The Quotidian

Evolving perspectives on evolving challenges

Tag: economics

The locavore myth or why vegetarians will save the world

by Kai Hsing

As the real-world benefits of buying local and organic food prove to be negligible, is going veggie our only hope?

localvore-lgIf switching from incandescent to CFL light bulbs is a first step towards indoctrination into ‘San Francisco values,’ then eating locally is surely a close second, with a dedication from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma before every meal. But even amongst those who haven’t read Pollan’s ode to locally grown, traditionally prepared food that would make your grandmother salivate, there’s been an obvious renewed interest in farmer’s markets and organic produce with a pushback against the industrialization of the food industry in recent years.

On a certain level, this passion for foodie culture is a perfect example of DIY grassroots activism done right, with a populist message and tangible results that can be achieved quickly and cheaply. Nearly anyone can make a consumer choice to support local farmers, especially with the number of farmers markets in this country nearly doubling in the past decade. Or better yet, anyone can grow their own vegetables, a trend confirmed by the White House gardens started by first lady Michelle Obama earlier this year. There’s also the issues the modern food movement touches upon – ranging from health to poverty and consumerism – that are anything but controversial for either side of the ideological seismic fault you happen to be on. Read the rest of this entry »

Bombay or bust: outsourcing to save lives

by Kai Hsing

Is outsourcing medical services using digital technology the way to slash health care costs?

via Associated Press

via Associated Press

Let’s not forget that the ongoing discussion debate firestorm about health care is not only about ideology – however real or falsified – but also about fundamental economic costs. Wheether you’re for or against health care reform, most will agree that increasing health care costs by almost 10 percent yearly and having employees shoulder more of the costs is an unsustainable trend under any system.

So the question remains: just how are we going to reduce costs? Sure, there’s been lots of talk about increasing competition between plans, making generic drugs more available and eliminating many of the bureaucratic redundancies that siphon off more money than necessary.

For example, one of Obama’s main strategies to reduce costs is by creating a digital medical record system, which by some estimates could save $200 to $300 billion a year – though implementation won’t be easy. Having a digital database is long overdue and a no-brainer – it’s simply prodding the health industry towards the 21st century and in line with how the world works.

But what about more radical approaches that infuse technology into the actual care itself? Read the rest of this entry »

Do we pay too much for our cheap goods?

by The Quotidian

A new book examines the real price we pay to have consumer goods at relatively low cost – but offers few ideas to get us out of the mess.

One of the joys of an undergraduate economics education is the feeling that comes over you during your first or second year of having been inducted into a secret society – a sort of Harry Potter world with its own language, its own subculture, and its own special selection of intellectual tools. These are almost like little magic spells that allow you to see the world in a different way: as a world of hidden relations and counterintuitive mechanisms, a world that the Muggles can’t see though it’s right there in front of them.

Of course, this feeling is illusory, and soon fades – not just because real economics is a bit messier than the introductory stuff, but also because just about anyone can learn these basic tools and easily apply them to journalistic effect.

For example, take the concept of externalities. Freshman economics students discover that only some small subset of the costs and benefits of a transaction are explicitly reflected in the price. Read the rest of this entry »

The revenge of Thomas Edison

by Kai Hsing

The banning of incandescent light bulbs has been seen as a major victory for the environmental movement – but now they’re making a comeback. Here’s why.



The quintessential, iconic action of the contemporary green movement has been changing your light bulb from the warm, soft rays of the 19th-century incandescent light bulb to the super-efficient yet somewhat muted compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb. Making the switch is an obvious choice, no matter if your priorities are economical or environmental – a CFL bulb promises savings of more than $30 over the course of its longer lifespan while also slowing the emission of greenhouse gases due to its reduced energy use.

One could see the CFL bulb as forming a sort of subliminal trinity for optimists and changemakers worldwide – switching to the new bulbs is demonstrably world-changing and cost-cutting at the same time, as well as being able to affect sweeping legislative changes in a relatively short amount of time. Unsurprisingly, the EU and Canada are on track to phase out old-school incandescents in the next few years, and even the U.S. is in the mix with a 2012 target date (though Venezuela and Cuba beat us all by banning them back in 2005). Read the rest of this entry »

Buying patriotism in the age of transparency

by Kai Hsing

Obama’s push to “Buy American” should make us all realize the need for real, raw information to be made readily available to consumers.



Going to work today, I took a train made by an Italian company that was assembled here in California while sipping Ethiopian coffee and reading a book printed in China – a now almost-cliché scenario replicated across communities throughout the U.S. with any combination of products and origins. Whether it’s a car instead of a train or Mexico instead of China, it’s nothing new to say that our economy has long been inevitably and inextricably global.

Which is why President Obama’s push for all of us to “Buy American” seemed to be a rather tired rhetorical device aimed at placating the xenophobic masses. Indeed, we all know that conditions of a globalized economy can be questionable at best, but there will be no return to a feudalistic retrofuturism anytime soon.

But what has changed in our lifetime is that global capitalism has gotten so complex and shape-shifting that we’ve long needed a redefinition of what “Buy American” really means.

A recent article in the New York Times that tried to sort out the anguishing identity crises of labeling automobiles as “American” or “foreign” found that:

… “domestic content” is not domestic at all. For the purposes of the window sticker, the government has decided that domestic content will include parts made in Canada. Under the North American Free Trade Act, domestic is even less clear because it also includes Mexico.

Read the rest of this entry »


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