When Labor Market Regulations Increase, Firms Hire Fewer Workers

(p. B5) “It’s serial stagnation,” said Nicola Borri, a finance professor at Luiss, a university in Rome. “The economy doesn’t contract, it doesn’t grow. Italy is a country that is weak, that is old, where there is no investment in new ideas.”

. . .

Thirty-five miles east of Naples, in the town of Avellino, Sabino Basso has halted plans to hire 30 more people at the olive oil bottling plant started by his great-grandfather.

Mr. Basso’s company buys olive oil from growers in Italy, Spain and Greece, exporting 80 percent of its wares to countries around the globe — especially the United States, where Walmart is a major customer. He had planned to increase marketing and online sales.

But then Five Star tightened legal requirements for companies that hire workers on temporary contracts, effectively limiting stints to one year. The change was aimed at forcing businesses to hire permanent workers.

Mr. Basso was aghast. All but five of his 100 workers are permanent, he said. The others are apprentices, a status that has allowed him to hire using temporary contracts.

“In order to understand if I want to keep people their whole lives, I have to test them,” he said. The new rules did not allow him sufficient time. “I just stopped hiring.”

For the full story, see:

Peter S. Goodman. “History, Views and ‘Serial Stagnation’.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2019, and has the title “Italy’s Biggest Economic Problem? It’s Still Italy.”)

A.I. Needs Human Beings to Collect Right Data and Write Sound Algorithms

(p. A1) SEATTLE — The company called One Concern has all the characteristics of a buzzy and promising Silicon Valley start-up: young founders from Stanford, tens of millions of dollars in venture capital and a board with prominent names.

Its particular niche is disaster response. And it markets a way to use artificial intelligence to address one of the most vexing issues facing emergency responders in disasters: figuring out where people need help in time to save them.

. . .

But when T.J. McDonald, who works for Seattle’s office of emergency management, reviewed a simulated earthquake on the company’s damage prediction platform, he spotted problems. A popular big-box store was grayed out on the web-based map, meaning there was no analysis of the conditions there, and shoppers and workers who might be in danger would not receive immediate help if rescuers relied on One Concern’s results.

“If that Costco collapses in the middle of the day, there’s going to be a lot of people who are hurt,” he said.

The error? The simulation, the company acknowledged, missed many commercial areas because damage calculations relied largely on residential census data.

For the full story, see:

Sheri Fink. “A Tech Answer To Disaster Aid Is Falling Short.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2019, and has the title “This High-Tech Solution to Disaster Response May Be Too Good to Be True.”)

Evidence That Patents Do Not Holdup Innovation

(p. A17) The trade war has highlighted the competitive advantage of reliable patent rights in driving innovation, prompting a bipartisan effort in Congress to strengthen patents.

. . .

Yet the FTC doesn’t seem to have received the message. It continues to push regulatory policies and undertake enforcement actions based on the story that bad actors licensing their patents somehow are stopping companies from making new innovative products and are harming consumers with higher prices. This idea that “patent holdup” raises prices and stifles innovation is based entirely on an academic theory first proposed in the Texas Law Review in 2007 by professors Mark Lemley and Carl Shapiro.

In contrast to the theory, extensive empirical research since 2007 has failed to find any of the predicted harms of stifled innovation or higher prices, and has in fact found the opposite. “An Empirical Examination of Patent Holdup,” published in 2015, found that industries like smartphone design with patents on foundational technologies have the fastest quality-adjusted price reductions in consumer products. A 2016 George Mason Law Review study also found consistent reductions in consumer prices, increased research-and-development spending, and incredibly fast technological innovation driven by patent licensing of key technologies in the smartphone industry.

For the full commentary, see:

Adam Mossoff. “The FTC Joins Huawei on a Misguided Troll Hunt; The commission’s lawsuit against Qualcomm threatens to undermine American innovation.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 27, 2019): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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

The 2016 George Mason Law Review study, mentioned above, is:

Mallinson, Keith. “Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken: The Extraordinary Record of Innovation and Success in the Cellular Industry under Existing Licensing Practices.” George Mason Law Review 23, no. 4 (Summer 2016): 967-1006.

The 2015 paper mentioned above, is:

Galetovic, Alexander, Stephen Haber, and Ross Levine. “An Empirical Examination of Patent Holdup.” Journal of Competition Law and Economics 11, no. 3 (Sept. 2015): 549-78.

A related 2017 paper, is:

Galetovic, Alexander, and Stephen Haber. “The Fallacies of Patent-Holdup Theory.” Journal of Competition Law and Economics 13, no. 1 (March 2017): 1-44.

Rosenwald Philanthropy Aimed at Self-Help More Than Social Change

(p. A15) At the beginning of the 20th century, three figures dominated the rapidly expanding world of American philanthropy. Two—Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—are still remembered, mostly because of the foundations they established. But the third—Julius Rosenwald—is largely forgotten. No foundations, and few buildings, bear his name. If his approach to giving was more modest in spirit, it was no less influential and effective in its day.

. . .

. . . , Rosenwald invested in a catalog sales company that needed capital: Sears, Roebuck. He gradually became more involved in the business and, when co-founder Richard Sears resigned in 1908, took over its leadership.

. . .

Because the rise and fall of Sears, Roebuck is already well-chronicled, Ms. Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University, concentrates on what Rosenwald did with the status and fortune he accumulated. By one estimate, he donated, in today’s dollars, close to $2 billion before he died in 1932, as well as considerable time to the causes he cared about.

Many of these centered on his hometown of Chicago. Rosenwald’s gifts helped to create the city’s Museum of Science and Industry, build the University of Chicago, and support the settlement houses run by Jane Addams and others. He also underwrote a wide range of Jewish organizations, including cultural institutes, theological seminaries and, most notably, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a fund that was set up during World War I to aid Jewish refugees and that has continued to do so ever since.

The most striking part of Rosenwald’s philanthropy may well be his funding of African-American education in the South. Influenced by Booker T. Washington, he developed a program to construct elementary and secondary schools in any black community that wanted such support. Over a 20-year period, nearly 5,000 schools opened.

. . .

For both Jewish immigrants in the slums of Chicago and black sharecroppers in the rural South, Rosenwald’s philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.

For the full review, see:

Leslie Lenkowsky. “BOOKSHELF; A Catalog of Generosity; His approach to philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 30, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 29, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A Catalog of Generosity; His approach to philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.”)

The book under review is:

Diner, Hasia R. Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

A Resource Is a Weed You Have Figured Out How to Use

(p. A1) With its warts, a messy sap that can sicken livestock and a tendency to grow in tall, mangy clumps that crowd out other plants, milkweed doesn’t enjoy a history of immortalization in oil paint.

. . .

(p. A10) Some makers of winter clothing are touting the white wispy floss in milkweed pods as a plant-based insulating material. Some forecasters say milkweed could yield $800 an acre this year, which Vermont farmers say is better than they get for most commodities.

. . .

Jaunty enough for the city and practical enough for the weekend cabin, he says, the “refined Canadian parka” sells for $850, the same as Quartz’s duck-down jacket. He says down is still popular but milkweed attracts customers intrigued by a “plant-based” insulator. “We were shocked by the interest we got.”

. . .

Milkweed’s sartorial use harks at least to World War II, when overseas supplies of kapok, an insulating fiber, were cut off. As a wartime substitute, the U.S. rallied civilians to pick milkweed pods for life jackets, says Gerald Wykes, a historian at the Monroe County Museum in Michigan.

After the war, for the most part milkweed went “back to its roots” as a humble weed, he says, because the ornery plant proved challenging to tame as a crop that could be grown in rows and harvested mechanically. The handpicking that went on in the war “wasn’t terribly efficient,” he says, and the rising use of synthetics lessened interest in all natural fibers.

Recently, says Ms. Darby, farmers have improved machinery that is designed to gently pick off milkweed pods without damaging the whole plant.

And milkweed has recently sprouted back into favor in some quarters because of its role not just as a green stuffing option but also as the key source of food for caterpillars of the embattled monarch butterfly.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Levitz. “This Winter’s Hot Fashion: Parkas Stuffed With Vermont Weeds.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Charging Scooters Is a Great Job for Independent-Minded Entrepreneurs”

(p. 1B) Downtown Omaha resident Rob Luhrs spends his early mornings and late nights hunting for scooters.

Luhrs, 41, is a “juicer” of Lime scooters (“Lime juicer” — get it?) who charges scooters and then sets them out again around town. He said he makes about $60 a day, seven days a week, doing the work. During the College World Series, he said, he was making between $80 and $90 a day.

Luhrs also is an instructor of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a part-time real estate broker who works for a grocery delivery service. But he said he hopes to make charging scooters his primary source of income.

(p. 2B) “I want to work when I want to,” he said. “When I want to take a day off, I don’t want anybody complaining about it, and if I work extra hard, I want to get paid more. I can’t just go apply to somewhere and get that job.”

. . .

Luhrs said charging scooters is a great job for “independent-minded entrepreneurs.”

“For me personally, I’m willing to spend time during the day picking up scooters and make it a full-time gig,” he said. “I see other people out there, during the daytime, picking up scooters, so I know that they’re trying to make it a full-time gig, too.”

For the full story, see:

Adam Cole. “Lime ‘Juicer’ Doesn’t Feel Squeezed by Late Hours Charging Scooters.” Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, Jul 4, 2019): 1B-2B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jul 3, 2019, and has the title “Unorthodox working hours don’t steer Lime ‘juicer’ away from job charging scooters in Omaha.”)