369 (15 May 2019)

Welcome to week 369!  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. 

(22 April 2019):In ‘Choked,’ Beth Gardiner Looks At The Origins Of The Clean Air ActNPR.com

­********This five-minute broadcast is based upon the recently published Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution, by journalist Beth Gardiner.  The book itself is much broader than an exploration of The Clear Air Act, as is made evident by the “Book of the week” review in The Guardian and the review of the book in [SR] Science.  As the article in Science notes: “Ultimately, Choked is ‘a book about choices’: What kind of air do we want to breathe, and what kind of world do we want to live in?  The decision to prioritize clean air is among our most important economic, scientific, and public choices.”  Contributing to the difficulty of these choices is “invisibility,” which is noted in the Guardian review.  “You see one person run over in the street and you’ll never forget it, but thousands dying from the effects of dirty air will never even faze you.”  It was only through “the careful application of statistical techniques that the impact [of dirty air] has become apparent.”

(7 May 2019):The price of plenty: how beef changed AmericaThe Guardian

********This is a Longread about the history of the beef industry, especially in its formative days when railroads and refrigeration revolutionized where and how cattle were “dissembled” into cut meat products.  It is based upon the just-released book Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table of How Beef Changed America, by Joshua Specht.  Specht notes: “the history of the beef industry reminds us that this method of producing food is a question of politics and political economy, rather than technology and demographics. Alternate possibilities remain hazy, but if we understand this story as one of political economy, we might be able to fulfil Armour & Company’s old credo – “We feed the world”– using a more equitable system.”  It looks like a good example of the invisible forces at work. 

(8 May 2019): [SR] ’Jump-Starting “America’ Review: Investing in the BrainThe Wall Street Journal

——–“Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson’s important ‘Jump-Starting America’ argues that public investment in knowledge and research can help put American economic growth back on track.  U.S. public spending on research and development, they point out, has fallen to 0.71% of Gross Domestic Product from more than 2% of GDP in  1964.  The authors estimate that increasing research funding by 0.5% of GDP—‘roughly $100 billion per year’—would add jobs and push the annual growth rate from 2% to 2.14%.”

********You can learn more about the book here.  The reviewer is Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University.

(10 May 2019):Revisiting the Ponzi Scheme in Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Ponzi’s Scheme’The New York Times

********This piece calls attention to the 10 April 2005 review of Mitchell Zuckoff’s Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend.  The book is about the man as much as the scheme but provides background on an expression that appears all-to-often in the news, financial and otherwise.  As the 2005 review points out, there is a particular subtlety “in the classic Ponzi scheme: not just anyone can pull one off; doing so requires cleverness, charm and charisma.”  Mitchell Zuckoff’s book makes it clear that Charles Ponzi had these characteristics in abundance.  Ponzi “persuaded 30,000 people, Bostonians and others, many of them Italian immigrants like Ponzi himself, to entrust him with their hard-earned, pre-inflationary dollars.”

(14 May 2019):Consumers are already seeing price hikes from the last round of Trump’s tariffsThe Los Angeles Times

——–“President Trump has repeatedly proclaimed that when it comes to tariffs on Chinese goods, China pays the price.  But it’s U.S. consumers who actually pay, if export and import firms and manufacturers choose to pass along the cost.  And trade groups and economic studies show that U.S. consumers already are seeing higher prices on a range of items—luggage and major appliances such as washing machines, for instance—that were subject to previous tit-for-tat tariffs in the U.S.’ escalating trade battle with China or retaliatory tariffs from other foreign countries.”  So far, the tariffs “appear to have had a modest impact on overall inflation. . . . However, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a report that when they grouped together nine of the CPI product categories affected by the tariffs so far . . . it showed those consumer prices increased ‘much more’ than other core goods prices in the CPI.”

********The article goes on to discuss prices in the following areas: housing, luggage, major appliances, and other industries, including toys.  “The Toy Assn. trade group said it was ‘very concerned’ about discussion Friday that the U.S. could levy tariffs on the remainder of the Chinese goods that enter the U.S. market.  Rebecca Mond, a vice president of federal government affairs for the Association, notes that the impact on toy prices “could happen as soon as this holiday season.”  That struck me as a useful comment, providing a reminder to the seasonal elements of demand for a product and why price increases might not show up meaningfully until a high-demand season. 

(14 May 2019):The Mighty Pea Is Everybody’s New Favorite Plant-Based ProteinBloomberg.com

——–With more consumers expressing concern about soy-based protein, peas have become “the food industry’s new favorite protein source.”  Peas are the “star ingredient” in the offerings of Beyond Meat, whose IPO made history “when its shares nearly tripled in value on their first day of trading.  The company’s vegan burgers and sausages are leading the fake meat revolution.”  Peas tend to thrive in northern climates and “Canada is expected to become the global production leader and account for 30% of output in 2020.”  For the present, “Companies are racing to secure supplies” but “Supply worries are likely to be short-term if demand continues to grow as projected.”  Peter Golbitz of agriculture consulting firm Agromeris notes: “I’m never too concerned about the supply of agricultural products . . . They [producers] can expand production lines, or more competition enters the space.”

********What seems to be driving the move into peas is simply stated by Peter Golbitz: “The only reason pea protein became popular is because people didn’t want soy protein.”  Peas have their problems, however.  Henry Rowlands, who directs The Detox Project, says “We can hardly find a clean pea protein source anywhere.”  Perhaps there is a market for farmers who grow clean, i.e., herbicide free, peas. 

********I found the article to be clear and interesting, marred only by describing glyphosate as a pesticide!  In fact, glyphosate, made familiar because of the product Roundup, is an herbicide. 

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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