Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Incentives (page 1 / 1)

Palm Oil, Child labor, Evil, and Deliberate Decisions

This story breaks my heart and makes me angry.

Child labor in palm oil industry tied to Girl Scout cookies

10-year-old Ima helped harvest the fruit that makes its way into a dizzying array of products sold by leading Western food and cosmetics brands.

Ima is among the estimated tens of thousands of children working alongside their parents in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. An Associated Press investigation found most earn little or no pay and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and other dangerous conditions. Some never go to school or learn to read and write. Others are smuggled across borders and left vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse. Many live in limbo with no citizenship and fear being swept up in police raids and thrown into detention.

The AP used U.S. Customs records and the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers to trace the fruits of their labor from the processing mills where palm kernels were crushed to the supply chains of many popular kids’ cereals, candies and ice creams sold by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and many other leading food companies, including Ferrero – one of the two makers of Girl Scout cookies.

… Ima led her class in math and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then one day her father made her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets on the palm oil plantation where she was born. Instead of attending fourth grade, she squatted in the unrelenting heat, snatching up the loose kernels littering the ground and knowing if she missed even one, her family’s pay would be cut.

She sometimes worked 12 hours a day, wearing only flip flops and no gloves, crying when the fruit’s razor-sharp spikes bloodied her hands or when scorpions stung her fingers. The loads she carried, sometimes so heavy she would lose her footing, went to one of the very mills feeding into the supply chain of Olivia’s cookies.

“I am dreaming one day I can go back to school,” she told the AP, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Child labor has long been a dark stain on the $65 billion global palm oil industry. Though often denied or minimized as kids simply helping their families on weekends or after school, it has been identified as a problem by rights groups, the United Nations and the U.S. government.

Let’s look closer at what’s going on. Above the story says that Ima’s father made “her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets”. The same thing is mentioned again, later in the article.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and, with a population of 270 million, there is no shortage of strong backs. Many laborers migrate from the poorest corners of the country to take jobs that others shun, often bringing their wives and children as helpers in order to meet impossibly high daily quotas.

The company executives who set those high daily quotas, will wash their hands of the child labor saying that “it’s the parents choice to bring their children to the fields” and “we can’t stop that”. Of course, they could. Lower the daily quotas to a level that one person can meet on their own. Keeping the daily quotas high isn’t about preventing laziness or motivating hard work or incentivizing creative ways to increase efficiency. It’s about forcing people into impossible choices, all for the good of your own bottom line. It is, in short, greedy and evil.

I wonder if the Bible has anything to say about giving people high daily quotas.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.

… But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”

Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.”

That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.’ Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!”

These workers end up in a repeating cycle of poverty, because they’re kept out of school as children.

But the biggest obstacles faced by Alex and other child workers in the two countries are lack of access to adequate, affordable education and medical care.

Some companies in Indonesia provide rudimentary elementary schooling on plantations, but children who want to continue their studies may find they have to travel too far on poor roads or that they can’t afford it. In Malaysia, the problem is even bigger: Without legal documents, tens of thousands of kids are not allowed to go to government schools at all.

It’s such an extensive problem that Indonesia has set up learning centers to help some of its children on plantations in the neighboring country, even sending in its own teachers. But with such heavy workloads on plantations, one instructor said he had to beg parents to let their sons and daughters come for even just a half-day of classes. And many children, especially those living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, still have no access to any type of education.

“Why aren’t companies playing a role in setting up schools in collaboration with the government?” asked Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian nonprofit group concentrating on migrant issues for more than two decades. “Why are they encouraging the children to work instead?”

And, yes, I use “kept out of school” deliberately. When children are prevented from going to school because they don’t have legal documents, presumably because no one will give them legal documents, someone is making a choice to deny them that which they need to get an education. And when companies are happy to pretend that they don’t see child labor even as they avoid setting up schools for the children that they know are on their plantations—well, that’s a choice too.

Are the companies which are buying and using palm oil acting responsibily?

The [Girl Scout cookies] bakers’ parent companies – Italian confectionary brand Ferrero and Canadian-based Weston Foods – would not comment on the issue of child labor, but both said they were committed to sourcing only certified sustainable palm oil.

Weston Foods, which owns ABC Bakers, would not provide any information about its palm oil suppliers, citing proprietary reasons, so the AP could not determine if its supply chain was tainted.

“Proprietary reasons”. I’m going to make my own decision. Weston Foods is guilty of using palm oil made by child laborers. That’s the most plausible explanation for why they won’t tell AP who their suppliers are.

Weston Foods is owned by George Weston Limited. It, in turn, is owned by the Canadian branch of the Weston Family. Galen G. Weston is the current chairman and CEO of George Weston Limited.

He sounds like a man who places profits far above people.

Weston has faced frequent criticism from the Canadian labour movement, including from unions representing his companies' workers and from organizations promoting workers' rights and poverty reduction more generally. On December 31, 2017 Galen Weston Jr. "won" labour organization RankandFile.ca's 2017 Scumbag of the Year award. The organization holds Weston responsible for opposing a $15 minimum wage, engaging in tax avoidance via offshore holdings, firing 500 workers and closing 22 stores in response to an increase in minimum wage, and being caught in a 14 year bread price fixing scam.

In June 2020, Weston confirmed the cancellation of an hourly $2.00 CAD wage premium to Loblaw workers, earning criticism from Unifor President Jerry Dias. The premium was paid to low-wage grocery store workers, who were deemed "essential" and required to attend work in dangerous conditions while most of Canada was shut down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because evil is perpetuated by real people, specific people, who make specific decisions that make the world a worse place. And I may not be able to do much to change a man like Galen Weston, prick his conscience, or cause him discomfort. But I can do my tiny part to tell the truth.

Galen Weston runs a company that knowingly purchases palm oil that is produced with child labor. Galen Weston has the power, authority, and clout to make a real difference in the fight to stamp out child labor, to stamp out child illiteracy, to make the world a better place. And he chooses not to do it. He is not a good man.

Likewise, Girl Scouts of America chooses to contract with ABC Bakers, owned by Weston Foods, to make their Girl Scout cookies. They could make a different choice. So far they have chosen not to. They also share the blame for the child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia.

If you’ve read this far down, you now have a choice to make. Will you continue purchasing Girl Scout cookies? Or will you do your tiny part to make the world a better place?

Epic Supports Patients' Access to Their Data

Disclaimer: I am a 15-year employee of Epic, love my job, and love that we have a CEO who cares deeply about patient privacy as well as patient care. I'm not writing as a company spokesperson, but as a private individual who's frustrated by fake news and misinformation.

Recently, many, many news organizations have written about Epic's opposition to a new regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services that would make it easier to share medical records data with patients and apps. These organizations are saying that Epic opposes the new regulation because Epic opposes data sharing and wants to keep patient information locked up, in the pursuit of outrageous profits. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Epic loves data sharing. Patients are healthier and safer when every doctor, nurse, medical assistant, lab tech, pharmacist, etc. can see their full medical records. We developed:

  • Care Everywhere and Care Anywhere—data sharing between Epic organizations and standards-compliant data sharing between Epic and non-Epic organizations
  • MyChart—allowing enable patients to access their own data
  • Lucy—allowing patients to easily consolidate their charts from multiple healthcare systems
  • Share Everywhere—allowing patients to directly share their records with anyone in the world, even clinicians who are still using paper charts

Our concern about the new rule comes down to one reason: worries about patient privacy. Many, many Android and iOS apps earn revenue by selling user data. The majority of the time users are unaware that their apps are tracking them, unaware of how much their apps are tracking them, and unaware of how many different companies their apps are selling their data to. There is a real risk that giving apps access to your healthcare information could mean that those apps are reselling your healthcare records to anyone and everyone, without your knowledge or consent.

We published an open letter stating these concerns.

  • Family member data may inadvertently be shared. The data sent to the apps might include family member data, without the patient realizing it and without the family members’ knowledge or permission. Almost all medical records contain family history, which may be threaded throughout the record.

After surgery, Jim’s doctor wants to prescribe an opioid for Jim during his recovery. Jim prefers not to take an opioid because his brother Ken struggles with addiction. The doctor makes a note about that in Jim’s medical record. When Jim’s health data is sent to an app, and that data is used, shared, or sold, Ken’s addiction status may become public without Ken’s knowledge or permission.

Jim and Ken’s story is similar to what happened to Facebook friends who did not give their approval for their information to be harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

  • Apps may take much more of the patient’s data than the patient intended. There are no transparency requirements to make it very clear to the patient what data the app is taking and what the app will do with that data.

A wellness app offers Liz a cholesterol study and asks her to approve sending the app her lab results. Liz does not realize that the app has gathered all of her lab results, including sensitive information such as her pregnancy status and STD testing results. She does not know that the app will sell that data. Once her health information is out, she cannot pull it back.

We have always, and will always, support patients’ right to use their data as they see fit. However, it is the role of government to ensure that patients have the information they need to make those decisions knowledgeably, like they have for nutrition and food or labels in the clothes they buy. Patients must be fully informed about how apps will use their data, and apps and other companies must be held accountable to honor the promises they made to patients.

For patients to benefit from the ONC rule without these serious risks to their privacy, we recommend that transparency requirements and privacy protections are established for apps gathering patient data before the ONC rule is finalized.

Epic does not typically comment publicly on national policy issues. However, our goal is to keep the patients at the heart of everything we do, and we must speak out to avoid a situation like Cambridge Analytica. The solution has a clear precedent in HIPAA protections, and creating similar protections that apply to apps would make a difference in the privacy and well-being of millions of patients and their families.

Please. Before you jump on the bandwagon of people attacking Epic, take a moment to think about the privacy implications of your health records being used as an income stream for app developers.

The Unintended Consequences of Bike Lanes

The Unintended Consequences of Bike Lanes →

It won’t surprise you to learn that these lanes, like many technocratic schemes, come with unintended consequences. When it snows — and it does, from time to time, always catching the city completely by surprise — the plows can’t remove the snow from the streets because the plows can’t fit in the bike lanes. So the plows dump all the snow into the bike lanes themselves. This causes a problem for the two or three people who actually ride bicycles in the bike lanes. It also causes problems for motorists because the city, employing its micromanagerial genius, often uses the portion of the bike lanes near intersections as left-turn lanes for cars. Safety first.

Another consequence — unintended? — is that already congested streets lose an entire lane. I remember once it took me nearly thirty minutes to travel five blocks down L Street, NW. The road was down to one lane, effectively.

And today’s observation: Delivery trucks can’t fit in the bike lanes. So they load and unload not at the curb, but in the street. Safety first. Bottlenecks form. Commuters lose productive time at work or time home with their children. Welfare decreases because rage, or at least irritation, increases.

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." — F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit

This entry was tagged. Incentives

Why Women Really Demanded Diamond Rings

Why Women Really Demanded Diamond Rings →

David Friedman shares an interesting tidbit.

…In the early 20th century, a common pattern was for engaged couples to have sex with the understanding that if the woman got pregnant they would get married; evidence from several late 19th century European cities suggests that about a third of brides were pregnant. One problem was the risk of that the man, having gotten the sex, would dump his fiancee instead of marrying her. One solution to that, in U.S. law, was the tort action for breach of promise to marry. In a society where marriage was the main career open to women and the fact that a woman was known not to be a virgin substantially reduced her marriage prospects, seduction could impose substantial costs and result in a substantial damage payment.

Starting in 1935 in Indiana, U.S. states started altering their laws to abolish the action for breach of promise. Women responded, by Brinig's account, by requiring a down payment from their fiancees in the form of an expensive ring—which forfeited if the fiancee terminated the engagement. Think of it as a performance bond.

A new practice: The doctor will see you today

A new practice: The doctor will see you today →

Here's something interesting from my files.

Medical personnel are fond of saying that you can't practice medicine like a business. They often believe that their work is unique and can't be easily optimized by industrial engineers. But there is some room for improvement. Take scheduling. What if you did today's work today? Worry about next week, next week. Don't try to schedule it today.

A few doctors have started applying that principle in their offices and have found that their patients spend less time in their waiting rooms and spend less time waiting for an available appointment. And the doctors spend less time being overbooked and overworked. The concept is called "open access scheduling" and allows doctors to leave most of their time unbooked.

[P]atients start calling at 9 a.m. and are assigned 15-minute time slots on a first-call, first-serve basis. Those who want a traditional scheduled appointment can try for the two to three hours a day he reserves for advanced bookings, usually for annual physicals or patients who need regular follow-ups. A few extra slots are left open for walk-ins or emergencies.

This is the type of innovation and experimentation that you'd see more of, if patients paid for their care directly, giving them the freedom to shop around and consult different doctors. That kind of open ended market would also give providers more freedom to experiment with how they practice healthcare, rather than being tied to the rules of large HMOs and large group practices.

Consider the Milwaukee Evidence in Debate on Voucher Expansion

Consider the Milwaukee Evidence in Debate on Voucher Expansion →

Wisconsin's School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) recently finished a 5-year study of the effectiveness of Milwaukee's voucher program.

After five years, the SCDP team found:

Statistically significant gains for voucher users in reading compared to matched Milwaukee Public School (MPS) pupils (with the important caveat that the introduction of program wide WKCE testing in the final year of the evaluation could be responsible for some of the gains);

  • Statistically similar impacts on math test scores for matched MPS and MPCP users;
  • A modest positive impact on public school tests scores as more private schools participated in the MPCP;
  • Statewide taxpayer savings, though not in Milwaukee;
  • Higher graduation rates for voucher users compared to MPS;
  • Higher rates of four-year college enrollment for voucher users;
  • Evidence that closed schools in both MPS and the MPCP were the lower performers;
  • High levels of parental satisfaction;
  • No impact on housing prices or racial integration;
  • High rates of school switching;
  • Wide variation in achievement levels between schools.

So what are the practical lessons from the SCDP for other communities considering vouchers? Don’t expect the introduction of a voucher program to sizably increase test scores across the board for voucher users, or students in public schools. It’s safe to expect no negative impact on test scores, but any gains will likely be substantively small. So if the primary consideration in a community is raising test scores, a voucher program like Milwaukee’s may not be wise.

However, if you are a community struggling with high school graduation rates, particularly for low-income pupils (like Madison and Green Bay), a Milwaukee style voucher program could be a viable strategy to raise attainment.

I think this evidence justifies expanding the voucher program state wide. I'd love to see that happen.

Top grads want to teach. Why don't they get hired?

Top grads want to teach. Why don't they get hired? →

Here's another indication that unions are hurting education.

The awkward fact is that teaching in America has become a quasi blue-collar profession mostly shunned by top college graduates. The countries with the best education systems recruit from top graduates. What about our top graduates? A good barometer is Teach for America (TFA), which in 2011 drew nearly 48,000 applicants for 5,200 teaching positions. Those applicants included 12% of the seniors at Ivy League schools.

Here's the question that never gets asked: What happens to the 43,000 top graduates who wanted to teach but didn't get an offer from TFA? Nearly all seek other careers.

For the best and brightest college graduates in this country, jobs offered by regular school districts lack prestige. Their accountability-free practices give the best teachers no way to stand out. These young TFA applicants rose to the top of their high schools classes and won admittance to the top tier colleges. They want a shot at shining on the job as well.

Rising Health Care Costs are No Mystery

Rising Health Care Costs are No Mystery →

One issue that does not get enough attention is the prosaic act of shopping.   I spend my own money, and I care about price.  I spend someone else's money, I don't give a rip.  Josh Cothran did a visualization of who is spending health care money.  Just look at the 1960 and 2012 charts, and pay particular attention to the orange "out-of-pocket" number.  Another way to rewrite these charts is to say consumers care about prices for spending in the orange band only.

Also, healthcare providers only care about your happiness to the extent that you're paying them. If you're not paying out of pocket, they don't care whether or not you're happy with your healthcare.

The problem of government incentives

White House Seeks CEOs' Help - WSJ.com:

Mr. Gould said the group would talk about inspiring top performance from government employees. Then he explained that this inspiration would have to be done without much in the way of financial bonuses, threats of firing or promotions that leapfrogged the normal civil-service rules.

What's left, exactly? Inspiring speeches? I don't see that doing much to inspire a career bureaucrat in a secure job to suddenly do something new and disruptive.

This entry was tagged. Government Incentives

The Problem with American Healthcare

Why does healthcare in America seem so broken? There's actually a very simply reason: the people receiving the care are not the people paying for the care. As always, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Russ Roberts breaks it down:

So why doesn't a hospital work better? The answer I think, is that the level of specialization in medicine has emerged from a process that has very few incentives to make sure that the level of specialization is as productive as it should be. There are very few informational feedback loops. Very little accountability. Sure, if a surgeon leaves a scalpel in your chest cavity and sews you back up, the surgeon bears a cost. And as a result, it doesn't happen very often. But the kind of errors that Arnold worries about, the kind of errors that I've worried about with my Dad in the hospital (and the kind I've seen made) are the ones that have little or no consequence to anyone other than the patient.

These errors are built into the system. When a drug leads to unexpected side effects because the right questions weren't asked, when an opportunity for a safer treatment is missed, when an aggressive treatment for one illness weakens the immune system and leads to other problems, who can you blame? Who bears a cost other than the patient?

You can blame the hospital of course, whatever that means, but the costs to the human beings who work in the hospital are small. There are no feedback loops within the hospital to reward generalists who look for the costs of specializations. And the reason there are not is because the patient is not the customer. The patient is not paying the bill. The financial incentives that do exist are coming from Medicare and Medicaid and the insurance companies. The normal feedback loops that protect the customer from error and greed and simple stupidity are missing. In a way, it's amazing it works as well as it does. It works as well as it does presumably because most doctors and nurses do care about the lives in their hands. But it's imperfect and could be much better.

( Via Cafe Hayek.)