Which Way the Economy?

One of the perks of living in the upper left hand corner, is getting Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television programming. I dig me the CBC. So much so if hockey was my religion, I might move North.

A recent CBC documentary titled “Secret Suppers of Vancouver” was interesting on several levels. This 2+ minute trailer provides a nice feel for the case study of grassroots economic change.

When new business models bubble up, like Uber and Airbnb, the established businesses they most threaten, such as city-based taxi cab companies and hotels, hire lobbyists to get legislators to pass more and more legal requirements for businesses to operate which makes it virtually impossible for cash-strapped startups to comply.

No surprise that most of Vancouver’s restaurant owners find this loose network of semi-secretive personal kitchens threatening. The restaurateur in the trailer who says, “. . . and I respect the hell out of hustlers” is an outlier.

Some regulation is necessary for large swaths of consumers to trust businesses are competent, and in the case of the food service industry, to ensure public safety is maintained. But it’s wrong to use regulations as a tactic for limiting competition. Doing so stifles the creative destruction that’s part and parcel of a vibrant economy.

I couldn’t help but think about my industry, teacher education (and also charter schools) while watching Secret Suppers of Vancouver. My industry works tirelessly to make sure teacher licensure requirements remain sufficiently rigorous, thus protecting our jobs. Clearly though, one person’s “rigor” is another’s excuse for limiting competition.

Whether Vancouver, San Francisco, or your municipality is getting the regulatory dance just right is something upon which reasonable people will disagree.

It’s too simpleminded to generalize about regulations, we have to ask whether the current level is appropriate on an industry-by-industry basis. Once public safety is assured, we should error on the side of limiting regulations so that new new types of economic activity, like Secret Suppers of Vancouver, will regularly bubble up. Large, established companies should be expected to adapt to upstarts creatively meeting consumer’s needs and desires.

More personally, I was really conflicted by some aspects of Vancouver’s secret supper network. In all honesty, I would love to be a member of the club eating amazing food with all the cool kids. But the movement also has an exclusionary feel to it. You have to have ample social capital to even learn about the personal kitchens and to score an invite. Then you have to have more money than average to be able to afford the exquisite, personalized service.

Watch the full length documentary and then help me be less confused.

 

 

 

 

Ride Around Mount Rainier 2014

Start time, 5:45a, finish time 2:30p. 8:45 gross ride time, 8:01 net. 146.4 miles. 18.2 mph average. Max speed, 40.5. Elevation estimate (non barometric altimeter), 8,222. Calories, 8,337.

I had fun and rode well and think I’m continuing to improve as a cyclist even at my advanced age. I credit that to a deeper and deeper base and a continually improving feel for pacing and nutrition. The vast majority of RAMRODers ride way too hard in the a.m. and pay for it dearly in the p.m. I routinely let guys go in the morning who I pass mid-day.

I only had one “friend” win the lottery like me, but being a University of Washington Husky, he tucked his tail between his legs and bailed on me when he learned the route had to be altered due to road construction in the park. So this was my first time riding solo.

I met Dave from Maryland about one mile in and he was velcroed to my back wheel all morning on the way to Packwood. We sat in the back of “Cycle Tuesdays” a 15+ sized group from Seattle. They set a perfect, slightly downhill, first hour or two pace of 20-22mph. I probably drafted for 60 of the 78 miles on the way to Packwood. At that point I launched on my solo ascent of Cayuse, not stopping until the Crystal Mountain deli stop.

During that stretch, miles 78-105ish, I passed lots and lots of people, most of whom stopped at one or two food/water stops. Also, even though I was only going 7-8 mph up Cayuse, I leaped frogged people the whole way.

We enjoyed nearly perfect conditions. I was wishing I had worn gloves in the first hour when it was in the mid 50’s, but when the climbing began in earnest, around 10:30a, it was around 70. The only time I was hot all day was while standing in the sun at the Crystal deli stop. And surprisingly, the wind was a non-factor over the last 40 miles.

I bailed on the suggested out-and back for additional mileage and elevation. I figured riding all the way from Packwood to the finish solo was sufficient. Also, I didn’t have any homies to question my manhood. With just a little peer pressure I probably would’ve turned right off of Hwy 410 at the 123 mile mark.

Because I went “short”, I was one of the first few people to finish. After showering, downing a Diet Coke, and eating an ice cream bar, I felt considerably better than I did post Grand Canyon hike, post Bachelor/Lake Paulina ride, post Sunriver-Bend trail run. I was the first car out of the parking lot and on the road at 3p.

Pre-ride, Lally gave me specific instructions to stick it to any Team Fishcer Plumbing guys after their Central Oregon antics of non-stop surging and erratically going off the front. On the way to Ashford, about five FPs passed me, too strongly for me to hook on. Different guys, but I knew Lally would say they were guilty by association. So sorry Mark for not doing shit for payback.

In related news, a guy passed me at mile 131-132. Cervelo, aero bars, probably one of those narcissistic triathletes. Quickly, he just flat out disappeared up the road. That helping of humble pie was well-timed.

Other observations from the day.

• No CAMROD sighting. Disconcerting.

• Some people, who aren’t too concerned with weight or aerodynamics, are riding with their Garmins AND gigantic smart phones attached to their headsets and bars. Then again, I’ve never known the joy of streaming Netflix while climbing Cayuse. One rider was in line for the prestigious Dennis Peck Tech Geek award (a TomTom nav device). He was wearing Peck’s Google jersey with his TABLET attached to his headset.

• Despite the recent lotteries being plagued with glitches, the Redmond Cycling Club does an amazing job putting on this event. Tons of exceedingly friendly and helpful volunteers at the start/finish and all over the course. The course was marked extremely well (there’s some serious pot holes on the Skate Creek descent and the bottom of Mud Mountain Dam Rd). Police escorts through the four or five primary intersections. Very easy to read course arrows at every turn. Every other event similar to this, take note, state of the art.

• I overheard the race photog say to a volunteer, “These are people who spend $5k on their bikes, they can afford to pay $12 for a picture.” Can’t speak for any of the other riders, but Rider #327 carefully shopped his steed—heavily discounted frame from the U.K. and components from Australia. Consider this Mr. Photog, the only way most people can drop 5 large on a bike is by being value shoppers! Digital images are ubiquitous these days (Maryland Dave has one of me on his iPhone). Your pictures are overpriced. Thank you, but I will pass.

 

 

Britteny Griner—Lifesize

Like me, you’ll enjoy this sixteen minute documentary if you have any interest in Skittles, global labor markets, Chinese culture, cross cultural hurdles, and stories of personal growth.

Yao Ming, whose reverse experience closely paralleled Griner’s, would’ve been an ideal friend/cultural ambassador/mentor.

Here’s an excellent and highly recommended Yao Ming documentary.

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Think Globally, Yeah Right

I predicted this story about Ethiopia becoming the next China nearly twenty years ago after living there, traveling in other sub-Saharan African countries, and becoming a student of globalization.*

Long story short, the outsourced manufacturing race to the bottom has entered it’s final stage. China’s average manufacturing wage is 3,469 yuan ($560) per month. Pay at Ethiopia’s Huajian shoe factory (18 miles outside of Addis Ababa) ranges from the basic after-tax minimum of $30 a month to about twice that for supervisors.

A paragraph to ponder:

Huajian’s 3,500 workers in Ethiopia produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first government-supported industrial zones, the factory began operating in January 2012, only three months after Zhang decided to invest. It became profitable in its first year and now earns $100,000 to $200,000 a month, he said, calling it an insufficient return that will rise as workers become better trained.

Meanwhile, last week, George Mason economist and blogger extraordinaire, Tyler Cowen, wrote in the New York Times about income inequality. The title is the thesis, “Income Inequality is Not Rising Globally. It’s Falling.

Here’s the gist of Cowen’s argument:

We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.

The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth.

A common view is that high and rising inequality within nations brings political trouble, maybe through violence or even revolution. So one might argue that a nationalistic perspective is important. But it’s hardly obvious that such predictions of political turmoil are true, especially for aging societies like the United States that are showing falling rates of crime.

I’m positively predisposed to counter-intuitive thinking, but Cowen was hopelessly naive if he thought his NYT readers might concede even some aspects of his argument.

Here’s the comment Cowen’s readers most liked:

You’ve Got to be Kidding

This article is a classic example of a divide and conquer strategy. The gist is that less educated and skilled people in countries like the U.S are suffering but those in other countries are gaining. Hence, the world is equalizing. So, if you complain about the U.S., you are essentially wishing harm on others. In reality, what the “miracle” of capitalism has done is what it always does — it enriches owners of capital and exploits labor. Developing countries are, of course, better off; they started from nothing, and so anything is an improvement. So production is moved to places where people are desperate, and profits rise because of poor wages, no attention to work place safety, no regard for environmental concerns, etc. Yet, we are to celebrate because the workers in the poor countries are no longer earning zero. This logic then absolves companies from any criticism about the horrendous working conditions. After all, global inequality is falling!

The author also glides over the fact that people live in particular societies and their own inequality is most important. It matters for the distribution of political power (Citizens United, anyone?), for health (see, e.g., studies by Richard Wilkinson), for education, for housing and for a host of other things.

Finally, the author predictably criticizes redistribution (what, not unions?) But the real issue is changing the rules of the game so things aren’t rigged for elites. If so, redistribution will be less needed.

The other most highly rated reader responses were similarly critical. Taken together, they illustrate people’s unwillingness to compare themselves to foreign people in distant places. It’s no surprise that economically secure professionals like Cowen and myself choose cosmopolitanism, but for anyone else who lacks economic security, its a luxury they can’t afford.

It’s the same reason the well-to-do, who can afford higher prices elsewhere, brandish “I Don’t Shop at Walmart” bumper stickers. Cowen embraces cosmopolitanism because his university and book publishers and blog sponsors pay him handsomely; and his university provides his health care; and, like me, he has extraordinary job protections as a tenured professor; and he travels the world doing research, lecturing, and teaching.

I don’t begrudge him his professional success, but for him to assume others will embrace cosmopolitanism based upon his logic suggests he’s woefully out-of-touch with those that are struggling to get by.

Cowen might respond to that criticism by insisting that it’s in everyone’s best interests to think more globally, and I’d agree, but it’s going to take far more than abstract New York Times essays to get people to think beyond their household, community, state, and nation.

imgres * Rest assured, normally my predictive skills are nothing special. For example, I was sure Jay-Z and Beyonce would live happily ever after.

In Praise of Literary Tussles

The week that was. Ukraine v Russia. Israel v Palestine. Syria v the Islamic State group. Too many lives cut short, too many families torn asunder.

If only we could substitute bloodless literary tussles for the violent ones that dominate the headlines.

For that to happen, we need provocative essay writers willing to ruffle readers’ feathers. Enter Tom Junod of Esquire. I’m guessing he was caught off-guard by just how many feathers his essay “In Praise of 42 Year-Old Women” ruffled.

I really, really, really liked Julie Checkoway’s clever and perceptive response to Junod. Checkoway convincingly hypothesizes that Junod is struggling with his mortality.

She writes:

Men have a lot more trouble, I think, admitting their fear of aging and death than women do. In my experience, women are more openly verbal, at least, about our terror. Typically, men either joke about it or have affairs or splurge on a sports car (these are stereotypes, so fill in your own experience of men here). But they rarely write about the terror of aging honestly. . .

But men are just as terrified as women of aging and dying. . . . How could they not be? They’re human. It’s just that they talk about it in a different way than women do. They talk about it by talking about women’s . . . fading attractiveness. And most men’s magazines—-unlike most women’s magazines—-aren’t filled with articles that expressly address aging graciously, painfully, or at all.

Men’s magazines, like Esquire, are filled with articles like Junod’s, articles in which men talk about how it’s okay with them for women to age. Just a little. And then a little more. And then a little more. Men are writing about death and aging, but they’re just writing about it by writing about us.

Checkoway’s response to Junod is direct, caring, specific, and philosophically rich. And her analysis rings true.

When Monopolies Take Over

Businesses grow as a result of superior customer service. As a result, they sometimes come to completely dominate their market, then the quality of their customer service deteriorates. Often markedly.

A congressional committee—I don’t know which one would be most appropriate—should give this audio tape a listen. I’d title it something like “What our post-free-market consumer experience will be like”.

Give it a listen, then forward it to your political reps. I know, naive of me to think Congress might do something.

The caller’s preternatural calm is mind boggling. My favorite line, “Are you punking us?”

Thanks to Ryan Block and Veronica Belmont for lifting the curtain, I’m sorry to say, on my internet provider.