Amazon Hiring 55,000 Workers

(p. B3) Amazon.com Inc. said it is seeking to hire about 55,000 people globally among its corporate and technology ranks during a recruiting event set for Sept. 15, [2021] as the e-commerce giant continues a hiring spree begun at start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Seattle-based company is aiming to fill roles in cloud-computing unit Amazon Web Services, as well as in divisions such as Amazon Studios, advertising and its broadband satellite Project Kuiper. The open positions include more than 40,000 roles in the U.S. across 220 locations, including in New York City; Bellevue, Wash.; and Arlington, Va., where the company is opening a large corporate office.

. . .

The company employs about 950,000 people in the U.S. and has said it has made more than 450,000 hires throughout the country since the public-health crisis began.

For the full story, see:

Dave Sebastian. “Amazon Seeks to Hire 55,000 for Office, Tech Roles.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021): B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 1, 2021, and has the title “Amazon Seeks to Hire 55,000 for Corporate, Tech Roles.”)

“The Best Recipe for Economic Growth Is” Freedom and Opportunity

(p. C3) Migration has been central to the American story since the beginning. In the early 19th century, New Englanders left the rocky soil of Massachusetts for the more fertile Ohio River valley. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers fled Oklahoma for California. In the early 20th century, millions of African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to find work in the factories of northern cities. Through the 20th century, mobility was an American tradition: In every year between 1950 and 1992, according to the Current Population Survey, more than 6% of Americans moved across county lines.

In recent years, however, the engine of American migration has been grinding to a halt. People often move to get ahead, which makes mobility a reasonable measure of economic dynamism. So it’s a troubling sign that since 2007, geographic mobility has dropped by one-third, with fewer than 4% of Americans changing counties annually. The reason is clear: In the most prosperous cities and regions, insiders have figured out how to use regulations, laws and institutions to make life easier for themselves and harder for everyone else. In the process, they have made the U.S. a far less dynamic society.

. . .

Most important, we need to stop thinking of growth as a zero-sum game. Today, insiders worry about getting their share of the pie instead of growing the economy for everyone. The best recipe for economic growth is the traditional American one: freedom, combined with robust investment in opportunity for the least advantaged.

For the full commentary, see:

Edward Glaeser and David Cutler. “The American Housing Market Is Stifling Mobility.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.

Walmart Hiring 20,000 Workers

(p. B3) Walmart Inc. is hiring 20,000 workers for its supply-chain operations ahead of the holidays, highlighting the growing role of distribution and delivery as the retailer competes with e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc.

The new hires will be permanent positions aimed at supporting Walmart through the holiday surge and beyond, the retailer said Wednesday [Sept. 1, 2021]. The full- and part-time jobs range from order pickers, freight handlers and forklift operators to technician and management roles at more than 250 Walmart and Sam’s Club distribution and fulfillment centers and transportation offices.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Smith. “Walmart Plans to Add 20,000 Workers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 02, 2021): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 1, 2021, and has the title “Walmart Will Add 20,000 Workers to Supply-Chain Operations This Year.”)

“Our Cities Protect Insiders and Leave Outsiders to Suffer”

(p. A15) Mr. Glaeser’s “Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation,” written with Harvard health economist David Cutler, shares the pleasing style of its predecessor, an engaging mixture of history and analysis. It has none of the triumphalism of its predecessor, however. In the move to social distancing that began in the spring of 2020, Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler see nothing less than “the rapid-fire deurbanization of our world.”

“Uncontrolled pandemic,” the authors write, poses “an existential threat” to the urban world. Nor is the coronavirus the only problem that cities face. “A Pandora’s Box of urban woes has emerged,” they continue, “including overly expensive housing, violent conflict over gentrification, persistently low levels of upward mobility, and outrage over brutal and racially targeted policing and long prison sentences for minor drug crimes.” These are not disparate problems. Rather, they “all stem from a common root: our cities protect insiders and leave outsiders to suffer.”

In Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler’s view, something has gone deeply wrong with how policy is set in many American cities. Insiders have captured control of how cities operate—and used that control to enrich themselves while providing limited opportunities for newer, younger residents. Consider Los Angeles. In 1970, housing costs in Southern California were much the same as those nationwide. By 1990, building limitations and strong demand had sent prices soaring in many coastal cities. The result: a massive redistribution of wealth from the young to the old.

For the full review, see:

John Buntin. “BOOKSHELF; Saving Our Urban Future.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 10, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 9, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Survival of the City’ Review: Saving Our Urban Future.”)

The book under review is:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2021.

Public Transit Subsidies Reduce Incentives to Innovate

(p. A4) The bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate this month is the latest effort to inject federal money into public transit agencies. But all that money likely won’t buy what transit really needs: more riders.

Unless ridership recovers from its pandemic-induced drop, agencies will again confront large budget deficits once the federal money runs out in three or four years, analysts say. That could mean service cuts and fare increases, according to transit agencies.

“As soon as the money stops flowing, transit agencies are going to be in the same position as they were before,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy expert at the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for instance, expects to use up its $14.5 billion allocation of federal aid by 2024, at which point it will face a $3.5 billion two-year shortfall.

. . .

Some experts say agencies’ financial struggles during the pandemic should prompt Congress to help fund agencies’ day-to-day costs.

. . .

Other analysts, however, say agencies need to find ways to adapt instead of living off federal subsidies.

“The problem with free money is it does not encourage innovation, and that’s really what transit agencies need to be encouraged to do right now,” said the Reason Foundation’s Mr. Feigenbaum. “It’s just postponing the reckoning.”

For the full story, see:

David Harrison. “Public Transit Is Flush With Cash, But Not Riders.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Aug. 23, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 22, 2021, and has the title “Transit Got Billions in Relief From Congress but Still Faces Deficits.”)

Chinese Proletariat Yells: “Evergrande, Give Back My Money I Earned With Blood and Sweat!”

(p. B1) When the troubled Chinese property giant Evergrande was starved for cash earlier this year, it turned to its own employees with a strong-arm pitch: Those who wanted to keep their bonuses would have to give Evergrande a short-term loan.

Some workers tapped their friends and family for money to lend to the company. Others borrowed from the bank. Then, this month, Evergrande suddenly stopped paying back the loans, which had been packaged as high-interest investments.

Now, hundreds of employees have joined panicked home buyers in demanding their money back from Evergrande, gathering outside the company’s offices across China to protest last week.

Once China’s most prolific property developer, Evergrande has become the country’s most in-(p. B7)debted company. It owes money to lenders, suppliers and foreign investors. It owes unfinished apartments to home buyers and has racked up more than $300 billion in unpaid bills. Evergrande faces lawsuits from creditors and has seen its shares lose more than 80 percent of their value this year.

Regulators fear that the collapse of a company Evergrande’s size would send tremors through the entire Chinese financial system. Yet so far, Beijing has not stepped in with a bailout, having promised to teach debt-saddled corporate giants a lesson.

. . .

As rumors rippled through the Chinese internet that Evergrande might go bankrupt this month, Mr. Jin and some of his colleagues gathered in front of provincial government offices to pressure the authorities to step in.

In the southern city of Shenzhen, home buyers and employees crowded into the lobby of Evergrande’s headquarters last week and shouted for their money back. “Evergrande, give back my money I earned with blood and sweat!” some could be heard yelling in video footage.

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li. “Workers Had To Lend Cash To China Firm.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 20, 2021): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 22, 2021, and has the title “Evergrande Gave Workers a Choice: Lend Us Cash or Lose Your Bonus.”)

Users of “Free” Public Housing Wi-Fi Do Not Know How to Keep It Online

(p. 30) After months of back and forth, NYC Mesh got the greenlight to put a hub on the 24-story public housing tower in Bed-Stuy, along with two other developments in the Bronx and Queens. Four other small providers, including Silicon Harlem, were selected to wire up 10 other NYCHA developments. As part of Phase One of the Internet Master Plan, to which the city will direct $157 million, NYC Mesh installed free public hot spots around the exterior grounds of the projects; the other companies must provide residents access to Wi-Fi in their apartments for no more than $20 a month.

. . .

But the people who use the free hot spots in public housing or the family shelter in Brownsville don’t know how to fix the equipment or where to request a repair or report an outage on Slack. Indeed, all but one of the hallway routers in the shelter have been out for the last couple of months, and a number of new ones at the Bed-Stuy tower keep going offline.

For the full story, see:

Bliss Broyard. “Meet the Warriors of Wi-Fi.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 18, 2021): 30.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 16, 2021, and has the title “‘Welcome to the Mesh, Brother’: Guerrilla Wi-Fi Comes to New York.”)

As Chinese Marxists Limit Liberty, the Young Show “Silent Resistance” by “Lying Down”

(p. 4) Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.”

“I have been chilling,” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April [2021], describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society.

. . .

Mr. Ding, 22, has been lying flat for almost three months and thinks of the act as “silent resistance.”

. . .

The ruling Communist Party, wary of any form of social instability, has targeted the “lying flat” idea as a threat to stability in China.

. . .

Mr. Luo was born in rural Jiande County, in eastern Zhejiang Province. In 2007, he dropped out of a vocational high school and started working in factories. One job involved working 12-hour shifts at a tire factory. By the end of the day, he had blisters all over his feet, he said.

In 2014, he found a job as a product inspector in a factory but didn’t like it. He quit after two years and took on the occasional acting gig to make ends meet. (In 2018, he played a corpse in a Chinese movie by, of course, lying flat.)

Today, he lives with his family and spends his days reading philosophy and news and working out. He said it was an ideal lifestyle, allowing him to live minimally and “think and express freely.” He encourages his followers, who call him “the Master of Lying Down,” to do the same.

After hearing about Mr. Luo’s tangping post on a Chinese podcast, Zhang Xinmin, 36, was inspired to write a song about it.

. . .

Mr. Zhang uploaded the song to his social media platforms on June 3, and within a day censors had deleted it from three websites. He was furious.

. . .

Lying down is really good
Lying down is wonderful
Lying down is the right thing to do
Lie down so you won’t fall anymore
Lying down means never falling down.

For the full story, see:

Elsie Chen. “For Young People in China, ‘Lying Flat’ Beats Working.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 4, 2021): 4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2021, and has the title “These Chinese Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy.”)

Water Cooler Encounters May Help More on Less-Developed Projects than Mature Projects

(p. 1) A key scientific breakthrough that would eventually help protect millions from Covid-19 began with a chance meeting at a photocopier — in 1997, between Professor Katalin Kariko and Dr. Drew Weissman, whose work laid the foundation for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

It’s exactly the type of story that has executives itching to get people back to offices. Chance meetings like this are essential for innovation, the theory goes. “Remote work virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine,” Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, recently told shareholders.

Creativity is hard to quantify. But research, including studies of companies working remotely during the pandemic, supports Mr. Dimon’s argument only up to a point. The data shows that in-office work is helpful at one part of the creative process: forming initial relationships, particularly with people outside your normal sphere.

. . .

(p. 5) A new analysis of announcements by the 50 largest public video game companies, by Ben Waber and Zanele Munyikwa, found that companies that moved to remote work during the pandemic had more delays in new products than before the pandemic, while those that worked in person did not.

The researchers have a hypothesis about why. They also tracked billions of communications — email, chat and calendar data — among information employees at a dozen large global companies over recent years. They found that while working remotely, individual workers were more productive than before, and communicated more with people at different levels of the company and with close colleagues. But they communicated 21 percent less with their weak ties. Perhaps the video game developers lost the benefit of asking a co-worker from a different department to test a prototype, for example, or of running into someone from marketing and brainstorming ideas for selling a new game.

“I do think eventually technology will help here, but the stuff that’s widely available today just doesn’t do it,” said Mr. Waber, co-founder of Humanyze, a workplace analytics company started at M.I.T. Media Lab, where he got a Ph.D. “It probably would be fine if those initial water cooler conversations happened remotely. It’s just less likely they would.”

. . .

Another study, using location tracking technology to follow scientists and engineers at a global manufacturing firm, found that people who often walked by one another in the office, like on their way to the printer or the restroom, were significantly more likely to end up collaborating, especially at the beginning of projects.

“For most collaboration, takeoff is the most challenging bit, and that’s when we find co-location is most helpful,” said Felichism W. Kabo, a research scientist at the University of Michigan and the study’s author. “When people have a prior relationship, it’s much easier to sustain that virtually.”

. . .

For Professor Kariko, there was a long period when it seemed that her research on messenger RNA would never get funding. It was so different from that of her close colleagues, she has said, that it had little support. It took that encounter at the copy machine — meeting Dr. Weissman, who brought a different perspective and a desire to make a vaccine — to change that.

For the full commentary, see:

Claire Cain Miller. “Is the Water Cooler a Font of Inspiration?” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, September 5, 2021): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Sept. 4, 2021, and has the title “When Chance Encounters at the Water Cooler Are Most Useful.”)

The article by Waber and Munyikwa mentioned above is:

Waber, Ben, and Zanele Munyikwa. “Did Wfh Hurt the Video Game Industry?” Harvard Business Review (2021).

The article by Kabo mentioned above is:

Kabo, Felichism W. “A Model of Potential Encounters in the Workplace: The Relationships of Homophily, Spatial Distance, Organizational Structure, and Perceived Networks.” Environment and Behavior 49, no. 6 (2017): 638–62.

Carolyn Shoemaker Developed Tacit Knowledge of Presence of Comets and Asteroids

(p. B6) Carolyn Shoemaker, who for more than a decade managed a telescopic camera with her husband from a high-altitude observatory in California and became widely regarded, without academic training, as the world’s foremost detector of comets and asteroids, died on Aug. 13 [2021] at a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz.

. . .

In the afternoons, Dr. Shoemaker would take the film they had used the previous night and develop it in a darkroom, then turn over the negatives to Ms. Shoemaker. Using a stereoscope, she would compare exposures of the same block of sky at different times. If anything moved against the relatively fixed background of stars, it would appear to float in the viewing device’s eyepiece.

Ms. Shoemaker was charged with discerning what was the grain of the film (and perhaps dust on it) and what was an actual image of light emitted by an object hurtling through space. “With time,” she wrote, “I saw fainter and fainter objects.”

It took a few years before she found her first new comet, in 1983. By 1994 she had discovered, in addition to hundreds of asteroids, 32 comets, a number considered by the United States Geological Survey and others to represent the world record at the time.

. . .

One comet, known as Shoemaker-Levy 9 (named in part for their associate David Levy), had stood out from the rest. Rather than making a lonely journey through the cosmic vacuum, Shoemaker-Levy 9 was on a collision course with Jupiter.

. . .

“Carolyn Shoemaker is one of the most revered and respected astronomers in history,” Jennifer Wiseman, a senior scientist overseeing the Hubble Space Telescope, said by phone. “Her discoveries, her tenacious care in how she did her work — those things have created a legacy and a reputation that has inspired people who have come into the field after her.”

. . .

. . . scientists still depend on methods that Ms. Shoemaker perfected.

“She and her colleagues set the stage for how to identify what we would call minor bodies in our solar system, such as comets and asteroids,” Dr. Wiseman said. “We still use the technique of looking for the relatively fast transverse motions of comets and asteroids in our own solar system, as compared to the slower or more fixed position of stars.”

For the full obituary, see:

Alex Traub. “Carolyn Shoemaker, 92, a Stargazer Who Spotted Comets and Asteroids.” The New York Times (Monday, September 6, 2021): B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 4, 2021, and has the title “Carolyn Shoemaker, Hunter of Comets and Asteroids, Dies at 92.”)

Business Formations During Pandemic Are “Off the Charts”

Source: Haltiwanger as reprinted in WSJ article cited below.
Source: Haltiwanger as reprinted in WSJ article cited below.

(p. A4) “Sixty or more years ago, most of us, including me, were altogether too willing to treat the economy as close to fully competitive. I now think that was a mistake,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow said in a recent interview. “The economy has grown less competitive and the elements of monopoly power are probably very important for the distribution of income between work and wealth and ultimately across individuals.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative research group, said he is skeptical of the notion that corporate power has hurt consumers. He and other Republicans say the rise of big companies such as Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon has benefited U.S. consumers by helping to push down prices.

“I take all of this talk with a healthy dose of show me,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. While Republicans could likely get behind some of Mr. Biden’s proposals—such as pushing back against firms forcing workers to sign noncompete clauses or states imposing what some workers say are unnecessary licensing requirements on workers—other ideas may go too far.

Some research has found less cause for concern around business consolidation. “There are reasons to be cautious about concluding that market concentration has risen or is a meaningful problem for market competition and consumer welfare,” Nancy Rose, a professor in the economics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concluded in a 2019 examination of research on the issue, citing measurement challenges among reasons for skepticism.

. . .

With the rise of a few big companies, jobs also have become concentrated there. John Haltiwanger, a University of Maryland professor, finds that the share of U.S. jobs at young, small firms declined to 16% in 2018 from 26% in 1987. During the same period, the share of jobs in older, larger firms rose from 41% to more than half.

Mr. Haltiwanger’s research shows that the U.S. economy became less dynamic during this period, with fewer new jobs created by startup firms, less job-hopping by workers seeking out new opportunities and slower worker productivity growth.

. . .

Mr. Haltiwanger said the competition dynamics might now be changing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tracking business identification data from the Internal Revenue Service, he spotted a surge in business formations in the second half of 2020, a trend that persisted into 2021.

“It is off the charts,” he said. “I think we discovered during the pandemic that our technological infrastructure is just phenomenal. We can do almost anything we want from anywhere. That leads to lots of market opportunities. I think there is going to be a surge of dynamism. The question is will it be transitory, or true innovation?”

For the full story, see:

Jon Hilsenrath. “Economic Competition Scrutinized.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 12, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 11, 2021, and has the title “Biden Stakes Out Position in Debate Over Power of Big Companies.”)