Tag Archives: NYT

Food inflation is here!

Chips are disappearing from bags, candy from boxes and vegetables from cans, the New York Times warned this week. With rising costs of production and an economy that continues to lag, food inflation has arrived.

It’s not just the increase in costs for food baskets, and it’s not just Michelle Obama’s push to skinny-size America. The great American recession has hit food producers as hard as it’s hit the rest of us:

It’s called “chiseling,” and this time it doesn’t refer to your washboard abs — at least not directly. Chiseling is the practice of selling marginally smaller packages for about the same price.

If market demand doesn’t cover increased production costs for that same 6-ounce can of tuna, the manufacturer has to sell a 5-oz can. Chiseling is smart business. The alternative is to keep failing to cover costs for those same 6 ounces, and eventually go out of business.

Chiseling isn’t just smart business; the policy aligns perfectly with government priorities. First Lady Michelle Obama wants a national size-awareness campaign? Great; smaller packages mean fewer calories. Green initiatives pushing for less packaging? Fantastic; smaller boxes use less cardboard.

For consumers, food is about feeding ourselves and our families. Food producers see the market differently. Green interests, the diet industry, subsidies for sugar and wheat — these are all major hurdles manufacturers have to balance, or else face going out of business.

The US pays about $20 billion a year to farmers in direct farm subsidies. Our $60 billion/year diet industry grows about 6% annually.

With so many mixed market cues it’s a wonder the food industry hasn’t already undergone major restructuring.

The diet industry is business. Non-fat yogurt purveyors want to help dieting folks lose weight, but if everyone were happy with our girths there’d be little market for less-flavorful yogurts.

Same goes for the greenies. Ostensibly their goal is to get us all back to prehistoric emissions levels — but by printing their message in magazines and airing “green” TV ads they contribute to just the emissions build-up they caution against.

Get-fit incentives should counsel consumers to breeze right past the diet industry’s push towards unsustainable calorie counts into the healthy territory of moderation. Instead we’re seeing growth at the extreme ends of the spectrum. A nearly- $60 billion/year diet industry grows over 6% annually, while the super-sized fast food industry tops $170 billion. Just today Denny’s introduced their new maple bacon sundae for their all-bacon, all-the-time festival, “Baconalia.”

Americans are the fattest people in the world. Food production in this country is among the most artificially inflated in the world.

Smaller package sizes are frustrating for hungry folks, but small steps towards portion size deflation beats market collapse and another supersize bailout any day.

Chiseling is the first step towards more reasonable growth in America.



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Rach the Parks

Rach the Parks

This week New York City will join three other cities worldwide in featuring a new kind of installation art. Sixty pianos will be scattered throughout the city, designed to encourage passers-by to sit down and play.

After fighting for years to meet pedestrians’ demand for benches and public bathrooms, Play Me, I’m Yours is representative of New York’s push to embrace its creative class.

Decades of rent controlled buildings sent prices skyrocketing in the city for those not fortunate to score a price-capped apartment. Artists in residence who once thrived in the city have found themselves pushed out of New York seeking a lifestyle that permits artists to focus on their creative product.

London, Sao Paolo, and Sydney have already embraced the “Play Me, I’m Yours” Project. New York’s sixty pianos will double the Project’s reigning largest installation; London had only thirty pianos last year.

Charitable organization Sing for Hope asked local artists to decorate the pianos, all of which were donated for the event. Each instrument will rest from June 21st to July 5th across public areas and parks in fifty locations.

Sing for Hope cites “bringing people together” as its purpose:

[Project Founder] Luke Jerram got the idea at his local coin-operated laundry, according to a website about the project. He saw the same people there every weekend, but none of them talked to each other. He thought a piano might help bring people together in places like that.

The results in other cities have been surprising and life-changing, he said in an interview. A woman in Sao Paulo heard her daughter play for the first time on one of Jerram’s pianos in a train station. The mother had worked to pay for lessons for four years, but the family had no piano at home.

In Sydney, a couple met at a piano and are now married, Jerram said.

There will be twenty-seven pianos in Manhattan, ten in Brooklyn, five in Queens and four each in Staten Island and the Bronx.

Each piano will come equipped with an “anti-theft device” — a cinder block chained to its case — and a protective tarp for nights and rainy days. “Piano buddies” will attend each instrument, unlocking its cover at 9:00 every morning, securing it at 10pm and remaining generally responsible for its care.

Even in the embryonic stage the project encourages communities to cooperate. Asked why she asked volunteers to paint the pianos, Sing for Hope co-founder Camille Zamora cited a desire to keep the pianos accessible, according to the New York Times. Ms. Zamora told a Times reporter: “We want communities where the pianos go to feel the pianos are theirs, that you don’t have to take 20 years of lessons.”

Even should the pianos fail to cohere divergent communities, this project will permit individuals to tap into their creative sides. Statistically this spurs innovation, which in turn rejuvenates morale overall.

The pianos will be installed in the following locations around New York City:


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Behavior : Legislation :: Chicken : Egg

Brilliant letter from Prof. Boudreaux to the Saturday NYT:

Reacting to Rand Paul’s remarks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, you say that his libertarian philosophy “is a theory of liberty with roots in America’s creation, but the succeeding centuries have shown how ineffective it was in promoting a civil society….  It was only government power that … abolished Jim Crow” (“Limits of Libertarianism,” May 22).

You’ve got it backwards.  Jim Crow itself was government power.  Jim Crow was legislation that forced the segregation of blacks from whites.  Research shows that people acting in the free market that you apparently believe is prone to racial discrimination were remarkably reluctant to discriminate along racial lines.  It was this very reluctance – this capacity of free markets to make people colorblind – that obliged racists in the late 19th century to use government to achieve their loathsome goals.*

Had Mr. Paul’s libertarian philosophy been followed more consistently throughout American history, there would have been no need for one government statute (the Civil Rights Act) to upend earlier government statutes (Jim Crow) and the business practices that they facilitated.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* See especially Robert Higgs, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914 (University of Chicago Press, 1976); Jennifer Roback, “Southern Labor Law in the Jim Crow Era: Exploitative or Competitive?” University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 51 (1984); and Jennifer Roback, “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 46 (1986).


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Very Formative Papers

Any book a reasonably intelligent person reads between the ages of 14-16 becomes a Very Formative Book.  “Formative” can be positive or negative, but during those impressionable years, any book worth reading will leave the young reader with a strong sense of accepting or rejecting the author’s view.

I spent the first part of that window (perhaps inauspiciously) reading everything ever written by Ayn Rand, then Aristotle, and I finished those Formative Years — exhausted from pedantics, probably — on the opposite end of the spectrum, with Noam Chomsky and Jack Kerouac.

Wisdom of spending those formative years on officious writing aside, this is fact imitiating fiction.  There’s a scene in The Fountainhead where Gail Wynand, future newspaper tycoon, learns what capitalism looks like when devoid of integrity.  When Wynand was at that Formative Age his boss demonstrated how to run a newspaper.

The paper ran two articles, side by side, both asking for donations.  One showed a promsing young scientist who wanted to experiment with the 1950’s equivalent of stem cell research.  Next to it ran a photo of pregnant teenager with an already-existent brood and no known father.  Only the teenager brought in any donations, to the tune of, say, $15,000; the scientist garnered maybe $218.

Object lesson?  Empathy pays.

Today the NYT ran an article about why Dan Froomkin was fired.  Apparently it “wasn’t ideological”; he simply wasn’t pushing enough paper.

The Article:

The political columnist Dan Froomkin was hired by The Huffington Post last week, two short weeks after being fired by a more traditional Post, the venerable newspaper in Washington.

Dan Froomkin’s White House Watch column. Its popularity declined with the departure of the Bush administration.

In his departure from The Washington Post, there may be a lesson for journalists: keep close tabs on Web traffic.

Mr. Froomkin said that executives told him that they were reviewing all contracts for the Web site. The two sides had clashed in the past over the column, including over Mr. Froomkin’s tendency to criticize the news media. Mr. Rosen said he believed The Post cited traffic declines to feed its narrative that “the column had run its course.”

The paper’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, said in a blog post that “reduced traffic played a big role” in the decision. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of The Post, told The City Paper that “his traffic had gone way down.”

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