Marketplace - American Public Media

Syndicate content
Updated: 16 min 51 sec ago

A tour of China's ghost towns

Mon, 2014-06-02 11:26

For the past three decades, China’s growth model has been anchored in building big projects: highways, bullet trains, and real estate. And that’s left hundreds of cities across China, nearly empty – ill-conceived projects built for the sole purpose of boosting GDP growth.

An empty shopping mall in the ghost city of Ordos, China.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

As part of Marketplace’s stage performance in the beltway “How I learned to stop worrying and love the numbers,” China Correspondent Rob Schmitz will take audience members on a tour of China’s ghost towns, ghost malls, and ghost suburbs, delving into the numbers that explain how a land of 1.4 billion people can have so much empty real estate.

A glimpse into China's most-famed "ghost cities"

China has laid out an ambitious plan to transform 250 million people from the countryside into city dwellers in the next 20 years. Its push for urbanization has encouraged local governments and developers to build skyscrapers and residential complexes, many under the belief of “build it and they will come”. However, the construction spree has left soaring debt, creating insolvency risks for local governments and inflating the country's real estate bubble. By China’s official account, China’s local governments owed $ 1.8 trillion of debt by the end of June 2013, about a third of China’s GDP. A CLSA report says China is "addicted to debt".

We'll take listeners to a Chinese replica of Manhattan, a city that was built to replace New York City as the world’s financial capital, but is now one of the world’s largest abandoned construction sites. He’ll bring listeners on a journey to one of China’s largest ghost cities, a metropolis built for a population the size of Pittsburgh’s, but that is now largely empty, a place where squatters have begun to occupy empty offices and where the government is in so much debt that it’s turned to developers to bail it out.

The city of Yujiapu is being built to become the world's largest financial capital. Construction on the city, a replica of Manhattan, has been recently halted due to a lack of investor confidence.

Rob Schmitz/Marketplace

It’s a side of China you rarely hear about, but it’s an incredibly important phenomenon to understand to grasp the totality of the economic changes China’s embarking on as it attempts to rebalance its economy.

The Fortune 500

Mon, 2014-06-02 10:48

Ah, springtime. Each year it arrives like clockwork with its trademark signs: ramps on the menu, crocuses peeking out of the ground, the anticipation of longer days and beach season. Another rite of spring for the past seven years — as long as I have been at Fortune — has been the preparation and release of the Fortune 500, the definitive ranking of America's largest companies. The 500 is our king of lists, for 60 years running the definitive ranking of the biggest in business in revenue, and it is our own biggest issue in every way: heft (390 pages this year), hits (millions of page views each year) and in bandwidth; it is a massive project drawing in almost all the Fortune staff in some way from early April until the end of May. I started at Fortune in April 2007, in the middle of the Fortune 500 close, and every year since I've been involved in some way or another. Over the years I've come to look forward to the day I get to first lay eyes on the top-secret new 500 list more than almost any other day of the year. That's because in its numbers lie telling data, revealing narratives, over-arching themes, countless stories of success and retrenchment, and so much more.

The 500 is first and foremost a measure of scale. Walmart, No. 1 this year, clocks in with sales of $476,294,000,000. That's twelve digits, six zeros and almost half a trillion dollars. We don't dip "down" into eleven figures until No. 23, IBM at $99.75 billion (work on the 500 long enough and the difference between $126.7 billion and $128.7 billion starts to seem amusingly meaningless).

But pull the camera back — waaaay back — and you can see a narrative of business by the decade: The list's first two decades were a testament to the sheer dominance of General Motors; the now-beleaguered automaker held the number one spot from 1955 to 1974 straight, and for all but nine years from 1955 to 2000 (you remember the saying — as goes General Motors, so goes America). Then came ExxonMobil, then an on-fire Walmart, which ascended in 2002 (we only started adding service companies in 1995). The last decade has been a two-horse race between Walmart and ExxonMobil.

Individual storylines play out on the list over the years: Apple has marched steadily upward since 2005, moving from No. 263 that year to No. 103 in 2008, No. 71 in 2009, to No. 35 in 2011, to No. 17 in 2012 to this year, landing in the top five for the first time. Sometimes whole industries ebb and flow in unison, like homebuilders (14 piled on in 2007, all fell off in 2010). Last year Facebook made the list for the first time. Today we welcome newcomers Coach, Blackstone and Alaska Air, and we bid adieu to Yahoo, OfficeMax and Pitney Bowes, among others.

You can also see in the 500 with vivid clarity what we all know to be true: the stunning surge in corporate productivity. This year the collective profits for the Fortune 500 crossed the trillion dollar mark for the first time ($1.08 trillion, to be exact). That's up 31.7 percent over 2012. But in the same time the group added only 180,000 jobs, an increase of 0.7 percent. (I have vivid memories of the financial crisis in 500 terms, too; in 2010, companies on the list shed a collective, and gutwrenching, 821,000 jobs.)

We often get asked who's No. 500 — that company teetering right at the edge each year that just barely hung on as we tallied up the totals. This year our caboose is United Rentals, a Stamford, Connecticut-based seller and leaser of commercial construction, HVAC and other heavy equipment with revenue of $8.8 billion. Hurrah United Rentals! Surely they're celebrating up in Stamford today. (At the same time, No. 501, Irving, Texas- based industrial machinery maker Flowserve, is likely plotting its strategy for knocking United off and taking its spot next year. Because hey, that's business.)

Speaking of celebrating, there's a final number that's particularly key to the Fortune team this year. That's 5, as in 5 o'clock today, when our entire staff will meet in a conference room to have a big official toast to the release of the list — as well as the launch of our newly-independent, brand-new website, Fortune.com. We've been working our butts off on both these babies for months.

Yes, the 500 is a killer set of numbers. But today, five o'clock will also be a quite valuable number indeed.

Britain is giving subsidies for rock music

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:13
Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 14:09 Earache Records

Savage Messiah – subsidized by British taxpayers. 

In Britain, government subsidies for the arts have traditionally been focused on ballet, opera and theater. But now, they are giving a boost to a rather less exalted area of creativity: thrash metal bands, acid punk and nu-grunge groups.

The aim is to promote British musical talent abroad by subsidising the cost of mounting a foreign tour. The grants – which have so far totaled more than three quarters of a million dollars – have caused outrage in conservative circles and have stirred criticism from low-tax campaigners.

But the recipients have defended the subsidy.

"As a band trying to break through, the cost of touring abroad can be prohibitive," argues Dave Silver, lead singer of the heavy metal band Savage Messiah. The band is getting $25,000 of public money.

Is this sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll at the taxpayers’ expense?

“Absolutely not !” says Silver “ There are strict controls on how you can spend the money. It can only be used for things like marketing costs, tour support, venue costs, international travel and so on.” 

The taxpayer will not be footing the bill for: tattoos, studs, chin spikes or other body piercing… let alone picking up the tab for wrecked hotel rooms and wild parties. Not that Silver indulges in such excesses.

“I don’t actually drink alcohol at all. I don’t smoke. I don’t take drugs. So yeah, we’re pretty well behaved, really," he says.

The bands say they need state aid because they’re losing money from illegal downloads. And the only way to make a decent living is to break through into the live touring circuit. 

The government clearly believes that it’s worthwhile offering a helping hand to up and coming talent and supporting the smaller, independent record labels.

Music is an important export for Britain. The British Recorded Music Industry – a trade body – claims that one in ten of all the albums sold in the United States are by British artists; the figure for continental Europe is one in four. 

None of this cuts any ice with the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a group that campaigns for lower taxes. Political director Dia Chakravarty claims that the touring subsidy is wasteful and  unnecessary. 

“British bands have a long history of breaking overseas markets but that’s because they had great songs to sing, not because of taxpayers’ subsidies,” she argues.

Chakravarty takes a keen personal interest in the music industry. 

“I’ve actually just finished working on my first album of Bangladeshi songs but I’ve supported that by having a day job….working at the Taxpayers’ Alliance,” she says. “I’ve not taken a single penny from taxpayers.”

Oddly enough, her argument against subsidy strikes a chord with Dave Silver. The lead singer of Savage Messiah divides his time between headbanging and studying economics and he’s a real fan of the Austrian School of Economics which favors the free market. So why accept the government grant?

“We’re a band. We’re four people in the band and not everyone in the band is of the Austrian School, so what can we do?" saysSilver. And he laughs: “ Yeah in an ideal world privatize everything that moves  and have no state intervention in the economy. But that’s not where we’re at now. We've got to break into overseas touring.”

Marketplace for Thursday June 5, 2014 Stephen Beard/Marketplace

 Dave Silver - lead singer of Savage Messiah and fan of the Austrian School of Economics.

Stephen Beard.

Dia Chakravarty – Political Director of the Taxpayers’  Alliance and recording artist – unsubsidized. 

 

by Stephen BeardPodcast Title Britain is giving subsidies for rock music Story Type FeatureSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

PODCAST: The EPA cuts emmissions; Seattle raising minimum wage

Mon, 2014-06-02 08:24

The EPA is aiming to cut carbon emmissions from power plants by 30% by the year 2030. Part of the strategy will be to allow states flexibility in how they meet the demand, hopefully sparking innovation amidst competition. Also, Seattle is set to approve the highest minimum wage for a city of its size: $15. Hear why business leaders are actually advocating for the pay raise. Finally, why HELOCs -- a form of second mortage -- are on the rise again.

An excuse for cat pictures all month

Mon, 2014-06-02 07:59

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Tuesday, June 3:

In Washington, the Commerce Department reports on factory orders for April.

A Senate subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy discusses "Farming, Fishing, Forestry, and Hunting in an Era of Changing Climate."

Have you been up to some spring cleaning? Maybe cleaning out the garage to make room for a new car? Automakers are slated to report sales for May.

Read some poetry in honor of Allen Ginsberg. He was born on June 3rd, 1926.

And pet proof your place. June is Adopt-a-Cat Month. That's pretty self-explanatory.

EPA gives states flexibility in cutting carbon emissions

Mon, 2014-06-02 07:36

The Obama Administration unveiled the first-ever regulation aimed at cutting carbon emissions from existing power plants. The president is using his executive powers to go after the country’s biggest source of carbon pollution.

The draft rule aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the rule under the auspices of the Clean Air Act. The proposal also gives states flexibility in how they achieve their cuts.

“It doesn’t tell power plants exactly how to go about reducing emissions. It tells states to figure that sort of thing out,” says Jerry Taylor, who heads the libertarian Niskanen Center in Washington. “So it’s less command and control than one could imagine, but it’s more command and control than most economists would want to see in place.”

To meet their specific goals, the EPA is proposing that states could create compliance plans in which fossil-fuel burning power plants don’t bear sole responsibility for reducing emissions. In other words, states could reduce emissions by creating their own allowance trading programs, partnering with other states, increasing energy efficiency, or using more renewable energy.

The EPA projects that, in 2030, the rule “would result in net climate and health benefits” of up to $82 billion.

Durwood Zaelke of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development says the rule won’t solve the climate change problem, but it should spur innovation.

“This is also the best way to get experimentation. It may be that the state of New York, the state of Michigan, the state of California, finds the best way forward faster than another state,” he says.

That innovation, he says, will be crucial to combat climate change in the decades ahead. 

A personal look back at WBOE

Mon, 2014-06-02 06:40

WBOE was on the air for 40 years, from 1938 until 1978.  It got its start producing and broadcasting instructional programming for the Cleveland Public Schools. Back then, its broadcast day would mirror the school day, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. In 1976, the year I began working there, the station was in the process of becoming a National Public Radio affiliate.  

Much of WBOE’s rich history has been preserved, including many 16-inch electrical transcription (E.T.) discs, which were used to record programs before reel-to-reel tape.  These large discs help 15 minutes of audio on each side, and would spin at 33&1/3 rpm.  The programs recorded in the WBOE studios were known as “soft recordings” because they needed to be played back with a tone arm that was significantly lighter than the one used on regular 78 rpm record players of the time. 

Public schools in the district were given special radios that picked up only WBOE’s broadcasts. There were programs for every grade and for every curriculum area.  

Cleveland school teachers, administrators and students were involved in the production of the programs,  most of which were read from scripts.  Some programs were broadcast live and recorded simultaneously for repeat later.  Others were pre-recorded.  Additionally, WBOE used the resources of other radio stations to access educational programming from the major radio networks. 

Imagine sitting in a classroom in, let’s say, 1949, with a film strip or Lantern slide projector projecting pictures on a screen while the narration is heard from the WBOE radio sitting on a table in the front of the classroom. Often a student would be asked to run the projector and advance to the next slide. 

I’ve worked to preserve WBOE’s history for decades, by keeping representative samples of programming and by transferring the 16-inch discs and reel-to-reel tapes to CDs. I have also offered to upload the discs onto the “Historical Archive” site of the CMSD website.  As I’ve listened to what I’m preserving, I’ve found numerous fascinating items, from lessons in the 1940s on dating etiquette to current events lessons covering World War II and more.

As home prices recover, banks resume offering HELOCs

Mon, 2014-06-02 02:49

Back before the housing market imploded, there was a beast that roamed the streets of suburban America. Its name was HELOC: the home equity line of credit.

When lenders thought home prices would never stop rising, they let homeowners take equity out of their home through a line of credit, which they could use it for all kinds of purchases. But since the crisis, HELOCs -- a form of second mortgage -- have been deep in hibernation. Now, they are slowly waking. And they're hungry.

HELOCs aren't anywhere near as prevalent as they were pre-crisis. But they were up 8 percent in the first quarter over last year, in part because banks are marketing HELOCs to homeowners again.

Home prices are rebounding and the credit market is loosening, but inventories are still low, says Steve Cook, the editor of Real Estate Economy Watch: "So I think one of the things we are seeing now is a lot of homeowners deciding to remodel because now they can."

Andrew Pizor is a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. He says after the financial crisis, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) changed regulation and disclosure rules for traditional mortgages, but not for HELOCs.

"The CFPB said they are going to be working on that down the road, but they haven't gotten to it yet," says Pizor.

Pizor doesn't recommend HELOCs for large one-time purchases, but he says they can be a good option for establishing a long-term line of credit, as long you understand the terms of the loan.

Businesses in Seattle advocate for higher minimum wage

Mon, 2014-06-02 02:45

The Seattle city council is expected to approve a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. That would be the highest rate for any large U.S. city, and would tie for the highest in the nation.

Surprisingly, the hike in pay has some unusual backers: leaders in the business community.

“The business community and the Chamber did not come out of the box saying, ‘Hell no. Let’s defeat this,’” says Howard Wright, CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group. He also represented employers as co-chair of the committee.

Wright and other business-types want to avoid what happened in the nearby town of Sea Tac. When Sea Tac raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, businesses didn’t have enough time to prepare. In order to afford the new wage law, employers cut benefits and laid off workers.

In Seattle, companies would have more time to get ready -- Small businesses would have up to seven years to implement the higher minimum wage.

Mayors in other cities like Chicago are also talking about adopting a higher minimum wage.

Brookings Institution senior fellow Alan Berube studies income inequality. According to Berube, “Seattle is out front of what is quickly becoming a national trend of big cities looking at local minimum wages as a way of addressing income inequality and keeping their cities affordable for low and moderate income citizens.”

The South is more likely to hand out corporate subsidies

Mon, 2014-06-02 02:01

The ink is drying on contracts that will commit upwards of $400 million taxpayer dollars to a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves. The baseball team is supposed to pay some of that back in rent, but last week’s deal looks to many critics like an enormous public subsidy for a profitable business.

If you feel like this kind of thing happens more often in the American South, you might be right.

Take this year’s race for governor in Georgia, for example, where the Republican incumbent’s first TV ad is running.

“Governor Nathan Deal lowered taxes on job creators,” the hushed narrator intones. “Now, for the first time in history, Georgia is the number one place to do business.”

Number one according to whom? Site Selection magazine, a publication dedicated to "corporate real estate strategy and area economic development." 

Just in case they don’t have that one in your dentist’s waiting room, the magazine praises Georgia for its generous incentives – like a 30 percent state tax credit for filmmakers. Local governments also spend millions on infrastructure to lure factories and the like.

Funneling taxes to private enterprise is an old habit in the South, says James Cobb, a historian at the University of Georgia.

“After the agricultural economy was pretty much rend asunder by the Civil War, the southern states began to provide incentives and sweeten the deals to attract outside capital that was supposedly going to bring the South back to prosperity by urbanization and industrialization,” Cobb says.

The freebies were meant as a temporary kickstart, he says. But by the 1950s, northern governments started using the same tricks.

“And then, in the last generation, the global labor market has become so competitive that it’s been very hard to sort of ditch the subsidy approach,” Cobb says.

That’s despite the fact that handouts to business are incredibly unpopular with southern voters. That includes Cobb County, the Atlanta suburb that’s trying to lure the Braves. Last week, opponents had to be dragged out of a public hearing on the stadium deal.

Local politicians say any other community would bend over backwards to land such a big catch.

But, Cobb says, there comes a point where you become so business-friendly, there are no goodies left for everybody else: "You throw over so much in public expenditures in various things, including education, to keep taxes down, that you reach a point of it being self-defeating.”

It's worth noting that back in the 1990s, Site Selection magazine was calling Mississippi the best state for business. Twenty years later, that state isn't exactly an economic powerhouse.

Inducing hypothermia to save lives

Mon, 2014-06-02 01:00

Starting in April of this year, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC began a study to see if cooling the body of patients with massive bleeding to 50 degrees below normal body temperature could improve the treatment of traumatic injuries. By the conclusion of the trial, 10 patients with gun shot or knife wounds will have had a large tuble placed in their aorta, which will then pump a cooling saline solution through their bodies as it puts them in a kind of suspended animation, hopefully buying doctors enough time to treat the source of the bleeding.

Though, because there will not be time to receive consent from family members, the team behind the research must go through a "exception-from-informed consent process," in which the public is informed of the trial and has the option to preemptively opt out.

First tested on pigs in 2000, the method showed huge success rates. This will be the first instance of testing the procedure on human beings. 

A question of numbers and geography

Sun, 2014-06-01 23:50

Let me come right out and say it: I am a trafficker in Gross Domestic Product data and I'm not proud.

With every GDP estimate, first and second revisions of this key indicator of the state of the U.S. economy, there I am in the morning on the radio dutifully sharing this number, like a co-pilot calling out the airspeed during the takeoff roll so the pilot can decide the precise moment to lift the nose of the plane.

Despite my disclaimers, people hear GDP and conclude from that number that the economy is fabulous, good, indifferent, bad, or terrible.

The thing is, GDP measures money changing hands. It doesn't tell you if the money changing hands is for good or for evil. If a pandemic of athlete's foot ever swept across America, GDP would go up, because we would still hobble into work, but we would spend more on doctor's visits and anti-fungals, contributing extra to GDP.

So GDP going up isn't always "good."

Furthermore, the inventor of the Gross Domestic Product, the American economist and demographer Simon Kuznetz, never intended it to be used as a scorecard in this way when he developed the calculation 80 years ago.

As I like to say, determining if the economy is good or bad by counting the dollars that are exchanged is like determining if a piece of music is good or bad by counting the number of notes.

Because, ultimately, do we really care how "the economy" is doing? We care about how well we, our families, our communities are prospering. How are we doing? -- That's the real question we all want answered.

If not GDP, then what numbers might yield a better readout about how we are doing?

Economists, statisticians, and economists are applying a variety of creative approaches to getting a better reading on our well-being. On Marketplace, we have vowed to cover these alternative measures early and often. Let me just highlight one here, a project devised by a researcher at the London School of Economics.

Some researchers are trying to see if there is a correlation between how happy you are and exactly where you are.

So many of us carry around precise tracking devices at all times. They are called "smartphones" and there's an app called "Mappiness."

Map + happiness = Mappiness, geddit?

If you download the app and opt in, the thing will buzz you at random times (you can make it leave you alone at night, in case you are wondering). When the app beeps, you let it know how happy or sad you are at that moment. Here is the interesting part: When you record your level of bliss vs misery scale, your phone knows where you are. Researchers are building a big database of these readings to see if patterns emerge, focusing first on Britain.

Are we happiest in the woods, in a park or in a shopping mall? How bummed out are we at work compared to at home?

Among the results so far: People seem to be more content when they are near the ocean. Coming in second, behind the coast, is the mountains. The middle of the city was, statistically, the least happy place, as least as measured in the British data.

If enough people have the app installed, the system might eventually be able to correlate not just where we are the happiest but with whom we are the happiest. You don't need an app to tell you who fills you with rapture or annoys the heck out of you.

But researchers would be very interested in the role relationships play in our well-being. That may play a greater role that that GDP number the guy on the radio is always yammering on about.

Curveball: What can't you learn online these days?

Sun, 2014-06-01 20:13
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/mooc-fun">View Survey</a>

What a billion dollars buys you this week

Fri, 2014-05-30 14:47

There have been a lot of billion dollar deals in the past couple days. Sales, proposed fines, buyouts. If you’ve got a couple billion dollars lying around the house, you had a lot of options. So, on the off-chance you’re a billionaire, here are some of the things you might have been able to buy this week: 

$1 billion

A clean river. Los Angeles city officials want to turn Los Angeles River into a scenic urban oasis, and that plan just got a bit more likely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommending approval of that $1 billion proposal. This all still has to be voted on by Congress, but it’s looking like the Los Angeles River might not be a concrete corridor for much longer.

$2 billion

The worst franchise in sports history. That’s what former Microsoft tycoon Steve Ballmer seems like he’ll be able to buy from noted racist-remark-maker Donald Sterling if and when his deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers goes through. Beating out bids by David Geffen, Grant Hill, and Oprah Winfrey, the deal still requires final approval from the NBA. And though Sports Illustrated named the Clippers the "worst franchise in sports history," their fortunes appear to be looking up.

$3 billion

A whole bunch of headphones. Beats, the high-end headphone manufacturer and music streaming service owned by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, might seem like an odd fit for Apple, purveyor of shiny gadgets and computers. But Apple disagrees, to the tune of the $3 billion it will spend on Beats. Apple doesn’t have to build a subscription music service itself, and instead just supplants one already in place.

$5.7 billion

Lots and lots of meat. Or not. When Pilgrim’s Pride offered to buy Hillshire Brands for $5.7 billion, everything seemed alright (or more accurately for the two huge meat companies, kosher). Then food-giant Tyson swept in with an even bigger offer and made everything a bit more complicated. The deal still hasn’t been finalized, but you could consider Hillshire the king of the prom right now.

$10 billion

Forgiveness, or at least freedom from further prosecution. That’s what BNP Paribas, the largest bank in France, might have to pay in order to avoid criminal prosecution. The U.S. Justice Department suspects that BNP Paribas ignored sanctions and did business with countries like Sudan and Iran, but won’t press criminal charges if the bank pays a very large fine. And the actual amount they have to pay might be far less, and BNP Paribas is looking to pay less than $8 billion. 

A Columbus, Miss. QUIZ! How well do you know this Southern city?

Fri, 2014-05-30 14:07

We're continuing our American Futures series with The Atlantic's James Fallows this week. Kai and James have been traveling across the U.S. looking at how small towns are living and working in a new economy.

Next stop: Mississippi to the city of Columbus -- A town with a long history in the South.

How much do you know about this small town? Take our quiz! And check out our reporting from Columbus.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "how-much-do-you-know-about-columbus-mississippi", placeholder: "pd_1401495349" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

What’s Ballmer buying? An 'expensive plaything'

Fri, 2014-05-30 13:45

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is buying the LA Clippers for $2 billion. It’s a record-breaking sum if the deal goes through, though for Ballmer, it’s fairly small compared to his estimated $20 billion fortune. For his money, he’ll get a team that’s poised to greatly increase its TV revenues and the thanks of fans grateful to be rid of Donald Sterling, disgraced after his infamous racist rant. But above all, he’s getting a remarkably expensive plaything.

“He’s not getting a sound economic investment. He’s buying a big toy,” says Andy Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “It’s a vanity purchase. He gets a lot of exposure, ego massaging.”

$2 billion is more than what most analysts think the team is worth, with some valuing it at a quarter of that price. But in the bonkers world of sports business, all that matters is what one super-rich person will pay.

Regardless of what the team’s true value is, Ballmer will almost certainly benefit from a far richer TV contract when the current one expires. Some estimate the Clippers next deal could triple what they’re making now.

“All of the big deals that we’ve seen in recent times that are really startling have been fueled by the money that’s coming in from freshly negotiated or to-be negotiated TV contracts,” says Clemson University sports economist Skip Sauer.

After all, another LA team, baseball’s Dodgers, sold for $2.1 billion. The new owners went on to sell the media rights for billions more in a 25-year agreement. But of course, the Clippers are far less popular and successful than the Dodgers. Trying to change that could soon be Ballmer’s problem.

Weekly wrap: Numbers, nudging

Fri, 2014-05-30 13:42

There was a lot to talk about in the economy this week.

For starters, the revised number for Gross Domestic Product growth came out yesterday and things are not looking so good. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the economy contracted in the most recent quarter by one percent.

"I think this just shows that the economic growth we have now isn't very robust. It's no time to get complacent, but it's not all bad news. Things are getting a little better," says Cardiff Garcia from the blog FT Alphaville.

However, many argue that in one more quarter, we'll be back in another recession. 

Nela Richardson, chief economist for the brokerage and referal site Redfin, believes we should fear these numbers because the goals set by the Feds are not as attainable as they make it seem. 

"What it would take for us to reach the 3 percent that the Fed has been forcasting is for us to grow in the second half of this year by 5 percent... I just don't see any evidence of where this growth is going to come. And the reason I'm so troubled is because business investment plumeted so much... There's no indication that the seeds of growth that would hit 5 percent in the second half of the year are actually starting to bloom in the spring swoon," says Richardson.

The inflation number also came out this week. And it appears we had a small increase in inflation.

"It has all kinds of beneficial effects. It also can be a sign that the economy is starting to grow again. But the good thing about inflation when it doesn't spike too quickly is that it means that households are incentivised to spend money because their money is going to worth a little bit less each year. It also means that businesses are incentivised to invest," says Cardiff.

The still looming problems at the VA

Fri, 2014-05-30 13:32

President Barack Obama announced Friday morning he had accepted Eric Shinseki’s resignation. The retired four-star general is no longer the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

While Shineski’s departure may quiet the political storm around how VA hospitals tried to hide long wait times for veterans, it does little to fix the larger task of figuring out what is wrong with the VA health care system and how to fix it. 

This is a big job, and many people would say Shinseki’s successor will be in an unenviable position.

“Good luck to whoever comes in,” says Michael Useem, head of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is a turnaround, a restructuring.”

That has been done successfully, he notes, many times in the private sector, but the new head of the VA will face certain pressures someone in the private sector probably wouldn’t. 

“It’s a highly politicized environment with not a lot of resources to allocate,” says Tom D’Aunno, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

About those resources…

“The system’s growth has been slower than the growth in the demand for services,” says Jack Needleman, a public health professor at UCLA.

The VA has a pretty big budget, but most of it is tied up in pensions and disability. It is possible Congress could step in and give the agency more money.

Some lawmakers want to make it easier for the agency to hire and fire staff, but Needleman wonders if that should be at the top of the agenda.

“What we have learned from decades of work studying health systems and quality is it’s often a system problem, not a personnel problem,” he says.

And the Veterans Health Administration is a big system that is pretty decentralized.

D’Aunno says there will be additional pressure to fix things fast, but, he adds, real reform would take time.

“This is not about making heads roll,” he says. “This is about doing actual problem solving.”

According to D’Aunno, the new secretary’s first objective should be to build trust among the VA’s ranks, to find out exactly what has gone wrong.  

Google gets a makeover

Fri, 2014-05-30 12:41

A story from the Marketplace Desk of "Yes, the internet actually is making us stupid."

 

Google apparently changed its logo this week. Nothing major, really.

Just a tweak. A tiny tweak, you might say.

They moved the second "g" one pixel to the right, and the "l" one pixel down and one to the right.

Makes it more...readable...apparently.

Check out this .gif from Gizmodo -- it all makes sense now, right?

Gizmodo

 

 

One estimate of the cost of new EPA rules: $51 billion

Fri, 2014-05-30 12:39

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will announce the Obama Administration’s biggest concrete push to combat global warming: The first-ever regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out a report in advance of the rules, saying, in effect: "Hey, this is going to cost a whole bunch of money."

The Chamber estimated that EPA’s regulations could reduce Gross Domestic Product  by up to $51 billion a year.  

Yale economist William Nordhaus — called the father of climate economics — does some quick math in his head when he hears that figure. "That’s a little more than two-tenths of a percent of GDP," he says, "So, that would be one hundredth of one percent off the growth rate."  In other words, he says, given the enormous size of the U.S. economy, and the fact that it grows every year, $51 billion is a rounding error.

Karen Harbert, who runs the arm of the Chamber that put out the $51 billion figure, cites a contrasting view of one- or two-tenths percent of GDP. "I think the White House put it best on Thursday with their energy plan," she says, "when they were giving credit to the oil and gas sector for creating jobs. They said, ‘It was significant, they added .2 percent to GDP!’"

There’s also the cost/benefit analysis: What benefits could the money produce?  In this case: The plan is to mitigate global warming.

There are likely to be side benefits as well, says Dmitri Zenghelis, from the London School of Economics, who compares it to technological advances driven by Cold War competition with the Soviet Union. "You tend to find that you solve that challenge and provide all sorts of spillovers which give you things like Internets and hand-held devices and touch-screens," he says.

"But let's not kid ourselves," he says. "It's not going to be win-win. There are going to be some transitional costs, and there will be some losers in the interim." Those losers can be expected to complain about their costs. 

In the end, those losses don't justify inaction, Nordhaus says. "There’s just no argument I’ve heard for postponing this," he says. "Because it is going to get worse, it is going to get more costly, and the longer we wait, the steeper up the damage curve we go."

An analogy might be a homeowner who notices a couple of loose bricks in the wall of his or her house. A repair guy provides an estimate, which sounds expensive. But if the work doesn't get done now, the expense will only multiply.

That analogy sounds about right to Dallas Burtraw, an economist with Resources for the Future. "You have a problem that you know inevitably is going to catch up with you," he says, "but any single day, it seems to make sense to procrastinate."

ON THE AIR
Echoes
Next Up: @ 02:00 am
BBC World Service

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4