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'Seinfeld' by the numbers

Wed, 2014-07-09 03:00

Babies born the year "Seinfeld" premiered are now old enough to rent cars (Better get the insurance if you plan on beating the hell out of the thing). The "Show About Nothing" premiered 25 years ago this week. Back then, "The Seinfeld Chronicles," as they were called, introduced a comedian, his friend George, and kooky neighbor Kessler (Elaine wouldn't be added until later.) Watching the slow paced pilot episode, it's hard to believe that from such modest beginnings came one of the most critically and commercially successful, game-changing shows in television history.

"Seinfeld" not only made multimillionaires of creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld many times over, it continues to be a major revenue generator for distributor Sony and production company Castle Rock, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. New York magazine recently took a look at the economics behind the show. Here's a breakdown of "Seinfeld" by the numbers:

$40,000

The amount of money Jerry Seinfeld was paid per episode during the 1991-92 season.

$1 million

How much Seinfeld made per episode by 1997-98, the show's ninth and final season.

76.3 million

The number of people who tuned in to watch the "Seinfeld" series finale. 

$110 million

The price of Jerry Seinfeld's artistic integrity. After nine seasons, Seinfeld decided to call it quits, rejecting NBC's offer of $5 million an episode - $110 million for the season - to continue the show for a tenth year. 

$3.1 billion

The amount of money "Seinfeld" has made since becoming syndicated in 1995. Those reruns on TBS and late at night after the news on your local CW affiliate add up.

$400 million

What Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld will each make off the most recent syndication cycle.

Bringing a smarter approach to American healthcare

Wed, 2014-07-09 02:00

In the debate over improving American healthcare, one issue that has come into focus is how hospital record-keeping is largely stuck in the past. It's something Dr. David Bates, Senior Vice President for Quality and Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has thought a lot about. He recently published a study on the most effective ways hospitals should be using big data to reduce healthcare costs.

According to Bates, one of the major elements of a big data approach is having an algorithm.

“A triage algorithm is a tool that helps you predict how sick a someone is going to be,” he said.

One of the bigger issues that’s prevented the implementation of these strategies is hospital record-keeping procedures.

Two years ago, only 20 percent of hospitals in the US were using electronic records. Now, the number is 80 percent. However, electronic records don’t equal big data approaches; the data itself still needs to be analyzed.  

Aging prisoners bring healthcare cost headache

Wed, 2014-07-09 02:00



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Healthcare for prisoners has long taken a bite out of state budgets, but a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says prisons have cut back on those costs. They’ve outsourced some health services, used tele-medicine, and simply incarcerated fewer people. But the aging of the inmate population threatens to drive those costs right back up.

According to Pew's Maria Schiff, during the same period -- 1999 to 2012 --  the number of prison inmates 55 and older jumped 204 percent, while the number of inmates younger than 55 increased only nine percent.

Schiff says stiff sentences delivered in the 1980’s and an uptick in older felons drive this trend of what’s often called the graying of America’s prisons. Prisons are forced to make accommodations.

“Ramps going into a dining room, elimination of bunk beds, officer training to address things like hearing and vision loss, dementia,” she says.

And taxpayers are picking up the tab.

In 2009, Michigan spent $11 thousand on prisoners in their mid-to late 50’s, four times what the state spent on inmates in their 20’s. University of California San Francisco Professor Brie Williams says efforts to parole older, sicker prisoners are unpopular.

“Many times people say you’ve done the crime, serve the time,” she says.

But given the cost of that time, Williams says many states are now reconsidering and trying to make it easier for these inmates to be released.

 













































































































































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Healthcare for prisoners has long taken a bite out of state budgets.  A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says prisons have cut back on those costs.  They’ve outsourced some health services, used tele-medicine and simply incarcerated fewer people. But the aging of the inmate population threatens to drive those costs right back up.

DG: Here’s a stat to chew on; since 1999 the number of prison inmates 55 and older has jumped 204%.

Schiff: While during that same period, the number of inmates younger than 55 increased only nine percent.

DG: Pew’s Maria Schiff says stiff sentences delivered in the 80’s and an uptick in older felons drive this trend.

She says prisons are forced to make accommodations.

Schiff: ramps going into a dining room, elimination of bunk beds, officer training to address things like hearing and vision loss.

DG: And taxpayers are picking up the tab.

In 2009 Michigan…spent $11 thousand dollar for prisoners in their mid-to late 50’s…four times what the state spent on inmates in their 20s.

University of California San Francisco Professor Brie Williams says efforts to parole older, sicker prisoners are unpopular.

Williams: Many times people say you’ve done the crime, serve the time.

DG: But given the cost of that time, Williams says many states are now reconsidering…trying to make it easier for these inmates to be released.

I’m DG for Marketplace.

 

U.S. companies shell out more for business travel

Wed, 2014-07-09 02:00

When the Great Recession hit, business travel was one of the first things to go as companies looked for ways to cut back. But a new report from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) shows employees are taking to the rails, roads, and skies again, as confidence in the economy continues to grow.

The group says American companies are booking more business trips than they were this time last year by 2.8 percent, and their employees are spending 7.6 percent more money on the road. The GBTA expects both numbers to keep going up as the economy rallies.

That pleases Harvard Business School Professor Tsedal Neeley, who studies global collaboration and co-authored a 2009 report on the potential negative consequences for business relationships when companies skimp on travel.

"I think we’re going to have healthier, more functional teams, more effective work," Neeley explains. "You can have similar effects without the face-to-face contact but it takes much longer."

So where does that leave video calls and other high tech tools for connecting remotely?  

"I think a lot of companies got their toes wet with teleconferencing thinking it would eliminate travel, and really what it’s turned out to be is an extra tool for businesses to compete," says Kevin Mitchell, Executive Director of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group.

The report’s most encouraging finding, Mitchell believes, is that companies are spending 7.1 percent more on conventions and other group travel  – an investment that pays off longer term.

 

Note to bees: do not stop and smell the roses

Wed, 2014-07-09 02:00

Note to bees: do not stop and smell the roses.

A new study released by the environmental consulting firm Pesticide Research Institute and nonprofit group Friends of the Earth says about half of the garden plants sold at big box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Walmart contain neonicotinoids (neonics for short), a pesticide highly toxic to pollinating insects – like bees. 

Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment NY, a statewide citizen based environmental advocacy organization, says home gardeners are buying plants, completely unaware that they're laced with poisons.

"Gardeners are putting these in their homes," she says, "and there’s no warning they could actually have a negative effect on bees."

There are no federal requirements necessitating that plants treated with neonics be labeled. Leibowitz says the lack of labels on plants is a big problem. Just imagine, she says, that you’re a bee and all that yummy nectar you’re drinking, and the pollen you’re carrying back to the hive is laced with poison and you don't know it. 

For bees, this is akin to a plot twist from a horror film. “The flowers," says Leibowitz, "are killing the bees...They just had a little snack, had a little drink and they’re going back to their hive and they’re poisoning the queen.”

Leibowitz says it’s not just farmers, but home gardeners who also now need to pay attention to pesticides.

Tim Brown, an Associate Scientistis with the Pesticide Research Institute and one of the authors of the new study, gets "super science geeky" when he explains how a neonic pesticide works. 

“It targets the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors,” he says.

For all the non scientists out there, those are within the teeny, tiny bee brain. But Brown notes, we humans have a lot riding on the wellbeing of the tiny brains of bees.

"A lot of the foods we enjoy eating," he says, "almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries -- there are a number of crops that are pollinated by bees and if we’re not protecting their health then we’re going to see impacts. Either we’re not going to get the supply that we want or it’s going to be a lot more expensive to get these foods."

Joe Bischoff, Regulatory & Legislative Affairs Director for AmericanHort, a horticultural industry association, says the pesticide question is a thorny one for growers. If we stop using neonics we’ll also have a problem he says. Think of the white fly, or the asian long-horned beetle. Not all bugs, notes Bischoff, are helpful to plants.

If you throw only one chemical class at many of these insects, they overcome it," he says. "In the long run this is a dangerous situation."

Bischoff says growers are worried about controlling problem insects, but he says we should remember that growers are businesses -- they wouldn’t buy pesticides if they didn’t have to.

And the study, he says, could be flawed. The research was based on the presence of pesticide in plant tissue - like flowers. "Bees don’t consume flowers," says Bischoff, "they consume pollen and nectar."

The pesticide also has a half life, meaning it decays and loses its potency over a certain period of time. Instead of banning neonics outright Bischoff says growers should use it more wisely.

But some big box stores are taking anti-neonic action. BJ’s Wholesale Club says it's working to sell plants that are neonic free and Home Depot will require all its suppliers to label plants that they have treated by the fourth quarter of 2014.

Brown says there aren't a lot of studies that look at how long the toxicity of a neonic lingers. One complication is that different varieties of plants metabolize poisons according to different time frames. A lot, he says, depends on the method of application. When a pesticide is sprayed on the surface of a plant the residue won’t necessarily be broken down by enzymes, but the sunlight can cause its strength to fade. But still, a poison may linger for months or years presenting a harmful dining option for bees.

"We know for a fact," says Tim Brown, that if the pesticides are in the tissue of the plant, "it’s in the pollen and nectar too."

Why American Apparel is no longer sexy

Wed, 2014-07-09 02:00

We’re gonna pause in our regularly scheduled host-blogging for something a little different today: video, not text. Pictures, not words.

The subject at hand is the weirdest CEO interview I’ve done in 13 years at Marketplace – the founder and now ex-CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney.

He’s trying to claw his way back into the company. The company, meanwhile, looks like it’s trying to move on.

And with that… here you go:

Video produced by Preditorial 

Just how bad was it to graduate into the recession?

Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

College graduation is supposed to be the start of something big. For millions of students who graduated in the middle of the Great Recession, it was a big disappointment.

The Department of Education has been tracking members of the class of 2008, who graduated right at the start of the financial crisis.

And today the  government delivered some new data on those 1.4 million grads.

The big takeaway is that, by 2012, more than 80 percent of them had  had jobs. 

“It’s taken a few years, but their employment numbers have gotten better,” says Ted Socha, a mathematical statistician with the National Center for Education Statistics, who ran the study.

Megan Nicklaus, who runs the career center at Colorado College, remembers those years well.

“Students were having to reevaluate and say, ‘Okay, what kind of intermediate step might I be able to take that will still set me up for when the market bounces.’”

On average, graduates of the class of 2008 have had a couple jobs. Sixteen percent of them have had three.  But unemployment is creeping up, and many recession grads report not being able to find enough hours at work.

Scott Hoberg was a senior at Fordham University, thinking about law school, when the recession set in. 

“It was sort of playing out in the background,” he remembers.

Today, Hoberg is an attorney in Cincinnati. His friends from Fordham? “Many of them haven’t found exactly their dream jobs, and certainly not jobs they’re using their degrees for.”

There are, we learned today, certain degrees were almost recession-proof: nursing and science, to name two.

Alex Wernli graduated from Iowa State University in 2008.

 "When I started school, I gave absolutely no thought to getting a job,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and it’s kind of what I wanted to do.”

 Students who studied science, technology, engineering and math spent a lot less time looking for work.

 Werli had a job lined up before he graduated. They also made a lot more money out of the gate: $65,000 on average.

 “This was the lucky class,” says Tony Carnevale, who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “They came in under the wire.”

Phoebe Berke graduated one year later, with an English degree from San Francisco State University.

“It almost did feel like we got a pretty raw deal, graduating in 2009, like right after everything had kind of fallen apart,” she says.

 Berke says she did odd jobs, and she tutored.

 “Finally, in 2012, I got my first ‘real job,’ my first nine-to-five job, and I was really excited about that because it felt like I had finally gotten over the hump.”

Berkeley, California wants to sell marijuana too

Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

Legal recreational marijuana went on sale Tuesday up in the state of Washington.

Not to be outdone, there's a proposal in front of the city council in Berkeley, California — a state where marijuana is so far legal only for medicinal use — that would oblige pot dispensaries in the city to provide free pot to the poor and homeless in an amount equivalent to 2 percent of their annual sales.

And the ordinance says it's gotta be good stuff, too.

How to make $7k a month at your high school internship

Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

Interns at top firms in Silicon Valley and related tech firms can, reportedly, make between $5,000 and $7,000 per month. Some of them are still in high school.

It might appear insane for a high school intern to make more pay, annualized, than his or her teacher before even leaving said high school.    

But it’s not. It’s a reflection of the tech sector’s realities. 

Partly, it derives from competition for  talent in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM). “The demand for STEM skills is increasing virtually exponentially while we aren’t turning out graduates at the same rate,” says Ross DeVol, chief research officer at the Milken Institute. 

Silicon Valley and tech firms are increasingly competing with Wall Street for such graduates.

But there’s more to the insatiable drive for talent: The tech sector is a roiling mass of instability. The floor of Silicon Valley is littered with tech companies that didn’t reinvent themselves in time.

“It’s the changing of the landscape that has a lot of firms unsettled about where things are going,” says Kyle Mayer, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Apple went from a computer company to making smart phones and tablets. “Amazon started out as a marketplace for selling books. Now not only are they a marketplace for selling everything, they do a lot of back-end storage, with servers that store a lot of other companies' data.” 

Tech and new media firms that have to constantly reinvent themselves or die need a rare kind of creative, conceptual talent: not simply people who can solve a question proficiently, but who can redefine the question itself.

“It’s not just about the smartest person in the room,” says Mayer. 

Of course, in many cases, a prospective intern or candidate may well be the smartest in the room - inventing viral apps in their spare time or hacking a network for fun. But it’s not enough. 

Individuals don’t solve complex problems in the tech sector. Teams do. Having a “good fit” – someone who can work well in a team such that it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

“It’s important to remember: What’s the cost of getting the wrong person in there?” says Russell Coff, professor of strategy at the University of Wisconsin Madison. “In many cases it’s a creative endeavor, putting together product development teams, and there’s only so much you can handle in terms of a personality that doesn’t fit.” An internship is a good way to suss that out. 

Given that many firms have become famous for what Mayer calls “acqhiring” - buying out smaller companies not for the product but for the highly successful team inside - $7,000 for an intern is a small price to pay.

 Bloomberg analyzed Glassdoor salary data to chart out the highest-paid interns. Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley's heavy-hitters dominated the list:

(Courtesy:Bloomberg)

 We compared their salaries to a few other Bay Area companies on Glassdoor to figure out just how much more these interns are pulling in. These numbers are approximate, averaged from user submissions, but they paint an interesting picture of an intern's value in the tech sector.

$4,280/mo

First, just to put things into perspective, median American household income was $51,371 in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. That's a little over $4,000 per month.

$5,859/mo

 Zynga, the mobile and social games giant behind FarmVille and others, didn't appear on Bloomberg's list. But according to Glassdoor, the company pays its interns nearly as much as Google, Facebook and Microsoft per month on average, edging out the likes of Apple and Amazon.

$4,230/mo

 Compare Zynga to Electonic Arts (EA), makers of blockbuster console gaming franchises like "Madden NFL" and "Battlefield." EA interns earn less than Zynga's but their salary is nothing to sneeze at, especially when most American households make.

$4,371/mo

 Pixar, the Disney-owned animation studio with Silicon Valley roots, pays its interns, on average, a measly monthly rate compared to the tech giants accross the bay.

$2,952/mo

 Electric car manufacturer Tesla also shares some DNA - and a co-founder - with the tech world. But Tesla interns don't make nearly as much as their counterparts in the tech sector.

$6,309/mo $1,268/mo

 One of these average salaries is earned, on average, by Yelp's software development interns. The other is the marketing interns' monthly rate. Guess which is which.  

$2,600/mo

 Newspaper interns might not fare much better than marketing interns in the Bay. The San Francisco Chronicle's summer internship is advertised at $650 per week.

????

 For what it's worth, none of the Bay Area-based Glassdoor interns have submitted their salaries to the site.

As the cupcake crumbles: Lessons from Crumbs' demise

Tue, 2014-07-08 13:09

If only Crumbs had paid attention when fondue was a thing.

"Remember when we [were] all supposed to go eating fondue? "says Rita McGrath, a professor of strategy and innovation at the Columbia Business School. "I mean, in New York there must have been 20 fondue restaurants."

The reason we don’t see gaggles of fondue restaurants anymore? Because trying to build a lasting business on a temporarily popular item can be dangerous.

"People get bored, people get fat, people just want to move on to something else... and the question you have to ask is, 'Well, when the fad has run its course, what do you have to offer beyond that?'"

Adam Fleck, director of consumer equity research at Morningstar, says competition from other bakeries and other desserts meant trouble for Crumbs. Beyond fads and cake frosting, he notes, a company dependent on just one product is especially vulnerable.

"Consumer preferences can change on a dime," he says - which was especially troubling for Crumbs at a moment when kale chips and quinoa are what's for dinner.

“You know these cupcakes were very high calorie,” Fleck notes.

There are successful businesses that sell just one product. But most are in markets where it’s easy to predict demand - like steel. So, says J.P. Eggers, an assistant professor of management and organization at NYU’s Stern School of Business, “They are, in general, able to deeply understand what their customers are after, deliver what they want, how they want it, at the price that they want it.”

But there are plenty of stores that sell mostly cupcakes. Eggers says it’s unlikely they’ll all go away. He says when the cupcake bubble burst, Crumbs found itself with some odd store locations. Adam Fleck says the company expanded too quickly and got burned.

Which companies stand to learn from Crumbs' crumbling? We started brainstorming. 

So #Crumbs, the cupcake bakery is closing. Other examples of one product trends? #Cronut, #FroYo For @Marketplace

— Sally Herships (@sherships) July 8, 2014

Add to our list!:

The Cronut
Krispy Kreme
Rice Pudding (a thing in NYC for a little while)
Fro Yo
TiVo
Crocs
Sriracha
Gorilla glue

Older workers struggle for cred in new economy

Tue, 2014-07-08 12:57

The unemployment rate for Americans age 55 and older is 4.4 percent -- lower by more than 1.5 percent than the population as a whole. By contrast, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is 21 percent.

But older workers are also at greater risk of suffering long-term unemployment than any other age group. More than half of older workers have been unemployed for six months or longer, and many of them have been actively looking for more than one year. When older workers leave the job market for a period of time -- for instance, after a layoff, or to care for a spouse or elderly parent -- they are more likely to experience a significant decline in pay and job quality (working part-time or on contract) than other age cohorts.

And older workers often feel their age status acutely in the workforce. L.D. Kirshenbaum is 52 and lives in San Francisco. Several years ago, after a divorce and with a teenager at home to support, she found a job working half-time at a local Apple retail store.

Kirshenbaum graduated from Reed College, she’d worked as a journalist and launched a mobile news app. But she says she had to earn her cred with co-workers at the Apple store. “You’re sort of judged on your cool factor,” she says. “How clever are you with social media, do you take pictures of your lattes?”

Since then, Kirshenbaum has gone on to be an independent consultant on mobile marketing -- working with developers half her age.

“There are definitely younger co-workers that assume everyone’s uncool unless proven otherwise,” she says. “I have had colleagues who are my age, and they’re very self-conscious about showing themselves to be as young as possible. They’ll wear jeans every day, and they’ll never be caught dead wearing a wristwatch.”

The challenge is amplified when job-searching, says Ofer Sharone at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He’s interviewed older workers extensively for his book, “Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences.”

HR managers can easily tell how old someone is, and how old they look, from LinkedIn, says Sharone. And he says they wonder: “Will the worker stick around? Maybe they want to retire, maybe they’re not as energetic, maybe they won’t work as many hours, maybe they’re not as technologically savvy.”

Sharone says most of the stereotypes are contradicted by research data on cognitive ability and job performance as we age. For instance, he says, older workers are likely to stay in a job longer than young workers. Also, they can be trained or retrained to be competent on new machines and technologies. And they bring experience and contacts that can benefit the organization, and also younger workers, through mentoring.

Sharone says what older workers need -- especially those who are job-hunting without success -- are groups to attend for career counseling and peer-group support, “to realize that other very competent, talented people are also not getting a job,” says Sharone. “And this lessens the fear that something is wrong with them, the degree of self-blame.”

Lauren Botney has attended a class for 55+ job-seekers at a local community college in Portland, Ore. She is 58, a lawyer by training, and she successfully ran a family-owned construction business. Now, she is trying to get back to full-time work after raising two kids (they are now teenagers) on her own.

“Back in the old days -- and I’ve been told to be careful using that phrase -- but, for my generation, once you started to have the gray hair, you were considered to be the sage expert in your field,” says Botney. “I think that now, there’s a feeling among many in the workplace that people of my vintage don’t understand anything about computers and therefore we’re too slow or we’re doddering.”

Botney’s trying to neutralize that stereotype by getting a digital marketing certificate from Portland State University.

“The one advantage that my age and experience brings,” says Botney, “is that I can usually do it faster than a newbie. And I should be able to. I’m better at knowing what the right questions are. That’s something that comes with time, experience and maybe a touch of intuition.”

The happy accident that changed squirt guns forever

Tue, 2014-07-08 12:10

In 1982 Lonnie Johnson made a discovery that would change his life and the future of toys.

“I was working on a new type of heat pump for refrigerators and air conditioners and I wanted to use water as a working fluid instead of Freon because I wanted working fluid that was environmentally friendly,” Johnson says. “So I was machining some nozzles and experimenting at home and shot some streams of water into the sink and then I turned and shot across the bathroom where I was doing these experiments and I thought to myself geez, this would make a neat water gun. So I decided to put the hard science stuff behind and start working on some really fun stuff.”

When Johnson says “hard science stuff” he means it. He’s a nuclear engineer by training who was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Galileo Mission at the time of his discovery. He always dreamed of being an independent inventor, but knew he had to keep his day job to pay the bills. He loved his job, but he hoped his idea for a powerful squirt gun would be his ticket to freedom.

“I decided I could develop a toy and get some revenue from that and then use that revenue to really become an inventor and work on some of the more challenging projects I had in mind,” Johnson says.

Johnson built a prototype out of Plexiglas, PVC piping and a two-liter soda bottle and inquired about producing the gun on his own. “I got some quotes on what exactly it was going to take to set up a manufacturing line and I was told it was going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to get the first thousand guns off of the product line,” Johnson remembers. “I was a captain in the Air Force and didn’t have $200,000, so I said, ‘okay, there are some things I need to learn.’”

The Super Soaker prototype.

Johnson instead tried to peddle his high-powered squirt guns to toy companies. He wowed bigwigs over and over by accurately shooting paper cups off of conference tables from across meeting rooms, but no one wanted to take the risk on this guy with no business experience. It took seven years of near misses and failed deals before an up-and-coming company called Larami Corporation bought the license to manufacture what it called the “Power Drencher.”

The gun was released in 1990, but it didn’t make much of an impact at first. That’s when the ad wizards got involved. They changed the name to “Super Soaker” and shot a now iconic TV commercial.

The commercial helped rocket sales up, and in 1991 alone more than 2 million of the guns were sold. The brand, now owned by Hasbro, has now brought in more than $1 billion in total sales.

Johnson has been working on a myriad of other inventions since the “Super Soaker” made him famous. He’s gotten back to his original idea of an environmentally friendly refrigeration system, he’s developed a battery he believes can make electric cars more practical and is researching a new way to generate energy from the sun. But he certainly doesn’t mind that despite the more than 100 patents he holds, his name will forever be tied to a toy. In fact, he says without the “Super Soaker” he never would have learned the most valuable lesson of his career.

“The only way I was going to learn what I needed to learn to be successful was to take the risk,” Johnson says. “Put it out there and if things go wrong, as long as I learn from the experience I get to go again.”

Economy is booming... for now

Tue, 2014-07-08 10:11

There's something stirring in the global market.

Around the world, assets are trading at prices that are unusually high by historical standards. When prices are high, return rates for investments are low.

That's left investors with two choices: Settle with lower returns or seek out obscure, and even risky, investments that might yield more, says Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent at The New York Times' Upshot.

In his recent article, Irwin writes investors are treading both paths worldwide. In Spain, investors bought government bonds at the lowest interest rates since 1789. In France, a cable-television company was given $11 billion in the largest junk bond deal on record.

"It's an everything boom for now," Irwin tells Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal.

The "boom" is the flurry of investments despite economic crises and those low return rates. And, it's happening for two reasons, Irwin says. Businesses put more money in savings than in investments while world banks are printing money like nobody's business.

But, "it wouldn't take much to get into bubble territory," he says. "So, we want to keep an eye on things and make sure things don't really get out of control like they did in the past."

Why should you care?

"This affects all assets on Earth -- increasingly real estate, farm land, office buildings. The question is: Does it matter if you're not one of these Wall Street deal makers? The answer is absolutely."

Think savings, putting space on the market for rent or "if you're a person saving for retirement it means that you can't count on getting outsized returns, the huge returns you might have gotten in generations passed," Irwin says.

Why a guy with 15 mobile phones still has a landline

Tue, 2014-07-08 06:30

A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 41% of American homes are mobile phone only. That number is on the rise, but not climbing nearly as fast as it once was. Landline cord cutting seems to be at a plateau.

“For most of the past decade, the rate has been increasing by 4 or 5 percentage points,” explains Stephen Blumberg, lead author of the report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “In the past year, that rate of increase has slowed. The increase was only 2.8 percentage points.”

Nobody is predicting a landline renaissance. Weston Henderek, who tracks wireless use for market research firm Current Analysis, thinks cord-cutting will march on, but probably not as fast as it had been going.

“We’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit, if you will,” Henderek says. “A large percentage of the people that wanted to cut the cord already have.”

It’s not just nostalgia that keeps some people hanging on. Many homes need a landline because of poor cell phone reception in their area. Others have home phones bundled with their cable and Internet packages.

Even some mobile phone analysts still have landlines. Alongside some 15 mobile phones in his home, Henderek has a trusty old landline. His home security system requires it.

PODCAST: Summer camp for techies

Tue, 2014-07-08 03:00

The CEO of Walmart says that positive job growth numbers are not translating to increased sales -- At least not in his stores, anyway. Is it the same story for small businesses? Plus, a new report says that more than 40% of American homes are mobile phone only. But recently, the rate of cord-cutting has slowed. A look at why the number of people abandoning landlines may have plateaued. And it's summer camp season, which means sending kids off to canoe, make campfires, and...code? More and more summer programs are offering to teach kids programming skills. The positives and negatives of training the next batch of techies.

Congress considers federal social media strategy

Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

The House of Representatives is back from summer recess, and among the items on the agenda is the Social Media Working Group Act of 2014. While the government is already working with social media to inform and interact with citizens, one of the proposals under consideration is establishing a standard operating procedure for the Department of Homeland Security's Twitter account during a crisis.

According to Nate Elliott, social media analyst at Forrester Research, typically “The hope is when government or another authority tweets something, people will share it for them.”

However, because of the noisy environment of social media platforms, that generally doesn’t happen.

“Messages wash away very quickly,” according to Elliott. It's why the government is looking for a more cohesive social media strategy.

But there are challenges. Twitter, for example, does not use an algorithm to decide what the typical user sees in the same way as Facebook manages its feed. Plus, both allow increased visibility with paid posts, giving the government another challenge in reaching citizens on these platforms.

High times in Washington and Colorado

Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

It's the first day that residents in the state of Washington State can walk into a store and legally buy marijuana for recreational purposes. Washington is the second state to legalize pot -- Coloradans have been able to purchase recreational pot since January 1st. But there are some notable differences in how each state regulates the still federally illegal plant.

One major difference is the number of retail outlets. Washington has capped the number 334, while Colorado has no cap. And initially Colorado did not require lab testing on pot.

“Everything that is sold in a retail marijuana store in Washington has been tested,” says Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Board, which drafted Washington’s new marijuana laws.

Colorado retailers are also required to grow nearly all the pot themselves. In Washington, retailers aren’t allowed to grow their own. They have to purchase it from a licensed growers and processors. And Smith says it’s taxed heavily: “25 percent from producers to processors, 25 percent from processors to retailers, and 25 percent from retailers to consumers.”

Revenue projections in both states are, like many residents, high. Washington predicts nearly $600 million over the next four years. 

“What people forget," says Mark Kleiman, “is the high price of cannabis today reflects the legality. But once you don’t have to hide, you can do things much more efficiently.”

Kleiman is a UCLA professor of public policy and the author of several books on drug policy. He predicts that in the long run, legalization will drive pot production costs down. As a result pot prices will plummet, along with tax revenue.

For more of Marketplace's coverage on the legalization of retail marijuana sales in Washington, check out the links below:

Here at Marketplace, we've covered the growing marijuana industry in Washington since it was first approved for recreational use -- From the search for a marijuana consultant by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (which they later found), to figuring out a price structure, to the advent of businesses hoping to take advantage of legal sales.

And remember when the Denver Broncos took on the Seattle Seahawks at this year's Superbowl, and advocates for legalizing marijuana spent $5,000 on pro-pot billboards near the stadium? The event sprouted a lot of nicknames -- "The Stoner Bowl," for example.

But growing a business that's illegal most everywhere else can be tricky, especially when it comes to managing finances.

That's because most banks have decided that the venture is too risky, and are reluctant to do business with the marijuana industry. It's forcing many pot-related businesses to use cash only, which is nearly impossible as operations and revenue grow. With the amount of money involved things like sales, taxes, and licensing fees, it's difficult for businesses to operate without access to bank accounts.

Talk about a buzzkill. 

Mexico makes more cars than Brazil. Yes, it's a race.

Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

Mexico might be out of the World Cup, but this year, the country is poised to beat rival Brazil on another global stage: For the first time in a decade, Mexico is expected to become the top Latin American automobile producer. And that bodes well for its economy overall.

Consultant IHS Automotive says Mexico has been making and exporting more cars than Brazil in 2014, and it should keep up pace through the rest of the year.

Analysts point to cheaper labor and proximity to the United States, one of Mexico’s biggest customers, as contributors to the surge in auto production. There's also new investment from foreign automakers.  

"Audi, Nissan, Mazda, GM, Ford and many, many others," says Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "These are the types of firms where you’ve seen huge growth and innovation and productivity among Mexican workers that have made it really a competitive sector."

That momentum could jump start productivity across Mexico’s economy, according to Lisa Schineller, an analyst for Standard & Poors.  

"The key challenge is trying to tackle outside the manufacturing sector, and improve education, infrastructure, et cetera," she says.

 Schineller adds that S&P is also watching legislative reforms that would open Mexico’s energy industry to foreign investment.

 

 

SLUG: Mexican Auto Production

REPORTER: S.Mullen (Johnston)

SHOW: MMR

 

Host lead: Mexico might be out of the World Cup, but the country is poised to beat rival Brazil on another global stage.

 

For the first time in a decade Mexico is expected to become the top Latin American automobile producer this year.

 

And that bodes well for Mexico’s economy overall, as Shannon Mullen reports.

 

* * *

 

MULLEN: So far this year, Mexico’s been making andexporting more cars than Brazil.

 

And consultant I-H-S Automotive says that should keep up through 2014.

 

One factor: cheaper labor.  Another proximity to the U.S., one of Mexico’s biggest customers.

 

Then there’s all that recent investment from foreign automakers…

 

O’NEIL: Audi, Nissan, Mazda, GM, Ford and many many others…

 

MULLEN: Shannon O’Neil is a senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

O’NEIL: These are the types of firms where you’ve seen huge growth and innovation and productivity among Mexican workers that have made it really a competitive sector.

 

MULLEN: That momentum could jumpstart productivity across Mexico’s economy, says Lisa Schineller, an analyst for Standard & Poors.

 

SCHINELLER: the key challenge is trying to tackle outside the manufacturing sector, and improve education, infrastructure, etcera.

 

MULLEN: Schineller says S&P is also watching reforms that would open Mexico’s energy industry to foreign investment.

 

I’m S-M for Marketplace.

 

Truckers strike at key port for trade with Asia

Tue, 2014-07-08 02:00

More than a hundred truckers who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are on strike, calling for better pay and safety and accusing transport companies of hindering their efforts to unionize. The trucking companies say they pay fair wages and that drivers striking are only a small slice of the total workforce.

It’s the latest workforce disruption at an important trade gateway with a long history of labor unrest.

The ports are a key point for trade with Asia, with hundreds of billions of dollars in goods moving through. You probably own something with a "Made in China" label, and it most likely came through these California ports.

Right now, only three trucking companies are affected by the strike. Others are still rolling. The picketing isn’t large enough to cause a major disruption.

But if dockworkers walk off the job in support of the truckers, it could snarl trade, with nationwide impact if the strike drags on.

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