Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?
Question asked of the economist Paul Seabright by a visiting Russian official shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union - quoted in his "The Company of Strangers".
Where in the world would you need a smartphone app to be able to buy toilet paper? Why in the world would you need such high tech in order to be able to manage something so fundamental as bog roll? You don't have to be quite such a froth-mouthed free marketeer as I am to think that perhaps this is a result of government …
Reminds me of an old gag:
In the '70s a Soviet trade delegation is getting a tour of a tractor factory in the north of England.
The Soviet Trade Minister looks at the assembly lines and asks: "Your workers, how do you organise their shift patterns?"
The foreman replies: "We run three shifts of eight hours each. Ten minutes to clock on and ten minutes washing up time at the end of each shift. They get two tea breaks of fifteen minutes each and an hour for lunch."
"Hah!", says the Russian, "Is very inefficient. In Soviet Tractor collective number 14 we run two shifts of twelve hours each. No clocking on, no washing up, no tea break, half an hour for lunch."
The foreman looks aghast: "Eh? You'd never get this lot to stand for that, they're all bloody communists!".
Indeed. And they really didn't get the idea that the answer was "no one".
Amusingly I was living in Moscow when that happened: and it was reported back to Moscow as well. All the foreigners fell about laughing and then were gobsmacked when all the Russians we were trying to do business with didn't get it either.
It's one of the things that convinced me that it was going to be a really hard slog getting the place sorted out. They didn't belive in communist planning because they were communists, or believers in planning, they quite literally had no conception that there was another way.
Adding 2p of a war story: back in the late 80ies I was working at one of the earliest private companies in one of the largest cities in Russia (still USSR then). Doing, eh, software. Some customers come in for a demo of a new, not yet released, version, are very happy with what they see. The following dialogue is an approximation from memory, and cannot reproduce intonation, body language, or specifically Soviet-style secondary signalling that would be lost on Westerners anyway.
Customer: So, when will we be able to get this new version?
Us: We will release it on Jan 1.
Customer: Oh, OK. And when will we be able to get it?
Us: Well... On Jan 1, if you wish.
Customer: Yeeesss... But when will we be able to *really* get it?...
Us: You *really* will be able to get it on Jan 1...
Customer: No, that's not what we are asking... When will *we* be able to get the new version?
This disconnect was, at the time, amusing, but not entirely surprising, given the life history of us newly minted capitalists/entrepreneurs. We were completely serious about the release date, the demoed version was practically final, the release schedule included all the reasonable padding for unforeseen contingencies, etc. The customers, however, being functionaries of state organizations, were absolutely unprepared to the idea that the stated release date was, in fact, real.
So much for Soviet planning.
P.S.: A few months ago I spent 2 days in Moscow on a business trip, visiting a client - a very large *private* company. Some of the exchanges with my counterparts were disappointingly similar to the above. Hmmm...
Bread is not something that is supplied. The Chorleywood process claims to do it, but if you look carefully, you'll see (as you have discovered) that what is produced is not bread.
The only way to get decent bread in this country is to be on good terms with a decent baker, or to make it yourself. I find the second option cheaper... and simpler.
Irish soda bread recipe:
500g flour, any kind --- doesn't need to be bread flour. (Half brown, half white works well.)
0.5 tsp salt.
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
1.5 tsp cream of tartar.
about 300ml of milk.
Mix dry ingredients together. Add milk and form a dough. Knead briefly. Place on a baking try in a sort of flattened splat shape. Cut a cross into the top with a sharp knife. Bake at about 200°C for 40 minutes. Eat in thick slices with salted butter, sharp cheddar and marmalade (although not all at the same time).
With a bit of practice and a mixer with dough hooks you can get the preparation time down to about five minutes. This gives you a loaf of fresh, delicious bread in well under an hour end-to-end. And the recipe's practically impossible to get wrong.
"Eat in thick slices with salted butter, sharp cheddar and marmalade (although not all at the same time)."
Alternatively, leave out the butter, cheese and maramalade, cut the crusts off, and use as a gloriously soft substitute for unavailable bog roll.
This post has been deleted by its author
This post has been deleted by its author
Only one answer - do as I do, bake your own. The stuff sold packaged as bread is disgusting - though I admit that some supermarkets rather revolting offerings are better than the truly repulsive offerings from the leading manufactures of white/brown/wholemeal mush in various forms - baps, rolls, sliced... all of which are singularly so disgusting I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would give money for them
Thanks to the miracle of centrally-planned production, the Warsaw Pact armies also suffered from a shortage of bog roll. Apparently an important source of intelligence for the West were the "recycled" secret documents that could be found all over the countryside after a military, er, exercises.
"Your mission, 007, is to wander round fields in East Germany collecting up the used bog paper."
"What the hell do teenagers do with toilet roll? "
Buy medicated Izal for their bathroom, and watch usage stop. Of course, you'll need a proper mortice lock on your bathroom door (or the cabinet with the soft stuff).
As for the poor Venezuelans, its notable that the Soviet Union had similar problems in its final years, and I think Cuba did - a failed bog roll supply chain is clearly the hallmark of a failed economy. In which case, rather than poking fun at the Venezuelans, we'd better start filling our lofts for the few years hence when the British economy collapses under the weight of its unpayable debts.
Maybe I can make my fortune with an appropriately shaped, washable, ultra soft silicone squeegee. The modern equivalent of the Roman sponge on a stick.
For 1% of my profits, would anybody care to suggest a name for my device?
Some fine market-ready suggestions.
Perhaps R-swype gives it a degree of hip-yoof appeal. If the company is Hog's, then Hog's iWipe would certainly appeal to the iDevice wielding chav masses. So that's two segments of the market covered. Half a percent each do you?
I bought a four pack of aloe vera enriched bog roll from Aldi the other day for less than the price of a four pack of poor lager. I gained no joy from the purchase, but can't imagine what life would be like if there was no bog roll.
Venezuela has fast become a laughing stock. Perhaps Cezar Chavez was a US secret agent, whose mission was to discredit socialism?
It doesn't need a secret agent to discredit socialism. It does it perfectly well, all by itself...
It's also sad looking at Argentina. They started to recover really well from their debt-crisis a decade ago. And then the politicians buggered it all up. Not that it would have been easy anyway. They set the price of beef below that of production. Because it's apparently immoral to export food when poor people are struggling to eat beef at home. Well that's all fine and dandy, but how are poor people going to afford food, if all the jobs dry up, because the exporters have been put out of business? I think the soya export trade is still going well, but I read that they've now introduced the same idea to the grain farmers, so that export industry will be going the same way.
Another news story I read had an alternative theory - the problem is that the government subsidise bog-roll (and a few other essentials) so it's very cheap, and people are buying it up and shipping it across the border into Columbia where they can sell it at a hefty profit. A triumph of capitalism! Government plan is to introduce rationing (only one purchase a day etc)
Same old story - a few greedy capitalist bastards spoil it for everyone else (definition of capitalism really)
Who says it's a few - and not everyone who lives on the border? Like you can't buy baby milk in Hong Kong. Because any Chinese person who goes there, runs to the supermarket and hoovers it all up. Either for profit, or for themselves and friends. Because no-one trusts the locally available stuff after all the recent food scandals.
But anyway, that's why capitalism works. Don't have the government telling people what price things should be and what to buy, they'll invariable screw it up. Don't subsidise stuff. Give people the money to buy it, then they can make their own decisions on what they want. If something's in short supply, then more will magically appear, because the price will go up. At least if the economy works well. If stuff isn't turning up, it's probably because you've regulated your businesses so much, that they can't change production without filling in forms, in triplicate, then burying them in soft peat for 3 months, and re-cycling them as fire lighters.
I agree. I was going to say use the cash saved on subsidies to raise benefits for those on them, and lower taxes for those not on them - then let them choose what to spend their cash on. But got side-tracked onto forms and fire lighters...
Economies are just too complicated for governments to plan. They don't even have enough information or knowledge to get interest rates right, because the data takes 3 to 6 months to collect and the effects of changes can take 2-3 years to finish percolating through the system. So even if economists had a perfect understanding of cause and effect in economics (and they don't...), it would still be impossible to manage an economy perfectly. How people can expect a government to be able to balance demand for bread, toilet rolls, healthcare and all the myriad other things is beyond me.
@I ain't Spartacus:
"Like you can't buy baby milk in Hong Kong....But anyway, that's why capitalism works."
I'm not sure what you're trying to argue here... Is this a "breast is best" angle, and you're praising the market shortage of totally unnecessary formula feed as the "invisible hand" promoting child health?
The meer existence of baby milk is proof that capitalism is all about conning people into buying stuff they don't need.
no, he was correctly pointing out that uncontrolled markets encourage cheating, like creating false protein levels in baby milk by adding toxic chemicals as reported in China for over two years because the companies are unregulated effectively. Management was the local Party. The point that all should have made is that politicians damage economies in at least two ways.
(a) crude interference with pricing mechanisms such as arbitary price controls
(b) allowing the companies and politicians to become interdependent or the same thing, as in the ruins of the USA, Australia and maybe Exgreat Britain.
<rant>Big corporations are most western governments effectively because they own the pollies via election funding.
Perhaps it is time for wannabe pollies to emulate the old monks and take vows of poverty. At least it maintained learning in Europe while the usually unlearned pollies crashed the Empire and fumbled their way into barbarian invasions. No political funding from anyone unless it is from party members private funds, with a limit. Might reduce the amount of $$ the media types get, but who cares. </rant>
Lastly, R-swipe, you nearly owed me a new keyboard
Downvoted you because that's not what I Ain't Spartacus was saying. There was a scare a while ago where highly dangerous levels of melamine were found in milk supplies in China. These could kill babies who were fed it. So there is now a view that *all* milk in China is suspect and those Chinese citizens who can do so now hop across the border to buy their milk from Hong Kong supermarkets (and generally clear out the shelves when they do so). Those who clean out the shelves generally do so to resell the bottles back across the border at a profit. Hence the "capitalism at work" comment.
Oh, and also downvoted for mispelling "mere". ^_^
My comment about baby formula in Hong Kong was an answer to the point that people may have been selling their toilet paper into Brasil, in order to profit from government subsidised paper. Although I'm not sure if that's true. I was under the impression that there's no subsidy, but a price control. So the government aren't actually paying out to make it cheaper, they're controlling prices to gain popularity. If you do this to the extent that price falls below cost of production, then the obvious will happen. No more production. Although that will take time.
A business should continue to produce goods and sell below cost of production, so long as they've already got the machinery in place and they're still making enough money to pay ongoing costs like labour, transport and power. i.e. if you can cover all marginal costs and at least some of your fixed costs, and there's no alternative (i.e. producing something profitable on the same machines), you may as well do so. In hopes that the business can keep running, and things improve in future. Obviously though, you won't invest any more.
My point I guess, though I didn't make it, is that people are the problem. If people have an incentive to do something, even something harmful, some of them will probably do it. That is the problem with both socialism and capitalism. In the case of capitalism, greedy bastards will do stupid things to make cash, that harm other people. And that's why you need a government, with a big stick, to regulate them - and try to keep things fair.
However the socialists can't get too smug here either. Because the problem with socialism is that if people don't get incentives then they also don't do good stuff. Or at least not everyone. So some people might work for the greater good, but a lot of people also want a nice telly or car or house. And if that's not on offer, they may not want to work more than what puts food on the table. And if society is giving to each according to his needs, from each according to his means, then there'll turn out to be a lot more people with needs than those with means, unless the ones with means are also getting something out of it. Freeloading is then a logical choice.
In China, neither is working. You're almost getting unfettered capitalism. Certainly in the case of the baby formula. There may be food standards regulations, but they're not enforced. And there's no incentive for the party to enforce them, because they have special party suppliers, that bring in foreign food. So they're all right Jack. And fuck everyone else. Sections of the Chinese economy are a total free-for-all, with all the downsides of unregulated capitalism. But other sectors are almost totally state run and/or state owned. Such as the banking sector, which is even worse than ours was in 2007 at the height of the madness. They've got the corrupt links between local government and local banks to make the problems with the Spanish Cajas look like a picnic. Although $3 trillion of foreign reserves solves many problems.
The meer existence of baby milk is proof that capitalism is all about conning people into buying stuff they don't need.
The Indomitable Gall,
Really? Are you seriously saying that no-one wants that stuff, and only because 'evil capitalists' produce it are people suckered into buying it? Because that's a pretty silly argument, if so.
Breast milk may be best, but I'm not sure how long that's been known, as in demonstrated by multiple studies. But even if everyone who could breastfeed did so, there would still be a place for formula milk. Unless you want to go for the evolutionary argument, that the genes of mothers who aren't (for various reasons) able to successfully breastfeed shouldn't be passed on - and that a few dead babies is a reasonable price to pay for this. And I really doubt that's what you meant.
I have fond memories of filling up the 23 litre tank of my motorbike in Venezuela and getting change from $1. It wasn't so fun close to the Brasilian border where there were massive queues of Brasileros at the petrol stations.
You weren't allowed to fill containers, which made sense, so exporters would simply build external petrol tanks into their car boots. It took a lot of arguing in Spanish to get my 500ml stove bottle filled up, which was a bit ridiculous when the Brasilian next to me was filling his car up with 200 litres...
Personally, I'd rather have loo paper than cheap petrol.
A country literally floating on enormous oil reserves is full of contradictions, like having unfulfilled basic necessities. They are the poster child of failed capitalism, failed communism, and everything in between.
Still, someone has done something right on that country, because they have one of the longest democratic traditions of South America.
I get uncomfortable if there is less than four double rolls in reserve under the sink. I buy it in 36 roll packs (36 Double Rolls= 72 Regular Rolls!). The day I run out is the day I lead the Revolution. Yes. It Is Like That.* You have been advised.
* Fateful Army training waaaaay out in the woods would forever change this commentard's outlook on life, when doing as a bear does in the woods, did not have toilet paper, and would wipe his ass with poison ivy - which later spread to his balls. Too much information? May be. However I believe that it's the small things that count, governments have been overthrown for less. This is the wisdom I impart to the new generations.
...when doing as a bear does in the woods...
Which reminds me of another gag:
A rabbit is having a quick crap when a bear comes over, squats down next to him and proceeds to take a dump. The rabbit eyes the bear nervously and then the bear looks at the rabbit and says:
"Tell me. When you're having a crap, do you find that the shit sticks to your fur?"
The rabbit relaxes a bit due to the friendly banter and replies; "Oh God yes. Gets really stuck on there it does, nothing you can do about it though.".
"Fucking magic!" exclaims the bear and with that, he grabs the rabbit and wipes his arse with it.
I lived in Venezuela in the turbulent '80's and the same problem was endemic as was the shortage of coins and lots of other things that are supposed to just be. We would get eggs and sweets for change in supermarkets. No toilet paper was often the problem so we all hoarded it; resulting of course in further and more severe shortages. Venezuela is a beautiful place, but essentially ungovernable; its a wonder they even have such things as electricity or ice, but those are essentials for drinking and dancing so I guess they put in extra effort. Banana leaves, anyone?
Way, way, WAY back in the 1970s I spent a lot of time in Jamaica. (Loooong story) At the time the government was run (if you stretch the meaning of the word far enough) by the People's National Party, the socialists, under the banner of 'scientific socialism'. (The Opposition were the Jamaica Labour Party. Yes, a right-wing labour party. Now where have we seen that lately?) The PNP was very, very, VERY friendly with Venezuela, and Mexico, and especially Cuba. Not so much with the US. (Or the UK, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Michael Manley, the then PM had spent 1944-5 flying fighters for the RAF and some of the other senior members of the Party, such as 'Cuddly' Dudley Thompson put in more time in uniform for the King; 'Cuddly' Dudley was a tail gunner on a Lanc, the second most dangerous job in the RAF.)
In any case, thanks in large part to the Party's 'principled socialist' stance, a lot of stuff was in short supply. I particularly recall that it was literally impossible to find regular toilet paper in local stores. There just wasn't any for sale at any price. Instead there was 'recycled' paper in very strange shades of blue, gray, and mauve (no, I'm not making this up) and which was noticeably stiff and scratchy and not particularly soft. At the time Air Jamaica (of blessed memory, now subsumed into some two-headed monster out of Trinidad) had five flights a day to Miami, and Certain Elements, being unpatriotic capitalist class enemies would take the first flight of the day and come back on last, having made a little trip to the nearest Publix or Winn Dixie to Miami Airport and loaded up on the toilet tissue. (I'm not making this up, either.) One of the reasons why the PNP lost (and I mean really seriously lost) the election of 1980 after winning big in 1976 (the current Prime Minister was first elected to office in 1976; she got 105% of the vote in her constituency, and I'm not making that up, either.) was because the voters had had quite enough of 'scientific socialism' and scratchy mauve toilet paper. (it certainly wasn't Eddie Seaga's winning personality which turned the tide, I'll tell you that. Eddie was somewhere to the right of Ronnie Raygun and could give John Minor lessons on how to be stiff and colourless. He did like computers, though; I spent a lot of time working in the Edward Phillip George Seaga National Computing Centre. Yes, that was its name.) it was amazing how fast the 'recycled' paper vanished once Eddie was PM. Well, except for a brand which sold orange and red (PNP colours) paper and which did quite well in certain areas, areas whose chosen colours were normally green and black. (wanna guess what party used those colours?)
<exit, stage right, to the tunes of "I Man Born Ya" and "Foreign Press". <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYGe0yltCAE> and <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAvnCWj_Qe8>>
There are many places in the world where the inhabitants have a custom of eating without utensils (in some cases because they cannot afford them).
In all cases, they use only their right hand for this purpose; if you are invited to eat with one of these, do not under any circumstances use your left hand. The left hand is for wiping the bottom and is usually washed afterwards. But no paper, no leaves, no "3 seashells", no stick; just good old fashioned skin.
A bear sat in the woods, doing what come naturally. He looks down at a rabbit and asks him "when you shit, does it stick to your fur?" That rabbit thought for a bit bit before saying "No". So the bear picked the rabbit up and wiped his arse with him!
"So the bear picked the rabbit up and wiped his arse with him!"
If I might offer a Mr Logic insight: For the joke to work, the rabbit has to answer "yes".
All of which begs the question, how do Andrex prove to the ASA that their product is in fact "puppy soft"? Who conducts the tests, who has to witness and record them, and what do they do with the newly-chocolate labrador puppies afterwards?
And whilst rambling happily off topic, and protected by the talismanic AC status, why is a labrador-poodle cross always a labradoodle. Surely half of them will be Poodadors?
This post has been deleted by its author
Spent a few years in Algeria in my youth (short version - paternal unit was doing work there). I still remember the first local word I learned: "makesh" (a.k.a. "we don't have any" or "we've run out". I remember it being used interchangeably).
Spelling and pronunciation may have been tainted by the years though. ^_^
"Give people the money to buy it, then they can make their own decisions on what they want."
Except that that won't work in a cruelly capitalist system like in Hong Kong. Whenever the government gives out money or subsidies to the poor/elderly the filthy landlords immediately raise the rent of those unfortunate enough not to be living in government subsidised housing.
Reminded me of the old Not the 9 O'Clock News sketch! Couldn't find it on YouTube but readers of a certain age will recall...
Regarding the economics discussion (and there is sooo much going on here!) I think the concept everyone misses is.... BALANCE!
Reactionary politics and extremism are easy-peasy but maintaining balance is hard work and a thankless task so no one ever bothers with it :( Funny, I came to this conclusion after playing Ultima VII. In the second part of the game the plot revolved around the forces Order versus Chaos and, much like the real world, the characters representing Balance were few but vital to the game.
It's the first game I ever encountered with subtle discussions around religion, politics and philosophy being essential to play. The spiritual successor Skyrim owes a lot to Lord British :) Funny what sticks with you over the years!
...and R-Swipe, priceless!
Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021