397 (27 November 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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(20 November 2019)The Big Business of Unconscious BiasThe New York Times

——–Lately the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) industry, also known as the diversity and inclusion (DI) industry “is booming, creating new career paths and roles.  Institutions and businesses are trying to correct power imbalances, which means a growing need for experts who can help address and define issues like unconscious bias.”  Michelle Kim of experiential DEI workshop Awaken, of Oakland, California, notes: “Were seeing employees demanding action, not just lip service.”  Overall, postings for DEI-related jobs “were up more than 25 percent from August 2018 to August 2019.”  The industry is no longer “approaching these issues with perfunctory, so-called sensitivity training . . . Today, no one is going to ‘hug it out’ after a single lecture about embracing difference.”  The sessions of Awaken are “taught over the course of months, . . . [combining] large group activities, self-reflection and small group conversations, and focus on themes like exploring identities, overcoming microaggressions, thoughtful ally-ship and, most recently, inclusive language.”

********The article goes on to note, “Millennials’ expectation of inclusion is part of what is driving C.E.O.s and directors to bring in D.E.I. consultants.  That generation [1981-1996] will make up 75 percent of the work force by 2025, according to Brookings, the nonprofit public policy organization.”  You can find the source of that statement here.

            Universities such as Cornell, Georgetown, and Yale off “certificate programs and online courses” on DEI, and Textio software “can scan thousands of documents for language bias.”  Learn more about Textio here, as well as its product Textio Hire, which scores writing on a number of criteria, including bias.  Artificial Intelligence seems to underly their software.  There are some great opportunities for “with it” people who write well and are computer savvy.

            While we are on the subject of AI, this seems like a good place to mention a blog I recently ran across, The Enlightened Economist of Diane Coyle; Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and the author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History.  Her post of November 18, 2019 summarizes notes three books on AI and recommends a reading order. 

(21 November 2019)Inside the bloody cartel war for Mexico’s multibillion-dollar avocado industryThe Los Angeles Times

——–The Mexican criminal group called the Viagras are setting up a grow operation in Michoacan state.  Not marijuana, it turns out, but avocados.  Illegally clearing forests to do so, they are planting their own groves of “green gold.”  More than “a dozen criminal groups are battling for control of the avocado trade in and around the city of Uruapan, preying on wealthy orchard owners, the laborers who pick the fruit and the drivers who truck it north to the United States.”  As a result, “Homicides are at an all-time high in Mexico . . . Yet much of the killing today has little to do with drugs.  Organized crime has diversified. . . . Compared with drug trafficking, a complex venture that requires managing contacts across the hemisphere, these new criminal enterprises are more like local businesses.  The bar to entry is far lower.”  According to Falko Ernst of the International Crisis Group, “For many of those smaller groups, it’s far easier to just prey on local populations.”  Michoacan state, as it turns out, “is a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere in the country—and a potent illustration of how the government has unintentionally fueled more violence.”

********As the article goes on to note, the increased demand for avocados in the U.S., where per capita consumption went from 2.1 pounds in 2001 to 7.5 pounds in 2018, has helped make the avocado business increasingly attractive.  Interestingly, Michoacan is “the only state in the country allowed to the United States, which banned avocados from Mexico until 1997 over concerns about pests.”

(22 November 2019)If that was a retail apocalypse, then where are the refugees?The Washington Post

********This article is complex and hard to summarize, but it deals with the role of retail jobs as an entry to the labor force.  Evidently the hardest-hit sectors “are those we often associate with shopping malls, such as clothing, department, toy and electronic stores.  Remove such stores, in fact, and you’ll find retailers added tens of thousands of jobs since early 2017.  Building materials, groceries, auto parts and gas-station convenience stores led the way.”  And those people leaving their jobs “seems to be related to them quitting, rather than getting fired or laid off.  Quitting is generally considered healthy it shows workers are confident they can get better offers.”  Economist Nick Bunker of Indeed, a job site, notes: “People often think the sign of a weaker labor market is lots of layoffs . . . But an unappreciated symptom of a weak labor market is employers pulling back on hiring.”  Quits, it would appear, has made firing workers to reduce the workforce unnecessary.  So, if some retail businesses are not hiring workers ready to enter the workforce, where are they being hired?  It may be that “many will instead find their first job in food services, the one industry more precarious and lower-paying than retail.”  Perhaps a strong economy will allow more robust hiring in “non-mall retail sectors.”  As Bunker said, “Lot’s of people lose their jobs in good economies; they just get hired again quickly . . . We really get into trouble when employers aren’t looking to hire.”

(24 November 2019)Why Scientists Defend Dangerous IndustriesThe Chronicle of Higher Education

********This article is an interview with David Michaels, the former top official at OSHA for seven years and the author of the forthcoming (2020) book The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception.  (The link provided includes access to the Table of Contents.)  Evidently the book is a take on the ways that money has been a corrupting influence on university research and provides illustrations of that corruption, as well as suggestions how to diminish it.  Full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is his primary recommendation.  The title provides echoes to two well-received books: Merchants of Doubt (2011) and Dark Money (2017), both of which I have read.  In 2008 Michaels published Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.  In the interview, Michaels notes two reasons why a new book was needed: (1) under the current administration, regulatory agencies are now being headed by the “same product-defense scientists whom . .  [he wrote] about 10 years ago” and (2) the product-defense approach of ten years ago “has now become so common across all industries.”  I’ll read it when it comes out. 

(26 November 2019)Meet the Leftish Economist With a New Story About CapitalismThe New York Times

——–Mariana Mazzucato is an economist based at University College London.  She is trying to change “the way society thinks about economic value.  While many of her colleagues have been scolding capitalism lately, she has been reimagining its basic premises.  Where does growth come from?  What is the source of innovations?  How can the state and private sector work together to create the dynamic economies we want?  She asks questions about capitalism we long ago stopped asking.  Her answers might rise to the most difficult challenges of our time.”

********As the article notes, Mazzucato, whose Ph.D. is from the New School for Social Research, is the author of two books on modern political economic theory: The Entrepreneurial State and The Value of Everything.  She was awarded the 2019 Not the Nobel Prize for “reimagining the role of the state and value in economics.”  Mazzucato’s ideas have found expression in the ideas of Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Marco Rubio.

May you have a good week!  

Bruce

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