3/4/21 Power Five

1. Anti-Vaxxers Misuse Federal Data to Falsely Claim Vaccines Are Dangerous – “There’s been an uptick in VAERS submissions recently: There were 9645 reports in VAERS in December 2020 compared to 3454 in December 2019. January showed a more modest increase: There were 2162 reports from January 1 to January 22 this year, and 2058 over the same time span last year. In the past, an increase in VAERS reports has been associated with external factors. 75% of autism reports from 1990 to 2001 were submitted soon after the infamous—and repeatedly discredited and retracted—Wakefield study, one of the cornerstone events in creating the modern anti-vaccine movement. One study found that when a vaccine adverse event is being litigated, the number of reports for that adverse event increased in VAERS.”

2. Meet America’s 63rd National Park – “According to the National Park Service, geologists believe the New River — its name a misnomer used by early American explorers who often assigned the same name to any river they came upon for the first time — was a segment of the preglacial Teays River. This larger river, which traversed much of the current Ohio River watershed, was later diverted and broken up by glaciers. The age of the Teays is uncertain, but fossil evidence suggests it could be as much as 320 million years old, leaving its remnant, the New River, as quite possibly the second oldest river in the world.”

3. The Work You Do, The Person You Are – “And after pushing the piano my arms and legs hurt so badly. I wanted to refuse, or at least to complain, but I was afraid She would fire me, and I would lose the freedom the dollar gave me, as well as the standing I had at home—although both were slowly being eroded.”

4. Why SPAC’s Are Wall Street’s Latest Craze – “Around 250 SPACs were launched last year in America, raising $83bn. Things have only sped up since: in January an average of five were created each working day, amassing more than $26bn in capital. Because they tend to raise more cash once they find an acquisition target—around five times that in the initially listed pot— SPACs may be looking to buy firms worth as much as $500bn, about 1% of the value of all listed American companies. Look beyond the frenetic growth and you find a spectrum of SPACs, ranging from the earnest to the exuberant.

5. Fran Lebowitz and the Appeal of Formulaic Dressing – “In an article Lebowitz wrote for the Financial Times she refers to this not as a uniform, however, but as a “formula” which suggests greater nuance and purposefulness. It suggests that within her established framework, there is room to play. Someone like Steve Jobs, for example, had a uniform. He wore the exact same black turtleneck and dad jeans every single day. What separates Lebowitz is that she found a series of items that, at their core, worked together and over time, evolving with her tastes, allowed her to indulge in her love of clothes through slight variation.”

3/3/21 Power Five

1. The Four Basic Truths of Macroeconomics – “Consider the question of how large a federal budget deficit an advanced economy can run without courting a financial crisis. No one really knows. Nonetheless, there is agreement that high-return public investments will strengthen a country’s fiscal situation, even if financed by borrowing. Those returns will boost both output and tax revenue, at least in the medium term, and usually markets are capable of seeing those gains coming.”

2. The Challenge of Chess – “Any skilled endeavour entails concentration, but chess is unusual in requiring that we concentrate not for a few minutes at a time, but for several hours at a time, within tournaments, for days at a time, and within careers, for years at a time. Concentration is the sine qua non of the chess experience.

3. Basketball’s Nerd King – “But Daryl Morey believed—if he believed in anything—in taking a statistically based approach to decision making. And the most important decision he made was whom to allow onto his bas­ketball team. “Your mind needs to be in a constant state of defense against all this crap that is trying to mislead you,” he said. “We’re always trying to figure out what’s a trick and what’s real. Are we seeing a hologram? Is this an illusion?” These interviews belonged on the list of the crap trying to mislead you. “Here’s the biggest reason I want to be in every interview,” said Morey. “If we pick him, and he has some horrible problem and the owner asks, ‘What did he say in the interview when you asked him that question?’ and I go, ‘I never actually spoke to him before we gave him 1.5 million dollars,’ I get fired.”

4. How Ayn Rand Destroyed Sears – “It is no small irony then, that one of Walmart’s main competitors, the venerable, 120-plus-year-old Sears, Roebuck & Company, destroyed itself by embracing the exact opposite of Walmart ’s galloping socialization of production and distribution: by instituting an internal market...And so if the apparel division wanted to use the services of IT or human resources, they had to sign contracts with them, or alternately to use outside contractors if it would improve the financial performance of the unit—regardless of whether it would improve the performance of the company as a whole. Kimes tells the story of how Sears’s widely trusted appliance brand, Kenmore, was divided between the appliance division and the branding division. The former had to pay fees to the latter for any transaction. But selling non-Sears-branded appliances was more profitable to the appliances division, so they began to offer more prominent in-store placement to rivals of Kenmore products, undermining overall profitability. Its in-house tool brand, Craftsman—so ubiquitous an American trademark that it plays a pivotal role in a Neal Stephenson science fiction bestseller, Seveneves, 5,000 years in the future—refused to pay extra royalties to the in-house battery brand DieHard, so they went with an external provider, again indifferent to what this meant for the company’s bottom line as a whole.

5. On His 250th Birthday, Remembering Beethoven the Businessman – “Once Beethoven had poured his creative energy to the fullest into a composition, he regarded it as commercial property, deserving the best possible price on the most favourable terms. Of the hundreds of his letters that have survived, a major chunk deals with the mundane business of getting published: pitching a work, complaining about poor terms, bargaining, and correcting proofs. This is hardly surprising; he is perhaps the first composer whose income depended so much on being published, even more so after his crippling deafness gradually put an end to his career as a performer and to some extent as a teacher as well.”

Statista

3/2/21 Power Five

1. Atul Gawande on Vaccine Distribution – “The first thing is that we, as a health-care system, are not equipped to make sure we get to every corner of the population. Instead, you have the existing health-care systems only able to do portions of the population, and that leaves big holes. In Israel and in the U.K., they have a commitment to a national health system, where everybody has a doctor; therefore, everybody has a connection to the system and everybody can be accessed and reached and given directions on where to go get vaccinated. So those are two places that have done better than we have. The second thing that makes it challenging is the vaccines themselves. This is not like delivering a flu vaccine, where it can sit on the shelf in your doctor’s office until you show up for your appointment. In this particular case, first of all, they need special care, because it’s got to be at very cold temperatures. Also, it’s two shots, which means organizing for multiple visits.”

2. The 25 Greatest Art Heists of All-Time – “A theft can transform an artwork’s history forever—and it is hardly the only piece throughout history to have been permanently altered in this way. Although technology has gotten more sophisticated and the means by which heists are committed have changed, burglaries of the world’s greatest artworks continue to be executed often, effectively adding new and bizarre chapters to the annals of art history in the process.

3. Prodigy – From 1957, a New Yorker profile on Bobby Fischer. “There have been chess prodigies in this country who flashed to prominence when considerably younger than Fischer, but none has ever captured a major title at such an early age. Honors are beginning to pile up for Robert. The United States Chess Federation has elevated him to the rank of master (some of the wits among his teen-age friends now address him as Master Master Fischer); he has been invited to be one of the ten distinguished players, from all over the world, who will participate in the highly regarded invitation tournament at Hastings, in England, this Christmas; and shortly after that he is scheduled, if the Chess Federation’s present plans work out, to visit the Soviet Union and show off his prowess before the world’s most discriminating mass audience, the Russians having been notorious chess addicts for centuries.

4. Few Student Loan Borrowers Attended Elite Universities – “The vast majority of students who graduate from the elite schools the president mentioned in the CNN town hall graduate with zero student loan debt,” said Eileen Connor, director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending. Indeed, just 0.3% of federal student borrowers attended Ivy League colleges, according to estimations provided to CNBC by higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

5. The Only Carbon Capture Coal Plant in the U.S. Just Closed – “On paper, carbon capture and storage, or CCS, sounds like the solution to all our problems. If we could just suck the carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels and put it somewhere else, we could cut warming without shifting away from old methods of generating energy. In practice, though, the results have been less than promising and failed to scale at anywhere near the levels needed to avert catastrophic climate change.”

3/1/21 Power Five

1. 50 Years of Tax Cuts Failed to “Trickle Down” – “The incomes of the rich grew much faster in countries where tax rates were lowered. Instead of trickling down to the middle class, tax cuts for the rich may not accomplish much more than help the rich keep more of their riches and exacerbate income inequality.”

2. The Feud Within the Scottish National Party – “Ms Sturgeon will survive. She has no clear successor. An SNP hand reckons support for independence would drop by ten points if she went. But the party will be damaged. In May’s elections, she will seek a mandate for a second independence referendum, and ask Scots to believe her government is ready for divorce negotiations of remarkable complexity with the British government. It is a lot to ask.

3. What the Bond Market Tells Us About the Biden Economy – “The yield on 10-year Treasury bonds — the rate the United States government must pay to borrow money for a decade — was 1.37 percent Monday, low by historical standards but well above its recent low of 0.51 percent in August and 0.92 percent at the end of December. Those higher Treasury rates generally translate into higher mortgage rates and corporate borrowing costs, so the surge could take some of the air out of bubbly housing and financial markets.

4. Whole Foods CEO & Conscious Capitalism – “I think when you’re in more of a crisis mode, your purpose becomes even more important, and you have to lean into your purpose. Whole Foods’ higher purpose is to nourish people on the planet. I feel like that’s what we’ve done during covid. From the very beginning, Whole Foods said, “O.K., we’ve got to keep our customers and our team members as safe as possible here, because we’re an essential business. People have to get food, and they’re going to eat at restaurants less. We’ve got to make our stores as safe as possible.” By the way, Amazon pushed us in this regard, so that we moved faster because Amazon wanted us to.”

5. Can You Believe This is Happening in America? – “What’s going on? Well, in the case of Texas and Mars, the basic answers are simple. Texas is the poster child for what happens when you turn everything into politics — including science, Mother Nature and energy — and try to maximize short-term profits over long-term resilience in an era of extreme weather. The Mars landing is the poster child for letting science guide us and inspire audacious goals and the long-term investments to achieve them. The Mars mind-set used to be more our norm. The Texas mind-set has replaced it in way too many cases. Going forward, if we want more Mars landings and fewer Texas collapses — what’s happening to people there is truly heartbreaking — we need to take a cold, hard look at what produced each.”

Logan Maxwell Hagege

2/27/21 Power Five

1. Mars is a Hellhole – “Mars has a very thin atmosphere; it has no magnetic field to help protect its surface from radiation from the sun or galactic cosmic rays; it has no breathable air and the average surface temperature is a deadly 80 degrees below zero. Musk thinks that Mars is like Earth? For humans to live there in any capacity they would need to build tunnels and live underground, and what is not enticing about living in a tunnel lined with SAD lamps and trying to grow lettuce with UV lights? So long to deep breaths outside and walks without the security of a bulky spacesuit, knowing that if you’re out on an extravehicular activity and something happens, you’ve got an excruciatingly painful 60-second death waiting for you. Granted, walking around on Mars would be a life-changing, amazing, profound experience. But visiting as a proof of technology or to expand the frontier of human possibility is very different from living there. It is not in the realm of hospitable to humans. Mars will kill you.”

2. How Chess.com Built a Streaming Empire – “Altogether, Twitch users watched 18.3 million hours of chess in January 2021 — nearly as much as they consumed in the entirety of 2019. And for a brief period last week, chess surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant to become the top gaming category on Twitch by viewers.”

3. Who Spent Their Last Stimulus Check? – From Raj Chetty: “G.D.P. nearly tripled from 1980 to today, whereas the typical American worker experienced very little gain in earnings over the same period. These new granular data reveal the stories of all Americans — from the Bronx to Beverly Hills, from minimum-wage workers to millionaires.”

4. 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2021 – As always, you can’t mistake activity for achievement, but science, R&D, and innovation never sleeps. Despite the challenges of the last year, some amazing advancements are being discovered.

5. Texas Electric Bills Were $28 Billion Higher Deregulation – “None of this was supposed to happen under deregulation. Backers of competition in the electricity-supply business promised it would lower prices for consumers who could shop around for the best deals, just as they do for cellphone service. The system would be an improvement over monopoly utilities, which have little incentive to innovate and provide better service to customers, supporters of deregulation said.”

The Daily Shot – A helpful look at US income tax rates since the 1900s.

2/18/21 Power Five

1. Why Are Covid Cases Falling? – “A bit of back-of-the-envelope math shows why this period of declining hospitalizations should keep going. Let’s assume the CDC is correct that about 25 percent of adults have COVID-19 antibodies from a previous infection. Let’s add to that number the 10 percent of adults who have received vaccine shots since December, assuming an overlap of 3 percent. That would mean one-third of adults currently have some sort of protection, either from a previous infection or from a vaccine. At our current vaccination pace, we’re adding about 10 million people to this “protected” population every week. We’re accelerating toward a moment, sometime this spring, when half of American adults should have some kind of coronavirus protection. And we should be particularly optimistic about severe illness among older Americans, since the vaccines are disproportionately going to people over 50, who have accounted for 70 percent of all hospitalizations.

2. What Delta’s Big Bet on Blocking Middle Seats Means For Flying – “Delta had the biggest drop in passenger traffic, filling only about 41% of its seats during the third and fourth quarters, while other airlines filled more than half. American filled 61% of its seats.”

3. On California – “The median price for a home in California is more than $700,000. As Bloomberg reported in 2019, the state has four of the nation’s five most expensive housing markets and a quarter of the nation’s homeless residents. The root of the crisis is simple: It’s very, very hard to build homes in California. When he ran for governor in 2018, Gavin Newsom promised the construction of 3.5 million housing units by 2025. Newsom won, but California has built fewer than 100,000 homes each year since. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti persuaded Angelenos to pass a new sales tax to address the city’s homelessness crisis, but the program has fallen far behind schedule, in part because homeowners fought the placing of shelters in their communities.

4. At 93, She Waged a War Against JP Morgan – “Although some relatives urged Beverley not to make waves, she was resolute. What the money managers did was wrong, she told the group. They needed to pay, she said. Even though they were her own grandsons.

5. Winners of the 2020 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest – A whole new world.

The Eyes Have It – Thomas Gaitley

2/17/21 Power Five

1. No, Frozen Wind Turbines Aren’t the Main Culprit for Texas’ Power Outages – Despite what you’re hearing on Fox News this week, Texas’ grid primarily runs on fossil fuels (~70%). Coupled with an unregulated system, Texas was woefully unprepared for the severe weather. “While wind power skeptics claimed the week’s freeze means wind power can’t be relied upon, wind turbines — like natural gas plants — can be “winterized” or modified to operate during very low temperatures. Experts say that many of Texas’ power generators have not made those investments necessary to prevent disruptions to equipment since the state does not regularly experience extreme winter storms.It’s estimated that of the grid’s total winter capacity, about 80% of it, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or six gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.

2. Why China’s Didi Can Survive Where Uber Has Struggled – “Uber lost some $2bn over two years in China. Its retreat paved the way for Didi to grow into China’s undisputed ride-hailing champion, which today processes over four-fifths of all domestic orders. The Chinese titan is widely expected to go public in the next few months, eight years after its launch. It could fetch a valuation of $60bn.

3. Australia is Still Doing Lockdowns the Right Way – “That success provided crucial educational and political benefits (assisted by an agreement between the main political parties to work together to fight the virus). The vast majority of Australians learned that if they just hunkered down and endured some strict controls, then they would eventually get the delicious treat of returning to pre-pandemic life safely. So when a second, much worse surge of cases struck Melbourne during the Australian winter, and test-trace-isolate systems failed to keep up with the spread, public buy-in was strong enough that people obeyed a lengthy strict lockdown. It was painful and grim, but after about four months the virus was no longer circulating, and most of the restrictions were lifted once again. Bars, restaurants, movie theaters, sports and music venues, and schools could all open back up (though some with limited capacity, out of an abundance of caution).

4. Charlotte May Have Cracked the Code on Affordable Housing – “But Ethridge had an unusual solution: he wanted to buy the property, fix it up, and keep the rents affordable through a 20-year deed restriction that places legal rules on how the property can be used and priced. Knowing the demand for this tier of housing and the small but steady returns they could provide, Ethridge saw apartment complexes like Lake Mist as long-term plays. They’d provide a slow and reliable return, with the added benefit of helping to combat the city’s affordable housing shortage.

5. Il Maestro – “As recently as fifteen years ago, the term “content” was heard only when people were discussing the cinema on a serious level, and it was contrasted with and measured against “form.” Then, gradually, it was used more and more by the people who took over media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that they should. “Content” became a business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode. It was linked, of course, not to the theatrical experience but to home viewing, on the streaming platforms that have come to overtake the moviegoing experience, just as Amazon overtook physical stores. On the one hand, this has been good for filmmakers, myself included. On the other hand, it has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field, which sounds democratic but isn’t. If further viewing is “suggested” by algorithms based on what you’ve already seen, and the suggestions are based only on subject matter or genre, then what does that do to the art of cinema.”

2/16/21 Power Five

1. A New, Safe Home for the Louvre’s Unseen Treasurers – How do you move 250,000 artifacts to a high tech storage facility 120 miles away? It took the Louvre the last 16 months to find out.

2. Living in New York’s Unloved Neighborhood – “Our apartment overlooks the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which I estimate to be the source of at least two-thirds of the soot. The traffic is particularly heavy one night. My daughter looks out the window, noticing the long line of red brake lights that distinguishes the outgoing traffic from the long line of white headlights that characterizes the incoming. It’s a beautiful view, she says. A memory comes to me, of a friend telling me how her grandmother, when she visited from New Delhi, used to describe a night scene like this as “a necklace of rubies and a necklace of diamonds.”

3. David Hockney, The World is Beautiful – “The world is very, very beautiful if you look at it. But most people don’t look very much. They scan the ground in front of them so they can walk, but they don’t really look at things incredibly well, with intensity.”

4. How Do US Taxes Compare Internationally? – “Among OECD countries, only Chile, Ireland, and Mexico collected less tax revenue than the United States as a percentage of GDP. Taxes exceeded 40 percent of GDP in seven European countries, including France, where taxes were 46 percent of GDP. But those countries generally provide more extensive government services than the United States does.”

5. New Amazon CEO‘s Scary Meetings Make Sense – “In the so-called Chop meetings, Jassy and the team review such memos — in the room, together, in real time. After reading and taking notes for perhaps 25 minutes, the meeting attendees then pepper the presenters with questions about their plan. It’s not a brainstorming meeting in which people bandy about ideas; the goal is to pressure-test the assumptions and data in the memo. It sounds stressful. But it also sounds like a pretty good idea. How many meetings have you attended where a smooth-talking extrovert gets buy-in for a half-baked plan because he can make it sound good? How many sloppy PowerPoints have you seen that hide the weakness of a colleague’s logic in glossy photos and bullet points? How many meetings have you organized where half the group shows up not having done any of the prep work?

2/15/21 Power Five

1. How Gonzaga Zagged – “Among the milestones: first tournament win (1999), first Elite 8 (same), first first-round stumble (2002), first No. 1 ranking (’13), first No. 1 seed (’13, too), first title game reached (’17). “I’m always amazed at how we think they’ve reached the ceiling,” says Dan Monson, the Long Beach State coach who is Few’s predecessor, friend and former boss. “But there does not seem to be one, and that’s the most amazing thing about it. Look at Duke, North Carolina; over the last 20 years, they’ve all had an ebb and flow. [Gonzaga] just continues to climb.”

2. How Did US Consumers Use Their Stimulus Payments? – “Most respondents report that they primarily saved or paid down debts with their transfers, with only about 15 percent reporting that they mostly spent it. When providing a detailed breakdown of how they used their checks, individuals report having spent or planning to spend only around 40 percent of the total transfer on average.”

3. The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken – “Those commendable savings have been achieved in part by developing chickens that effectively are bred to suffer. Scientists have created what are sometimes called “exploding chickens” that put on weight at a monstrous clip, about six times as fast as chickens in 1925. The journal Poultry Science once calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as these chickens, a 2-month-old baby would weigh 660 pounds. The chickens grow enormous breasts, because that’s the meat consumers want, so the birds’ legs sometimes splay or collapse. Some topple onto their backs and then can’t get up. Others spend so much time on their bellies that they sometimes suffer angry, bloody rashes called ammonia burns; these are a poultry version of bed sores.”

4. Inside Facebook’s Supreme Court – “Facebook promised to change that with the Oversight Board: it would assemble a council of sage advisers—the group eventually included humanitarian activists, a former Prime Minister, and a Nobel laureate—who would hear appeals over what kind of speech should be allowed on the site. Its decisions would be binding, overruling even those of Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder. Zuckerberg said he had come to believe that a C.E.O. shouldn’t have complete control over the limits of our political discourse.”

5. Bill Gates Has Always Sought Out New Reading Recommendations – As always, any interview with Bill Gates is a must read.

2/10/21 Power Five

1. Inside the Worst Hit County, In the Worst Hit State, in the Worst Hit Country – “In Clute’s twenty-four years in public health, she had experienced nothing like this response. “Pretty much everything that we ever talked about when I went through training on how to manage pandemics and bioterrorism has played out in this,” she said. ‘With the exception that nobody ever talked about what to do if we weren’t able to convince the public that this was serious.’”

2. Stagflation Revisited – “But suppose something like this is true. In that case, the narrative that saw stagflation both as the cost of excessively ambitious macroeconomic policy and as a vindication of conservative economic ideas was mostly wrong. And that matters not just for history but for policy right now, which is still to some extent constrained by the fear of a 70s repeat. How do you ask someone to be the last worker to be unemployed for a mistake?”

3. America’s Mother’s are in Crisis – “You can also see the problem in numbers: Almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce — with Black mothers, Hispanic mothers and single mothers among the hardest hit. Almost one in four children experienced food insecurity in 2020, which is intimately related to the loss of maternal income. And more than three quarters of parents with children ages 8 to 12 say the uncertainty around the current school year is causing them stress.

4. This is How You Recover from Fascism – “I need to tell you that story — though you may find it a little baffling — because you need to understand that bringing the fascists to justice is the very first — and probably most necessary way — that societies reckon with fascism. Overcome it. Extinguish it. And bringing fascists to justice is about a special kind of justice — not just everyday charges of this and that, misdemeanours and felonies — because they’ve committed higher kinds of crimes.

5. Top 100 Economics Blogs – Somehow, we didn’t make the list. Maybe next year.

Bitcoin is 1/2 a Tulip (Ritholtz / Deutsche Bank)