In Most Red States, the Benefits of Opening Economies Exceed the Costs

(p. A4) Two-thirds of confirmed coronavirus cases are in states with Democratic governors. When states are measured by the sheer number of coronavirus cases, six of the top seven have Democratic governors. Together, those six blue states have about half of the nation’s cases, though only about a third of its population.

. . .

“A red-state governor is losing his business in exchange for blue-state lives,” said Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at a Brookings Institution seminar last week. “So for him, opening up is a no-brainer, which is sort of why it is happening.”

He added: “It is a lot to ask those governors to kill their businesses and their GDP for people who live far away, and who they may not even like very much.”

For the full commentary, see:

Gerald F. Seib. “CAPITAL JOURNAL; Virus Exacerbates the Red-Blue Divide.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 19, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 18, 2020 and has the title “CAPITAL JOURNAL; Why Coronavirus Increasingly Exacerbates the Red-Blue Divide.”)

Deaton’s comments quoted above, are consistent with the central message of his co-authored book:

Case, Anne, and Angus Deaton. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020.

“The Better the Person, the Crumbier the House Is Going to Look”

I smiled at Jerry Seinfeld’s comment below that good people are too busy doing good to spend enough time for their house to look fabulous. (Admission: I have never been known for having a neat office.)

(p. C4) I like wearing the suit and having the crowd and the energy and the crackle — I like the magic. I don’t want to know who you really are. I don’t want to see how you really live. We’re all just sick of people’s houses. They’re all so depressingly normal. And the better the person, the crumbier the house is going to look. Because they’re too busy to do anything. The only people that have fabulous, fabulous places, stink. They’re horrible at what they do. They’re spending their money on the house instead of focusing on their art.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “He’s Now ‘Post-Show-Business’.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 5, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 4, 2020, and has the title “Jerry Seinfeld Is Making Peace With Nothing: He’s ‘Post-Show Business’.”)

Paul Marks Purged Old Guard in Order to Recruit New Talent for His Vision of Cancer Research

One important question, not addressed in the obituary quoted below, is the extent to which Marks’s vision for cancer research was farsighted and the extent to which it was misguided. Another important related issue is Marks’s role in support of Nixon’s centrally planned war on cancer.

(p. B11) Paul A. Marks, who transformed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center into one of the world’s leading institutions for research and treatment of cancer, died on April 28 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

. . .

Memorial Sloan Kettering today is very different from the institution Dr. Marks joined in 1980 as president and chief executive. It was still reeling from a scientific scandal in the 1970s involving crudely falsified data. It was also behind the times, focused more on surgical interventions than on the developing frontiers of biological science.

“Frankly, it was an institution that really needed surgery from top to bottom, and Marks was the right guy,” James Rothman, chairman of the Yale School of Medicine’s department of cell biology, said in a phone interview.

. . .

The timing was ideal, said Richard Axel, a neuroscientist and molecular biologist in the department of neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Marks, he said, energized the institution to pursue the alterations in DNA that cause tumors, doing so at the very moment that it was becoming possible “to truly study DNA, to pet it, to clone it, to determine its sequence.”

What followed was a purge of much of the institution’s old guard, with attendant turmoil and alienation for many of those involved. Dr. Marks instituted a tenure system with a tough review process, and dozens of scientists left between 1982 and 1986. A 1987 article about Dr. Marks in The New York Times Magazine noted that “there are researchers who call Marks ‘Caligula,’ ‘Attila the Hun’ or simply ‘the monster.’”

The article described a scene in his laboratory during his Columbia days when Dr. Marks “grabbed a man by the throat and dragged him across a table.” His wife, Joan Marks, then head of graduate programs at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., said in the article, “He can be brutal,” adding, “He really doesn’t understand why people don’t work 97 hours a day, and why they don’t care as much as he cares.”

In his memoir, “On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution” (2014, with the former Times reporter James Sterngold), Dr. Marks said he had been embarrassed to see the incident recounted in the article. While he didn’t deny that it had happened, he said that he had actually grabbed the man by both arms, not the throat, and shaken him.

For all of the sharpness of his elbows, Dr. Rothman of Yale said, there was also charm. Dr. Marks, he said, “projected at once a kind of a deep warmth and, at the same time, a formidable aspect.”

Dr. Marks was known for a sharp eye in recruiting talent. “He had an uncanny ability to attract these great scientists from all over the nation,” said Joan Massagué, the director of the Sloan Kettering Institute, the institution’s experimental research arm.

For the full obituary, see:

John Schwartz. “Paul Marks, 93, Administrator Who Pushed Memorial Sloan Kettering to Top-Tier Status.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 7, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated May 6, 2019 and has the title “Paul Marks, Who Pushed Sloan Kettering to Greatness, Dies at 93.”)

Marks’s memoir, mentioned above, is:

Marks, Paul, and James Sterngold. On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2014.

“The Spontaneous, Uncoordinated Effort of Businesses, Entrepreneurs and Innovators”

(p. A1) True Value Co. heard from its more than 4,500 affiliated hardware stores last month that hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves, leaving store staff with none for themselves.

At the company’s factory in Cary, Ill., which makes cleaning products and paint, John Vanderpool, the company’s divisional vice president of paint, recalled asking, “What can we do to help here?” After a tip from his wife, a pharmacist, he consulted with the Food and Drug Administration, then huddled with his maintenance team and engineers over two weekends to retool two paint-filling lines to produce jugs of FDA-approved hand sanitizer.

Starting this week they are being shipped free to stores for their own use. The product will go on sale to the public eventually.

The changeover at True Value’s factory from paint to hand sanitizer is one of countless private-sector initiatives that represent an underappreciated asset in Americans’ fight against the coronavirus. It is a 21st-century version of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the mobilization of industrial might that helped win World War II, only this time to make personal protective equipment, ventilators, tests and vaccines instead of uniforms, ammunition, tanks and bombers.

And where that arsenal was orchestrated by the federal government, this one has been largely the spontaneous, uncoordinated effort of businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators driven as much by the urge to contribute as by future profit.

. . .

(p. A9) Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University, said national crises such as wars and pandemics historically generate a hive of entrepreneurial innovation, from the late 18th-century search in England for a treatment for smallpox to a German drive in the run-up to World War I to use atmospheric nitrogen for explosives.

“We have this huge reservoir of creative energy spread around the economy. When you have an event like this all of a sudden, everyone says, ‘Oh wow let’s look at this problem—let’s see what I can do to solve it.’ ”

This time, innovators are exploiting tools and methods that didn’t exist in previous crises. In mid-March, Lennon Rodgers, director of the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, fielded a plea from the university’s hospital to make 1,000 face shields.

He often gets requests from around the campus to manufacture random items and “initially, I didn’t take it too seriously,” he recalled. But after his wife, an anesthesiologist, told him the shields were indispensable for dealing with highly infectious patients, he scoured hardware and craft stores for parts.

He teamed up with Delve, a local design firm, and Midwest Prototyping, a contract manufacturer, to design their own “Badger Shield,” named after the University of Wisconsin mascot. They expected to use 3-D printers, then concluded that wouldn’t achieve the necessary scale. They uploaded the design to their website along with the necessary parts for anyone to download. A few days later Ford Motor Co. did, and, with tweaks of its own, began turning out face shields for Detroit-area hospitals.

For the full story, see:

Greg Ip. “Health Crisis Awakens Spirit Of Private-Sector Innovation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 17, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 16, 2020, and has the title “Shoes to Masks: Corporate Innovation Flourishes in Coronavirus Fight.”)

Engineering the Bar Code “Was Fun!”

(p. A13) If he had followed instructions from his boss, George Laurer might never have succeeded in designing the Universal Product Code.

In 1971, a supervisor at International Business Machines Corp. told the electrical engineer to devise a bar code based on previous models involving circular symbols resembling dart boards. While the boss was on vacation, Mr. Laurer concluded that little circles wouldn’t do, partly because smears of ink left by printing presses could scramble the code. Instead, he and others came up with a row of stripes, whose varying width and spacing conveyed a reliable code.

. . .

. . . , as he noted in the title of his memoir, “Engineering Was Fun!”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Bar Code Designer Defied Instructions.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 14, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 12, 2019 and has the title “George Laurer, Defying Instructions, Created Universal Bar Code.”)

Laurer’s memoir, mentioned above, is:

Laurer, George J. Engineering Was Fun! 3rd ed. Morrisville, NC: Lulu.com, 2012.

“Rational for Workers to Prefer a Seller’s Market in Labor”

If we adopt policies to maintain what I call a “robustly redundant labor market,” workers will have no reason to fear harm from free-trade and immigration. The policies that allow robustly redundant labor markets are described in my Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism.

(p. C2) Unwilling to admit that the center-left has been largely captured by the managerial elite, many pundits and academics on the left insist that mindless bigotry, rather than class interests, explains the attraction of many working-class voters to populist parties that promise to restrict trade and immigration. But it is just as rational for workers to prefer a seller’s market in labor as it is for employers to prefer a buyer’s market in labor. Blue-collar workers who have abandoned center-left parties for populist movements bring with them the historic suspicion of large-scale immigration that was typical of organized labor for generations.

And as MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues have shown, voters in the U.S. regions hit hardest by Chinese import competition were the most likely to favor Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders in 2016. Strict environmental regulations, which impose few costs on the urban elites, can threaten the livelihoods and lifestyles of workers in the exurban heartlands, like the French yellow vest protesters who rebelled against a tax on diesel fuel intended to mitigate climate change.

For the full commentary, see:

Michael Lind. “Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, January 11, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 10, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Lind’s commentary is related to his book:

Lind, Michael. The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite. New York: Portfolio, 2020.

The latest version of the paper co-authored by Autor, and mentioned above, is:

Autor, David H., David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, and Kaveh Majlesi. “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure.” Working Paper, Oct. 2019.

My book, mentioned way above, is:

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

Firm Founders “Learned to Cope With a Lot of Adversity and Have a Lot of Resilience”

(p. B6) I’m a sucker for good stories about the founding of companies.

Yvon Chouinard started apparel maker Patagonia in a chicken coop; James Dyson went through 5,000 prototypes on his way to inventing a bagless vacuum cleaner; Steve Ellis opened Chipotle burrito shops simply to earn enough money to start a gourmet restaurant (he never got that far).

Airbnb Inc.’s story takes the cake. In 2008, a couple entrepreneurial types living on Ramen noodles in San Francisco cooked up an online home-sharing scheme. They recruited a computer scientist, funded their idea in the early days by maxing out credit cards and selling politically-themed cereal boxes, and held on until their company shook up the entire lodging industry.

. . .

“There’s this crazy idealism that founders have,” Brian Chesky, one of those Airbnb founders and the company’s chief executive, told me this week in a video chat. “They’ve learned to cope with a lot of adversity and have a lot of resilience.”

For the full commentary, see:

John D. Stoll. “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Startup Odds. Will It Survive a Pandemic?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 18, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 17, 2020, and has the title “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Odds of Startup Success. How Will It Survive a Pandemic?”)