344 (21 November 2018)


Welcome to week 344!  The articles below caught my attention this week.  What are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  Article titles preceded by [SR] require a subscription.  TIF Weekly is available on the web.

It being Thanksgiving Eve, here are “Seven Things You Might Not Know About CranberriesJSTOR Daily.  The foundation article for the post, “Heritage OF THE Harvest: Taming the Wild Cranberry,” contains elements that are appropriate for TIF Weekly.  You can access a pdf of it at the end of the post.

(12 November 2018):Could Oysters Ease Trade Tensions With U.S.?  European Leaders Hope SoThe New York Times

——–“The United States and Europe may one day put aside their differences on trade, eliminate tariffs on industrial goods and work together to rein in their common economic adversary, China.  But for Cecilia Malmstrom, the European trade commissioner, the most urgent task is to produce quick results . . . So when Ms. Malmstrom meets in Washington on Wednesday [the 14th] with her American counterpart, Robert E. Lighthizer, she will count it as a substantial victory if she can lower the barriers hindering one bit of trans-Atlantic commerce: oysters.  The United States and Europe have long banned the importing of each other’s shellfish.  But a deal to ease trade on that front has been in the works for several years and could be dressed up by both sides as a success that helps smooth relations with the White House”

********Interestingly, in the process of developing the story about oysters, there is a reference to Section 232 of The Trade Expansion Act, which allows the imposition of sweeping tariffs in the event that an import “threatens national survey.”  The idiom “grasping at straws” comes to mind.

(15 November 2018): What a pair of jeans can teach us about the global economyMarketplace

********This is a three-minute chat with Thomas Ramge, one of the authors of The Global Economy as You’ve Never Seen It: 99 Ingenious Infographics That Put It All Together.  The book appears to be an attempt—I have ordered but not read the book—to visually portray the interdependencies of the world economy.  It strikes me as somewhat similar in concept, but no doubt different in realization, to The Illustrated Guide to the American Economy, last published in 2000, which I own and read long ago.  As the article notes, the book “uses infographics to make the complex global economy accessible to the everywoman and man,” i.e., “an atlas for economics.”  If this can be done for the world, why not the U.S., North Carolina, and Buncombe County, too?  For those reading elsewhere, please make the necessary adjustments for your setting.

(16 November 2018):Why ‘Clean Coal’ Is Being Embraced and QuestionedBloomberg Businessweek

********This is a useful précis on “clean coal.”  Like all QuickTakes it makes clear and concise statements, while providing readers with a list of accessible sources.  Although much of this material is familiar, there are some new points.  For example, it provides insight into where new “clean coal” plants are being built globally—many in China—and investor views.  I thought it was especially interesting to learn that “Some of the world’s biggest insurers . . . have pledged to scrap underwriting new coal plants, and insurance market Lloyds of London [has] said it will divest from the fuel.”  It makes me wonder about the role of insurance in relation to other prospective power plants, in particular nuclear.

(16 November 2018):Trouble in the Congo: The Misadventures of GlencoreBloomberg Businessweek

********The expression “It is not what you know, it is who you know” is well exemplified by this story of the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Unusually rich holdings of copper and cobalt lie at the bottom of personal relationships generating large profits for (and many legal actions against) Glencore, not to mention billions of dollars of wealth for the individuals involved, and some revenue for the Congolese governments.

(17 November 2018):Cage-Free Eggs Are Out, Pastured Ones In as Tastes Change, AgainBloomberg.com

——–“It wasn’t that long ago that consumer demands for better animal treatment sparked the rise of the cage-free egg.  Hens moved from the confines of 67-square inches . . . to the wilds of the barn, with space to walk and stretch their wings—but rarely, if ever, outside.”  But the bar is being raised to “the pasture-raised egg.”  The pasture movement is “sending animals outdoors for ample sunshine and space to spread out.  Compared with cage free, pasture is tantamount to bird paradise.”  This is part of a more general phenomenon: “Some of the biggest shifts in the protein industry in the past decade have come from increased consumer demands over animal welfare and sustainability.”

********In short, consumers are continuing to become more aware and more caring about the lives led by their food, especially animals.  In noting this, one cannot help but think of the work of philosopher Peter Singer,  He gained widespread notice, effectively founding the animal rights movement, through his 1975 book Animal Liberation.  Changing tastes would tend to be captured by social and historical forces, i.e., the invisible handshake.

(20 November 2018):Sign Here to Lose Everything: Part 1Bloomberg Businessweek

——–Doug and Janelle Duncan, the owners of a real estate franchise in Florida, “borrowed $36,762 from a company called ABC Merchant Solutions LLC” to help finance a planned expansion and they thought “they were paying the money back on schedule.”  But in a matter of days $52,886.93 disappeared from one of their account, a loss that “set off a chain of events that culminated a month later in financial ruin. . . . As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process.  Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks.  Rather that breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York’s court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine.  Government officials enable the whole scheme.  A few are even getting rich doing it.” 

********The article goes on to note, “The lender’s weapon of choice is an arcane legal document called a confession of judgment.  Before borrowers get a loan, they have to sign a statement giving up their right to defend themselves if the lender takes them to court. . . . Armed with a confession, a lender can, without proof, accuse borrowers of not paying and legally seize their assets before they know what’s happened.”  This is a chilling tale—small business borrowers beware.

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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