262 (27 April 2016)

Welcome to week 262!  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 an Internet title search.

(21 April 2016): “’Whole Foods Effect’” When Small Food Makers Get the Call to Go Big” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/21/business/smallbusiness/whole-foods-effect-when-small-food-makers-get-the-call-to-go-big.html)

——–“Local food sales could hit $20 billion by 2019, up from $5 billion in 2008, the research firm packaged Facts predicts.”  Behind these impressive numbers are the many small businesses that must scale up their production when a big customer like Whole Foods selects their products to sell, a challenge that has come to be known as the “Whole Foods Effect.”  One firm that has managed to make the transition is Cowgirl Creamery of Marin County, California.  “After five years of selling shop to shop, the entrepreneurs behind the company finally had their first big order” when Whole Foods called to buy “Cowgirl’s organic triple-cream cheese for 45 of its stores. . . . But the first batch they delivered to Whole Foods grew mold.  Not the white fluffy mold that gives cheese its essence—it was the nonedible, possibly reputation-destroying black mold.”  As it turns out, in the effort to expand production, the cheese aging rooms hadn’t been primed correctly.  Fortunately for Cowgirl, Whole Foods was patient: “A decade later, Cowgirl employs 100 people, produces 800 pounds of cheese a day and is looking to expand by building a new creamery.”

********As the article points out, “scaling up” is a nontrivial activity and some producers simply do not want to do it.  As Lindsey Ott, who makes Mama Tong soup, notes: “I just want to make enough money to live in the Bay Area and chip away at the debt I’ve accrued.”

********While we are on the subject of cheese, California, and Whole Foods, the article “A Vegan Cheese Worthy of Chardonnay” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-21/a-vegan-cheese-worthy-of-chardonnay) caught my attention.  Lyrical Foods of the Bay Area is a producer of vegan cheese—it uses almond milk and a rennet substitute that is able to grow “a thick rind, just like milk-based cheese.”  Lyrical’s Kite Hill line of cheeses was “on the shelves of about 430 Whole Foods stores across the U.S. by late 2014” and will soon “be available at Fresh Market . . . and could be in as many as 1,000 stores by the end of the year.”  Clearly Lyrical said “Yes!” to scaling up and succeeded.

(21 April 2016): “Hearing Aid Prices Under Pressure From Consumer Electronics” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/21/business/hearing-aid-business-feels-pressure-from-consumer-electronics.html)

——–“The consumer electronics industry is encroaching on the hearing aid business, offering products that are far less expensive and available without the involvement of audiologists or other professionals.  that is forcing a re-examination of the entire system for providing hearing aids, which critics say is too costly and cumbersome, hindering access to devices vital for the growing legions of older Americans. . . . Whether regulations on hearing aids should be relaxed in an effort to lower costs will be the topic of a daylong public workshop being held . . . by the Food and Drug Administration.”  According the hearing aid manufacturers, “diagnosing the treating hearing loss are too complex for consumers to do using consumer devices, without the aid of a professional.”

********A companion article is “Obama Wants to Let You Buy Hearing Aids Over the Counter” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-21/obama-wants-to-let-you-buy-hearing-aids-over-the-counter).  Both articles points to the new competition that consumer products are providing the traditional market for hearing aids.  Traditional hearing aids tend to be bundled with a variety of professional services but new consumer products are not so bundled.  With the growing number of Baby Boomers in need of auditory improvement, incumbents have a lot at stake in maintaining regulatory rules.  A brief report on the workshop that took place on 21 April 2016 is provided (http://blog.asha.org/2016/04/22/hearing-aid-guidance-from-the-fda/) by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), which is membership group of more than 186,000 hearing-related professionals (http://www.asha.org/members/).

(22 April 2016): “As Oil Jobs Dry Up, Workers Turn to Solar Sector” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/as-oil-jobs-dry-up-workers-turn-to-solar-sector-1461280612)

——–“Plunging oil and gas has generated more than 84,000 pink slips in Texas, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.  But many rig hands, roustabouts, pipe fitters and even some engineers are finding a surprising alternative in the utility-scale solar farms rising from the desert near the border with New Mexico. . . . The 30,000 jobs the U.S. solar sector is projected to add this year are a fraction of the estimated 150,000 American jobs being lost in oil.  And it remains to be seen whether such workers will stay in the solar sector if an oil boom returns, and beckons again with the lure of bigger paychecks that stretch into the six figures. . . . Still, the trend toward solar highlights a fundamental change in the U.S. energy mix, with some die-hard roughnecks gravitating toward what is growing: green energy.”

********What caught my attention in this article is the substitutability of oil and solar labor.  This is nicely captured by Geoff Baxter, senior vice president of engineering and construction for Recurrent Energy, who commented that “Any construction worker with oil and gas experience can immediately transfer over to solar.”  The question remains, though, will these workers switch back into oil should another boom comes?  That next boom seems like likely, at least more remote, given the Paris climate deal that was just signed (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36108194).

(22 April 2016): “Menstruation Joins the Economic Conversation” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/business/menstruation-joins-the-economic-conversation.html)

——–“Late-night pharmacy runs.  bulky pads.  Periods have simply long been an uncomfortable experience.  But now it has become an economic issue, too.  Businesses, lawmakers and advertisers, prodded in large part by a frank online discussion of menstrual cycles and backed by calls for gender equality, have sought ways to make menstrual cycles a little less agonizing.  Eight states and the District of Columbia have moved to eliminate sales tax on pads and tampons, and bills have recently passed in the New York Mississippi State Senates.”  An example of the impetus for legal change is given by a class action filed by five women “against the New York Taxation and Finance Department, claiming that the state should classify period pads and tampons as necessities.  The suit points out that New York classifies men’s products like Viagra, Rogaine and dandruff shampoo as necessities.  Failing to protect men and women equally through the tax system, the suit says, violates states tax laws, as well as state and United States constitutions.”

********The article is wide ranging, covering technological changes in period-related products, as well as legal matters.  What struck me while reading the article was the many ways that our legal system differentially affects some relative to others, thereby creating relatively more opportunities for some than for others.  The notion of justice in its broadest sense, it would seem, cannot be avoided.  I wondered if there was something like a “legislative impact statement” that would require consideration of issues such as this, so I did a search on that term.  What showed up first was the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) model “Economic Impact Statement Act” (https://www.alec.org/model-policy/economic-impact-statement-act/), which is a test for environmental impact protection.  Perhaps a “Legislative Impact Statement Act” could be developed, which would test social impact in a similar way?

********I thought that as long as I was at the ALEC site, I would look for other model policies.  As it turns out, it was easy to do.  The address is: https://www.alec.org/model-policy/.  There I found 37 pages of model policies dating back 21 years, four pages of which relate to the last five months which, by my estimate, is 80 model policies.  In the Year 2016, for example, 18 model policies have been posted relating to the Issue education.  This cries out for further exploration.  Surprisingly, there seems to be no book or dissertation devoted specifically to ALEC.

(23 April 2016): “Mushroom Suits, Biodegradable Urns and Death’s Green Frontier” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/business/mushroom-suits-biodegradable-urns-and-deaths-green-frontier.html)

——–Artist and entrepreneur Jae Rhim Lee wants to “propose a different way of thinking about death that moves us toward death acceptance,” saying that “I think death acceptance is a critical aspect of protecting our environment.”  Ms. Lee is among a growing group “of entrepreneurs trying to disrupt death.”  In North Carolina, Western Carolina University researchers associated with “the Urban Death Project are learning how best to turn corpses into compost.”  The motivation for green burials “has shifted over the past decade,” according to Edward Bixby of the Steelmantown Cemetery green burial preserve in Woodbine, New Jersey.  He says “it’s now a 50-50 split between customers who are interested strictly in the environmental benefits and those who simply don’t accept the conventions and costs associated with traditional funerals.”

********In a related article, the natural burials employed at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary are discussed (http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2016/04/25/carolina-memorial-sanctuary-natural-no-frills-burials/83249174/).  Green burials and conservation burials, it turns out, are not necessarily the same thing.

********This is probably the appropriate place to note “Putting A Price On A Life” (http://daily.jstor.org/putting-a-price-on-a-life/), a post by JSTOR Daily, which begins with the question, “If you have a life insurance policy, that means your insurance company pays your beneficiaries when you die, right?”  As it turns out, that isn’t necessarily the case.  “A new Florida law requires life insurance companies to actually contact the beneficiary of a policy and pay them when the policy-holder dies—something they apparently often don’t do unless a claim is filed.”  That is interesting to learn in itself.  But what I found intriguing was the summary of the 1978 paper by Viviana A. Zelizer, which examines how attitudes toward life insurance have changed.  Evidently, people “in the early nineteenth century shied away from the product, which seemed to tie together death and commerce.  But, she writes, by the end of the century, many people accepted a counterbalancing argument that not buying insurance was its own moral failing.”  This suggests that “timeless values” may be more malleable than one might think.  Zelizer’s article, “Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th-Century America,” is linked in the post.

(25 April 2016): “Uncovering the Fiction of ‘Farm to Table’ Food” (https://www.propublica.org/podcast/item/farm-to-fable)

********This 14-minute podcast, with brief written highpoints, discusses an investigation by food critic Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times.  You can read the two-part story, which includes other resources, online at: http://www.tampabay.com/projects/2016/food/farm-to-fable/restaurants/.  Reiley notes that in some cases, restaurants she investigated engaged in outright deception, while in others vacuous terms were used to describe the food and its origins.  Caveat emptor!

(27 April 2016): “A Battle Brews Over Licensing in the Digital Age” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/telemedicine-advocates-look-to-expand-nursing-licenses-range-1461663000)

——–“Hospitals and some nursing groups are lobbying state legislators across the nation to do away with requirements that nurses be licensed in each state where they work, arguing that the rules inhibit the use of new health-care methods such as telemedicine.  The push to get states to join nursing licensing compacts reflects growing adoption of remote health services such as patient care and monitoring online and by the phone.  Telemedicine, as it is knowns, is expected to soar in the U.S. to $1.9 billion in revenue in 2018 from $240 million in 2013, according to research firm HIS Technology.”  Opposing the elimination of these actions “are up against nurses’ unions who say such compacts would jeopardize patient safety because not all states have the same licensing standards.  They also say it would erode their bargaining power and make it easier for hospitals to bring in out-of-state nurses to break a strike.”

********As the article states, since 1999 there has been a “multistate agreement known as the nurse licensure compact . . . Twenty-three states joined by 2010, but then interest stalled, with only two states joining after that.”  A newer version of the compact, with more stringent requirements, has been joined by seven states: Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.  You can learn more about the Nurse Licensure Compact, of which North Carolina is a member, at: https://www.ncsbn.org/nurse-licensure-compact.htm.

May you have a good week!

Bruce

 

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