Americans across the country say they can’t afford rent and fear losing their home when CDC eviction moratorium ends soon
Before the pandemic hit, 34-year-old Andrew Perry of New Orleans worked in bars and did live sound engineering for shows. But now, with venues closed, Perry has struggled to find another job, even at minimum wage, while his unemployment benefits have been reduced to just $90 per week. He’s worrying about losing his home.
CDC Traces Covid-19 Outbreaks in Gyms, Urging Stricter Precautions
Coronavirus cases at fitness centers in Chicago and Honolulu were linked to carelessness about masks and symptoms, federal health officials found.
Public health officials on Wednesday urged gym-goers to wear masks when they work out and to remain six feet apart, as new research described the rapid spread of coronavirus infections during high-intensity exercise classes at gyms in Honolulu and Chicago.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised fitness centers to take a variety of measures to prevent outbreaks, including enforcing proper mask use and reminding gym and staff members to stay home if they have symptoms of illness or have tested positive for the virus.
Heavy breathing during intense physical activity in confined indoor spaces increases chances of transmission, and fitness teachers who shouted exercise instructions to members may also have contributed to the spread, the C.D.C. research found. Exercising outdoors or taking virtual fitness classes could help reduce infection risk, the authors noted.
“It’s very important for individuals who would like to attend a gym and work out to be cognizant of what the Covid symptoms are, and to be aware that if you are feeling something that looks and feels like a Covid-19 symptom, to stay home as a precaution,” said Richard A. Teran, a C.D.C. epidemiologist in Chicago who was one of the authors of the Chicago case study published on Wednesday.
At a gym in Chicago, Dr. Teran and his colleagues identified 55 coronavirus infections among 81 people who attended high-intensity, in-person fitness classes between Aug. 24 and Sept 1.
Among them were 22 people who had gone to the classes on the day they developed their first symptoms of illness, or the day after. Three went to an exercise class on the day they received a positive test result indicating they had been infected, or the day after. In all, 43 gym members who tested positive participated in classes when they were possibly infectious, researchers said.
The outbreak occurred even though classes at the gym were limited to 25 percent of their usual size, with only 10 to 15 people in attendance.
Members were required to wear masks when they entered the gym, at which point they had their temperatures taken and were screened for symptoms. But they were allowed to remove their masks while exercising; those who were infected were more likely to wear masks only infrequently during classes, the researchers found.
In Hawaii, public health investigators linked 21 infections to a 37-year-old male fitness instructor in Honolulu who taught at several facilities and developed symptoms of Covid-19 — body aches, chills, headache and cough — at the end of June, according to a C.D.C. report published on Wednesday.
On June 29, just hours before his first symptoms, he taught an hourlong stationary cycling class with 10 participants, in which no one wore a mask. All of those participants tested positive in early July, among them a 46-year-old man who worked as a fitness instructor at another facility. He became acutely ill and was hospitalized in an intensive care unit.
Twelve hours before that instructor experienced his first symptoms, he held several small kickboxing sessions and a personal training session. Of 11 people exposed, 10 became infected and tested positive in early July. All 10 developed Covid symptoms, and one was hospitalized in the intensive care unit.
On July 22, the city of Honolulu passed emergency orders requiring face coverings in fitness centers, including during exercise. Before then, gym members could remove their face coverings while exercising.
Fitness centers and gyms have been hit hard since last March, when the pandemic struck. They were among the first businesses shuttered last spring, and now they are eager to welcome patrons back.
The International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association, an industry group, reported recently that 15 percent of the nation’s clubs and studios had closed as of last fall, and more closures and bankruptcies were expected. The association has been encouraging people to return to gyms, adopting the slogan “Exercise is vital!”
Many clubs have put in place new safety protocols and have taken steps to improve ventilation, upgrade air filtration systems and maximize outdoor air circulation, said Alex Larcom, the association’s senior manager of health promotion and health policy.
The outbreaks described in the C.D.C. studies were caused by inconsistent mask use and other lapses in behavior, and perhaps buildings that were inadequately ventilated, she said.
“In Chicago, you had members who went to class when they were symptomatic or Covid-positive,” Ms. Larcom said. That facility was not originally designed to be a fitness center, she added, and the screening for symptoms appeared to have been poorly carried out.
“Society-wide, we are relying on people who are sick or think they are sick to remove themselves from society,” she said. Those who went to the gym even though they had symptoms “were probably also going to the grocery store, going out to eat and moving through the community.”
The C.D.C. researchers emphasized that a multifaceted approach to safety is required in fitness facilities, including good ventilation, consistent and correct mask use, persistent reminders that employees and patrons are to stay home when sick, and additional hand washing stations.
“Nothing is 100 percent safe,” Ms. Larcom said. “There is never zero risk. But clubs are not the primary driver of Covid spread.”
Biden Looks to a Consensus Builder to Heal a Democratic Rift on Trade
Katherine Tai, the Biden administration’s nominee for trade representative, will set the course for the Democrats’ worker-focused approach to trade.
WASHINGTON — The negotiations lasted late into the evening, leaving some members of Congress shouting and pounding the table in frustration as they fought over what would be included in the revised North American Free Trade Agreement.
Katherine Tai, the chief trade counsel to the House’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, appeared unflappable to those in the room as she helped to hammer out compromises that would ultimately bring Democrats on board in late 2019 to support the 2,082-page trade pact negotiated by the Trump administration, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
In negotiations throughout 2019, Ms. Tai calmly helped to assemble an unlikely coalition to support the trade deal, ultimately mollifying the concerns of both business lobbyists and labor unions, forging ties between Democrats and Republicans, and helping to persuade Mexican officials to accept strict new oversight of their factories, her former colleagues say.
“Katherine was the glue that held us together,” said Representative Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat who played a leading role in the negotiations. “If you end up with a product that has support from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to the Chamber of Commerce, that is an unusual feat.”
The Biden administration is now pinning its hopes on Ms. Tai, its nominee for United States trade representative, to serve as a consensus builder and help bridge the Democratic Party’s varying views on trade. Ms. Tai is scheduled to appear for her confirmation hearing on Thursday morning before the Senate Finance Committee.
Ms. Tai has strong connections in Congress, and supporters expect her nomination to proceed smoothly. But if confirmed, she will face bigger challenges, including filling in the details of what the Biden administration has called its “worker focused” trade approach.
As trade representative, Ms. Tai would be a key player in restoring alliances strained under President Donald J. Trump. She would also be crucial to formulating the administration’s China policy, an area in which she would be expected to draw on her experience bringing cases against Beijing at the World Trade Organization.
She would also take charge on decisions on matters that divide the Democratic Party, like whether to keep the tariffs Mr. Trump imposed on foreign products, and whether new foreign trade deals will help the United States compete globally or end up selling American workers short.
In a statement prepared for the Finance Committee, Ms. Tai wrote that her “first priority” would be helping American communities emerge from the pandemic and economic crisis, followed by an effort to enforce the terms of the U.S.M.C.A., rebuild international alliances and address China’s unfair trade practices.
“I know firsthand how critically important it is that we have a strategic and coherent plan for holding China accountable to its promises and effectively competing with its model of state-directed economics,” her prepared testimony read.
Both the Biden administration and members of Congress see finding consensus on trade issues as paramount, given the deep divisions that dogged Democrats in the past.
During President Barack Obama’s administration, the trade representative sparred with labor unions and many Democratic lawmakers over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between countries along the Pacific Rim.
Mr. Obama and his supporters saw the agreement as key to countering China. But progressive Democrats believed the pact would send more U.S. jobs offshore and fought the administration on its passage. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, and the remaining countries in the pact went on to sign it without the United States.
Democrats “spent a lot of time drilling down on what happened,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who supported the agreement.
“I really felt that it was important post-TPP to make sure that the trade conversation started and stopped with how the typical American worker and the typical American consumer would be affected,” he said.
What resulted, he said, was the approach in the revised North American trade deal — higher labor standards, tighter environmental regulation and new mechanisms to ensure that the rules of trade agreements can be enforced — which Democrats now describe as the bedrock of their new approach to trade.
“Katherine was very much involved in all of those discussions,” Mr. Wyden said. “She’s a real coalition builder. And that was particularly important to me, because of the whole TPP period.”
Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who opposed the Pacific trade deal and then worked with Mr. Wyden on the new North American pact’s rules for workers, said the Democratic Party had coalesced around this new policy of strong and enforceable trade rules.
“That is a new policy for a Democratic administration, for sure,” he said. “But it’s because the Democratic Party en masse, that’s where we are.”
Mr. Brown has fought with presidents of his own party about trade in the past, “including some not very nice exchanges,” he said. “I’ve fought with their trade representatives, and this is absolutely a different era.”
“You will have trade policy that will actually work for workers,” he said.
The Biden administration has gone to great lengths to cement its ties with congressional Democrats who are influential on trade. In addition to Ms. Tai’s nomination, it has recruited key staff members for the trade representative’s office from both Mr. Wyden’s and Mr. Brown’s offices. It has also hired former employees of Democratic representatives like Suzan DelBene of Washington, Jimmy Gomez of California and John Lewis of Georgia.
But that does not mean Mr. Biden’s trade policy will be without dispute. Despite strong ties to congressional Democrats and labor unions, the administration will still have to balance the concerns of other factions, like big tech companies that are important donors and foreign policy experts who see freer trade as a way to shore up America’s position in the multilateral system. Those positions could be difficult to reconcile, trade experts say.
Some have also questioned how much influence Ms. Tai might have on matters like China and tariffs, given that she is a relative newcomer to the administration. Mr. Biden has appointed several old contacts to his foreign policy team who have worked closely with him for years, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser; and Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia.
But Ms. Tai’s supporters say she will probably be an influential voice on trade given her deep expertise and understanding of trade policy. If confirmed, Ms. Tai would be the first Asian-American and woman of color to serve as the U.S. trade representative. Ms. Tai’s parents were born in China and moved to Taiwan before immigrating to the United States, where they worked as government scientists.
Ms. Tai, who was born in Connecticut, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and lived and worked in China as a teaching fellow in the late 1990s. She received a B.A. from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, and went on to work as an associate for several Washington law firms and a clerk for two district judges.
From 2007 to 2014, Ms. Tai worked for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, where she successfully prosecuted several cases on Chinese trade practices at the World Trade Organization, including a challenge to China’s curbs on exports of rare earth minerals.
When she was hired, the office was in the middle of trying to parse a particular Chinese legal measure and gave it to Ms. Tai to translate as part of her interview, said Claire Reade, a former assistant trade representative for China affairs who is now a senior counsel at Arnold & Porter. “We got a second expert opinion free of charge,” she said.
In the Obama administration, and in her work negotiating a consensus on the North American trade deal, Ms. Tai displayed a range of skills that will help her succeed as the trade representative, Ms. Reade said — leadership and initiative, the political and diplomatic skills to navigate the interagency process of government, a good instinct for reading people and a wide grasp of complex trade matters.
“She really in her work has gone through hellfire and has come out the other side — which means, as I say, she’s not to be underestimated,” Ms. Reade said.
Biden Readies Executive Order to Bolster Critical Supply Chains
The order is intended to start an effort to insulate the American economy from future shortages of critical imported components.
Jim Tankersley and
President Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Wednesday that will kick off a review of the supply chains that support several crucial American manufacturing industries, including automobiles, pharmaceuticals and clean energy.
The order will not target imports from any specific country, senior Biden administration officials said Tuesday in a conference call previewing the move, but it is widely seen as the next step in an effort to counter the economic rise of China and to promote factory growth in the United States. The officials cast it as a successor to the “Buy American” order that Mr. Biden signed last month.
The president’s move comes as a global shortage in semiconductors — a key component in cars and electronic devices — has forced several major American auto plants to close or scale back production and sent the administration scrambling to appeal to allies like Taiwan for emergency supplies.
The officials said the order would not offer a quick fix for that shortage. Instead, it would start an effort to insulate the American economy from future shortages of critical imported components.
Mr. Biden plans to order yearlong reviews of six sectors and a 100-day review of four classes of products where American manufacturers rely on imports: computer chips, high-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals and their active ingredients, and critical minerals and strategic materials, like rare earths.
Subsequent actions to strengthen those supply chains will depend on the vulnerabilities that each review finds, the officials said.
The order is an early salvo in the administration’s economic battle with China. China’s dominance of global supply chains for critical products like medical masks and for raw materials has prompted deep concerns that Beijing’s authoritarian government could cut off the United States at a whim.
China has periodically moved to ban the export of rare earth materials that are crucial for manufacturing electronics, fighter jets and weaponry. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing halted exports of surgical masks and protective gear as it diverted supplies to its own local governments and hospitals.
Beijing has also sought to expand its foothold in certain emerging technologies by investing heavily in research and subsidizing new factories, raising concerns that China could dominate the supply of electric vehicles, advanced telecommunications gear and semiconductors in the same way it has cornered other global markets.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, announced that he had directed the leaders and members of Senate committees to start drafting a new legislative package “to outcompete China and create new American jobs.” He said he intended to put the bill, which would build on the bipartisan “Endless Frontier Act” that he introduced last year, on the Senate floor for a vote this spring.
The legislation would encourage investments in American semiconductor manufacturing, which he called “a dangerous weak spot in our economy,” as well as 5G, artificial intelligence and biomedical research.
“I want this bill to address America’s short-term and long-term plan to protect the semiconductor supply chain and to keep us No. 1 in things like A.I., 5G, quantum computing, biomedical research, storage — all of these things are part of the bill and the endless frontiers act,” Mr. Schumer said. “We need to get a bill like this to the president’s desk quickly.”
F.A.A. Orders Inspection of Pratt & Whitney Engines on Boeing 777s
The engine-and-plane combination has experienced a number of failures.
The Federal Aviation Administration said late Tuesday that Pratt & Whitney engines on Boeing 777 planes must be inspected before the jets can fly again in the United States.
On Saturday, one of the engines caught fire during a United Airlines flight and showered debris over Colorado, the latest such episode involving that engine family in recent years.
United is the only American airline that operates Boeing 777s equipped with the PW4000 engine series, and the airline said on Sunday that it was grounding those 24 planes in its active fleet while it awaited F.A.A. guidance. In December, a similar Pratt & Whitney engine failed aboard a 777 operated by Japan Airlines.
Before the jets can fly again, the large, titanium hollow fan blades at the front of each engine must undergo a “thermal acoustic image” inspection, according to the F.A.A. Under that technique, a fan blade is bombarded with high-frequency vibrations, raising its temperature. A thermal image of the blade is then recorded and analyzed for unusual readings that may signify a potential crack.
In 2018, a United flight involving the same plane-and-engine combination suffered a similar failure, prompting the F.A.A. to order engine inspections every 6,500 flights. In its statement on Tuesday, the agency said it might still adjust that inspection frequency.
Also on Saturday, a Boeing 747 equipped with a relative of that engine suffered a similar fate, shedding parts in the Netherlands. Europe’s aviation authority has said it does not believe that episode is related to the other failures. None of the four engine failures resulted in deaths. Two people were reported to have suffered minor injuries in the Netherlands.
Neither United nor Pratt & Whitney immediately responded to a request for comment.
She Beat Cancer at 10. Now She'll Join SpaceX's First Private Trip to Orbit.
St. Jude Hospital and Jared Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur, selected Hayley Arceneaux for a trip to orbit in a SpaceX capsule.
Hayley Arceneaux, 29, had hoped this would be the year that she would complete her aim of visiting all seven continents before she turned 30.
She will not have time to do that, though.
She is going to space.
Ms. Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, will be one of four people on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida. Scheduled to launch late this year, it is to be the first crewed mission to circle Earth in which no one on board is a professional astronaut.
“I did ask, ‘Am I going to get a passport stamp for going to space?’” Ms. Arceneaux said. “But I don’t think I’m going to. So I’m just going to draw a star and the moon in one of my passports.”
This adventure is spearheaded by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who announced in January that he had bought the rocket launch from SpaceX, the space company started by Elon Musk. Mr. Isaacman said at the time that he wanted the mission to be more than a jaunt for the superwealthy, and that he had given two of the four available seats to St. Jude.
One of them will go to a random winner in a sweepstakes contest to raise money for the hospital, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers and other diseases.
The other seat, Mr. Isaacman said, will be filled by a frontline health care worker at St. Jude, someone who symbolizes hope.
On Monday, St. Jude officials and Mr. Isaacman revealed that Ms. Arceneaux was the person they had chosen.
Ms. Arceneaux could become the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She was a patient at St. Jude nearly 20 years ago, and as part of her treatment for bone cancer, metal rods replaced parts of the bones in her left leg.
In the past, that would have kept her firmly on the ground, unable to meet NASA’s stringent medical standards for astronauts. But the advent of privately financed space travel has opened the final frontier to some people who were previously excluded.
Dr. Michael D. Neel, the orthopedic surgeon who installed Ms. Arceneaux’s prosthesis, says that although having artificial leg bones means that she can’t play contact sports on Earth, they should not limit her on this SpaceX trek.
“It shows us that the sky is not the limit,” Dr. Neel said. “It’s the sky and beyond. I think that’s the real point of all this, that she has very little limitations as far as what you can do. Unless you’re going to play football up there.”
Ms. Arceneaux said she hoped to offer inspiration to patients at St. Jude.
“They’ll be able to see a cancer survivor in space, especially one that has gone through the same thing that they have,” she said. “It’s going to help them visualize their future.”
Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude, said of Ms. Arceneaux, “If anybody was emblematic of the notion of hope, it was Hayley.”
Ms. Arceneaux herself did not find out she would have a seat on the rocket until early January. Officials at the hospital had vaguely told her that there was an opportunity they wanted to talk to her about. She said she had thought that “maybe it would be a commercial or maybe giving a speech somewhere.”
Instead, it was an opportunity to be an astronaut.
“I even kind of laughed,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I was like, ‘What? Yes. Yes, please, that would be amazing.’” She then added, “Let me talk to my mom.”
Her mom did not object.
Ms. Arceneaux walked into St. Jude for the first time in 2002. She was 10. Not long before, she had earned her black belt in taekwondo, but she was complaining of pain in her leg. Her mother saw a bump protruding over the left knee. The pediatrician in the small town of St. Francisville, La., where they lived, not far from Baton Rouge, told them that it looked like a cancerous tumor.
“We all fell apart,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I remember just being so scared because at age 10, everyone I had known with cancer had died.”
At St. Jude, doctors provided the good news that the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install the prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.
Even at that young age, bald from chemotherapy, Ms. Arceneaux was helping at fund-raisers for St. Jude. The next year, Louisiana Public Broadcasting honored her with one of its Young Heroes awards.
“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.’”
Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma, such as a teenage boy she talked with recently.
“I shared with him that I also lost my hair,” Ms. Arceneaux said. “I told him: ‘You can ask me anything. I’m a former patient. I’ll tell you the truth, anything you want to know.’ And he said, ‘Will you really tell me the truth?’ And I said yes.”
His burning question: “Are you the one going to space?”
Ms. Arceneaux had to dodge. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see who gets announced.’” she said. “But I think he knew because then he and his dad were like “Yeah!” and high-fived.”
Ms. Arceneaux and Mr. Isaacman have visited SpaceX’s headquarters in California three times to meet with engineers and to start planning the trip. Unlike the missions that SpaceX flies for NASA, this one will not go to the International Space Station but will instead orbit Earth for three or four days before splashing down off the Florida coast.
“She’s got an adventurous spirit,” Mr. Isaacman said of Ms. Arceneaux. “And now she gets to travel to the stars, which is pretty cool.”
It will still be a few more weeks before they know who their companions will be.
The St. Jude sweepstakes, publicized in a television commercial that was broadcast during the Super Bowl two weeks ago, will run through the end of the month. It has so far raised about $9.5 million. That seems to fall far short of the $100 million Mr. Isaacman has himself committed to St. Jude, or the overall goal of $200 million. But Mr. Isaacman and Mr. Shadyac said that the fund-raising effort would go beyond the sweepstakes and that they were pleased with the progress.
“This is going to be a campaign that’s going to extend all the way until the launch,” Mr. Shadyac said.
The sweepstakes is structured in a way that effectively limits the size of donations. One entry is free. A minimum donation of $10 buys 100 entries, and each additional dollar donated buys 10 more entries, up to $1,000 for 10,000 entries.
There were some pricier options available that are now sold out. For example, Mr. Isaacman will give a donor who contributed $100,000 a ride in the Russian-built MiG-29 jet fighter that he owns. The donor will also get a trip to watch the launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But that donor still has just 10,000 entries in the sweepstakes, the same as someone who donated $1,000.
Mr. Isaacman said this was a deliberate choice to prevent a wealthy person from trying to snap up the grand prize of a trip to space by buying millions of entries.
“Is it going to represent all of the people of Earth and not just rich white guys?” Mr. Isaacman said.
The fourth SpaceX seat will go to the winner of a contest sponsored by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4, which sells credit-card-processing terminals and point-of-sale systems to restaurants and other businesses. The “Shark Tank”-like competition calls for entrepreneurs to design an online store using Shift4’s software and then post a video on Twitter describing their business.
As of last week, fewer than 100 people had submitted complete entries. “It means if you had made a Shift4 shop and entered it, you’ve got pretty amazing odds,” Mr. Isaacman said.
Never miss an eclipse, a meteor shower, a rocket launch or any other astronomical and space event that's out of this world.
A guide to the spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit.
Brexit has driven 2,500 finance jobs and €170bn to France, says bank governor
Bank of France chief claims ‘50 British entities’ have moved over the Channel, while Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt have also benefited
Last modified on Tue 19 Jan 2021 19.49 EST
The Bank of France’s governor has said that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has driven almost 2,500 jobs and “at least €170bn in assets” to France.
London remains the continent’s foremost financial centre but Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris have all scrambled to attract businesses that wanted to remain active in the 19-nation eurozone.
The coronavirus pandemic made it even more important to boost business activity, given its severe economic effects.
“In spite of the pandemic, almost 2,500 jobs have already been transferred and around 50 British entities have authorised the relocation of at least €170bn (£150bn) in assets to France at the end of 2020,” bank governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau told a press briefing.
“Other relocations are expected and should increase over the course of this year,” he added.
In particular, Brexit has forced Europe to develop its financial autonomy, de Galhau said.
The EU will allow London clearinghouses to operate across the continent for 18 months, because the union does not have comparable institutions of its own.
Once that deadline has expired, however, financial transactions in euros are in theory going to have to be settled within the EU.
In addition, “a true ‘financing union’ must allow us to better mobilise surplus savings de Galhau said.
He urged that the opportunity provided by Brexit be used to create a functional “union of capital markets” in the EU.
Boris Johnson admitted in December that the Brexit deal with the EU “does not go as far as we would like” in allowing access to EU markets for financial services, although UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, later offered the prospect of improved access.
An Ancient Form of European Money: Bronze Rings, Ribs and Blades
Because the objects had a standardized weight, scientists suggest they were a form of currency used some 3,500 years ago.
The modern world runs on a constant flow of money that has its roots in simpler proto-currencies pioneered on regional levels by ancient peoples.
A pair of archaeologists believe they have identified a very early example of commodity money in Europe, used some 3,500 years ago during the Bronze Age, with denominations that took the form of bronze rings, ribs and ax blades. People at this time frequently buried collections of these ubiquitous items, leaving a wealth of scattered “hoards” across the European continent.
In a study published on Wednesday in PLOS ONE, Maikel Kuijpers, an assistant professor in European prehistory at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Catalin N. Popa, who was a postdoctoral researcher there, compared the weights of more than 5,000 Bronze Age rings, ribs and blades, sourced from over 100 hoards that contained five or more items.
The results revealed that 70 percent of the rings were so close in mass — averaging about 7 ounces — that they would have been indistinguishable if weighed by hand. While the ribs and ax blades are not quite as uniform, the study concludes that the artifacts are similar enough to collectively demonstrate “the earliest development of commodity money in prehistoric Central Europe.”
“It is a very clear standardization,” Dr. Kuijpers said.
While other researchers questioned some of their conclusions, they agreed that the study added to our knowledge of the economic activities of ancient peoples.
As bronze smithing spread through Europe, these rings, ribs and ax blades were cast for functional purposes — such as jewelry and tools — that might have been unrelated to money. Some of the items in the data set probably maintained strictly utilitarian or ornamental roles because their weights were well beyond the calculated average.
But the comparable weights of a large portion of the artifacts leaves “no doubt that at least the rings and ribs conform to the definition of commodity money,” the authors wrote. The bronze items mirror forms of currency based on tools, known as utensil money, discovered elsewhere, such as knife and spade money found in China and Aztec hoe and ax money found in Mesoamerica.
“We do have examples in other areas of the world where you seem to have this sort of similar development” in which “a practical tool turns into this utensil money, and then into this commodity money,” Dr. Kuijpers said.
A central innovation of bronze is the ability to make duplicates by casting the metal in molds. The study speculates that these near-identical copies gave rise, over time, to an abstract concept of weight, which laid the mental groundwork for the invention of weighing tools and technologies that emerged in Europe centuries later in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Nicola Ialongo, a prehistoric archaeologist at Georg August University of Göttingen in Germany, said that the study offered “an important contribution to understanding how early monies work,” but that there was a less complicated explanation for how these standardized objects emerged.
“As the authors acknowledge, the regularity of their samples might simply be explained by imagining that the objects in their data sets were cast with a limited number of molds, or that the molds themselves had a standardized shape,” Dr. Ialongo said.
Furthermore, he added, ancient peoples might have counted this currency the way we count coins today, rather than focusing on weight.
“Simply put, you don’t need a weight system to be able to use metals — or any other commodity — as money,” he said, adding that many other less durable things may have been used as money before these bronze items.
The authors counter that “weight mattered” because “there are indications that for some types of objects a deliberate effort was made to achieve a specific weight interval.”
Barry Molloy, an associate professor of archaeology at University College Dublin who was not involved in the study, noted that there “has long been a suspicion that systems of weights and measures were in use in Bronze Age Europe.”
“The quest was for a precise metric, as found in Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean,” Dr. Molloy said. “While this paper does not demonstrate that there was such a coherent system, it provides important insights into how ancient people in Europe themselves may have approached these issues pragmatically before formal weight systems were developed in the Iron Age.”
While Dr. Ialongo disagreed with some of the researchers’ methods, he also praised the study as “a remarkable attempt to break one of the oldest and most persistent taboos in prehistoric archaeology, that ‘primitive’ societies do not have a proper commercial economy.”
Tyson Foods to Settle Price-Fixing Claims
Tyson Foods Inc. said it has agreed to pay $221.5 million to settle with plaintiff groups of poultry buyers that sued it for price-fixing claims, helping resolve a four-year legal battle over alleged collusion in the $65 billion chicken industry.
Restaurant chains, supermarket operators and food distributors have accused Tyson, the largest U.S. meat company by sales and the nation’s top chicken supplier, and other major chicken companies of coordinating production and pricing to boost prices for staples such as chicken breasts, tenders and wings. Chicken suppliers have pushed back in court, pointing to economic factors they said drove poultry prices.
Tyson said it reached the settlement with plaintiffs including direct purchasers, commercial and institutional indirect purchasers and end-user consumers. It didn’t admit any liability as part of the settlements and said the settlement is subject to court approval.
Tyson said “it believes that the settlements were in the best interests of the company and its shareholders in order to avoid the uncertainty, risk, expense and distraction of protracted litigation.”
The Tyson settlement doesn’t cover lawsuits filed separately by individual plaintiffs. Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and other U.S. chicken suppliers still face continuing lawsuits from some of their top customers, including chicken-sandwich company Chick-fil-A Inc., supermarket operators Walmart Inc. and Kroger Co. , and food-service distributors Sysco Corp. and US Foods Holding Corp.
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