Numlock News: November 19, 2021 • Arwen Evenstar, Incubator, Sky Law

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Urea

If you’re bored with “the chip shortage” and “west coast port traffic” and other more conventional, dare I say vanilla supply chain difficulties, the hot new indie supply chain problem is Korean urea. Urea is one of those critical chemicals that entire societies run on without realizing it, as Korea is acutely aware of given they’re nearly out of it. It’s produced by coal usage, and since China’s short on coal and burning less of it, there’s less urea and prices are up. Urea is everywhere — not only does it make fertilizer, it’s added to diesel to cut emissions, and so pretty much the entire trucking system is reliant on it. No urea means no diesel, and no diesel means no deliveries of food, gasoline, and so on. Korea’s got a three-month stock of urea, maximum, for its 10 million diesel vehicles, and a survey of construction workers found most have just 12 workdays’ worth to operate diesel machinery. The government literally flew in 27,000 liters of the stuff on a military transport aircraft out of Australia to ensure emergency vehicles can operate for the next two months. It reveals one issue with Korea’s economy, as one study found South Korea’s more than 80 percent dependent on a single country for 3,941 imported items, and for 1,850 of those items that country is China.

Steven Borowiec, Nikkei Asia

Sky Law

The Federal Aviation Administration investigated 183 incidents of unruly passenger behavior in 2020, which was pretty much average. This year, belligerent passengers have caused serious issues in the skies, and as of the middle of November, 2021 has seen the FAA kick off 990 investigations. These are looking into the 5,240 unruly incident reports filed, of which 72 percent pertained to mask mandates on aircraft. Those, however, accounted for only 245 of the enforcement cases, with violent and unruly passengers on the rise overall. It’s especially dangerous for flight attendants — of whom 80 percent are women — who can be the targets of the violent behavior. The FAA is trying to cut down on alcohol service, with booze playing a role in 58 percent of cases of violence.

Chabeli Carrazana, The 19th

Black Honey

In 1971, Clinique introduced Black Honey lipstick, a raisin color that was distinctly different than the bright cosmetic colors of the early seventies. In 1989, Clinique moved it from a glass pot to a tube, and it served as a solid if unique seller for years. Then, in 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring entered movie theaters, and what was it that Arwen — daughter of Elrond and Celebrían, the Undómiel, granddaughter of both the great voyager Eärendil as well as Galadriel the Lady of Lórien, the Evenstar herself, the future queen of the restored kingdom of Arnor and Gondor— what was it that she was wearing? Black Honey by Clinique. The enduring appeal of those films, as well as the TikTok-bolstered cosmetic obsession of the contemporary internet, has made Black Honey once again trendy thanks to a resurgence in the fandom of the films online. Today, Clinique says that they sell a tube of Black Honey once every three minutes, and on TikTok the hashtag #CliniqueBlackHoney racked up 25 million views in several months. I’m thrilled the aesthetic choices of The Lord of the Rings are getting popular on TikTok again, mainly because it’s only a matter of time before FoodTok falls in love with my patented Fresh Cherry Tomato Salad à la Tirith; not even the son of Ecthelion can pass on it!

Maggie Lovitt, Polygon

Child Care

Child care in the United States is expensive for both the provider as well as parents, the rare business where absolutely nobody involved is coming out ahead financially. About 60 percent of child care center costs go to wages and benefits, but even still those tend to be in the vicinity of minimum wage, for an industry in which workers have some kind of college degree 87 percent of the time. In most states, it costs more to put a baby in a licensed facility than it does to pay in-state college tuition, but it’s not like the fat cats of Big Child Care are rolling in the dough: according to a Treasury Department study, the typical child care center has a profit margin of one percent, a margin so slim it makes grocery stores look lucrative.

Claire Suddath, Bloomberg

Estates

The latest data from the IRS shows that the ultra-wealthy have become incredibly savvy at avoiding the estate tax, a U.S. tax which is assessed upon the death of an individual of spectacularly high worth. As recently as 2018, the IRS collected $20.2 billion from 5,500 families. Following a 2017 overhaul of the tax code — which doubled the amount that can be passed on to heirs untaxed, among other carve-outs — the amount has cratered. In 2020, just 1,275 wealthy families paid $9.3 billion in estate taxes, more than a 50 percent drop, meaning the tax affects just 0.04 of dying Americans. Meanwhile, over the past five years, American billionaires doubled their net worth to $5 trillion.

Ben Steverman, Bloomberg

Incubators

In 2017, a catchy startup that provides coding bootcamps was accepted into Y Combinator, a business with a fascinating model where enrollees could, rather than tuition, agree to pay a percentage of earnings upon graduation. The deal was students paid Lambda School 17 percent of earnings for two years, up to $30,000 and only if they got a job paying $50,000 or more. This turned out to not be especially viable, given a tweak announced to the payment model just this week. Now, students who want to do the income sharing still need to pay $2,950 up front, and they’ll then take 14 percent of income over the next four years, and will raise the maximum repayment to $40,000. The crux of the issue is simple: students turned out to be smarter than Lambda was when assessing their own prospects, and those drawn to a system like Lambda’s accurately assessed they’d likely come out in the black compared to a traditional training to the school’s loss.

Timothy B. Lee, Full Stack Economics

Spam

In the third quarter of the year, credit card companies mailed 940 million solicitations to Americans, up from 867 million the previous quarter and up from 415 million the same quarter a year ago. This onslaught is in large part due to the solid finances of lots of consumers in aggregate: the total outstanding credit card debt in September was $784 billion, down from $913 billion in January of 2020. Spending is up — Visa said U.S. card spending is up 20 percent compared to a year ago, and 83 percent more credit cards were issued in that quarter compared to a year ago — but credit card company profits are at the lowest levels since 2009, and card issuers want to get more consumers doing what makes them money — namely, carrying balances while having solid credit.

AnnaMaria Andriotis, The Wall Street Journal

This past Sunday, I spoke to the brilliant Alex Abad-Santos who wrote “The Open Secret of Looking Like A Superhero” for Vox. Alex is one of my favorite culture writers, and he wrote a really incisive story about the impacts that PED use in Hollywood and social media has on viewers. Alex can be found at Vox, on Twitter and on Instagram. Good news, this was also published it as a podcast, and everyone can check that out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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