203 (11 March 2015)

Welcome to week 203!  The articles below caught my attention this week.  Please note that what are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  The links to articles preceded by [SR] require a subscription to be read in their entirety, although complete articles may frequently be found by a title search.

You can find a pdf of this issue, a cumulative pdf for issues 1-156, and a cumulative pdf for issues 157-present at: https://sites.google.com/site/brucedeanlarson/the-invisible-forces.

(5 March 2015): “Paul Durand-Ruel: Making the Impressionists” (http://www.economist.com/durandruel)

——–The National Gallery in London has opened its exhibit “Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market,” which runs from March 4th through May 31st (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/inventing-impressionism).  Durand-Ruel “was a French art dealer who effectively made the market for Impressionist paintings.  He was the first person to promote the artists; he supported them financially through the bad times; and he eventually found an audience that embraced their works as keenly as he did himself.”  According to Claude Monet, “Without him . . . we wouldn’t have survived.”  In the early 1870s, when Durand-Ruel first fell for the Impressionists, their “works were reviled, practically unsellable.  He scooped them up, buying some 12,000 Impressionist works in total, including 1,000 Monets and 1,500 Renoirs.”

********As noticed in the article (and surprising to me), Americans “were the first to embrace Impressionism.”  You can learn more about the exhibition at the National Gallery link above.

(5 March 2015): “McDonald’s to Curb Antibiotics in Chicken” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/mcdonalds-to-curb-purchases-of-chicken-raised-with-antibiotics-1425482366)

——–Over the next two years “McDonald’s Corp. plans to curtail antibiotics use in its U.S. chicken, a move that could help kick-start a broader food-industry response to growing public-health alarm around drug-resistant bacteria.”  The change doesn’t apply to burgers and there will be “less sweeping changes for its roughly 22,000 overseas restaurants.”  In response to the news, Gail Hansen of the Pew Charitable Trusts said “McDonald’s heft will require processors to change how chickens are raised, and likely make it easier for other restaurants and food makers to follow suit.”  A year ago Chick-fil-A Inc. said “it would eliminate all antibiotics, including drugs used only to treat animals, from its chicken supply over five years.”

********The article goes on to note that “Switching to antibiotic-free beef would be harder.  Beef is generally much more expensive than chicken, which limits consumers’ willingness to pay for premium beef products [and] . . . Changes in the beef industry also can take longer because beef ranching is highly fragmented.”  A further discussion of the differences between the supply chains for chicken and beef appears in the companion article “Antibiotic-Free Beef Is a Taller Order” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/antibiotic-free-beef-is-a-taller-order-1425509343).  It pays particular attention to the supply chain differences already noted, as well as the different life cycles for chicken and beef.  In effect, change is easier and quicker for chicken than beef because (1) there are fewer chicken sellers than beef sellers and (2) the life cycle for chicken is shorter than that for beef.

********The life cycle point made me think of an article on the evolution of yeast that appeared that recently ran on NPR.  Because yeast reproduces quickly, it is easy to follow its evolution and zero in on “good” and “bad” mutations.  The research of Gavin Sherlock, recently published in Nature, has implications for the treatment of cancer.  You can hear the article at: http://www.npr.org/2015/03/09/391795441/speeding-up-yeast-s-evolution-and-what-it-says-about-cancer.  You can learn more about Sherlock’s (joint) work at: http://ecodevoevo.blogspot.com/2015/02/digesting-yeasts-message.html.  There, among other things, you will find a link to citation information for the article in question.

********Finally, while we are the subject of evolution, it is an important issue in corn production, as noted in “Limits Sought on GMO Corn as Pest Resistance Grows” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/limits-sought-on-gmo-corn-as-pest-resistance-grows-1425587078).  For the first time the EPA is “proposing limits on the planting of some genetically engineered corn to combat a voracious pest [the corn rootworm] that has evolved to resist the bug-killing crops, a potential blow to makers of bio-tech seeds.”  As best I can tell, the relevant EPA material can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides/pips/corn-rootworm.htm.

(6 March 2015): “Self-Driving Cars Could Cut Down on Accidents, Study Says” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/self-driving-cars-could-cut-down-on-accidents-study-says-1425567905)

——–According to a report just released by McKinsey & Co., “Widespread embrace of self-driving vehicles could eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the U.S., prevent up to $190 billion in damages and health-costs annually and save thousands of lives.”  According to McKinsey, “fully autonomous vehicles will begin to dominate roads by 2030.”

********I was unable to find the McKinsey report online.  Probably a product for sale at substantial cost.  However, the story was covered many places—here are two: Wired (http://www.wired.com/2015/03/the-economic-impact-of-autonomous-vehicles/) and Automotive IT International (http://www.automotiveit.com/mckinsey-study-urges-preparation-for-autonomous-driving/news/id-0010141).  I found the latter, which has a list of 10 points made by the Report, to be especially useful.

(6 March 2015): “Foreign Takeovers See U.S. Losing Tax Revenue” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/foreign-takeovers-see-u-s-losing-tax-revenue-1425601293)

——–“In deals known as ‘tax inversions,’ which spiked in 2015, U.S. companies acquired foreign rivals and redomiciled in low-tax countries, reducing the taxes paid back home.  The move sparked an outcry from lawmakers and others that prompted the Treasury Department in September 5o9 make such tie-ups more difficult and less lucrative.  But the policy doesn’t deal with foreign takeovers of U.S. companies, which have surged in dollar volume in recent months.”  So, with the foreign takeovers the U.S. “still loses tax revenue, but this time U.S. companies are being purchased.  Once a cross-border takeover is complete, companies can apply their new, lower tax rates to the overseas income and use internal loans and other strategies to further reduce U.S. taxes.”

********It certainly seems plausible that a policy that will make U.S. firms less likely to take over foreign firms for the purpose of tax inversions will make foreign firms more likely to take over U.S. firms for the same purpose.  Once one begins to look at some policy initiatives symmetrically, they do seem more problematic.

(7 March 2015): “Gender, education and work: The weaker sex” (http://www.economist.com/news/international/21645759-boys-are-being-outclassed-girls-both-school-and-university-and-gap)

——–Schools are grappling with “a problem that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago.  Until the 1960s boys spent longer and went further in school than girls, and were more likely to graduate from university.  Now, across the rich world and in a growing number of poor countries, the balance has tilted the other way.  Policymakers who once fretted about girls’ lack of confidence in science now spend their time dangling copies of ‘Harry Potter’ before surly boys. . . . In just a couple of generations, one gender gap has closed, only for another to open up.”  Girls have long been ahead in reading and the traditional gap “in maths” has been declining.  The performance gap in the schools has continued into higher education, resulting in the “feminization of higher education,” a development that “was so gradual that for a long time it passed unremarked . . . “Women who go to university are more likely than their male peers to graduate, and typically get better grades.”  But men and women tend to study different subjects and there tend to be compensation differences among them.

********You can view a précis of the article in the two-minute video at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/03/economist-explains-3.   The article is based upon the just-released OECD report The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence.  You can learn more about the report and obtain its pdf (182 pages) at: http://oecdinsights.org/2015/03/05/a-closer-look-at-gender-gaps-in-education-and-beyond/.

(7 March 2015): “More Than the Market Could Bear” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-the-great-beanie-baby-bubble-by-zac-bissonnette-1425677030)

——–[A review of The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute, by Zac Bissonnette.]  “When archaeologists, centuries hence, unearth the most puzzling artifacts of the late 20th century, they may well wonder: Why Beanie babied?  Why, during the late 1990s, did Americans go crazy for cheap toy animals stuffed with beans?”  Questions like these are focus of Zac Bissonnette’s book, “an enlightening portrait of Beanie mania and of Ty Warner, the enigmatic entrepreneur who not only created the toys but shrewdly nurtured the growing demand for them.”  The craze is reminiscent of “the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century.  Like tulips, Beanies appealed to people aesthetically and emotionally and came in the profusion of variations that is catnip to collectors.”  Ty Warner’s incessant tinkering with Beanie Babies resulted in repeated orphaning on earlier versions, which would limit the supply of earlier versions and help them “become all the more valuable for its suddenly limited quantity.”

********You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Beanie-Baby-Bubble-Delusion/dp/1591846021/.  Beanie Babies were a cultural phenomenon, although one that I was only dimly aware of.  It appears that Ty Warner was a complex person, sharing aesthetic sensibilities and a drive for perfectionism that help him, like Steve Jobs, become successful.

(9 March 2015): “Wrecks Hit Tougher Oil Railcars” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/train-wrecks-hit-tougher-oil-railcars-1425861371)

——–In four “recent oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada, new and sturdier railroad tanker cars that were designed to carry a rising tide of crude oil across the continent have failed to prevent ruptures.  These tank cars, called CPC-1232s, are the new workhorses of the soaring crude-by-rail industry, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels a day across the two countries.”

********Canadian lawmaker Claude Gravelle simply notes: “These new type of cars were supposed to be safer, but it’s obvious these cars are not good enough or safe enough.”  There seems to be growing recognition that “Tanker-car improvements alone won’t be enough to reduce overall risk” associated with transporting oil by rail.

May you have a good week!



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