Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard commnets.

21 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. John, this is something that could be worth elaboration in a future post.

    When an industry is made more economically efficient, so the real price of its products falls and more people can afford them, what happens to the savings?

    Sometimes, as we saw with electronic items like computers, market penetration goes from 0.001 to 80% and the product becomes almost universally owned. But what about other products, eg clothing and furniture? No matter how cheap these goods become there is a limit to the amount people will buy.

    So the surplus dollars have to go somewhere else.

    My hypothesis is that when an industry producing ineleastic goods becomes more efficient (whether through competition or reduced tariffs), the extra money goes to inefficient industries. Hence gains get squandered, and despite industry reform, as a whole we are no better off than when we started.

    We all cheer when the price of manufactures falls and productivity rises. Living standards and buying power for consumers increases without inflation. Hence reducing prices by cutting tariffs and opening markets is seen as being a good thing.

    But even though houses are as important as the things we put in them, the attitude seems different with house prices. Instead of viewing this as ‘inefficiency’ or an ‘unproductive’ market, those of us who own homes celebrate how much equity we’ve ‘gained’. And, it is a gain if compared to the prices of manufacturing goods, though not if against other houses.

    Falling house prices is seen as being a sign of recession, and therfore a bad thing, even though it could also be seen as greater efficiency and productivity.

    Also promoting ‘industry efficiency’ in one sector could just as equally promote inefficiency in another, so we are not necessarily more productive as a whole.

    Strange isn’t it?

  2. Hmmm, Peter, you may have something here. Lets scrap all those inefficient industries! We shall renege on all advances in agricultural technology. All inefficient industries (in fact all industries) will fall by the wayside, as each of us desperately tills the soil daylight till dark, 365 days of the year, just to get almost enough to eat.

  3. Leaving aside the fact that we would only be working 20 hours or so per week in agricultural subsistence per se, the place savings go, if not consumption, is investment (ignoring taxes, debt servicing and similar things for the moment).

  4. Does anyone have any information about the types of drugs useful for dealing with a possible bird flu epidemic? How expensive are they, how effective and what are their use-by dates? A prominent medico has stated in the press that he has stockpiled drugs for his family and I am thinking about a similar investment. It seems to me prudent if the cost is low enough and provided there is some effectiveness. Some are estimating the probability of an epidemic at 0.1.

    Does an ordinary flu injection improve your chances of resisting to some degree an epidemic?

    I assume that optimal non-drug strategies in the event of an epidemic are to basically stay home, minimise contact, wash hands etc.

  5. PM Lawrence: Begging your pardon, but agricultural subsistence will occupy closer 120 hours per week. Without making use of advances in agricultural technology, the amount of time left over for other pursuits is nil.

    Advances in agricultural technology are responsible for us having the time & savings to invest in other scientific advances (comparitive luxuries). Without advances in agircultural technology, we are all as peasants.

  6. Steve wrote: ‘Advances in agricultural technology are responsible for us having the time & savings to invest in other scientific advances (comparitive luxuries). ‘

    Following on from that, advances/efficiencies in old industries create opportunties for new industries and so on.

    I wonder if it’s then possible to get to a point where all the efficiency gains go on things that can’t be as readily made more efficient.

    My example was house prices, but other examples could be in the human services area, such as private education and private health cover, the prices for both of which seem to be inflating more than CPI. When prices inflate faster than CPI we have decreased productivity, unless improvements in service quality can be substantiated.

    Note that my previous comments were not so much discussing industry protection, but more expressing a paradox that what is widely thought productive for one type of industry (eg manufacturing) is not pursued with equal vigour in other areas (despite their importance for consumers and businesses).

  7. I should have added that one possible reason for the difference is that manufactured goods are part of a competitive global market, whereas private education, health insurance and real estate are still very domestic location-specific markets.

  8. It depends on the datum line for agricultural subsistence, doesn’t it? This is purely a weekend bit of fun, because Peter is not arguing against progress, but perhaps suggesting there are better ways of channeling the gains.

    If we take agricultural subsistence to its absolute base, we would think of a mobile culture harvesting what is available naturally according to a route established by the seasons. The experts tell us that this involves no more than five hours of work per day. As the Aborigines would tell us, it worked for a long time.

    I presume you can imagine an agricultural system on claggy soil with a wood plough and a despotic overlord grossly obese in some nearby mead hall, where people are too poor to have draught animals. That would be pretty labour intensive.

    But I gues anyone going back to nature today would opt for a sort of a
    Amish lifestyle, with double ploughs with steel disks, large draught horses, a few milk cows, some merino sheep and a brace of kids to pinch out the caterpillars from the maize.

    I don’t think that is particularly time consuming – the Amish manage it with enough time to read, commune with God and watch their neighbours to make sure no-one uses any electricity.

    I don’t like that lifestyle – I would be bored rotten because I like a society with a lot more specialisation. And there are probably too many people on the planet to feed without the production of large surpluses in some places. And I just love the products of highly industrialised system of health care, churning out stretchy bandages, nifty antibiotics and fine, fine scalpels. Not to mention a helicopter ambulance.

    But I don’t think it lacks leisure.

  9. I have purchased the Australian flu anti-viral drug “Ralenza” and it costs just on $50 for a course(tablets ,which one breaks into a special inhalator,all in a package.) One must only take if one feels like your coming down with flu …any flu ..and one inhals the tablets./powder ,twice daily for 5 days.It should check the progress of the flu,and one recovers…hopefullyYou need to have a Doctor’s perscription….and find a chemist who still has some in stock,or can get some. There is an oral tablet called “Tamiflu” (American I believe) which has gone off the market as the Federal Government is stockpiling it(accoding to Tony Abbott)and had already sent 50,000 courses to Indonesia to help there . I understand that none of the Vaccines now available will be any help. The NY Times today in a major piece says that the US Govt. is”woefully under-prepared” for a pandemic…They have spent $7 billion on preparing for a “bio-terror attack” that hasn’t come!..George is off the mark again !There is only one major maker of vaccines in the US,because the big companies think there is no profit in them,and vaccines are brought from Canada .I was in The US last year,and there was a shortage of “flu vaccines,and people were queuing all night to get new stocks as they arrived from Canada.The Canadians have a big vaccine production operation underway,but the US has virtually nothing in the way of production facilities,and if the response to the New Orleans” disaster is any guide,heavens help the American people,if they are depending on Dysfuntional George and his cronies (and I mean CRONIES)

  10. >But I gues anyone going back to nature today would opt for a sort of a
    Amish lifestyle, with double ploughs with steel disks, large draught horses, a few milk cows, some merino sheep and a brace of kids to pinch out the caterpillars from the maize.

    >I don’t think that is particularly time consuming – the Amish manage it with enough time to read, commune with God and watch their neighbours to make sure no-one uses any electricity.

    Actually the Amish lifestyle would probably be unsustainable without the supply of cheap manufactured goods from the outside world (like the ploughs you mention); selective use of modern technology (Amish consult doctors in life-threatening situations; they use modern transport when they need to travel long distances) and affluent “worldly” customers prepared to pay a premium for their food and handcrafts.

  11. “The Canadians have a big vaccine production operation underway,but the US has virtually nothing in the way of production facilities…”

    The Canadians are gearing up to produce 30 million doses over four months if required. That’s enough for their entire population but not much comfort to anyone else.

    “if the response to the New Orleansâ€? disaster is any guide,”

    I yield to no-one in my contempt for King George but it would be a mistake to write off the US because of Katrina. Katrina was an unfortunate confluence of the worst case disaster and incompetence at every level of government.

    The US actually has one of the best disaster response systems in the world – even five years of The Handpuppet hasn’t been enough to undermine that.

  12. Harry, I share your interest in anti-viral drugs and their effectiveness against avian flu. Stockpiling is certainly occurring, but I question the degree to which this would be useful.

    My understanding is that high dosage of some existing drugs may offer protection, but the challenge is (a) that we don’t have enough of these drugs to fend of an epidemic and (b) the main problem with avian flu is that it has the potential to mutate when it comes into contact with other (human-borne) viruses. It would then become far more contagious.

    That second point is the clincher – we cannot say that existing drugs will work against the resultant strain, and obviously cannot develop anti-viral drugs until we have actually seen that mutation. Some suggest that the virus has in fact mutated already.

    If you have time, I’d recommend this piece by Mike Davis:

    http://www.tomdispatch.org/index.mhtml?pid=13470

    The Wikipedia entry on Tamiflu is useful, too. And thanks to Brian and Tony for the link and info.

  13. Thanks to the various respondents to my question on bird virus treatments. After going to the sites suggested and other related sites of the drug treatments the best privately available anti-viral seems to me to be Tamiflu which the Australian government is stockpiling and which it has recently sent to Indonesia. These actions seem to contradict some recently stated claims that the anti-viral is useless although it is fair to say there are questions about it and the other treatments being sold. Its the usual paternalistic government line — don’t worry, don’t panic — Uncle Abbot will look after you. Perhaps too, trying to prevent buying while it is adding to its own stocks.

    A difficulty with Tamiflu is securing supplies. More supplies are arriving in November although it is advertised for sale on the web now. It is quite expensive to buy enough for a family that would provide cover for say a three month period. There are some questions too about its use for a period longer than 5 weeks.

    It is interesting that plans to deal with a potential flu epidemic are mainly being devised at the government/public administration level. One would have thought that households and firms should be involved in planning to deal with such events. I will try to secure a supply of Tamiflu for my own family and we will probably all have flu injections to generally build resistence against related bugs. I am interested in other suggestions.

    I guess trying to stay healthy and taking lots of natural anti-oxidants is an inexpensive no-regrets option. Also avoiding crowds of people and airline travel if an epidemic does arrive and dealing with any flu-like symptoms early seems sensible.

  14. Once an industry reaches saturation efficiency point two things happen:
    1/. The general public take for granted the product of that industry (eg, telephones, food, GP’s medical services, cars etc).
    2/. That industry is not longer lucrative to invest in, despite its continuation being essential for our society to function the way it does. The best & brightest, the most entrepreneurial & the discretionary investment dollar are all directed elsewhere, perhaps to a new (& inefficient) industry.

    Are gains squandered? In many cases perhaps, but also a deluge of brains & resources onto an industry may well result in that industry becoming more efficient.

  15. There’s been some speculation that Tamiflu won’t work against avain flu, but I can’t find a reliable source for this, and as far as I can see it is unlikely, at least in the early stages of an epidemic. Consequently stockpiling is probably fairly effective. The danger is that in an epidemic people will take their stocks immediately, and a month later have run out and be vulnerable again.

    In regard to taking vacinnes against other strains, the jury seems to be out on whether that is a useful thing to do on an individual basis, but it is certainly good socially. One of the biggest problems we have in preparing for the virus is that there are not enough vaccine production facilities worldwide, because there is not enough demand for vaccines against current strains. By getting vaccinated against the current strains you not only help protect yourself against some unpleasant strains, you encourage the drug companies to build more facilities that can be switched over when we need them.

  16. No human being is prepared and the force behind this newly created “popluation control measure” and “fear force”. It is as Dark as the ages past. The only preparation one can really make is to connect to Light energy and The Christ. Refuse to “choose” the illness as a possible reality ands “believe” universal life forces can offer us something beautiful and joyful, opposed to choosing disease, oppression and suffering. Be careful what you “choose”.
    God bless us all.

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