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Growing Grapes, Missing Poles, Capturing Friedman

For readers of this blog, there were at least three articles of interest in this Sunday’s N.Y. Times:

1. A piece by Susan Saulny about the new cradle of American winemaking: Iowa. Not kidding. Saulny writes that farmers across the midwest are eschewing corn and soybeans for grapes. It’s an interesting piece, although it just scrapes the surface as far as the economics go. To wit, there’s one word that is shockingly absent from the piece: “ethanol.” With such a potentially lucrative future for corn-based ethanol — a fact that has caused John McCain to perform a painful back-flip — I’m not convinced that grapes are truly the answer. But it’s a nice story.

2. A report by Judy Dempsey about the roughly 800,000 Poles who have left their native country since Poland joined the E.U., taking jobs in western Europe and creating a labor shortage at home. This comes at a time when the country has billions of E.U. dollars to spend on construction projects — but it can’t find workers to take the jobs. I can’t imagine this labor shortage will last long, however, with Poland already granting work permits to citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, etc. (As for the Polish diaspora: I visited Germany and the U.K. within the past year, and in each case there were lots and lots of Polish employees at the hotels, restaurants, etc.)

3. Larry Summers, the economist who has done time in the Clinton administration and running Harvard, wrote an appreciation of Milton Friedman. In a very economical 800 words, Summers describes his family’s predilection against Friedman (they considered him “a devil figure”), the many iconoclastic positions that Friedman assumed over the years, his insistence that “monetary policy can shape an economy more than budgetary policy can,” and the embrace of Friedman by Eastern European reformers. But here’s my favorite section of Summers’s piece, a tightly constructed ode to the limits and powers of the trade practiced by both men:

Milton Friedman and I probably never voted the same way in any election. To my mind, his thinking gave too little weight to considerations of social justice and was far too cynical about the capacity of collective action to make people better off. I believe that some of the great challenges we face today, like rising inequality and global climate change, require that the free market be tempered instead of venerated. And like any economist, I have my list of areas where I believe Mr. Friedman oversimplified or was simply wrong. Nonetheless, like many others I feel that I have lost a hero – a man whose success demonstrates that great ideas convincingly advanced can change the lives of people around the world.

And finally, a non-Times bonus: from The Australian, an article about a high-end real-estate agency in New York City that hires models to, um, escort its wealthy clients to apartment showings. Would it surprise you to know that the idea came from Donald Trump?