Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 28 min 22 sec ago

PODCAST: The jobs report for February

Fri, 2015-03-06 03:00

First up on today's show, we'll talk about the strong jobs report for February. Plus, we'll talk about the marriage of personal values and investment portfolios when it comes to both index funds and other types of investments.

The Micky-D ripple effect

Fri, 2015-03-06 02:00

Joining the ranks of Chik-filet and Chipotle, fast-food giant McDonald’s is promising us antibiotic free chicken by 2017 in its 14,000 U.S. locations. 

Right now, farmers use antibiotics to keep flocks healthy and grow faster. McDonald's said more health conscious consumers drove their decision to start using chickens that are not given the same antibiotics that are used to treat people. The CDC says ‘superbugs’ lead to 23,000 deaths a year and 2 million illnesses.   

The Pew Charitable Trust's Gail Hansen says, "When you consider in the United States we raise 9 billion chickens a year. Every time you give an antibiotic into a bird, you potentially can get antibiotic resistance." Hansen calls McDonald's shift in policy a game changer. As another source said, when Chik-filet and McDonald’s do something, it’s not some Berkeley, California thing … it's mainstream.

So how much more money will consumers have to fork over to pay for this trend? Raising antibiotic-free chickens is more expensive says University of Georgia Veterinarian Chuck Hofacre: "It’ll take more corn and soybean to be fed to the chickens to get the same amount of chicken meat." The National Chicken Council says that translates into 5 to 7 cents a pound. In other words, if the price of corn goes up, so will your Chicken McNugget.



A bigger iPad on the way?

Fri, 2015-03-06 02:00

Apple is reportedly planning to start producing a bigger iPad with a 13-inch screen, and possibly with USB ports, by the second half of 2015.

The move would be aimed at business customers, says Eric Smith of Strategy Analytics, mirroring a strategy that a number of other companies are already employing — including Microsoft and Google's Android.

HP has a line of rugged Android and Windows tablets specialized for in-the-field applications, and anti-microbial surface models for health care use, says Smith. "Other vendors like Lenovo and Dell are also addressing this market." he says.

Microsoft has been selling its Surface Pro 3 tablet as a laptop alternative for both work and leisure use, and plans to release its new Windows operating system that can work on mobile and traditional PCs.

The question is "who can win over the CIOs in reliability, in security, in interoperability," says Smith.

The battle is important because growth in the multi-billion-dollar tablet market is slowing down on the consumer side, says JP Bouchard of the market research firm IDC, but adoption of tablets in business is still nascent and has the potential for more growth.

"People are not replacing tablets every two years or even every three years. So that market is a bit saturated on the consumer space," Bouchard says.

Kim Kardashian games the system

Fri, 2015-03-06 01:30

That's how many jobs the U.S. added in February, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.5 percent. 

$8 million

That's what the makers of the Snuggie will pay the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges it made customers pay exorbitant shipping and handling costs on buy-one-get-one-free items, the Associated Press reported.

13 inch

That's the supposed size of the next iPad's screen. It may also come with USB ports. Some speculate that the next iteration of the tablet will be aimed at business customers.

$74 million

That's what "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" made last year after its summer launch, and the game is on track to reach $200 million this year. The surprise smash has been downloaded 28 million times and players have logged a shocking 11 billion minutes. Adweek's cover story is an interview with Kardashian about her success and her future plans in tech.


That's the age at which Tinder users will have to pay more, as outlined by the dating app's new Tinder Plus subscription service. But you already knew that, didn't you? So why not head over to our weekly quiz on the week in tech, Silicon Tally, and prove your news prowess?

Don't worry too much about productivity

Thu, 2015-03-05 14:01

We’ve tracked labor productivity in the U.S. for about 70 years. For most of that time, it’s risen steadily along with economic growth. Recessions just saw little blips — that is until the last one when productivity rose sharply.   

Researchers found that productivity jumped even more sharply in areas with higher unemployment — fear of the ax seems to have motivated Americans to work their tails off. 

Another factor that increases productivity is a growing rate of educational achievement. Dale Jorgenson, a professor of economics at Harvard University, says the impact of education is diminishing because the portion of the workforce with higher education is growing at a slower rate than before. 

Jorgenson says it takes decades of data to figure out what normal productivity is, so it’s best to not get too caught up in those quarterly reports.


A relic of science education goes offline

Thu, 2015-03-05 12:55

Argonne National Laboratory, a non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy, last weekend shut down one of the nation's oldest online educational tools, one that pre-dated the Internet itself.

NEWTON Ask A Scientist had been online in its current form since 1991. It offered a platform for students to ask science questions long before you could simply Google a query like "Why is the sky blue?" Answers were written by vetted scientific experts, who did their best to provide uncomplicated responses to complex questions such as "How long did the big bang last?"

Occasionally – when Pluto was reclassified as a planetoid, or when the Higgs-Boson particle was discovered – the site took on a newsy feel. Most of the time, however, it was a place where students indulged their curiosities by asking general-knowledge questions.

"You'd think over 25 years all the questions had been asked, but heck no," says Nathan Unterman, a 39-year Illinois high school science teacher. Unterman moderated the site with another, now-retired teacher, Steve Sample. They were employed as part-time staff at Argonne but mostly served as volunteers during the more than two decades they ran the site.

By the time Argonne finally pulled the plug, more than 110 volunteer scientists had answered questions, which were still coming in a steady stream. Still, the site was "limping along," says Meridith Bruozas, manager of educational programs and outreach at Argonne.

The institutional and funding structure that created NEWTON are long gone, she says, plus the site and the technology behind it are outdated. In an email, Sample said the high cost of updating the software was a factor in shutting the site down. Argonne spent about $10,000 per year on NEWTON over the past few years, spokesman Christopher Kramer said in an email, but to keep it running "is akin to supporting the telegraph in the era of smartphones."

Indeed, many Argonne's educational efforts now live on social media, and are centered around the lab's current research. Argonne now hosts Google Hangout tours, offers Reddit AMAs, posts lectures online, produces a series of videos called "Ask Argonne" and more.

"So instead of random questions on any topic, like 'Why is the sky blue?' we're actually talking about 'What does the next generation battery look like?' and 'What does supercomputing look like and how does modeling look like when you're crunching big data?'" Bruozas says. "Those are the things that kids need to be focused on now... because that's our the next generation of scientists and researchers."

Still, there was some value in the question-and-answer style, Unterman and Sample say. Often multiple scientists would chime in, arguing and adding to each other's responses. That type of dialogue isn't easily replicated with a Google search.

"Let's say you want to describe a cow. A very, very first attempt might be 'Well, let's make it a sphere.' That might be the level for a kindergartener, or a third grader. Another scientist might come in and say, 'Well, that's not really so,' and they'd start adding a head and legs. And somebody else might say, 'You could look at it that way but really...' and they'd start adding a tail and ears and horns and all of that," Unterman says. "Just how far do we simplify it, and have we simplified it to the point that it's just no longer true? We had some interesting interactions like that, which were stimulating and enriching."

Both teachers said they are grateful for impact the site had were disappointed to see it go, but ultimately understood its time had come. Unterman notes that if Argonne let the site simply stay online, the information could become outdated and NEWTON would be doing more harm than good.

Still, for those who still want to poke around, this relic of early ed tech lives on via the Internet archive.

"There were real people behind [the site]. There are all kinds of facts and figures and numbers ... and that's great, but there's also a human side to it, which – while it lasted – was great fun," Unterman says. "It's a little bit of a time capsule, I suppose."

Just who is watching the banks?

Thu, 2015-03-05 12:34

Think of this as a corporate restructuring 2.0.

A secret document penned by D.C. Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo in 2010 set in motion a silent centralization of powers within the organization. Now, the change is having some unforeseen consequences.

Up until 2008, the New York Fed was in charge of keeping tabs on the nation’s banking industry.

"After the financial crisis," says the WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath, "Tarullo came along with Ben Bernanke’s assent and said, basically, ‘we’re gonna do it a new way.’” This “new way” included stripping oversight powers from the New York Fed and placing them in the hands of a special committee based in Washington.

Referred to as the “Triangle Document,” the six-page document provided a blueprint for a new era. Now, oversight of all 12 Federal Reserve banks is managed by Tarullo’s committee.

Hilsenrath says, though, that the change hasn’t necessarily made the process any easier. “There are critics who say the banks feel burdened by the whole process … There are also complaints even within the system that the new system makes it a little bit harder for the information to flow up to the most senior people in the Fed.” 

The Chinese villages of Wasteland, Mud Town and Lonely Outpost

Thu, 2015-03-05 12:28

There is a small village called Wasteland in the Northeast China region. Despite its name, looks nothing like a wasteland, according to Michael Meyer, author of "In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China."

Meyer spent three years living in Wasteland, while his wife pursued a legal career in Hong Kong. He explains early on that Wasteland was his wife’s childhood home, however, she had no interest in returning to the village.

"In the village, there is that divide right down the middle where there’s an older generation, say people over age 40 like myself, who want to stay and want to keep their roots there," says Meyer. "And then there’s this younger generation that says 'no there’s nothing for us here, we want to leave.'"

Villages surrounding Wasteland have similar names. There is Dunes, Mud Town and Lonely Outpost. So, Meyer spent some time investigating why the villages have these names.

"Although the villages were all founded in the early 18th century, the closest I could come to why they have these names is this sort of Greenland, Iceland name reversal – where the people who originally settled these areas didn’t want other migrants to come there, they didn’t want bandits to stop there," says Meyer. "So they gave them these very undesirable names, but in fact, they look nothing like what they are named."

In his book, Meyer finds that a privately owned rice company, called Eastern Fortune, buys the farmers off their land and moves them into company-built apartments, in order to use the land to grow rice. Some villagers welcome the new apartments and crop prices the company offers, while others don’t.

Read an excerpt from "In Manchuria":

chapter 1
Winter Solstice

In winter the land is frozen and still. A cloudless sky shines off
snow-covered rice paddies, reflecting light so bright, you have to shield
your eyes. I lean into a stinging wind and trudge north up Red Flag Road,
to a village named Wasteland.

The view is flat, lifeless, and silver fresh. The two-lane cement road
slices through the paddies like the courses plowed across frozen lakes in
my native Minnesota, but there are no icehouses to shelter in here. Ten
minutes ago, I set off from the coal-fueled warmth of Number 22 Middle
School, where I volunteer as an English teacher. Already my beard is
beaded with ice.

Tufts of dry husks sprout through the snow, resembling ripening brooms.
To my left, the sun sinks over the far horizon. It is 3:22 p.m. at December’s
end—or, as Chinese farmers know it, dongzhi (Winter Solstice), one of
twenty-four fortnight-long periods describing the seasons based on the sun’s
longitude. The previous solar term was Major Snow, which fell on schedule,
blanketing Wasteland in white. Next up, in early January, is Slight Cold,
which, given today’s high temperature of minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit, makes
me fear what “slight” will feel like. At school, a red nylon propaganda
banner lashed to the accordion entrance gate urges us to PREVENT HAND, FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE and, less helpfully, announces that WINTER BRINGS THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN TEMPERATURE.

Red Flag Road’s single traffic sign displays a speed limit of forty kilometers
an hour. On school days I never see anyone break it; bicycles and
three-wheeled motorcycles saunter and sputter to the crossroads’ Agricultural
Bank, seed store, noodle shops, and train station. Painted bright pink and
crowned with a peaked tin roof whose cobalt-blue matches Wasteland’s
usual sky, the station has been rendered all but obsolete: the new highspeed
trains that cover the seventy miles between the cities of Jilin and
Changchun do not stop here. For passengers in the sealed compartment,
Wasteland whooshes by in a silent four-second blur, looking like any other
village in northeast China.

Closer inspection reveals a dotted line of trash aside Red Flag Road:
empty boxes of expensive Panda brand cigarettes and bottles of Moutai
brand liquor; broadsheets of stock tips, real estate flyers, and fortune-telling
booklets advising the most auspicious days to buy property; and selfpublished
circulars, sold in big cities, with titles such as Intriguing Stories
and Strange Affairs. In addition to the latest gossip about the private lives
of top officials, the pamphlets answer questions such as Will our capital be
moved from Beijing? (No.) Did the 1989 student protest movement fail? (Yes.)
How many people were killed during the Cultural Revolution? (Lots.)

Today the only sound on Red Flag Road comes from another banner,
strung between two Manchurian ash seedlings, whipping in the wind. The
cloth twists and unfurls, then twists again. Between gusts spin the Chinese
characters for plant, then seeds, then record and yield. I pass the banner
every day and, unlike the farmers, study its message. In the Chinese
countryside—free of newsstands and street signs—propaganda is my
primer, even when written by Comrade Obvious. This red ribbon teaches
For decades, the three-story middle school was Wasteland’s tallest structure.
From my English classroom window I can see all the village’s homes,
whose clusters make an archipelago across the fields. Now I walk toward
a billboard whose message I can read a mile away: BUILD THE NORTHEAST’S TOP VILLAGE. It was erected by Eastern Fortune Rice,
a private agribusiness company based in Wasteland. I never thought about
this propaganda—just another exercise in blatancy—until Eastern Fortune
began making it come true.

Gossip says that, like the railroad, Red Flag Road will be upgraded, too.
Locals wonder if it’s their way of life that will be made obsolete. There’s
even talk of changing the village’s name.

No one can say for certain why the place is called Wasteland. It may
have been a ploy by homesteaders to discourage other migrants from moving
to this fertile floodplain, stretching from the western banks of the Songhua
(Pine Flower) River to forested foothills. Neighboring hamlets, also
comprising a few dozen single-story homes abutting table-flat rice paddies,
include Lonely Outpost, Zhang’s Smelly Ditch, the Dunes, and Mud Town.
In the movie Caddyshack, Rodney Dangerfield boasts that he and his
partner, Wang, just bought some land at the Great Wall: “On the good
side!” Wasteland is in the other direction. Beyond the wall begins China’s
northeast, or Dongbei (rhymes with wrong way). Chinese say a map of their
country resembles a chicken, which makes the Northeast its head, squeezing
between Mongolian grasslands and the Ever-White Mountains before
bumping up against Siberia.

Dollar signs on the doilies

Thu, 2015-03-05 11:03

Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade products, filed for a $100 million IPO on Wednesday. The Brooklyn-based company reported revenue of $195 million last year, up from $125 million in 2013.
  High-profile online retailers like Zulily and Wayfair had solid debuts with their IPO’s in 2014. The timing is right for Etsy, says Mark Brohan, vice president of research for Internet Retailer Magazine.    William Sahlman, professor at Harvard Business School, says Etsy fulfills customers’ craving for something different. Etsy’s mission has been to change the way things are made and sold, and Sahlman says companies can retain that socially-minded philosophy — just look at Ben & Jerry’s.   “They were able to go public and still maintain a sense with their customers that they were different,” Sahlman says.    Steve Kaplan, who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, says there might be some initial rumblings of discontent when the company goes public. But at the end of the day, “If you deliver something that your customers really like, you have created a huge amount of social value,” he says.  

Inspired by Etsy's crafty culture, this handmade world cloud shows some of the more unique words from the company's IPO filing.

Kelsey Fowler/Marketplace

Young tech workers sought in tightening labor market

Thu, 2015-03-05 10:36

The job market is looking up, especially for skilled IT workers.

It can take more than one year to hire for some positions, like software engineer, in the hottest tech markets these days. People with skills developing mobile-apps and managing network and cloud-computing infrastructure are especially in demand right now, according to recruiters. Starting salaries this year for engineering graduates will average $63,000. Meanwhile, petroleum engineers will average $80,600, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Salaries can easily reach six figures by mid-career. 

One of these workers, James Jones, arrived in Portland, Oregon, recently on a late-night flight from Chicago, where he lives. Jones was in Portland for meetings and training at Puppet Labs, the fast-growing technology company that hired him several months ago as a technical solutions engineer. Jones travels throughout the Midwest explaining, deploying and troubleshooting Puppet’s open-source-based automation software that helps manage huge data centers.

Jones is 27 years old, married with no children. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 with a degree in psychology and computer science and faced the Great Recession. “Definitely the economy had taken a downturn,” says Jones, “and it was a little bit rough to find jobs. It was scary there for a bit.”

But that only lasted several months. Then he landed at job at Hewlett-Packard, paying around $50,000 per year. His new job at Puppet Labs pays significantly better — though he wouldn’t say precisely how much, nor would the company. Salaries in the field average in the high-five to low-six figures.

“I was very satisfied” with the offer from Puppet Labs, Jones says. “They were willing to work with me and make sure I was happy. Because I’m kind of a hobbyist--I actually like managing servers and getting at little nerdy at home--working in the field I love, for a company I respect, was the bigger focus for me than money alone.”

Puppet Labs’ senior recruiter Art Amela says the 330-employee company – up from just 30 employees about five years ago – continues to expand aggressively at several U.S. locations, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic. Amela says pay and benefits have to stay competitive with other fast-growing technology companies; stock options are a standard part of the compensation package, as well as a host of lifestyle amenities: a well-stocked cafeteria and coffee bar; board-games and old-style video-game consoles in the common area; and a room for employees to repair their bicycles.

And Amela says for top engineers with several years’ experience, poaching is now common. “We know they’re being contacted all the time,” he says, “and casually I’ll check with them about how many have contacted them this week. But if we keep our employees happy — and they are happy — it’s not going to be a threat.”

Still, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of the online recruitment website JobVite, employers large and small have to be prepared these days for a lot of turnover in their workforce.

“If you’re now in your twenties and college-educated, you’re likely to change jobs every three to four years," says Finnigan. "People are always looking. They're looking at work, using their smartphones. Companies need to be prepared to do whatever they can to minimize churn. But they need to assume that their business is like a college. They’re bringing in classes of people who will one day graduate and move on, and they need to continue to recruit new classes.”

Oil, futures and 'super contango.' What's it all mean?

Thu, 2015-03-05 10:03

Crude oil is currently in contango. That's when the price today for buying a commodity in the near future (like, later today) is cheaper than for the more distant future (like, in three months). That happens occasionally. But Credit Suisse in a note to investors suggests that something even stranger could be around the corner: 'super contango.'

"When you have a 'contango' it means that there's too much oil around," says one of the authors of that research note, Credit Suisse global energy economist Jan Stuart. "When you have a 'super contango,' it means there's just, like a freakish amount of oil."  

Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, explains this "freakish" behavior by comparing oil to tomatoes. If there are too many tomatoes today, producers can freeze them and sell them later.  But this only works if there is room in the freezer. As storage becomes more scarce, it becomes more expensive -- sending futures prices (the cost of commodity, plus the cost of storage, plus a small profit) through the roof. 

The crude-oil equivalent would be of crude-oil inventories hitting the "tank tops" -- filling the available storage. But Bruce Heine, spokesperson for Magellan Midstream Partners, says none of their crude-oil storage customers have yet asked them to build more tanks at their Cushing, Oklahoma tank farm.  

Credit Suisse's Jan Stuart believes that a "super-contango" situation in the crude oil market is still a ways off.  To get there, we'll need another 11 or 12 more weeks  like the last few.

What a 7 percent growth rate could look like

Thu, 2015-03-05 10:03

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a new growth target of 7 percent for the world's second-largest economy in a speech to the National People's Congress in Beijing on Thursday. That would be the lowest growth rate there since a brief dip back in 1989-90.

Compare that to the United States, where growth last year was 2.4 percent.

Just for fun, we looked at whether 7 percent growth is even possible here in the United States. How would we start?

“We could all go out and have lots of babies,” says Lakshman Achuthan, co-founder of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

More babies would mean, eventually, more workers earning and spending money. “But that’s just not going to happen,” he says.

A surge in productivity would also boost growth, but productivity growth was actually negative last year. 

The last time the United States economy grew at a clip of 7 percent or more was 1983, after emerging from two severe back-to-back recessions.  

Quiz: Rise of the uber donor

Thu, 2015-03-05 07:43

Colleges and universities received a record 43 “mega gifts” over $50 million in 2014, according to consulting firm Marts & Lundy.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "rise-of-uber-donor", placeholder: "pd_1425573746" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Etsy goes public, hoping to remain 'authentic'

Thu, 2015-03-05 07:15

Etsy — the marketplace for hand-painters of flower-pots and carvers of toy boats made from driftwood — has engaged the artisan craftspeople at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to run its initial public offering. This round of financing could bring in $100 million. 

As required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for any public offering, Etsy has disclosed risk factors. However, most companies don’t list “losing our soul” as a risk factor.

"If we are unable to maintain the authenticity of our marketplace, our reputation and business could be adversely affected," reads Etsy's filing.

In fact, there has already been grumbling along these lines. In late 2013, Etsy relaxed its terms of service, allowing people to sell stuff that wasn’t actually handmade.

Since allowing users to sell manufactured goods, Etsy’s business has boomed. The company went from $125 million in revenue for 2013 to $195 million the next year.

But, despite that revenue, Etsy did lose $15 million in 2014.

The informal economy collides with India’s boom

Thu, 2015-03-05 06:51

It’s just before dawn and a light rain is falling in a parking lot in Delhi. Slowly, one after another, motorcycles pull into the lot. By the time the sun rises, more than 100 bikers have arrived, including 20-year-old Vandit Hura. He’s a law student from Noida, a satellite city of Delhi. He rides a Royal Enfield, known for its unique sound. “When I was young, I used to run outside my house and listen to that sound: 'dug dug dug dug dug,'” he says, impersonating the chug of a single-cylinder Enfield motor.

You may not have heard of the Royal Enfield brand, but it’s a classic — one of the first motorcycle companies in the world. Founded in the United Kingdom at the turn of the century, Royal Enfield is now an Indian company. And these days, Royal Enfield outsells Harley Davidson around the world. The success of the company is due largely to sales in India, and it's one sign of the growing economy here.

Another sign of India’s rising economy is the growth of motorcycle clubs like this one. The leader of today’s ride, Mohit Ahuja, gathers everyone for a short speech. He welcomes the crowd and explains the route they will be taking. He’s tall, with a dark beard, a red-and-black bikers' jacket and camouflage pants. “Good morning,” he says. The crowd yells back enthusiastically, "'good morning!" The rain hasn’t dampened anyone's excitement.

“Let’s have some brotherhood happening today and let’s hope the gods have mercy on us and stop the rains,” he yells. “Lets get geared up, guys. And let’s ride!”

The bikes head out of the city in a double-file formation, merging into the chaotic Delhi roads. Rickshaws, bicycles, people pulling carts and now the bikes all converge into a river of traffic.

They pass huge malls and the towering glass office buildings of companies like Google and Panasonic. They also drive by slums flooded by muddy water, and piles of trash being picked at by wild pigs.

The ride ends with a party in the rural outskirts of town where men play drums in a field and rev their motorcycles to the beat.

While these partying bikers are one example of India’s growing middle class, the fact is a huge portion of the population has been left out of the country’s economic rise. India is home to one-third of the world’s poor.

Historically, the key to pulling millions of people out of poverty has been industrialization — the kind of factory jobs that turned China into the world’s second-biggest economy. The success of Royal Enfield is one example of successful Indian manufacturing, but manufacturing only makes up 16 percent of the country’s economy.

In India, as in much of the developing world, there has been a migration of people from rural villages to the city. Only 68 percent of rural Indians can read. So when they arrive in cities, few are qualified for the jobs that are available.

Many of them end up as street vendors. These low-level entrepreneurs make up a big portion of the informal economy, which accounts for a staggering 92 percent of India’s population.

Take the neighborhood called Mayur Vihar in East Delhi. Vendors offer kids' backpacks, pots and pans, clothing, toys, fabric and lots of street food.

Lalchand Kashyap is a vendor. He sells a kind of street food, called Chaat. Every night he sets up his equipment in the same spot he’s had for the past 23 years. He has a couple of tables and a big metal cooking surface shaped like large satellite dish. In the center, potatoes are frying in a shallow pool of ghee, clarified butter oil that glistens under the battery-powered LED light he uses to cook by.

One of his most popular dishes is aloo tikki, fried mashed potato patties smothered in masala, tamarind and coriander chutney, garnished with shredded cabbage, beets, radish, ginger and carrots and finished with a squeeze of lemon. Kashyap charges 40 rupees, about $0.37. It’s a dish that takes a lot of work to make.

Kashyup starts his day at 8:00 a.m. doing prep work at home with his family, boiling potatoes making chutney, chopping vegetables. Then he brings everything to the street and opens up shop at 6 p.m. He sells until about 10:30.

He makes about $8 a day and works seven days a week, making just enough to cover his living expenses, food and rent in a two-room apartment where he lives with nine other family members.

$8 a day puts Kashyup’s income at six times the global poverty line set by the World Bank, $1.25 per day. So he’s not poor by that standard. But if we use the basic definition of middle class as having some amount of leisure time and disposable income, Kashyup is clearly not middle class either.

Arvind Singh is the head of head of NASVI, The National Association of Street Vendors in India.

“When you talk about urban poor, most are entrepreneurs, street vendors. A big part of the problem is stopping the drain of income. Because there are many extortion rackets,” Singh says.

One of the biggest obstacles to bringing these informal workers into the middle class is stopping corruption. “In any category of informal worker, real wage is not real wage," Singh says. “They give to police municipality, shopkeeper traffic, whoever gets an opportunity extracts money.”

NASVI’s strength is in its numbers. There are 888 affiliates with 553,000 dues-paying members across India. They lobby for legislation, offer free legal services and training to improve hygiene and they help vendors access financial services.

If efforts like this succeed in bringing the huge numbers of informal workers into the middle class, economist Jayshree Sengupta believes they could be an internal economic engine that drives India’s growth.

“I think China's going that way because China has realized that the export-led growth has led to pollution where people are suffocating,” Sengupta says. “We're also experiencing that in Delhi. There's no point depending on the export growth. We have a huge market of 1.2 billion people, so get money in their pockets so they can buy our own things.”

Much of the focus of NASVI’s work is to prevent income drain from extortion. But actually raising the income of street vendors is a more difficult task. One way they do that is by organizing street food festivals to improve the image of street vendors, make them more appealing to locals and tourists.

Kashyup worked one of those festivals. His food was so popular; he was invited to represent India at a street-food festival in Singapore, a burgeoning foodie world capital. The event takes place on April 6. It will be Kashyup’s first trip outside of India.

Click on the audio above to hear BBC’s Justin Rowlatt profile the growing tech sector in India.

Ferguson operates police department as a profit center

Thu, 2015-03-05 05:55

In addition to documenting stark racial disparities and shocking incidents in Ferguson, Missouri's law-enforcement system, the Justice Department's report finds that Ferguson operates its police department primarily as a money-making enterprise. But Ferguson is not the only place where law-enforcement practices may be more about money than public safety. 

In Ferguson, the idea that the police department operates as a revenue-maximizing business is the basic thesis of the Justice Department report. The city finance director emails the police chief asking for more ticket revenue. Cops say they get evaluated — and promoted — based on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations they issue. All this comes on page two. 

The report points to documents that show the revenue strategy at work.  In one email, the finance director pushes a traffic-enforcement initiative to, quote, “fill the revenue pipeline.” The clerk of the municipal court also gets emails about revenue targets. In an official report, the finance director boasts to the city council about how much higher fines are in Ferguson than in neighboring towns.

These tactics paid off. The city budgeted for— and realized— huge increases in revenue from tickets and fines. Those revenues more than doubled in the last five years, and in the latest budget they account for almost a quarter of the general fund revenue.

The phenomenon is not limited to Ferguson, although the strategies under which law enforcement collects revenue are not always the same. 

There’s been a lot of reporting on civil forfeiture cases— a mechanism under which cops can seize money and other assets from people who aren’t charged with crimes — and keep the money. The New Yorker and the Washington Post have both done extensive reports — as has HBO's John Oliver.

"There’s no question that civil forfeiture falls most heavily on minorities and low-income folks," says Scott Bullock, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. "And those folks are not only having their property taken, but they don’t have the resources to go about challenging it in court."  

The Washington Post documented billions of dollars seized and spent by police nationwide. Los Angeles police bought a $5 million helicopter. The sheriff’s department in Amarillo, Texas bought a $637 coffee pot.

Other strategies abound, says Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s criminal law reform project— and a lot of money gets collected, even if the public doesn't always see "smoking-gun" documents like the ones in the Ferguson report.

"I think you’d have lots of smoking guns if the Department of Justice went around the country doing this," he says.

PODCAST: ECB bond buying

Thu, 2015-03-05 03:00

The European Central Bank begins another round of bond buying. More on that. Plus, we'll talk about the Department of Justice's report on the Ferguson Police Department, and how the city has been maximizing profit from ticket revenue. And with U.S. fourth quarter productivity numbers out tomorrow, an explainer on the relationship between an improving labor market and productivity – when jobs are the uptick, productivity can go down.  

A fight over how quickly workers can unionize

Thu, 2015-03-05 02:00

There’s tons of emotional rhetoric on a new rule from the National Labor Relations Board to govern unionization votes.

The rule addresses a seemingly simple issue: How much time should there be between a union’s request to represent workers, and the workers’ vote on unionization?

Under the new rule, elections could be held as soon as 11 days after the union request. Employers say that’s too quick. 

“It simply ambushes the employer and doesn’t give them the amount of time that we need for a rational discussion,” says Jason Brewer, a spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Brewer says employers need more time to discuss the impact of unionization on things like worker training, and flexibility on what roles workers can fill. But unions say employers drag out the process for months, with what they call frivolous lawsuits. 

“This frivolous litigation is brought by employers in the hope that workers in the meantime will give up and actually never get to vote on whether or not they want a union,” says Nicole Berner, deputy general counsel of the Service Employees International Union.  

The rule is set to go into effect April 14. The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to rescind it, and that measure is now in the House's hands; President Obama has promised a veto.

Building a private email server

Thu, 2015-03-05 02:00

The questions about why Hillary Clinton used a home email server system instead of her government account while she was Secretary of State have multiplied. But here's a different kind of question: How easy is it to build an at-home email server?

Meet Lee Hutchinson, Senior Reviews Editor for Ars Technica, who did just that

He says the question of even attempting to create a server is a complicated one. “Stop and reassess if you want to really go down this road because it’s not easy,” he says. Disheartening as that sounds, he’s right.

For one, it’s a long process. Hutchinson says he researched for months to set up his own server. Then there’s the logistics. First you need a computer if you want to host it on your house.

“Not the best option,” says Hutchinson. “It’s so easy for people ‘s home computers to get co-opted into malware and turned into spam spewing.” In fact, because of this problem, most big companies try to prevent users from doing just that.

“Generally, it’s a terms of service violation, and they try to make it as technically difficult as possible,” says Hutchinson.

Most of all, the process takes a lot of time, not just to set it up, but also to maintain it. “If gmail goes down at 3 AM, it’s not your problem, says Hutchinson. But if it’s your email server that goes down at 3 AM? Then it is your problem, especially if you're working on something important and or you’re on a deadline.

But if difficulty is no barrier, Hutchinson says the main advantage to setting up a private email server would be “to skirt discoverability requirements that would be placed on actual government emails sent through actual government systems."