401 (25 December 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. 

(9 December 2019)Zipcode Destiny: The Persistent Power Of Place And EducationHidden Brain

********This 52-minute interview of Harvard economist Raj Chetty by Shankar Vedantam is not to be missed.  Chetty is incredibly clear and precise in his discussions of: (1) childhood education, (2) economic mobility and the role of place (including race and gender), and (3) policy and practice.  With regard to childhood education and economic mobility, he was able to reorient thinking about each of them by taking a longer view of policy interventions, when short-term results had been disappointing.  Here is the breakdown of the topics in the podcast:

Childhood education—Start to 15:45

Economic mobility and the role of place—15:45 to 35:15

Policy and practice—35:15 to 52:05

In the waning moments of the interview, Vedantam relates a searchable database—The Opportunity Atlas—developed by Chetty and others that allows anyone in the United States to “trace the roots of today’s affluence and poverty back to the neighborhoods where people grew up.”  Go to the link and click on Begin Exploring.

            There is a story on Chetty’s work, “The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream,” in the August issue of The Atlantic.  There Harvard economist notes about Chetty, “The question with Raj . . . is not if he will win a Nobel Prize, but when.”  The article touches upon many of the issues discussed in the interview.

            Short-term thinking can, of course, cause problems in many domains, not just in childhood education and economic mobility. It is often said that the time horizon of politicians extends no further than the next election and no doubt academics in many settings are also focused on the next annual faculty record.  Finally, it is sometimes said that the time horizon of those in business extends no further than the next stockholders’ meeting, perhaps to the next quarterly earnings call.  With all this in mind, there is an issue regarding excessive focus on the short-run to the relative exclusion of the long-run.  The opinion piece “Short-Term Thinking Is Poisoning American BusinessThe New York Times, takes a look at the problematic nature of an obsession on the short-run by those in business.

(19 December 2019) [SR]Recycling Rethink: What to Do With Trash Now That China Won’t Take ItThe Wall Street Journal

********This article discusses now-familiar ideas about the many consequences following from China’s decision to stop importing recycling materials from the U.S., much of which was highly contaminated with waste and the like.  Somewhat different is challenge this has posed for many households in which recycling is “something that’s ingrained in you.”  Even in the absence of the elimination of recycling programs, many households continue to dutifully separate recyclables from trash.

            One of the relative stars in recycling is cardboard, old corrugated cardboard (OCC) to be precise.  This material tends to be easy to remove from the recycling stream and relatively clean.  You can learn more about OCC, single-stream recycling, and other matters in 4:32 minute video “Where Your Old E-Commerce Boxes End Up.”

(21 December 2019)Rural American Turning to Grocers, High-Fee ATMs as Banks LeaveBloomberg.com

——–“Fifty years ago Allendale, South Carolina, was a bustling community catering to New Yorkers driving to Florida.  These days the tiny town makes the nightly news for drive-by shootings—and caught the attention of federal regulators after it lost half of its bank branches.  The lack of financial institutions is a major challenge facing smaller towns, where more than 1,500 bank branches closed between 2012 and 2017 . . . The loss of a simple credit union in Allendale speaks to deeper issues plaguing many rural communities, which are falling increasingly far behind cities even as America’s economy soars.”  Rural counties during that time period lost 14% of its bank branches, as compared to 9% for urban counties.

********This article draws heavily upon “Perspectives from Main Street: Bank Branch Access in Rural Communities,” a 32-page analysis published in November 2019  by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. 

(25 December 2019)Killer Slime, Dead Birds, an Expunged Map: The Dirty Secrets of European Farm SubsidiesThe New York Times

——–“In the spring of 2017, a European Union Working group of environmentalists, academics and lobbyists was having a technical discussion on green farming practices when a map appeared on an overhead screen.  In an instant, the room froze.  A farm lobbyist objected.  Officials murmured their disapproval.  The map juxtaposed pollution in northern Italy with the European Union subsidies paid to farmers in the region.  The overlap was undeniable and invited a fundamental question: Is the European Union financing the very environmental problems it is trying to solve?”  Although EU authorities boast about being green, “they sidestep an undeniable tension between facts and wishful policymaking.  This month . . . ambitious goals to fight climate change and save species from extinction [were set].  Yet one of the biggest impediments is the bloc’s $65-billion-a-year agricultural subsidy program that is intended to support farmers.”

********Interesting to me was learning that the Baltic Sea has “huge dead zones” not unlike the dead zone extending into the Gulf of Mexico from at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  The article is accompanied by information about conditions in a small number of EU countries, including Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and France.  Of particular interest was the graph showing the relationship between the population of the gray partridge, a so-called indicator species, and the initiation of farming subsidies in 1962, which suggests (but does not establish) that the decline of the partridge, as well as the turtle dove, is related to the farm subsidy.  A recent article in the Asheville Citizen-Times indicates that “Climate change puts two-thirds of bird species at risk of extinction.”  (For the website that lies behind some of the reporting, check out this link and enter your zip code.  You will have a chance to learn the bird species in your area that are: highly vulnerable, moderately vulnerable, slightly vulnerable, and stable.)  What are the causal links, i.e., what is the argument, that takes us from subsidies to declining bird populations?

May you have a good week!


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