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Reduce carbon, create jobs?

Tue, 2014-06-03 02:18

New carbon-emission targets proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week will put some coal-fired power plants out of operation, and could eventually squeeze employment in the coal-mining industry as well.

The EPA is calling for a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. They also predict that meeting the new target will cost electric utilities $8 billion per year, but says it will ultimately save the U.S. economy $50 billion a year or more in health care costs, as pollution from power plants and fossil fuel production falls.

The EPA’s fact-sheet and press release provided no firm numbers on projected job creation from meeting the new carbon standards, though. A lengthy “Regulatory Impact Analysis” report, however, provided tentative estimates from peer-reviewed labor-economics research, predicting net job increases totaling 105,000 a year.

That figure takes into account coal-mining jobs that would be lost, offset by new renewable-energy and energy-efficiency jobs: retrofitting power plants, pumping cleaner natural gas, upgrading the electricity grid, installing solar and wind generation capacity, and deploying energy-saving appliances.

But green-energy job predictions can vary widely — the Natural Resources Defense Council recently predicted more than 200,000 new jobs per year, based on slightly different carbon targets and date benchmarks.

Job predictions can also be highly politicized, says Ron Pernick, managing director at Clean Edge, an energy research firm.

“There are a lot of variables,” says Pernick. “It’s part art, part science.”

Pernick says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stopped collecting and crunching data on green-economy jobs due to sequester-related budget cuts. Though, he points out that jobs in renewable energy have been growing strongly for years, and tougher carbon regulation can only help.

Marty Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine EnergyBiz, says the EPA’s plan to let states develop their own plans and energy mixes for hitting the new carbon targets will help drive innovation, and promote new green-energy startups. 

“Each state, if you will, will become a laboratory,” says Rosenberg. “There are men and women out there testing new ideas. I do think this will be an economic stimulant.”

Opponents of the EPA's carbon targets, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, disagree, arguing that shunning coal will destroy jobs and raise operating costs for American businesses.

 

 

Harley Davidson's fastest growing market? Women

Tue, 2014-06-03 02:11

Harley-Davidson is branching out.

The iconic motorcycle manufacturer plans to roll out leaner and lighter bikes into showrooms by the end of the month.

Good-bye hogs, hello street bikes?

“An interesting way for Harley to expand its business is to cater to a wider audience,” says Moringstar analyst Jaime Katz.

Katz says 30 percent of last year’s sales went to what Harley calls its "outreach market" -- anyone other than white men over the age of 35. The company hopes its "Street" models -- bikes that are lower, lighter, and easier to handle -- will create a higher demand, especially among the fastest growing demographic groups: women.

“Women are climbing corporate ladders, they own a lot of small businesses and so they have money and time,” says Genevieve Schmitt, founder and editor of Women Riders Now.com. Schmitt says in a sign that the female bikers market is growing, she expects Harley’s new line to attract new female riders.

Singapore's got some big retirement issues

Mon, 2014-06-02 23:39

Here in the U.S., it’s pretty standard to complain volubly and publicly about government programs, particularly those to do with retirement – Social Security, healthcare for the elderly and the poor and pension and retirement plans in general

Not so in Singapore. The people in Singapore rarely question government policy, and almost never criticize it. So when you hear people complain openly about government policy on retirement and Singapore’s version of social security, it’s worth paying attention.

“Openly” being, of course, on the Web. On blogs and on social media, and particularly on Facebook (Singaporeans were big users of Facebook at a time when most Americans were still obsessed with MySpace). A debate that would ordinarily have been held in private, in coffee shops or around dinner tables, has been running for some time in the very public forum of social media. 

Many Singaporeans are not happy about the way their retirement program, the Central Provident Fund (CPF), is being handled by the government, and, for once, they’re not being shy about expressing their feelings. Emotions are running so high that  a prominent blogger named Roy Ngerng recently made the claim that Singapore's prime minister had "misappropriated" Singaporeans retirement money. The prime minister responded equally disproportionately, by slapping Ngerng with a lawsuit.

I’m not going to drive you insane with an explanation of how CPF works: it deals with social security, retirement planning and medical insurance all in one-go, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty complicated. You can read more here and here. Many observers point admiringly at the CPF, saying it's an excellent example of effective central planning. But just like Social Security in the U.S. and equivalent programs in Europe and the rest of the world, CPF is coming under intense pressure.

The pressure comes in two parts. First, Singaporeans are living longer. Second, healthcare costs here are soaring. Any of that sound familiar? It's a double-barreled shotgun that every developed nation is facing down right now.

Singapore's response will sound equally familiar: The government, more accurately the ruling Peoples Action Party (which has won every election ever held here),  is demanding its citizens cough up more money. Its recent demand that some Singaporeans put a greater proportion of their salary into the CPF sounds to many like a tax hike. Which it effectively is.

The changes to CPF are not going down well. But it's encouraging to see some Singaporeans standing up and demanding transparency from the government about the way CPF is run. It's a pity, however, that the PAP is resorting to old-school methods to deal with the media storm. They're missing an opportunity to show how mature Singapore is, how unafraid are its leaders of criticism, and how much more open they can be about the way government programs are handled.

Regardless, Singapore has a problem: it has become too successful, too quickly. When the country gained independence in 1963, its people expected to live until around 66 years of age, on average. Today they expect to live until they're 82. That's a sign of how quickly and efficiently the country has developed, but it has put its systems under enormous strain.

It almost makes America's social security system look as though its in relatively good shape!

Paddy Hirsch filed this while on vacation in Southeast Asia.

Curveball: Are teachers prepared for test prep?

Mon, 2014-06-02 19:18
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/assessment">View Survey</a>

Vox CEO Jim Bankoff on which numbers matter

Mon, 2014-06-02 14:21

Economists love the numbers. For some companies, the numbers that are most important are the ones that say how many clicks and hits they’re getting on their website.

"ComScore.com is definitely one of the many metric sites we look at for sure," says Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media. "ComScore reports monthly. We have metric services that report in real time. We can literally look at a dashboard and just be obsessed with what’s going on, who’s looking at our content and how many people at any given moment."

So how interested are companies like Vox Media in having people understand the numbers by which they do their job?

"We make money by growing our metrics and those metrics are largely transparent," says Bankoff. "For instance, you can go to your favorite website and see how many people shared your favorite article on Facebook or Twitter. A lot of these metrics are now transparent and we’re making them more transparent. In our case, our ratings are transparent to our advertisers too."

Is there such thing as too much data?

"Absolutely," says Bankoff. "We like to tell our people that they should be data-informed as opposed to data-driven."

Bankoff says that although the numbers allow companies to produce content in a more targeted and efficient way, technology should be used to assist the story telling and assist the consumption, not replace it.

A revision to the revision

Mon, 2014-06-02 13:59

Today we present a number not to be loved.

Economic indicators are often revised, higher or lower, usually a month or two after they come out. Right?

Well, today's report from the Institute of Supply Management, the ISM for short, which measure how American factories are doing, was revised twice in the space of about three hours. Wall Street sold off hard on the initial weak, but incorrect, report.

The excuse:

"Software glitches," the ISM said.

Facial Recognition: From the NSA to Facebook to Vegas

Mon, 2014-06-02 13:57

The NSA, the New York Times reports, is harvesting people’s images, millions of them per day. It's using them, we are told, to search for terrorists and other intelligence targets. 

If the targets are U.S. citizens, the NSA must obtain court approval.  

Facial recognition technology has taken our present national Gordian knot of privacy and security concerns through a circuitous path.

“The NSA and CIA have quite openly been working with facial recognition technology at least for the past 20 years,” says Chris Green, chief technology analyst at the Davies Murphy Group. 

For a time, as that technology filtered into the private sector, it developed a life of its own. Notably “in Las Vegas,” Green says. A banned card counter can cost a casino half a million dollars in 20 minutes, so it was important for the private security industry to work on quick identification. “Vegas has been a great proving ground for facial recognition technology. It’s put a lot of money into it and really refined and honed it down.”

The groundwork laid by government agencies and the military, says Green, “created a secondary market in the private sector which is in turn is now feeding back” into government.

That feedback into government is also largely being financed by the government. Especially since 9/11.  

“I would have to guess its 70 percent or higher government dollars,” says Chris Boehnen, who leads the Secure Computer Vision Team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

When it comes down to what that public and private investment has brought us, it’s important to separate the fanciful from the factual, says Boehnen. 

Looking at Facebook’s tagging feature, for example, “you could easily get the idea that modern technology is capable of taking all of Facebook’s images and telling who you are, and that’s very inaccurate from a technical standpoint.”

Facebook, says Boehnen, almost certainly employs shortcuts that make it appear far more advanced than it is. For example, Facebook most likely isn’t comparing your photo album to all photo albums on Facebook from here to Mongolia. It’s comparing the faces in your album, most likely, to your friends, or maybe your friends’ friends. 

In the real world, facial recognition technology can be both much better, and much worse.  Patrick Grother tests commercially developed facial recognition technologies for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He says in a recent test, theyenrolled 1.6 million people and achieved a 96 percent recognition rate. Meaning that if they were searching for one person out of a group of 1.6 million, they could pick that person out successfully 96 percent of the time. 

But that comes with a big if: it only works if the photos being used are controlled – well lit, frontal photos like a passport or a driver’s license photo. (Incidentally, that’s why you’re not supposed to smile in those photos – all the better to identify you or someone impersonating you). 

This is tremendously useful for government agencies who are trying to determine if someone is fraudulently registering a new passport or driver’s license under another name.  Less so if you’re trying to pick a bomber out of a crowded mall.  

Grother is not privy to what the NSA or CIA use. Green, with Davies Murphy Group, suspects those agencies enjoy even higher success rates “in the high 99 percent range.” But even then, the accuracy is only as good as the data, a.k.a., the photos one is comparing. Clear photos make for high identification rates. Green says modern day surveillance cameras and Closed Circuit TV cameras can often provide such clear images.

We're already halfway toward the EPA's new CO2 limits

Mon, 2014-06-02 13:55

This morning, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced proposed regulations that call for a 30 percent reduction by 2030 in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. But it’s not 30 percent from today's levels. It’s 30 percent from where the U.S. was in 2005— when emissions were a lot higher. In fact, they’ve dropped 15 percent since then.  If the country has already coasted halfway to the finish line, the next half promises to be tougher. 

It's worth remembering that the last nine years haven’t been an easy ride. "The biggest thing since 2005 has been the slow economic times since 2009, so that’s nothing to get excited about," says Lucas Davis, an energy economist at the University of California at Berkeley. The recession meant lower demand for energy— especially from industries that use electricity to run factories.

Doug Vine at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions offers another contender for what’s been driving emissions down: "The largest force is the natural gas boom that we’ve seen in this country," he says. Burning natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal for the same amount of energy.

However, another trend that's pushed emissions down—more efficiency, more solar, and more wind power — stems partly from higher natural gas prices, from the years before 2005.

"Those increases in natural gas prices were leading to increases in electricity prices," says Susan Tierney of the Analysis Group, "and that was making a lot of people very concerned." Those concerns prompted a lot of states to start promoting wind and solar power, and energy-efficiency.

That trend got a push from the federal government. "The 2009 federal stimulus put a big slug of money into energy efficiency and renewable energy," says Dan Bakal of Ceres.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $31 billion in energy programs, with the biggest chunk going toward energy-efficiency.

But the stimulus is over. The recession too. Natural gas prices have started going back up, and coal is making a small comeback. WIthout a policy like the EPA’s new regulations, analysts say we would expect to see greenhouse gas emissions start going up again.

China's economic boom leaves a trail of ghost cities

Mon, 2014-06-02 13:09

Nearly a year ago, I visited a replica of New York City under construction outside the Northern Chinese city of Tianjin. Workers were constructing dozens of skyscrapers on a piece of swampland inside a bend in the river, giving it an uncanny resemblance to the island of Manhattan. There were plans for a Lincoln Center, a Rockefeller center, and much more.

Lin Lixue, a salesman for one of the developers, was beside himself. “Our goal is to create the world’s largest financial center, right here, within ten years!” Lin told me. “We’re building skyscrapers, we’ve got China’s largest high-speed railway station coming soon, we’re building a tunnel under the sea, and we’ll soon build several subway lines.”

A year later, construction on this city, named Yujiapu, has all but grinded to a halt. Investors have pulled out. And a cluster of skyscrapers sit, half-finished – Manhattan on hold.

“It was a failure before it even started,” says Gao Fei inside the Tianjin office of Centaline Property, where he works as director of investment consulting. “The most important thing for Tianjin’s government has always been a high GDP rate. That means the government has to spend a lot of money on huge projects like this one. In China, these kinds of wasteful projects are everywhere.”

For years, high GDP growth has ensured local officials promotions within the Chinese Communist Party. In the case of the faltering Manhattan replica of Yujiapu, it helped boost Tianjin’s GDP growth rate to around 16 percent for three years, the fastest in China at the time. And that helped former Tianjin mayor Zhang Gaoli get promoted – to Vice Premier of China. In Zhang’s rearview mirror on his way to Beijing: a failed project and mountains of debt.

Hundreds of miles away lies China’s most infamous example of a colossal waste of investment: The city of Kangbashi, where on most mornings, you can watch staff members of the local hotel do a choreographed dance to techno music sprinkled with horse calls while taxi drivers pull up to watch.

There’s really nothing else to do here. The city – built for a population the size of Pittsburgh – is nearly empty. It was built a decade ago to house around a half a million people. At the time the region, known as Ordos, was rich from selling coal – Ordos sits atop one of China’s largest coal deposits. But today, coal prices are at an historic low, and according to state media, Ordos is in so much debt that it had to borrow tens of millions of dollars from a local developer just to pay the salaries for its city employees.

Xiong Gang, a migrant from faraway Sichuan province, came here to set up a restaurant to serve them. “Everyone knows this is a ghost town, so our restaurant doesn’t have to pay rent for three years,” says Xiong. “The government gave it to us for free so that they had a place to eat – they also hoped more businesses would come. “

The Ordos shopping mall next door is five floors of emptiness. Red banners hanging from the central atrium congratulate the mall on its grand opening. They dangle over a single squatter living in a tent in front of the first floor’s vacant information booth.

Across an empty public square filled with giant bronze statues of Genghis Khan’s family, I walk through the dark corridors of an office building, where dozens of doors have "for rent" signs on them.

I see a woman coming out of one of them. She says she works at a grocery store serving city employees, she came here from the countryside, and she pays the equivalent of $75 a month to sleep in an empty office space. She washes herself in the building’s public bathroom down the hall. She’s not alone. More than a hundred migrant workers live here, too – all trying to make what they can off of what’s left of this city.

Ordos’ government just issued a ban on all construction. But before it goes into effect, the city just can’t seem to help itself. It’s building a new skyscraper park near a manmade lake and three sports stadiums for the 2015 Chinese ethnic minority games costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Next door to that: a Formula 1 racetrack. Porsche used to sponsor the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia here until last year when sewage reportedly filled the pit stops and racers complained about the quality of the track.

Back in Tianjin, real estate analyst Gao Fei isn’t optimistic about China’s efforts to prevent future economic waste like Yujiapu and Ordos. “You can’t do anything about it,” says Gao, shaking his head. “Local officials are too powerful. They’re only concerned with the problems during their 5-year terms in office. If they can produce good numbers, they’ll be promoted. They’re not interested in the long-term plan."

Gao hopes for a day in China when government officials are evaluated for more than just local GDP growth. He says what really matters is the income of the people they govern, access to good health care and education. If these were the new goals in China, he says, all of this would be pretty easy to solve.

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

Gillian Flynn on the economics behind 'Gone Girl'

Mon, 2014-06-02 11:55

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling.

Here's a number for you: 78.

That's how many weeks author Gillian Flynn's book, "Gone Girl", has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

Flynn started writing her smash-hit of a novel at the height of the Recession. She had just lost her job at a magazine, and she found herself intrigued by what it meant to lose a job. Her main characters -- Nick and Amy -- wrestle with the economy in the most personal of ways.

“I wanted to explore what it meant to lose a job, what that meant to people of our age, people in their late 30s," Flynn says. "I had Nick and Amy, two people who had always thought their jobs would be very safe. And then, to have that taken away from them...to be forced to reinvent themselves a little bit. What that meant to them, what that meant to their marriage.”

Listen to the full commentary in the audio player above.

Gillian Flynn on the economics behind 'Gone Girl'

Mon, 2014-06-02 11:55

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling.

Here's a number for you: 78.

That's how many weeks author Gillian Flynn's book, "Gone Girl", has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

Flynn started writing her smash-hit of a novel at the height of the Recession. She had just lost her job at a magazine, and she found herself intrigued by what it meant to lose a job. Her main characters -- Nick and Amy -- wrestle with the economy in the most personal of ways.

“I wanted to explore what it meant to lose a job, what that meant to people of our age, people in their late 30s," Flynn says. "I had Nick and Amy, two people who had always thought their jobs would be very safe. And then, to have that taken away from them...to be forced to reinvent themselves a little bit. What that meant to them, what that meant to their marriage.”

Listen to the full commentary in the audio player above.

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.”

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