Issue 39: October 11, 2021
Inside this Issue:
- No Joy on Jobs: Another Month of Employment Disappointment
- But Caution! Schools Skewing September Stats
- Congress Kicks the Can: A Short-Term Truce in Debt Cap Quarrel
- Pains Bond: Treasury Yields on the Rise as Inflation Story Looks Less Transitory
- Secure No More? Is U.S. Treasury Debt Still Considered a Totally Safe Asset?
- With All These Riches, Why Dig Ditches? Does Rising Wealth Explain Loss of Labor?
- Fed Heat: Damned if it Loosens, Damned if it Tightens
- Tunnel Tech: The Potential of Elon Musk’s Boring Company
- Crypto Concerns: The Systemic Risks of Tether; Can they be Weathered?
- Fuel’s Gold: The Challenging Economics of Gas Stations
- And this Week’s Featured City: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, From Rust to Bust to Boom
Quote of the Week
“Currently, we just don’t have enough investor protection in crypto finance, issuance, trading, or lending. Frankly, at this time, it’s more like the Wild West or the old world of “buyer beware” that existed before the securities laws were enacted. This asset class is rife with fraud, scams and abuse in certain applications. We can do better.”
-U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler, testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services last week.
Another discouraging jobs report. In September, the U.S. economy created just 194,000 net new jobs, a number many expected to be much larger. Schools, after all, were mostly reopened, allowing more parents to go back to work. Bonus unemployment benefits expired. And vaccination rates rose, if slowly. Unfortunately, Covid’s Delta variant intervened, as did severe supply chain difficulties that discouraged companies from hiring—why hire more salespeople if there’s not enough stuff to sell?
There is a more generous interpretation of the September jobs report. It would have been meaningfully better had state and local education jobs not fallen by 161,000. But as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) warned, month-to-month trends in education can be misleading due to abnormal school hiring patterns throughout the pandemic. The large leisure and hospitality sector, conversely, began adding jobs again after stalling in August. That’s welcome news. Other sectors created new jobs too, including business services, retail, manufacturing, information technology and transportation and warehousing. The unemployment rate fell to 4.8%. What’s more, the BLS said August was actually better than its original figures suggested—366,000 new jobs were created that month, not the 235,000 number it published at the time. July figures too, were revised upward to almost 1.1m.
Nevertheless, there’s no disputing that the job market remains problematic, with too many Americans not working yet too many jobs currently unfilled. The number of Americans working today is 5m fewer than it was pre-pandemic, never mind that GDP is back to where it was. Labor force participation rates remain worryingly low (though for reasons perhaps not all bad—see the Markets section below). Wages, though up, aren’t keeping pace with inflation, which is starting to feel more than just transitory. The bond market apparently thinks so, with demand for longer-term Treasuries weakening again last week. That’s despite short-term relief from Congress on that maddening debt ceiling drama—they’ll revisit the issue in early December.
But what does the Fed think? Will the unflattering September jobs report affect its taper timing? As discussed in the Markets section below, Jerome Powell and his colleagues find themselves in an extremely challenging position, determined to help nurse the labor market back to health (this requires a loose monetary approach) but pressured to counteract an inflationary surge that’s persisting for longer than expected (this requires a tight monetary approach). Complicating matters is the supply-side nature of the current inflation—it seems not the result of excessive money expansion. As such, the situation should improve when supply chain and labor market bottlenecks ease. But when will that happen? Can the Fed afford to wait before tightening? And what if it does tighten, beyond mere tapering bond purchases? If it goes one step further and raises interest rates to cool demand, how would that impact the heavily indebted corporate and government sectors?
The Economist is calling it the “shortage economy,” caused by $10 trillion of global stimulus that “unleashed a furious but lopsided rebound in which consumers are spending more on goods than normal, stretching global supply chains that have been starved of investment.” It also, interestingly, pins the blame on two other factors: The zeal to decarbonize and the persistence of protectionism. Oil prices, incidentally, jumped again last week, joining a surge in natural gas and coal prices. It does raise an important question: Can the economy manage its pursuit of a carbon-free future without painful disruptions along the way?
The pursuit, make no mistake, is intense. General Motors, hosting an event for investors last week, showed again how the auto sector is 100% all-in on electric vehicles. Yet it will be many years before EVs account for a majority of all vehicles on the road—it’s a negligible percentage today. Demand for fossil fuels will persist, therefore, and could outstrip supply amid environmental pressures restraining further investment. Of course, one never knows. Maybe some new technology will come to the rescue.
There is some encouraging news in the battle against Covid, with case counts, hospitalizations and deaths now falling from their mid-September peak. On the global stage, efforts to create a worldwide minimum tax rate—the idea is to stop countries from creating tax havens—advanced with support from a reluctant Ireland. The initiative does still need approval from national legislatures, however; Will the U.S. Congress even approve? Congress last week heard testimony from SEC chairman Gary Gensler, who’s currently conducting a review of the country’s capital markets, worth some $110 trillion. The five specific markets in focus: The Treasury market, the non-Treasury fixed income market, the equity market, the market for security-based swaps and last but not least, the youthful crypto market. On the latter, he stated “I am technology-neutral. I think that this technology has been and can continue to be a catalyst for change. But technologies don’t last long if they stay outside of the regulatory framework. I believe that the SEC, working with the CFTC and others, can stand up more robust oversight and investor protection around the field of crypto finance.”
What else is happening on the eve of Q3 earnings season? Tesla says it’s moving its headquarters to Austin while committing to grow in northern California as well. Apple, meanwhile, is expanding in Los Angeles. Facebook’s controversial business practices are again under scrutiny. Washington and Beijing are talking trade again. And about those upcoming earnings reports, expect healthy profits, but also a lot of what the food giant ConAgra described last week: “If we had the capacity to meet all of the demand, our numbers would likely have been even more impressive.”
- U.S. Steel was once the epitome of American corporate might. Those days are long gone, but the company remains the country’s second largest steel producer (after Charlotte-based Nucor), if just the 38th largest worldwide. It also remains headquartered in Pittsburgh, a city so associated with steel that its football team is named after it. Steelmaking isn’t an easy business—U.S. Steel suffered more than $1b in net losses last year, and more than $600m in net losses for 2019. This year is better though. Aided by strong demand and constrained supply, net earnings during the first half of 2021 reached $1.1b. Even so, the company’s own annual report speaks of an industry that’s “cyclical, highly competitive and… historically characterized by overcapacity.” This was true even in the days of Andrew Carnegie, the 19th century steel magnate whose company merged with rivals to form U.S. Steel in 1901 (see the Looking Back section below). Then as now, foreign competition was a challenge, albeit mitigated by protective tariffs. Here’s how the current management team describes the threat: “U. S. Steel continues to face import competition, much of which is unfairly traded, supported by foreign governments and fueled by massive global steel overcapacity, currently estimated to be over 700m metric tons per year—over seven times the entire U.S. steel market and over twenty-five times total U.S. steel imports.” Other difficulties include a legacy of employee pension obligations (defined benefit plans weren’t closed until 2003), a workforce that’s 80% unionized and escalating pressure to reduce carbon emissions. But steel remains vital to the economy, used in everything from cars to buildings to surgical scalpels. U.S. Steel sees Washington’s infrastructure bill, if it passes, fueling higher steel demand. It also expects to benefit as U.S. companies increasingly rely on domestic suppliers to enhance supply chain resiliency. The firm’s largest plant is in Gary, Indiana, a city it essentially built from scratch (see Econ Weekly’s May 17th issue). It’s where steel is produced using the traditional blast-furnace/oxygen furnace method, still used for about 70% of worldwide output. But U.S. Steel is now pursuing what it calls a “Best of Both” strategy, using “mini mills” (electric arc furnace production) as well. In fact, it recently took control of Big River Steel in Arkansas, a mini mill with a lower and more flexible cost structure. It operates a mini mill in Alabama as well.
Tweet of the Week
- Gas Stations: With oil prices way up from their 2020 lows, it must be a good time for America’s 115,000 gas stations. Not really, explains Zachary Crockett of The Hustle. “Most gas stations barely turn a profit on their core product,” he writes, “and when the price of oil goes up, they may even take a loss on it.” One reason is that some stations—especially independent operators—buy their gas on the open market, meaning they pay more too when prices rise. Before ever reaching the station, gasoline begins as crude oil, which is then sent to refineries for processing. It subsequently travels through pipelines to bulk storage containers, before trucked to gas stations and stored in underground drums. Crockett notes that stations typically receive just a fraction of the prices listed on their signs, averaging a profit of perhaps five to seven cents per gallon—that’s after incurring costs for labor, utilities, credit card transaction fees and so on. Many also choose to pay royalty fees for the right to use a name brand like ExxonMobil or Shell. Most major oil companies, Crockett writes, have backed out of the retail business because selling gas generally isn’t very profitable. Gas stations instead profit from the convenience stores they operate, selling everything from snacks to energy drinks to lottery tickets. They’re also sure to offer restrooms, which lure drivers into the stores. Store sales, sure enough, tend to be high margin. But running a gas station is still a tough business overall, characterized by cutthroat competition, frequent fires and high rates of crime—average annual losses to robberies amount to some $761 per location. And then there’s the biggest threat of all: The transition to electric cars.
- Treasuries: The Institute of International Finance (IIF) looks at the status of U.S. Treasury debt as a safe haven for global investors. In 2020, when the pandemic first began, a rush to sell Treasuries made observers question their haven status. This did not happen, by the way, in 2008. Does the world no longer see them as ultra-safe? The Fed quickly calmed things down last year by buying a bunch of Treasuries itself. But the haven question still lingers, with profound implications for the dollar’s role in world commerce, and for American geopolitical might more broadly. The IIF notes that foreign purchases of Treasuries picked up this year, but that’s not necessarily reassuring—in good times (U.S. GDP has been growing sharply this year), investors are more likely to sell assets they consider ultra-safe, not buy them.
- Treasuries: SEC chairman Gary Gensler, speaking to Congress last week, made sure to stress the systemic importance of the Treasury market: “It is the base upon which so much of our capital markets are built. Treasuries are embedded in money market funds, myriad other markets, and financial products are priced off of Treasuries. And they are an essential part of our central bank’s toolkit. They are called the “risk-free asset” not just here in the U.S. but globally. They are how we, as a government and as taxpayers, raise money.”
- Treasuries: As “Fed Guy” author Joseph Wang often points out, U.S. short-term Treasuries are a form of money, and as such they’re an important component of money supply. How much supply currently exists? Some economists argue too much, others say not nearly enough. The latter see the period before the 2008-09 recession as awash with assets considered safe—assets that people used as money (and collateral upon which to lend, thus creating new money). Remember all those AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities? They proved not so safe after all, but at the time, their abundance led to substantial new money creation. Post-crisis, these economists argue, the global financial system has been characterized by a shortage of safe assets, resulting in a major retrenchment in global private-sector lending over the past decade, never mind aggressive central bank monetary policies like quantitative easing. Note that it is hard to know exactly how much “money” (however defined) is circulating at any given time, in part because so many dollars are borrowed and lent outside of the U.S., beyond the Federal Reserve’s jurisdiction and reporting purview.
- Treasuries: Speaking of Joseph Wang, he was a guess last week on Bloomberg’s Odd Lots podcast, sharing more of his insights about the Federal Reserve and money markets. He for one thinks it’s not such a big mystery why government bond yields can be so low at a time of rising inflation. True, bond investors should be scared off by inflation, so their prices should drop and their yields rise. But remember, Wang says, many of the top buyers of Treasury debt are not buying based on economic conditions or inflation expectations. The Federal Reserve itself, a big buyer, certainly isn’t. It has other motivations. Same for commercial banks that prefer to meet their regulatory obligations by holding Treasuries rather than even lower-yielding reserves. Foreign central banks and managers of conservative retirement portfolios, too, are buying bonds regardless of the economic and inflation situation.
- Labor: Wang separately discussed his theory that a large unaccounted-for wealth surge has contributed to declines in labor force participation. Home prices, he said, are up over 25% in the past two years. And more than 60% of Americans own their own homes. The S&P stock index is up 45% in the past two years. And the crypto market is now worth about $2 trillion. This wealth surge affords many Americans the opportunity to retire early or simply take extended time off. But it does add another layer of complexity for the Fed, which has to decide whether it’s a good idea to slow the economy to curtail inflation. To do so, it would need to raise interest rates, a dangerous move given the heavy debts currently held in the corporate and government sectors. Even merely reducing its bond buying is risky, because without its demand, bond prices could fall, forcing retirement fund managers to sell stocks to keep their debt-equity portfolios balanced. And that could hurt the stock market, just as Fed bond buying has helped the stock market during the past two years. Demand curtailment, Wang thinks, needs to come from the fiscal side, not the monetary side. “I don’t think they (the policymakers at the Fed) are in a position to do much.” Fiscal policy, however, needs to involve Congress, which isn’t exactly well suited to undertake policies that reduce consumer demand.
- Crypto: A Bloomberg profile of Tether investigates the crypto stablecoin’s cash reserves, amid growing worries that it might pose systemic risk to the global financial system. Reporters Olga Kharif and Zeke Faux write that Tether bears resemblance to a giant bank in which people deposit cash in exchange for tokens they can use on crypto exchanges. And crypto exchanges, they continue, are like “giant casinos.” Many of them, especially outside the U.S., “can’t handle dollars because banks won’t open accounts for them, wary of inadvertently facilitating money laundering. So instead, when customers want to place a bet, they need to buy some Tethers first. It’s as if all the poker rooms in Monte Carlo and the mahjong parlors in Macau sent gamblers to one central cashier to buy chips.” Put another way, Tether is functioning as a form of global money, theoretically convertible to dollars on demand, like a bank account. But does Tether really have enough of its own cash and cash equivalents to guarantee everyone their money on demand? If not, there could theoretically be something akin to a bank run. “Tether still hasn’t disclosed where it’s keeping its money.” According to Wikipedia, as of August 2021, there are approximately 69.3 billion Tether tokens in existence.”
- Bank Reporting Regulations: One issue getting lots of attention in Congress: A Biden administration proposal to require financial institutions to provide the IRS with more disclosure of transactions they undertake for customers. Banks are already obligated to report lots of information to tax authorities, including instances where any of their customer accounts have paid or received interest payments or dividends (on a home mortgage or a student loan, for example). The new plan would provide information on any money flowing into and out of an account, for all transactions exceeding $600. Financial institutions would also have to highlight any flows involving physical cash, any transactions with a foreign account and any transfers to and from another account with the same owner. It would apply to all business and personal accounts. And controversially, cryptocurrency exchanges would be required to report this information as well, in cases where one U.S. taxpayer buys crypto assets from a broker and then transfers them to another broker. Businesses, furthermore, would have to report transactions involving receipt of crypto assets with a fair market value exceeding $10,000. What’s the purpose of this proposal? To improve tax compliance and curtail money laundering. The IRS estimates that it under-collects $441b in revenue annually due to businesses and individuals under-reporting their incomes. In the end, the issue comes down to the quintessentially American debate between law enforcement and personal liberty.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: A rust belt relic? Or a high-tech all-star? Today, Silicon Valley is the symbol of America’s information-age prowess. A century ago, it was Pittsburgh that symbolized the nation’s economic power, then expressed through industrial might. As late as 1910, the City of Steel was America’s sixth largest, behind only New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis. Its steel proved essential to building the railroads, skyscrapers and military machinery that shaped much of the country’s history. Few cities were home to as many major corporations—Alcoa, Gulf Oil, H.J. Heinz, Mellon Bank, Westinghouse… and most famously, U.S. Steel. But then came the plunge. As Pittsburgh’s steel industry gradually withered, so did its economic fortunes. Between 1910 and 2000, the U.S. population increased threefold, notes Pittsburgh Quarterly, but Allegheny County (home to Pittsburgh) lost 9% of its residents. The decline, alas, continues today. During the 2010s, Pittsburgh’s population shrank another 2%, most among the country’s top 50 metros, save Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan. Its contraction has been more akin to smaller metros emblematic of post-industrial decline, like Syracuse, Toledo, Scranton and Youngstown. In the 2020 census, Pittsburgh’s 2.4m people ranked 27th nationwide among all U.S. metros, this after still ranking in the top 10 as late as 1970—and in the top 20 as late as 1990. The early 1980s marked the city’s low point. Unemployment reached 17% as the region lost 133,000 manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 1987, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Between 2002 and 2005, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the manufacturing sector shed an average of 5,800 jobs per year, with another 2,400 losses in the closely related transportation and utilities sector. Early in the new century, Pittsburgh lost its status as a major passenger airline hub. When the 2008 recession hit, the region lost another 28,000 jobs, nearly 10,000 of them in manufacturing. Japan’s Sony, to give just one example, closed its last remaining U.S. television manufacturing plant in Pittsburgh that year, laying off 560 employees. As mentioned, population continued to shrink throughout the 2010s, ranking number one among metros for the highest net migration outflow to other states. Tellingly, the largest number of residents left for Tampa, many of them retirees. HUD data shows that more than a quarter of migrants fleeing out of state were older than 65. But even with so many seniors leaving, a full fifth of Pittsburgh’s residents today are over 65, compared to 17% nationwide. Pittsburgh, in other words, is a metaphor for U.S. metros facing the triple challenge of deindustrialization, population loss and aging demographics. But guess what? That’s only half the story, and a misleading half. Pittsburgh—cue the cheerful music—is also a metaphor for U.S. metros achieving remarkable success in meeting many of these challenges. No, the steel mills aren’t coming back. And yes, population decline remains a concern. But in an age when luring technology companies is the economic development equivalent of scoring touchdowns, then Pittsburgh is Ben Roethlisberger in his prime (substitute the name Terry Bradshaw if you’d like). Google, Facebook, Uber and Zoom are a few of the companies with major offices in the area, enticed by Carnegie-Mellon University’s world-class computer science program. The school also benefits from government-funded research focused on artificial intelligence and robotics, making Pittsburgh a leader in both fields. The city is on the front lines of autonomous vehicle development, with two leading companies in the field—Aurora and Argo AI—choosing Pittsburgh as their corporate headquarters. Carnegie-Mellon is of course a big employer itself, as are the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. Education and health care, which have replaced manufacturing as the largest providers of jobs throughout much of America, now employs 22% of all workers in the Pittsburgh metro, up from 17% from two decades ago. Health care, of course, includes everything from a hospital custodian to highly paid doctors and medical researchers, and Pittsburgh has an abundance of the latter. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark healthcare are the area’s two largest employers, followed by the University of Pittsburgh. Next is PNC, the country’s fifth largest bank and a reason (along with BNY Mellon’s presence) why Pittsburgh is also a major financial center. And adding to the diversification, it’s a major center for the oil and gas industry too. The surrounding Marcellus Formation is the largest source of natural gas in the U.S. and the site of a drilling boom that began in 2007 as fracking technology transformed the industry. Europe’s Royal Dutch Shell will soon complete a $6b petrochemical plant on the banks of the Ohio River, turning low-cost ethane from shale gas into polyethylene, a kind of plastic used in everything from food packaging to auto parts. Interestingly, Shell says more than 70% of North American polyethylene customers are within a 700-mile radius of Pittsburgh, giving the new plant an advantage over more distant Gulf Coast operators. This geographical advantage, incidentally, also makes it a growing logistics hub for companies lie Amazon. Some 6,000 construction workers are involved in the Shell project, which will employ about 600 people when completed. What more to say about Pittsburgh’s renaissance? Its picturesque downtown, with sports venues and spectacular bridges, are a draw to millennials. Living costs are relatively low. Severe air pollution is no longer the problem it was during steel’s heyday. And the city has on multiple occasions played host to major international conferences, including the 2009 G20 Summit (right in the middle of the global financial crisis) and last month’s U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council. Pittsburgh, in sum, is Exhibit A in America’s shift from an industrial economy centered on making physical stuff to one much more characterized by providing services to people, most importantly health care and education services. The transition hasn’t been easy, and challenges remain, most importantly demographic challenges. But Pittsburgh is nevertheless a case study in success, with a high-tech knowledge economy that all cities crave. Maybe it’s time to change the name of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The “Pittsburgh Artificial Intelligence Algorithms?” With a self-driving car logo on their helmets? You know what? Let’s keep them the Steelers.
- El Centro, California, is tucked in the state’s overlooked southeastern corner, on the border with Mexico. Unfortunately, it has an unflattering distinction. In August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, El Centro had the highest unemployment rate—19.4%—among all U.S. metropolitan areas. Ranking second was nearby Yuma (18.2%) just across the Arizona border. These are agriculture communities with high jobless rates even before the pandemic.
- Lincoln, Nebraska, by contrast, had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in August, at just 1.7%. Being the state’s capital doesn’t hurt. Nor does being home to the University of Nebraska. Lincoln also has a large federal government presence and serves as an important railroad junction for BNSF.
- Carnegie’s Steel Empire: When Andrew Carnegie arrived to the U.S. as an immigrant from Scotland in the 1840s, turnpikes, canals, steamships, telegraphs and railroads were bringing great change to the economy. Author David Nassaw, in his biography of Carnegie, describes how information sent between Boston and Washington, DC, took 18 days in 1790. That was reduced to less than three days by the early 1840s. Soon thereafter, with the telegraph, communication of information across great distances would become instantaneous. Suddenly, economic actors—bankers, farmers, merchants, etc.—could receive real-time information on crop, commodity and currency prices. It’s in this context that Carnegie began his career working as a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the Civil War, he built the country’s largest iron and steel company, employing new technologies and vertically integrating his supply chain, meaning he owned much of what he needed for production and distribution. Despite giving away much his fortune, Carnegie was a controversial figure, criticized for his labor policies. A violent strike at his Homestead plant near Pittsburgh in 1892 was a seminal event in U.S. labor relations. It involved workers seeking higher pay and better work conditions—some toiled for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of the roughly 4,000 workers at Homestead were unskilled immigrants from Eastern Europe, upset about low wages following a profit boom for steel companies in the 1880s (much of the steel they sold was for railroad construction). As Nassaw points out, the steel industry, though it preached laissez-faire capitalism, benefitted from generous federal and state loans, subsidies to its railroad customers, import tariffs that held back foreign competition and support from the national guard during times of labor unrest. Carnegie had a history of making unreasonable demands on unions, and then cutting off negotiations after they rejected them. He’d then lock workers out, secure his plants with local law enforcement or private security guards and reopen under armed protection. Workers would be invited back under new terms, and those who refused to come back would be replaced by scabs, the term used for non-union workers. He insisted that this was necessary to keep steel costs low, and as such his actions benefited the whole country. In 1901, amid a wave of consolidation across U.S. industry, Carnegie sold his company to J.P. Morgan, who combined it with several rivals to create U.S. Steel, then the country’s most valuable company.
- Bethlehem Steel was another major steel producer in Pennsylvania, starting out as an iron manufacturer in 1860. Its rise to prominence in the mid-20th century followed a wise investment in wide flange steel beams useful for building bridges (including San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge) and skyscrapers (according to a PBS documentary, its steel was used to build 85% of the New York City skyline). The company, furthermore, was a critical supplier of arms during both World Wars. It too had its share of labor unrest, including a major strike in 1941, which led to management’s recognition of the United Steelworkers Union. Another strike in 1959 lasted 117 days. It was during the 1950s, when it ranked number two behind U.S. Steel in production, that Bethlehem’s output helped build the suburbs. But as labor costs rose, so did Bethlehem Steel’s prices. Soon, Asia emerged as a low-cost provider of steel (the world’s largest mill today is in South Korea). The advent of more specialized and flexible “mini-mills” proved another competitive threat. In 1970, Bethlehem received a major symbolic blow: The new World Trade Center project in New York had decided to use lower-cost foreign steel. After other such setbacks, the main Bethlehem steel plant closed its doors in 1998. The firm maintained some other plants but filed for bankruptcy in 2001, unable to pay employee pensions obligations built up over many years. Not even President George W. Bush’s steel tariffs in 2002 could save it. The following year, Bethlehem Steel was dissolved, with its six functioning mills purchased by Cleveland-based International Steel Group, itself acquired a few years later by what’s today India’s ArcelorMittal.
- The Boring Company: Elon Musk is best known for Tesla and SpaceX. But he’s also behind the Boring Company, which seeks to alleviate urban transport congestion by building low-cost tunnels. It’s already built one under the Las Vegas Convention Center. Another connecting more of the Las Vegas Strip is under construction. Scott Galloway, a popular commentator on tech trends, sounded bullish on Boring in his Pivot podcast he co-hosts with Kara Swisher. Many of the richest people in the world, he said, got rich by doing one thing: Building time machines. What he means are technologies and products that save people time, be it Amazon Prime or Netflix movies (which don’t have commercials). Galloway sees the Boring company’s potential to alleviate traffic and save people lots of time. He’s separately hopeful that the health care sector will introduce new “time machines,” helping parents use new technologies to manage children with special needs, for example. The Covid crisis, he adds, taught us that the “future is not about us getting around the world faster, it’s about bringing the world to us”