French Jobs Rise as Labor Regulations Fall

(p. A1) PARIS — One after another, the speakers in Parliament have denounced President Emmanuel Macron and his revolutionary plans, calling them “cynicism” and a “flagrant crime.” Outside, hundreds of protesters shout their fury. Other demonstrators, invoking a long French tradition, have called for his head.

. . .

(p. A6) Mr. Macron has upset the French, and he is deeply unpopular for it. So it has become the defining paradox of his rule that he remains much despised, even as his changes begin to bear fruit.

The intractable unemployment rate, slayer of his predecessors, appears finally to be bending to a French president’s touch, recently reaching its lowest rate in 12 years at 8.1 percent.

Working-age employment rates are up, worker-training programs are showing big gains, quality long-term job contracts are outpacing precarious, short-term ones.

All of those are advances plausibly attributed to Mr. Macron’s landmark loosening of the rigid French labor market.

For the full story, see:

Adam Nossiter. “As the French Call for His Head, Macron Is Reshaping the Nation.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title “As Emmanuel Macron’s Impact Grows, So Does French Disdain.”)

At Nonprofit Hospitals Revenue Rises and Charity Care Falls

(p. 7) On paper, the average value of community benefits for all nonprofits about equals the value of the tax exemption, but there is tremendous variation among individual hospitals, with many falling short. There is also intense disagreement about how those community benefits are calculated and whether they actually serve the community in question.

Charity medical care is what most people think of when it comes to a community benefit, and before 1969 that was the legal requirement for hospitals to qualify for tax-exempt status. In that year, the tax code was changed to allow for a wide range of expenses to qualify as community benefits. Charitable care became optional and it was left up to the hospitals to decide how to pay back that debt. Hospitals could even declare that accepting Medicaid insurance was a community benefit and write off the difference between the Medicaid payment and their own calculations of cost.

An analysis by Politico found that since the full Affordable Care Act coverage expansion, which brought millions more paying customers into the field, revenue in the top seven nonprofit hospitals (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) increased by 15 percent, while charity care — the most tangible aspect of community benefit — decreased by 35 percent.

. . .

The average chief executive’s package at nonprofit hospitals is worth $3.5 million annually. (According to I.R.S. regulations, “No part of their net earnings is allowed to inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”) From 2005 to 2015, average chief executive compensation in nonprofit hospitals increased by 93 percent. Over that same period, pediatricians saw a 15 percent salary increase. Nurses got 3 percent.

For the full commentary, see:

Ofri, Danielle. “Nonprofit Hospitals Are Too Profitable.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 20, 2020, and has the title “Why Are Nonprofit Hospitals So Highly Profitable.”)

The Politico article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Diamond, Dan. “Health Care; How Hospitals Got Richer Off Obamacare.” Politico (Posted July 17, 2017). Available from https://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/obamacare-non-profit-hospital-taxes/.

Chinese Communist “Tradition” of Local Officials Lying to Please Beijing Central Planners

(p. A27) There is a tradition in China (and likely much of the world) for local authorities not to report bad news to their superiors. During the Great Leap Forward, local officials reported exaggerated harvest yields even as millions were starving. More recently, officials in Henan Province denied there was an epidemic of AIDS spread through unsanitary blood collection practices.

For the full commentary, see:

Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Why Is Data on Coronavirus So Limited?” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)

Millennials Blame Capitalism for “the Crushing Burden of College Debt”?

(p. A22) “Millennials don’t remember the Cold War,” said Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College who has studied democratic socialism. “They don’t react in the same way to the word ‘socialist’ and associate it with totalitarian communism.”

Instead, young voters have experienced a structural shift in the economy, including the 2008 financial crisis and the crushing burden of college debt, that has given them a more critical view of capitalism, he said.

For the full story, see:

Patricia Mazzei and Sydney Ember. “Sanders’s Views on Cuba Split Young and Old Voters.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A22.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)

Commuters Riot after Lagos Governor Bans Motorbikes and Rickshaws

LAGOS — It is dark when Abisoye Adeniyi leaves home on the packed Lagos mainland, weaving through cars and minibuses. She reaches her bus stop as the sun rises.

The 23-year-old Nigerian lawyer used to hop on a motorbike – known locally as an okada – for a quick ride to the bus that carries her from the mainland, where most of Lagos’s 20 million residents live, to work in the island business district.

Since the bikes, along with motorized yellow rickshaws called kekes, became illegal in most of the city on Feb. 1 [2020], Adeniyi has added a 30-minute walk to her journey – stretching the commute to nearly two hours.

“It has not been easy at all,” she said.

Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu outlawed the loosely regulated motorbikes and rickshaws, citing safety and security concerns.

Gridlock in the megacity, whose traffic jams were already ubiquitous, has intensified to the point that riots with burning tyres broke out and #LagosIsWalking trended on Twitter showcasing residents with ruined shoes.

For the full story, see:

Reuters. “Burning Tires and Sore Feet: Lagos Bristles Under Bike Ban.” The New York Times (Monday, February 17, 2020). Online at: https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/02/17/technology/17reuters-nigeria-transportation-ban.html?searchResultPosition=2

(Note: bracketed year added.)

Chinese Communist Officials Rewarded for Loyalty, Not for Competence or Boldness

(p. A1) The Chinese people are getting a rare glimpse of how China’s giant, opaque bureaucratic system works — or, rather, how it fails to work. Too many of its officials have become political apparatchiks, fearful of making decisions that anger their superiors and too removed and haughty when dealing with the public to admit mistakes and learn from them.

“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a best-selling author who is famous for his novels that explore the intricate workings of China’s bureaucratic politics.

“Under the high-pressure environment of an anticorruption campaign, most people, including senior government officials, only care about self-preservation,” Mr. Xu said. “They don’t want to be the first to speak up. They wait for their superiors to make decisions and are only accountable to their superiors instead of the people.”

The Chinese government appears to be aware of the problem. The Communist Party’s top leadership acknowledged in a meeting on Monday [February 3, 2020] that the (p. A9) epidemic was “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

. . .

Chinese officials are spending as much as one-third of their time on political studying sessions, a lot of which are about Mr. Xi’s speeches. Political loyalty weighs much more in performance evaluations than before. Now the rule of thumb in Chinese officialdom seems to be demonstrating loyalty as explicitly as possible, keeping everything else vague and evading responsibility at all costs when things go wrong.

. . .

On social media, low-level cadres are complaining that they are receiving so many instructions from the higher-ups that they spend most of their time filling out spreadsheets instead of getting real work done. In a social media post headlined “The Formalism Under the Mask,” the author wrote, “Most people in the system don’t do things to solve problems. They do things to solve responsibilities.”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “In China, Virus Spurred Rush of Blame Shifting.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 5, 2020): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 14 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Crisis Shows China’s Governance Failure.”)

Incumbent Italian Firms Invest in Cronyism, Not Innovation

I heard an intriguing paper at the January 2020 AEA meetings in San Diego. It shows that, at least in Italy, big incumbent firms protect their position more through investment in cronyism than through investment in innovation. The abstract of the NBER working paper version of the paper appears below.

Do political connections affect firm dynamics, innovation, and creative destruction? We study Italian firms and their workers to answer this question. Our analysis uses a brand-new dataset, spanning the period from 1993 to 2014, where we merge: (i) firm-level balance sheet data; (ii) social security data on the universe of workers; (iii) patent data from the European Patent Office; (iv) the national registry of local politicians; and (v) detailed data on local elections in Italy. We find that firm-level political connections are widespread, especially among large firms, and that industries with a larger share of politically connected firms feature worse firm dynamics. We identify a leadership paradox: When compared to their competitors, market leaders are much more likely to be politically connected, but much less likely to innovate. In addition, political connections relate to a higher rate of survival, as well as growth in employment and revenue, but not in productivity – a result that we also confirm using a regression discontinuity design. We build a firm dynamics model, where we allow firms to invest in innovation and/or political connection to advance their productivity and to overcome certain market frictions. Our model highlights a new interaction between static gains and dynamic losses from rent-seeking in aggregate productivity.

The abstract quoted above is from:

Akcigit, Ufuk, Salome Baslandze, and Francesca Lotti. “Connecting to Power: Political Connections, Innovation, and Firm Dynamics.” NBER Working Paper #25136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Oct. 2018.