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In which the government acknowledges Google

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:43

And finally, it seems Congress has discovered the amazing powers of the internet. No joke.

From the Congressional Record, Senate Bill 2206 was introduced just last week, and which the legislative language tells us can be cited as the Let Me Google That For You Act.

S.B. 2206 would abolish the National Technical Information Service, collector and disseminator of almost 3 million government scientific, technical, engineering, and business reports, because, yes, you can just Google 'em for free.

Nasdaq'ed: tech slide continues

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:55
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:46 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

People walk by the Nasdaq stock market.

It was a rough week for tech and bio-tech stocks. And in Marketplace's Weekly Wrap segment, Leigh Gallagher, editor of Fortune Magazine, and Sudeep Reddy, from the Wall Street Journal, recap the week's financial news.

This week's market slump was driven in large part by big-name tech companies, and on Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite slumped 3.1 percent, its biggest decline since November 2011. 

 "We're seeing this increasing skittishness, and whether it's related to Candy Crush's IPO or tech stocks this week or JP Morgan today, if you pull really far back, last year the market was pretty boffo. It was up 30 percent," says Gallagher. "And the whole world knows that we're not going to do that again this year."

Was last year's market performance a little too bananas?

"Bananas, boffo, I'll give you another b-word: bubble," says Reddy. "We've spent so much time thinking about bubbles... that we've actually lost sight of some of the more fundamental issues like corporate earnings and economic expectations. And we'd have to see some pretty remarkable economic growth and profit growth to support where the stock market has been the past couple of months."

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014Interview by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Nasdaq'ed: tech slide continuesStory Type InterviewSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan Didion

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:53
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Ulises Farinas

Here's what downtown L.A. looks like in 2094, in the "Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two" graphic novel miniseries

This week Amazon announced it has bought ComiXology, a popular online store and digital reader for comic books, graphic novels and the like. 

Now, there is a select group of you, i.e., comics nerds  fans, to whom this will mean quite a bit more than it means to say, me. I am not a comics fan. Or at least — I haven’t been one. 

Then I called up Douglas Wolk, a man who writes about comic books, as well as writes comic books, and I started to get pretty excited about comics and the economics behind them. 

Wolk is currently working on a series called "Judge Dredd Mega City Two," which he describes as "probably the closest that incredibly violent sci-fi gets to a tribute to Joan Didion." I am intrigued. 

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, the five-issue mini-series by Douglas Wolk and drawn by Ulises Farinas.

Ulises Farinas

Wolk says, part of why he can write crazy mash-ups like this is because of the weird way the comic books business has worked for many years.

"Comics have the strangest economics of just about any medium I can think of," he said. 

Unlike regular books, where a store can return unsold copies, with comic books, a store buys a certain number from a publisher on a non-refundable basis. That means publishers of comics can gauge ahead of time how many copies will be profitable to print, so it's easier to take risks on books that might only appeal to niche markets. 

And tapping into those niche markets has become even easier with the rise of digital comics, according to Calvin Reid, a lifelong comic book fan and senior news editor at Publishers Weekly.  And that’s a good thing for comic book sales, since sales for physical comic books have reached a plateau in recent years. 

"Even in the early nineties there were comics that hit real mass market numbers, a million or so," Reid said. "But now, you sell 100,000 copies, and everyone pays attention."

Even so, physical comics that you can hold in your hand are still a more than $600 million industry.  There's just something addictive about flipping through the pages, says Jeff Ayers, a manager at Forbidden Planet, a revered comic book store in Manhattan that still does brisk business. It's great to be able to read a comic on your phone, Ayers told me. 

"But I'm not inclined to bring phone in to the bath tub, where I would be a comic book," he says.

Reading a comic book tribute to Joan Didion….in the bath tub?  I might try that.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Krissy ClarkPodcast Title Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan DidionStory Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) prices

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:50
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester holds a handful of his organic wheat on his farm October 15, 2006 in Big Sandy, Montana.

Walmart has announced a new line of prepared organic foods — ketchup, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal — marketed under the name Wild Oats. And cheap: Wild Oats spaghetti sauce will cost the same as Ragu brand. But it's one thing to try to grow demand for organics by offering lower prices. Supplying that demand could be tough, especially at low prices. Already, supplies of commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans are tight.

"There’s not as many acres," says Tim Daley, who buys and sells organic soybeans for Stonebridge, a brokerage in Iowa. "Maybe three or four percent of the marketplace is organic. And a lot of that is still coming in from offshore."  

If not for imports, he says, prices would be even higher. "And they’re already high. So if you’ve got $14 soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade, you’ve easily got $24 or $28 soybeans."

That's conventional beans, versus organic beans. 

Increasing supply can’t happen overnight. 

"It takes three years for a producer to achieve organic certification," notes Kellee James, CEO of Mercaris, a company that supplies market data on organic commodities. "So even if tomorrow prices go up and a producer decides he wants to grow, say, organic wheat, it’s going to take three years for that supply to come online."

Walmart says it plans to keep prices in line by locking in five-year contracts with producers.

Which may not work, says Paul Mitchell, who teaches agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. If market prices go up everywhere else, he thinks producers will want to re-negotiate.

"They’re going to ... say, 'Look, WalMart. We sold you our can of corn at $1.50 a can, organic. And now the market price is $2. Well, we don’t want the $1.50 anymore. We want to sell it for $2.'"

And if they don’t get it? Tim Daley, the soybean broker, says beans under contract might “disappear, magically" when market prices climb. "That has happened out here, more than a few years in a row.”

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) pricesStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

'If you can run the OMB, you can run anything.'

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:41
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Mark Wilson/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama (2ndL), U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell (L) applaud outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her service during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on April 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

President Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The OMB is something of a proving ground. 

Past budget directors have gone on to become White House chiefs of staff and cabinet secretaries. 

"It isn't such a big agency, but the subject matter covers everything that the government does," says Alice Rivlin, who led the OMB when Bill Clinton was president. "If you can run the OMB," she adds, "you can run anything."

And it seems to be true, given the resumes of recent OMB directors:

Jacob Lew: Director, OMB (twice) then White House Chief of Staff then Secretary of the Treasury

Rob Portman: Director, OMB then U.S. Senator

Joshua Bolten: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff

Mitch Daniels: Director, OMB then Governor of Indiana then president of Purdue University

Alice Rivlin: Director, OMB then Federal Reserve vice chair

Leon Panetta: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff then CIA Director then Secretary of Defense

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by David GuraPodcast Title "If you can run the OMB, you can run anything."Story Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

What if you could kill your stolen phone?

Fri, 2014-04-11 08:59

 Thieves want your smartphone. They really, really want it. Consumer Reports estimates 1.6 million smart phones were stolen in 2012.

"In some cities, a majority of the reported thefts are for smart phones and other mobile computing devices," said Rob D'Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University.  

He thinks a kill switch, which would allow you to disable your phone remotely, could make a lot of sense. A stolen phone that doesn't work isn't worth much. But the ability to kill a phone could be worth a lot to its owner.

"People who formerly had their phones stolen, they won't have that happen anymore so they won't have to go out and buy a new phone," said William Duckworth, a statistician at Creighton University.

And if there's a lot less theft, he said, insurance for phones wouldn't cost as much. All together, he estimated, kill switches could save consumers $2.6 billion a year. That doesn't include the time that police officers spend on smart phone thefts.

"When you look at the rate of thefts of smartphones in major metropolitian areas in the United States," D'Ovidio said, "it's just taxing law enforcement resources.

He thinks it's just a matter of time before all phones come with kill switches. Apple's newest operating system allows users to shut down a phone remotely. And according to Duckworth's research, that's something 99 percent of smart phone owners want.

PODCAST: What's so bad about low inflation?

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:57
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:46

Why are investors suddenly fleeing from stocks?

Right now our inflation rate is around 1 percent. But some at the Fed say that's way too low. The hope is to see inflation go up. But why on earth would we want to increase inflation?  

When it comes to wellbeing, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. That’s according to new data from the Social Progress Imperative, an organization which aims to understand how countries are performing on a variety of measures including health, education, technology, and opportunity.

Marketplace Tech for Friday, April 11, 2014by Podcast Title 4-11-14 Mid-day Update - What's so bad about low inflation?Story Type BlogSyndication All in onePMPApp Respond No

PODCAST: What's so bad about low inflation?

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:46

Why are investors suddenly fleeing from stocks?

Right now our inflation rate is around 1 percent. But some at the Fed say that's way too low. The hope is to see inflation go up. But why on earth would we want to increase inflation?  

When it comes to wellbeing, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. That’s according to new data from the Social Progress Imperative, an organization which aims to understand how countries are performing on a variety of measures including health, education, technology, and opportunity.

Nasdaq'ed: tech slide continues

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:46

It was a rough week for tech and bio-tech stocks. And in Marketplace's Weekly Wrap segment, Leigh Gallagher, editor of Fortune Magazine, and Sudeep Reddy, from the Wall Street Journal, recap the week's financial news.

This week's market slump was driven in large part by big-name tech companies, and on Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite slumped 3.1 percent, its biggest decline since November 2011. 

 "We're seeing this increasing skittishness, and whether it's related to Candy Crush's IPO or tech stocks this week or JP Morgan today, if you pull really far back, last year the market was pretty boffo. It was up 30 percent," says Gallagher. "And the whole world knows that we're not going to do that again this year."

Was last year's market performance a little too bananas?

"Bananas, boffo, I'll give you another b-word: bubble," says Reddy. "We've spent so much time thinking about bubbles... that we've actually lost sight of some of the more fundamental issues like corporate earnings and economic expectations. And we'd have to see some pretty remarkable economic growth and profit growth to support where the stock market has been the past couple of months."

Alternative indicator gives high scores to Costa Rica

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:03
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 09:50 EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to well-being, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. 

When it comes to well-being, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. That’s according to new data from the Social Progress Imperative, an organization which aims to understand how countries are performing on a variety of measures including health, education, technology and opportunity.

Stephen Keppel, who covers economics at Univision, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to explain why Costa Rica performs so well. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

Marketplace Morning Report for Friday, April 11, 2014Interview by David BrancaccioPodcast Title Alternative indicator gives high scores to Costa RicaStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

Say cheese... all April long

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:01

Here's an extended look at what's coming up next week:

On Sunday, the final season of "Mad Men" premieres. I had to put on my go-go boots and pour myself a martini for that tidbit.

On Monday, while we all drink heavily at a business meeting we've dressed up and styled our hair for, the Commerce Department is scheduled to report retail sales data for March.

On April 14th, 1939 John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" was first published. The depression era novel went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Speaking of the Pulitzers, Prizewinners are scheduled to be announced on Monday.

Did consumers pay more or less for stuff in March than they did in February? On Tuesday, the Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index. And it's tax day. An American tradition.

That brings us up to hump day. We'll get numbers on construction of new homes for March. And the Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

Wondering why I'm not talking about any hearings on Capitol Hill? It's because Congress is on recess.

Markets are closed for Good Friday.

Television host and comedian Conan O'Brien turns 51.

And since we here at Datebook love cheese, let's end with this deliciousness: April is National Grilled Cheese Month. Start melting.

Alternative indicator gives high scores to Costa Rica

Fri, 2014-04-11 06:50

When it comes to well-being, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. That’s according to new data from the Social Progress Imperative, an organization which aims to understand how countries are performing on a variety of measures including health, education, technology and opportunity.

Stephen Keppel, who covers economics at Univision, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to explain why Costa Rica performs so well. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

Costa Rica tops Latin American countries on Social Progress Index

Fri, 2014-04-11 06:50

When it comes to wellbeing, Costa Rica tops the list of countries in Latin America. That’s according to new data from the Social Progress Imperative, an organization which aims to understand how countries are performing on a variety of measures including health, education, technology, and opportunity.

Stephen Keppel, who covers economics at Univision, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to explain why Costa Rica performs so well. Click on the audio player above to hear more. 

When the coal layoffs trickle down

Fri, 2014-04-11 03:40

Coal communities in eastern Kentucky are feeling the effects of a relentless wave of mining layoffs the past few years. Competition from cheap natural gas and high production costs have hurt the mining business here. That, in turn, is hurting Main Street.

Take Whitesburg, Kentucky, population 2,000 give or take. At the Railroad Street Mercantile, owner Kae Fisher surprises visitors with an eclectic mix of merchandise. Homemade jellies, aromatherapy oils, snack chips, and jalapeno eggs fill the shelves. In the back of the store, she’s selling used LP’s and consignment quilts.

“These are from ladies across the county who try to earn a little extra money because a lot of them, their husbands have lost their jobs,” says Fisher.

Fisher and her husband David opened their “corner market” last year, as mining employment in eastern Kentucky plunged. Inauspicious timing, but Fisher believed the downtown needed at least one store. “We’re able to pay the bills,” says Fisher. “But have we got our money back that we’ve invested? Not yet.”

A midday stroll down Main Street, Whitesburg can be a lonely experience. The courthouse is the busiest place in town, but tables at the Courthouse Cafe across the street are fairly empty. On a weekday afternoon co-owner Laura Schuster worked the kitchen by herself. She can’t afford an assistant right now. “Once the layoffs started we immediately knew what would happen, that people would be afraid that they also would lose their jobs and they would cut back anyway they can,” says Schuster. “And one way to cut back is to not eat out. I’d say business is down 50 percent, if not more.”

Whitesburg and other coal towns in the region are also suffering from a steep drop in coal tax revenue. The money goes to counties and was originally intended for an economy beyond coal. In Whitesburg’s Letcher County, coal tax revenue is half what it was just a few years ago.

Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says over the years coal severance taxes have been diverted for other uses. “Local governments in eastern Kentucky have gradually become dependent on the coal severance as just a general fund source for operations,” says Bailey “For them to pay for police, to do basic road repair. So they’ve had a really hard time because there’s the lack of a tax base outside that as well to generate revenue.”

Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, says the transition to a “low-coal” economy will be “slow, hard and expensive.” He points out the region was poor, even while coal boomed. “So there will be no easy fix.”

Why low inflation can be dangerous

Fri, 2014-04-11 03:36

Right now our inflation rate is around 1 percent. But some at the Fed say that's way too low.

The hope is to see inflation go up. But why on earth would we want to increase inflation?  

"A little bit is good, but not too much. It's like a lot of things in life -- good in moderation," says Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at Wharton. "Higher inflation is a bad thing, but mild inflation, statistically has been associated with very good economic times."

Siegel says during times of inflation, the dollar decreases in value. So the $100 you borrowed back in the day was worth more then, than your $100 payment today -- which means less financial burdens for consumers and more cash to spend.

And that's one reason the Fed wants to see inflation go up -- just a little bit. 

"It's not so high as to be hurting a lot of people, but it's at a level which would probably create a lot of jobs," says Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisers. Thayer says the benefit of job creation would probably outweigh a slightly higher inflation rate.

Ukraine not on the agenda as IMF gathers

Fri, 2014-04-11 03:20

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are set to open their annual spring meetings. It will be a busy weekend for finance ministers and economists who are visiting Washington from all over the world. Dozens of panels and speeches are on the agenda, but none are about Ukraine, a country the IMF has offered billions of dollars.

According to Ken Rogoff, former IMF chief economist, right now, “the geopolitics overrides what the finance ministers and the central bankers think.”

But at a gathering of policymakers from close to 200 countries, it is bound to come up.

“I think it’s going to be talked about behind closed doors,” says Barry Eichengreen, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.  

Don't break my heart: This week's Silicon Tally

Fri, 2014-04-11 03:09

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week's guest is Nitasha Tiku, , co-editor of Valleywag, Silicon Valley's tech gossip rag.

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Don't break my heart: This week's Silicon Tally

Thu, 2014-04-10 14:07
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 06:09 Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week's guest is Nitasha Tiku, , co-editor of Valleywag, Silicon Valley's tech gossip rag.

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What's your type?

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:55

The break-up of a graphic design duo has resulted in a lawsuit of $20 million – over fonts. Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler worked together for 15 years to create some of the most famous and ubiquitous fonts around– used by GQ, Martha Stewart, the New York Jets and Saturday Night Live. They won awards for their typefaces - before the relationship turned sour. So now we want to know: How much do you care about fonts? Take our survey! (function(){var qs,js,q,s,d=document,gi=d.getElementById,ce=d.createElement,gt=d.getElementsByTagName,id='typef_orm',b='https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/share.typeform.com/';if(!gi.call(d,id)){js=ce.call(d,'script');js.id=id;js.src=b+'widget.js';q=gt.call(d,'script')[0];q.parentNode.insertBefore(js,q)}})()

What Family Dollar says about the economy

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:47

The retail chain Family Dollar said Thursday it's going to close more than 300 stores. Shrinking sales and falling profits are the proximate causes. There is a line of thinking that says, "If a discount store like Family Dollar is reporting bad news like this, maybe that's good news for the broader economy."  

Discount stores tend to do well during a downturn, when once higher-income consumers “trade down” for cheaper options, the argument goes, so perhaps the fact that discount stores are showing signs of struggle means those customers are trading back up, in response to a recovering economy.  

And it is true that Family Dollar has thrived during many economic shocks.  In fact, there’s a chart Family Dollar management recently trotted out at a retail industry conference that highlights this phenomenon -- a timeline of shocks to the American economy, events like the 9/11 terror attacks and the housing meltdown. After each of these events, you see a  steep incline on the graph, denoting earnings increases for Family Dollar. 

Family Dollar

But just because Family Dollar is floundering now doesn’t mean the larger economy is thriving. Higher-income customers may be leaving family dollar now that their economic fortunes seem to be brightening in the economic recovery.  But the story is complicated by the fact that low-income households still face high unemployment rates, and less money to spend in the wake of recent cuts to government assistance programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance.

Family Dollar

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