I have an excellent a clear-cut example of the market can fail both workers and consumers in the service of owners.

Target is currently facing a fairly large petition to not open until a reasonable hour on Black Friday so its employees can actually spend Thanksgiving with family. You might think this is just a workers issue, but it isn't. Many consumers have signed this petition, and the general trend of retail outlets opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday is anti-consumer.

And here's why. Basically people show up early to make sure they can get certain gifts before they're sold out. For those people, it's very worth it to show up before the store opens to make sure they get their chosen gift.

But each store then has an incentive to open before the others. The first store that opens gets the lions share of those consumers.

But those consumers don't actually want to wake up at 3am to get to the store before it opens. They'd be much happier waking up at 6am, or even later. But because the stores are now competing with each other to open earlier, they are forced to choose between getting the gift they want or waking up extremely early to get to the store to make sure it's not out of stock.

The 'invisible hand' of the market creates a destructive cycle that's bad for everybody.

I'm not certain what a good solution to this problem is. One would hope a gentleman's agreement on a decent opening time would work. But I doubt it would. Especially since front-line store employees have little input into honoring these sorts of agreements.

But the point is here that the free market creates a situation in which both consumers and employees get the short end of the stick. They both end up in a situation neither of them desire.

I've been paying a lot of attention to bitcoin recently. It's a fascinating idea, and I'm really curious as to where it will go. But reading the comments on the Internet about it is even more interesting, though also kind of upsetting. People say the most ridiculous and stupid things, and it's all out of nearly violent emotion. I don't really understand.

Some people say ridiculous things like "It can only go up!" (in reference to the USD/Bitcoin exchange rate) or "It can't fail!". Optimism beyond the point of sanity. Bitcoin can fail. It can fail if it turns out that nobody wants to accept it. Currency that nobody will trade anything for is just as useful as a small piece of paper, and in bitcoin's case, even less useful. And that's a very definite possible future of bitcoin.

People also go through all kinds of logical contortions to declare it a scam. But it doesn't fit the definition of a ponzi scheme any more than any other currency does, nor does it fit the definition of a pyramid scheme at all. The closest it comes to is a hot tech stock. And nobody calls those scams unless they accuse them of 'pump and dump'. But 'pump and dump' doesn't fit the profile of most people who are interested in bitcoins and are trading them either.

And then people declare it valueless, as if any currency (even gold) has any intrinsic value beyond people's willingness to trade stuff for it.

Very few people talk about the worthiness of the cryptography. But even the ones who do paint either incredibly rosy pictures or ridiculous apocalyptic scenarios, neither of which really approach the truth of things.

I just find the way people ignore any reason and base their opinions on pure emotion to be kind of upsetting. And I notice this in a lot of arguments. But the arguments over bitcoin are almost comical in just how incredibly intense this phenomena is. The only thing that makes it not comical is that you realize these people are deadly serious.

I think a lot of people have a lot of unexamined hang-ups about the meaning of money. It's deeply tied to their fundamental beliefs about politics, ethics, morality, and even self-worth. I think most people are terribly unequipped to tease these things apart and examine them separately. Money is 'magic'. People do not see it as the societal cooperation tool that it is.

I think, perhaps, that is one of the most valuable parts of the bitcoin project. Its nature provides a handle or a window for examining money as a societal and organizational tool. I suspect most people won't be able to take advantage of this, but I suspect many will, and our society will become richer for it.

Suicide is so common in Chinese iPad factories that the company has taken to forcing prospective employees to sign no-suicide pacts.

Talk about treating the symptom instead of the disease.

A friend of mine has pointed out that this story is made to seem a lot worse than it really is. In particular the suicide at Foxconn plants is much lower than it is at other similar facilities in China. He is also not much of a fan of Apple the company, so he doesn't have a fanboy bias. I'm not completely sure I agree with this way of looking at things, but here is what he wrote, so you can make up your own minds:

This story has been highly sensationalized. The reality is almost exactly the opposite of what you read.

  1. Eighteen Foxconn employees committed suicide in 2010 [1]... out of 920,000 workers [2]. That's a rate much lower than the Chinese average of 66 per million [3], which itself is like half of the American average of 111 per million [3].
  2. Apple is just one of many Foxconn clients. Others include Amazon (Kindle), Intel, Dell, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung, and many others [2]. Apple products are a small minority of Foxconn's output, yet the media calls them the "iPad factory". This is obviously intended to sensationalize the story -- scandal involving Apple is much more interesting that scandal involving Samsung.

I suspect that Foxconn came up with these no-suicide pledges in a desperate attempt to placate the media, and due to cultural differences they don't understand that to the American audience it only makes them look worse.


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