Category Archives: Economics

A good read–Living through a social media backlash

Here’s one for your Sunday reading: “The Weird Redemption of SF’s Most Reviled Tech Bro,” by Lauren Smiley, from Backchannel.com.

It’s long, the kind of length we don’t see that much of these days. And it’s well written. And it’s built around a complex mix of important issues.

It’s the tale of a dot com high flyer in the politically charged atmosphere of San Francisco, where the backlash against the elite high tech world has been fierce.

It a tale involving the downside of social media, of the dramatic measures needed to recover from a online faux pas, if recovery is possible. It’s the story of the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in another large city.

And it’s great storytelling.

Find a comfy place to read and do it.

Giant hotel merger gets little attention in local news media

If you haven’t been reading business news over the past few months, you might not have been following the bidding between Marriott and a rival, Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd., to takeover the Starwood hotel chain, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

The two rival bidders each sweetened the pot after Marriott’s initial bid late last year, but in the end it appears Marriott will pull off the deal. The company’s shareholders are scheduled to vote on Friday, and both companies are recommending approval.

What’s interesting to me is that there has been little local reporting on the Marriott-Starwood buyout, despite its obvious impact on the state’s largest industry.

Here are the brands associated with the two chains, which will boast a combined total of about 5,500 hotels and 1.1 million guest rooms in over 100 countries.

About Marriott International, Inc.

Marriott International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR) is a global leading lodging company based in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, with more than 4,400 properties in 87 countries and territories. Marriott International reported revenues of more than $14 billion in fiscal year 2015. The company operates and franchises hotels and licenses vacation ownership resorts under 19 brands, including: The Ritz-Carlton®, Bulgari®, EDITION®, JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection® Hotels, Renaissance® Hotels, Marriott Hotels®, Delta Hotels and Resorts®, Marriott Executive Apartments®, Marriott Vacation Club®, Gaylord Hotels®, AC Hotels by Marriott®, Courtyard®, Residence Inn®, SpringHill Suites®, Fairfield Inn & Suites®, TownePlace Suites®, Protea Hotels® and MoxyHotels®. Marriott has been consistently recognized as a top employer and for its superior business ethics. The company also manages the award-winning guest loyalty program, Marriott Rewards® and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® program, which together comprise nearly 55 million members. For more information or reservations, please visit our website at www.marriott.com, and for the latest company news, visit www.marriottnewscenter.com.

About Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. is one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with nearly 1,300 properties in some 100 countries and over 188,000 employees at its owned and managed properties. Starwood is a fully integrated owner, operator and franchisor of hotels, resorts and residences under the renowned brands: St. Regis®, The Luxury Collection®, W®, Westin®, Le Méridien®, Sheraton®,Tribute Portfolio™, Four Points® by Sheraton, Aloft®, Element®, along with an expanded partnership with Design Hotels™. The company also boasts one of the industry’s leading loyalty programs, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG®). Visit www.starwoodhotels.com for more information and stay connected @starwoodbuzz on Twitter and Instagram and facebook.com/Starwood.

Read through the list of hotel brands and you’ll see how many properties in Hawaii will be impacted by the merger. In those areas where the two companies hotels are clustered together, it can be expected to have an increased impact.

But you wouldn’t know if from the lack of local attention to the deal and its possible implications.

A search of the Star-Advertiser’s archives found several wire service stories about the deal, but no local reporting, although given the vagaries of the search engine, some might have been missed.

A similar search at Pacific Business News turned up a local story published last week, “Marriott-Starwood merger could affect Hawaii radius restrictions“.

In Hawaii, the deal would combine nine Starwood hotel properties, including the Sheraton Waikiki and The Royal Hawaiian, with Marriott’s 17 hotel and time-share properties, including the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

I wonder whether such a deal will reduce competition and result in higher prices in Hawaii? Will the merger lead to reductions in executive staff, or a consolidation of suppliers? Will there be some properties jettisoned by the new conglomerate? Lots of questions, little initiative on the part of local media.

Former project architects speak out about rail design

Pacific Business News reporter Kathleen Gallagher came up with two critical stories on Honolulu’s rail project over the past two weeks.

On March 15, she reported on the departure of the project’s chief architect, who warned that attempts to cut costs and reduce the projected cost overruns could ““decrease the level of amenity for the stations and other patron facilities to reduce cost in the aesthetically sensitive, downtown section of the city.”

And she noted: “Since there are currently no plans to fill Caswell’s position at HART, the design criteria and standards for the remaining sections of the rail route will likely be left to the discretion of the firms holding the design-build contracts.”

[See “Honolulu rail project’s chief architect departs, warns of project’s future“]

Then, in a follow-up, she tracked down one of the project’s first chief architects, who quit after just a year on the job after his criticisms and recommendations were ignored (“One of rail’s first architects speaks out about elevated design“).

Douglas Tilden was chief architect for InfraConsult, the projects main consultant, in 2007.

Tilden advocated for ditching the all-elevated design and instead adopting less expensive light rail technology, emulating transit projects all around the world.

“It is nothing short of a crime to run it elevated downtown and I told them that,” Tilden said.

The architect also had harsh words for the city’s political decision to begin construction in Kapolei and work back into downtown Honolulu, calling it “sheer lunacy.”

“The key goal of any transit system is to get the people interested by having it downtown first. Honolulu has made a huge mistake.”

He concluded: “I think Honolulu will be a poster child for how not to put a transit system in the city…they couldn’t be doing it any worse, it’s mistake after mistake.”

So here’s how it looks. The city paid big bucks to consultants, presumably to get the best available advice on how to make this transit project work. But the best advice of the consultant’s chief architect was ignored in favor of a plan that supported what the city’s political leaders favored. So the money paid for the architectural consultant was squandered because the city ignored his advice and counsel, and instead pursued its own course for other reasons.

You have to wonder how many other consultants are ignored unless they toe a predetermined political line.

UH Manoa ranks high in tuition increases

A friend flagged this story from San Francisco’s SFGate (“Colleges with the biggest tuition hikes“).

It reports on public universities across the country with the largest in-state tuition increases over the period 2004-2014.

Startclass examined data from the National Center for Education Statistics to find the public schools with the highest tuition increases over the past 10 years. Of those schools, 16 saw in-state tuition double.

And where was the University of Hawaii at Manoa?

We’re #1!

According to these data, UH tuition increased 136.93 percent during that time.

My friend, a former Hawaii resident, commented:

$10.6K tuition, plus books, fees and living costs? Wow, what a change from the mid-1970s, when I supported myself 100% (cheapest studio rent in Honolulu) and paid all tuition etc., myself from a part-time construction job—and had money to buy beer…and the occasional pizza/bowl of wonton min…

How much per hour would a student now working 30 hours a week have to earn to support himself/herself and pay all tuition/fees books at UH-Manoa? My guess is around $20/hr.

I was earning $3.50/hour in 1974, would according to the BLS is worth $16.83/hr today.

http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

I was up to $5/hr in 1975, which is $22/hr in today’s money. So a student with a high-paying part-time job working 30 hours a week could probably scrape by, but how many students have the skills to earn this much? It took me 2-3 years to get enough skills to earn a decent wage….

And not to mention that working 30 hours a week means a minimum total workload of 60 hours per week (assuming 30 hours is enough to keep up with a fulltime 5-class load, so you can graduate in 4 years instead of six…)

Working your way through UH-Manoa was never easy in high-cost Honolulu, but a tremendous amount is now required of today’s undergrads who want to avoid student loan serfdom.

Cutting the ties to one’s local community

Here’s a provocative message received from a reader who uses the name, Compare and Decide. I’ll let it speak for itself.

I don’t read Civil Beat any more. Every couple of days, I visit their site, but I usually don’t read any stories. If I look at a story, I read the first couple of sentences and then scroll down to the comments, which are usually pretty awful and uninformed, but which give a sense of what the public is “thinking” (if you can call it that).

I have not read the Star Advertiser for maybe five or six years. Your blog is my only reference to news in Hawaii. I click on it several times a day, and read the comments. I never watched the local news.

I now read the BBC online, maybe for the past year. Also, I have recently gotten an online subscription to the NY Times. That’s really satisfying. It’s global, but it also has real depth of analysis. Local news from any society is really kind of repulsive.

Interestingly, this growing disinterest in Hawaii on my part goes back several years ago to my cancelling a local bank account and opening a national online bank account. All of a sudden, I experienced this reorientation in my perspective, like I did not live in Hawaii. Or, rather, I felt like a part-time resident. Strangely, it felt like a bit improvement, like an expansion of horizons. That is what life is all about, expanding our horizons.

When Donald Trump visits a state, he tells the locals all about his business interests in their state, and how that investment makes him feel like a local, too. He is lying, I am sure. But when I become slightly less emotionally invested in this locality through something as small as cancelling a local bank account, it does point out how our practical interests shape our perspectives. We have a social position in the world which gives us our bias, and this is based on our economic placement in that world. There is an intersection between economic self-interest and the psychology of the unconscious that has not been adequately analyzed.

When the actor Richard Chamberlain moved to Hawaii, it was a big deal in his life (or so I was once told). He really got into this Native Hawaiian spirituality. Maybe it even saved his life. It seems like a lot of celebrities who retire to Hawaii are recuperating from life in LA. LA has a way of eating its children. It is said that the only way to survive working in LA is to live outside of LA (if one can afford it).

But after the Great Recession, like so many folks, Chamberlain had to go back to work. Suddenly, he was shocked that there are no jobs in Hawaii. “There is nothing going on here,” he said. Actually, the only thing going on is the growth of renewable energy, and one gets a sense that with its rapid change and complexity, it confuses the local establishment. So a tranquil, provincial society is a nice place to retire to because there is not much going on, but all of a sudden that can be a big problem.

But there is something else which might disturb retired outsiders who idealize Hawaii, which is small-town pettiness. When they do go outside of their small bubble of comfort, they encounter ignorance, pettiness, cruelty. One of the problems for a reporter is getting caught up in that silliness, because that is really all there is going on.

I did not read your article on the Dung sisters (whoever they are…). But there is the risk in local reportage of slipping into the gossipy ways of the locals, even in the course of an effort to show how petty the locals can be (which is what I expect your story set out to do).

Ian Lind, please return to hard news, like renewable energy issues.

Here is an article on peak oil (declining oil production). By 2022, there will may be no more fracking, and conventional oil production and exports are expected to decline in majors like Saudi Arabia. That does not necessarily mean that there will be a global economic crisis because the world has been moving away from oil since the 1970s, a trend that has been accelerating (declining or ‘peak’ oil consumption). The one exception is air travel, which relies on kerosene from petroleum, for which there is not yet an alternative.
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/what-happened-to-peak-oil

This is very relevant to Hawaii.

I just read this article which claims that it is expected that in one year from now, 80% of Puerto Rico’s population will be infected with the Zika virus.

That is very relevant to Hawaii. But the local media is not going to run this story. You could shoot off a one-paragraph post on this topic.

Ian Lind, think globally, act locally!