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.)

Bill Gates Spending $400 Million to Develop Expensive High-Tech Toilets for Poor Countries

(p. B1) BEIJING — Bill Gates believes the world needs better toilets.

Specifically, toilets that improve hygiene, don’t have to connect to sewage systems at all and can break down human waste into fertilizer.

So on Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Gates held the Reinvented Toilet Expo, a chance for companies to showcase their takes on the simple bathroom fixture. Companies showed toilets that could separate urine from other waste for more efficient treatment, that recycled water for hand washing and that sported solar roofs.

It’s no laughing matter. About 4.5 billion people — more than half the world’s population — live without access to safe sanitation. Globally, Mr. Gates told attendees, unsafe sanitation costs an estimated $223 billion a year in the form of higher health costs and lost productivity and wages.

The reinvented toilets on display are a culmination of seven years of research and $200 million given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which the former software tycoon runs with his wife, since 2011. On Tuesday [Nov. 6, 2018], Mr. Gates pledged to give $200 million more in an effort get companies to see human waste as a big business.

. . .

(p. B5) . . . China’s toilet revolution has led to excesses — a problem that critics say could plague the Gates effort as well.

To win favor with Beijing, local officials have tried to outgun one another with newfangled latrines, many equipped with flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi and facial-recognition toilet paper dispensers. (Thieves have been known to make off with entire rolls.) There were even refrigerators, microwave ovens and couches, prompting China’s tourism chief at the time to instruct officials in January to rein in their “five-star toilets” and avoid kitsch and luxury.

Though the products on display on Tuesday were nowhere as flashy, Mr. Gates has drawn criticism for giving thousands of dollars to universities in developed countries to create high-tech toilets that will take years to pay off — if they ever do.

“Sometimes doubling down is necessary, but you’ve got to be reflective,” said Jason Kass, the founder of Toilets for People, a Vermont-based social business that provides off-grid toilets. “Has any of the approaches done in the last five years created any sustainable lasting, positive impact vis-à-vis sanitation? And the answer, as far as I can see, is no.”

. . .

Mr. Gates acknowledged that some reinvented toilets, in small volumes, could cost as much as $10,000, but added, “That will pretty quickly come down.”

“The hard part will be getting it from $2,000 to $500,” he said. “I’d say we are more confident today that it was a good bet than where we started, but we are still not there.”

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee. “Bill Gates Wants to Build A Better Toilet.” The New York Times (Friday, Nov. 9, 2018): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 6, 2018, and has the title “In China, Bill Gates Encourages the World to Build a Better Toilet.”)

Fear of Malpractice Suits Increases Useless Medical Care by 5%

(p. B4) Researchers from Duke and M.I.T. . . . offer what is perhaps the most precise estimate of how much defensive medicine matters, at least for care in the hospital. They found that the possibility of a lawsuit increased the intensity of health care that patients received in the hospital by about 5 percent — and that those patients who got the extra care were no better off.

“There is defensive medicine,” said Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at M.I.T. and an author of the paper, which was published in draft form Monday [July 23, 2018] by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “But that defensive medicine is not explaining a large share of what’s driving U.S. health care costs.”

Mr. Gruber and Michael D. Frakes, a Duke economist and lawyer, looked at the health care system for active-duty members of the military. Under longstanding law, such patients get access to a government health care system but are barred from suing government doctors and hospitals for malpractice. Their family members can also use the military hospitals, but they can sue for malpractice if they wish.

Their study looked at what happened to the hospital care that military members received when a base closing forced them to use their benefits in civilian hospitals, where it was possible to sue. Spending on their health care increased, particularly on extra diagnostic tests.

They also found that, even within the military hospitals, family members who could sue tended to get more tests than those who could not.

For the full commentary, see:

Margot Sanger-Katz. “Doctors’ Fear of Lawsuits May Hit Patients in the Wallet, Study Hints.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 23, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2018, and has the title “A Fear of Lawsuits Really Does Seem to Result in Extra Medical Tests.”)

The Frakes and Gruber working paper, mentioned above, is:

Frakes, Michael D., and Jonathan Gruber. “Defensive Medicine: Evidence from Military Immunity.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 24846, July 2018.

Astros Got Scouting and Analytics to Work Together

(p. A15) Mr. Reiter . . . has written a full account of the remarkable story of how one of the greatest turnarounds in modern baseball history was engineered. As he tells us in “Astroball: The New Way to Win It All,” Houston had looked at the processes that Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane had used early in the 21st century. That team’s methods—sophisticated statistical analyses and attention to “undervalued” measuring sticks (like on-base percentage)—were detailed in Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” (2003), and they changed the way baseball front offices operated. But Mr. Lewis’s book also portrayed a somewhat fraught internal organization, with old-fashioned scouts in one corner and the analytic nerds in the other, often disagreeing about players and prospects and resenting one another as well.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wanted to figure out how to get scouting and analytics to work together and eventually produce an internal metric that would render a decision on a player as simple as the one in blackjack: hit or stay, keep or trade, play or bench.

. . .

Under Mr. Luhnow, scouts not only made subjective judgments about a prospect’s talent but also collected unique data that they fed to the folks in the Nerd Cave. And the nerds began listening to the scouts. All of this was easier said than done, but it was done, and the team made a series of sound, even brilliant, choices as it drafted, traded and signed players.

For the full review, see:

Paul Dickson. “BOOKSHELF; Lone Star Turnaround; How the Houston Astros used a combination of data-driven analytics and team-building to go from last place to World Series champions.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 16, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Astroball’ Review: Lone Star Turnaround
How the Houston Astros used a combination of data-driven analytics and team-building to go from last place to World Series champions.”)

The book under review is:

Reiter, Ben. Astroball: The New Way to Win It All. New York: Crown Archetype, 2018.

Economists Surprised by Inflation-Less Boom

(p. A13) The labor market the United States is experiencing right now wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Not that long ago, the overwhelming consensus among economists would have been that you couldn’t have a 3.6 percent unemployment rate without also seeing the rate of job creation slowing (where are new workers going to come from with so few out of work, after all?) and having an inflation surge (a worker shortage should mean employers bidding up wages, right?).

And yet that is what has happened, with the April employment numbers putting an exclamation point on the trend. The jobless rate receded to its lowest level in five decades. Employers also added 263,000 jobs; the job creation estimates of previous months were revised up; and average hourly earnings continued to rise at a steady rate — up 3.2 percent over the last year.

. . .

. . . beyond the assigning of credit or blame, there’s a bigger lesson in the job market’s remarkably strong performance: about the limits of knowledge when it comes to something as complex as the $20 trillion U.S. economy.

. . .

The results of the last few years make you wonder whether we’ve been too pessimistic about just how hot the United States economy can run without inflation or other negative effects.

There are even early signs that the tight labor market may be contributing to, or at least coinciding with, a surge in worker productivity, which if sustained would fuel higher wages and living standards over time. That further supports the case for the Fed and other policymakers to let the expansion rip rather than trying to hold it back.

For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. “An Economic Boom That Might Be Changing the Rules.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 4, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the title “The Economy That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: Booming Jobs, Low Inflation.”)

$15 Minimum Wage Equals Income About Twice Federal Poverty Level for Household of Two

(p. B1) The legal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour, . . .

The minimum wage roughly meshes with federal poverty guidelines. According to the guidelines, a two-person household with a total annual income below $16,910 is considered to be living in poverty. To clear the poverty line, one of those two people would have to make $8.13 an hour or more. At least 17 states have minimum wages higher than that. The $15-per-hour minimum wage in New York City, for example, translates to an annual income of $31,200, which is almost twice the federal poverty level for a household of two.

For the full story, see:

Eric Ravenscraft. “Do You Earn a ‘Living Wage’? Cut Through the Confusion.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 8, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2019, and has the title “What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means.”)

Reason Magazine Runs Excerpt from “Openness to Creative Destruction”

A three-page, edited excerpt from Openness to Creative Destruction appears in the Aug./Sept. issue of Reason magazine.

Innovative dynamism creates more jobs than it destroys and the new jobs created are usually better jobs than the old jobs destroyed. The Aug./Sept. issue of Reason includes an edited excerpt of this positive account of the labor market from Openness to Creative Destruction. The online version of the article is available now. The print version of the article either is on newsstands now, or will be soon. The citation for the article is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “How Work Got Good.” Reason (Aug./Sept. 2019): 22-24.