Friday, October 27, 2006


(Yet) Another data point suggesting general innumeracy among the french-fry demographic

I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd report my latest experience connected to the above subject line.

Recently, I was at a local McDonalds. I like fast food. What's not to like? It's (usually) fast, and it's (usually) food. Both instances of "usually" really have the same cause, and sadly, I think it has something to do with the fact that hundreds of other employers aren't in a big rush to hire the average person you'd find working in a fast food restaurant.

Those of you who are old enough to remember the comedic stylings of Sinbad may also remember that part of his original schtick was to philosophize on the fast food restaurant cashier. How cash registers went from having numbers on them to having pictures of food on them. How making change becomes an adventure when a power outage takes down the registers. (Yes I've seen that one, and no, it isn't pretty.) The point here is that what Sinbad is saying wouldn't be nearly as funny if it weren't so depressingly true.

Back to the story - on the day in question, I ordered a typical value meal. The cashier asked me if I'd like to enlarge it. I hadn't had lunch that day - and it was actually getting close to dinner time - so I said that I would. She punched a few more buttons, looked up to me, and said those magic words...

"Eleven forty."

If this were a different kind of comedy, I'd tell you that the first thing that I did was resist the urge to look down at my mobile phone and correct her on her telling of the time. I wish I had. No, all I did was stand there dumbfounded, looking at the menu, and then at her.

In retrospect I don't know which of a number of things annoyed me more: that my meal might actually have cost that much (and really, it wasn't that), that she stood there with no sense of cosmic irony as to how gloriously wrong the total was, (while I stood there dumbstruck, I still had the mental awareness to do some calculating in the interest of figuring out just what in the hell she'd done wrong) or that she looked at me just slightly as though I were the stupid one in all of this. When I didn't go right for the wallet, she said something to the effect of "You did ask for the large meal," a defense she repeated when her manager came over to see just what the hold up was.

As it turns out, she had entered the regular combo meal, and then entered a second enlarged combo meal by way of enlarging the orignal combo. So much for replacing numbers with names.

Now I will admit to never having worked in food service. The woman who took my order told me (by way of apology) that she had been there all day and was about 15 minutes from ending her shift - whether that last bit should have made me more or less confident is an exercise left to the the reader. And just so those of you who have worked food service have the right idea before you begin pelting me with ketchup packets, there was absolutely no rush at all at the time that I was there. I was the only person in line.

At least I got my food, and I only spent in the mid-one figure to get it...

Next time, we'll talk about how bad McDonald's fries are since they supposedly stopped frying them in beef tallow.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Contrarian Economics

I'm lost at how the trade deficit is a bad thing (for the US).

We get stuff. They get cash, which because of the continued implicit devaluation of US currency means that the cash we sent them becomes worth less over time. So when they go to buy stuff with their cash, they'll get less bang for the buck, so to speak. So it looks like to me they're (they being the ones running a trade surplus with us) getting the raw end of the deal.

Of course over time, the currency devaluation would drive up the cost of imports meaning we'll import less, but if that's a bad thing, then why is the trade deficit also a bad thing?

Or suppose the money is reinvested in capital purchases in the US. Is foreign investment now a bad thing?

Or suppose they buy debt (FYI, only about 1/3 of the national debt is foreign owned). But doesn't the increased demand for debt drive down interest rates? And aren't lower interest rates a good thing?

As calculated, a trade deficit reduces GDP which makes sense by the theory that the money spent overseas could've been spent on an equivalent (but presumably more expensive/inferior good)domestic good and theoretically increasing domestic employment and furthering later GDP gains from added productivity gains. But I'm dubious that this effect negates the positives of a trade deficit and globally, it's a clearly less efficient use of resources (the deficit is assumed to have occured because a better/cheaper good is made overseas than in the US) and artificially reducing trade deficits clearly decreases gross domestic consumption.

Now if we were on a gold standard so that the currency wasn't devaluing and we had some non-market priced good we had to exchange for the cash, then we could have a problem.

Tell me where I'm wrong.


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