308 (15 March 2017)

Welcome to week 308!  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.

(8 March 2017): “Big Tobacco Has Caught Startup Fever” (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-03-08/big-tobacco-has-caught-startup-fever)

——–Big Tobacco, specifically Phillip Morris International Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., are working hard to bring technology to bear on nicotine delivery, thereby producing a relatively safer product and appealing to tech- and design-oriented college graduates, too.  Previously relatively few grads were looking to sign on at companies that produce a product that is estimated to kill, according to the CDC, “almost 500,000 people a year.”  Supporting this development is a new perspective.  “Tobacco executives often sound like media-owners talking about content.  That is, they’re open to delivering their drug via whatever pipe the consumer chooses—be it e-cigarettes, hear-not[burn devices, gum, lozenges, dip, or some medium that hasn’t been invented yet.  They are, as the media gurus would say, ‘platform-agnostic.’”

********A fascinating article that shows some of the many “pipes” that tobacco companies, perhaps it might be better to say nicotine-delivery companies, are developing for consumers.  A product featured in the article is IQOS, which employs tobacco and heat-not-burn technology that is described as a “modified risk” product.  You can learn more about IQOS and the sister-product TEEPS at: https://www.pmi.com/science-and-innovation/heated-tobacco-products.

********Regulatory oversight in the area of alternative nicotine-delivery products is relatively new.  “All tobacco products released after 2007—including e-cigarettes—must now seek the . . . [FDA’s] permission to remain on store shelves.”  In relation to this, “Jan Verleur, co-founder and CEO of VMR Products LLC, owner of V2, the largest independent e-cigarette brand in the U.S. accuses the FDA of becoming ‘the handmaiden of Big Tobacco.’  He estimates that going through the approval process will cost his company from $300,000 to $1 million per product.  That’s more, he says, than most independent vaping companies can afford.”  He goes on to note, “A higher barrier to entry to bring new technology to market in the sector is a very, very good thing for Big Tobacco.”  We see, then, as small organic food growers have commented, the costs associated with attaining certification or regulatory approval, will make an industry less competitive.  Larger firms, generally, will be better able to “foot the bill” required to enter the market.  Best of all, of course, is the practice of increasing the barriers once market entry has ben gained.

(9 March 2017): “Upgrade your jail cell—for a price” (http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-pay-to-stay-jails/)

——–“In what is commonly called ‘pay-to-stay’ or ‘private jail,’ a constellation of small city jails—at least 26 of them in Los Angeles and Orange counties—open their doors to defendants who can afford the option.  But what started out as an antidote to overcrowding has evolved into a two-tiered justice system that allows people convicted of serious crimes to buy their way into safer and more comfortable jail stays. . . . Pay-to-stay jail assignments involve only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of inmates sent to detention centers in Southern California each year.  But allowing some defendants to avoid the region’s notoriously dangerous county jails has long rankled some in law enforcement who believe it runs counter to the spirit of equal justice.”  Pay-to-stay prices vary, “with each city setting its own rate.  Defendants can get a bargain-basement bed in La Verne for $25 a night or pay a modest $75 a night in Hawthorne.  Or they can splurge, paying $198 a night in Redondo Beach of $251 a night in Hermosa Beach.”

********Evidently pay-to-stay has been in use in California for some time, as The New York Times published an article on in it in 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/29/us/29jail.html).  There is a bit more general information about pay-to-stay in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pay-to-stay_(imprisonment)), which includes a link to a 24-page study done by the ACLU of Ohio in 2015 (http://www.acluohio.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/InJailInDebt.pdf).  My sense is that there is some fluidity to the practice of pay-to-stay.  The California practice seems to be like “if you want to stay in our jail, you will pay this fee, whereas the practice described in Ohio seems to be more like “you are in our jail and you will pay a fee.”  Both practices raise justice issues.  A more scholarly look at this subject is “Paying for Your Time: How Charging Inmates Fees Behind Bars May Violate the Excessive Fines Clause” (https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/paying-your-time-how-charging-inmates-fees-behind-bars-may-violate-excessive-fines-clause).

********This is probably as good a time as any to make notice of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform (https://www.amazon.com/Locked-Causes-Incarceration-Achieve-Reform/dp/0465096913/).  This might well be viewed as a companion to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (https://www.amazon.com/New-Jim-Crow-Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595586431/).  My attention was drawn to Locked In through a review in The Wall Street Journal [SR](https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-prosecutors-prison-state-1489356145).  In Pfaff’s view, politicians and prosecutors bear much of the blame for exploding prison populations; politicians pass draconian laws and prosecutors want political careers that show them to be tough on crime.  A brief review of the book can be read at: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/john-pfaff/locked-in-true-causes/.

(9 Marcy 2017): “More Men Are Taking ‘Women’s’ Jobs, Usually Disadvantage Men” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/09/upshot/more-men-are-taking-womens-jobs-at-least-certain-men.html)

——–“Even as women moved into men’s jobs, in fields like medicine, law and business, men did not flock to the lower-status jobs that women mostly did.  That’s changing.  Over the last 15 years, according to a new study, men have been as likely to move into predominantly female jobs as the other way around—but not all men.  It’s those who are already disadvantaged in the labor market: black, Hispanic, less educated, poor and immigrant men.  While work done by women continues to be valued less, the study demonstrates, job opportunities divide not just along gender lines but also by race and class.”  The women who are making “inroads into more prestigious male-dominated professions in that period are likely to be white, educated, native-born and married, according to the [unpublished] research.”

********The authors of the study are Patricia A. Roos, a Rutgers University sociologist, and Lindsay M. Stevens, “a sociology doctoral student there.”  Evidently the gist of this research is not new.  “Race, ethnicity and gender have always contributed to who does what work.  Women have typically entered occupations when men find better ones, and immigrants have filled the ones women left behind.  In the 1800s, according to previous research by Ms. Roos and Barbara Reskin of the University of Washington, Irish men replaced native-born white women in textile mills.  The women moved to middle-class jobs like teaching—which native-born white men were leaving.”  To me the importance of this article stems from a point that has been made repeatedly in the news the last few weeks, i.e., the importance of looking below the broad categories of class and region to the underlying characteristics of people who make them up.  It is misleading at best and dangerous at worst to speak about all members of a group like class as being “the same” in some sense.  This is not a new idea but one that must continually be surfaced in our discussions of current events and policies.

(11 March 2017): “Behind the Quiet State-by-State Fight Over Electric Vehicles” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/11/business/energy-environment/electric-cars-hybrid-tax-credits.html)

——–“Today, the economic incentives that have helped electric vehicles gain a toehold in America are under attack, state by state.  In some states, there is a move to repeal tax credits for battery-powered vehicles or to let them expire.  And in at least nine states, including liberal-leaning ones like Illinois and conservative-leaning ones like Indiana, lawmakers have introduced bills that would levy new fees on those who own electric cars.  That state actions could put the business of electric vehicles, already rocky, on even more precarious footing.”

********The article relates a plethora of proposed and actual tax, fee, and regulatory changes by states, and some by the federal government, that are likely to affect the demand for electric vehicles.  Electric cars (and marijuana) are subject to extensive invisible-foot risk.

(14 March 2017): “Should Agencies Decide Law?  Doctrine May Be Tested at Gorsuch Hearing” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/business/dealbook/neil-gorsuch-chevron-deference.html)

——– “Chevron deference” is likely to play a role in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch next week.  Named after the legal case from “which it arose, Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council,” it “addresses what courts should do when Congress passes a law with an ambiguous interpretation.”  Surprisingly, the views of Gorsuch vary greatly from those of deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.  Scalia “loved Chevron deference, arguing that ‘in the long run Chevron will endure’ because it ‘accurately reflects the reality of government, and thus more adequately serves its needs.’  Judges, in his view, are just not as capable as administrators in interpreting laws that the regulators themselves put into effect and know on a daily basis.”  In the view of Gorsuch, thought, Chevron deference gives “too much power to federal agencies.”

********You can learn more about Chevron v. NRDC at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevron_U.S.A.,_Inc._v._Natural_Resources_Defense_Council,_Inc..  At that link it is noted that “Chevron is probably the most frequently cited case in American administrative law.”  Presumably Chevron deference is an important element of the “administrative state” that White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has said he wants to deconstruct (http://wapo.st/2mGmFls?tid=ss_mail).

(15 March 2017): “How to Restore Faith in Economics” (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-03-15/how-to-restore-faith-in-economics)

********I’m not sure why anyone would want to restore “faith” in economics or any other discipline that purports to be a science, but perhaps that is just a poorly chosen word.  The article dredges up for me memories of courses in economic methodology that provided good arguments why economics cannot be a science in the same way that, say, chemistry is—the principle reason being that it deals with human beings who can exercise volition.  Be that as it may, the article provides an interesting figure that shows “The Changing Nature of Economic Research” from 1963 through 2011 on a decadal basis, excepting 2011.  The most dramatic change is the decrease in the percentage of papers devoted to theory and the increase in the percentage of papers devoted to empirical work employing its own data; there has also been a sizeable decrease in the percentage of papers devoted to empirical work employing borrowed data.  This categorization, I suspect, is somewhat misleading because most empirical is highly theory laden.

May you have a good week!


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