“Climate Change Has Been Good for Us”

(p. A1) SLINDE, Norway—Perched on a steep slope overlooking the country’s largest fiord, tidy rows of vines spread on the frosted ground underneath towering pine trees.

On the 61st parallel—the latitude of Anchorage, Alaska— Bjorn Bergum’s vineyard is set to become the world’s northernmost commercial wine estate, a testimony to how global warming is disrupting century-old landscapes, traditions and oenological preconceptions.

“There is no doubt,” Mr. Bergum says. “Climate change has been good for us.”

. . .

(p. A9) “First we take Scandinavia, then the world,” says Erik Lindås, head of Norway’s nascent winegrowers association. “It’s motivating to work when people think you can’t make it. People laughed at English wine 15 years ago but they are not laughing anymore.”

Denmark and Sweden are commercially producing wines that have won international awards, while Britain and Belgium are experiencing a viticultural renaissance. Vintners in Germany, which has a proud winemaking tradition in the south, are exploring new terroirs farther north.

. . .

The northerners have a replique to southern arguments about boreal vineyards’ lack of tradition: During the so-called Medieval Climate Optimum, a warm spell from the ninth century to the 13th, winemaking thrived as far up as northern England and the Baltics.

Professor Hans R. Schultz, who studies climate change’s effects on viticulture at Germany’s Geisenheim University, says global warming is pulling the winemaking economy northward. In Germany’s terroirs, which used to lose entire harvests to cold spells, every vintage since 1987 was better than the previous, he says.

For the full story, see:

Bojan Pancevski. “New Wines Invade From Viking Terroir.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, October 30, 2019): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 29, 2019, and has the title “Chateau Viking: Climate Change Makes Northern Wine a Reality.”)

When Swedish Furniture Makers Boycotted Ikea, Kamprad Found Furniture Makers in Poland

(p. A9) To encourage frugality in his workers, Mr. Kamprad was happy to offer himself as an example. He was known for reusing tea bags, flying economy class and taking public transport to airports. Even as a billionaire, he dickered over vegetable prices at farmers markets.

“Wasting resources is a mortal sin at IKEA,” he wrote in a guidebook for employees. “We do not need fancy cars, posh titles, tailor-made uniforms or other status symbols.”

He knew about global supply chains long before they were the norm. Rival retailers in the 1950s pressured Swedish furniture makers into boycotting the disruptive IKEA. So Mr. Kamprad visited Poland in the early 1960s and found primitive factories that, with training and tools from the Swedes, could make wooden furniture at much lower prices. (One problem: Some trees harvested in Poland still contained bullets from World War II.) Poland and China became two of the company’s main suppliers.

. . .

He assured his employees they had a noble mission: helping the masses afford comfortably furnished homes.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “IKEA Founder Built Retailer by Keeping It Simple.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 2, 2018, and has the title “Ingvar Kamprad Made IKEA a Global Retailer by Keeping It Simple.”)

Government Fiscal Stimulus Does Not Speed Job Growth

DebtAndEmploymentGrowthGraph2019-02-17.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) . . . is there evidence that stimulus was behind America’s recovery–or, for that matter, the recoveries in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and Ireland? And is there evidence that the absence of stimulus–a tight rein on public spending known as “fiscal austerity”–is to blame for the lack of a full recovery in Portugal, Italy, France and Spain?
A simple test occurred to me: The stimulus story suggests that, in the years after they hit bottom, the countries that adopted relatively large fiscal deficits–measured by the average increase in public debt from 2011-17 as a percentage of gross domestic product–would have a relatively speedy recovery to show for it. Did they?
As the accompanying chart shows, the evidence does not support the stimulus story. Big deficits did not speed up recoveries. In fact, the relationship is negative, suggesting fiscal profligacy led to contraction and fiscal responsibility would have been better.

For the full commentary, see:
Phelps, Edmund. “The Fantasy of Fiscal Stimulus; It turns out Keynesian policies are correlated with slower, not faster, economic growth.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 29, 2018.)

Swedish Welfare Paid for by “the Highest Personal Income Tax Rate in the World”

(p. A17) American liberals sometimes hold up Sweden as a model of social order, equality of the sexes, and respect for parental responsibilities. Its welfare state offers excellent free or subsidized prenatal care, 480 days of paid leave for both natural and adoptive parents, and additional leave for moms who work in physically strenuous jobs. Swedish parents have the option to reduce their normal hours (and pay) up to 25% until a child turns 8.
But all this assistance comes at a steep cost. At 61.85%, Sweden has the highest personal income tax rate in the world. That money pays for the kind of support many American women would welcome, but it comes with pressure on women to return to the workforce on the government’s schedule, not their own. The Swedish government also supports and subsidizes institutionalized day care (they call it preschool), promoting the belief that professional care-givers are better for children than their own mothers.
If a mother decides she wants to stay at home with her child beyond the state-sanctioned maternity leave, she receives no additional allowance. That creates an extreme financial burden on those families, and the pressure is social as well. A 32-year-old friend told me that she was in the park with her 2-year-old son, when she was surrounded by a group of women who berated her for not having the boy in day care.

For the full commentary, see:
Erica Komisar. “The Human Cost of Sweden’s Welfare State; A group of women berated my friend in a public park because her 2-year-old son wasn’t in day care.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 12, 2018): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 11, 2018.)

Blockchain Tested to Speed Property Transfers

(p. B8) The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could change the way property deals are done and recorded more than any other new technology, real-estate and technology experts say.
And Sweden’s nearly 400-year-old land mapping and registration authority is likely to become one of the first government agencies to test using blockchain technology for conducting property sales.
The Lantmäteriet expects to conduct the first such transaction in the next few months and is shortlisting volunteers who want to buy or sell a property using the blockchain system. “From the technology point of view, we are quite ready,” said Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet’s chief digital officer.
Proponents of blockchain say the technology would make recording and transferring titles faster and much more efficient. Transactions that today take months to complete could take days or even hours, they say.
Blockchain technology also is practically bulletproof when it comes to fraudulent transactions, experts say.

For the full story, see:
Shefali Anand. “Test of Blockchain for Real Estate Is Readied.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 7, 2018): B8.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2018, and has the title “A Pioneer in Real Estate Blockchain Emerges in Europe.”)

Rival Retailers Failed in Effort to Cut Off Ikea’s Supplies

(p. B5) Ingvar Kamprad, born on a farm in the rock-strewn Swedish region of Småland, got his start as a merchant at around age 5 by buying matches in bulk and reselling them to neighbors.
He went on to pull off a rare feat: Creating a global retailing powerhouse, the furniture chain IKEA, with over 400 stores, in a business that generally has defied globalization. IKEA’s furniture has delighted bargain seekers for decades and made millions of dorm rooms and first apartments habitable, despite maddening the many customers who found the assembly instructions baffling.
. . .
One of his most successful notions was that furniture could be shipped and warehoused much more cheaply in disassembled form.
. . .
Rival retailers in Sweden, shocked by IKEA’s low prices, pressured furniture makers to cut off supplies to Mr. Kamprad’s company. That served only to make IKEA stronger as Mr. Kamprad found he could buy furniture much more cheaply from Polish plants. The search for foreign suppliers also helped IKEA turn itself into an international company.
. . .
Mr. Kamprad remained a penny-pincher, flying economy class and lecturing his employees that waste was sinful, according to “Leading by Design,” a 1999 biography by Bertil Torekull.

For the full obituary, see:
James R. Hagerty and Saabira Chaudhuri. “IKEA’s Founder Dies at 91.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 29, 2018): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 28, 2018, and has the title “Ingvar Kamprad Built Global IKEA Chain From a Single Furniture Store in Sweden.”)

The autobiography of Kamprad, mentioned above, is:
Kamprad, Ingvar, and Bertil Torekull. Leading by Design: The Ikea Story New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Automation Is “About Doing More with the People We’ve Got”

(p. A1) Mr. Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.
He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Mr. Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.
“I’m not really worried,” he says. “There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us.”
. . .
(p. A8) The Garpenberg mine has been in operation more or less since 1257. More than a decade ago, Boliden teamed up with Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, to put in wireless internet. That has allowed miners to talk to one another to fix problems as they emerge. Miners now carry tablet computers that allow them to keep tabs on production all along the 60 miles of roads running through the mine.
“For us, automation is something good,” says Fredrik Hases, 41, who heads the local union chapter representing technicians. “No one feels like they are taking jobs away. It’s about doing more with the people we’ve got.”

For the full story, see:
PETER S. GOODMAN. “Sweden Adds Human Touch to a Robotic Future.” The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title “The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine.”)