Takin’ a Week Off

I’m going to take next week off. I will, in equal parts, be enjoying the end of summer and catching up on a few things I promised to get done by September. Next week will be "Best of Frank" reruns. I’m sure several of you haven’t yet worked through the entire back catalog of posts anyway.Beach crop

In the meantime, I thought I would clear off some links and topics I’ve been meaning to get to, but am now willing to admit that I won’t.

A while back one of my best tipsters sent me a link to this really rather bizarre post on Mint.com’s blog written by Chris Larsen, CEO of Prosper, which claims to be "America’s largest peer-to-peer lending marketplace." It’s about his apocalyptic view of the near future in which the middle class disappears and we are left with a tiny elite of super rich and the poor, who will be employed primarily as members of the elite’s household entourage.

And speaking of CEOs and finding out how weird they are, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has been ruffling more than a few feathers with an opinion piece he wrote on healthcare in the Wall Street Journal last week. It caused Mark Gimein at The Big Money to ask Has Whole Foods’ CEO Gone Completely Bananas?

Okay, first off, Gimein is a little late to the John Mackey Is Nuts party. This is the same guy who for seven years used a pseudonym to criticize a rival supermarket chain on Yahoo Finance. And he has some wacky ideas about his own company, viewing Whole Foods as an emerging "Third Place" for his customers, the other two being home and work.

Truth be told, what Mackey said in his piece wasn’t all that nutty, although it was mostly contrary to the points of view held by just the sort of folks most likely to think of Whole Foods as place #3. (Not very nutty sounding recap can be found here at All Financial Matters.)

I’m really trying to keep the healthcare debate/debacle from making more than cameo appearances in this blog, because I know that if I really got into it, it would just take over. But I will say this: Mackey’s primary fault is a tin ear for the politics of what he is saying. And ending your column endorsing a change to a "diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat" isn’t going to help you get taken seriously.

But he could have a point about diet. Last month the Times had an item on how obese Americans spend more on healthcare than smaller Americans. That’s not a surprise exactly, but the article did have a tidbit I was meaning to verify. Apparently, treating obesity-related conditions "represents almost 10 percent of all medical spending." Perhaps one of you readers can look into this while I am gone. It certainly satisfies the three rules of numerical fiction.

If true, it sure would justify a punishing tax on junk food, just like we do for cigarettes. Speaking of which, I finally found a grow your own solution that I agree may have economic merit. According to the AP, people have started growing their own tobacco to make their own smokes. It seems that $24.50 worth of seeds could produce enough to "satisfy a pack-a-day habit for more than three years." The catch, of course, is that it is spectacularly labor-intensive, so the seed price isn’t really a factor. Still, this sounds like the predictable result of selling a product at a price that is almost entirely made up of taxes.

Well, that’s it from me for a while. I’ll be back the week after next.


  • By bex, August 21, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    Yes… fat people have more medical expenses than fit people… but they also die sooner so we don’t have to pay Social Security benefits to them. A similar analysis was done a while ago on “smokers.”

    Medical costs have been skyrocketing — for no good reason — so probably an obese person is currently a net drain on resources. But once we get those costs under control, I wouldn’t be surprised if overall obesity is a net positive.

  • By Rob Bennett, August 21, 2009 @ 11:00 am

    And ending your column endorsing a change to a “diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat” isn’t going to help you get taken seriously.

    I don’t have any idea whether he is on to anything or not, but I am happy that that guy was willing to share something with us over which he seems to have strong feelings. Lots of times in the past I have learned something when someone was willing to do that. If I had more interest in this particular issue, my guess is that I might learn something by exploring the reasons why he said what he said.


  • By Kosmo @ The Casual Observer, August 21, 2009 @ 11:06 am

    I wonder how many of these small growers are selling to their friends, since it seems that some economies of scale would come into play?

    Alert the IRS and the state tax revenue departments … :)

  • By Jim, August 21, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

    That Mackey article actually had a lot of good points and a couple bad ones IMHO. I’m sure many vegan capitalists will agree with him 100%.

  • By kitty, August 22, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    “Medical costs have been skyrocketing — for no good reason — ”

    There are plenty of good reasons for skyrocketing health care costs. Let me see:
    1) new drugs such as targetted therapy for cancer as well as new chemo drugs as well as new very expensive drugs for other chronic conditions. For example, Tarceva for lung cancer – $3000 a month; has to be taken for as long as it works. Lucentis for macular degeneration – look it up. There are other new and expensive treatments as well.

    2) “preventive drugs” like drugs to increase bone density or statins for people at risk but who don’t yet have heart disease and changing guidelines that low the minimum numbers at which they start treat you with drugs. E.g. in the past they would just treat women for osteoporosis. Now they came up with osteopenia i.e. low normal bone density values; same with cholesterol values and sugar.

    Now those of you who have no clue about a little metric called “number needed to treat” (NNT) will say that “oh but it’s cheaper to take statins than to treat heart attack”. Maybe — in one person. How about treating 250 people for 5 years to prevent 1 heart attack or stroke? Still think it’s cheaper? BTW 70 to 250 is NNT for statins for people at high risk (the higher number of risk factors the lower the NNT) but who haven’t yet had heart attack.

    3. More tests, including more tests advertised on TV whether or not they have shown to work. Even if a particular test is not expensive, tests aren’t perfect. They can have false positives which lead to more expensive and more invasive tests; some tests can result in “overdiagnosis” i.e. diagnosing the early disease that may have never progressed had it remained undetected. The more accurate some tests are the higher chance of overdiagnosis and the higher number of people diagnosed and treated.

    4. Some kids now are taking psychiatric drugs…

    Shall I go on? I didn’t even get to “defensive medicine” i.e. doctors ordering expensive tests to rule out 1/10000000 chance of something just so you don’t sue them later on. Or end-of-life care which is really expensive and the better technology we have to keep people alive and in ICU longer the more expensive it gets…

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