379 (24 July 2019)

Welcome!  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. 

(1 July 2019):I Buy, Therefore I Am: How Brands Become Part of Who We AreHidden Brain on NPR

********This is a 33-minute podcast with Shankar Vedantam, who interviews Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania.  Under discussion is “the psychology of brands.  How companies create a worldview around the products they sell, and then get us to make those products a part of who we are.”  Two parts of the podcast stood out for me:

  • The part about a Philadelphia Eagles fan who has attended every game—home and away—since 2006, thus going from being a consumer of the product to being an ambassador for it.  Listen to 11:19 to 14:00.
  • The part about “What to do when a brand breaks your heart?”  This focuses on the fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, thus giving rise to the notion of “moral decoupling,” which ends up with a discussion of Tiger Woods and his moral failures.  Moral decoupling seems to be easier to do in the case of Woods than that of Armstrong, because failings took place in a different domain than athletics.  Listen to 19:27 to 26:45.  To learn more about moral decoupling, see the pdf of “Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger: How Moral Decoupling Enables Consumers to Admire and Admonish.” 

(17 July 2019):What to Know About Private Prisons Amid the U.S. Border CrisisBloomberg.com

——–“Private prisons are the $4 billion industry at the intersection of debates in the U.S. over illegal immigration and governmental approaches to drug violations.  Prison corporations now are being targeted for reproval by lenders and candidates hoping to defeat President Donald Trump, whose administration reversed a plan to reduce reliance on them.  The scrutiny is due to the outsize role private prisons play in detaining arrested migrant and growing questions about their effectiveness, safety record and political influence.”

********This QuickTake provides a clear and concise discussion of the origin, uses, outcomes, and debates surrounding private prisons.  It also provides a list of references to related material.  I was particularly struck by this comment:  “What’s more, a recent study found that because judges perceive private prisons as cheaper, they’re more likely to sentence inmates to longer terms.”  The comment is based upon the lengthy paper “Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing?”  A brief discussion of it can be read and heard at “How Private Prisons Affect SentencingHidden Brain on NPR.

(19 July 2019): [SR] A Prescription for Pain at the American Drugstore ChainThe Wall Street Journal

——–“It may soon become easier for Americans to buy prescription drugs online.  That presents an opportunity for upstarts but a potential body blow for some retailers.”  Although mail-order drugs “have been around for a while,” Amazon’s purchase of “online pharmacy PillPack last summer” has indicated that it may now be time for pharmacies to be disrupted.  Once the news of the Amazon purchase was announced, pharmacies lost “significant market value as soon as the new hit.”  Pharmacies have been slow to change because “they are highly regulated.  Meanwhile, the essential nature of their product incentivizes patients to leave their driveways: A customer who might be willing to wait an extra day for a household items to arrive in the mail might not feel the same way about his or her medication.”

********Leaving driveways is important as it affects other purchases.  In a pharmacy like Walgreens, the pharmacist operates in “the back end” of the store, so those with prescriptions have to pass through “the front end” of the store, potentially affecting the sales of items located there.  (This is a bit like the familiar “milk in the back of the grocery store” theory.)  Thus an increase in competition from online pharmacies is likely to affect brick-and-mortar twice: by reducing drug sales and by reducing the sales of “front end” items.

********On a related note, I found the seven-minute video “How Drug Prices WorkThe Wall Street Journal to be illuminating.  It shows, via dynamic flow charts, just how complicated—the many players involved—in drug transactions.

(19 July 2019):We Went to the Moon, Why Can’t We Solve Climate Change?The New York Times

********We have just had Apollo Week and many, many articles and broadcasts were devoted to it.  This article is a bit different, as it explores the relationships between “the” Moon Shot, as stated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 with and a would-be statement on Climate Change.  The article immediately led me to think, in economic terms, about how the two are different.  First, climate change is not a problem that can be “solved” by one country—almost all, certainly most of the countries with larger GDPs, would need to be involved.  Second, JFK could effectively speak for the United States (moon shot), but who would speak for the world (climate change)?  Third, there is the issue of international equity.  Not a problem when you are talking about a moon shot, but a real challenge when dealing with 195 or so different countries.  Fourth, the determinateness of the goal.  Putting a man on the moon and returning him safely is quite tangible, but climate change is much less precise.  Fifth, and last, there is the issue of lags.  The moon shot really had no lag to speak of, but the lags associated with climate change action are likely to be decades or generations in length due to the climate system and the enormous stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Will individual countries, much less all countries, have the patience to wait out the change from policy actions?

********The article itself has a lot to offer.  I was especially taken by its discussion of The Decision to Go to the Moon, by John M. Logsdon, who is “the historian of the space program and founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.”  He lays out “four conditions that made Apollo possible and discusses each of them.  Are those conditions present for a project to end climate change?  Ultimately, as the Hal Harvey, the CEO of research company Energy Innovation notes, the main thing that is needed is “political will.”  With no will, perhaps, there may be no way.

(24 July 2019): “In the Circular Economy, Products Are Designed to Be RecycledBloomberg.com

********Initially published on 16 August 2018, this article was recently updated.  This QuickTake distinguishes between the linear economy, where items are produced and generally used once, and the circular economy, where items are produced, used, and reprocessed to be used again.  All three invisible forces play a role in affecting just how linear (or circular) and economy is.  It seems like there should be an index for this.  Unsurprisingly, there are multiple indices.  According to one index of EU countries, Politico, Germany has the most circular economy.  You can learn more about it here.  For a more general discussion of a circular economy monitoring framework, take a look at this from the European Parliament.

May you have a good week!

Bruce 

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