“FRANKFURT — An electric Volkswagen ID.3 for the same price as a Golf. A Tesla Model 3 that costs as much as a BMW 3 Series. A Renault Zoe electric subcompact whose monthly lease payment might equal a nice dinner for two in Paris.
As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming tantalizingly close to the prices for cars with gasoline or diesel engines.
At the moment this near parity is possible only with government subsidies that, depending on the country, can cut more than $10,000 from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. In Germany, an electric Renault Zoe can be leased for 139 euros a month, or $164.
Electric vehicles are not yet as popular in the United States, largely because government incentives are less generous. Battery-powered cars account for about 2 percent of new car sales in America, while in Europe the market share is approaching 5 percent. Including hybrids, the share rises to nearly 9 percent in Europe, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.”
“The residents of Garberville, Calif., didn’t know what to make of 15-year-old Mike Radenbaugh and the odd motorized bikes he was concocting in his family’s garage.
It was 2005, the home-brew era for electric vehicles, and there he was, a high school freshman zooming by at up to 35 miles an hour, not even pedaling. He seemed to defy gravity as he ascended the region’s steep winding roads lined with 300-foot redwoods.
As the captain of the school’s mountain-bike racing team, he had collected a heap of spare frames and parts. Mr. Radenbaugh started tricking them out with old motorcycle-starter batteries, moped motors mail-ordered from Japan and crude powertrains held together with bungee cords, pipe clamps and thick layers of electrical tape. “I needed to find a solution where I had freedom as a young person without a lot of dollars,” he said.
Before long, he was making his 16-mile school commute on his electric Frankenbike.
Wires fried and batteries died. But after six months of experimentation, Mr. Radenbaugh had a semi-reliable electric bike. “It got better and better. And it got faster,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’d be riding into town passing slow cars. I quickly became known as the kooky e-bike guy in my little hometown.” “
A chicken farm in North Carolina.Credit…Randall Hill/Reuters
“As we pull down controversial statues and reassess historical figures, I’ve been wondering what our great-grandchildren will find bewilderingly immoral about our own times — and about us.
Which of today’s heroes will be discredited? Which statues toppled? What will later generations see as our own ethical blind spots?
I believe that one will be our cruelty to animals. Modern society relies on factory farming to produce protein that is inexpensive and abundant. But it causes suffering to animals on an incalculable scale.
Over the last 200 years, the world has become far more sensitive to animal rights. In feudal Europe, a game consisted of nailing a cat to a post and head-butting it to death; now, growing numbers of states have passed animal protection laws, McDonald’s is moving to cage-free eggs and there are legal debates about whether certain mammals should have standing to sue in courts.”
“. . . . A third area where I suspect our descendants will judge us harshly is climate change. Our generation’s denialism will lead to more extreme weather, more flooded homes, more heat waves — and resentment that early-21st-century humans could have been so selfish as to refuse to take small steps to reduce carbon emissions.
I raised this issue of our moral blind spots in my email newsletter the other day, and one reader, Brad Marston, a physics professor at Brown University, put it this way: “In 100 years our generation may be as poorly regarded as 19th-century racists are today (or worse), due to our failure to tackle climate change, leaving a damaged and possibly ruined planet to future generations.”
So I’m all for re-examining history and removing statues of Confederate generals. But just as important is our obligation to think deeply about our own moral myopia today and address it while there is still time.
“”As coronavirus lockdowns crept across the globe this winter and spring, an unusual sound fell over the world’s metropolises: the hush of streets that were suddenly, blessedly free of cars. City dwellers reported hearing bird song, wind and the rustling of leaves. (Along with, in New York City, the intermittent screams of sirens.)
But there is a catch: Cities are beginning to cautiously open back up again, and people are wondering how they’re going to get in to work. Many are worried about the spread of the virus on public transit. Are cars our only option? How will we find space for all of them?
In much of Manhattan, the average speed of traffic before the pandemic had fallen to 7 miles per hour. In Midtown, it was less than 5 m.p.h. That’s only slightly faster than walking and slower than riding a bike. Will traffic soon be worse than ever?
Not if we choose another path.
Rather than stumble back into car dependency, cities can begin to undo their worst mistake: giving up so much of their land to the automobile.”
“As coronavirus lockdowns crept across the globe this winter and spring, an unusual sound fell over the world’s metropolises: the hush of streets that were suddenly, blessedly free of cars. City dwellers reported hearing bird song, wind and the rustling of leaves. (Along with, in New York City, the intermittent screams of sirens).
“Over the past four decades, American workers have suffered a devastating loss of economic power, manifest in their wages, benefits and working conditions. The annual economic output of the United States has almost tripled, but, with the help of policymakers from both political parties, the wealthy hoarded the fruits.
In the nation’s slaughterhouses, the average worker in 1982 made $24 an hour in inflation-adjusted dollars, or $50,000 a year. Today the average meatpacker processes significantly more meat — and makes less than $14 an hour.
The hundreds of thousands of home health care aides, often female, often minorities, who care for a nation of aging baby boomers rarely receive paid time to care for their own families.
Even in the high-flying technology sector, companies have found ways to leave their workers behind. More than half of the people who work for Google do not actually work for Google. They are classified as contractors, which means they do not need to be treated as employees.
Picture the nation as a pirate crew: In recent decades, the owners of the ship have gradually claimed a larger share of booty at the expense of the crew. The annual sum that has shifted from workers to owners now tops $1 trillion.
Or consider the power shift from the perspective of an individual worker. If income had kept pace with overall economic growth since 1970, Americans in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution would be making an extra $12,000 per year, on average. In effect, every American worker in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution is sending an annual check for $12,000 to a richer person in the top 10 percent.”
Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”
A for rent sign reflected in an empty storefront in New York.Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
“Many companies in the United States are currently in a particular kind of distress. They have solid business models for normal times, yet as the pandemic lingers they are slowly dying, victims of weak demand or supply problems. These businesses are not broken or fundamentally flawed; their health is jeopardized only by exceptional circumstances. They are not doomed; they’re just sick.
Many of these companies are on the lookout for survival strategies that would avoid a ruinous liquidation of their assets. This means they may be more open than they ordinarily would be to private buyouts and mergers. But a wave of buyouts and mergers, though seemingly better than letting struggling companies die, would only intensify the economic inequality that has become this country’s curse.
That is why we need to rethink what rescuing companies looks like in this moment.
The danger is that the cure will be as bad as the disease. A rescue of struggling businesses fueled by cheap debt will lead to a restructuring of the American economy into fewer and fewer centers of corporate control. That consolidation, in turn, will increase the already excessive power of corporations and widen the already yawning gap between rich and poor.
This is a lesson taught by the previous economic crisis, 12 years ago, which also left many fundamentally sound companies weak or in a state of distress. Part of the government’s implicit and sometimes explicit solution was to encourage buyouts and mergers, by making debt cheap and keeping merger enforcement tepid. Those conditions catalyzed a major concentration of industries during the 2010s, leaving many sectors of the American economy with just three or four “majors,” or with regional monopolies. This was the story for the airlines, cable service, big agriculture, mobile phone carriers, pharmaceuticals, meat processing and many more industries.
That same approach also ushered in what the financial journalist Joe Nocera, a former columnist for The Times, has called the decade of private equity. Taking advantage of cheap debt, the industry spent trillions of dollars (nearly $6 trillion, by one estimate) buying and reorganizing thousands of companies.
The problem was that, by the mid-2010s, many economists (including many at the White House, where I worked at the National Economic Council) started to be concerned that the restructuring of the economy was contributing to inequality of both wealth and income. Ideally, a private buyout makes a company more efficient and poised for growth and hiring. But in practice buying a company in semi-distress with the goal of cutting costs can mean large-scale firings, weakening or destroying unions, and seizing pension funds.”
It’s Friday, and the world is looking better. Frank Bruni just wrote a column titled, Is Donald Trump Toast? “A New York Times/Siena College poll finds that Biden is ahead of the president by 14 points” nationally and by double digits in the six crucial swing states. I want to have a party and cook out in my backyard tomorrow, but it is not part of social distancing. Since I read this piece by Tim Wu last Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about it, and how it dovetails with another I recently posted, called, “The Neoliberal Looting of America,” by Mehrsa Baradaran. These are important thinkers, and income inequality is a many headed hydra, that has survived since cities were created, and elites took power. I don’t care who Biden picks as his VP, as long as he crushes Trump, and then tries to clean up the Augean Stables, mitigate climate change, and elevate the ideas of regulating over-powerful corporations and billionaires, using the ideas of such thinkers as Baradaran, Wu, and Elizabeth Warren.
“On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center forecast a “hyperactive” summer and fall, with eight to 10 Atlantic cyclones; instead there were five, smack on the 20th-century average. At the beginning of 2006, The Wall Street Journal forecast a bad year for stocks; the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 16 percent that year. (Disturbingly, The Journal has forecast a good year for 2007.) The British government recently said climate change could reduce global G.D.P. by 13.8 percent in the first year of the 23rd century. Not by 13.7 percent, not by 13.9 percent — by 13.8 percent. In response to an astronomer’s discovery, The New York Times in 2004 declared that the universe might have a “peaceful end” in “tens of billions of years,” but cautioned that it could not rule out the cosmos’s exploding in a few billion years. Writing of the same discovery, The Washington Post predicted that the demise of the cosmos would require 30 billion years, adding this vital caveat: “It remains impossible to predict the fate of the universe with certainty.” Oh, so we can’t be certain what will happen 30 billion years from now!
The hubris of predictions — and our perpetual surprise when the not-predicted happens — are themes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s engaging new book, “The Black Swan.” It concerns the occurrence of the improbable, the power of rare events and the author’s lament that “in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it.” We expect all swans to be white and are shocked when a black swan swims by.
Born in Lebanon in 1960, Taleb lived through a “black swan” when his serene homeland was cast into the chaos of civil war in 1975. After emigrating to the United States, he attended Wharton, then worked on Wall Street; today he is a professor at the University of Massachusetts. Black Monday in 1987, when Wall Street suffered its worst single-day decline in modern history — in a drop that started for no clear reason — was his epiphany. Chance, he realized, has far more influence than we care to admit.
Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”
Credit…Michael George Haddad
“Since January, Amazon’s stock price has gone up from about $1,850 to about $2,600. The S.&P. 500 — comprising large corporate stocks dominated by technology companies — has recovered most of its recently lost value. And most highly paid professionals and managers have kept their jobs and experienced minimal changes in wealth.
Yet more than 20 million Americans are unemployed.
These are signs that the economic legacy of the coronavirus pandemic could be an increase in wealth concentration that will shock a nation that thought itself numb to such things. Arguments over whether the recovery will be “V-shaped” or “U-shaped” ignore the fact that different socioeconomic classes have been affected differently and will recover differently. Despite its populist airs, the Trump administration is orchestrating what will be, unless something is done, a rich man’s recovery.
While it may seem as if the federal government is throwing money at everyone, there’s a key difference between the support given to large businesses and the support given to small businesses and individuals. Large businesses have been given the security of long-term assistance, mainly through the actions and promises of the Federal Reserve: to buy corporate bonds (including junk bonds), to provide “liquidity backstops” by serving as a buyer of last resort and to lend money against an array of collateral. Collectively, these actions amount to a program not just of extraordinary assistance but also of extraordinary assurance.
By contrast, the money being spent on small businesses and individual workers is short-term and hard to bank on. Not only are many of the sums relatively small — a $1,200 check that might (or might not) come again some day — but the uncertainty also diminishes the value of the aid, since it’s hard to make plans if you don’t know what you can count on.
the aid, since it’s hard to make plans if you don’t know what you can count on.”