380 (31 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. 

(28 May 2019):’Range’ Argues That Specialization Should Not Be the Goal For MostNPR

********This is a review of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” by David Epstein.  The benefits of specialization are often noted by economists.  When people specialize in what they are relatively good at, more “product” tends to result.  But situations where people should focus all of their time and energy on one activity are few and far between.  The reason for that has to do with the “law of diminishing marginal returns,” which says that “after some level of resource usage,” e.g., time devoted to a particular activity, the additional “product” forthcoming will diminish, at which point devoting that resource to a different activity will likely produce more “product” overall.  I am curious to see how David Epstein argues for the benefits of generalists in a specialized world and to think about how that might relate to education, regardless of level.

(25 July 2019):California reaches climate deal with automakers, spurning TrumpThe Los Angeles Times

——–“Four major automakers have reached a deal with California air regulators to gradually increase fuel efficiency standards, rejecting Trump administration efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations.  The agreement between the California Air Resources Board and the automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and MBW—covers about 30% of new cars and SUVs sold in the United States. . . . The fuel efficiency rules are key to reducing U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases the contribute to global warming.  Cars, trucks and other forms of transportation are the biggest source of U.S. emissions, accounting for about 30% of the total.  The deal is a voluntary one, under which the companies are committing to produce a fleet of cars nationwide that would meet California’s higher standards, regardless of what the federal government does.  The state would not have the legal authority to enforce that.”

********This article points to the multi-level nature of U.S. governments.  In the context of changing federal standards, states may still choose to embrace higher standards, much like the minimum wage, where individual states can and do embrace a wage greater than that at the federal level.  (Bloomberg has a nice map showing the the minimum wages in U.S. states.)

(26 July 2019):The case for a supply-side climate treatyScience

——–“During decades of international climate policy negotiations, aiming to limit demand for fossil fuels, the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased considerably, and even the flow of emissions to the atmosphere continues to grow.  To reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming well below 2°C, substantial parts of the world’s fossil fuels simply cannot be combusted and must be left in the ground.  Recent work thus suggests redirecting climate policies toward fossil fuel producers directly by capping the flows of extraction and restricting the stocks of resources available for exploration.”

********The above is taken from the Abstract to the article, with footnote numbers omitted.  As the article points out, “To restrict carbon emissions caused by fossil fuel combustion, one must regulate fossil fuel demand or supply, or both.  Supply-side policies regulate exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, whereas demand-side policies regulate the combustion of fossil fuels.”  Evidently, the Paris Agreement is a demand-side treaty, where “each country regulates combustion of fossil fuels by restricting emissions within its own borders.”  By focusing on supply-side policies, the article points toward their use in addressing issues that only demand-side policies cannot successfully address.

(28 July 2019):South African Body Calls for Comprehensive Policy on LandBloomberg.com

——–“South Africa’s government should consider developing a policy that provides for compensation as well as expropriation without payment for land to be redistributed to the nation’s landless black majority, an advisory panel said.  The policy could consider zero compensation, minimal payments as well as market-related payments for targeted land, the panel headed by public policy expert Vuyokazi Mahlati said in a report released Sunday in Pretoria, the capital.”  The report noted that a typology of situations should provide guidance for approaching compensation: “For instance, property owners who bought land since 1994 should not be treated the same as those who inherited property.  Big institutional owners who have large property portfolios should not be treated the same as families whose land is their primary livelihood asset.”

********This is a provocative subject, which undoubtedly requires a lot of context and interpretation but may be relevant to helping those in the U.S. attempting to think consecutively on reparation issues.  As far as I can determine, the report mentioned is “Final Report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.”  You may find it interesting to view a three-minute video broadcast about the Final Report

(28 July 2019): [SR]’We Are Swamped’: How a Global Trash Glut Hurt a $25 Billion IndustryThe Wall Street Journal

——–“Across India, from poor villages to expensive residential areas of cities, millions of trash pickers are at work to collect what other people dispose. . . . They’re the starting point of a multilayered, R$25 billion industry in India that advances through increasingly specialized middlemen and industrialists to eventually turn garbage into new objects. . . . All of that has been upended by a crash in a global garbage market dominated by two players: China, which buys most of the world’s garbage, and the U.S., which sells the most.  The reduced demand from China and continued supply from the U.S. flooded the world trash market and drove down the price of garbage everywhere.  Indian recycling companies took advantage of the deep discounts and started importing more trash from the U.S. and elsewhere. . . . The jump in supply pushed prices down for the low-end Indian workers who pick through mountains of locally produced trash for raw materials to sell.  That’s impacting an Indian trash economy powerful enough to have prompted its own migration pattern: thousands of families left their rural villages to collect garbage in cities.  Now, with their garbage hauls worth less, many are returning home.”

********This article has so much to say in its entirety, but the above summary gives a good sense of it all.  I don’t think further elaboration is needed.  A related article, oriented to China and trash sorting, appears in The Washington Post: “What’s that hairy crab doing in your recycling?  Shanghai residents struggle with new trash rules.”  Trash sorting is as much an issue in China as it is in India, although the proximate driver of sorting is different: in India, the market; in China, the government.

********To wrap up a trio of recycling articles, we have [SR]Cloud Computing Is Here.  Cloud Recycling Is NextThe Wall Street Journal.  “The world’s $300 billion scrap-metal market is looking beyond junked cars and copy machines to a new prize: the cloud.  Large data centers are mushrooming in number as global demand grows for storage of everything from   emails to videogames. . . . Cloud servers, though, typically have a lifespan of only about three years, according to experts, meaning that some of the earliest equipment already ha passed its use-by date.  The rapid pace of technological change is creating a new market for companies such as Sims Metal Management Ltd.—one of America’s biggest recyclers by volume—and California-based Electronic Recyclers International Inc., known as ERI.  Data-center equipment contains components such as processors and fans that can be stripped out and resold in the electronics market.  They also contain metals such as aluminum, copper and steel that many experts think will become more valuable as large economies such as China rely more on consumption and less on exports for growth.”  One source estimates that “around 2 million metric tons a year of obsolete equipment could be broken up and recycled annually from the middle of the next decade.”

(28 July 2019):A Recession Is Coming (Eventually), Here’s Where You’ll See It First.The New York Times.

********The article points to four indicators (and a bonus category) to watch.  The four are: (1) the unemployment rate; (2) the yield curve; (3) the Institute for Supply Management Index; and (4) Consumer sentiment.  Each indicator is elaborated by pointing to What to watch for, What its saying, and Discussion.  The bonus category briefly notes four additional flags, including residential building permits.

May you have a good week!

Bruce 

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