Australia’s 28 Years With No Recession Challenge Business Cycle Cliches

(p. 6) I had flown 16,000 miles . . .  to study . . .  the remarkable resilience of the Australian economy, which has gone nearly 28 years without a recession.

. . .

America is on the verge of its own economic milestone: The current expansion is on track to reach its 10th birthday this summer, which would also put it on record as the nation’s longest streak without a recession.

During the decade I’ve spent chronicling that growth as an economics writer, a persistent whisper has been: How long can it go? The run has been uneven, underwhelming and repeatedly on the verge of unraveling, including scary moments in 2010, 2015 and this past December. Seemingly every commentator without a good cliché blocker has referred to it as “long in the tooth.” Continue reading “Australia’s 28 Years With No Recession Challenge Business Cycle Cliches”

Cities Stop Recycling as Costs Exceed Benefits

(p. A1) Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

. . .

(p. A25)  With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year.

Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s.

“Recycling has been dysfunctional for a long time,” said Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, . . .

. . .

In Deltona, higher costs were not the only factor behind the decision last month to stop recycling. Even if the city agreed to pay the additional $25,000 a month that its recycling company was charging, there was no assurance that all the plastic containers and junk mail would be turned into something new, Mayor Heidi Herzberg said.

“We all did recycling because it was easy, but the reality is that not much was actually being recycled,” Ms. Herzberg said.

. . .

Some large waste producers are still going through the motions of recycling, no matter how futile.

Across Memphis, large commercial enterprises have had to stop recycling for now because of contamination problems. But the airport is keeping its recycling bins in place to preserve “the culture” of recycling among passengers and employees, a spokesman said.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2019, and has the title “As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling.”  The online version says that the New York print version had the title “As Costs Surge, Cities’ Recycling Becomes Refuse.”  My National print edition had the title given in the citation above.)

“Clever” Developers Evade New York City’s “Labyrinthine Zoning Laws”

(p. A1)  Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

. . .

(p. A20)  “It’s pretty outrageous, but it’s also pretty clever,” said George M. Janes, a planning consultant who has tracked and filed challenges against buildings in New York with vast unoccupied spaces. “What is the primary purpose of these spaces? The primary purpose is to build very tall buildings.”

. . .

New York City’s complicated building regulations are meant to produce predictable developments. Height requirements are imposed in most of the city, though parts of Manhattan are exempt. Every block is also effectively assigned a maximum square footage, which can be spread across smaller buildings on a block or condensed in larger developments.

Savvy, well-heeled and patient developers have worked that system to their benefit. A developer seeking to build a supertall tower might start with one lot on a block and then buy unused square footage from its neighbors.

With advancements in engineering and construction, that developer can take the accumulated square footage and concentrate it in a skinny mega-tower. Floors of mechanical space, exempt from the square footage calculations, make the tower even taller.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Haag.  “Builders Use Ploy to Create the Luxury of Height.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A1 & A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.”)

Schools Are Safer Today Than 20 Years Ago

(p. A9) Americans believe schools are more unsafe today than they were two decades ago, according to a new poll — even as federal data shows that by most measures, schools have become safer.

. . .

A survey last month of 1,063 adults by The Associated Press and the N.O.R.C. Center at the University of Chicago found that 74 percent of parents of school-age children, and 64 percent of nonparents, believed schools were more unsafe today than they were in 1999. Only 35 percent of parents said they felt “very confident” that their child was safe at school.

. . .

Their fears run counter to the data presented in a federal report released this week. School is still among the safest places an American child can be.

Homicide is a leading cause of death for American youth, but the vast majority of those deaths take place at home or in the neighborhood. Between 1992 and 2016, just 3 percent of youth homicides and 1 percent of youth suicides took place at school, according to the federal report.

School crime levels decreased between 2001 and 2017. The number of students between 12 and 18 years old who reported being the victim of a violent crime at school over the past six months dropped from 2 to 1 percent. Incidents of theft, physical fights, the availability of illegal drugs and bullying also went down.

These changes echo the national drop in crime.

For the full story, see:

Dana Goldstein.  “Schools Are Safer, Even if They Feel Less So.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A9.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “20 Years After Columbine, Schools Have Gotten Safer. But Fears Have Only Grown.”)

Janet Yellen Values Non-Ph.D.s at Fed

(p. A2)  Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, nicely captured this sentiment by saying about Mr. Moore, an advocate for lower taxes and other conservative causes: “Steve’s nomination has thrown the card-carrying members of the Beltway establishment into a tizzy, and that says little about Steve and his belief in American ingenuity, but a lot about central planners’ devotion to groupthink.”

Anti-elitism is an odd look for Mr. Sasse, Ph.D. (Yale) and former college president (Midland University), but he’s hardly alone.

. . .

Economics can be insular, and even Janet Yellen, who chaired the Fed before Mr. Powell, agrees the Fed has been top-heavy with Ph.D. economists like her. “It’s not always been clear that this led to an improvement in policymaking,” she said in a 2012 interview for an oral history of the Fed, released Friday [April 12, 2019]. She praised the contribution of non-economist governors who, she says, are always asking themselves if the arguments of economists are “relevant to the world as I’m experiencing it through my contacts, whether they’re bankers or businesspeople or whatever?”

For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date 9.)

Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor

(p. A17) As the economist Joseph Schumpeter observed: “The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses.”

For Schumpeter, entrepreneurs and the companies they found are the engines of wealth creation. This is what distinguishes capitalism from all previous forms of economic society and turned Marxism on its head, the parasitic capitalist becoming the innovative and beneficent entrepreneur. Since the 2008 crash, Schumpeter’s lessons have been overshadowed by Keynesian macroeconomics, in which the entrepreneurial function is reduced to a ghostly presence. As Schumpeter commented on John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory” (1936), change–the outstanding feature of capitalism–was, in Keynes’s analysis, “assumed away.”

Progressive, ameliorative change is what poor people in poor countries need most of all. In “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty,” Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen and co-authors Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon return the entrepreneur and innovation to the center stage of economic development and prosperity. The authors overturn the current foreign-aid development paradigm of externally imposed, predominantly government funded capital- and institution-building programs and replace it with a model of entrepreneur-led innovation. “It may sound counterintuitive,” the authors write, but “enduring prosperity for many countries will not come from fixing poverty. It will come from investing in innovations that create new markets within these countries.” This is the paradox of the book’s title.

Continue reading “Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor”

Private Firms Build Costly Complex Cable Infrastructure

(p. B1) Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.
But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.
. . .
(p. B7) Inside the ship, workers spool the cable into cavernous tanks. One person walks the cable swiftly in a circle, as if laying out a massive garden hose, while others lie down to hold it in place to ensure it doesn’t snag or knot. Even with teams working around the clock, it takes about four weeks before the ship is loaded up with enough cable to hit the open sea.
The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1858 to connect the United States and Britain. Queen Victoria commemorated the occasion with a message to President James Buchanan that took 16 hours to transmit.
While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, cables remain the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to send information across the ocean. And it is still far from cheap: Google would not disclose the cost of its project to Chile, but experts say subsea projects cost up to $350 million, depending on the length of the cable.
. . .
Poor weather is inevitable. Swells reach up to 20 feet, occasionally requiring the ship captain to order the subsea cable to be cut so the ship can seek safer waters. When conditions improve, the ship returns, retrieving the cut cable that has been left attached to a floating buoy, then splicing it back together before continuing.
Work on board is slow and plodding. The ship, at sea for months at a time, moves about six miles per hour, as the cables are pulled from the giant basins out through openings at the back of the ship.
. . .
“It really is management of a very complex multidimensional chess board,” said Ms. Stowell of Google, who wears an undersea cable as a necklace.
Demand for undersea cables will only grow as more businesses rely on cloud computing services. And technology expected around the corner, like more powerful artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will all require fast data speeds as well. Areas that didn’t have internet are now getting access, with the United Nations reporting that for the first time more than half the global population is now online.
“This is a huge part of the infrastructure that’s making that happen,” said Debbie Brask, the vice president at SubCom, who is managing the Google project. “All of that data is going in the undersea cables.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM SATARIANO. “Underwater Freeways for Your Puppy Posts.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MARCH 12, 2019): B1 & B6-B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2019, and has the title “How the Internet Travels Across Oceans.”)