a town of roughly 6,600 residents.

. . .

But Sidney’s staying power still surprises experts, who say it’s driven by two factors.

One: Former Cabela’s employees opening their small businesses, diversifying the economy in a formerly one-company town.

Two: A recent influx of new (p. B3) residents, both retirees and remote workers.

. . .

Each spring, high schoolers from Nebraska and neighboring states flock to Sidney searching for the perfect prom dress. Their destination: Charlotte & Emerson, a downtown boutique — and one example of Sidney’s rebirth from the ashes of Cabela’s.

Co-owner Sarah Kaiser and husband Kurt Kaiser both worked at Cabela’s. When the company was swallowed by Missouri-based Bass Pro, the family relocated there as Sarah Kaiser ran the combined company’s human resources.

But in 2020, they decided to return to Sidney, her hometown. Sarah Kaiser opened Charlotte & Emerson with her sister. Her husband launched an online fitness store, Frost Giant Fitness. They’re two of many Sidney-based companies run by ex-Cabela’s employees who decided to stick around and start something new.

“The corporate experience of these young folks really was key to this particular recovery,” said David Iaquinta, a Nebraska Wesleyan University sociology professor who has researched Sidney’s economic development. “. . . they combined that talent with a strong desire for the lifestyle that they had. They said, ‘We’re here. We’re rooted here.’”

Budding companies are being boosted by E3, a Nebraska Community Foundation program meant to aid entrepreneurship in rural Nebraska.

Already, new businesses have remodeled once-dilapidated buildings, said Sarah Sinnett, the program’s community lead.

. . .

Economic development in Nebraska “used to be about cheap land, cheap labor and cheap incentives” to nab big companies, Stinnett said.

Now: “If you want small towns to start thriving … really it needs to be focused on entrepreneurship,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Natalia Alamdari, Flatwater Free Press. “Sydney Shows Staying Power.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, April 23, 2023): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, and bracketed date, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 28, 2023, and has the title “Six years after ‘Cabela’s debacle,’ Sidney’s lights are still on.”)

78% of Americans Not Confident Children Will Be Better Off

(p. A2) An overwhelming share of Americans aren’t confident their children’s lives will be better than their own, according to a new Wall Street Journal-NORC Poll that shows growing skepticism about the value of a college degree and record-low levels of overall happiness.

The survey with NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization that measures social attitudes, showed pervasive economic pessimism underpins Americans’ dim hopes for the future. Four in five respondents described the state of the economy as not so good or poor, and nearly half said they expect it will get worse in the next year.

. . .

For more than three decades, NORC has asked Americans whether life for their children’s generation will be better than it has been for their own using its General Social Survey. This year 78% said they don’t feel confident that is the case, the highest share since the survey began asking the question every few years in 1990.

. . .

Some 56% of respondents said that a four-year college degree wasn’t worth the cost because people often graduate without specific job skills and with heavy debt.

For the full story, see:

Janet Adamy. “In U.S., Most Doubt Their Children Will Be Better Off, a New Poll Finds.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 25, 2023): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 24, 2023, and has the title “Most Americans Doubt Their Children Will Be Better Off, WSJ-NORC Poll Finds.”)

The poll mentioned above can be viewed at:

WSJ/NORC Poll (March 2023).

Corporate Fraud Index “Is the Highest in Over 40 Years”, Portending Economic Woes

(p. A2) Manipulation of earnings from Corporate America is on the rise, an ominous omen for the U.S. economy.

That is the conclusion of new research on accounting fraud, using a technique that flagged Enron as an earnings manipulator several years before the energy company’s spectacular 2001 implosion.

Unless you study accounting, you have likely never come across the M-Score, which is the number underlying both the Enron episode and the economywide concern now. The “M” is for manipulation, and uses a company’s financial statements to determine whether it is engaging in manipulation.

. . .

“We think this is a measure of misinformation in the economy,” said Dr. Beneish. The new aggregate measure was published in a December [2022] paper, and the latest data—compiled in March [2023] and shared with The Wall Street Journal—shows that the collective probability of fraud across major companies is the highest in over 40 years.

For the full commentary, see:

Josh Zumbrun. “Signs of Fraud Flash Warning for Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 25, 2023): A2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2023, and has the title “THE NUMBERS; Accounting-Fraud Indicator Signals Coming Economic Trouble.”)

The December 2022 paper mentioned above is:

Beneish, Messod D., David B. Farber, Matthew Glendening, and Kenneth W. Shaw. “Aggregate Financial Misreporting and the Predictability of U.S. Recessions and GDP Growth.” The Accounting Review (Dec. 2022), DOI:10.2308/tar-2021-0160.

Yale Economist Says Stagnant Japan Would Benefit from Mass Suicide of Elder Citizens

A growing number of so-called “progressives” are advocating an end to economic growth. I do not believe that most of them understand how much more suffering and death the world will experience if their advocacy succeeds. (I remember decades ago seeing a beautiful but troubling Japanese movie with my friend Hajime Miyazaki, in which the loving, aging matron of a starving family was willingly carried up a mountain by one of her sons and left there so the other members of her family would have more to eat.)

(p. A1) In interviews and public appearances, Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, has taken on the question of how to deal with the burdens of Japan’s rapidly aging society.

“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” he said during one online news program in late 2021. “In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?” Seppuku is an act of ritual disembowelment that was a code among dishonored samurai in the 19th century.

. . .

(p. A10) Given Japan’s low birthrate and the highest public debt in the developed world, policymakers increasingly worry about how to fund Japan’s expanding pension obligations.

. . .

In Japanese folklore, families carry older relatives to the top of mountains or remote corners of forests and leave them to die.

. . .

In broaching euthanasia, Dr. Narita has spoken publicly of his mother, who had an aneurysm when he was 19. In an interview with a website where families can search for nursing homes, Dr. Narita described how even with insurance and government financing, his mother’s care cost him 100,000 yen — or about $760 — a month.

For the full story, see:

Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida. “Scholar Suggests Mass Suicide for Japan’s Old. Does He Mean It?” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 13, 2023): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2023, and has the title “A Yale Professor Suggested Mass Suicide for Old People in Japan. What Did He Mean?”)

Dependent, Missionless Resignation Can Be “Fundamentally Degrading”

(p. A13) At the Harvard Business Review, Joseph Fuller and William Kerr wrote this spring that the Great Resignation was an “unprecedented mass exit” but also the reversion to a long-term trend, one we’re “likely to be contending with for years to come.” Quit rates have been rising steadily for a long time. When the pandemic first hit, workers held onto their jobs for fear of layoffs and recession. But by 2021 stimulus money hit the system and uncertainty abated. That’s when the Great Resignation hit. “We’re now back in line with the pre-pandemic trend.”

. . .

. . . political economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute . . . notes that recent workforce changes follow a postwar pattern. Usually after recessions, male labor-force participation drops, and when the recession ends it ticks up, “but never gets back to where it was.” Labor-force participation for both sexes, he notes, peaked in 2000 at 67%. We’re now 5 points lower than that.

The work rate for those in their prime working years, 25 to 54, has been declining since the turn of the century. The economic implications are obvious—slower growth, less expansion—and the personal implications are dire. “By and large, nonworking men don’t ‘do’ civil society,” Mr. Eberstadt says. They stay home watching screens—videogames, social-media sites and streaming services. There is something “fundamentally degrading” in this, and Mr. Ebestadt refers to an “archipelago of disability programs” that help make not working possible.

Staying apart, estranged from life and not sharing a larger mission can create “really tragic long term consequences,” Mr. Eberstadt says. These young people aren’t taking chances, leaving a job to start a small business. They aren’t finding themselves. They aren’t even looking.

For the full commentary, see:

Peggy Noonan. “DECLARATIONS; The ‘Great Resignation’ Started Long Ago.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 23, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Entrepreneurs Find New Uses for Bacon Grease and Waste Crabs

(p. A1) OCEAN CITY, Md.—Kristie Williams sells Bumble Soap at her health-food store in this beach town. Its unusual main ingredient, she said, is hard to detect—unless you’re a dog.

“I can’t smell the bacon in the soap,” she said. “My dogs can. Whenever I bring one home, they go crazy.”

The yucky-sounding soap bars are being cooked up less than 4 miles away from Ocean City Organics at Sunrise Diner, . . . (p. A10) Owner Sam Delauter said he branched into soap making when the price of a case of bacon jumped to $90, from $45 last year.

Thinking he could squeeze a few dollars out of his bacon grease in a time of high inflation, he dusted off his great-grandmother’s soap recipe from the Great Depression. He sells the bars for $5.99.

. . .

Searching for new sources of revenue and greener ways to deal with waste, business owners have started coming up with some funky new products. Vodka distilled from dairy-making waste. Compost made from crabs. Reactions from consumers range from enthusiastic to aghast.

For the full story, see:

Harriet Torry. “Inflation’s Byproducts: Bacon Soap or Dairy Vodka, Anyone?” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 27, 2022): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2022, and has the title “Inflation’s Funky Byproducts: Bacon Soap or Dairy Vodka, Anyone?”)