Saturday, April 19, 2014

The price of the pudding is in the eating

The Employment Policies Insitute's Michael Saltsman has a little lesson in fundamentals for the Leader of the Free World;
...the warehouse retailer [Costco] rakes in what amounts to a more than $10,000 profit per employee [from its upfront membership fees], according to data from business research company Hoovers. A casual dining restaurant, on the other hand, earns a roughly $2,000 profit per employee, which explains why most businesses aren't following the president's "just be more like Costco" advice.
There are exceptions. In a visit this month to the University of Michigan, for instance, the president stopped at the local deli Zingerman's. He raved about its Reuben sandwich as well as the generous wages that the business offers. Like Mr. Jelinek, Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw supports hiking the minimum wage. He posted a minimum-wage manifesto on a company website last September.
As Mr. Obama relished the perfect sandwich prepared by well-paid employees, he neglected to mention how much he paid for the happy experience: Zingerman's Reuben costs $14. That's about three times as much as a Subway foot-long. When I was an undergraduate student at Michigan, I rarely dined at Zingerman's because it was so expensive.
....The president seems oblivious to pricing pressures that exist outside of high-end restaurant concepts in tony metropolitan areas.
Also oblivious to the old adage that it takes all kinds to feed a world.

Coming up short

The Daily Mail breathlessly warns of a chocolate shortage, but should worry about their own shortage of reporters versed in elementary economics;
Experts are warning that a growing taste for chocolate in Asia – particularly in China – means cocoa farmers will need more help to provide a greater amount to export or manufacturers will be forced to use less cocoa in their products.
The help is already on the way. The forces of supply and demand have been providing that help for thousands of years. The author of this piece (Emma Glanfield) could read it and see for herself;
Most cocoa farms are situated along the west coast of Africa – where many farmers are said to be living off less than $2 a day. 
Better days ahead for those farmers, then. No?
 Mondelez International – a multinational confectionery, food and beverage conglomerate – said it had pledged to invest more than $400 million to help ease the crisis.
Over the next ten years, it is set to pump millions into Ghana, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, India and the Dominican Republic to help improve the productivity and life of cocoa farmers.
So, we're looking at increased supply. How about demand;
It is predicted chocolate prices will soar to keep up with the rising demand – otherwise consumers will increasingly be offered products filled with substitutes, such as nuts and fruits, to ‘pack out’ chocolate bars. 
Sweeeet!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kapital idea, Iain

We can only say, we wish we'd written this (from Iain Pears' Stone's Fall);
A few months ago I read a book by Karl Marx on capital. Elizabeth gave it to me, with a smile on her face. A strange experience, as the author's awe exceeds even my own. He is the first to understand the complexity of capital and its subtlety. His account is that of a lover describing his beloved, but after describing her beauty and the sensuality of her power, he turns away from her embrace and insists that his love should be destroyed. He could gaze clearly into the nature of capital, but not into his own character. Desire is written in every line and paragraph of his book, but he does not see it.
A useful faction, that.

Fifty-nine Years of Solicitude

It's almost magical what socialism can do for a sycophant, as El País details;
Gabriel García Márquez heard the name Fidel Castro for the first time in 1955. .... It was then that [the Cuban] poet [Nicolás Guillén] told him about a young man named Fidel who had just gotten out of the prison after assaulting the Moncada barracks.
And when Castro took power, García Márquez enlisted in his army;
As a journalist of Prensa Latina [the news agency founded by Che Guevara] first, and as a defender of the revolutionary cause throughout the world when he was already a famous writer, García Márquez knitted such a special friendship with the Cuban leader over the years that the former became the latter’s confessor and literary adviser, his accomplice in mediating conflicts in the region, including service as special envoy on a secret mission to the United States during the Bill Clinton administration.
When García Márquez and his wife Mercedes began to travel to Cuba [from his home in Mexico] more frequently, Castro put one of the most opulent Cubanacán residences in Havana at their disposal.
Solidarity!
Castro and the Colombian writer came up with an adventure - to create a film and television school for Third World students that would serve as a counterweight to “imperialist cinematography.” The Foundation of the New Latin American Cinema was founded in 1985 under the direction of the Nobel laureate and, a year later, the school opened. García Márquez gave a workshop on screenwriting that became legendary. The course was titled “How to Tell a Story.” Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Costa-Gavras are some of the filmmakers who have participated in workshops, courses, and seminars at the school. 
It shows in their work. But he didn't just rub shoulders with Hollywood, he actually partied with real murderers like ;
... the legendary Barbarroja, Manuel Piñeiro, when he was in charge of organization and support to guerrillas and liberation movements in Latin America. 
The para-military forces in Allende's Chile for one. But, García Márquez could be sentimental too;
In his Havana home, García Márquez had a piece painted and given to him by Tony La Guardia. The gift was displayed alongside the works of great Cuban painters like Víctor Manuel o Amelia Peláez. The Colombian Nobel Prize winner, who had been a friend to La Guardia, did not remove the oil painting from the wall after his execution for treason.
Ahhh.

Magical Realism: Fidel es un hombre bueno

It seems sometimes that old Commies never die, they just fade away into rich retirements along with the praise of the NY Times. Fortunately, we'll always have The Telegraph obituary (of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez);
...on January 8 1959, he received the news that Fidel Castro had entered Havana in triumph.
García Márquez was jubilant. He went straight to the island to witness the founding of the new Cuban press agency, Prensa Latina, and was invited by Castro to set up an office in Bogota, where he spent the next two years energetically defending the Cuban revolution, first from Colombia and then from New York. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 his American visa was withdrawn, and he was forced to move again, this time to Mexico City, which became his permanent home.
Except for all those mansions he had elsewhere;
He maintained homes in Colombia, Barcelona and Paris and continued to keep up his friendship with Fidel Castro, who gave him the use of a villa in Havana. During García Márquez’s frequent visits to Cuba, Castro would call on him as often as twice a day; the two men went fishing together, and talked about books and the nature of absolute power. 
For the Nobel prize winner, absolute power was for Fidel to exercise and him to slavishly admire. For the antidote, here's Chilean Alberto Fuguet back in 1997;
Reinaldo Arenas, the well-known writer and Cuban exile, hit the nail on the head when he attacked the South American literary stereotypes that so-called “developed” countries have fostered. “To write in Latin America is a drama (whether conscious or not), played out beneath the eternal double curse of underdevelopment and exoticism.” Arenas feels that Latin American magic realism has degenerated to the point that its dominant theme is nothing more than a desire to pander to the magic-starved sensibilities of North American and European readers. I tend to agree with him.
“The other side of the curse is that of conformity. We [Latinos] … are [considered] noble savages, simple, passionate beings whose only goal in life is to cultivate an acre of land, and dance the cumbia … By taking the path of exoticism, and with the paternalistic support and understanding proffered by the Europeans and North Americans, one can easily reach fame and fortune, and, sometimes even the Nobel Prize.”
Exactly. Unlike the ethereal world of García Márquez’s imaginary Macondo, my own world is something much closer to what I call “McOndo” — a world of McDonald’s, Macintoshes and condos. In a continent that was once ultra-politicized, young, apolitical writers like myself are now writing without an overt agenda, about their own experiences. Living in cities all over South America, hooked on cable TV (CNN en español), addicted to movies and connected to the Net, we are far away from the jalapeño-scented, siesta-happy atmosphere that permeates too much of the South American literary landscape. Julian Barnes echoes this feeling in his novel “Flaubert’s Parrot,” where his scholarly narrator declares that the entire genre of magical realism should be banished: “A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America,” he says. The example he gives speaks for itself. “Ah, the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tip of its branches, and whose fibers assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner …”
Not even The Telegraph had the cojones to include that in their obit. 

What's important

To self-proclaimed humanitarians, apparently looking good--at the cost of denying people health care;
In an unusual decision that had a strong impact on consumer choices, New York required insurers to offer the same type of coverage on the exchange as off.
The result was that none of New York’s insurers offered out-of-network coverage for individuals, except in a small part of western New York, because they wanted to hold down costs and avoid being swamped by sick people. So regardless of whether individuals buy their plans on the exchange or off, they cannot get coverage outside a fixed network of doctors and hospitals, even if they are willing to pay more for it.
Yes, that's what the NY Times story says, the purpose of Obamacare (for NY staters) is; avoid being swamped by sick people. 

Two, four, six, eight

Valerie Bauman (of Puget Sound Business Journal) thinks Obamacare is really great!
The number of people who have purchased health coverage in Washington state has risen to 325,000 — an increase of 47,000 compared with before the state exchange’s open-enrollment period began Oct. 1.
.... the Office of the Insurance Commissioner released new data Thursday painting a clearer picture of the individual health insurance market — coverage bought independently of an employer.
“Today’s numbers represent the first significant growth in the individual health insurance market that we’ve seen in four years,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, in a statement. “One of the underlying goals of the Affordable Care Act, and what made it so meaningful, was its potential to improve the health insurance market for the people who buy their own coverage.”
But wait until the last paragraph in the story;
The OIC did not have information about how many of the 325,000 people in the individual market had previous coverage or had to find new coverage because their prior health plan was discontinued under the ACA. 
Which is the first information that we'd really need, to evaluate the success or failure of Obamacare, isn't it?

That, and whether or not these new insurance policies actually expand the ability of people to get health care when they need it, of course.