How do subsidized lunches hurt cities?

If you help us build the tools that destroy democracies, the least we can do is buy you a sandwich.

What was once a simple perk is suddenly a political statement, at least as framed by city supervisors in this piece on banning corporate free lunch policies.

“These tech companies have decided to leave their suburban campuses because their employees want to be in the city, and yet the irony is, they come to the city and are creating isolated, walled-off campuses,” said Aaron Peskin, a city supervisor who is co-sponsoring the bill with Ahsha Safaí. “This is not against these folks, it’s for them. It’s to integrate them into the community.”

“We gave huge tax breaks to revitalize neighborhoods,” Mr. Peskin said. “But instead, they’re all walled into their tech palaces.”

City lawmakers should definitely think of creative ways to ensure economic prosperity radiates outward from the biggest companies in town. Employees, rightfully, wonder if they’re at the losing end here.

How real is the threat of corporate subsidized lunches to the city?

What impact might this sort of policy actually have on local restaurants?

What unintended consequences might make this backfire?

How has “financialization” held you back?

need a caption!

For a post-Cold War generation, socialism is more appealing than scary.


Of all the diagnoses for the reasons behind the financial collapse and slow (or at least uneven) subsequent recovery, this Time piece on the “financialization” of the economy seems to pinpoint the broadest underlying cause with the most specific reasoning. Well worth a read. This excerpt gives you the general idea:

Over the past few decades, finance has turned away from this traditional role. Academic research shows that only a fraction of all the money washing around the financial markets these days actually makes it to Main Street businesses. “The intermediation of household savings for productive investment in the business sector—the textbook description of the financial sector—constitutes only a minor share of the business of banking today,” according to academics Oscar Jorda, Alan Taylor and Moritz Schularick, who’ve studied the issue in detail. By their estimates and others, around 15% of capital coming from financial institutions today is used to fund business investments, whereas it would have been the majority of what banks did earlier in the 20th century.

“Across all advanced economies, and the United States and the U.K. in particular, the role of the capital markets and the banking sector in funding new investment is decreasing.” Most of the money in the system is being used for lending against existing assets such as housing, stocks and bonds.

To get a sense of the size of this shift, consider that the financial sector now represents around 7% of the U.S. economy, up from about 4% in 1980. Despite currently taking around 25% of all corporate profits, it creates a mere 4% of all jobs. Trouble is, research by numerous academics as well as institutions like the Bank for International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund shows that when finance gets that big, it starts to suck the economic air out of the room. In fact, finance starts having this adverse effect when it’s only half the size that it currently is in the U.S. Thanks to these changes, our economy is gradually becoming “a zero-sum game between financial wealth holders and the rest of America,” says former Goldman Sachs banker Wallace Turbeville, who runs a multiyear project on the rise of finance at the New York City—based nonprofit Demos.

And after this broad introduction it goes into finer details. The decrease in small business loans (and hence small businesses being started), the increase in cash upfront home purchases (and hence the decrease of younger families entering the home market), and the skyrocketing of debt, both personal and corporate.


How has this rampant “financialization” — lower interest rates, higher debt, lower loan availability, greater income inequality — affected you?


Have you put off or ruled out any options that would have been more viable at this stage in your life, say, 20 or 30 years ago?


Would you be happier in a world “pre-financialization”? How would your life be different?

Review: The Big Short – Is it wrong to profit from misfortune you’re powerless to prevent?

Featuring Steve Carrell as Angry Guy and Ryan Gosling as Slick Dude.

Featuring Steve Carrell as Angry Guy and Ryan Gosling as Slick Dude.


The Big Short probably shouldn’t exist as a movie. As an explanation of exactly how and why the financial meltdown of 2008 happened, it’s fascinating, and does a reasonable job laying out the series of events. But if you’ve read enough news articles, or listened to some of the great podcasts from This American Life or Planet Money since these events unfolded, it’s not really offering a lot of new info. As a story about a few specific finance guys who saw it coming and took action, it’s compelling, but also packed to the gills with journalism and outright explaining disguised as drama, just to allow the audience to follow along.

What results feels like a mix between a Michael Moore movie (specific agenda and point of view, humorous fourth-wall-breaking style) and the most star-studded, entertaining dramatization to escape the confines of what could have otherwise been a talking-head documentary. Its script makes it fun while its facts make it depressing; it has a stylish tone and voice I enjoyed, but comes off as schizophrenic in what type of movie it wants to be.

But that’s the film as an experience. Strangely, the movie seems only glancingly concerned with the moral questions involved. It clearly takes the stance of “The Big Banks are Evil,” which pretty much every non-rich person agrees with going in. The handful of traders and fund managers who saw the signs early enough to profit from it serve as our gateway into the story, a useful device for all the explaining the film has to do as they figure it all out. But while the movie also paints these people as our “heroes” — we follow their actions, we root for them to succeed — it pays only lip service to the fact that their success comes on the backs of millions of people losing their homes or jobs, and the entire globe suffering a huge financial disaster. There’s a lot of glee at them pulling it all off, only a couple quiet moments of realization at the implications. It’s so interested in using these characters to make a bigger point about “the system”, it brushes the possibly-more-nuanced character question under the rug in the process.



If you know something terrible is going to happen, affecting millions of people, but stopping it is out of your control, is it wrong to take action to personally profit from that tragedy?


How would you feel about doing it?
Should it be legal or should the system be changed to prevent it?
Is it better that someone benefit than no one?
Would you feel obligated to use that profit for good?

Would you take a 20% pay cut to work four days per week?

Also, which day of the week would you never want to work again?

Also, which day of the week would you never want to work again?


Corporations dream of continuous growth. It shows prosperity, guarantees healthy stock prices. If GDP moves up, the country is healthy; if it remains flat, the country is “stagnating”. Our whole financial system is based on chasing more and more growth for greater and greater rewards.

Some economists suggest there may be another ideal, the steady state, at which productivity increases lead not to continuous growth, but a more equal distribution of limited resources, and for much of the currently employed, a reduction in work hours as employment hours and free time are essentially redistributed. I’m drastically oversimplifying the premise for a setup here, but if you’re into the economic argument, this fantastic Mother Jones article goes in depth.

Essentially, the proposal is that we all share the amount of employment needed to maintain a healthy steady state, then tax big corporations and the very rich to supplement the services a healthy society shouldn’t make its citizens go broke paying for itself (like health care and education) to make our remaining pay go farther. Interesting theory.

But at the end of the day, an immediate change would be you work less, but make less. We’d have to adjust to less money (and therefore less consumption), and more free time.


Would you be willing to go from a five day to a four day work week for four-fifths (20% less) income?


How would you adjust to having less money? What would you do with the extra time?


What other societal implications or changes might result from a shift like this? Would we be more or less informed and engaged? More or less relaxed and satisfied with our careers? More or less able to travel, or create or appreciate art and culture, or any other positive pursuits?

Why has the promise of the sharing economy failed?

Putting your startup idea in cartoon form is guaranteed to make it seem friendlier.

Putting your startup idea in cartoon form is guaranteed to make it seem friendlier.

Fast Company takes a look at why the utopian idea of borrowing things you only use rarely (tools, bikes, etc) through the internet never really took off. Today’s “sharing economy” businesses like Uber or Airbnb are actually more traditional pay-for-service than anything to do with sharing, but somehow the most pure common-good businesses fell by the wayside. This quote is particularly on point:

There was just one problem. As Adam Berk, the founder of Neighborrow, puts it: “Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy [a drill]. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.”

Makes you wonder if it’s not the idea, but the people who are the problem. If we can’t be bothered to sign up or use simple web services like this that theoretically both save us money and helps communities feel more neighborly…


Is the sharing economy built on a flawed premise of cooperation?


Are we too self-involved for this to work at all, or is there hope that going about it slightly differently could make sharing more appealing?


At the root of it all: do you even want to be closer to your neighbors, or feel a stronger sense of community, or is that an old-fashioned ideal?