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?”)

Art Carden Praises “Openness to Creative Destruction”

Economist Art Carden has written a fine review of my Openness book under the title “New Ideas Are the Key to Economic Development.” The review is fair, mostly positive, and well-written. His main reservation is that he sides with many other distinguished libertarians, but against me, on my argument that the patent system should be reformed rather than abolished.

Here is the final paragraph of Carden’s review:

I am glad to see Openness to Creative Destruction appear in print. It strikes a fine balance between detail and a big-picture perspective that, I think, can be read profitably by specialists and students alike. Anyone who wants to understand how the world grew rich and, importantly, what will sustain our enrichment would do well to have this book on the shelf.

Boudreaux Names “Openness” as One of Seven “Superb” Books Published in 2019

George Mason economics professor Donald Boudreaux, in his essay “Some Great Books for Stuffing Stockings” says “I offer here a list of seven superb books published in 2019 that your open-minded friends and family members are sure to love.”

I am honored that he included my Openness to Creative Destruction as one of the seven:

Arthur Diamond, Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. As does George Will, Diamond emphasizes the vital role played by individual entrepreneurs in helping to create modern mass prosperity. (The accounts of the challenges and efforts of flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs through the years is alone worth the price of this book.) And as does Deirdre McCloskey, Diamond recognizes also the importance of widespread respect for innovators and businesspeople. Making clear that modernity’s prosperity is the result of creative destruction, this book offers an unusually effective and powerful explanation of genuine market competition and a brilliant brief for its indispensability and for its goodness.

Entrepreneurs Dream of Transportation Breakthroughs

(p. A13) “Hop, Skip, Go” seems to be the result of an extended reporting trip, during which the authors chat with would-be game-changers from Los Angeles to Helsinki to Dubai to Guangzhou, offering futuristic punditry along the way.

. . .

The authors have tracked down entrepreneurs who are following their dreams of shaking up passenger transportation. In Shanghai, we meet Joseph Xie, whose Shanghai Quality Sensor Technology Corp. specializes in tiny semiconductors that sense light, sound and motion and have a wide application for autonomous vehicles, among other uses. In the Detroit area, R.J. Scaringe’s company, Rivian, aims to build electric cars and recently captured a $500 million investment from Ford. In Helsinki, an engineering student named Sonja Heikkilä wrote a thesis proposing a mobility app that would allow subscribers access to every sort of conveyance, from dockless scooters to rental cars. Mark Moore, a former NASA researcher now with an Uber venture called Uber Air, envisions small aircraft allowing users to fly over traffic jams within a decade.

For the full review, see:

Marc Levinson. “BOOKSHELF; Going Mobile.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 3, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 2, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Hop, Skip, Go’ Review: Going Mobile.”)

The book under review, is:

Rossant, John, and Stephen Baker. Hop, Skip, Go: How the Mobility Revolution Is Transforming Our Lives. New York: Harper Business, 2019.

Venture Capitalist Don Valentine Was Rare Early Backer of Apple

(p. A9) In the mid 1960s, Don Valentine had a hunch that startups using silicon semiconductors, then a new technology, would thrive. After failing to persuade his employer, Fairchild Semiconductor Corp., that it should invest in some of its more promising customers, Mr. Valentine decided to invest on his own.

His hobby became Sequoia Capital, which over the following five decades has built an unrivaled record of venture capital investing, betting early on Atari and Apple Inc. in the 1970s, Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. in the 1980s, Yahoo! and Google in the 1990s, Airbnb Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. in the 2000s, and Stripe Inc., Square Inc. and WhatsApp this decade.

Mr. Valentine handed the reins to a new generation of investors in 1996, but the firm still operates in his image—as a team of hard-nosed investors willing to butt heads inside company boardrooms and who relentlessly question each other and those seeking their capital.

. . .

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell says Mr. Valentine was by far his best board member. “We fought like cats and dogs,” recalled Mr. Bushnell. “Steel sharpens steel. Every board meeting, he would ask me a question about my company that I didn’t know but I immediately knew that I should know it.”

Mr. Bushnell introduced Mr. Valentine to a young Atari employee named Steve Jobs, who had an idea for a personal computer but whom other investors wouldn’t back, in part because of his messy appearance.

Mr. Valentine said in the 2009 interview that one of Sequoia’s secrets was its Socratic method, in which partners constantly questioned one another. He recalled in the same interview that Mr. Jobs stood out as one of the “best interrogators” he ever saw. “Somehow or other, he knew what to focus on and how to build a sequence and series of questions that were additive to the answers.”

For the full obituary, see:

Rolfe Winkler. “Venture Capitalist Gave Entrepreneurs Tough Love.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 2, 2019): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Oct. 27, 2019, and has the title “Venture Capital Pioneer Kept Entrepreneurs’ Egos in Check.”)

Amazon Enables Flourishing of Small Diverse Entrepreneurs

(p. A24) They are a religious community known for clinging to 18th-century fashions and mores — strict rules that keep men and women apart and constraints on attire, with men favoring black suits and formal hats and women in long sleeves and long skirts.

But when it comes to doing business, Hasidic Jews have become enamored with a distinctly 21st-century company: Amazon.

The ability to sell merchandise easily and relatively anonymously on Amazon has transformed the economies of Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn, suburban New York and central New Jersey, communities where members prefer to keep to themselves and typically do not go to college, let alone graduate from business programs.

But Amazon allows Hasidim to start selling without much experience and without making the investments required by a brick-and-mortar store. It permits Hasidic sellers to deal with the public invisibly — almost entirely by mail, by email or through package-delivery firms.

“Amazon doesn’t ask for your résumé,” said Sam Friedman, a marketer who designs trade show exhibits and works with many Amazon sellers. “And your picture is not on your business. The investment is minimal. You can work out of your bedroom.”

. . .

If Amazon is fulfilling orders, the business may effectively be running on Sabbath and Jewish holidays, though how that is carried out is the subject of vigorous debate. With a Talmudic twist of logic, some Hasidic entrepreneurs take on a non-Jew as a presumptive partner, attributing profits made on the Sabbath to that person.

. . .

Mr. Friedman is . . . organizing a business, advertising and marketing expo in Brooklyn in December [2019] to help Hasidic merchants expand their online sales by contracting with experienced copy writers, web designers, videographers and other professionals whose occupations the Talmudic Sages never even dreamed of.

“We’re not college students,” Mr. Friedman said, “but the yeshiva makes us smart enough to figure things out.”

For the full story, see:

Joseph Berger. “Insular Hasidic Communities Embrace Selling on Amazon.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 17, 2019): A24.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 16, 2019, and has the title “How Amazon Has Transformed the Hasidic Economy.” The online version says that the article was on p. A26 of the New York edition. The article was on p. A24 of my National edition.)