345 (28 November 2018)


Welcome to week 345!  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.

The news this week was inundated with articles relating to monopoly and monopolization, more generally increasing market concentration.  In part that is due to the publication (ornear publication) of books on the subject. One is TheMyth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Capitalism, by Johnathan Tepper with Denise Hearn.  Itsback cover has blurbs from two Nobel laureates, as well as prominent academicsNiall Ferguson and Kenneth Rogoff.  Youcan get a sense of the book from two excerpts by Tepper: oneand two.  Excerpt one is more general and betterwritten, while excerpt two provides more source information.

The second book is The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, by Tim Wu.  This concise book is described by Rana Foroohar of The Financial Times as “an excellent primer for anyone who wants to understand why corporate wealth and power have grown so concentrated in the past four decades, and why that might be a problem for democracy.”  Wu’s book is mentioned favorably in “The Monopolization of AmericaThe New York Times.  The article notes that information about market concentration has not been regularly gathered since 1981, when the Reagan era “Federal Trade Commission suspended a program that collected data on industry concentration.”  The Open Markets Institute is working to fill that void.  Take a look.

(22 November 2018):’Invisible Hands’ Review: The Children Fueling Global CapitalismThe New York Times

——–“Rich in information and dense with quiet outrage, Shraysi Tandon’s debut feature, the investigative documentary ‘Invisible Hands,’ jumps into the murky and shameful world of child trafficking and forced labor.”  The movie shows “how the intricate supply chains of global capitalism shield corporations like Nestle and Unilever from responsibility . . . [painting] a depressing portrait of pain and poverty and exploitation.”  The opening of “Invisible Hands” comes on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, arguing that “while capitalism is the disease, it’s also the cure.”

********The review is accompanied by a two-minute trailer.  The reviewer notes: “Maybe it’s right to believe that corporate action, spurred by consumer demand for ethically made products, can blow past the slow-grinding wheels of government regulation.  I wish I were so sure.”

********On the topic of “the slow-grinding wheels of government regulation” there is a great example in [SR]Drone Rules Likely Still Years Away, Dragging on Industry’s GrowthThe Wall Street Journal.  Its lead sentence notes: “The Federal Aviation Administration is significantly behind earlier schedules for crafting airborne-identification rules for drones, causing industry officials to worry the delay could stymie their most ambitious plans for years.”  The principal trade group for drones in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.  Trade association leaders “now see the final FAA regulatory action stretching past the end of the decade.  Some experts say 2022 is more likely.”  Regarding the regulatory delay, an FAA spokesman said “We have to get this right the first time . . .  We are moving as quickly as possible to address the complex issues.”  A particular source of delay came about in spring 2018 when FBI officials “balked at proposed safeguards and demander tougher requirements to identify potential terrorists or hostile operators.”

(23November 2018):A Future With Fewer TrufflesBloomberg.com

——–“Increasingly dry, hot weather in the world’s prime truffle-producing regions of Italy, France and Spain may become so severe that the delicacy is wiped out there by the end of the century, according to a study published in the journal Science of Total Environment.  Prices for the treat, already one of the world’s costliest foodstuffs, will be driven even higher, they predict. . . . But fungus fans shouldn’t be down in the mouth.  Truffles may have a future in cooler northern climates such as the U.K. and Ireland, where mild winters mean heavy frost won’t damage the tubers.  While truffle cultivation is notoriously tricky,” successful trials have been carried out in the U.K.  Black truffles “regularly fetch more than 1,000 euros ($1,135) a kilogram, but they have been known to sell for twice as much after a bad season.”

********A concise supply-driven analysis of the truffle market.  Climate change will affect the ability of traditional suppliers to provide truffles, but perhaps new suppliers will enter the market as prices increase.  The big question, though, is will truffles “take” to their new surroundings and will the traditional cultivators and hunters of truffles be willing (and able) to make the move to new locations.

********The graph of the article mentioned is available here.  Quite interesting at the link is its Graphical abstract, which provides a framework, to my mind, for examining the general  relationships between climate trends and harvests for any agricultural product.  Another article that touches upon climate change and a specific crop—corn—is part of the Price of Climate series in The Wall Street Journal.  The article “A Warming Climate Brings New Crops to Frigid Zones,” in this case Alberta, Canada in particular, appears to have no pay wall.

********While we are on the subject of economics and climate change, this is a good week to take a look at Economic Principals: A Weekly Column about Economics and Politics.  In the article “Time Is God’s Way,” David Warsh.  In the wake of the Nobel Prize awarded to William Nordhaus for his work on the economics of climate change, Warsh takes a brief look at the we-ranging work of economist Martin Weitzman, who has employed “fat-tailed uncertainty” as a means to explore the “unknown unknowns of what might go very wrong . . . coupled with essentially unlimited downside liability on possible planetary damages.”  Such “unknown unknows call for a more expensive insurance policy against their possibility than would otherwise be the case.”  Along with Gernot Wagner, Weitzman authored the “uncommonly well-written book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet(Princeton, 2015).”  Incidentally, if you haven’t taken a look at the Economic Principals site, you may want to check out its list of Blogs and Journalists, as well as its Bookshelf.  It is an effective way of keeping up with what is being written on economic topics and their authors.

********To conclude the climate and economics references, this was the week when the 13 agencies of the U.S. government released a “major scientific report . . . [presenting] the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States,” as noted in “U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking EconomyThe New York Times.  The article focuses on trade disruptions and agricultural risks.  In a related piece, “What’s New in the Latest U.S. Climate Assessment,” it is noted that the “report suggests a difference approach to assessing the effects of climate changed, by considering how various impacts—on food supplies, water and electricity generation, for example—interact with each other.”  The actual report, as opposed to commentary about the report, can be found here.

(24 November 2018):MarijuanaLegalization Threatens These Dogs’ CollarsThe New York Times

——–“Officer Tulo will turn in his badge in January, forced into early retirement by the country’s waning war on weed.  In his eight years with the Police Department of Rifle, Colo., Tulo, a yellow Labrador retriever, has helped with more than 170 arrests in the town of 9,000.  But one of his old-fashioned skills hasn’t just fallen out of demand since the state legalized marijuana, it has become a liability: State court rulings mean that Tulo’s keen nose for pot imperils his work on other drug cases.”

********Legal changes typically bring about changes in the demand for and supply of goods and services.  This applies, too, to dogs that are trained to smell and alert on specific drugs, as this article so clearly shows.

(26 November 2018):HowDNA Technology Became Cheap, Fast and Easily AccessibleBloomberg.com

********This is Episode 4 of the Prognosis podcasts “about people living on the edge of medical innovation.”  In this offering “some of the most famous names in genetics explain why it took so long to go from mapping life’s code to actually helping people, laying the foundations for technologies on the scientific and ethical cutting edge, like modifying people’s genes.”  The announcement of the decoding of the human genome was made on June 26, 2000 by President Bill Clinton, with remarks also made by Prime Minister Tony Blair of England.  You can read the text here.  The podcast—24-minutes long—seemed timely given the uproar resulting from the recent announcement that a Chinese scientist had played a role in creating the “world’s first gene-edited babies.”

(27November 2018):SignHere to Lose Everything: Part 2Bloomberg.com

********Part 1 of this four-part series appeared on November 20th.  This article looks at “The $1.7 Million Man,” Vadim Barbarovich, who is “New York City’s highest-earning official.”  The next-highest-paid official, the CIO for the NYC Retirement Systems, comes in at $362,416; Mayor Bill de Blasio comes in at $232,982.  How does Barbarovich make all that money?  He gets a 5% cut of the judgments processed in his role as NYC Marshal most of which are due to Merchant Cash Advances that are being recovered with his help.  Barbarovich’s income “skyrocketed when cash-advance companies discovered his power” to claw back cash advances.  All this seems to be within the letter of the law, but the situation is seemingly under investigation.

(27 November 2018):In a Texas Art Mecca, Humble Adobe Now Carries a High CostThe New York Times

——–Marfa, Texas is an “artsy outpost in the West Texas desert” where adobe has become “fashionable, a building material befitting the town’s cool mix of culture and desert aesthetic.  But for many of Marfa’s longtime residents, the gentrification of the adobe home has made living in one rather expensive.  Required by Texas law to find more revenue, the Presidio county tax assessors realized that adobe homes in Marfa were selling at a premium, and so they raised their appraisal values in 2017, just three years after a townwide revaluation.  That has meant two big tax increases, not only for owners of , . . high-end and expansive adobe homes . . . but also for hundreds of more modest, weather-beaten residences clustered around the south side of Marfa, where historically most of the town’s Hispanic population has lived.”

********Some homes have seen their property taxes more than triple in recent years as a result of the adobe-based revaluation.  Early in my years of teaching at UNC Asheville, a student remarked to me that many people in the mountains of western North Carolina were driven from their homes via property taxation.  (I’d love to see evidence for this.)  Here, in Marfa, we seem to see the same process at work.  I wonder if the affect of adobe building materials on house prices would have been so dramatic if the age (vintage) of houses was considered.  Reading this reminds me of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein.  It was “One of Publishers Weekly 10 Best Books of 2017.”

(27 November 2018):How Pollution Can Hurt the Health of the EconomyThe New York Times

——–“One argument for rolling back environmental regulations—as is occurring under the Trump administration—is that a lighter touch on industry will lift investment and economic growth.  But increased pollution can also have long-term negative economic consequences.  The effects on health are bad enough on their own, and are well understood.”  Three sources of pollution with well-documented adverse consequences are: particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and lead.  “Children are especially vulnerable to the effect of pollution.”  There is evidence that in utero exposure to pollutants “can cause long-term harm.”

********This is an Upshot article and there is a lot to consider.  Especially usefully are the many references to the literature on pollution and health.  The article concludes with this statement: “pollution from large-scale environmental events like the California fires may also challenge productivity at school and work, even for children in utero.”

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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