23 September 2010

Marijuana Legalization and "Big" Beer

Marginal Revolution had a post today about beer companies lobbying AGAINST legal pot. Four important points come to mind.

Would it not be a natural extension of large beer makers that have been losing substantial market share in the US over the last few years (such as Miller, Coors, AB, etc.) to get into selling legalized marijuana?  They already have massive, arguably the best in the country, distribution networks (possibly the topic of a future post), and I would assume that marijuana when legalized nation wide will be vended by similarly licensed and controlled retailers that alcohol is now.  It would not even surprise me if pot ended up being sold by the very same retailers as alcohol. 

Secondly, are alcohol and marijuana really substitute goods? As far as I know most people who consume marijuana for non medical reasons also consume alcohol.

Third,  perhaps the larger American brewing companies should focus their money on developing products to compete with those they are losing market share to.  That is, AB, and other large brew conglomerates should try making good beer instead of spending a ton of money on marketing and advertising to get us to drink their low alcohol product that both looks and smells like urine (enter lite beer of your choice here).  

Finally I think any alcohol producer/retailer in the United States that is worried about legalized marijuana is underestimating just how much drugs, including alcohol,  the American working class is willing and able to consume as our economic and social lives deteriorate and we stay unaware of our exploitation except subconsciously through voices in our heads that need to be silenced with "product".

On the Paradox Between Specialization and Diversification

This  topic is on my mind because of reading a random anthropology based book on early human history in Africa last night.   The author points out a paradox in a young community between specializing in a certain survival strategy (hunting, agriculture, raising animals, etc.) and diversification into many.  The underlying goal of a community is, of course, population growth. and long term (multi-generation) survival. 

The specialized community if successful will become very good at whatever survival strategy they have selected.  They become very good farmers or very good hunters etc.  The diversified community will not gain the same high level of skill in any one area, but are much more likely to be able to survive a disaster that makes one style of gaining food temporarily unavailable.  A specialized agricultural society will be able to grow faster than a diverse society as long as harvests are good, when a drought comes the diverse society will be more likely to survive until the rain comes than a specialized society. 

These ideas are also common in the realms of economics and finance.  Classical economics is filled with ideas of the (forced) division of labor, that is, specialization being what makes capitalism so much more productive than all systems that have come before it.   Finance literature is filled with claims that diversification will mediate risk and make a successful investor. 

What is more important to me today is how this paradox also enters into the realms of personal choice.  I have lived my life along the safe route of diversification chosen by communities that survive but do not grow.  If kicked out of academia (possibly because of mediocre blog posts such as this one), I have many skills to fall back on.  I can bartend (still do), I could get a job in the construction trades (through a little creative padding of my resume), I can manage workers fairly successfully.  The flip side of my attempt at becoming a modern renaissance man is that I have not spent as much time specializing as many of my colleagues.

I am doomed to watch people younger than myself finish their dissertations before I do.  Also doomed (possibly) to not achieve as much success in my chosen profession as quickly as I could have if I had spent more of my time specialized on economics, and less time partaking in a diverse set of activities. 

Have I made a good choice? I guess we will see if the drought comes ever comes. 

Finally, I have used the word paradox without fully explaining it.  The paradox only truly arises when a community's goals are both fast growth and survival during disaster (evolutionary biology tells us that it almost always is.)

21 September 2010

A Personal Experience With For Profit Health Care

I have never felt strongly about the health care debate in the United States, that is, beyond the ridiculousness of the media here insisting on calling single payer (government), still for profit health insurance systems socialism. 

I have always considered people that advocate for leftist health plans as allies in the struggle against big capital, but not given the issues much thought beyond that. 

This changed today.  I have a bad cold at the moment, nothing serious, just enough to drive me to visit a primary care doctor for the first time in a couple of years.  Due to an administrative lapse on my part I did not re-enroll for my insurance until the beginning of last week.  My insurance had lapsed at the end of July. Therefore, I am covered, but the pharmacy has no record of that, since I have not yet received my new insurance card.  Attempting to fill the two prescriptions that I was given at the doctor this morning I was presented with a bill of $370.  $320 for the branded drug, and $50 for the generic. 

I understand the theoretical underpinnings of patent protection for drug developers and intellectual property in general, but this does not at all explain a $50 price for the generic drug (and the excessivness of $320 on a patented drug for a drug company making billions is a whole separate issue). 

I don't have the energy for a long theoretic post here, suffice to say that I now understand how serious the American health care debate is.  Sometimes it takes a personal experience to open one's eyes.  It is frankly shameful that a developed, wealthy nation would allow something like this to happen to its citizens every day.  In theory I could afford a one time loss of $400 but that is really not the point.

As it turned out, I was able to solve the issue and gain my prescriptions for a reasonable price (after wasting half of my work day on the phone). The more important issue here is with the people in this country who do not have coverage.  There is no reason why the US should not have universal prescription coverage, especially considering that per capita we take more drugs than any other country in the world.   I worry what would happen to friends of mine who own their own businesses (one especially comes to mind) who chose not to purchase private coverage at a price in excess of $5000 a year if they did become sick. 

How can we expect small businesses to be the engines of economic recovery when one moderate health concern would sink almost all small businesses into bankruptcy? 

I suppose my ignorance and (over)reaction to how serious the failing of the American health system really is can be chalked up to living in Canada until I was 20 years old, and my privilege and luck of having jobs that have provided coverage since becoming an American.  I know their are many problems in the treatment of the American working class in this capitalist system, I just am shocked (and appalled at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) at how serious this one is.  I find it disgusting that in a country that can spend more per capita on health care than any other in the developed world would have hundreds of thousands of people out there who can't afford basic prescription coverage. 

Add one more to the problems of capitalism, but then again, people who are worried about where their next meal will come from are too busy to start a revolution and I guess people who can't afford basic health care are too sick to start a revolution so all of this should not have come as such a surprise to me.

Finally, I realize that I sound ignorant of a major social problem in the country that I live in by posting this, but I think it is important enough to share my experience that my ignorance is worth exposing in this case.