Marketplace - American Public Media

When England walked away from coal

Wed, 2014-04-09 02:26

Former mining communities around Britain have been marking what is for them a grim anniversary: it has been 30 years since the start of a national miners strike that convulsed the U.K. and its coal industry. The year-long strike over mine closures failed. After the strike, scores of mines were mothballed and a work force that once comprised more than a million men dwindled to a few thousand. Today, only three deep mines remain in operation in the U.K., and two of them are marked for closure.

Why did Britain decide to stop digging 30 years ago? Was this solely about coal, or was it political?

Ex-miner Mike Clark has no doubts. "It was political," he says firmly. Margaret Thatcher – the Conservative Prime Minister at the time – "she would do everything she could to break the working class of Great Britain. That's why she decided to close the pits. Don't forget that at the time, the coal mines were publicly-owned. It was a nationalized industry."

The miners believed Thatcher targeted them for reasons of political revenge. The National Union of Mineworkers had humbled a previous Conservative government in the 1970s by going on strike and triggering a general election which that government lost. But Thatcher may have had a more practical motivation for taking on the miners in 1984: They were Britain's most powerful and militant workers, the shock troops of a labor movement that Thatcher was determined to weaken.

"She wanted to redress the balance back in favor of capitalism," argues Christine Rawson, who grew up in a mining village in south Yorkshire. "Thatcher was determined that the unions would not gain strength, and would lose strength."

Quite right, too, says Dieter Helm, a professor of energy at Oxford University Dieter Helm. When Thatcher came to power, British labor relations were in chaos; the country was crippled by more than 2,000 strikes a year. "There was a general consensus that union power had reached a level where the British economy could no longer really function," says Helm. "And there was a very good economic case for closing the pits as well because of the high cost of deep pit mining. The contraction of the U.K. coal industry was economically correct. It had to happen. It was going to happen. It would have happened anyway."

Britain's deep mines could no longer compete on price with cheap imports of high quality coal from open cast mines in South Africa, Australia, and the United States. And, furthermore, the Thatcher government believed that those imports improved the country's energy security. Margaret Thatcher claimed that it was safer to rely on foreign coal than on the output of British miners. During the strike she called them: "The Enemy Within."

In focus: A merged Comcast-Time Warner

Wed, 2014-04-09 02:10

Some mergers have relevance to people’s lives says antitrust attorney Allen Grunes, and the proposed Time Warner-Comcast deal is one of them. Grunes, with the firm GeyerGorey, says the internet will be a focal point as the combined company would have at least 40 percent, and as much as 50 percent, of the fastest high-speed internet service market.

There are concerns the deal would make it harder for the next Netflix or Hulu to stream content, because it would have to pay the combined company more. But there are also concerns about what the deal will mean to individual access to the internet.

"We need to make sure these companies are more accountable to consumers around other things as opposed to the future of the internet," says Nicol Turner-Lee, with the Minority Media and Telecom Council.

Comcast, in a filing ahead of the federal review, says as part of the deal it would expand its program to provide more access to low-income communities.

The dangers of Big Data in health care

Wed, 2014-04-09 02:03

Imagine you had access to your doctors' vital statistics.  For example, how much they charged Medicare for a certain procedure -- kind of like statistics on baseball players. Such data was recently released by the federal government

Jean Mitchell, who teaches public policy at Georgetown, says for many doctors, "Their patients will be quite surprised by how much money they’re making, and the volume of procedures performed." Mitchell also says the new data could spotlight conflicts of interest, like when a doctor who owns an MRI machine orders lots of MRIs. 

But some doctors worry the new information will be taken out of context -- and they point out that Medicare patients need lots of tests: 

"Sixty percent of all Medicare patients actually have three or more medical conditions. Our patients are extremely complex" Dr. Reid Blackwelder,  president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Single-serve coffeemaker market heats up

Wed, 2014-04-09 02:00

Coffee is the single-most popular food item — solid or liquid — that Americans consume at breakfast, according to the NPD Group. And although American coffee consumption has been more or less flat since the 1980s (and has fallen since peaking in the 1940s), one category is booming: single serve.

The dominant player in the domestic market is Green Mountain’s Keurig machines and their K-cup pods — with 72 percent market-share, according to a recent report from Euromonitor. Switzerland-based Nestle and its Nespresso machines have just 3 percent of the U.S. market.

But Nespresso — which is dominant in Europe — is trying to muscle in with a new offering called the VertuoLine. Nespresso's original line of machines — which has seen double-digit growth in recent years in the U.S. — is designed to reproduce a "European" coffee experience, says Nespresso CEO Jean-Marc Duvoisin.

"The objective was to be able to create concentrated strong espresso coffee especially as drunk in Italy, France, Switzerland," Duvoisin says. In other words, a strong short shot of espresso with froth, or crema, on top.

But Duvoisin acknowledges that the market for this style and size of coffee drink is limited in the U.S. So the company's new VertuoLine — with a new coffee-making technology that swirls the hot water through the pod in a centrifuge motion — delivers what the company thinks many more Americans want, says Duvoisin, "the long mug of coffee." 

It's an eight-ounce cup, similar to what rival Keurig machines deliver.

Harry Balzer, who researches American eating and drinking habits at the NPD Group, says Nespresso’s move to a bigger drink is probably wise.

"Look at the sandwiches we have, look at the drinks we have," says Balzer. "We tend to prefer things bigger. Feel like we're getting a good deal, a good value."

But Americans may not feel like they're getting such good value from Nespresso, says Jim Hertel at retail consultancy Willard Bishop. It's not the price of the machines — at around $300 they're in the same price-range ballpark as the competition.

It’s "the price of the pods themselves," says Hertel. He says one can find K-cups for Keurig machines online or at discount groceries for just over $0.30 apiece. Nespresso's pods cost twice that, and they have to be ordered from Nespresso.

"It's going to start off being elite," Hertel says of Nespresso's expanding footprint in the U.S. market, "and then it's going to move its way down. It may never get down to the mid-market."

Right now, Nespresso machines are available in Nespresso's own branded stores — just a handful in upscale markets like Beverly Hills, New York and Miami. The company also has store-within-a-store displays — where customers can sample Nespresso coffee free — in stores like Bloomingdale's and Sur La Table. And the company plans to introduce its new VertuoLine at Target later this year.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

 

SOME RULES OF OFFICE COFFEE ETIQUETTE:

1. If you drink the last cup, make a new pot!
2. Re-read Rule No. 1 — it's that important.
3. Never leave a dirty cup in the single-serve coffeemaker. Empty the used pod, or pod reservoir if it's full.
4. If there are multiple flavors of single-serve coffee in a rack at work, don't pick a co-worker's favorite if it's the last one left.
5. If there are free snacks in the office kitchen, eat the whole cookie — or donut or Danish. It's okay to count calories, but no one wants a pastry you've already torn apart with your grubby fingers.
6. Chip in to the office coffee pool if there is one — no one likes a freeloader (and eventually you'll probably be found out.)

These are the highest paid doctors in Medicare

Wed, 2014-04-09 01:26

As of today, we know a whole lot more about how much Medicare pays doctors. The government has released huge amounts of data on which doctors, got paid how much, for what procedures. The data show payments to more than 800,000 doctors and health care organizations. It includes information for thousands of procedures. 

If you want to look up a specific doctor, to find out how much she was paid by Medicare in 2012.  You can look it up.  The Wall Street Journal has created an easy to use interactive search tool here. Researchers are at the very beginning of trying to make sense of all the numbers.  But, we have been able to pull out a few interseting tid-bits.

According to a New York Times analysis:

Much of Medicare spending is concentrated among a small fraction of doctors. About 2 percent of doctors account for about $15 billion in Medicare payments, roughly a quarter of the total.

Medicare paid 344 doctors and health care providers more than $3 million in 2012. At the top of the list is an opthamologist in Florida who was paid nearly $21 million.

So who are these well paid doctors? Where are they?

Here are the top 5 states where those 344 doctors and health care providers do business:

 And here's a breakdown of the $3 million-plus club by the type of medicine they practice.

 Some doctors aren't happy with the data dump.  According to the Wall Street Journal, it's the end of a fight that's been going on since the 1970s. As my colleague, Nancy Marshall-Genzer points out, many physicians groups worry the numbers, out of context, could be misleading: 

"Sixty percent of all Medicare patients actually have three or more medical conditions. Our patients are extremely complex" Dr. Reid Blackwelder,  president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Proponents of the database say it will allow patients to figure out which doctors do a good job of providing good quality care while limiting costs.  And, it should help us all better understand what goes into the $2.8 trillion dollar U.S. health care industry.

If these dolphins could talk

Wed, 2014-04-09 01:00

Researchers in Florida have developed an interface that aims to translate dolphin sounds into words that humans can understand. As Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, puts it:

"Think of it like an acoustic keyboard underwater. The system has four artificially designed whistles that we created. We made them specifically because they aren’t in the dolphin’s normal repertoire."

With their ability to mimic sounds, dolphins can learn how to make whistling noises which they have been trained to associate with designated objects in the water. Underwater computer CHAT (Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry) can hear the whistle sounds being made by the dolphins, and then translate them into words that are transmitted into a researcher's ear piece. 

Dr. Herzing is encouraged by an instance in which a dolphin's whistle was translated by CHAT into the word "Sargassum," which is a kind of brown algae. Though, she warns of celebrating success too soon.

"Let’s remember that when a dolphin mimics a whistle, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dolphin understands what the whistle means."

Still, it's an exciting development in dolphin-to-human communication. And no, we're not referring to this kind of communication.

 

You can now search Yelp for emojis

Tue, 2014-04-08 14:35

You can now search the online review site Yelp using emojis -- those little cartoon-ish characters you can create with a certain set of keystrokes.     So...you search on a pair of scissors, you get listings for hair salons. A high heel gets you shoe stores. You get the picture(s).   I don't even want to search on a smiley face or a wink. Pretty sure the Internet has taken things one step too far.   We, of course, had to try it:   Some results were just... the usual for Yelp.       Others were pretty literal.       But seriously: Could this be a useful search tool?    

 

You can now search Yelp for emojis

Tue, 2014-04-08 14:35

You can now search the online review site Yelp using emojis -- those little cartoon-ish characters you can create with a certain set of keystrokes.     So...you search on a pair of scissors, you get listings for hair salons. A high heel gets you shoe stores. You get the picture(s).   I don't even want to search on a smiley face or a wink. Pretty sure the Internet has taken things one step too far.   We, of course, had to try it:   Some results were just... the usual for Yelp.       Others were pretty literal.       But seriously: Could this be a useful search tool?    

 

Manischewitz promotes 'Kosher' as 'healthy'

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:23

Passover is a week away, and if you know anything about this Jewish holiday, you know that it involves matzos, the unleavened cracker that you can buy in your local grocery store, usually in that one aisle with all the "ethnic foods." The kosher section of the supermarket is dominated by one brand in particular, Manischewitz, which as of today is owned by Sankaty Advisors, a division of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Manischewitz wants people to think of the kosher symbol -- that little letter K on food packaging -- in the same way they think of the Fair Trade symbol, or the USDA Organic symbol -- higher quality and healthier..

“People want to know where the stuff comes from, how it’s made, who's making it,” says David Bernard, a marketing strategist with Mythmaker, a company whose strategy is to turn brands into compelling stories about "the essential human truth or core beliefs that brought the company to life.".

That strategy seems tailor-made for kosher foods, which according to Jewish belief are approved by God.

“That’s a pretty strong endorsement, but I think what it gets down to is this idea of authenticity," Bernard says. "It’s like, 'The people behind this product really care about what goes into it.'”

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That little "K" (along with its friends "OU" and "P"); has been showing up beyond bottles of Manischewitz. Check out some of the (bizarre) ways companies try to leverage "Kosher":

Coors claims to be "America’s First Kosher Beer

Go on a Kosher Safari in Africa!

Kickstarter funded high-end Kosher cheese! 

For a truly hands on experience: Get yourself a ticket to Kosherfest.

Tech firms challenged over hiring practices

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:19

Several technology giants, including Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe, are embroiled in a class-action lawsuit, where their employees claim the tech companies made an agreement not to poach talent from each other.

Employees at those companies say that resulted in $9 billion in lost wages.

Jim Balassone, with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, says figuring out exactly how much money in wages was lost is a lawyers' game. But, he says, the emails discovered during the lawsuit help connect the dots.

"In an email exchange between Google and Apple, Google sought the approval of Apple to hire four French software engineers who had already left Apple," Balassone said. 

Steve Jobs’ response? "We'd strongly prefer that you not hire these guys," he said in an email. 

Google honored his wishes.

"So there’s the issue of lost wages but harder to measure is the lost opportunity," says Balasone. 

Steve Donnelly, the head of recruiting for BigCommerce, has been reading the emails too. Referring to one in which Google asked if it could hire a current Apple employee, the answer was also "no." Donnelly believes that leaves the employee exposed.

"That limits the person who ends up staying with the company," he says, adding that an employer may decide not to promote that person or worse, start looking for somebody who’s more dedicated to the company to replace them. 

Scott Brosnan, a recruiter at Workbridge Associates in San Francisco, says competition for hiring engineers is stiff.

"I’ve seen candidates in this market where a year and a half ago were at $80,000 on their base salary and a year and a half later, they’ve changed two or three companies and their now at $140,000".

Brosnan says if engineers were blocked from taking jobs, then they were losing real money.

Google and Apple were contacted for comment, but did not respond to an email request.

Who's quitting? Who's hiring? Is it you?

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:12

There are some good things in the JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey).  There were 4.2 million new job postings in February, 300,000 more than in January. We're at January 2008 levels now.

But let’s have our fresh numbers with a side of pickled context shall we?

First, these are mostly low wage jobs: restaurant jobs, temp jobs, for example.  This is typical of any  post-recession recovery; these are the jobs that rebound first.  We may not like them, but at least they’re rebounding. Second, we still have 2.5 times as many people as job postings.  That means 60 percent of people looking for a job in February weren't going to get hired no matter what they did.  In this kind of environment, employers have little incentive to bid up wages.

If employers aren’t bidding up wages and there aren’t nearly enough jobs to go around, then, thirdly, people aren’t going to really feel very comfortable with their job prospects.  Which is reflected in the Quits Rate – that’s the number of job quits/total employment.  It’s low, at *1.9 percent and it hasn’t really changed meaningfully in three years. 

Finally, job postings don’t mean job hirings.  Employers appear to be taking their time filling these positions.  That’s why the Hires Rate (number of hires during the entire month as a percent of total employment) is still depressed at 3.3 percent. But let’s not get all doom and gloom here.  Things are improving without a doubt.  They’re just doing so very slowly.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the quits and hires rates in the Labor Department's February report. The text has been corrected.

Burning down the house that Levi's built

Tue, 2014-04-08 12:41

Josh Gustin took a different path after getting his MBA from the University of California Berkeley 8 years ago.

“Everyone else was going into consulting and banking, and I wanted to teach myself how to make the perfect pair of jeans,” Gustin said.

He started the company Gustin Jeans, and he quickly learned that making his way in the $6 billion world of denim would require some hoop-jumping.

“The basic model of never knowing what consumers want to buy is the fundamental flaw in this model. I would basically sit here and say ‘What would [the customer] want to wear a year from now?’ And then I’d place a big bet on fabric, sew all these jeans, put them in a warehouse and then spend the next 12 months convincing you that is indeed what you wanted to wear. And that just doesn’t work. It’s crazy.”

That guessing game means higher risk for companies and retailers, and higher prices for customers. Josh sold his jeans wholesale for $81 and the stores would hike the price up to $250. Gustin explained how this worked to his friend and eventual business partner, Stephen Powell, and the two decided almost exactly a year ago to cut the retail cord.

But selling stuff on the Gustin website only solved part of the problem. What they really needed was a way to precisely calculate supply and demand, the retail industry’s most vexing problem. That’s when they looked to Kickstarter.

“We are the first fully crowd-sourced fashion company,” Gustin said.

Here’s how it works: Gustin and Powell post a photo of a fabric swatch on their website with a brief description of what they plan to do with it. They sell jeans, shirts, bags, wallets, all kinds of menswear. Customers can then bid on “campaigns” they like, committing to buy an item for the price listed if enough interest is shown. Josh says just about everything Gustin posts makes it to production. Some of the items ‘sell out’ in just a few days, and that’s all before a single one is even made.

The result? Gustin Jeans now sell for wholesale straight to customers, operates exclusively in the black, and customers don’t have to wait until next season for new designs.

“Since we don’t have to take big risk on a particular type of fabric, we can offer a lot more variety. So we’ve probably used over a hundred different denims in less than a year. That’s probably what another fashion brand would use in a decade. We line up supply and demand every single time, and this is something fashion never does.”

 Even though it’s working well for them, Gustin isn’t expecting competitors to flood the markets any time soon.

“We benefit a little bit from how old this industry is. A lot of fashion companies are used to working a certain way, and either they’re too wedded to the traditional retail model – they can’t walk away from hundreds and hundreds of stores, that’s too scary – or they just don’t get it. They say, ‘No, we’ve always done business this way, why would we change?’” 

An English village, 30 years after its mine closed

Tue, 2014-04-08 11:47

American coal mines are closing. Do the miners have anything to learn from their British counterparts who lost their jobs in a wave of mine closures 30 years ago?

There’s nothing left of Cortonwood coal mine. All traces of the mine, which had thrived for more than a century, sustaining the small village of Brampton in Yorkshire, in the north of England, have been erased.

Today there’s a shopping center and office complex on the site where the pithead and the slag heaps used to stand. Cortonwood was where one of Britain’s bitterest labor disputes - the national miners’ strike - erupted in 1984. And Cortonwood was one of the first mines to be shut after the strike against pit closures ended in failure one year later.

There may be no physical trace of the pit, but the village still apparently bears the psychological scars of the loss of the mine.

“Coal was this community, it was that important,” says Denise FitzPatrick, whose husband and son worked in the mine. “Coal was the community. Not just here, but in all mining villages. Everything revolved around the pit. It was a terrible loss.”

Financially, as well as socially. 1.200 men worked at Cortonwood. Denise FitzPatrick’s daughter, Denise Lelliott, says when the pit closed, those who could find work usually made barely half what they earned underground. Many others languished on welfare.

“It’s ripped the soul out of this community,” she says. “I love my community. And it absolutely destroys me what it’s done to it. People says it’s recovered. It hasn’t. And I don’t think it ever will."

Even today, nearly 30 years after the pit closed, and after many of the pitmen have retired or died, the unemployment rate among the ex-miners of Cortonwood is still 12 percent. Andy Lock, who works for a charity which has tried to mitigate the effects of mass unemployment caused by the shutting of coal mines, says too little was done by the government to soften the blow of the pit closures.

“In my opinion there was a lack of support at the time," he says. "So when you have over 100,000 people becoming unemployed, with the lack of infrastructure and lack of support, you get problems.”

Belatedly, the British government did pump money into places like Cortonwood. The shopping center and office complex on the site of the mine opened for business some 15 years after the pit closed. It has been a big success. It has brought prosperity to the village and it is a significant employer, but not, says Denise Fitzpatrick, for the dwindling band of ex-miners.

“There isn’t a miner I know in this village or any other village that would be content to go and stand at the back of a counter –in a shop– because their life were down the pit, working, laboring, very hard down the pit,” she says.

To the outsider, this enthusiasm for deep pit coal mining is not easy to understand. Why did the British miners fight so hard to save such a difficult, dirty and dangerous job?

“Because it were my job," says Mike Clarke, who worked at Cortonwood for 29 years. "That’s what it were. It were my job. That’s the most important thing when you’re a working man. You’ve got pride. You’ve got your family. And you look after them the best you can. And coal mining was the best way I could.” 

Since Cortonwood closed Clark has thrived in the very different career of nursing. But he still misses the camaraderie of the pit, doesn’t regret resisting the closure and urges American miners to do the same.

“Yeah there is life after coal,” he says “Because you’ve got to make a life after coal. But just don’t lay down and die. Go down fighting, go down kicking and screaming. Make it as hard for them as you possibly can."

Tired of your name? A one day solution

Tue, 2014-04-08 11:40

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's what's coming up April 9:

  • In Washington, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee discusses international cooperation and space exploration at a hearing titled, "From Here to Mars."
  • A Senate Appropriations subcommittee holds a hearing on travel closer to the ground, assessing railway safety.
  • The Commerce Department reports on wholesale inventories and sales for February.
  • The House Committee on Small Business discusses "The Biggest Tax Problems for Small Businesses." It is tax season.
  • He's sold a lot of magazines. Hugh Hefner turns 88.
  • And someone who hates their name must have come up with this one. It's National Name Yourself Day. Just for a day, people. You turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Call me Beatrice.

The Hilton name, from Conrad to Paris

Tue, 2014-04-08 09:27

In his new book “The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty,” author J. Randy Taraborrelli traces the path of the hotel empire from founder Conrad Hilton’s childhood home in San Antonio, New Mexico to the Beverly Hills mansion of Paris Hilton. Here are a few of the questions that didn’t make it into our radio interview:

Did ‘Mad Men’ get Conrad Hilton right?

“I thought that was very realistic. I thought they made him a little more shark-like than he actually was, but for the purposes of drama they needed to amp that up. But I loved it and I know that the Hilton family loved it too. In fact, the Hilton family, the Hilton Foundation and the Hilton Library assisted ‘Mad Men’ and gave them the photographs and the material they needed to be able to recreate Conrad’s suits and the Stetson hat, and they gave them speeches so they would understand how Conrad spoke. They were very involved.”

The more contemporary Hiltons are famous for maxing out credit cards (or at least they would max out the credit cards of most of us). But the Hilton family actually had a hand in ushering credit cards into American society in the first place.

“Conrad and Baron Hilton were responsible for Carte Blanche, which in the 50s, 60s and 70s was the credit card. I remember the ads when I was a kid and I remember my parents wanting one very badly. Back in those days before credit cards were a novelty, it wasn’t easy to apply for a credit card and get one. And the Hiltons were one of the first to popularize the idea of credit cards. (While Diner’s Club beat them to the punch, Carte Blanche built the first global credit network). I remember Baron Hilton saying in a speech that cash money is out, now credit is in.”

What would Conrad Hilton think about Paris?

“I tend to have a very positive opinion of Paris Hilton. And the reason that I feel that way is that Barron Hilton, her grandfather and Conrad’s son, inherited the enterprise. Paris Hilton didn’t inherit anything except the name Hilton. (When Barron Hilton dies, Paris is expected to inherit about $5 million). The family mandate is this: You can do anything you want with the family name except go into the hotel business. She built her own empire independent of the hotel business and made $50 million doing so just because of her ingenuity, her personality and her persona. There are many Hiltons, many cousins, nieces, nephews. I met probably 50 Hiltons, none of whom we’ve ever heard of. She took the name and turned it into something huge. Whatever you think about Paris Hilton, you have to admit you know who she is.”

Conrad Hilton (1887 - 1979) the Chairman and President of the eponymous hotel chain, tips his hat in 1964.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

PODCAST: (Not) talking about pay

Tue, 2014-04-08 08:45

President Obama plans to sign an executive order stopping federal contractors from punishing workers who talk about their paychecks. It's about enlisting transparency to narrow the gap between what women and men are paid. But keeping your pay to yourself is deeply rooted in the culture, as Kate Davidson reports.

And, Banco Popular is shifting eastward from Los Angeles and Chicago, according to the newspaper Crain's Chicago Business. Marketplace's Dan Weissman has more on prospects for the bank that went from Puerto Rico into neighbhorhoods around the U.S.

Meanwhile, there's you, in the workplace. You give and give some more, because that's the giving person you are. And then there's all those other people who take. Take, Take, Take.  Adam Grant is a professior at the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania who has a book called "Give and Take."

Restaurants squeezed by high price of limes

Tue, 2014-04-08 07:51

So just how expensive are limes these days?  Danny Herrera manages Fonda San Miguel, one of the priciest Mexican restaurants in Austin.  He says six months ago, he was paying $14 a case.

"Then it kinda went up to $20, and then it slowly started getting higher and higher," he says. "And then as of last week, it was up to $99."

Herrera stopped garnishing his meals with limes, and he's rethinking his Margarita prices. 

Most of the limes we consume come from Mexico - particularly the state of Michoacan, an area dominated by the drug cartels and citizen militias. Producers say they'd rather burn their crops than sell at the pitiful prices the cartels pay. I talked to one of the lime producers in Michoacan. He asked me to change his name to Carlos because he's afraid of the cartels.

Carlos says local lime prices are not high, they've held steady. "I don't understand why the public says the price is too high."

When I tell Carlos that some restauranteurs in the U.S. are paying around $100 per case, he's shocked.

"Son of a… That's a gross exageration."

Carlos says somebody is making a lot of money. But it isn't him. He says floods and plagues have cut citrus production in Mexico by half.

And there's a growing global taste for limes.

"In Asia, it's an important part of their supply and demand," says Dr. Eric Thor from the School of Agribusiness at Arizona State University. He says limes are more expensive now - in part - because there are millions more people using them. "Today we use the fruits in everything from special Margaritas to Asian noodles."

Now, planes full of fruit from the Americas are flown to China. And that has increased the price of everything from limes to cherries. But why do people in the United States pay for what consumers in China want? Thor says, basically, because we're still willing to pay for limes -- no matter the price.

He says the price will come down based on the time of year, and based on production.

As for now, it's hard to find limes in some Austin taco eateries. During my last visit to my favorite taco place, the attendant handed me a lemon instead of a lime. Can you believe that? In my book, that's a "no no." Tacos and lemons don't go together.

 

Why don't we like to talk about our pay?

Tue, 2014-04-08 02:41

President Obama is set to sign an executive order Tuesday prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries.

This effort to increase wage transparency has another obstacle: our workplace culture, in which asking your cube-mate what he or she makes is virtually taboo.

"Well, it's said that Americans love to talk about sex, but don't like to talk about their salaries," says Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. 

However, many employers also have policies discouraging or prohibiting workers from sharing compensation information. That’s despite the fact that the National Labor Relations Board considers wage discussions a ‘protected’ activity.

Banco Popular retreats toward its home base

Tue, 2014-04-08 02:16

Banco Popular is based in Puerto Rico, but it has operations in mainland U.S. cities like New York and Miami. A recent news report says the bank is looking to sell its branches in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Just four years ago, Banco Popular rebranded itself in those cities as Popular Community Bank, hoping to broaden its customer base. Now it's moving in the opposite direction.

"At some point it makes sense for the company to exit the market," says Mark Palmer, managing director of BTIG, "and focus on its operations in Puerto Rico, where it's gaining market share, gaining deposits." And, making better profits.

At home in Puerto Rico, Banco Popular gets a better spread between the interest it pays depositors and the interest it gets paid on loans. Banco Popular is the island's biggest bank, and even in a weak economy, it's been growing.

Analyst Brian Klock watches Popular for the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette and Woods. He thinks that this move to streamline could be partly intended to please bank regulators.

Popular wants to pay back TARP bailout funds, so it can start paying dividends to shareholders again. Before regulators accept that payment, they require proof that the bank is in good shape, and well-run.

"That's because the regulators are focused on making sure we don't go through this again," he says, referring to the 2008 financial crisis.

Klock thinks that's good news for the rest of us. "The regulator is doing his job," he says, "to try to make sure this is a safe and sound banking system."

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included a photograph of the incorrect bank. The photo has been corrected.

Take our quiz: are you a giver or a taker?

Tue, 2014-04-08 01:00


Are you the type of person that is more likely to give help to a colleague in need? Or are you more likely to take all you can get from everyone you work with?

Wharton professor Adam Grant explores in his book “Give and Take” whether being a giver or a taker makes you more successful in the business world.

Grant found that selfless givers may earn about 14% less than takers, but that ultimately they are in a better position to go farther in their careers and they last longer when they make it to the top.

Take the quiz below to find out whether you are a giver or a taker.
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Check out this quiz key below to find out more about your tendencies:
Productively helpful—generous and smart about it (1c/d, 2d, 3c/d, 4b/d, 5b, 6b/d)
Selfless—at risk for burning out or letting others take advantage of you (1a, 2a, 3c, 4a, 5c, 6c)
Transactional—at risk for being seen as selfish (1b, 2b/c, 3a/b, 4c, 5a/d, 6a)

To learn more, see "Give and Take," the New York Times bestselling book by Wharton professor Adam Grant. Get the first chapter for free here.

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