Meal deal economics

The law of demand is one of the most widely understood laws of economics: if you raise the price of something, fewer people will buy it; if conversely, if you reduce its price, more people will buy it.

The law generally holds true as long as the goods in question don’t have any special properties or constraints. However, there are a number of known exceptions, for example:

  • Veblen goods – expensive goods which are desirable for the status they confer on anyone rich enough to buy them. Contrary to the law of demand, demand for a Veblen good will rise as its price increases.
  • Giffen goods – a cheap but essential good which counter-intuitively increases in demand as its price rises. This is because, if a staple food (e.g. bread) rises in price, the poorest consumers have to stop buying more expensive foods (e.g. meat), and spend the savings on more of the cheapest good.

I hypothesise the existence of another type of good which behaves as an exception to the law of demand: a meal deal good.

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Cultural Highlights of 2016

In a year of relentless tragedy and despair, here are a scant few things I enjoyed.

BOOKS

Malcolm LowryUnder The Volcano

This was my third attempt at tackling Lowry’s famously impenetrable novel. The first chapter is particularly gruelling, but after breaking through it for the first time, the dark humour and self-flagellating wisdom which follow make it all worthwhile. For anyone tempted to have a go themselves, I found these notes very helpful in decrypting the dense symbology.

Keith RobertsPavane

The best thing I read all year though, by far, was Pavane. It’s an alternate history novel, in which Elizabeth I was assassinated, the Reformation was quashed, and a triumphant Catholic Church retarded scientific progress. In the 20th century setting of the novel, England has steam-powered road locomotives, a network of giant semaphore towers for cross-country communication, and new stirrings of political and religious revolution.

But the appeal of the ahistorical premise isn’t what makes Pavane such a great book. This year, I also read S. M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers, in which a late 19th century meteor shower destroys civilisation in the northern hemisphere, the British elite relocate to India, and by the early 21st century, a steampunk Anglo-Indian empire is in conflict with a devil-worshipping Central Asian Tsardom. This premise is equally interesting. However, Stirling’s novel turned out to be a huge disappointment: a poorly-written mediocrity, no more than a third-rate Raj adventure story with added airships.

Roberts’s, on the other hand, is so beautifully written it’s almost poetry. By the time you’ve read his description of a steam wagon making its way across the Dorset heath on a foggy night, oiled pistons hammering and scalding water dripping from the tank, or of a semaphore tower, its clacking wooden levers, and the blistered hands of its Guild apprentice operator, it’s impossible to believe that such things never even existed.

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New Year’s resolutions 2017: Part 2

I’ve decided to add another New Year’s resolution to the previous set. It’s simply to watch all of the films on the list below. The intention is to knock a number of “must see” films off my own “haven’t seen” list. The films are a mixture of all-time classics that I’ve somehow missed, cult films I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, and unwatched DVDs I have sitting on my shelf.

The original idea was to list 12 films, so that it would be easy to monitor progress: if I watch one a month, I’m on track. But since it’s 2017 and everything’s topsy-turvy, I’ve added a special choice for number 13.

  1. The Third Man
  2. Gone with the Wind
  3. Doctor Zhivago
  4. Where Eagles Dare
  5. North by Northwest
  6. A View to a Kill
  7. Gandahar
  8. Fucking Åmål / Show Me Love
  9. Grave of the Fireflies
  10. Once Upon a Time in America
  11. Mother India
  12. Suspiria
  13. The Manchurian Candidate

New Year’s resolutions 2017

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

God damn it, I’m going to do this.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

I’ve already switched from using Google search to DuckDuckGo, the privacy-oriented search engine which doesn’t track your searches. But DuckDuckGo is still developing, and its search results often aren’t as good, so I find myself drifting back to Google.

Everything is a trade-off. If I value privacy, if I don’t want to be monitored, tracked and analysed, then I have to put in the extra effort – which isn’t even very much – to spend more time looking through search results to find what I want.

And perhaps the serendipity of scrolling through more results, and finding things I wasn’t looking for or didn’t expect, will be a reward in itself.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

If I’m avoiding Google for search, why the hell am I still letting them handle – and thereby read, monitor and analyse – all of my most private communications?

2017 is the year in which I put a value on my own privacy, by switching to a non-free email provider. One which, because I’m the paying customer, doesn’t treat me as the product.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

This continues the theme of switching to a superior tool despite the initial effort/cost hurdle. I’m going to abandon the ongoing scam of expensive disposable razors with ever more numerous blades, and switch to traditional safety razors. Out too goes the foam in a can, to be replaced by shaving cream, applied with a badger-hair brush.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Maybe I’ll buy a reusable cup. I’m not committing to the detail of the solution yet.

New Year’s resolutions 2016: end of year review

Time for my annual review of how well I did with the last year’s resolutions.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

Carried over from 2015, and I still didn’t manage it. I did have a go one Sunday, but Doomdark remains undefeated.

2.  Play the board games I already own until their purchases become cost-effective.

Status: good progress made.

I set myself the ambitious target of getting all games down to less than £5/play, and I didn’t manage that. But I did make significant headway, reducing the number of uneconomical games (over £5/play) from 24 to 19, and the number of super-uneconomical games (over £10/play) from 11 to 3. Of the 19, about 10 are only just over the target, and will be easy to convert.

More importantly, the resolution helped me to resist the temptation to buy new games, to put more effort into arranging gaming sessions, and to focus on playing the less-played games more. It meant that I finally got around to playing Tammany Hall, a game I’d had for over a year, and hadn’t played because I’d assumed it was too heavy for most of my casual-gaming friends. It turned out to be much simpler, rules-wise, than I’d thought, although tactically still very rewarding, and became one of my favourite games of the year.

In 2017, I’ll continue to chip away at those stats. I may even allow myself the luxury of buying some new games, but the cost/play tracking, which is now an established routine, will ensure that board game purchases are kept under control.

3. Never pay the included service charge on a restaurant bill; always leave the tip, if appropriate, in cash.

Status: mostly passed.

Almost as soon as I started doing this, I realised that the sort of big chain restaurants which tend to abuse the system aren’t the sort of restaurants we ever go to anyway. It turns out, being snobby middle-class metropolitan liberal elites, we only go to independent, family-run type places (the area of north London we lived in was particularly abundant with them), where there wasn’t any tip chicanery to fight against. But I insisted on cash tips anyway, because I feel there isn’t enough awkwardness in my personal interactions already.

4. Make more eye contact.

Status: unknown.

I’ve certainly been more aware of when I have and haven’t been making eye contact, but whether that means I’ve managed to alter the balance towards making it, I can’t tell.

The Hate List – Volume 20

  1. Excessive, tacky Christmas lights. I’m fucking fed up with this shit now. A few years ago, it was still ironically amusing when a few sporadic eccentrics would fill their lawns with enough wattage to be seen from space. Now every street has one of these cunts, and it’s getting fucking tiresome. “It’s just a bit of fun!” No, it’s not. It’s an eyesore. Your neighbours hate you. And the waste of electricity alone is obscene. Climate change is destroying the planet: conspicuous over-consumption of energy should be villified, not celebrated. “It’s Christmassy!” No, it’s not. A wreath on the door is Christmassy. Flashing lights, illuminated inflatables, a robotic Santa waving his arm: it looks like fucking Vegas. Or rather, it looks like you were aiming for Vegas, and what you actually achieved was redneck brothel. “I’m raising money for charity!” Oh right, you spend thousands of pounds on decorations, and then expect ME to make a donation? How about you fuck off? I hope you short a circuit and burn to a crisp.
  2. Multi-coloured, flashing Christmas lights. Pay attention next time you see a Christmas scene in a film or advert. One designed by a professional designer. I guarantee you, there will be no coloured or flashing lights. Contrary to the belief of tasteless suburban idiots, what ACTUALLY looks Christmassy is steady, warm white lights. Not flashing, not every colour in the rainbow. At a push, I can even forgive red and green lights: they still look shit, but at least I can see where you’re coming from. But fucking BLUE lights? When the fuck did blue become a Christmas colour?
  3. Makers and sellers of novelty gifts. You know you’re making a load of shit, and you know it’s all going to be thrown away. You might as well dump it all straight into landfill, and simply steal the money from our well-meaning but clueless grandparents. As far as I’m concerned, you’re morally equivalent to OAP-targeting phone scammers. Or worse: at least their business model is less polluting.
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“It’s the principle”: why turkeys do often vote for Christmas

US liberals and leftists who won’t vote for Clinton, even though that decision will help Trump, who is even worse, are an interesting case study. It reveals a deep difference, not between liberals and conservatives, but between “principlists” and “consequentialists”.

Consequentialists do what they have to do to get the best available outcome, even if the means – and the end – fall short of their ideal.

Principlists feel an inherent wrongness in doing anything against principle, even if the result is an outcome even further from their ideal.

They’re two totally opposed mindsets – ways of thinking about how to choose action – with little scope for persuasion between them.

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Walter Russell Mead’s “The Jacksonian Tradition”: the essay that predicts Donald Trump

In 1999, American foreign policy academic Walter Russell Mead wrote an influential essay, The Jacksonian Tradition. In it, he identified a strand of US political thought associated with its conservative and anti-intellectual middle and working classes.

The article was highly prescient in anticipating the appeal of George W Bush as president. Now, as the US teeters on the brink of electing an unimaginably worse candidate, it’s worth reading again. Mead’s analysis turns out to be just as perceptive an insight into Donald Trump’s supporters and their political attitudes.

It is not fashionable today to think of the American nation as a folk community bound together by deep cultural and ethnic ties.

However, the seventh President, Andrew Jackson, built his political career on identifying and mobilising that community – white, Anglo-Saxon/Celtic, working and middle class – which Mead terms the “Jacksonians”.

His political movement—or, more accurately, the community of political feeling that he wielded into an instrument of power—remains in many ways the most important in American politics.

Jacksonian America has produced—and looks set to continue to produce—one political leader and movement after another.

The future of Jacksonian political allegiance will be one of the keys to the politics of the twenty-first century.

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Temper-Trapped

I propose the following definition:

Temper-trapped past participle verb tricked into a buying a music album on the strength of one song, to discover that it’s the only decent one on the whole album.

It’s derived from the band The Temper Trap: I bought their debut album Conditions after hearing the song Sweet Disposition, but was disappointed to find that the rest of the album is utterly mediocre and forgettable.

I’ve recently been temper-trapped again by John Grant. His song Down Here, an infectious indie pop ballad, was stuck in my head for weeks, so I bought the album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which turned out to be weird electro nonsense: not even the same style of music as the one song I’d enjoyed.

What albums have you been temper-trapped by?