- Banksy, AdBusters interview backintheday
The issue is not that these choices are available, the issue is that these choices crowd out the sensible ones. There's a lot of fallacious product design in toothbrushes. At the same time, it makes sense to apply what we know about dental hygiene to what we know about human habit to what we know about materials science to what we know about merchandising because even an expensive toothbrush is what? $4? $5? That's before you get into the land of Sonicare and its ilk and there are justifications to that, too. I have a $140 toothbrush. It was recommended to me by my dentist over my $100 toothbrush because apparently I was brushing hard enough to require some repair at the gumline to the tune of $900 billed to my insurance. The difference? The new one tweedles at me when I brush too hard. First world problems? You betcha. Asymptotic improvement? Mos def. BUT it is innovation in pursuit of improvement.
Dollar shave club, on the other hand, doesn't help you shave better. What it does is provide you access to bottom-of-the-barrel no-name Chinese blades at substantial markup to you. Yeah - a bag of Bic safety razors is like $3 for 24 or whatever so obviously you don't have to purchase that, either, but Unilever spent a billion dollars buying Dollar Shave Club instead of, I dunno, making better razors.
Lather, rinse, repeat. You rightly state that you are not directly impacted by any of these deeply silly Silicon Valley choices but you are indirectly affected. As you state, you're a fan of Blue Apron - what if Silicon Valley spent $120m on improving the efficiency of produce delivery to wherever you are instead of $120m on ways to sell chopped fruits and vegetables for $10/lb?
Henry Petroski has argued many times that necessity isn't the mother of invention, luxury is - we do not invent a fork because we cannot eat without one, we invent a fork because it's easier to eat with one. The inventor/manufacturer profits off of the increase of ease he provides us, and we pay him gladly. The argument put forth in the article (not as clearly as it could be, no doubt) is that the Silicon Valley business cycle is not focused on efficiency, it's focused on inefficiency and predation. And while this is not universally true, the argument for "disruption" is not "make the world a better place" it's "break laws and make money until they legislate you out of existence."
I have thousands of hours of music on hard drives. I used to have hundreds of CDs. My access to music went up an order of magnitude with the advent of Napster... but I can't really say that MP3s improved the state of music. It used to be that technological innovation was largely in pursuit of quality-of-life improvement and that argument could easily be made about Napster et.al. However, the inefficiencies of the music market also provided a living for most of the people involved in its generation.
And that's another issue - companies like RentBerry and Fiverr are, at base, eliminating inefficiencies. However, in a marketplace that's even a little unfair or uncompetitive, "inefficiencies" are often the profit of the disadvantaged. On a perfectly level playing field, assembly line workers in Detroit should have no problems competing with assembly line workers in Guadalajara.
Hi. Freelancer. Years of experience. Union member, skilled laborer. And where I work, the middle has dropped out. I'm one of the youngest people in my industry that I know of and my 20-year reunion was a while ago. See, used to be you started out as a gopher PA and then you became a set PA and then you picked up a skill and then you started making a little money and your network grew and you started making more money and eventually you had a wife and two kids and a house in the Valley. But now there's a sea of film school grads who can work for free because mommy and daddy understand that you have to do that for a while in order to get experience so they'll pay Janie's $1900/mo rent for a studio in Panorama City while she struggles for free until eventually it becomes clear that as soon as she starts to ask for money there's ten more Janies eager to take her place so eventually she's going to go back to live with her parents in Dayton and take orders at Applebee's while meanwhile, the guys that are actually hiring new kids who don't know what they're doing are generally doing it with their parents' money, too, and they're going to fail out within however long it takes for their folx to get sick of paying for their hobbies and in the meantime, we're all getting older and we're all hanging on to the gigs we have and the kids? The kids are not coming up because the opportunities that are available to them are a mirage.
Make no mistake. I'm the other side of that divide. Comfortably. But the gig economy, in my industry at least, is a fucking meat grinder for those without protections. Multiply times everything.
I firmly believe that "single payer" would get a lot more support if people stopped talking about it in grandiose themes and noble vignettes and started talking about it in real terms. All the liberals I know are in heavy favor of "single payer" without any of them knowing what the fuck it is.
HERE'S WHAT THE FUCK IT IS.
I've got a medical facility - Al's Medicine. Al's subcontracts to Betty the Biller and Cindy the Client Specialist. I operate in a state where my medical facility is covered by Medicaid. We also take private (employer-provided) insurance, which is underwritten by the following insurance firms: Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z.
Al's must sign individual contracts with Q, R, S, T, U, V and W. These contracts are "take it or leave it" binding: they say that for ICD code 1, Q will pay Al's $7.50 but for ICD code 1.000000001, Q will pay Al's $0.00 because fuck you, Al's. Note that Q might pay Joe's $6.50 or $9.50 or pi.ie^2 for ICD code 1. Q is entirely within its rights to do so. Al and Joe, on the other hand, are contractually forbidden from discussing their rates for ICD Code 1. If Q gets wind that Al and Joe know what the other are getting, they can drop both because fuck you, Al and Joe. Also know that Joe might not get anything for ICD Code 1 because Q has decided that all of Q's contracted healthcare clients can drive 75 miles to Al's for those services because fuck you, Joe. Also know that Q can tell Al's they'll pay $7.50 for "services" verbally and in writing, but when the actual contract comes through the actual number listed is $2.25 because fuck you, Al's. Also know that they won't tell you what ICD codes they'll pay for, they'll just say "services" and let you resubmit your bills over and over and over again until you find the ICD code that pays out the most because fuck you. Also know that the ICD code they choose to pay for can and will also change because fuck you.
A few other notes: Al's might have to provide, for example, rhogam shots to prevent babies from dying from blood type incompatibiliy. These rhogam shots might cost Al's $28 but Q is going to pay $7 because fuck you, Al's. If you ever wondered why hospitals charge you $40 to hold your baby it's because they're trying to claw back the $21 the insurance company isn't paying for medicine they're required by law to administer (for example). Also note that your involvement, gentle consumer, starts when you get an "explanation of benefits" from the insurance company listing all the outrageous charges the doctor hit you with. It will provide no explanation. It will show how generous they were in all their disbursements and then show you that your doctor's office is going to bill you STILL MORE MONEY because they're such bloodsuckers.
This is where Betty Biller and Cindy Client Specialist come in. Betty makes 10% by pickaxing all the money she can get out of Q. Betty's whole job is knowing what Q pays out on. Betty knows which ICD codes Q pays out what on, and can turn your "normal child checkup" into 42 different codes that pay the maximum rate Q has contracted to pay. She is literally a medical billing bounty hunter. Betty is the back office side while Cindy talks to you, the client - here's what's coming, here's what it means, here's how to get your insurance to pay for this ahead of time, here's how to get preapproval for that.
For those keeping track at home, billing specialists outnumber doctors 2:1 in this scenario.
Multiply times insurance companies R, S, T, U, V and W, who all have their own rates, all have their own codes, all have their own geographic exclusion areas, and probably have seven or eight sub-plans so that it's not actually "V" it's V.a, V.b, V.c, V.d, V.e, V.f and so on. Suddenly, Betty and Cindy look positively useful and you will pay them gladly because the act of billing for care takes three to four times as many man-hours as actually providing that care. Betty and Cindy make good livings and their existence is entirely parasitic on the insurance companie's deliberately opaque, byzantine and antagonistic reimbursement practices.
Not Y and Z, though. Y and Z contract through Medicaid. Medicaid has no patience for that bullshit. They will pay the following amounts on the following ICD codes. Anybody who contracts through Medicaid bills those codes and gets that money. It is known. Y knows, Z knows, Al knows, Joe knows, and all of Al and Joe's clients can fuckin' look it up. And when Medicaid's reimbursements lag behind the real world, it gets turned into a bill that goes to the legislature that raises the rates for everyone.
Al's, in fact, might get better reimbursements out of Y and Z (because of medicaid) than they get out of Q, R S, T, U or V.
Unfortunately you as a patient don't get your insurance through Y and Z because you make more than the poverty level for your county. You get whatever insurance your job provides, which might be V.c, might be Q, might be nothing because you drive for Uber and fuck you.
As a provider, we get to choose who we contract with. We do not get to choose what those providers pay us. And if 50% of your clients work for Microsoft, you bloody well better be able to take V.c, despite the fact that they reimburse at exactly half what Medicaid reimburses at (which is funny, because all your Microsoft mommies make six figures). R, on the other hand, may decide that they'll never cover you because they have enough of your specialty in network, never mind that the nearest provider is a ferry ride away (because this way they don't have to pay for those services).
As an insurer, you get to decide who you contract with. You can pick the providers that are the stupidest, that will accept the lowest rates, that have the lowest conflict rate of you arguing over charges. And you get to discuss this with the HR reps of companies large and small, none of which have any background in medicine, medical billing, accounting or statistics. To no one's surprise, they choose on price.
But the poor people? They pay what the state says they pay, the insurance companies collect what the state says they collect, and they contract with the providers the state says they contract with.
THEY STILL MAKE MONEY.
They're still private insurance companies, privately managing your health care, privately paying out private doctors. It is not "socialized medicine." It is not "universal healthcare." It is not the National Health Service. The healthcare industry is something like a tenth of the US economy; you're never getting that. But you go single payer and all of a sudden things go from back-room knife fights between Q, R, Betty and Cindy to state-mandated pricing and state-mandated coverage.
My future is tied to health care. I've got more in a medical practice than you have in your house.
And I'm a big booster of single payer.
And so's Aetna, who in this example is R.
Houseplants are important psychologically. They demand nothing from us other than water and light, yet they are a living thing whose existence depends on us. By requiring our care they allow us to shift our focus from ourselves to something else, but at a much lower concentration than pets or humans. They're useful for staving off depression. The hard part is when the depression wins.
Mine started about ten. I'd had a couple houseplants and an aquarium in my room in 5th grade; when we moved in sixth I took the opportunity to plan a large skylight (which I never got - my parents put them in two other rooms but) and hang up a couple 4' grow lamps. By the time I was sixteen I had maybe 25 pots of various foliage, two aquariums and a hand-me-down cage full of finches.
By the time I was seventeen my sister was stealing my shit to sell to her friends, my parents weren't interacting with me unless it was to give me shit, I was a full-blown exercise bulimic and I was trapped.
And I let it all die.
At one point I went away for four or five days and my parents broke into my room because they suspected there were things to be fed in there. They apologized when they realized everything was long since dead.
But they never wondered what the fuck happened, and they never did anything about it.
I like green, growing things. My own little Silent Running in the middle of the fucking New Mexico desert was my escape capsule. And the fact that I couldn't keep it alive still messes me up.
The fact that my parents never gave a fuck made me angry for a very, very long time.
I've noticed a peculiar thing happening to my psyche. Whenever I hear the words "intersectionality" "privilege" or "coal miner" I find myself losing all sympathy and empathy. My hackles are raised, my interest in debate plummets and I go full "plague on both your houses" mode.
I have a couple friends in West Virginia and I don't give a fuck about West Virginia. As a country, we were talking about doomed fucking coal jobs in the '80s. And when your two choices of employment are the Walmart and the prison, your local economy is end stage already.
And can we level for a minute? Those of us who grew up in the Mountain West were surrounded by ghost towns left skeletonized by an end of mining, agriculture, ranching, you fucking name it. Everybody moved the fuck on. And while I appreciate that the mortgage is an excellent instrument for trapping workers in place for better predation by corporations, fuckin' take the hit and leave.
I spent a lot of time driving through rural Arizona back in the late '90s. I spent a little time driving through rural Arizona in 2010. Know what I saw? New ghost towns. Places where it made sense to live when Clinton was president but totally didn't when Obama was. Empty houses, empty stores. Fuckin' sunrise, sunset. Know what we call the people who left squalor and risked everything to find new opportunity? YOUR ANCESTORS. Know what we call the people who stayed? We don't. They've been forgotten by time.
I mean, eat a dick. I grew up an hour from a fucking Taco Bell. Walmart? The first Walmart I ever saw was a two and a half hour drive away and even at the tender age of 11 I could tell it was a blight upon the community.
Talk about burying the lede. So a store with higher profit margins crashed, so Walmart came in with lower profit margins, until even they were just losing money. But somehow this is about Walmart leaving rather than fuckin' McDowell County returning to the primordial "largest mixed mesophyte forest in the world" as is good and just and righteous and proper. Know how many people live on South Georgia Island? Two. Know how many lived there when whale hunting was legal? Hundreds.
That howling sound you hear is every urban commuter reading this article and screaming at the top of their lungs that their commute is over an hour and that's just the way it is princess.
There are THREE fucking Walmarts within an hour. Workers at any supermarket chain you care to mention are quite used to suddenly having a shift an hour away. This happens in major metropolises and yes, I can say with authority that Walmart does it, too.
This is literally liberal disaster porn talking about those poor fuckers in coal mining country who no longer have a Walmart across the street but can drive 40 minutes to get to one. They're fuckin' 40 minutes from the goddamn interstate; time was going to forget them sooner or later and sincerely - from those of us "scots irish" who grew up in the goddamn desert, welcome to thunderdome, bitch.
Articles like this? They make me want the opioid crisis to accelerate, Obamacare to crash and global warming to destroy the economy of appalachia even faster. If the only thing that kept you hanging on was the talons of Bentonville Fucking Arkansas, you were ready to shuffle off the coil a long fucking time ago.
Get busy livin' or get busy dyin' and either way, know that I'm all the fuck out of sympathy.
There was something else Phillips lost with Walmart’s departure. To illustrate the point, he reaches into his red pick-up truck and pulls out a loaded Para Ordnance Warthog .45 handgun and waves it at us, telling us not to freak as the safety is on.
“Bought this in the Walmart parking lot,” he says. “Guy sees me reading a gun magazine and asks me was I carrying. He offered to sell me the Para warthog and I got it for $775.” Phillips took his new possession home and added to his collection of 140 firearms.