Welcome to week 365! 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.
(4 April 2019): “How We Uncovered 10,000 Times Lawmakers Introduced Copycat Model Bills—And Why It Matters” The Center for Public Integrity
——–Two years ago “journalists and developers with USA Today and The Arizona Republic set out to . . . Identify among the roughly 100,000 bills introduced in the 50 states each year what’s been copied from drafts pushed by special interests.” This article outlines the methodology used to identify copycat legislation.
********This article is one of a series of articles with the collective title “Copy, paste, legislate” being run. A useful broad overview with relatively few words can be found here. Although business (4,301 bills) and conservative groups (4,012 bills) were the sources of most copycat legislation, liberal groups (1,602 bills) have also participated. This is a lengthy and important series. A list of all of the articles can be found in “You elected them to write new laws. They’re letting corporations do it instead.” The article is lengthy, but you can identify the list by searching on: “More in this series.”
(9 April 2019): “China’s Voracious Appetite for Timber Stokes Fury in Russia and Beyond” The New York Times
——–“From the Altai Mountains to the Pacific Coast, logging is ravaging Russia’s vast forests, leaving behind swathes of scarred earth studded with dying stumps. The culprit, to many Russians, is clear: China. Since China began restricting commercial logging in its own natural forests two decades ago, it has increasingly turned to Russia, importing huge amounts of wood in 2017 to satisfy the voracious appetite of its construction companies and furniture manufacturers. . . . Russia has been a witting collaborator, too, selling Chinese companies logging rights at low cost and, critics say, turning a blind eye to logging beyond what is legally allowed.”
********The Altai Mountains roughly form the western boarder of Mongolia. The article goes on to note that, although the Chinese government “began restricting commercial logging in the nation’s forests” two decades ago, “The country’s demand for wood did not diminish. Nor did the world’s demand for plywood and furniture, the main wood products that China makes and exports.” The low price at which Russia sells its logging concessions, averaging “roughly $2 a hectare, or 80 cents an acre, per year” has contributed to the loss of Russian forests.
(11 April 2019): [SR] “Congestion Pricing Is Bad News for Parking Garages in New York” The Wall Street Journal
——–“With congestion pricing coming to New York City, Manhattan’s public parking garages risk becoming an endangered species in parts of the borough. Starting in 2021, commuters entering Manhattan below 60th Street could be charged a fee somewhere around $11.52, according to estimates. That measure is likely to accelerate the disappearance of parking garages from Midtown and downtown, real estate owners and brokers say. The entry fee marks the latest threat to an industry that is already struggling with declining revenues with the rise of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.”
********The article goes on to point out that parking garage owners have been struggling in recent years, with many of their properties being converted to alternative uses. Although parking garage owners in areas subject to congestion pricing are likely to be harmed by the move, “parking garage landlords just outside the congestion pricing zone stand to gain . . . as commuters look to avoid the fee by parking further away from work and either walking to their Midtown offices or taking the subway.” (Interestingly, NYC has a very high rate of bus fare avoidance—one of five riders avoid paying the fare.) All this points out the consequences of line drawing—depending upon which side of the line you happen to be on, the incentives and opportunities can be much different. And who draws these lines? Usually regulatory or political entities. One should remember that all lines, like literal “lines in the sand,” are social constructs, somewhat arbitrary and subject to revision. A valuable book about distinctions is Eviatar Zerubavel, The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life.
(14 April 2019): “Overfishing Doesn’t Just Hurt the Fish” Bloomberg.com
——–[This is an Opinion from the Editorial Board.] “Overfishing threatens disaster not only for fish, oceans and the food supply, but for fishing itself. The industry’s prosperity declines right along with populations of tuna, shark, swordfish and other species. Yet all over the world it persists in taking more fish than nature can replace. If this practice seems foolish, still more so are government efforts to encourage it. The largest fishing nations spend tens of billions of dollars annually to help fishing companies pay for fuel and new vessels. The U.S. government has been a leader of international efforts to end subsidies, but is now proposing a new one of its own: low-interest loans for fishing-boat construction. The National Marine Fisheries Service should abandon this disturbing reversal of policy.”
********This Opinion largely endorses the argument made by Martin D. Smith in “Subsidies, efficiency, and fairness in fisheries policy” Science. Encouraging the expansion of fishing capacity is certainly not the way to address overfishing concerns. The Proposed Rule is not yet in place. You can learn more about it in The Federal Register.
(14 April 2019): “Paying taxes in the hustle economy” The Los Angeles Times
********This is not so much about paying taxes as it is about the so-called “hustle economy” or the more familiar “gig economy.” The essential point of the article is that federal statistical agencies, notably the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have failed to keep pace in data-gathering about contingent workers despite its growth. In fact, last year the BLS released “its first Contingent Worker Survey in 13 years.” The article goes on to note: “It’s alarming what crucial information about hustle industries is lacking” and goes on to list that missing information.
********A recent book on the subject is Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy, by Alexandrea J. Ravenelle. In the book, Ravenelle “shares the personal stories of nearly eighty predominantly millennial workers from Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, and Kitchensurfing.” Higher education, of course, is a significant and growing part of the “hustle economy.” In terms of teaching, adjunct professors are large-scale contributors to the education of many students, especially at lower levels. (Disclosure: I taught two courses as an adjunct this year and was grateful for the opportunity.) There is a new book out by Herb Childress, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, that explores the roughly 70 percent of professors who are part time. You can read a bit about the book, as well as an interview with the author, at Inside Higher Ed. Although the book is “Part memoir, part manifesto, it’s also a rigorous, data-driven analysis of how we got here, why adjunctification hurts the academic enterprise and possible solutions. There’s a full appendix of charts, facts and figures. The mix makes for a book that anyone, novice to expert, can read.”
May you have a good week!