Sunday, 20 January 2013

"Value" food

Now that the stream of very amusing jokes about horse meat in beef burgers has died down, perhaps some thought on the idea that some of it was found in products described as "value" burgers.

I am not singling out Tesco's here. I have no way of knowing whether their products are as good or as bad as anyone else's, but its quite clear that "value" and other such descriptors are designed to attract the poorer sections of society.

In a rational world "value" might refer to nutritional content per unit cost. If not everyone then many people would go for that, but in fact many people have the idea that "value" means low quality as well as low price. Those on benefits are under pressure to buy such products as they are living of the state, but if the products are typically high in fat and/or high in salt, say, or padded out with worthless fillers, as critics say they are, why shouild anyone be constrained to buy them just because the ticket price is low? And if these products are worse for the eater's  health than the higher priced versions, all the producers and retailers have done is passed on the consequences of these "value" foods to the health service who treat people for heart disease, high cholestorol, high blood pressure and other "lifestyle diseases".

But clearly we do not live in a rational world, and these products are not in fact good value to the eater. Of course that isn't what the "value"  tag claims. It just creates that impression.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Personal property

I've just been listening to Peter Joseph on Blogtalk radio, and one of the subjects he explored is psychology v logic. By way of example, he set up abolition of / deprivation from personal property as one of the straw men used against the RBE.

My thoughts here follow on from his, but are not what he said exactly; they combine some of the ideas expressed in his talk in a different way.

Personal property is sacrosanct in many people's views. Even in a work environment, with equipment allocated / issued by an employer, people can have a strong identification of something being theirs - can I borrow YOUR stapler.

It's quite hard to analyse; there's one element of identifing with a possession - a concept that car manufacturers like to play on, so that a possession is part of you or your personality, and the other element is securing access to the resource. (I'm settimg aside things of sentimental value, or yucky things like sharing a toothbrush).

Let's take a CD for example. Technologically, it's perfectly possible to listen to any piece of music (recording) anytime, anywhere. We don't technically need a CD. Somehow though, the desire to have instant access to a recording, plus the £ invested in it, plus the (at one time) technical need to physically have a CD, plus the emotional draw created by the packaging, plus the cultural norm of posessing / owning combine powerfully to make us defensive of our CD collection, and reluctant if not unable to boil this down to actually what we want (what service) from the CD.

Imagine this scaled up, though, to a motor vehicle or dwelling. Living in an RBE takes such a leap of imagination. It's hard to inagine a world where we can call up a pice of music on any device that's to hand, or find a sleeping place where we happen to be, or easily and comfortably get from where we are to wher we want to be without any hassle, so at the moment we tend to own (secure exclusive use of) devices / objects that render these services. Thus we have CDs we rarely play, cars that are mainly parked, and so on usque ad infinitem.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Classical Economics lunacy

This video has mainly Swedish dialogue and (retro-added) English subtitles, occasionally the reverse, and yet more occasionally dilogue in a third language with in vision Swedish subtitles superimposed with retro-added English subtitles. This can make it hard work if you don't know Swedish, and occasionally the English subtitles are obsured by the video content.

A main point I took away from this is that classical economic models do not include the banks and debt, and this is why economists mainly failed to see the latest financial crisis coming. You can take delight in watching various Nobel prize winning economists splutter and stammer when this point is put to them - unsurprising as (and the film points this out via other commentators) they have built careers and reputations over many years using the flawed model. One at least cogent retort is that banks and debt can be ignored becuse "for every loan there is a lender" (I think I quote correctly) , but this conveniently ignores the fact that debt carries interest, so debts are always greater than loans.

The film concludes that reducing the size of the financial sector in an economy - resetting it  - is the way forward, but this srikes me as either doing less of the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing righhter, or just again in the hope that this time it will be OK.

The film stops short of really showing up the contradictions / fallacies in our GDP growth paradigm. It features a Spanish family who narrowly avoid eviction for mortgae arrears, and a vast unoccupiable housing development started before the bubble burst. The references to the 'value' of homes were in the common usage of the price they could be sold for, ignoring the fact of an underlying value of the home as an amenity. [Nature /  physics teaches us that there is entropy. So, untouched, a buiding will eventually crumble: its innate value is falling from the moment the builders leave the site - it is depreciating in real terms. Yet we are so indoctrinated by market orthodoxy that we tend to equate price and value.]

Vertical farms and birthrights

 I started watching this talk because it is about vertical farms, but the speaker, Dickson Despommier, spends a lot of time explaining what the problems we face as a planet are, leaving less for detail on vertical farms, which for him are part of the solution.

This doesn't detract from the talk overall, though if you're more interested in vertical farms in a technical way, you may need to look elsewhere, or follow up the sources used in the talk.

The main thing I took away from the talk is Despommier's bottom line, or sine qua non, or key aim that there should be adequate water and nutrition for every human being as a birthright (ie not something that you have to work for, nor something which is granted to you by a government or other person or institution). Also, he actually quantifies 'adequate' as being 2.3 litres of fresh water and 1500 calories in food per person per day. I have no means to challenge these quantities, nor reason to doubt them, but having even a working estimate enables calculations to be done and gives clarity for planning purposes over and above the more nebulous/subjective "adequate".