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.
(7 October 2019) “Big Tobacco, war and politics” Nature
********This is a review of The Cigarette: A Political History, by Sarah Milov; Milov is an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia. This excerpt gives a sense of its subject matter and importance:
The history of the tobacco industry . . . might seem fully explored. Yet in her chronicle The Cigarette, historian Sarah Milov manages to bring fresh insight into how the industry’s power hooked government treasuries, the advertising business and scientists for hire, to trump public health for so long. . . . What Milov adds [to previous histories] is a nuanced account of the interplay between corporate machinations and government support for the industry from the 1930s until very recently. . . . Her focus is the United States, but the arguments apply to the global industry. And the parallels with, say, the spread of junk food long linked to obesity are all too clear—with companies using the same strategies and even the same lobby groups.
(9 October 2019) [SR] “Miners’ New Worry: Other People’s Pollution” The Wall Street Journal
——–“Global miners have spent years trying to shrink their carbon footprint. Now they face the threat of lost business if they don’t help customers do the same. An Australian regulator recently told Peabody Energy Corp. and Glencore PLC they couldn’t export coal from a new mine to countries that haven’t signed the Paris climate agreement. Two other Australian coal projects were scuttled this year, partly out of concern about greenhouse-gas emissions overseas. . . . BHP Group said its scope 3 emissions-pollution mostly created when customers transport and use the commodities it produces—are almost 40 times greater than those generated at its own operations.” Paul Mitchell, who leads Ernst & Young’s global mining and metals group, notes that “Saying you won’t buy from someone is relatively easy. Saying you won’t sell to someone is really hard.” But Mitchell indicates that it is “almost inevitable that miners’ scope 3 emissions will be regulated in some way in the future.”
********Scope 3 emission? This is one of three scopes that are addressed in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, about which there is much information here. The GHG Protocol provides a set of accounting tools for greenhouse gases—click here for a discussion of some of the tools. Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions are briefly described here, see paragraph 1. Here are the definitions:
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy. Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.
All this looks like challenging and important work. Clearly Australia is already wrestling with it.
(9 October 2019) [SR] “The Food Industry Looks to Turn Garbage Into Gold” The Wall Street Journal
——–“Food and beverage companies are combing through their garbage looking for potential profits. Mondelez International Inc., Starbucks Corp. an Anheuser-Busch InBev SA are among the industry giants developing foods and dinks from foodstuffs like cocoa husks and spent brewing grain that they and their suppliers have long discarded. They’re hoping to attract consumers who say they want companies to waste less and lessen their environmental impact.” There is much raw material that could be used. “U.S. farmers and manufacturers create around 11 million tons of food waste a year, according to ReFED, a nonprofit focused on reducing that amount.” According to ReFED, more than “40 companies and organizations have opened in the past five years to turn discarded foodstuffs into new products . . . And those new products aren’t limited to food. Fabrics, for instance, also can be created from food waste.”
********While we are on the subject of waste, consider “The Huge Waste in the U.S. Health System” The New York Times. According to a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, “roughly 20 percent to 25 percent of American health care spending is wasteful.” The lead author of the study, William Shrank, notes that “One contribution of our study is that we show that we have good evidence on how to eliminate some kinds of waste, but not all of it.” The study indicates that following the best evidence available, “would eliminate only one-quarter of the waste—reducing health spending by about 5 percent.” The study notes that the “largest source of waste . . . is administrative costs, totaling $266 billion a year. . . . Despite this high cost, the authors found no studies that evaluate approaches to reducing it.” Moving to a “single-payer system . . . would largely eliminate the vast administrative complexity by attending to the payment and reporting requirements of various private payers and public programs. But doing so would run up against powerful stakeholders whose incomes derive from the status quo.”
(10 October 2019) “The Radical Guidebook Embraced by Google Workers and Uber Drivers” The New York Times
——–“Just before 20,000 Google employees left their desks last fall to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment, a debate broke out among the hundreds of workers involved in formulating a list of demands. Some workers argued that they could win fairer pay policies and a full accounting of harassment claims by filing lawsuits or seeking to unionize. But the argument that gained the upper hand, especially as the debate escalated in the weeks after the walkout, held that those approaches would be futile, according to two people involved. Those who felt this way contended that only a less formal, worker-led organization could succeed, by waging mass resistance or implicitly threatening to do so. This view, based on century-old ideas, did not emerge in a vacuum. It can be traced in part to a book called ‘Labor Law for the Rank and Filer,’ which many Googlers had read and discussed.”
——–The authors of the book are Staughton Lynn, a longtime labor historian, and Daniel Gross, a lawyer and organizer. “They identify with a strain of unionism popularized in the early 1900s by the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor group known as the Wobblies that defined itself in opposition to mainstream trade unions.” In brief, Lynd and Gross “lay out a practical guide for staging a kind of workplace revolution that upends the balance of power between management and labor.” More broadly, “the book serves as a polemic contrasting mainstream ‘business unions’ with what the Wobblies refer to as solidarity union’—that is, worker-led groups that are not typically certified as exclusive bargaining agents under federal law and therefore don’t need to win majority support to exist.”
********The 2011 edition of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law can be found here. The distinction between business unions, which are more formal, more bureaucratic, and more “top down,” and solidarity unions, which are less formal, less bureaucratic, and more “bottom up,” seems important. “Mr. Gross sees a key advantage of the solidarity model in some of the recent successes by nonunionized workers. The need to win a majority of workers, typically in a secret ballot election, makes formally certified unions relatively easy to resist . . . But solidarity unions can challenge employers for years without an election.” In an era in which business unions, as so described, are declining in relevance, perhaps the era of the solidarity union is upon us. Reading the review of Labor Law, I was reminded of a well-regarded book by a well-regarded student—Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, by Gene Sharp. It would be interesting to run these two books up against one another to see what emerges.
(13 October 2019) “In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended” The Los Angeles Times
********This is the first of two investigative articles looking into the consequences of body-part procurers on potential criminal investigations. The argument is simple, since the “body is the primary evidence in a death investigation,” any modification of the body by body-part procurers before a coroner’s examination can derail the investigation. Yet it is not infrequent that procurers get to the body before the coroner’s examination takes place, thereby raising the likelihood that crucial evidence will be destroyed. As the article notes, “a singly body can supply raw materials for products that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” thereby providing a strong incentive to procurers to access as many bodies as possible as soon as possible. The article provides a graphic indicating how much various body parts are worth.
********The second article in the series, “How organ and tissue donation companies worked their way into the county morgue,” is well titled, clearing indicating its content. While following various leads, I happened upon an investigative series by Reuters entitled “The Body Trade.” It has nine parts, seven of which are clearly indicated on the “Body Trade” webpage and includes “Add to Cart” (Part 8) and “Made in America” (Part 9). You can find an appreciative appraisal of the series on “The Body Trade” at the Center for Health Journalism.
(14 October 2019) “Nobel Economics Prize Goes to Pioneers in Reducing Poverty” The New York Times
——–Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer have received the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “developing new ways to study-and help—the world’s poor.” In awarding the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted that “In just two decades, their new-experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field.” Although “Nobels are often awarded for theoretical achievements, but this year’s laureates distinguished themselves with real-world trials.”
********Duflo is the youngest person to the receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. In 2010 she received the John Bates Clark Medal given to the “American economics under the age of forty who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” You can read: the press release for the 2019 Nobel Prize here; the popular science background—7 pages—here; and the scientific background—43 pages—here. No doubt randomized field experiments will be increasingly used in a variety of real-world economic problems, not just development.
(16 October 2019) “Overrun by Tourists, American Cities Are Taking Aim at Hotels” Bloomberg Businessweek
********This article is included because of its multiple references to Asheville, North Carolina, which is one of many “small cities” addressing extensive tourism and its impact on local economic and social conditions. For the most part, the perceived problem is examined and some of the solutions being adopted are related. I was especially taken by the “cultural irritation index” mentioned by Kristopher King, the head of the Preservation Society of Charleston, South Carolina. The literature on this subject seems to stem from a 1975 paper by G.V. Doxey, “A causation theory of visitor-resident irritants: Methodology and research inferences,” Travel and Tourism Research Association Sixth Annual Conference Proceedings, San Diego, California, pp. 195–198. (My search failed to turn up a digital copy of the paper.) Doxey is recognized at the founder of the Irritation Index “Irridex” model that suggests that
over time the relationship of hosts towards guests moves from euphoria (industry, visitors and investors are welcome) to apathy (tourists are taken for granted; contact between residents and outsiders becomes more formal) to irritation (residents begin to show misgivings about tourism) and eventually to antagonism (outsiders are seen as problems, personal and societal).
The quotation immediately above appears in “Stage-based tourism models and resident attitudes towards tourism in an emerging destination in the developing world,” Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Of the four stages euphoria, apathy, irritation, and antagonism, Asheville seems to be somewhere between irritation and antagonism. The article develops a model of the “tourism area life cycle” that might be of use in small cities (and towns) addressing high levels of tourism.
May you have a good week!