Gig Work Thrives Because Workers Value Flexibility to Pursue Balance or Fulfilment

(p. B1) American workers are experiencing, by many measures, one of the best job markets ever. The unemployment rate has matched a 53-year low. Job listings per available worker are at historic highs. Wages, while not quite keeping up with inflation, are rising at their fastest pace in decades.

So why would people keep doing gig work, a notoriously difficult and insecure way to make a living?

. . .

Picking up shifts offers something that traditional permanent employment still generally doesn’t: the ability to work when and as much as you want, demand permitting, which is often essential to balance life obligations like school or child care.

. . .

(p. B5) “We were seeing this move towards multiple income streams, because that work was picked up as a stopgap and then continued,” Dr. Gervis said.

Take Denae Bettis, a 23-year-old Steady user living in Severn, Md. After dropping out of college, she got a job at UPS, and after a few years rose to become a safety supervisor, usually starting at 4 a.m. During the pandemic, she took on more responsibilities.

“The job got really stressful, and I felt like I had no way out,” Ms. Bettis said. So in June 2020, she started a side gig through Instacart, shopping for people holed up at home. The next month, she quit her job, making it easier for her to pursue her passion: working as a personal makeup artist, which often requires taking early-morning appointments.

Surviving on income from gigs — which for Ms. Bettis now include DoorDash as well as Instacart — isn’t easy. But Ms. Bettis thinks she can save enough money to open her own storefront.

“We just went through a period where millions died, so are you going to spend your time at your job if it doesn’t fulfill you?” Ms. Bettis said, summing up gig work’s appeal. “Everybody loves stability, but if the flexibility isn’t there, I don’t think a lot of people are going to go back.”

For the full story, see:

Lydia DePillis. “Why Gig Work Is Thriving.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 16, 2022): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 17, 2022, and has the title “If the Job Market Is So Good, Why Is Gig Work Thriving?.”)

Initially Socialist Israeli Kibbutzim Gradually Embraced Entrepreneurial Capitalism

(p. C4) Today, in a break with . . . [its] communal past, Ms. Barnea’s kibbutz is farming for profit, and its main cash crop is medical marijuana. She recently retired from managing the greenhouse that grows the drug.

The shift at Kibbutz Beit HaEmek is just the latest sign of how much Israel’s kibbutzim are changing, as both Israel and the kibbutz movement move away from their socialist roots to become more entrepreneurial and profit-driven.

“We have to survive,” said Ms. Barnea, now 64, walking around the greenhouse as the smell of marijuana wafted past.

. . .

Facing a bleak financial future, young people abandoned the kibbutzim in the 1990s. Meanwhile, Israel’s vibrant technology sector took off, providing an additional pull away from the communes.

To reverse the exodus, Israel’s kibbutzim dismantled much of their socialist model. In 1995, Kibbutz Merom HaGolan became the first to go through a so-called privatization process, paying members salaries on a scale.

Today, most kibbutzim have undergone some form of privatization. Many members now earn salaries outside the kibbutz but pay taxes for the community’s upkeep. New members can take out mortgages with banks and buy land on the kibbutz for their homes.

. . .

Only about 40 kibbutzim still share resources and give equal allowances as envisioned in the original model. Most of these communities had created successful businesses that helped them maintain the communal way of living.

One such community is Kibbutz Sdot Yam, on Israel’s central coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. In the 1980s, the kibbutz opened a factory that constructed quartz surfaces for tables and floors. Despite that venture’s success, the kibbutz is now considering whether to allow members—most of whom work outside the community—to earn their own salaries, rather than sharing them with the commune, said Doron Stansill, a 47-year-old member.

For the full essay, see:

Rory Jones. “The Kibbutz in a Capitalist Israel.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 ): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Oct. 13, 2017 , and has the title “The Kibbutz Movement Adapts to a Capitalist Israel.”)

Entrepreneurs Find New Uses for Bacon Grease and Waste Crabs

(p. A1) OCEAN CITY, Md.—Kristie Williams sells Bumble Soap at her health-food store in this beach town. Its unusual main ingredient, she said, is hard to detect—unless you’re a dog.

“I can’t smell the bacon in the soap,” she said. “My dogs can. Whenever I bring one home, they go crazy.”

The yucky-sounding soap bars are being cooked up less than 4 miles away from Ocean City Organics at Sunrise Diner, . . . (p. A10) Owner Sam Delauter said he branched into soap making when the price of a case of bacon jumped to $90, from $45 last year.

Thinking he could squeeze a few dollars out of his bacon grease in a time of high inflation, he dusted off his great-grandmother’s soap recipe from the Great Depression. He sells the bars for $5.99.

. . .

Searching for new sources of revenue and greener ways to deal with waste, business owners have started coming up with some funky new products. Vodka distilled from dairy-making waste. Compost made from crabs. Reactions from consumers range from enthusiastic to aghast.

For the full story, see:

Harriet Torry. “Inflation’s Byproducts: Bacon Soap or Dairy Vodka, Anyone?” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 27, 2022): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2022, and has the title “Inflation’s Funky Byproducts: Bacon Soap or Dairy Vodka, Anyone?”)

Resilient Entrepreneurs Quickly Rebuilt Chicago After “Great Fire” of 1871

(p. C8) Along with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 stands as one of America’s foundational urban legends, a story of death and rebirth, a monument to the resiliency of the nation’s character.

. . .

Photographs taken immediately after the fire show the utter devastation facing residents: a flattened, rubble-strewn landscape, with only the jagged husks of buildings jutting into the smoky air. But “Chicago’s Great Fire” goes beyond the disaster and its cause to recount the remarkable way the city sprang back. An energizing sense of optimism and opportunity, along with a heavy dose of boosterism, had fueled the city’s explosive growth, and those elements quickly went to work. “Almost immediately,” Mr. Smith writes, “many Chicagoans paradoxically came to see the heroic destruction of their city as an unexpectedly positive event, a stage in its irresistible upward development rather than a dispiriting setback.”

“CHEER UP,” exhorted the headline on an editorial in the Chicago Tribune’s first postfire edition, three days after the inferno started. Even while tens of thousands of residents remained homeless, an emissary assured Eastern financiers that the city warranted a new round of investment. Local entrepreneurs built crude shacks in the rubble to sell necessities. Debris not used for rebuilding was dumped on the edge of Lake Michigan, thus enlarging the size of the downtown.

For the full review, see:

Richard Babcock. “A Cow, a Lantern, a City in Flames.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 16, 2020, and has the title “‘Chicago’s Great Fire’ Review: Rising From the Ashes.”)

The book under review is:

Smith, Carl. Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

If Apple and Google Ban Twitter from Their Phone App Stores, Musk Will Start Making Phones

Elon Musk said he would make his own smartphone if Google and Apple were to ban Twitter from their app stores.

Musk said in a tweet responding to conservative podcaster Liz Wheeler that he hopes the situation does not come to that but that he will make that decision if necessary.

“I certainly hope it does not come to that, but, yes, if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone,” he said.

Wheeler first proposed the idea, saying that half of the country would “happily ditch the biased, snooping iPhone and Android.”

“The man builds rockets to Mars, a silly little smartphone should be easy, right?” she tweeted.

For the full story, see:

JARED GANS. “Elon Musk says he would make his own smartphone if app stores ban Twitter.” THE HILL (Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022). URL: https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3750849-elon-musk-says-he-would-make-his-own-smart-phone-if-app-stores-ban-twitter/.

A Plant Entrepreneur Saw a Use for the Unused

(p. B1) In the summer of 1978, Allen Wilke slammed the brakes.

He did this often. A true plantsman, he observed everything but the road itself. He would spy a flowering prickly pear in the ditch, a wild grapevine. He would double back without warning, often sending his son and daughter — half-asleep in his gutted cargo van’s backseat — tumbling forward with their luggage.

This time, the plantsman was alone. He was puttering through the Sandhills on Nebraska Highway 91, a mile (p. B2) west of Taylor, when a tall, skinny evergreen — like an Italian Cypress, he thought — punctured his periphery. He slammed the brakes. He doubled back. And like he had so many times before, the owner of the Wilke Landscape Center in Columbus knocked on a stranger’s door.

“Would you mind?”

Rancher Marlin Britton led the plantsman to that eastern redcedar on the hill, rising like a steeple behind snot-nosed cattle. To Britton, the tree wasn’t remarkable. But to Wilke, scrambling up the bank for a closer look, it was a perfect fit for Nebraska’s landscaping industry. He took a few 10-inch cuttings, shook Britton’s hand and hit the road.

By the early 1980s, Wilke began retailing this new type of tree he called the “Taylor Juniper,” a play on both its origins and its naturally tailored appearance.

. . .

. . ., the Taylor Juniper is ubiquitous across Nebraska, from the town square in Taylor to the capitol grounds in Lincoln; from The Gardens at Yanney Park in Kearney to the track at Hastings College. They fill the nurseries come spring and sell out come fall — each a perfect clone of that single mother tree in Britton’s pasture.

For the full story, see:

Carson Vaughan Flatwater Free Press. “Tale of the Taylor Juniper, Tree That’s Everywhere in Nebraska.” Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 15, 2022, and has the title “Taylor Junipers stand tall across Nebraska.”)

Fewer Jobs Require College Degree Than Prepandemic

(p. A3) The tight labor market is prompting more employers to eliminate one of the biggest requirements for many higher-paying jobs: the need for a college degree.

Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Delta Air Lines Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. have reduced educational requirements for certain positions and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Maryland this year cut college-degree requirements for many state jobs—leading to a surge in hiring—and incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro campaigned on a similar initiative.

U.S. job postings requiring at least a bachelor’s degree were 41% in November [2022], down from 46% at the start of 2019 ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank that studies the future of work. Degree requirements dropped even more early in the pandemic. They have grown since then but remain below prepandemic levels.

. . .

Lucy Mathis won a scholarship to attend a women in computer science conference. There, she learned about an IT internship at Google and eventually dropped out of her computer science undergraduate program to work at the company full time. The 28-year-old now makes a six-figure sum as a systems specialist.

“I found out I had a knack for IT,” she said. “I’m not good at academics. It’s not for me.”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have completed Google’s online college-alternative program that offers training in fast-growing fields such as digital marketing and project management, the company said. It and 150 other companies are now using the program to hire entry-level workers.

For the full story, see:

Austen Hufford. “Employers Rethink Need for a Degree.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Nov. 28, 2022): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 26, 2022, and has the title “Employers Rethink Need for College Degrees.” I am grateful to Zhigang Feng for calling my attention to the article quoted above.)

Chinese Communist Party Archives Reveal Contradictions, Confusion, and Corruption in “Reform” Policies

(p. C3) Up until the Covid pandemic, I spent years traversing the country to explore the Chinese Communist Party archives from the reform period. Access was at times surprisingly easy, and my findings were eye-opening.

. . .

The archives suggest that officials were aware of reform’s contradictions from its earliest days. Remnants of the command economy combined with what one economist called “selected, pasteurized, partial, truncated, restricted and disjointed pieces of market and private property policy.” The outcome, said Liu Guoguang, a professor of economics and alternate member of the party’s Central Committee, was “a confused economic system.”

Private ownership of intellectual property had no place in this system, and its theft was actively encouraged throughout the party hierarchy. Two government ministries jointly circulated a directive on counterfeiting in 1983, noting that due to the country’s legal obligations, it was necessary with such goods to “change the name of the product.” As one report noted, “We need a unified approach towards copying” so that “the quality of the copied equipment can be guaranteed.”

The counterfeiting of computer technology assumed particular importance after Zhao Ziyang, the country’s premier from 1980 to 1987, read “The Third Wave,” by the American futurist Alvin Toffler. The book predicted that, in the wake of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, a third revolution would be based on the computer. In October 1983, Zhao proposed skipping the second wave altogether: “Time and tide wait for no one, opportunity knocks but once,” he pronounced. To leap into the digital era, China would need to imitate and reverse engineer foreign products.

But the copying wasn’t limited to computer technology. By 2001, China was awash in fake pharmaceutical products and pirated Hollywood movies on DVD. China’s accession to the WTO that year led to a bonanza of copying, for which few consumers paid more than ordinary Chinese: Electric kettles blew up, brake pads failed. Spices contained paraffin wax, noodles used a red dye that caused cancer, and rice wine was made with cheap industrial-grade alcohol. In 2007, the government estimated that one-fifth of the food and consumer goods it checked were substandard or tainted.

China’s financial system rested on similarly shaky foundations. By the summer of 1988, the pace of growth led to double-digit inflation, and state banks were unable to pay villagers for their contractual deliveries of grain, cotton and other essential products. Protests in 1989, in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere across the country, were as much about economic as political discontent. About a fifth of the files in the party archives deal with debt—lending to solve the debt, further debt due to the lending, more lending to solve an even larger debt.

. . .

The image that emerges from the archives is very different from the impression that many have of today’s China. From a distance, the country’s gleaming cities may resemble an impressively shipshape tanker, with the captain and his lieutenants standing proudly on the bridge, but below deck, sailors are desperately pumping water and plugging holes to keep the vessel afloat.

For the full essay, see:

Frank Dikötter. “China’s Economic Miracle That Wasn’t.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 19, 2022): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 17, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is adapted from Dikötter’s book:

Dikötter, Frank. China after Mao: The Rise of a Superpower. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2022.

Chinese Protestors Seek “Freedom” and “Rule of Law”

(p. A1) BEIJING—Protests are erupting in major cities in China over President Xi Jinping’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, an unusual show of defiance in the country as the economic and social costs from snap lockdowns and other strict restrictions escalate.

. . .

(p. A8) The protests followed demonstrations on Friday [Nov. 25, 2022] in Urumqi, capital of the remote region of Xinjiang, where a deadly fire enraged residents who had struggled with lockdowns of more than 100 days. Residents flooded social media with comments suggesting that Covid restrictions contributed to a delay in putting out the fire, in which officials said 10 people died.

In Beijing, hundreds of protesters marched on Sunday night. A large police presence pinned protesters near the Liangmahe river, a popular spot for family picnics by day that is close to many foreign embassies. “Freedom,” the protesters shouted in unison.

. . .

Signs that unrest after the deadly fire in Urumqi was spreading beyond Xinjiang became apparent on Saturday [Nov. 26, 2022], when videos circulating on social media showed crowds gathering on a street in central Shanghai calling for a lifting of lockdowns. The videos were verified by Storyful, a social-media research company owned by News Corp, parent company of The Wall Street Journal.

. . .

One middle-aged Shanghai resident said he stopped by on his way home and joined the crowd in singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Misérables” and the Chinese national anthem. A friend who grew up in Xinjiang began to cry, he said.

“[We in] Shanghai can relate to that, because we had gone through such a long lockdown,” he said, referring to more than two months of iron-fisted Covid controls imposed on the city earlier this year.

The mood intensified. Using expletives and call-and-response chanting, some protesters began to denounce both Mr. Xi and his Covid-control strategy. Another clip from the scene showed demonstrators standing across from lines of police.

The clip showed one man chanting, “The Communist Party.” Others responded, “Step down.”

“Xi Jinping,” the man shouted. “Step down,” others responded.

. . .

On Chinese social-media, users raced against censors to spread images and news of the protests, along with expressions of solidarity. “Long live the people, may the dead rest in peace,” said a message that spread widely. Others posted an image of a blank white sheet of paper—a nod to censorship—with the words “I love you, China. I love you, young people.”

The protests continued Sunday [Nov. 27, 2022], with students gathering around noon on the campus of Tsinghua University, another elite school in Beijing. Some in the crowd carried sheets of paper that were either blank or had an exclamation mark inside a red circle—the symbol that indicates an online post has been deleted—according to witness video footage shared with the Journal. The students sang songs and chanted “Democracy and rule of law!”

For the full story, see:

Lingling Wei, Brian Spegele and Wenxin Fan. “Protests Spread in Challenge To Xi’s Regime.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Nov. 28, 2022): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 28, 2022, and has the title “Chinese Protests Spread Over Government’s Covid Restrictions.” Where the versions differ, the quotes above follow the more detailed online version.)

To End Inflation, Fed Should Commit “To Good Policy Rules,” and Not Stray to Increase Jobs

(p. A9) Growing up in Glens Falls, N.Y., Edward C. Prescott got an insider’s view of business from chats with his father, an engineer and later comptroller for a global supplier of pigments. Those insights made the economics courses he took in college seem less theoretical and more relevant than they might have seemed to other students.

. . .

With Dr. Kydland, he published an influential 1977 paper called “Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans,” concluding that policy makers could err by straying from long-term goals to address short-run problems. For instance, central bankers might be tempted to ease up on their commitments to contain inflation in the short run as a way to boost employment. If so, the professors argued, people might start assuming that prices were out of control, creating a psychology that led to faster inflation for long periods.

Sticking to a sound policy was far more effective than jolting the economy with frequent adjustments, they argued. “You should not think in terms of controlling the economy,” Dr. Prescott said. “That leads to bad outcomes. You should think in terms of committing to good policy rules.”

. . .

Though revered by many of his students and colleagues, Dr. Prescott sometimes baffled them. The problem, he once explained, was that he thought much faster than he could talk. He sometimes jumped from one topic to another with no transition.

“His brain did not work like other people’s,” said Timothy Kehoe, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota who worked with Dr. Prescott for four decades, “and in some ways that was a tremendous advantage.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Economist’s Policy Advice: Stick to Long-Term Plan.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 12, 2022): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Nov. 8, 2022, and has the title “Nobel-Winning Economist Edward C. Prescott Dies at 81.”)

Future Disney Fashion Designer Was “Fascinated” by “Snow White” Movie as a Child

(p. A20) Alice Davis, a Disney Company costume designer who created the outfits worn by the animatronic figures in two of the company’s most enduring and popular rides, It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, died on Nov. 3 [2022] at her home in Los Angeles.

. . .

Ms. Davis had been designing lingerie and other garments for several years when Walt Disney himself asked her in 1963 if she wanted to work on the costumes for It’s a Small World.

. . .

She had been fascinated with animation since seeing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when she was 8 (“I just about vibrated out of my seat,” she said), and she hoped to pursue the form as a career.

. . .

She was steered to costume design, although Ms. Chouinard suggested that she also take an animation drawing class with a new instructor at the school: Marc Davis, who was by then one of a core group of animators Mr. Disney referred to as his “nine old men.”

She graduated in 1950 and married Mr. Davis in 1956; he died in 2000. She leaves no immediate survivors.

Ms. Davis’s other Disney work included establishing costuming and quality-control procedures for the company and creating standards for three-dimensional characters in other rides and shows.

In 2012, Disney recognized Ms. Davis as its most famous costume designer with a tribute that is among the company’s highest honors: a commemorative window installed on a storefront on Disneyland’s Main Street. It sits next to a similar pane honoring her husband.

For the full obituary, see:

Ed Shanahan. “Alice Davis, 93, Who Designed Outfits For Two of Disney’s Most Popular Rides.” The New York Times (Saturday, November 19, 2022): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 18, 2022, and has the title “Alice Davis, Costume Designer for Disney Rides, Dies at 93.”)