299 (11 January 2017)

Welcome to week 299!  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.

(4 January 2017): “Why Men Don’t Want the Jobs Done Mostly by Women” (http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/upshot/why-men-dont-want-the-jobs-done-mostly-by-women.html)

——–“It hasn’t been a great time to be a man without a job.  The jobs that have been disappearing, like machine operator, are predominantly those that men do.  The occupations that are growing, like health aide, employ mostly women.  One solution is for the men who have lost jobs in factories to become health aides.  But while more than a fifth of American men aren’t working, they aren’t running to these new service-sector jobs.  Why?  They require very different skills, and pay a lot less.  They’re also seen as women’s work, which has always been devalued in the American labor market.”  People who study the movement of men into fields in which women traditionally work, say that “Much of men’s resistance to pink-collar jobs is tied up in the culture of masculinity.”  Indeed, “Many unemployed men who did manual labor say they can’t take the time and make the effort to train for a new career because they have bills to pay.  And they say they chose their original careers because they wanted to build things, not take care or people.”

********I just finished reading Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities (https://www.amazon.com/Boom-Bust-Exodus-Maquilas-Cities/dp/0190608862/), by Chad Broughton, and the discussions of the retraining efforts of men and women in Galesburg, Illinois in consequence of the closing of the enormous Maytag facility there seem largely, but not perfectly, consistent with this article.  Galesburg’s story is one of bust, while that of Reynosa of Tamaulipas, Mexico is one of boom.  This is one of those books, published in 2015, that makes the election of Donald Trump easier to understand.

********Although there may have been a boom in Reynosa, not everyone prospered as much as expected.  That seems, in part, to be due to the failure of economic policy-makers in Mexico.  This seems to be the main point of “Mexicans Are the Nafta Winners?  It’s News to Them” (http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/world/americas/mexico-donald-trump-nafta.html).  One might conclude that the policy-makers believed too much in the power of laissez-fairydust the wonderful expression that recently won the American Dialect Society’s Creative Word of the Year.  University of Michigan linguist and English professor has an informative and entertaining article on all the words that you can find at: http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2017/01/08/words-of-the-year-2016/.

(5 January 2017): “The High-Cost, High-Risk World of Modern Pet Care” (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-01-05/when-big-business-happens-to-your-pet)

——–“Pet care is undergoing the same sort of consolidation transformed human health care in the 1990s.”  The story of veterinarian John Robb provides an example while also providing a glimpse into some of the veterinary practices that are employed.  “In 1999 he sold his first practice for $1 million to VCA—then called Veterinary Centers of America—a consolidator that’s bought hundreds of animal hospitals and trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker WOOF.  Then, in 2008, he paid $400,000 for his Banfield franchise in prosperous Stamford [, Connecticut.]  Banfield had itself traded hands just a few months before, when the veterinarian who founded the company sold it to Mars, the giant candy and pet-food manufacturer.  The change had dire consequences for Robb and, he says, for millions of pets.”

********The article is of interest from many perspectives.  First, it provides a look at how consolidation is playing out in veterinary care services.  Second, it summarizes some of the veterinary practices employed by the consolidated units.  Third, it points out the increasing role of lab fees in pet care.  Finally, it gives a bit of information related to vaccines and the role that a body like the American Animal Hospital Association play in developing suggested veterinary practice.

********The article in Bloomberg Businessweek appeared on the eve of Mars acquisition of VCA for $7.7 billion.  VCA “owns about 800 animal hospitals, a lab business and dog day care franchises that operate under the name camp Bow Wow.”  Bob Antin, the CEO of VCA, was not looking to sell his business, but he said that “the prospect of joining Mars, and no longer being a public company, was intriguing.”  You can learn more at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/business/dealbook/mars-to-buy-pet-hospital-chain-for-7-7-billion.html.  Particulars about the purchase of VCA can be read at: http://www.mars.com/docs/default-source/default-document-library/mars-incorporated-to-acquire-vca-inc.pdf.

(8 January 2017): “Data Could Be the Next Tech Hot Button for Regulators” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/08/technology/data-regulators-google-facebook-monopoly.html)

——–“Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.  Now data—gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations—is increasingly a focus of technology competition.  And academics and some policy makers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.”

********The article provides a useful summary of some of the issues that relate to the commercial use of large data sets, especially those that are private.  As it indicates, although proprietary knowledge can be used to charge personalized prices, that same knowledge can be used to create personalized goods and services.  Thus, although personalizing may lead to higher prices, it may also lead to higher quality goods and services.  According to Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist who now is chief scientist at Chinese Internet search giant Baidu, “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms.”

(9 January 2017): “Farmers Get Creative in Reaping Profits” [SR](http://www.wsj.com/articles/farmers-get-creative-in-reaping-profits-1483957802)

——–“Instead of selling all of this fall’s record corn harvest to ethanol plants or foreign livestock farmers, Jim and Jamie Walter are turning a portion into a more lucrative product: whiskey.  The father-and-son Illinois farmers are among a small group finding unique ways to wring money from their crops, while a commodity glut pushes grain prices to multiyear lows.  They hope satisfying a consumer shift toward locally made, high-quality products will be more reliably profitable than turbulent global grain markets.”  These developments counter some longer-term trends.  “Since World War II, grain farmers have sought to boost profits mostly by increasing yields, driving down costs and expanding their operations.  Bigger, more sophisticated equipment and high-tech seeds have encouraged a trend toward larger, more capital-intensive farms.  Now, growing demand for locally produced food and drinks is coinciding with concerns about volatile crop prices, providing an opportunity for farmers to try shrinking the gap between their crops and consumers.”

********It is interesting to see how changing consumption patterns driven by cultural trends can result in a change of how farmers think about what and how they produce.  Surely the ethanol boom affected corn production.  But with the passing of that boom and the resulting lower corn prices, farmers had to rethink their approach, e.g., decide to expand output to reduce average cost, produce other crops with existing land, or use existing output to produce new products.  With the last approach, it might well be necessary to change existing output, too, as the corn that appeals to cattle and makes good ethanol, may not be the type that appeals to those who drink locally-sourced corn whiskey.

May you have a good week!


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