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.”)

Serendipitous Discovery that Titanium Fuses with Bone, Leads to Implants

(p. 24) Implants have been a major advance in dentistry, liberating millions of elderly people from painful, ill-fitting dentures, a diet of soft foods and the ignominy of a sneeze that sends false teeth flying out of the mouth. But addressing those problems was not Dr. Branemark’s initial intent.
At the start of his career, he was studying how blood flow affects bone healing.
In 1952, he and his team put optical devices encased in titanium into the lower legs of rabbits in order to study the healing process. When the research period ended and they went to remove the devices, they discovered to their surprise that the titanium had fused into the bone and could not be removed.
Dr. Branemark called the process “osseointegration,” and his research took a whole new direction as he realized that if the body could tolerate the long-term presence of titanium, the metal could be used to create an anchor for artificial teeth.
. . .
. . . , Dr. Branemark’s innovation was poorly received. After Dr. Branemark gave a lecture on his work in 1969, Dr. Albrektsson recalled, one of the senior academics of Swedish dentistry rose and referred to an article in Reader’s Digest describing Dr. Branemark’s research, adding, “This may prove to be a popular article, but I simply do not trust people who publish themselves in Reader’s Digest.”
As it happened, that senior academic was well known to the Swedish public for recommending a particular brand of toothpick. So Dr. Branemark immediately rose and struck back, saying, “And I don’t trust people who advertise themselves on the back of boxes of toothpicks.”

For the full story, see:
TAMAR LEWIN. “Per-Ingvar Branemark, Dental Innovator, Dies at 85.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 28, 2014): 24.
(Note: ellipses are added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)