Their Muscles Are Constructed Differently

A detailed study of the biomechanics of the muscles of chimpanzees has found that they’re about a third stronger than we are in climbing and jumping, as reported at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Since at least the 1920s, it has been reported that common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) differ from humans in being capable of exceptional feats of “super strength,” both in the wild and in captive environments. A mix of anecdotal and more controlled studies provides some support for this view; however, a critical review of available data suggests that chimpanzee mass-specific muscular performance is a more modest 1.5 times greater than humans on average. Hypotheses for the muscular basis of this performance differential have included greater isometric force-generating capabilities, faster maximum shortening velocities, and/or a difference in myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform content in chimpanzee relative to human skeletal muscle. Here, we show that chimpanzee muscle is similar to human muscle in its single-fiber contractile properties, but exhibits a much higher fraction of MHC II isoforms. Unlike humans, chimpanzee muscle is composed of ∼67% fast-twitch fibers (MHC IIa+IId). Computer simulations of species-specific whole-muscle models indicate that maximum dynamic force and power output is 1.35 times higher in a chimpanzee muscle than a human muscle of similar size. Thus, the superior mass-specific muscular performance of chimpanzees does not stem from differences in isometric force-generating capabilities or maximum shortening velocities—as has long been suggested—but rather is due in part to differences in MHC isoform content and fiber length. We propose that the hominin lineage experienced a decline in maximum dynamic force and power output during the past 7–8 million years in response to selection for repetitive, low-cost contractile behavior.

Basically, they’ve selected for arboreal or semi-arboreal habit and we, like dogs, have evolved to be cursorial hunters.


Partial “Travel Ban” Upheld by SCOTUS

The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld portions of President Trump’s March 6 executive order, known as the “travel ban”. More from SCOTUSBlog:

Today the Supreme Court agreed to review rulings by two lower courts blocking the implementation of President Donald Trump’s March 6 executive order, popularly known as the “travel ban.” Citing national-security concerns, the order imposed a freeze on new visas from six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). But the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had put the order on hold last month, concluding that – although it did not specifically say so – the order likely violated the Constitution because the president intended to discriminate against Muslim travelers. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit also blocked the order, but on a different ground: It concluded that the order exceeds the authority that Congress has given the president to regulate immigration. The court’s announcement today means that the justices will review both of those decisions. The justices also granted the Trump administration’s request to allow the ban to go into effect, at least for would-be travelers who don’t already have some connection to the United States.

I’m sure this action by the Court will be disappointing to just about everybody. Opponents of the president or fans of unlimited immigration will be upset that the Court didn’t leave the appellate courts’ injunctions in place. Supporters of the president or opponents of immigration from the countries name above will be disappointed that the Court’s order was not broader.

We’ll need to wait until the next session for a decision. Who knows what the composition of the Court will be then?


Making Omelets (Updated)

There’s has been quite a bit of controversy over raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. It’s even spawned a movement: “Fight for 15”. Proponents insist that employment effects are nominal and wage effects largely positive. My position, consistently, has been that we should be cautious that we don’t hurt more people than we help. While in some places the labor market will readily absorb a $15/hour minimum wage, in others it could be disastrous. Five Thirty Eight reports a study of Seattle’s rising minimum wage:

As cities across the country pushed their minimum wages to untested heights in recent years, some economists began to ask: How high is too high?

Seattle, with its highest-in-the-country minimum wage, may have hit that limit.

In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline.

That’s a sizeable decrease. It may be the case that other ways for helping low wage earners, like eliminating onerous zoning ordinances that prevent the building of inexpensive housing, should be considered.


Kevin Drum suggests that Seattle’s minimum wage should be $12/hour:

There’s a mountain of evidence that modest increases in the minimum wage have little effect on low-wage jobs, but the key word here is modest. We’ve never tested how high the minimum wage can go before it starts to have a serious impact on low-wage jobs, because no one has ever raised the minimum wage more than modestly. This means that the question of how high the minimum wage can go is an empirical one—and there’s no special reason to think it’s $15. It could be higher or lower. And if this study holds up, the answer at the moment is around $12.

That will vary from place to place. In some places “modest” will be more than $13. In others it will be less than $11.


Entrepeneur of the Year

This story reported by WGN captured my imagination:

CHICAGO — A U.S. Postal Service mail carrier is in jail after authorities discovered he was allegedly delivering a lot more than letters and magazines on his Chicago route.

Christopher Baxter was formally charged Saturday with one felony count of manufacturing or delivering cannabis. A Cook County judge ordered Baxter held on $100,000 bail and on Sunday he remained in custody.

Prosecutors say that postal service inspectors were conducting surveillance on Baxter when they saw the 36-year-old mail carrier make a number of hand-to-hand drug deals while he was on duty. They alerted Chicago police and after Baxter admitted to police that he had a “pound of weed,” officers found marijuana, a digital scale, plastic bags and a heat sealer inside his postal bag.

And they say the entrepeneurial spirit is dead! It certainly gives “going postal” a completely new meaning.


A Little Economics 201

Readers may find it puzzling that I’m always harping on the low rate of business investment. Here’s a brief explanation from Investopedia:

Improved capital goods increase labor productivity. A simple example of this can be seen when a lumberjack upgrades from a standard axe to a chainsaw. Superior capital equipment directly makes individuals, businesses and countries more productively efficient. Increased productive efficiency leads to increased standards of living – the purpose of economic growth.

A business does not see an immediate increase in revenue when it develops capital goods. To make it economically viable to increase or improve the capital structure, a company must have a pool of saved funds to draw upon. This pool of funds needs to last until the new capital goods lead to additional revenue.

Increased capital investment allows for more research and development in the capital structure. This expanding capital structure raises the productive efficiency of labor. As labor becomes more efficient, more goods are produced (higher GDP) and the economy grows.

Now consider the graph at the top of the page, illustrating GDP growth by component of the economy. GDP has four components: personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and net exports. In real terms business investment has been flat for more than a decade, net exports are a drag on the economy, while personal consumption has soared. Since 2009 government spending has actually declined as a component of GDP in real terms.

My preferred solution for increasing wages, employment, and GDP is through increased business investment. The claim that businesses don’t see any opportunities rings hollow—there’s plenty of personal consumption. The alternatives are more government spending with the attendant deadweight loss or fewer imports. Every time you even mention fewer imports somebody starts screaming “Trade war!” So increased business investment is the best of the available alternatives.


Nobody Knows What Those Policies Are

I thought that this observation by Christopher Bolan at RealClearDefense was worthy of note:

As terrorism expert Peter Bergen recently pointed out, all fatal jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have been perpetrated by U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Disrupting terrorist plots overseas will continue to be one critical component of any US counterterrorism strategy. But as the ISIS caliphate collapses, its leadership is calling on potential recruits to “stay put and carry out jihad at home” by conducting attacks using whatever means are available to include guns, knives, and trucks. Preventing these spontaneous attacks from self-radicalized terrorists inside the U.S. will require a coordinated domestic intelligence and law enforcement campaign heavily dependent on the willing cooperation of local Muslim communities who are closest to those most vulnerable to recruitment. Adopting policies that fully integrate Muslims into local communities and American society more broadly is the best insurance against this emerging threat of self-radicalization.

The emphasis is mine. What are those policies? Acceptance of people with drastically different backgrounds is probably higher now that at any time in our history even as the number of terrorist attacks with multiple casualties mounts. We are not Europe. I don’t think anybody knows what policies will prevent self-radicalization.


What’s Missing From This Picture?

In City Journal Edward Glasser makes a number of proposals for reducing joblessness:

  • More Americans with college educations.
  • Improved vocational education.
  • Better retraining for older workers.
  • Reduce regulatory burdens to entrepeneurship including “one stop permitting” and reforms in occupational licensing.
  • Consolidating the alphabet soup of support programs for the poor into a single cash payment to ensure that work made more sense than joblessness.
  • Wage supports to replace the Earned Income Tax Credit.

More higher education is cargo cult thinking at its best. An alternative explanation for the lower unemployment rate among those with college degrees is that those with college educations have a competitive advantage over non-degree holders for jobs that don’t actually require a college degree. What we actually need is more jobs that require college degrees rather than more people with college degrees.

Better retraining for older workers is an explanation in search of a problem. Older workers are holding on to their jobs as long as they can these days as is reflected in the fact that the labor force participation rate for the elderly is the highest it’s been in decades.

I found a couple of factors conspicuous by their absence. We should reduce the number of workers that come here illegally, particularly those without skills. We should ensure that foreign workers are not imported unless there’s a genuine need. Keeping U. S. wages low is not a legitimate reason to import workers.

And companies should be given incentives for investing in the U. S. economy (or disincentives for holding cash).

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The Hill reports that some Democrats would like to change the subject:

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia.

Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures.

But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

As Thomas Lifson notes at American Thinker:

Despite the continuing absence of any evidence that Donald Trump “colluded” with Russia to steal the election from its rightful winner, MSNBC’s Joy Reid did her own version of Lady Macbeth’s obsession, in effect muttering, “Out, out, damn defeat,” by invoking the Russia excuse 56 times in the first hour of her program yesterday.

they are likely to get their wish. It would be darned hard to talk more about Russia.


The Missing Statistic

There is one meaningful statistic missing from Justin Fox’s analysis at Bloomberg of the myths surrounding the “gig economy”:

The median number of years that wage and salary workers in the U.S. have been with their current employer was 4.2 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics last checked in January 2016. That’s higher than at any time in the 1980s or ’90s.

The percentage of Americans switching employers or shifting in and out of the workforce has been declining since the 1980s, economists at the Federal Reserve Board and University of Notre Dame documented last year.

Moves across state lines, which are often made by people searching for new job opportunities, have become much less common.Only 1.5 percent of Americans made such moves from early 2015 to early 2016, reports the U.S. Census Bureau, down from 3.6 percent from 1969 to 1970. Moves across county lines within the same state have also declined.

Self-employment has fallen slightly as a percentage of overall employment over the past decade, according to the BLS, and is far below the levels of the 1950s.

How can you reconcile the perception of a more mobile workforce with the reality of one that’s significantly less mobile? The answer is in the graph at the top of the page. Nearly a third of those who are unemployed have been unemployed for a very long time and people know that. People realize that a significant number of people who lose their jobs or leave them voluntarily never go back to work. That fear reduces mobility and keeps wages low.

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The Economy of the Future

In his most recent Washington Post column Robert Samuelson muses about a column he’s never written, one that sketches the contours of the “economy of the future”. Here’s the kernel:

Industries vary. Not for everyone is the planned disorder of the “gig economy.” But neither can we resurrect the calm economic growth of the 1950s, when large American corporations seemed to control their markets. That was the basis of the postwar contract between capital and labor. The goal now is to convert the worker shortage into a better-paid, better-trained and more productive labor force.

There are multiple factors working against that future. One of them is the loose labor market created by importing workers, legal and illegal, from outside the country and pressing wages down. The other is a lack of domestic capital investment. If there is an over-arching theme for this blog, it’s advocacy for that version of the future.

Not everyone shares the goal expressed above by Mr. Samuelson. And some of those people, who envision an economy in which companies reap enormous profits at low risk, paying low wages to workers who don’t protest for fear of being replaced, are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.