Friday, September 06, 2013

The Cost of Convenience

Convenience, it seems, is the killer app we'll die for.

The ultimate killer app in the U.S. economy is convenience. Convenience sells in every market and every sector: on the large scale, autos are the ultimate in private transport convenience. On the small scale, the teabag conveniently replaces messing about with loose tea.

Convenience and comfort have long replaced need as the driver of developed economies. The first electric refrigerators were more convenient than the ice boxes they replaced, and the electric washing machine was a quantum leap in convenience and ease above the washboard and wringer.

Persuading consumers to buy (often with credit) further increments of convenience beyond the first big step up required exaggerating the benefits of ever-smaller increments of convenience: the refrigerator now automatically makes ice cubes, has a cold water spout, and will soon scan the contents and text you when the milk is getting low, etc.

Since the economy depends on convenience as the one surefire motivator of sales, no one dares admit that convenience has reached diminishing returns. We are so habituated to absurd marketing "innovations" offering some tiny additional gain in convenience that we may not notice that the gains in convenience have slipped to near-zero.

Here are a couple of examples. A container of coffee that is 50% decaf and 50% regular coffee, and frozen cooked oatmeal. Is it really that difficult to mix your own decaf and regular coffee? As for oatmeal, it takes the same time and trouble to prepare the frozen oatmeal (which was sucking up energy to stay frozen) as it does to put some oatmeal and water in a bowl and microwave it--and you don't get the diabesity-inducing high-fructose corn syrup if you make your own.

It turns out that convenience is truly the killer app, as it ultimately leads to diabesity, chronic disease and early death. There are many causes for a decline in fitness and diet, including women entering the workforce en masse, increasing consumption of empty-calorie beverages, etc., but the self-evident reason is the ubiquity of fast food and convenience food: snacks, frozen pizzas, burritos, etc. and the convenience (and in many places, the necessity) of autos and the relative inconvenience (in many places) of walking and bicycling as fitness-enhancing ways of getting about.

Longtime readers know that I occasionally dumpster-dive trash containers, especially when young people move out, as they almost always empty their freezer and pantry into the trash, even if they're just moving a few hours away by car. To many Americans, food has so little value that it's not even worth packing up to move.

I find very little real food such as fruit, vegetables, meat. etc. in the trash--the vast majority is frozen convenience food that is engineered to light up our brain's reward centers with heavy doses of salt, sweetness and fat: everything that is scarce in Nature.

The consequences of engineered convenience food is not limited to America. Wherever the convenience-food diet goes, diabesity follows: The Sick Man of Asia: China's Health Crisis(Foreign Affairs, by Yanzhong Huang)

The essay traces out the devolution of China's once-universal if basic healthcare system for all into a U.S.-type system of full coverage for Elites and a more brutal one for everyone else: if you don't have the cash to pay for care, you die.

China has the largest population of diabetics and pre-diabetics in the world. China's diabetes rate has skyrocketed to 11% of the adult population, slightly higher than that of the U.S., while its rates of other non-communicable "lifestyle" diseases such as heart disease have also soared to U.S. levels.

Next time you're in a fast food outlet or a supermarket, try to find a convenience food that won't harm you. It will be a challenge:

  • chips: out, too much fat, too much salt
  • fries: out, too much fat, too much salt
  • sausage: out, too much fat, too much salt
  • fast food in general: out, too much fat, too much salt
  • salted nuts: out, too much salt
  • canned goods: out, too much salt
  • most cereals: out, too much sugar and/or salt
  • bottled salad dressings: out, too much salt
  • sports drinks: out, too much salt
  • pre-packaged salads: out, too much salt in the dressing
  • frozen meals: out, too much salt, fat, sugar
  • packaged snacks: out, too much salt
  • packaged noodles: out, too much salt
  • In general: too much salt, sugar, low-quality fat, empty calories, processed carbos

  • Sadly, the vast majority of this convenience food doesn't really taste good, either: it's primary value is the convenience of preparing it. Fast food has the same selling points: loaded with salt, fat and sweetness and very convenient (unless traffic is congested, but that is still less inconvenient than walking/biking).

    Convenience has gone from diminishing returns to negative returns. Staying fit and preparing real meals are intrinsically inconvenient. Convenience, it seems, is the killer app we'll die for.

    Programs/books of note: My recent appearance on Max Keiser:

    Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

    go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
    2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
    3. Diminishing returns
    4. Centralization
    5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economyComplex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).
    We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

    Kindle edition: $9.95       print edition: $24 on
    To receive a 20% discount on the print edition: $19.20 (retail $24), follow the link, open a Createspace account and enter discount code SJRGPLAB. (This is the only way I can offer a discount.)

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