Marketplace - American Public Media

An end to vulgar bankers

Fri, 2014-05-16 13:25

Exec to bankers: stop being jerks

I always read All Staff emails.  Especially the ones about a misplaced umbrella somewhere on the West Coast (I’m in NY) and definitely the ones about free cookies in the lunch room in Minnesota (I’m still in NY).

Some people ignore all staff emails.  So Colin Fan, co-head of Deutsche Bank’s investment banking unit, made his into a video.   

“This is an important message. You need to pay close attention,” he begins. 

“You may not realize it, but right now, because of regulatory scrutiny, all your communications may be reviewed.  This includes your emails, your conversations, and your conduct.  All of this is open to scrutiny.  Some of you are falling way short of our established standards. Let's be clear.  Our reputation is everything. Being boastful, indiscreet and vulgar, is NOT OK.  It will have serious consequences for your career.  And, I have lost patience on this issue.”

Fan concludes ominously with “Think carefully about what you say, and how you say it. If not, it will have serious consequences for you personally.”

So why the... gentle reminder?  Because a lot of financial firms have an enduring problem. 

Text not lest ye be judged. And email not. And gchat not.

“We’ve seen time and time again these  emails, which are meant to be private, don’t stay private,” says Kevin Roose, author of Young Money

As investigation after investigation has turned up documents and texts and even recorded conversations, these communications have not been flattering.  Some were illegal, others crass, plenty were both and ALL made the firms look terrible.    You can see some juicy ones here.  

“Not just during the financial crisis but also things like the LIBOR scandal last year,” says Roose.  “Traders were emailing back and forth about fixing a key interest rate in exchange for bottles of champagne and calling each other nicknames.”

“What’s astounding,” says Roose, “is that people are still doing this kind of thing.”

In part, it’s the same mistake that anyone can make: what you put in writing can come back to haunt you.  But it’s also cultural.

A culture of high stress and hyperbole?

Henry Blodget is currently the editor of Business Insider, but he spent a decade working on Wall Street

“On trading floors in particular, and among people on Wall Street in particular, there’s a lot of tension, a lot of jocular communication, yelling and screaming, gamesman ship.  It lends itself to the very colorful emails and texts we have seen,” says Blodget.   It’s akin to other hyper masculine cultures, like that of the military.  “As an analogy, if you were to put a microphone on the side line of a football team, you would hear many things that in isolation would sound terrible – ‘our coach is an idiot!’ and  ‘That’s the dumbest play ever’ – imagine that in a deposition.  Imagine a prosecutor asking you on the stand ‘so clearly, you think your coach is an idiot?’  It’s hard to explain yourself later.”

And yet, says Blodget, in the case of the financial industry, the jocular, aggressive culture is increasingly subject to withering scrutiny: “Because even conversations are recorded on the trading floor, you can’t even engage in normal banter that you normally would.  It’s hard because you want to talk to people who you want to be friends with, you want to talk the way people talk.”

...Or a culture that promotes recklessness?

That scrutiny is well deserved, says Karen Ho, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota who has spent years studying, working, and socializing within the finance industry and on Wall Street in particular.  “These folks have undue influence in our social economy, in our institutions, on interest rates.”

Moreover, the jocular culture is far from harmless, argues Ho. “The boasting and vulgarity help to create a perverse motivational environment where traders through their talk their texts their emails their yelling are egged on” to be more transgressive.

Transgression and aggression become “a sign of not just one-upmanship, but masculine achievement,” Ho says.  Blaming Wall Street excesses on greed lets culture off the hook.  Ho is basically saying that Wall Street culture as it stands reinforces an unholy marriage between masculinity and prowess, and aggression and transgression.  “We need to delink these things, which I think the Deutsche Bank video begins to do,” says Ho.

 “The good news is that if it’s cultural, and folks are socialized into it, then hopefully they can be socialized out of it,” she says.  Canadian bankers don’t seem to have the same problems.

Cultural shift is easier said than done

“I think it’s extremely challenging to imagine that people closely working every day on the phone and instant messaging and email will ever be able to communicate in the boring stilted corporatese that sets lawyers at ease,” says Blodget, regarding the effort to reign in distasteful communication. 

But some financial firms are nevertheless trying very hard to do a la DeutscheBank.  Goldman Sachs installed a filter to prevent people from sending emails with cursewords.  “You can’t even send ‘wtf’” says Roose.  “They installed willpower via software.” 

Roose says a shift in culture has to come from the top.  

And to really make its mark, it will probably require people getting fired.  From the tone of that Deutsche Bank all-staff memo - that sounds pretty likely.

 

In Indian elections, it's the economy, stupid

Fri, 2014-05-16 12:19

In India on Friday, Narendra Modi claimed victory as the country's next prime minister. It's a big win for his Bharatiya Janata party, which is expected to take control of Parliament.

India's long-ruling Congress party is out: it has been swept away, says Sruthijith KK, by a new wave of pro-business sentiment.

"The [Bharatiya Janata] used to profess a very different kind of economics early on," says KK, the New Delhi-based Indian editor for Quartz, "which focused on self-reliance and boycotting American products, but Modi has completely changed that economic philosophy. He has modeled himself off Reagan or Thatcher, and that is very reassuring to business men."

Modi's origin story is straight out of a Horatio Alger novel. Growing up he sold tea at railway stations to make ends meet. KK says his rise from obscurity is an inspiration for India's urban youth, fed up with a lack of jobs and stagnant economic growth.

"The changing demographics of India is precisely what has delivered a thumping victory to Modi... His pitch has been we need to get rid of Welfarism. Growth will pick people up from poverty."

In looking for a Prime Minister, KK notes that Indians put a premium on someone who could cut through the country's enormous amount of red tape.

"In Gujarat Modi showed he could make the bureaucracy work...the size of mandate that the people have now given him gives him so much stature that people expect he'll be able to push through things. He'll get the bureaucracy to deliver what needs to be done."

Do millionaires pick up stray coins on the street?

Fri, 2014-05-16 11:09

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's an extended look at what's coming up next week:

Students from around the country are in Washington to compete in the annual National Geographic Bee championships getting underway Monday.

Look over your financial plans because Tuesday is Be a Millionaire Day. Something I think most of us like to think about. At least how we'll spend it.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee holds a roundtable discussion on economic security for working women.

And 60 years ago, Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" was released as the B-side of the single "Thirteen Women." It still sounds totally rockin'.

Toward the end of the week, we get some reports on housing for April: Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes. Friday, the Commerce Department issues data on new home sales.

And before you vanish into your three-day odyssey of BBQ, beaches and beer for Memorial Day weekend, let's land face up on National Lucky Penny Day.

That's right, pick that lucky penny up: you're working toward being a millionaire, after all.

Five big stores that are moving online

Fri, 2014-05-16 10:49

To no one's surprise, online sales in the U.S. are continuing to steal a larger and larger share of the consumer market, and expected to hit $370 billion by 2017. Even though the overwhelming majority of stuff is sold offline, where you shouldn't shop for the latest Game of Thrones novel in your underwear, brick-and-mortar retailers are still doing everything they can to move into that still growing market. Here are five big stores that have said they are moving to become a bigger presence in the online market:

Staples

Staples is really feeling the pinch from online retail. According to its chairman, Ronald L. Sargent, online retail is the main reason Staples will close nearly 225 stores by the end of 2014. And with the closing of so many physical stores, Staples is trying to make sure it dominates the online office supply market. Already, online orders make up nearly half their business, and Staples now offers 500,000 products on its website, rather than the 100,000 offered just a year ago. It even acquired Runa, a tech company specializing in e-commerce personalization. However, investors might be wary of Staples' new direction, as its stocks fell 15 percent in one day when the company announced it would close stores.

Wal-Mart 

Amazon is still the king of selling everything you could possibly want over the internet, but Wal-Mart, known for its gargantuan stores in real life, could be closing the gap. In 2013, Wal-Mart’s online sales grew faster than Amazon’s for the first time. Wal-Mart’s had to invest heavily to catch up to Amazon, acquiring 12 tech companies and building a presence in Silicon Valley. But even though Wal-Mart is growing faster than Amazon, it’s still a world away. Just look at the numbers: While Wal-Mart racked up $10 billion dollars in online sales over 2013, Amazon took in $67.8 billion.

Apple

The Apple Store might be the shiniest place in the mall, but Apple’s online store might be even shinier -- metaphorically, that is. That’s because Apple is the second largest online retailer in the U.S., right behind Amazon. Factoring in the App store, iTunes, and sales of Apple’s hardware at Apple’s website, Apples pulls in $18.3 billion in online sales. It’s not that Apple doesn’t still value it’s retail stores; they’re doing very well. But for the first time in Apple’s history, one person is being put in charge of both the online store and the retail stores, which is supposed to bring more collaboration between the two entities. As it is now, Apple’s online and retail aspects are both extremely successful, leaving Apple in a pretty sweet spot.

Best Buy

According to its CEO, Best Buy is now an “online first” retailer -- as opposed to being a "showroom" when shoppers would browse Best Buy first, and then actually buy their electronics online. They’ve even hired a handful of tech people to update their decade-old (yup, decade old) website. They’ve also instituted a loyalty program that works with their website and started a big-data mining project called Athena to get customer information for a more focused experience. Perhaps most notably, they’re using innovative methods to attempt to get products to shoppers faster than Amazon. This is all in an effort to double their online sales, and hopefully compete in a market that may have left them behind.

Target

With the public relations fallout from a huge data breach as well as an employee rant going viral on Gawker, Target is in a pretty bad place right now. But the company is hoping a push toward online retail could help turn things around. It’s experimenting with Google to deliver same-day shipping, and it’s significantly expanded its online subscription service. However, if the anonymous employee rant is anything to go by, they have a long way to go.

Economists find same-sex marriage gives a boost

Fri, 2014-05-16 09:03

This week marks ten years since the first legal same-sex marriages took place in the U.S. At 12:01 am on May 17, 2004, the state of Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Since then, more than a dozen states have followed suit, and still more are in the middle of legal battles over whether they should.

Setting aside for a moment the debates around justice, personal freedom, and religion, there are also plenty of economic dimensions to the legalization of same sex marriage. While the research is limited, there are a number of studies that show that legalizing same sex marriage is a net good for the economy. A few years ago, researchers at the William’s Institute at UCLA conducted surveys and combed through state- tax records, and found that during the first years of same-sex weddings in Massachusetts, the local economy got a boost of more than $111 million. Studies of other states have shown similar benefits.

The benefits extend from a family budget to a state budget, says Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who is behind much of the research.

At the personal level, for couples who live in a state that recognizes gay marriage, legalization has “probably saved them a lot of money,” she says. “It gives people security to be treated legally as a family and to have access to health care benefits, social security benefits,” she says.

Across the country about 150,000 same sex couples have gotten married in the last ten years according to Badgett. Meaning, a bump in business for the companies that make those weddings happen. A survey from TheKnot.com found that the average same-sex couple spends about $10,000 on their wedding.

“That’s millions and millions of dollars that are being pumped in to local economies and small businesses, like florists, caterers and hotels,” Badgett says, pointing out that all this business has come at an important time-- during an otherwise gloomy economy.

“Our business keeps tripling every year,” says Michael Jamrock, the founder of EnGAYgedweddings.com, a national clearinghouse where LGBT-friendly wedding services pay to advertise their businesses to same-sex couples about to tie the knot. When Jamrock started the company six years ago, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only states where same-sex marriage was legal. “Whenever a new state becomes legal, the traffic to the website is just absolutely phenomenal,” he says.

Legalization can also boost state revenue, says economist Badgett. States see more sales tax dollars—from couples spending on their weddings, and guests who travel from out of state to celebrate. There can also be a rise in income tax revenue from couples filing jointly.

Badgett says legalizing gay marriage can also mean less government spending on social safety net programs, as married couples pool financial resources often rely on less public assistance.

“When marriage strengthens families in terms of economic security, that's also good for state budgets,” she says.

Legalizing gay marriage can also bring some extra costs. Spouses of state and private employees may qualify for more retirement and health-care benefits. But economists who’ve crunched the numbers say on net, those costs don't outweigh the overall revenues.

A report in 2004 from the Congressional Budget Office, then headed up by Doug Holtz-Eakin (who now runs the conservative American Action Forum) estimated that if same-sex marriage was recognized in all fifty states and at the federal level, the federal budget’s bottom line “would improve the budget’s bottom line to a small extent: by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years.”

How we measure the poverty line(s)

Fri, 2014-05-16 08:23

Until the mid-1960s, the U.S. didn't have an official, federal poverty line.

In 1963, the Social Security Administration asked one of its researchers, Mollie Orshanksy, to report on child poverty. Orshansky quickly realized there was no way to tell exactly how many children were living in poverty, and devised a simple calculation to determine who was poor. 

She took the the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "thrifty food plan," which estimated the minimum amount of food that cash-strapped families could survive on, and still be healthy.

In 1963, that food cost $1,033 dollars for the year. Data from surveys at the time showed the average family spent about a third of their income on food, so Orshanksy took that $1,033 and multiplied it by three. Any family earning less than that amount was below the poverty line. Fifty years later, that is still how the federal government determines who is in poverty: the minimum you need for food, multiplied by three.

Many poverty researchers find that problematic, because these days, the average family spends about one-seventh of its income on food, not one third. But other costs, like housing, medical care, childcare and commuting have risen.

For the past few years, the Census Bureau has published a Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes those rising costs into account, along with whether people live in low-cost or high-cost areas. The Supplemental measure also adds in the benefits that many low-income people recieve like SNAP and subsidized housing.

Many poverty researchers agree the supplemental measure paints a more accurate picture of who is in poverty, but the government still uses Orshanky's original formula to determine its official measure.

The cookie factory that balances profit with progress

Fri, 2014-05-16 07:55

Through the 1960’s, companies felt social responsibility was part of their culture. That all changed after a 1970 essay by Milton Friedman in the New York Times –“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits."  But recently a new type of corporate status has become popular, the Benefit Corporation, which requires companies to do social and environmental good.

Social responsibility has a warm, chocolatey, toasty fragrance. It's what the air inside Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y., is perfumed with, and it's enough to stop a reporter in her tracks.

"That would be remnants of brownies," says Mike Brady, the company's CEO. 

Greyston turns out 30,000 pounds of brownies a day for Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. The bakery sold almost $10 million of brownies last year. But Greyston isn’t a typical company. It’s what's called a Benefit Corporation. That means in addition to normal  requirements, Greyston also has to create a “material positive impact on society and the environment.”

Brady can provide a substantial list of positive projects the company has undertaken: solar panels on its roof, buying sustainable cocoa and sugar, providing social support for workers who need extra help outside of work -- and when jobs open up, anyone gets the chance to work, no questions asked. The company even keeps a sign-up sheet in its reception area.

Companies can now become benefit corporations in 22 states, but how do you reconcile a social mission with a bottom line?

“I could spend 100 percent of my time trying to figure out the solutions for selling a good product." Brady says. "But I dedicate my time and the time of my team to trying to focus on how we can figure out the environment and the community, ultimately hoping that that’s going to lead to us selling more products, and that’s been the case so far.”

Erik Trojian, director of policy for B Lab, a non-profit that certifies benefit corporations, says that traditional corporations are limited by their duty to maximize shareholder profits, rendering them unable to focus on other missions.

"The unique thing of a benefit corporation is it deregulates the purpose of a corporation by saying, you can consider other factors than profit," he says. "You can consider society and the environment. In addition to profit."  

Trojian notes that because benefit corporations have to report and answer to shareholders, just like traditional corporations, unlike traditional corporations they can be held accountable for doing good.

"If the only goal of a corporation is to maximize profits, these investors don’t have a right to say, well, I have a mission-oriented fund, I invested in your company, you said you were going to consider society and the environment, but you stopped doing that. You have no recourse," he says, "but to sell your stock and get out or take what’s given."

Reporting to shareholders, he says, means a benefit corporation keeps operations transparent -- unlike a traditional corporation, which may focus on a specific, targeted social or environmental project like cleaning up a polluted waterway but isn't necessarily held responsible for its achievement in that area.

"That doesn’t mean the company isn’t polluting out the front door," says Trojian, "while it’s cleaning the back door. So that’s the dilemma with that,  it doesn’t really provide the consumer with a complete understanding of what the totality of the company’s operations are."

Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell Law School, says the misunderstanding lies elsewhere. The purpose of a corporation, she wants to make clear, is not to maximize shareholder profits.

"It turns out the purpose of the corporation is to do, and I’m taking this right from what the vast majority of corporate charters say," she says, "they say the purpose of the corporation is to do anything lawful.”

Stout notes that companies do often focus on shareholder value. One of the biggest reasons for this, she says is that tax law requires executive pay to be tied to a metric and very often that metric is share price. "So we shouldn’t be surprised that if we pay executives to bump up the share price, that’s what they do," she says. "But that’s not required by the law in the sense that you can’t sue managers for making decisions that reduce profits, or perhaps don’t move the share price up as far as it can go."

Stout says we don't need benefit corporations.

"I don’t think we do," she says, "if what you want to do is create legal space for managers to run companies in a socially responsible fashion."

But she notes, when it comes to focusing on social and environmental goals, there are some benefits, to having benefit corporations, such as the inherent appeal, to some consumers, that comes along with the label of benefit corporation. 

"It’s very much a marketing thing," she says.  "For example, Patagonia is a benefit corporation and they make a line of clothing suited to outdoor activities. A lot of people who like outdoor activities are very concerned about the environment. And they might be willing to buy Pataonia instead of another brand, because it’s a benefit corporation."

Then Stout  says there's the requirement to report to shareholders about social and environmental impact.

"The benefit corporation is supposed to provide information that’s available to shareholders and others, to show that they’re actually making progress towards that objective," she says. "And that requirement, that you provide information, may be very, very important."

"There’s a saying in business," Stout says, "that what you measure, is what you manage. And if all you’re measuring is profits, that is naturally  going to be your focus."

PODCAST: Some (temporary) relief at the pump

Fri, 2014-05-16 07:53

After a steady rise since February, gas prices are leveling off, and even dropping in parts of the country. But the relief is only temporary.

Europe's biggest construction project is currently underway in London: a new 73-mile long rail link passing underneath the British capital.

It's the time of year when TV networks try to get audiences -- and advertisers -- excited about their upcoming season. One genre that's now a tough sell to both is music.

Snobby salespeople sell more luxury goods

Fri, 2014-05-16 06:42

When Groucho Marx once said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member," he might've been talking about a recent study: “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers' Desire for the Brand. Customers are more likely to buy luxury goods from rude, snooty, or aloof salespeople.  

When it comes to high-end goods, we want what we can't have, and a salesperson with a bad attitude only adds to the air of exclusivity.  

Darren Dahl, professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, co-authored the study and says that the outcomes were based on a number of factors.

“…[I]t only really works if you aspire to the brand. So, if it’s something that you want and you don’t have. For the consumers that are regular luxury shoppers, this effect doesn’t happen,” Dahl says.

Another factor in whether or not a customer is swayed by rude customer service is the salesperson’s appearance.

“[The effect] also doesn’t happen if the salesperson doesn’t match the brand. If someone is selling Prada or Burberry and they don’t look like they should be there themselves, you don’t get that effect. You only react if someone truly represents the brand,” Dahl says.

Scarcity and exclusivity are two major components of persuasion psychology, but Dahl says that there is more behind the findings.

“When you come into a store and salespeople give you a dirty look, or they ignore you, or they essentially make you feel like maybe you’re not in the right store, if you as a consumer really want that brand, it’s kind of  challenge. [That’s] the way people looked at it and said, ‘Hey, I can afford that and I’m going to show you’,” he says.   

In the end, Dahl says that good customer service is always the best way to go. 

For one, non-luxury stores see no benefit from having rude salespeople, as the study showed that customers were not more likely to buy goods from a store that isn’t considered aspirational or prestigious. 

Also according to the study, people who initially felt driven to purchase from the snobby salesperson had, what Dahl calls, a boomerang effect.

“In the moment, you react and take the challenge and say I’m going to buy that product. But after you get home [and} you’ve been thinking about the experience … it actually turns out that you dislike the brand and the experience much more than the average person,” he says. 

 Have you ever been treated poorly by a sales associate?  How did you react? Email us or Tweet at us @LiveMoney

Trim the fat from your food budget

Fri, 2014-05-16 06:36

After you've divvied up your income between rent, mortgage, car payment and other big ticket items, what's the biggest expense in your budget?

If you're like most Americans, it's food.

Between grocery bills, restaurants, and the Monday morning coffee run, the cost of food can add up.

And food prices are steadily on the rise with meat, eggs and dairy taking the lead. Last year's devastating drought, coupled with a nasty virus in the nation's hog population all contributed to higher prices at the grocery store.

Kristin Wong, a personal finance writer with the Lifehacker blog 'Two Cents', stopped into the Marketplace Money studio to share a few tips about how to get our food spending under control.

Find protein that's cheap, not steep

With hamburgers and pork chops taking a bigger bite out of your grocery bill, Wong recommends giving less expensive forms of protein like tofu a second glance.

"Not everybody has the palate for tofu, but if you do it's a really good cost effective way you can eat."

Focus on in season produce

Stocking up on cheap, healthy staples like sweet potatoes, potatoes and lentils is another way to pad out your dinner plate.

"You can get a lot of produce that's on sale and in season and you can freeze it and use it when it's not in season," she says.

Plan ahead

But, Wong says, meal planning is where the real savings come in. She says a fellow blogger turned her on to a technique called the Inverted Pyramid Method that allows you to plan an entire weeks worth of meals around one or two big recipes.

"They'll plan out one or two really big meals then they'll plan the rest of their meals for the week based on the leftover ingredients from the one or two big meals," she says. "It's a cool strategy because you're avoiding food waste, which is what this all boils down to. That's the main thing you don't want to do when you're on a budget."

Mix and match

And if you're just not sure what to make with a hodge podge of leftover ingredients? That's where a website called Supercook comes in handy.

"You can put in whatever you have in your pantry and it will compile recipes for you. And you can even highlight the ingredient that you want to focus on, so if you have extra tofu you can highlight that and all these recipes will pop up with tofu as the main ingredient."

When it comes to benefits, the poorest get less

Fri, 2014-05-16 04:37

A new study finds a surprising pattern as to the way benefits to the poor are given out in America – the very poorest are receiving less. Johns Hopkins economics professor Robert Moffitt, who crunched welfare numbers over several decades, joins Marketplace’s Mark Garrison to explain. Click on the audio player above to hear more.

Health insurers pull back the curtain on pricing

Fri, 2014-05-16 04:00

A website launching early next year might help you decide whether you can afford to swap out your bum knee. A group called the Health Care Cost Institute will publish information on the price and quality of medical services, courtesy of data from insurance giants UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and Humana.

"The ideal scenario is that it almost gives you an active stock ticker of what conditions are moving in what direction and their cost," says Steve Parente, the governing chair of the Health Care Cost Institute and a professor of health finance and insurance at the University of Minnesota.

Parente says price information is more critical to consumers than ever as out of of pocket medical costs continue to soar.

If consumers, armed with price information, decide to avoid excessively costly procedures, that helps insurers, too; they can hold down costs more easily.

"It's really a way, at the highest level, to create a more efficient system with an informed consumer at the center of it," Tom Beauregard, an executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, says of the Health Care Cost Insitute's forthcoming website.

Nicholas Bagley, assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, says consumers don't necessarily act any differently when offered publicly available information about the quality of health care providers.

"But it's possible, given the new high-deductible environment for health insurance," he says, "that they'll pay more attention to price information."

Gas prices seem to be falling (for now)

Fri, 2014-05-16 02:16

After a steady rise since February, gas prices are leveling off, and even dropping in parts of the country. But the relief is only temporary.

Still, it should come as no surprise. Why? Because this is pretty much how gas prices play out every year.

Typically, gas prices typically bottom out in January. By spring, refineries start to go offline for maintenance -- so prices tend to increase.

Gas prices drop again before the summer driving season (where we are right now), only to go back up yet again during the summer.

AAA's Michael Green says the boom in domestic oil production is also playing a factor.

"Prices aren't as volatile than they were in the past," Green says.

Archaeology and business in London's 'Big Dig'

Fri, 2014-05-16 01:00

Europe's biggest construction project is currently underway in London: a new 73-mile long rail link passing underneath the British capital.

Crossrail – as it's called – will bring the city's transport system into the 21st century, increasing its rail capacity by 10 percent and carrying over 200 million passengers every year. But tunneling deep under a historic city like London means burrowing into the past.

"Crossrail is actually the largest archaeological dig that this country has seen in many,many years," observes the project's director Andy Mitchell.

Working alongside Crossrail's tunnel engineers, the company's small, in-house team of archaeologists has – so far – carried out dozens of excavations. Ten thousand items have been discovered from the Stone Age to the Roman period and through to the Victorian Era. The latest find – skeletons of victims of the plague or Black Death that swept through Europe in the 14th century – is causing real excitement in academic circles:

"It's fascinating stuff for us, giving us an insight into what the population was like in those years," says Don Walker of the Museum of London. "The find could shed further light on the biggest catastrophe to hit this city, causing huge social change. The Black Death wiped out perhaps half the population. Everything changed. Labor became scarce. And that's why there are theories that the plague was responsible for ending feudalism."

Crossrail is in the business of building a rail link but like all companies carrying out major construction projects on historically important sites in Britain it is legally obliged to employ the services of professional archaeologists.

"Virtually all of the archaeology in Britain these days is actually done as a response to a commercial development , funded by the developers themselves," says the Museum's Nick Elsdon.

Crossrail is spending $9 million on sifting and preserving the artifacts and human remains that it has come across; that's out of a total construction budget of $25 billion. A small price to pay – it says –for delving into the city's extraordinary past.

"You know this is a historic project," says Crossrail's Andy Mitchell. "We're building the future's history. So I think we engineers have a natural empathy with archaeology , certainly in a town like London."

Most archaeology in Britain is funded by commercial developers. Photo credit: Crossrail

A billion shirts, nothing to wear! It's Silicon Tally

Fri, 2014-05-16 01:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week we're joined by Terry Bush, a Marketplace Tech listener from South Bend, Indiana. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-a-billion-shirts-nothing-to-wear", placeholder: "pd_1400191724" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Marketplace heads to London

Fri, 2014-05-16 01:00

From exploring the chasm between the top  1 percent of Americans and those struggling to get by, to the housing bubble (or lack thereof) in Phoenix, Arizona, Marketplace works to find the intersection between the facts on the page and the choices people make as a result. And it’s not news that these issues aren’t inherently "American." Someone on the other side of the globe understands just as well as anyone else the difficulty of trying to feed a family on not enough pay.

Here in the U.S., that manifests itself in the struggle to survive on minimum wage and getting by on food stamps. And certainly we’re not the only ones with CEOs of companies getting paid disproportionately more than the people who work for them.

The question isn’t if our foreign compatriots worry about the same things we do, but how these issues manifest for them and to what degree.

So, we’re headed overseas -- to London, specifically.

All next week, Marketplace Morning Report will be broadcasting from the BBC, taking a closer look at some of these issues in our series Mind the Gap.

We’ll be looking at the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the U.K. In fact, the numbers are pretty staggering -- the five wealthiest families in the U.K. have more money than the poorest 20 percent. And new data show a 163 percent increase in the number of people who were given emergency food supplies. And with significant numbers of poorer Londoners being priced out of the city and having to relocate to cheaper parts of the country, we’ll examine how folks are feeling about being squeezed out by wealthy foreigners.

From an American perspective, this all sounds awfully familiar.

Plus, we’ll be joined by guests like former board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, Jamison Firestone, to talk about cooling business ties between London and Russia. We’ll also talk to BBC reporter Rob Broomby about the Scotland Independence Referendum, and what London and Scotland have to gain and lose depending on the outcome.

It’s all part of Marketplace applying what we do best to the perspective of our friends across the Atlantic. So steep a pot of tea, brush up on the lyrics to “God Save the Queen,” and don your favorite football team’s jersey (no, not that football): Marketplace Morning Report is headed to London.

My worst boss was a woman. As was my best boss.

Thu, 2014-05-15 22:12

I've been struggling with both whether and how to write about Jill Abramson's departure from the New York Times, and the broader questions it raises for women in leadership roles.

Yes, we in the media world are obsessed with this story. But the Times still holds sway over our collective imaginations about what it means to do great journalism. So when something blows up there, we're riveted.

And the Times still – even in the digital age – is the paper of record. It's almost a public square where ideas are thrashed out, and even Vladmir Putin writes an occasional op-ed. This is no ordinary office.

So when "brusque," or "pushy," or other words that could describe a man, but so very rarely do, are attached to Abramson, it creates an instant and inescapable echo. Janet Yellen-Angela Merkel-Hillary Clinton-Meg Whitman-Elaine Chao... this? We're doing this again?

We may never know what role gender played in Abramson's firing. Only she and her boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., are privy to the all the details. A story by The New Yorker's peerless media reporter Ken Auletta says Abramson did indeed complain of lower pay compared to male peers, including the man she replaced.

And the fallout is inescapably gendered, again making women wonder why we (I can't write about this without admitting some personal stake), often feel we have to walk a tightrope the higher we rise at work. Be excellent, but not off-putting. Speak up for yourself and ask for a raise, but don't be too aggressive.

I hashed out some of the contradictions awhile back with the New York Times's own reporter Tara Siegel Bernard for Marketplace Money.

There's been a boom in books about women in the professional world lately. Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman's The Confidence Code. And the target audience is always women. You, female: Here's how you get better at navigating this maze. Here's how you trick the system.

Never you, company. Or you, university. Or you, hospital. That would be harder, of course.

But I do wonder what it would say to little girls if we placed the onus somewhere else but on their shoulders.

Of course it's also possible that Abramson is being painted with gendered language AND was also... not a great boss. And that's one of the trickiest parts of all of this. We can't know because there isn't a way to measure the situation in a vacuum free of gender.

All I know is that one of my worst bosses was female. As was my absolute best. And I know I'd like to see more of them. And then maybe the adjectives won't have quite as much power.

The latest cryptocurrency: Guncoin

Thu, 2014-05-15 15:26

From the pages of cryptocoinsnews.com, this item: Guncoin is now a thing.

It went live on May 1. As a result -- and this is a quote from the Guncoin website -- of "the love of firearms, computing and investing."

They say a maximum of 500 million coins can ever be mined.  In their words: "A portion of that (10% / 50 million) was set aside to be given as rewards for crowdfunding and IPCO contributors."

Yeah. Guncoin.

 

 

 

At times, Netflix movies make up a third of traffic

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:51

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to open its latest net neutrality proposal to public comments.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said the commission is "dedicated to protecting and preserving an open internet." Much of the debate around the current proposal has focused on the agreement between Netflix and Comcast, in which Netflix pays extra to guarantee its content is delivered to homes without delay. Netflix accounts for about a third of peak-period broadband traffic. So what does that mean for the net neutrality debate?

"I don't think it matters," says Barbara van Schewick, faculty director of the Center for Internet and Society at the Stanford Law School, "because under a good network neutrality regime, people pay for the bandwidth they use and it doesn't really matter where it comes from."

For example, think about the way we pay for electricity in the summer. A much larger portion of the energy we use is generated by air conditioners. "We don't say the electricity companies should be charging the air conditioning producers for the fact that they create all this demand for electricity," van Schewick says.

Under net neutrality, the same rules would apply to the internet. Broadband providers couldn't charge based on the type of content, or its source. So Netflix or email or Spotify would all be treated the same. Users could only be charged on the amount of bandwidth used.

And Netflix, being a video streaming service, takes up lots of bandwidth. "I think it's important to know that Netflix pays for that," says John Blevins, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. Netflix pays a substantial amount to send out its shows through the internet. "The concern," says Blevins, "is that the internet companies, because they own essentially the driveway to your house, the only way into your house, they want to charge Netflix twice."

That second charge is what's often called paid prioritization, which is currently allowed by the FCC. Over the next 120 days the FCC will take comments from the public on whether that policy should stand.

NCAA academic rules hit smaller, poor colleges

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:11

At Savannah State University, a historically black college in Georgia, the school's Division 1 football team has no chance of making it to the playoffs next year. It's not because of the team record. Rather, it's among 36 teams nationwide barred from playoffs because of National Collegiate Athletic Association academic ratings.

"It kind of limits us to a certain type of recruit because you obviously can't go to postseason play," says Sterling Steward Jr., Savannah State's athletic director.

Like most of the teams on the list, Savannah State is among the Division 1 schools with fewer resources.

"We have a very limited budget, but we are very competitive in everything!" Steward says.

Even so, Savannah State is spending all it can on tutoring, study time, and other resources to improve its athletes' performance and graduation rates. Steward expects the school to be free of restrictions within two years.

The NCAA's so-called Academic Progress Rate started about a decade ago. It measures how many student athletes get good grades and stay in school or graduate. It's also getting tougher, which is why the number jumped from 13 barred from postseason play last year.

Critics of the NCAA are quick to point out, though, that none of the teams penalized this year are top tier schools with big budgets.

"You don't want the richer schools to suffer penalties, because they're the ones generating the money for you," says David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

He says the NCAA has a history of penalizing under-resourced colleges, while giving rich schools a pass, even crystalizing into a joke among NCAA-watchers: "We just found a major school was cheating again. Looks like another smaller school is going to need to pay a penalty," Berri recounts.

Berri thinks the Academic Progress Rate is a way for the NCAA to answer critics who think college sports have become too removed from academics. He notes that students can go pro after one year and not affect a school's score.

"It is done to address the criticism that a lot of these athletes are not being as educated as people would like them to be," he says.

The NCAA doesn't buy it. It says student performance is going up under the program, even at less-resourced institutions.

"The issue here, more than anything else, is making sure that all of our institutions are achieving an academic rate, where they are being successful and graduating students," says Azure Davey, director of academic and membership affairs at the NCAA. "There have been large strides made at our limited-resource institutions on an academic front."

The NCAA has provided more than $4 million to help schools like Savannah State provide tutoring and other services. And, Davey says, the NCAA has programs to give struggling schools more time too boost performance.

But as much as they improve, it's hard to compete with a college that can just throw money at the problem.

For another view of the story, here's a look at the schools that came out on top of the academic rankings.

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