Can Science Beat Jet Lag? Airlines Seek Help for 19-Hour Flights

A wave of ultra-long flights that will get you halfway around the world in one hop is pushing airlines to deal with the one extra you can’t escape: Relentless insomnia, debilitating fatigue and tormented bowels, better known as jet lag.

Qantas Airways Ltd., which will start the first non-stop service between Australia and Europe in March, is working with scientists in Sydney to discover ways to limit body-clock breakdown on the 17-hour flight. They’ve tried to make the color and intensity of the jet’s interior lights mimic dawn and dusk. Cabin temperatures and specially made meals will aim to put passengers to sleep or keep them awake—depending on the time at the destination.

Key to the problem is circadian disruption—messing with the internal body clock that regulates everything from brainwave activity to hormone production and cell regeneration.

The main cue for resetting that clock is light, said Steve Simpson, academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, which is carrying out the research with Sydney-based Qantas. But there’s a baked-in biological catch: the clock can only reset by about 90 minutes a day, even in the right conditions. An ill-timed dose of sunshine or a badly chosen snack at the wrong hour can mean days of suffering, he said.

Angus Whitley, Bloomberg, February 5, 2018

Why Surge Prices Make Us So Mad: What Springsteen, Home Depot and a Nobel Winner Know

[U]nderstanding the hidden logic behind concert pricing — or how Home Depot responds to a hurricane, or even how your neighborhood restaurant handles the Valentine’s Day crunch — can provide a guide to solving some of society’s biggest problems while satisfying people’s deep need for a sense of fairness....

Utilities and regulators, in other words, have to think a little like Mr. Springsteen: It’s not just about maximizing the efficiency of the energy market on any one day, just as the Boss isn’t trying to maximize his revenue from any one concert. Rather, it’s about maintaining a relationship in which people do not feel like they have been exploited.

Some short-term inefficiency can buy long-term viability. And that’s never truer than when disaster strikes, whether a heat wave, a blizzard or a hurricane barreling toward the most populous area of Florida.

As Hurricane Irma did just that in early September, about 150 Home Depot officials gathered in the company’s Atlanta headquarters in an auditorium and a series of conference rooms that became the company’s temporary command center. Logistics experts, store operations officials, corporate security staffers, human resources employees, lawyers and representatives of major suppliers were all there, in what is now a well-rehearsed exercise.

The first thing they did was direct all prices to be frozen in areas likely to be affected by the storm. There is no surge pricing at Home Depot stores after a disaster, in both a longstanding corporate policy and a matter of law in many states.

Neil Irwin, New York Times, October 14, 2017

Robots could replace nearly a third of the U.S. workforce by 2030

Over the next 13 years, the rising tide of automation will force as many as 70 million workers in the United States to find another way to make money, a new study from the global consultancy McKinsey predicts.

That means nearly a third of the American workforce could face the need to pick up new skills or enter different fields in the near future, said the report’s co-author, Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute who studies business and economics.

“We believe that everyone will need to do retraining over time,” he said.

Danielle Paquette, Washington Post, November 30, 2017

Why you tip as much as you do

The standard view in the field of economics is that tipping in any service encounter where you don’t expect to be a return customer is a behavioral quirk — something that, in a world where humans are rational, return-maximizing actors, really should not happen.

There, researchers found the average tip from diners who were offered wrapped chocolates with their check was 18 percent, but it was only 15 percent under normal circumstances. It turns out friendly gestures from your server can have a surprisingly large impact on your tipping decisions, though you may not realize it. Dozens of experiments with similar designs (using playing cards or other randomizing devices to determine what “special treatment” customers would receive) in a variety of restaurants around the country have reinforced just how much small acts affect tips.

Katherine L. Milkman, New York Times, August 23, 2017

Want to Be Happy? Buy More Takeout and Hire a Maid, Study Suggests

That’s the takeaway of a study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, whose findings suggest that spending money to save time may reduce stress about the limited time in the day, thereby improving happiness.

“People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.

Niraj Chokshi, New York Times, July 27, 2017

Is It Better to Rent or Buy?

The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make. But the costs of buying are more varied and complicated than for renting, making it hard to tell which is a better deal. To help you answer this question, our calculator takes the most important costs associated with buying a house and computes the equivalent monthly rent.

MGM National Harbor opens amid a perilous casino glut and big shift in gambling culture

MGM Resorts International opens its $1.4 billion ­casino at National Harbor on Thursday night amid jackpot-level excitement and expectations for Maryland’s final and glitziest gambling palace.

Soaring 24 stories over the Potomac River and spanning five city blocks, the gleaming glass complex promises to deliver Las Vegas-style gambling, hundreds of millions in tax revenue and 4,000 new jobs.

But as thousands of people stream into MGM National Harbor for the first time, there is serious concern among industry analysts and fiscal watchdogs that Maryland and other states desperate for tax dollars have oversaturated the East Coast with casinos.

MGM National Harbor, just off the Capital Beltway near the Wilson Bridge, is Maryland’s sixth casino, with two others about an hour’s drive up Interstate 95 in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore. From Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, there are dozens more. At least seven additional casinos are to open by the end of 2018.

The problem, experts say, is that opening more casinos does not necessarily create more gamblers. Gallup surveys dating to 1996 show that the number of U.S. casino-goers has fluctuated between 24 percent and 30 percent of the population even as the number of states with casinos has swelled to 40.

Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post, December 7, 2016

The States That College Graduates Are Most Likely to Leave

But in the 1980s, people started moving less. Internal migration has been in gradual decline ever since across all demographic groups. In the 1980s, 3 percent of men moved across state lines each year; over the last decade that figure has dropped to 1.7 percent. The decline is similar for women. Between 2001 and 2010, the demographic groups with the lowest rate of interstate migration were people with less than a high school diploma (1 percent) or nothing beyond a high school diploma (1.2 percent). Migration rates for college-educated people were roughly twice that.

In the regional competition for the most skilled and most mobile workers in America, many noncoastal states are at a disadvantage. Although they have some large cities, they tend to be farther from other large cities than is the case in the coastal areas. The economists Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange looked at the benefits of density and found that they tend to dissipate over distances greater than five miles.

This advantage provided by clusters of cities is helpful for coastal states, which tend to contain many big metro areas, like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco in California, or the so-called Acela corridor stretching from Washington to Boston. But it can be bad news for inland areas with one or two large cities that are farther apart: Omaha and Kansas City, Mo., say; or Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

, New York Times, November 22, 2016

Job Interviews Are Useless

A lot of evidence suggests that in cases of this kind, employers will stubbornly trust their intuitions — and are badly mistaken to do so. Specific aptitude tests turn out to be highly predictive of performance in sales, and general intelligence tests are almost as good. Interviews are far less useful at telling you who will succeed.

What’s true for sales positions is also true more generally. Unstructured interviews have been found to have surprisingly little value in a variety of areas.

Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg View, November 4, 2016

How Did Walmart Get Cleaner Stores and Higher Sales? It Paid Its People More

But in early 2015, Walmart announced it would actually pay its workers more.

That set in motion the biggest test imaginable of a basic argument that has consumed ivory-tower economists, union-hall organizers and corporate executives for years on end: What if paying workers more, training them better and offering better opportunities for advancement can actually make a company more profitable, rather than less?

The results are promising. By early 2016, the proportion of stores hitting their targeted customer-service ratings had rebounded to 75 percent. Sales are rising again.

Neil Irwin, New York Times, October 15, 2015