Category Archives: Politics & Economics

Coca-Conomía


Es por todos bien sabido que México tiene los índices de obesidad infantil más altos del todo el mundo, lo cual no sorprende cuando se sabe también que somos el consumidor más grande per cápita de Coca-Cola. Ambas cosas parecen absurdas dado que somos un país donde 40 millones de mexicanos viven en la pobreza de acuerdo a parámetros económicos internacionales, lo que quiere decir q es prácticamente el resto de la población que alza la media para llegar a superar indicadores no muy honorables de países con problemas similares, como Estados Unidos.

Durante las últimas semanas se habló del impuesto a algunos productos, entre los cuales se encontraba precisamente la Coca Cola, donde uno de los argumentos más mencionados del Gobierno era la obesidad en el país. Esto es particularmente difícil de creer cuando se analizan productos, como por ejemplo también pueden ser los cigarros, que son prácticamente inelásticos, que quiere decir que un aumento en el precio de ese producto tiene poco efecto sobre una posible disminución en el consumo del mismo.

El relación particularmente al punto de los impuestos a la comida chatarra, incluida la Coca-Cola, esta semana sobresalió el tema del director de ARCA, mencionando en una conversación que debió ser confidencial, la posibilidad de incrementar la fructosa en la bebida para disminuir el costo de producción (con peores efectos para la salud), buscando nivelar básicamente el impacto del alza del impuesto a las bebidas endulzadas y mitigar en cierto modo el precio para usuario final. Lo anterior fundamentalmente anula el efecto del alza de precio para evitar la disminución en el consumo, o sea estaríamos como empezamos.

Efectivamente la obesidad en México es causada por diversos factores, por lo que el ejemplo de Coca Cola es sólo el caso seguramente más conocido por todos, ya que el mexicano medio consume la modesta cantidad de casi 200 litros al año. Tampoco es el motivo de estas líneas satanizar las estrategias de una empresa en particular, ya que la industria de alimentos y bebidas no es más honesta ni deshonesta que otras industrias donde se presentan situaciones del tipo en donde antes que nada están los beneficios económicos por sobre la salud de las personas.

Es cierto que el Gobierno recibe impuestos por el consumo de estos productos, por lo que el balance en estos casos es analizado a detalle para saber si el resultado es positivo en términos de recaudación y posible pérdida de empleos, pero al mismo tiempo como ciudadano quisiéramos confiar que estas decisiones son basadas en los impactos positivos que una medida del tipo pueda tener efectivamente en la salud de las personas. El Gobierno también tiene que pensar posiblemente que el día de mañana habrá una población con problemas  de diabetes, cardiovasculares, etc. que representan una potencial carga financiera al sistema de salud que pudiera ser más grande que el beneficio de recaudar impuestos el día de hoy.

Recientemente, por ejemplo, en EUA aprobaron la prohibición de grasas transgénicas, de las cuales médicos y activistas sociales se promulgaban en contra desde un inicio por los riesgos potenciales en la salud. Tal vez también ayudaría pensar un poco, qué tipo de productos estamos consumiendo hoy que serán prohibidos en 5, 10 o 20 años? Podríamos ver en los envases de refrescos y productos de comida chatarra imágenes de gente obesa advirtiéndonos que podríamos terminar así si los consumimos en sobre medida? Los padres de familia se están organizando en las escuelas para revisar lo que están consumiendo sus hijos en los recreos?

Así que la pregunta es muy simple, queremos cambiar y mejorar nuestros hábitos alimentarios por efectos de elasticidad de la demanda y otras leyes económicas? o simplemente por algún efecto sobrenatural raramente visto en la actualidad como pudiera ser, llamémoslo… la convicción propia.

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I’m Only Happy When it Rains


I love Sundays, and I find a quiet rainy one particularly special. Today I woke up not late (around noon, you judge) after a nice evening with a Mx friend walking around a very popular zone in the East of Rome  and then to a “centro sociale” near the main train station (I’ll explain what social centers are on another post).

Through him, I’ve meet a small group of Italians that are very much into in social, political and economic activism, from which I take the most I can in terms of understanding the mentality of people that are undergoing a crisis such as the one happening in Europe. Some of the conversations have to do with the old ways of living during decades of economic growth and prosperity. It’s hard as well to ask them if they have lived a crisis like this one in their lives and their answer is “no”.

This is very interesting because it helps me understand that many people may expect and desire a “change” because this is the lowest low they’ve ever known in their lives. But it’s also these times in which people need to give an extra, be innovative, learn a new language, or do new things that can help catch up with a changing world. But of course if you have never lived through an ugly period as this, how would you know this is THE TIME to do so? And this is the reality that as a foreigner I am currently experiencing. I mean, in 30 years there will be books of economics talking about the crisis in Europe, so I’m curious to see how things end like, while the story is being written as we speak.

All this sociocultural leanings in fact deserve arguments, examples and more fundamentals than what I’m willing to write and elaborate more on today, so I won’t go into details (though I’ve love to chat over a cup of coffee or a Skype call). But as anyone who knows me a bit can tell, they’re one of my favorite conversation topics and I always appreciate people open to discuss such things.

So yes, today rained most of the day, people must complain about this “tempo di merda” (shitty weather). On the other hand today I played some guitar, thought a lot about economic systems, high welfare countries vs. consumed capitalist societies that lower their worker’s quality of life at a very fast pace, etc. etc. … and even had time to write a blog entry, which I hadn’t done in weeks. I’d say this rainy Sunday couldn’t get any more productive than this. And if it wasn’t enough, I still have to call my mom in Mexico…

Besides, I saw this very nice phrase around the web, which kind of wraps up a conclusion I struggled to make for myself all day long:

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Don’t Mess With Texas


Missing weddings is a very bad habit I involuntarily developed for logistics implications since I first went to live abroad a few years back. Last weekend, while in Mexico for my summer “break”, I visited my best friend who got married a couple of months ago and lives in San Antonio, Tx. What was really curious was that I felt like an alien in a context that was a normal and ordinary thing since for many years I went there for anything such as touring, concerts, shopping, etc. These are some of the ideas that crossed my mind during the weekend, in no specific order of importance/relevance:

Fried Chicken: We are facing a food crisis for the simple reason that Asians, such as Chinese and Indians, are raising their income, and therefore they afford more food. Can you imagine 1.3 billion Chinese affording to eat an extra piece of chicken in their daily diets? The point goes a little beyond that, and it has to do with the fact that food is being genetically modified (grains, animals, plants, etc.) to produce more than what nature can, since we are consuming at a faster pace than what resource are renewing. How much of what we eat is really healthy at all, how much of what we eat is crap?

I normally say this as a joke, but what if the Hindu/vegetarian Indians decided to start eating beef?… they will end up getting it all and the one ending up eating a plate of rice would be me. The point is that current levels of food production are skewed because they are planned and based on current world ratios, but evidently, the moment people scale up their consumption (it’s happening already, from vegetables, grains into fish, meat, etc.), we will be in deep trouble.

Luxury food: this is related to the previous point. Basically today you can chose between a fruit that grew out of fertilizers (and God knows what other chemicals) vs. a fruit that is “organic”. Of course, you have to pay premium for these types of products. So then again, when did eating healthy, natural and organic food became a luxury? And what kind of food have we been eating, and people will continue to do so, with counter effects in health that we don’t know today because all those transgenic stuff is being tested on us like lab rats?

Unsustainable consumption: buy, buy, buy, the more you buy, the more you save… One of the things I like about India is that it makes you forget a bit that you have to keep on buying stuff to be “cool” and “fit in” with the context. It is though quite obvious that in such country there is basically no “need” to show off or anything. Sometimes I even chose not to buy those new shoes because they would easily get ruined the minute I put a foot on the street. But this perspective helped me also develop the habit of getting rid and donating stuff to people who could need it and being more responsible with what I buy. So if I would buy a shirt, I would go to find an old one I didn’t used much and give it away. I am sure that regardless of where you live there would be people that could appreciate such gestures.

Upselling: You can buy some item and pay just half the price of the 2nd one… you want a regular soda, but you can make it X-Large for just a few cents more… what about upgrading your fries from french to curly ones?… extra cheese?…  why wouldn’t you?… so you end up either paying more or just spending more money for stuff and would up ending not drinking/eating/consuming, therefore… wasting. The concepts of scarce resources, buying only what you need and not what you want are not present in a society that is used to have everything and more, at any time, with no constraints.

Public transportation: I was just wondering how someone can chose not to drive a car in San Antonio, it’s impossible, because there is no public transportation to move you miles from one mall, or supermarket to the next one and back home. The U.S. has indeed the largest cars per capita ratio in the world with 812 cars per 1,000 people. Italy has 690, Mexico 276 and India 18. I am no scientist, so I’ll just leave open the ecologic implications of vehicles in the environment.

Going to the U.S. is the most normal thing in the world for an average Mexican mid-class person living close to the border. But it was really interesting to see things from a different perspective. I am just sorry I had to around the world to now come and notice them, but I am sure that by deciding to do small changes in our habits can make a contribution to help manage our resources.

But anyway, coming back to my starting point, my best friend is doing great and happily married with his lovely wife. Me as usual, I’m just happy I have another place to crash in this planet!

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Addendum March 13th, 2014

Just came across this video of George Carlin


Izquierda: Mito y Realidad


Hace unos días vi un infográfico en Facebook diciendo que los países de izquierda han crecido más en términos de GDP y que la realidad de los países de derecha era un escenario menos positivo en ese aspecto.

La cuestión que hay que entender de manera general es qu el GDP es un indicador que ciertamente mide el crecimiento de la economía en un determinado preiodo (que el crecimiento no es otra cosa que mayor consumo), pero no quiere decir que este crecimiento sea igualmente distribuido entre los habitantes de un país.

Aparte el hecho de que la economía crezca no significa que ello sea por sí solo el fin de los problemas de una nación. Por ejemplo, se habla mucho del crecimiento de Brasil, pero cuando hay un flujo de capital hacia un determinado país, como es el caso, un efecto es que la moneda se aprecia. Al apreciarse ésta, el país pierde competitividad, puesto que para un extranjero comprar un bien o servicio producido en ese país se vuelve más caro. En tal caso el sector exportador sería perjudicado puesto que sus socios comerciales posiblemente encontrarían mejores precios en otros mercados y con ello las implicaciones en materia de empleo que ésto implicaría.

Cuando una economía crece, como dicho anteriormente, quiere decir que la gente gasta más. Al gastar la gente más, quiere decir que hay más demanda por productos y servicios. Y cuando hay más demanda por productos y servicios qué cosa le sucede a los precios de éstos?… efectivamente, suben y con ello la inflación. Así que, justamente, se puede tener un mayor “crecimiento” en términos de GDP, podremos tener empresas invirtiendo en el país y generando empleos, los cuales dicho sea de paso no significa que tendremos mayores sueldos. Y si los tuviéramos, aun ganando más, al haber un alza general de precios (inflación), podríamos terminar pagando más por los mismos productos que antes, contrarestando así la percepción de que por ganar más dinero mi ingreso disponible me va a alcanzar para más… lo cual no es necesariamente cierto.

Y como punto adicional, el que haya producción, ya sea para vender local o internacionalmente, significa que hay demanda para esos productos, y si la economía mundial está en receción, entonces quién va a comprar lo que se está produciendo? Con este punto quiero decir que quienes prometan crecimiento económico de un x porciento, es algo que no depende de un candidato en campaña, sino de lo que realmente nos quieran y puedan comprar consumidores en otros países por nuestros productos.

Pero volviendo al tema de los países de izquierda, hay un punto a favor para ellos, y eso es que economistas como Paul Krugman han escrito sobre los avances de Latino America en términos de reducción de la desigualdad social haciendo referencia a Democracias Sociales (Brasil), Izquierda populista (Venezuela) y Centro Derecha. Con esto queda de paso claro para agregar al infográfico, que no por ser Latino America quiere decir que se siguen las mismas estructuras políticas y económicas.

Finalmente el motivo de estas ideas no es aclarar un infográfico, puesto que son miles en circulación, sino buscar hacernos dos o tres preguntas antes de postear información que evidentemente es creada en un cuarto de guerra de los diferentes partidos y candidatos para mostrar la cara de la moneda que le conviene. No olvidemos que es responsabilidad total y absoluta de los ciudadanos el cuestionarnos lo que estamos absorbiendo.

Mi profesor de Economía en la maestría una vez nos preguntó “Dónde queda la sabiduría en la era de la información?”… no dejemos que la mercadotecnia política nos lave el cerebro tan fácil. No estamos hablando ni discutiendo cuál marca de ropa nos gusta usar, o que equipo de futbol es mejor o peor… estamos hablando del futuro de México, al menos eso merece dedicar un poco más de tiempo para razonar nuestro voto… y nos queda muy poco tiempo.


Bank Holidays and Supermarkets


When I first arrived to Milan in 2009 I went out on a Sunday to buy some groceries, I walked a few hundred meters down the neighborhood just to find out that bars, supermarkets, pharmacies, and everything else was closed. I wondered that since I didn’t had a TV I must have missed the news about an alert to remain at home because of some nuclear bomb going off that day. I ended up eating an artichoke sandwich out of a vending machine at the nearest metro station (this is why I hate artichoke).

Even after living abroad for a while, I still haven’t figured out if the fact of people working long hours depends on habits or labor costs. Even in India, where wages for non-skilled labor are low, there were no 24/7 supermarkets, although you could find small corner shops, some restaurants and certainly hotels with open kitchens till quite late, at least in Bangalore (where I lived for a year).

In México, for instance, if you go out partying late there will always be 24/7 convenience chain stores and any kind of street food or restaurant at 2, 4 or 6 in the morning, although at that time you would expect it open naturally for breakfast, weather weekday, weekend and even holidays.

Now that I am back in Italy after a year in India, it’s very clear to see (or at least I notice it now) that shops owned by non-Italians tend to be open longer and in “odd” days… like Sundays. A few weeks back there was a plumber in our house fixing something in the kitchen and he mentioned that since it was Saturday afternoon there wouldn’t be any open place to buy the fixtures he needed. He then paused for a second and said: “Well, perhaps I could find a Chinese shop”.

So again, I cannot seem to get weather it is a wage or working habit reason, but I think that if an Italian shop would want to make some extra money it would naturally think on opening more hours a day, or an extra day. But perhaps the owner thinks that opening later or another day wouldn’t make sense because people (locals) are not be used to shop late, or on Sundays, therefore no one would come to buy even if his shop was open.

One thing for sure is that they would still complain about the crisis and the low sales, without noticing that in today’s world you have to work more and harder to earn the same results you used to get 10 or more years ago.

So after giving a bit of explanation on the point where I want to get, I wanted to share this chart from last year’s study about working hours across  OECD countries.

Remember my post about stereotypes? Well, it turns out that México, a country traditionally seen as lazy where people take siestas after lunch, drink tequila all the time and wear sombreros, is actually the country that in average works longest hours in a day, including paid and non paid activities.

So if you live in one of these countries you might be thinking “oh I work longer hours than that“. Keep in mind, this is an average, so it includes observed working time of a country’s population where while one person can work 10 hrs a day and another 6, then the average would be 8… (You can be the 10hr working guy if it makes you happy)

Anyway, the gray part is actually unpaid work that can be shopping, cooking, etc; this is why I don’t consider it relevant so let’s focus on paid activities. This is the chart:

Now, evidently the argument that comes up is that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean working efficiently, and that is absolutely true, since a person in country x could do the same job with equal or more quality in less time than a worker in country y. But coming to my initial thought of doing grocery shopping on Sunday’s, I guess you don’t need astronauts to operate a cashier right?

Then you see people complaining about their governments increasing the retirement age or slashing benefits, but this comes down to how much of your working years in your life you can designate to do a productive activity before the Government has to put you in pension until the day you die and stop being a liability for it.

I think this is what the whole European welfare “crisis” is about, they haven’t fully realized that the “globalization” game is more than just producing cheap goods in and underdeveloped country and selling them in another, it’s also about people. And there are two kinds of them, the ones who want to work 35 hrs a week with full benefits, holidays, and the ones in developing countries working more hours or days for a fraction of others’ salary. That’s the real globalization.

In any case, if you think you are working too much, you could chose to go to work to a country with a bunch of holidays to relax and spend your money:

So at some point you could find yourself living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, even if you have to change your underdeveloped country’s habit of doing grocery shopping on Sundays.

But if there is something that living abroad has thaught me is that you can’t have it all. There is a trade off for everything…


Phone Carriers Will Become Banks


I was recently thinking at this whole “consumerism” thing from the perspective of how easy it can get for people to buy stuff. Whereas one can carry an x amount of money in their pocket, let’s call it immediate disposable income, the dilemma for banks is obviously how much credit they can give to each of their customers (assuming via a credit card as the only way) in relation to how much money they earn.

Hoping this simplistic version of reality helps me explain my starting point I will move into how else a person could have access to money that we don’t really own in the first place (credit). Then I went into looking how many people actually own a credit card, for which I took the U.S. since everyone is familiar with our fellow Americans and knows that in a way or another they define trends and expectations that eventually the rest of the world tries to follow follows.

It turns out that, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, today there must be something around 181 million Americans who hold at least one credit card, around 60% of their population. We can consider also that they might own more than one per person, but still is the same individual.

What else could somebody own in order to have access to some way of credit? What is something that we own and carry at all times with us that can help as a means of electronic transaction?… evidently our cell phones. Then of course, I’m not saying anything new about the possibility of actually paying something with your cell, because it is already happening with apps like Google Wallet. But (and this is a big BUT) this is linked again to a bank credit card/account and not to a lender other than a traditional commercial bank.

Now let’s look at this chart:

The first thing I will highlight is the fact that for instance in our U.S. example (but also Italy), there are actually more cell phones per person than credit cards in that country. Think about Apple or any kind of electronic platform that offers products that are actually digital, like music, photos, vids, ringtones, etc. The sales of these companies have increased exponentially over the last years following the iTunes model… and will continue to do so.

Coming back to the credit and disposable income statement, the thing gets a little more interesting speaking about consumerism in developing countries where it can be more difficult for people to own a credit instrument like a card. But evidently as seen, it is more likely that people in countries like China or India have access to credit (micro credit), though their cell phones bill, hence, substituting the traditional banking model. To buy, certainly not houses or cars, but perhaps metro, cinema tickets, Mc Meals, who knows.

Can a purchase of a low priced digital item can replace the consumption of, let’s say, a microwave? On a one to one basis evidently not, but the point again is the fact that for the famous GDP (which is nothing but the overall consumption of a given country), the only thing that matters is that people spend, spend, and spend to keep the cart moving up the rollercoaster rail. This is something that India, China and other developing economies are doing for the world right now, where even if they spend a few cents, multipied by the number of population that are putting those cents in circulation turns out in a huge amount of overall consumption.

So unfortunately, as long as the whole system continues to be designed to driving us into easier ways to give away our money (sometimes even unaware of it), we would never reach a point in which we can really understand that spending on things that we don’t even need is not a really sustainable system at all in the first place.

Yes, it is easy to spend money (even when we don’t even own it)… and it will continuously become easier to do so, the only difference is that from some point on we will start being afraid, not about using our credit cards, but our mobile devices instead.


Gender Nonsense


Some months back I was looking at the figures from the last census in India saying that in this country there were 109 males for every 100 females under the age of six, up from 107 in 2001… and increasing.

This calls my attention because having a male son is very important for the role they play as a traditional supporter of the family, while the female has a more family-house oriented role. At the same time, India is statistically considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to the evidence of femicides.

According to a 2011 study by the Center for Global Health Research in Canada, between 4.2 million and 12.1 million girls were aborted during the last three decades in this country. Some studies point that there is a common myth that daughters don’t benefit their families, I guess as a tradeoff of a productive economic activity perspective.

I would like to think it’s the lower uneducated classes who invest their lifetime savings in educating the son, while the daughter is left at home for housekeeping activities. Upper class families with money and access to ultrasound could potentially use this technology for sex determination purposes, something illegal in India if used for that particular matter. So then the reasons for deciding to have a boy over a girl is not exactly monetary, but traditional.

What I can conclude so far, and this is a very personal point of view, is that females are considered more a liability than an asset to a typical Indian family. But again, I hope this happens in the traditional lower levels of societies and that things in modern times are changing.

The reasons for this sociocultural phenomenon can have its roots in other fundamentals, such as poverty. But for the time being, I’m just trying to bring a picture of the story to the people that have never been in India. In fact, the ultimate reason why this calls my attention is not really for those people, but for simple market reasons. Let me explain…

In India the tradition for marriage, apart that it is most likely arranged between the parents, is that the family of the bride has to pay contribute with a dowry. This is can be in the form of money, goods or properties that a woman brings forth to the marriage. So then the question is how in the world this whole dowry thing is, at least statistically, a nonsense exception to the basic supply and demand rule, where:

The “shortage” of females represents a movement (decrease) along the Quantity Axis to the left (arrow 1), which inversely affects the Y Axis, as explained in arrow 2, pushing the price upwards.

So, why again do the family of the girl would have to pay when it’s actually the daughter who is the scarce “resource” in society? Which brings us to the next stage of the evolution of the theory of trade which is precisely…?

You guessed, Import-Export, the way markets make up for their deficits or surpluses… but that is perhaps a topic for some other time… ;-)


Random Ethics Thoughts


A few weeks back I wrote in Random Friends and the Matrix Reloaded about how dangerous it is to blindly trust a source like the Internet, when in reality it could be the easiest way for media to shape our behavior and opinions about a given topic as it is explained in this Ted Video.

I don´t know how many people are aware of the information that is being shared by us online through social networks and how this information is used to drive us to consume. One of millions of examples is Google sourcing keywords from our conversations in Gmail to then target us with ads. Facebook has been doing it for a while now by merging our chat/inboxes and using our status to keep record of our conversations and use keywords there to display those little banners on the right side of our screen. Continue reading


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