Fred Segal

March 1, 2021 at 8:17 am

From the New York Times obituary of California clothier Fred Segal:

Mr. Segal credited his early success to his ability to be honest with customers.

"I learned at a very young age that the area of no competition is in integrity," Mr. Segal told Haute Living. "When I was selling in my store to my customers and they came in wanting to buy this or that, if they put an outfit on and they asked me for my advice, part of the time I'd say, 'Take that off, don't even buy that, that would be ridiculous, you don't even look good in that.' That's really deep honesty. You don't find that in business, you know?"

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New York State Tax Increases

February 28, 2021 at 11:45 am

"Is New York Finally Ready To Tax the Rich?" is the headline over a Ginia Bellafante column in Sunday's New York Times. The "Finally" aspect of it will doubtless elicit bitter laughs from those New Yorkers who have for years already been paying some of the highest combined state and local tax rates in the nation. The column reports:

Of all the various laws put forth, the one that seems to have the greatest support would raise income tax rates in increments beginning with individuals making more than $300,000 (or couples making more than $450,000). Currently, the top marginal tax rate in the state is 8.82 percent. Under the Invest in New York Act, the figure would climb to just over 10 percent for those making $2 million a year, for instance. At the maximum end, those bringing in $100 million or more, the rate would extend to 15 percent.

Last month, Governor Cuomo himself floated the notion of graduated hikes to income tax that would require those in the top bracket to pay 10.82 percent.

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Buffett on Shareholders and Stakeholders

February 27, 2021 at 7:46 pm

Subtle but clear pushback from Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett, in his latest annual letter, against the trendy idea that "stakeholders" should somehow replace shareholders as the people a company should exist primarily to serve:

Berkshire is a Delaware corporation, and our directors must follow the state's laws. Among them is a requirement that board members must act in the best interest of the corporation and its stockholders. Our directors embrace that doctrine.

In addition, of course, Berkshire directors want the company to delight its customers, to develop and reward the talents of its 360,000 associates, to behave honorably with lenders and to be regarded as a good citizen of the manycities and states in which we operate. We value these four important constituencies.

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FDA Endorsement Hurts Vaccine Uptake, Poll Says

February 27, 2021 at 7:16 pm

The Wall Street Journal reports on polling about vaccine hesitance or willingness:

Civis Analytics...asked an online panel of adults weighted to resemble the full U.S. population this question: "Suppose that an FDA-authorized coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine was available today. Would you get this vaccine?"....

To see how different phrasing might influence responses, Civis Analytics tried two versions of its question, including one that referenced the FDA and one that didn't. When the FDA was mentioned, 7% fewer people said they would get vaccinated, perhaps because of distrust in the government, according to Crystal Son, the company's director of healthcare analytics.

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Reparations for Slavery

February 26, 2021 at 3:37 pm

My last two weekly columns have been about reparations for slavery in the U.S. Please check the full columns out at the New York Sun ("Biden May Yet Eye Reparations for U.S. Slavery," and "With Reparations, Would Obama Get a Check—Or Write One?") and Newsmax ("Could Reparations Actually Find Bipartisan Support?" and "Reparations Will Reinforce Victimhood Not Heal It.")

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Organic Food as a Racist Plot

February 21, 2021 at 8:32 am

From the New York Times's T magazine:

Indeed, there's a troubling historical connection between organic food and white ethnonationalism, drawing on the language of purity and a gauzy, idealized notion of a nativist relationship to the land, which must be kept unsullied by industrial pesticides or "foreign substances," in the words of the Nazi scientist Werner Kollath, who during the Second World War promoted the slogan "Lasst unsere Nahrung so natürlich wie möglich" — "Leave our food as natural as possible" — alongside forced sterilization and eugenics. At the beginning of January, one of the far-right insurgents arrested after the invasion of the United States Capitol was reported to have demanded organic food in jail, in order to keep from getting sick.

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The Schwarzman Situation

February 20, 2021 at 8:25 pm

The business section of the New York Times carries a bizarre dispatch about a rebellion by the Schwarzman Scholars against their benefactor.

Under the online headline "After Capitol Riots, Billionaire's 'Scholars' Confront Their Benefactor," the Times reports that

some participants in the Schwarzman Scholars program — a master's course he established at Tsinghua University in Beijing to be a Chinese analogue to the Rhodes Scholarships — are speaking out against their benefactor.

They say Mr. Schwarzman is failing to live up to his own values and harming the program's reputation by not cutting off money to lawmakers who opposed certifying President Biden's electoral victory.

Also, "After Mr. Trump introduced a travel and immigration prohibition aimed at people from predominantly Muslim countries, Mr. Schwarzman received sharp questions from the scholars on a video chat, according to one attendee."

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Sharfstein to FDA?

February 20, 2021 at 7:06 pm

President Biden has yet to nominate a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The New York Times reports that one of two apparent front-runners for the job is Joshua Sharfstein, who was deputy commissioner during the Obama administration. I know Sharfstein from college and, while he's certainly to the left of me, he'd be a fabulous FDA commissioner—bright, thoughtful, independent-minded, public-spirited, caring, and an excellent communicator. Biden would be lucky to have him in the administration. Just reading about the possibility that he would end up as FDA commissioner made me feel like we moved that much closer to getting Covid-19 in the rear-view mirror. If Biden does choose Sharfstein, he deserves rapid Senate confirmation.

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Biden Visits Dole

February 20, 2021 at 6:52 pm

President Biden took some time Saturday afternoon in a low-key way to go visit his friend and former Senate colleague Bob Dole, the Republican Party's 1996 presidential candidate, who recently announced he has Stage 4 lung cancer.

What a gracious thing to do, and what a nice way to follow through on the promise to help unite America.

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Linking Minimum Wage to Immigration Enforcement

February 18, 2021 at 9:58 pm

David Brooks writes in his New York Times column a letter to a young Republican: "You may have noticed that this week, Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton are teaming up on an effort to raise the minimum wage and enforce immigration laws, two plans to boost working class wages. That's what there needs to be more of."

The legislation is still being drafted. A Cotton tweet described the immigration enforcement provision as "requiring employers to verify the legal status of every worker so they can't undercut Americans on the black market."

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February 17, 2021 at 2:13 pm

In today's mail came the Winter 2021 issue—the second that has been published—of Liberties, the new journal edited by Leon Wieseltier of New Republic fame.

It is refreshingly different from what else is out there, not least in its online strategy, which seems to consist of not publishing the articles on the Internet, even behind a paywall, but requiring people instead to subscribe in print.

Here are two things I enjoyed in the current issue. From Nicholas Lemann, a suggestion to "decentralize power." He writes, "Like everybody else, experts live in their own enclosed worlds, and they often operate on distinctive, non-universal, and not fully conscious assumptions that nobody they encounter ever challenges. Technocracy is not a guarantee of truth or wisdom. No matter how smart and epistemologically sophisticated they are, experts miss a democracy, experts must be prepared to respect and honor what the great majority of citizens who aren't experts think."

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Whiffenpoofs to Florida

February 16, 2021 at 4:54 pm

The talent flow to Florida that has been the topic of extensive earlier coverage here includes now also the Yale a capella singing group known as the Whiffenpoofs. The Yale Daily News reports that

while the group is not holding live performances this year, the Whiffenpoofs plan to rehearse, hold virtual performances and record music in Florida. Their trip this month is an outlier during the pandemic, since all other campus a cappella groups continue to refrain from traveling or rehearsing in person, in accordance with the Yale Singing Group Council's guidelines.

If anyone thinks that it is the sunshine and warm weather rather than policy choices that explain why Florida is such a pandemic success story, compare it to Los Angeles, which has been in much worse shape.

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GM, Electric Cars, and China

February 15, 2021 at 10:28 am

General Motors' announcement that it will, by 2035, stop selling cars and trucks with internal combustion engines is the topic of my most recent column. Please check out the full column at the New York Sun ("Why NYTimes Is Kvelling About The Free Market") and Newsmax ("GM's Move to Electric a Hat Tip to China, Not US Markets.")

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Foreign Agents Registration Act

February 5, 2021 at 10:02 am

The Foreign Agents Registration Act is the topic of my latest column. Please check out the full column at Reason ("Does America Really Need the Foreign Agents Registration Act?"), Newsmax ("Stop Making Criminals of Those Failing to Complete the Right Paperwork"), and the New York Sun ("Foreign Agents Law Is Looking in Need of Reform").

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Summers on Inflation Risk

February 5, 2021 at 9:52 am

Lawrence Summers writes in the Washington Post:

while there are enormous uncertainties, there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability. This will be manageable if monetary and fiscal policy can be rapidly adjusted to address the problem. But given the commitments the Fed has made, administration officials' dismissal of even the possibility of inflation, and the difficulties in mobilizing congressional support for tax increases or spending cuts, there is the risk of inflation expectations rising sharply. Stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown. For credibility, they need to be accompanied by clear statements that the consequences will be monitored closely and, if necessary, there will be the capacity and will to adjust policy quickly.

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