Numlock News: January 14, 2018
By Walt Hickey
Regrettably The Future Is In Fact Coated In Plastics
A nurdle is a pellet of plastic resin about the size of a pencil eraser. It’s essentially the form plastic is moved around in after it’s made by the petrochemical raw materials plant and sent to the manufacturer. As adorable as a nurdle sounds, it is also obviously environmentally devastating with billions of them lost from supply chains annually into waterways. A 2018 study estimated 3 million to 36 million escape a single industrial area in Sweden every year, and another suggested nurdles are the second-largest source of micro-plastic pollution, with the U.K. alone losing 5.3 billion to 53 billion pellets annually. Shareholder advocacy groups are pressuring Chevron Corp., DowDupont Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Phillips 66 to disclose nurdle escapes.
Annually 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of water, and 2 billion pounds of fertilizer are used to grow food in the U.S. that is not eaten. That has a cost, whether it’s the nitrification of water sources or just the expenditure of unnecessary resources. With 30 to 40 percent of food available for consumption uneaten. A lot of the waste comes from homes and restaurants. But still, 11 percent to 16 percent of consumable food goes to rot just because farms cannot find buyers for it. Where can you buy the “ugly tomatoes” that supermarkets, producers or restaurants won’t buy? The best bet is a community-supported agriculture program, where you prepay for a share in a local farm, which beats companies that purport to buy excess produce but realistically just buy through restaurant channels.
The $87.2 billion health club industry has grown substantially and owes lots of that to the popularity of cycling studios. Spin gyms are lower cost to operate and start than other types of clubs, and as a result generate 55 percent more revenue on average than other types of fitness studios. Some fear the spin bubble is bound to burst, as new competition from in-home systems like Peloton eat away at the marketshare of Flywheel and SoulCycle. But on the other hand, no one ever lost money betting on an endorphin-fueled close-knit group led by individual charismatic figures who persuade paying customers to overcome struggles.
The 51,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration are calling in sick now that they have officially missed a paycheck due to the government shutdown. Last Thursday 5.1 percent of employees called in sick, up from 3.3 percent a year ago, a 55 percent increase. Staff shortages are leading to a few security checkpoints closing around the U.S., with Miami International shutting down a concourse for several days.
The current guidance for sun exposure may actually be overcompensating for a low-risk problem, preventing some from benefiting from the effects of time in the sun. The rate of melanoma diagnosis is 26 per 100,000 in Caucasians, 5 per 100,000 in Hispanics, and 1 per 100,000 in African Americans. However, consistent exposure to sunlight has measurable health benefits: sunlight reduces the risk of several cancers, improves circadian rhythms, improves mental health and reduces blood pressure. And while I’m absolutely going to keep putting that sweet sweet FDA unapproved Japanese SPF 50+++ sunscreen on my face, because I am a narcissist, I could maybe be persuaded to spend a little more time in the sun if it balances out other risk factors.
As golf courses across the country decline, one of the biggest losers are homeowners who purchased homes overlooking golf courses. An analysis of listings found that homes that mentioned “golf” in their description were on the market for 75 days, 14 percent higher than the median for their counties and 27 percent higher than all listings. Over 200 golf courses closed in 2017, while only about 15 new ones opened. When a course closes, prices for the homes nearby fall about 25 percent, and if a lawsuit gets involved prices can drop by half. There are about 3,800 private golf clubs and about 1,200 have homes within their gates, about 950 of which were built between 1970 and 2010. While 30 million people played 500 million rounds of golf in 2001, only 24 million people played 450 million rounds in 2017. For golf stakeholders, the above paragraph is the closest you’re going to get to the invisible hand of the free market screaming “Fore!” as a painful impact gets closer and closer.
In the most recent Numlock Sunday edition, I talked to University of San Francisco professor Peter Lorentzen about his fascinating research into China’s corruption purge. I learned a whole lot about what corruption actually looks like in China, do check it out. Lorentzen is launching a really cool Master’s program in applied economics focused on skills for folks who want to work as economists in tech firms that may be of interest to some readers.
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From 1983 to 2013, the amount of money spent on lobbying the federal government went from $200 million to $3.2 billion, a new 2015 study found corporations now spend more money lobbying Congress than Congress spends on Congress. In effect, Congress has replaced a dedicated research team with outside externally-financed research. In 2016, there were 1,300 aides on all committees combined, a figure that included clerical and comms staff. For comparison, there were 6,200 registered tax lobbyists in 2017, and only 130 aides on Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation. It wasn’t always like that: between 1994 and 2014, committee staffing dropped 35 percent, while funding for leadership staff rose 89 percent.
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