Month: August 2020
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
The Slave-Free Business Certification Act of 2020, introduced last week by Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, sounds unobjectionable, maybe even worthy. As the U.S. engages in a worthwhile and necessary reassessment of the role of slavery in its history, the bill would force large companies to investigate and report on forced labor in their supply chains.
In fact, the net effect of the bill — contrary to its stated intent — might be to increase slavery worldwide.
As a general principle, companies should cut off commercial relations with any known sources of slavery. Yet this law calls for mandatory corporate investigation and auditing, backed by CEO certification and with significant penalties for non-compliance. The investigatory process is supposed to include interviews of both workers and management in the supply chain.
Such a get-tough approach has a superficial appeal. Yet placing an investigative burden on companies may not lead to better outcomes.
Consider the hypothetical case of a U.S. retailer buying a shipment of seafood routed through Vietnam. It fears that some of the seafood may have come from Thailand, where there are credible reports of (temporary) slavery in the supply chain. How does it find out if those reports are true? Asking its Vietnamese business partner, who may not even know the truth and might be reluctant to say if it did, is unlikely to resolve matters.
It is unlikely that businesses, even larger and profitable ones, will be in a position to hire teams of investigative journalists for their international inputs. Either they will ignore the law, or they will stop dealing with poorer and less transparent countries. So rather than buying shrimp from Southeast Asia, that retailer might place an order for more salmon from Norway, where it is quite sure there is no slavery going on.
…for every instance of slavery today there are many more opaque supply chains that will be damaged and disrupted if the burden is on large companies to root out labor abuses.
Here are a few points of relevance:
1. The law penalizes opaque supply chains rather than slavery per se. That is unlikely to be an efficient target.
2. Judgments about slavery are put in the hands of businesses rather than the government. Why not just have the U.S. government issue sanctions against slavery-supporting countries when sanctions are appropriate and likely to be effective? What is the extra gain from taxing businesses in this way?
3. There are many forms of coerced and exploited labor, and it is not clear this legislation will target slavery as opposed to simply low wages and poor working conditions as might result from extreme poverty. You also don’t want the law to tax poor working conditions per se, since FDI, or purchasing flows from a supply chain, can help improve those working conditions. You might however wish to target employment instances where, due to the nature of the law, additional financial flows toward the product will never rebound to the benefit of foreign labor. This law (which I have read all of) does not seem to grasp that important distinction.
As I said in my post Frequent, Fast, and Cheap is Better than Sensitive we shouldn’t be comparing virus tests head-to-head, as if all tests serve the same purpose. Instead, we should recognize that tests have comparative advantages and a cheap, fast, frequent testing regime can be better in some respects than a slow, infrequent but more sensitive testing regime. Both regimes can be useful when used appropriately and especially when they are used in combination.
Eric Topol has a good graphic.
As Topol also notes:
In order to get this done, we need a reboot at @US_FDA, which currently requires rapid tests to perform like PCR tests. That’s wrong. This is a new diagnostic category for the *infectious* endpoint, requiring new standards and prospective validation.
The FDA has sort-of indicated that they might be open to this.
Much, much too slow, of course. Matching a virus that grows exponentially against a risk-averse, overly-cautious FDA has been a recipe for disaster.
You may have read that a number of early games in the season have been cancelled due to many of the players testing positive for Covid-19. There is talk of the season being unsustainable, but it seems a simple remedy has not yet been tried — dock a player 30 percent of his salary if he tests positive. That should limit the degree of nightclubbing and carousing, keeping in mind that the already-infected are probably some of the worst offenders and they have been “taken care of.” Furthermore, the players would have a strong incentive to monitor each other, not wanting to be on the receiving end of an infection from a teammate.
While that arrangement presumably runs counter to the collective bargaining agreement, that agreement can and should be revised if season cancellation is the true alternative.
If need be, the fines can be redistributed to the players who never test positive, thus keeping total compensation constant.
Incentives don’t always work, but if you haven’t even tried them something is amiss. Do I hear “35 percent”? “Forty”? “Thirty-seven percent and three lashes”?
Most people understand the basic idea of a traditional live-attenuated or killed vaccine–the vaccine gives the body’s immune system a sneak peek at the virus so that when a wild type attacks, the body’s immune system has been trained to fight. It’s less well understood, however, that the newer, designed vaccines, can be better than traditional vaccines and better even than immunity from exposure to the wild virus because a vaccine can now be designed to target the immune system on the weakest part of the virus:
NYTimes: One beauty of vaccines — and one of their great advantages over our body’s natural reaction to infections — is that their antigens can be designed to focus the immune response on a virus’s Achilles heel (whatever that may be).
…The immune response generated against a virus during natural infection is, to some degree, at the mercy of the virus itself. Not so with vaccines.
Since many viruses evade the innate immune system, natural infections sometimes do not result in robust or long-lasting immunity. The human papillomavirus is one of them, which is why it can cause chronic infections. The papillomavirus vaccine triggers a far better antibody response to its viral antigen than does a natural HPV infection: It is almost 100 percent effective in preventing HPV infection and disease.
The second is:
Furthermore, the tech companies have been rising in popularity. I am going to “call” that the “war against Big Tech” essentially is over, and that the critics have failed. The new debate will be about ensuring universal access to various internet services (which will involve further regulation of some kind), not splitting up the major companies or eliminating their basic functions. You might also try this National Journal headline:
It is striking just how much that “blockbuster tech hearing” has not become an enduring story for people to talk about.
Piet Mondrian moved to Hampstead on 20 September and lived in a studio opposite Ben [Nicholson] and Barbara [Hepworth] for almost two years. Mondrian’s studio in Paris had become a kind of pilgrimage site for modern artists across Europe in the 1930s. With no means of viewing art unless it was exhibited, the way to see new work was to visit the artist. Alexander Calder moved to Paris from New York in 1926, aged twenty-seven, and his visit to Mondrian’s studio gave him what he described as the ‘shock that started things’. He likened it to being slapped like a baby to get its lungs working.
That is from Caroline Maclean’s new and noteworthy Circles & Squares: The Lives & Art of the Hampstead Modernists, a good book to read to think about the roots of artistic creativity. Creators back then, by contemporary standards, had so few “means,” and yet they — perhaps unlike us?? — were quite capable of being shocked by new styles and thus revolutionized and awoken from their slumbers. Is there any way to recreate those feelings? Or will that happen only in tech areas and not so much in the arts? What in music today could possibly shock you at this point? Or in painting?
There is plenty of gossip in the book as well, in this case a plus.