“More a Great Reshuffling Than a Great Resignation”

In the passages quoted below, Nobel laureate, and often-strident leftist Paul Krugman, modifies his views on the state of the U.S. labor market in an interesting and plausible way. I believe another part of the story, as Newt Gingrich has suggested, is that some workers may be following the advice of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, by in effect going on strike. So the Great Resignation may not entirely be a “myth.” More remains to be learned.

(p. 3) Have large numbers of Americans dropped out of the labor force — that is, they are neither working nor actively seeking work? To answer this question, you need to look at age-adjusted data; falling labor force participation because a growing number of Americans are over 65 isn’t meaningful in this context. So economists often look at the labor force participation of Americans in their prime working years: 25 to 54. And guess what? This participation rate has surged recently. It’s still slightly below its level on the eve of the pandemic, but it’s back to 2019 levels, which hardly looks like a Great Resignation.

What about early retirement? If a lot of that was happening, we’d expect to see reduced labor force participation among older workers, 55 to 64. But they’ve come rapidly back into the labor force.

A few months ago, it still seemed reasonable to talk about a Great Resignation. At this point, however, there’s basically nothing there. It’s true that an unusually high number of workers have been quitting their jobs, but they have been leaving for other, presumably better jobs, rather than leaving the work force. As the labor economist Arindrajit Dube says, it’s more a Great Reshuffling than a Great Resignation.

. . .

How can labor markets be so tight when payroll employment is still well below the prepandemic trend?

. . .

First, as the economist Dean Baker has been pointing out, the most commonly cited measures of employment don’t count the self-employed, and self-employment is up by a lot, around 600,000 more workers than the average in 2019. Some of this self-employment may be fictitious — gig workers who are employees in all but name but work for companies that classify them as independent contractors to avoid regulation. But it also does seem as if part of the Great Reshuffling has involved Americans concluding that they could improve their lives by starting their own businesses.

Second, a point that receives far less attention than it should is the decline of immigration since Donald Trump came to office, which turned into a plunge with the coming of the pandemic.

For the full commentary, see:

Paul Krugman. “The Myth of the Great Resignation.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, April 10, 2022): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 5, 2022, and has the title “What Ever Happened to the Great Resignation?”)

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, mentioned above, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Stewart Brand Read Rand and Koestler, and Inspired Steve Jobs

At the end of Steve Jobs’s famous commencement address at Stanford, he quoted Stewart Brand’s famous advice at the end of his Last Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

(p. A15) When I first met Stewart Brand at an upscale ideas festival, I expected to engage with an aging beatnik or hippie, the tree-hugging, whale-saving environmentalist I associated with the “Whole Earth Catalog”—that ’60s-era collectanea of books, resources, tools, technologies and assorted products that became the bible of a techno-utopia DIY movement focused on self-sufficiency, education and ecology. But I found Mr. Brand more like Elon Musk than Timothy Leary, and was astonished to witness him make the best argument I’d ever heard for including nuclear power in plans to replace fossil fuels.

. . .

Although many contemporaries dropped acid for the pure experience, Mr. Brand said he took LSD (and other psychedelics) because he hoped they would accentuate his appreciation of beauty, especially that found in the photographic skills he was developing. For him psychedelics were a tool of creativity: “When you design a tool,” he wrote in 1971, “the best you can do is fashion a prototype and hand it over to the local evolutionary system: ‘Here, try this.’ ”

His model was Arthur Koestler’s “bisociation,” the blending of unrelated concepts into something new. Mr. Brand’s ability to discern unlikely complements, along with the organizational skills he’d honed in the military, helped bring numerous projects to fruition: His imagination had him bounce from one to the next; his pragmatic propensities put them into effect. Decades after the “Whole Earth Catalog” project, for example, Mr. Brand published “Whole Earth Discipline,” which proposed integrating nuclear power, geoengineering, genetic engineering, wildlife restoration, species protection and other environmental technologies aimed at creating a sustainable future for life on Earth. He’s a solutions guy, not a New Age guru—his ability to convene like-minded innovators has resulted in the WELL (Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link), the Global Business Network for futurists and business leaders, the Long Now Foundation, and Revive & Restore, a project to bring back extinct species like passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths.

As for Mr. Brand’s politics, he’s off the spectrum, mostly identifying as a small-l libertarian (he read Ayn Rand at Stanford), committed to bottom-up democracy, with an aversion to orthodoxy of any sort, which means he must adapt when the marginal becomes the mainstream, as in his shift from environmentalism to conservationism, from organic foods to GMOs, and from anti- to pro-nuclear power.

For the full review, see:

Michael Shermer’. “BOOKSHELF; A Man In Whole.” The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, March 29, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 28, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Whole Earth’ Review: A Man in Whole.”)

The book under review is:

Markoff, John. Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand. New York: Penguin Press, 2022.

Musk Wants to Use His Billions “to Get Humanity to Mars”

(p. B1) In the negotiations over President Biden’s infrastructure bill, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Finance Committee, proposed the idea of a tax on billionaires specifically. Thursday morning, Mr. Biden announced his framework for paying for the bill, which promised additional taxes on the income of “the wealthiest 0.02 percent of Americans.”

Mr. Wyden’s proposed tax will likely never make it into law.

. . .

(p. B5) Elon Musk, in a tweet, seemed to come out against the proposal. “Eventually, they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you,” he wrote. It is fairly safe to say that Mr. Musk will never run out of money. A back-of-the-envelope calculation from Forbes’s real-time net worth tracker suggests that he could spend $1 million a year for 100,000 years and still have more money than Bill Gates, with an estimated $136.2 billion.

. . .

Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney and a longtime critic of income inequality, said in an interview that she believes the immense displays of wealth by the country’s richest during the pandemic — particularly the ostentatiousness of last summer’s space race — helped foster a serious discussion about the tax burdens on billionaires.

. . .

In comments denouncing the proposed billionaire tax, Mr. Manchin described the ultrawealthy as people who “create a lot of jobs and invest a lot of money and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits.”

That was an implicit endorsement of the idea, often repeated in discussions around high-net worth giving, that regular people pay taxes while rich people pursue philanthropy, giving not to the Treasury but to their preferred causes. “My plan is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness,” Mr. Musk said in a subsequent tweet in response to the tax proposal.

“That idea that ‘it’s my money and I should decide what to do with it’ is very dominant, and it goes along with the culture of individualism that allows people to feel that they’ve done this on their own and haven’t benefited from social goods like roads and education and laws,” Professor Sherman said.

Ms. Disney, who is an active member of the Patriotic Millionaires, said she sees that thinking as a primary obstacle to raising taxes on the richest Americans. “Billionaires may be brilliant — and I don’t doubt Elon Musk’s I.Q. — but they don’t do anything on their own,” she said. She also questioned the prevailing wisdom among the country’s wealthiest that they know best and the government shouldn’t be trusted with their money.

“The last time I was in the Bay Area, I went walking in the marina and saw seven consecutive boats named after characters from Ayn Rand,” Ms. Disney said. “They need to come to their senses.”

For the full story, see:

Nicholas Kulish, Ephrat Livni and Emma Goldberg. “Billionaires Of America Are Thriving.” The New York Times (Friday, October 29, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 2, 2021, and has the title “Who Are America’s Billionaires, Anyway?”)

Chinese Atlases Are Shrugging

(p. B4) SINGAPORE—Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo Inc.’s founder and chairman, Colin Huang, stepped down from the company on Wednesday [March 17, 2021], even as the five-year-old company overtook Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to become the country’s largest e-commerce company by annual active buyers.

Mr. Huang, 41 years old, is resigning as China’s powerful internet sector comes under growing government scrutiny. His resignation follows another departure from a major company in the sector: Financial-tech giant Ant Group Co.’s Chief Executive Simon Hu stepped down earlier this month.

. . .

Beijing in recent months has been moving to rein in China’s powerful internet sector including e-commerce companies. Among the hardest hit has been Alibaba, which is under antitrust probe; its fintech affiliate Ant, whose initial public offering was canceled in November [2020]; and its founder Jack Ma.

This month, Chinese regulators fined Pinduoduo, alongside several other e-commerce companies, alleging anticompetitive practices.

For the full story, see:

Keith Zhai. “Head of China’s Giant E-Commerce Firm Quits.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 18, 2021): B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 17, 2021, and has the title “Pinduoduo Founder Colin Huang Steps Down From Company.”)

The fictional version is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Thai Royal Navy Seizes Tiny Floating Galt’s Gulch

(p. A1) American software engineer Chad Elwartowski thought he had found the perfect refuge from the long arm of meddlesome, overbearing governments. It was a home floating in the turquoise waters far off the coasts of Thailand and Indonesia.

Last year, he joined a project that built an octagonal fiberglass pod and mounted it atop a floating steel spar that reached 65 feet down into the ocean, like a giant keel.

It was to be a place for people to gather and live by their own rules, he said, beyond the jurisdiction of any government. “I was free for a moment,” he wrote on his Facebook page after settling in with his girlfriend in March. “Probably the freest person in the world.”

Not anymore. He and his (p. A8) girlfriend, Supranee Thepdet, are in hiding on dry land after the Royal Thai Navy said their nautical haven was within Thai jurisdiction and accused them of trying to set up their own micro-nation. Last Monday, a utility ship towed the abandoned seastead to shore as evidence. Police say they are figuring out whether to request an arrest warrant for endangering Thai sovereignty—which potentially carries the death penalty.

The concept of a seastead—a homestead at sea—is a popular one in libertarian and cryptocurrency circles. Mr. Elwartowski, 46 years old, described it in a YouTube video as the closest he could get to the secret enclave cut off from the rest of society depicted in Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

For the full story, see:

James Hookway. “Libertarian Nirvana at Sea Runs Into an Opponent: the Thai Navy.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 29, 2019): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 28, 2019, and the title “A Libertarian Nirvana at Sea Runs Into a Stubborn Opponent: the Thai Navy.”)

The Ayn Rand novel mentioned above, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

“Rand’s Entrepreneur Is the Promethean Hero of Capitalism”

(p. B1) Few, if any, literary philosophers have had as much influence on American business and politics as Ayn Rand, especially now that Donald J. Trump occupies the White House.

President Trump named Rand his favorite writer and “The Fountainhead” his favorite novel. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has cited “Atlas Shrugged” as a favorite work, and the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, said the book “really had an impact on me.”

. . .

(p. B2) In business, Rand’s influence has been especially pronounced in Silicon Valley, where her overarching philosophy that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself,” as she described it in a 1964 Playboy interview, has an obvious appeal for self-made entrepreneurs. Last year Vanity Fair anointed her the most influential figure in the technology industry, surpassing Steve Jobs.

. . .

“Rand’s entrepreneur is the Promethean hero of capitalism,” said Lawrence E. Cahoone, professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross, whose lecture on Rand is part of his Great Courses series, “The Modern Political Tradition.” “But she never really explores how a dynamic entrepreneur actually runs a business.”

. . .

“Mention Ayn Rand to a group of academic philosophers and you’ll get laughed out of the room,” Mr. Cahoone said. “But I think there’s something to be said for Rand. She takes Nietzschean individualism to an extreme, but she’s undeniably inspirational.”

As the mysterious character John Galt proclaims near the end of “Atlas Shrugged”: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

For the full commentary, see:

James B. Stewart. “COMMON SENSE; Tough Times For Disciples Of Ayn Rand.” The New York Times (Friday, July 14, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2017, and has the title “COMMON SENSE; As a Guru, Ayn Rand May Have Limits. Ask Travis Kalanick.”)

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, quoted above, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Are We “Made of Sugar Candy”?

(p. 11) Less a conventional history than an extended polemic, “Capitalism in America: A History,” by Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge, a columnist and editor for The Economist, explores and ultimately celebrates the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction,” which the authors describe as a “perennial gale” that “uproots businesses — and lives — but that, in the process, creates a more productive economy.”

. . .

. . . , Greenspan’s admiration for the rugged individualists who populate the novels of Ayn Rand (who merits a nod in this history) and the frontier spirit that animated America’s early development shows no sign of weakening as Greenspan has aged. He and Wooldridge lament that Americans are “losing the rugged pioneering spirit” that once defined them and mock the “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” that now obsess academia.

The authors quote Winston Churchill: “We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.” But now, they conclude, “sugar candy people are everywhere.”

Their prescription for American renewal — reining in entitlements, instituting fiscal responsibility and limited government, deregulating, focusing on education and opportunity, and above all fostering a fierceness in the face of creative destruction — was Republican orthodoxy not so long ago. Before the Great Recession it was embraced by most Democrats as well, and more recently by President Bill Clinton, the recipient of glowing praise in these pages.

No longer. “Capitalism in America,” in both its interpretation of economic history and its recipe for revival, is likely to offend the dominant Trump wing of the Republican Party and the resurgent left among Democrats. It’s not clear who, if anyone, will pick up the Greenspan torch.

For the full review, see:

James B. Stewart. “Creative Destruction.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018): 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 2, 2018, and has the title “Alan Greenspan’s Ode to Creative Destruction.”)

The book under review, is:

Greenspan, Alan, and Adrian Wooldridge. Capitalism in America: A History. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

“Progress Isn’t Made by Looking in the Rearview Mirror”

(p. A9) Even in death, Donald Panoz defied convention. His family reported that Mr. Panoz, 83 years old, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 11 [2018] at his home in Duluth, Ga., after he “enjoyed his last cigarette.”
The red-haired entrepreneur, an apostle of Ayn Rand, founded Elan Corp., which developed technology used in nicotine skin patches used to wean people from cigarettes.
. . .
“I never become hostage to anything I do,” he told the Atlanta paper. “Progress isn’t made by looking in the rearview mirror.”
. . .
His partner in founding Mylan, Milan “Mike” Puskar, once summed up Mr. Panoz this way: “There’s nothing college could have taught him. Don has vision, and you can’t teach vision. He’s not a technical person, but he’s a master salesman. He always wanted to know: Why not?”
Donald Eugene Panoz (pronounced PAY-nose) was born Feb. 13, 1935, in Alliance, Ohio, and grew up in West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
. . .
Mr. Panoz . . . moved his family to Ireland in 1969 to set up Elan, whose research projects included delivery of medicine via skin patches. He chose Ireland partly because it offered lower taxes and less red tape. Elan initially was known for reformulating medicines developed by other companies and later pursued research on drugs for multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
. . .
His business successes, he told the Scotsman newspaper in 2002, were “just about being able to recognize an opportunity.” He added: “We’ve had plenty of failures, too. We just don’t talk about them. It’s best to leave them behind.”
. . .
In line with his libertarian leanings, Mr. Panoz gave out copies of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” to his children and many others.

For the full obituary, see:
James R. Hagerty. “‘Restless Entrepreneur Founded Elan and Mylan.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 28, 2018, and has the title “‘Don Panoz Hopped From Pharmaceuticals to Wine, Resorts and Race Cars; Entrepreneur helped found Mylan and built Elan before setting up a winery and resort in northern Georgia.” The passages above, after the word “mirror,” appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the obituary.)

The novel by Ayn Rand, mentioned above, is:
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

A Dinner to Remember

(p. 6) The economist Dambisa Moyo, author most recently of “Edge of Chaos,” loves Agatha Christie’s “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep” Hercule Poirot.
. . .
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
1) Vikram Seth, the economist turned novelist. His “A Suitable Boy” remains one of my all-time favorite books. 2) Ayn Rand, the philosopher and novelist. I am drawn to her irreverence — a woman ahead of her time. 3) Maya Angelou, the poet who penned “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” … enough said.

For the full interview, see:

Dambisa Moyo. “‘BY THE BOOK; Dambisa Moyo.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 29, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis between sentences added; ellipsis internal to sentence, and bold question, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 26, 2018. The first sentence and the bold question are by the unnamed writer-interviewer. The answer after the bold question is by Moyo.)

Moyo’s book, mentioned above, is:
Moyo, Dambisa. Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth, and How to Fix It. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

Kid Paid $100,000 to Skip College and Mine Asteroids

(p. 18) As I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles, I placed a copy of “Valley of the Gods,” by Alexandra Wolfe, on the table, and a waitress walking by stopped to peer at the cover. . . .
“It’s about Silicon Valley,” I began. “It follows this young kid, John Burnham, who gets paid $100,000 by this weird billionaire guy, Peter Thiel, whom you’ve probably heard of; he’s a big Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican National Convention?” — a blank stare from the waitress. “Anyway, Thiel pays him (and a bunch of other kids) to forgo college so Burnham can mine asteroids, but he doesn’t actually end up mining the asteroids and. . . .”
. . .
The book begins with the protagonist, Burnham (or antagonist, depending whose side you’re on), who isn’t old enough to drink yet but is debating dropping out of college to follow the Pied Piper of libertarian and contrarian thinking, Peter Thiel, to Silicon Valley. As Wolfe chronicles, Thiel, who has a degree from Stanford University and largely credits where he is today (a billionaire) to his time at that school, started the Thiel Fellowship, in 2011, which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old to say no to M.I.T., Stanford or, in Burnham’s case, the University of Massachusetts, to pursue an Ayn Randian dream of disrupting archetypal norms.
It won’t be giving away the ending by pointing out that it doesn’t end well for Burnham.

For the full review, see:
NICK BILTON. “Denting the Universe.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.
(Note: ellipsis at end of second paragraph, in original; other two, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title “Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.”)

The book under review, is:
Wolfe, Alexandria. Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Libertarian Lessons from the “Little House”

(p. C25) Nothing about Laura Ingalls’s birth to a modest Wisconsin family on Feb. 7, 1867, suggested she would become one of the most significant voices in the canon of the American frontier. A century and a half later, the contribution Laura Ingalls Wilder made still seems astonishing — a fact not lost on her publisher. As a new anniversary-themed batch of “Little House on the Prairie” books rolled in this fall — with homespun-looking covers and introductions by luminaries including Laura Bush and Patricia MacLachlan (author of the gentle Newbery Medal-winning novel “Sarah, Plain and Tall”) — I found myself plunging back into the “Little House” world I’d loved as a child, with a strange feeling of urgency.
. . .
“Little House in the Big Woods” was published in 1932, when Laura was 65 and Rose, her only child, was long divorced, an accomplished, but increasingly broke journalist and author. Rose Wilder Lane had lost both her own money and money she invested for her parents in the 1929 stock market crash, and they were scrounging by, with Almanzo hauling loads and Laura selling eggs and apples and writing occasional pieces about farm life.
Out of desperation Rose suggested that her mother write down the stories of her pioneer childhood, heavily revised the resulting manuscript and found a publisher. In the rest of the books, as well, she provided substantial editing. Some historians insist that Rose — who later became an outspoken antigovernment polemicist and is called one of the godmothers of the libertarian movement, along with Ayn Rand — should be considered the books’ ghostwriter. Christine Woodside’s recent book, “Libertarians on the Prairie,” makes this case, cataloging libertarian messages Rose embedded in the books. (Some are overt: “The politicians are a-swarming in already,” says one character in “The Long Winter.” “They’ll tax the lining out’n a man’s pockets,” he cries. “I don’t see nary use for a county, nohow.”)

For the full commentary, see:
MARIA RUSSO. “READER’S NOTEBOOK; A ‘Little House’ Tinged with Red and Blue.” The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 10, 2017): C25.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 7, 2017, and has the title “READER’S NOTEBOOK; Finding America, Both Red and Blue, in the ‘Little House’ Books.”)

Woodside’s book, mentioned above, is:
Woodside, Christine. Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2016.