297 (28 December 2016)

Welcome to week 297!  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.

(22 December 2016): “The coming battle between economists and the Trump team over the true cost of climate change” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/22/the-coming-battle-between-the-trump-team-and-economists-over-the-true-cost-of-climate-change/)

********The “social cost of carbon” is likely to be a matter of additional discussion, debate, and research after January 20, 2017, and this article provides some useful background.  In addition to the social cost of carbon, the appropriate discount rate to use in making benefit and cost calculations will be a point of contention.  All this largely falls under the heading of “the invisible foot,” as the social cost of carbon and the discount rate feed into a variety of court decisions and federal legislation.

(24 December 2016): “Bagehot: The parable of JD Wetherspoon” (http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21712146-how-chain-pub-became-essential-british-institution-parable-jd-wetherspoon)

——–“How easy it is to dislike chain pubs . . . [but] Bagehot begs to differ. . . . To dig below the snobbery about pub chains is to witness a clever business at work.  Mr [Tim] Martin opened his first branch in London in 1979 and named it after a teacher, Mr Wetherspoon, who had told him he would never amount to anything.  That it grew into a national institution, he says, comes down to three points. . . . First, stay close to the ground.  Mr Martin spends two days a week visiting his pubs. . . . Second, keep things simple . . . Third, bear down on prices.  Many small businesses in Britain fail because they charge too much in the country’s wage-stagnant economy.”  These, combined with the “use of grand old civic buildings” create a “stay-and-linger atmosphere . . . producing the self-reinforcing cycle that lies at the heart of his business: larges sales begetting the decent profits that make possible low margins that further drive sales.”

********An article that recalls for me the importance of “third places,” as noted in The Great Good Place (https://www.amazon.com/Great-Good-Place-Bookstores-Community/dp/1569246815/), by Ray Oldenburg.  While we are on the British brew scene, The Economist also has a nice piece of India Pale Ales, which includes a bit of history and a bit about the current craft brew scene.  Here is the link: http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21712029-lagers-may-be-ubiquitous-india-pale-ales-are-beers-backstory-history.

********Finally, the role that yeast plays in the taste of brewed beverages like beer and ale is discussed in a recent copy of The Asheville Citizen-Times, the occasion being the announcement that White Labs will be opening a yeast-production facility in Asheville in January 2017.  As the article notes, “Malts and barley are not super flavorful, and hops are not very fruity, but yeast has more than 500 aroma and flavor compounds that contribute to beer’s profile.”  You can learn more about the opening of White Labs in Asheville at: http://www.citizen-times.com/story/money/business/2016/12/26/white-labs-starts-yeast-production-next-month/95650456/.  You can learn more about White Labs at: http://www.whitelabs.com/.

(25 December 2016): “A Physicist of Online Groceries” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/business/instacart-physicist-online-groceries-emmanuel-turlay.html)

********This is a brief interview with 32-year-old Emmanuel Turlay, who has a Ph.D. in physics and is “a technical lead manager at Instacart in San Francisco.”  Turlay notes: “Instacart has shoppers who buy groceries and deliver them to consumers who order them through the company’s website or mobile app.  I help write the software programs that calculate customers’ charges and provide the technical framework to help the engineers on my team make good programming decisions.”  I thought it interesting that said that one of his challenges is “Making sure we charge customers correctly for an order.”

(28 December 2016): “An Escape Hatch for the Professional Rut” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/an-escape-hatch-for-the-professional-rut-1482850801)

——–“The unlucky college class of 2009 graduated into the worst job market in decades.  Many of its members have never caught up, and remain stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs.  Katlin Fox, 29, represents a ray of hope for people her age.  A member of the University of Rhode Island’s Class of ’09, she’d wanted to join a marketing team doing creative projects.  Instead, she took the only job she was offered—as an executive assistant.”

********The remainder of the article outlines how Katlin persevered, recognized what she needed to know, and learned what necessary.  In addition to her initiative, this is a story of how important an immediate supervisor can be in facilitating employee growth.  In the end, though, that can mean having to say goodbye.

(28 December 2016): “The Best Films of 2016 (for Behavioral Economists)” (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-28/the-best-films-of-2016-for-behavioral-economists)

********Cass Sunstein, author of many books, e.g., Nudge, and a former member of the Obama administration, awards his Behavioral Economics Oscars, the Becons.  In it he recognizes the work of Jon Favreau (Best director), Ryan Gosling (Best actor), Isabelle Huppert (Best actress) and the movies “Weiner” (Best documentary), and “Rogue One” (Best movie).  In doing so one gets a chance to learn a bit of behavioral economics, too.  Especially worth noting is the discussion around “Weiner,” which relates to System 1 (Fast) and System 2 (Slow) thinking.  This is, of course, pretty much tongue in cheek but it is the end of the year and a bit of levity is appropriate.  I’m intrigued by Isabelle Huppert’s work in “Elle.”

(28 December 2016): “The Evolution of Convenience Food in America” (http://daily.jstor.org/the-evolution-of-convenience-food-inamerica/)

——–“Meal kits, currently a niche product sold by startups like Blue Apron, could be hitting the bigtime, with big-name food companies like Tyson and Campbell Soup now entering the market.  If that signals a change in the way Americans cook and eat, it’s nothing compared with the way frozen food disrupted meals in the mid-twentieth century, as Shane Hamilton explained in a 2003 paper.”  Frozen foods began with the Birds Eye brand in the 1920s.  Until the late 1940s, however, “Birds Eye and its competitors sold frozen foods only to a limited set of high-end consumers.”  All that changed, however, with the advent of the use of mechanically refrigerated railcars and trucks, as well as higher incomes after WWII.  Over time, frozen foods became less costly and were used to by a broader demographic, aided in part by “collaboration between the [frozen-food] industry and government regulators” and expanded market research.

********A brief article by Livia Gershon that shows the importance of technological change and the need to check one’s assumptions regarding who is using your product and how it is being used.  The foundational article for this post is Shane Newton, “The Economies and Conveniences of Modern-Day Living: Frozen Foods and Mass Marketing, 1945-1965.”  A pdf of it is available at a link at the bottom of Gershon’s post.

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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