business news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding the impact of the pandemic and shifts in consumer and business behavior on the automobile industry, MNB reader Andy Nash wrote:

This is/was inevitable before COVID-19. The long run of the automotive industry and its peripheral industries (garages, fuel, parts, and aftermarket) will decline as vehicle ownership goes down given autonomous and electric cars. If a car can drive itself completely, there is no need to own it - it can just be summoned on demand and take you someplace. 

The pandemic is speeding up this decline. The long run of owning a dealership or service garage is not very bright. 

I say all this as a HUGE automotive enthusiast. I love cars. My hobby and passion will see a massive change soon. Certainly the environment will thank us. 

I agree.  And I feel sort of the same way - I think this is all good, even if it runs contrary to the pure joy that I get putting the top down on the Mustang and hitting the road.  (It has been a few years since I've done it, but I'm already fantasizing about driving cross-country to teach at Portland State next summer.  Of course, a lot of things have to break right to make that possible … but hope springs eternal.)

On another subject, from another reader:

As a vegetarian (for environmental reasons), I’m fascinated by the prospect of meat made from CO2. However, I’m skeptical of the claim that this “meat” has “no agricultural inputs”. Where are the “nutrients” and “natural flavors” coming from if not ultimately from from some sort of agricultural product? I know many consumers aren’t interested in that kind of detailed science, but also, many whose first reaction is revulsion may be more comforted to know what these mysterious inputs are. 

The other day, MNB took note of a Bloomberg report that Instacart is suing Uber Technologies, charging that its Cornershop unit "stole intellectual property, including listings of inventory at grocery stores."

Uber bought Chile-based Cornershop last year and was plotting an US rollout this year that would focus on grocery delivery.

One MNB reader reacted:

Let’s hope Uber/Cornershop improves on Instacart’s representation of store inventory while they are pirating it.  An Instacart Shopper shared that she’s often forced to fight with Instacart over pricing issues - for example, the app told her that crabs were $8.99 a pound when in fact the price was $8.99 per crab!  The issues are not easily resolved, apparently. 

MNB reader Andy Casey chimed in:

This brings up some interesting competitive possibilities. For example, what are the possibilities of Cornershop offering a white label version, simply providing pick and delivery for a fee while the retailer remains center stage with customers?

I love a good story.  Like this one from an MNB reader:

My experience with masks:

“Put on a f’k’n mask”, she screamed. 

She added some other salty comments, but I heard them sparingly because:

·      I was in my neighborhood

·      I was outside

·      I was trekking uphill in pretty obvious exercise and

·      She was 100’ away, and no others were around.

I thought “hmmph??”   “I wonder if the mandate in Texas has changed?”

I went home and checked it out, the rules for outside were the same.  If over 6’ and or exercising, no mask required.   

So then I wondered, “why did she yell?”  

Three possibilities:

1.     She paid attention to some press or politician quip, wrapped around a sound bite, or more likely totally made up.  

2.     She heard that some people refuse to wear masks and she figured I must be one of those

3.     She experienced a loss due to the virus or was just plain scared perhaps in addition to being under-informed.   

I pretty much never listen to politicians or press whether it be Tweedle-dee or Tweedle-dum, for my medical, economic, business or social advice.   If one says the sky is…you know the drill.    

If we are to make sane, calm, considered decisions, even on matters that have no complete answers or solutions (yet), don’t we need to ignore the usual sources and spend the effort to find the common sense to this?  Look at the numbers, read the entire text of reports and talks, and ignore the hype.  

More about what I decided to do on masks outside later…

“Put on a f’k’n mask”, she screamed.

I was clearly IN rule compliance but thought, well since she is probably confused either due to sound bite intelligence or political bias maybe I should wear a mask anyway.   So why WOULDN’t I wear a mask even if outside and exercising?

The common excuse I hear is that it restricts oxygen or has you breath too much carbon dioxide.   So, as a data geek I figured, TEST IT.

Three layer mask, three days, generally around 90+ degrees, generally a medium to high stress hike, always between 3-4 miles.    Day one all mask all the time.   Day two breath in thru uncovered nose except when folks within 50’.   Day three mask up full when people within 50’.     Day three, definitely most comfortable but the others were fine.   In other words from a comfort and effectiveness standpoint.  Why not?

I don't wear a mask while exercising, but I am diligent about staying more than six feet away from other people … I'll run in the middle of the street and block traffic rather than put other people (or myself) in danger from infected droplets.  (So far, drivers have been understanding.)

From another reader:

Your pointing out the obvious is not nagging. I am astounded that in Boise, so many people are not wearing masks and now we’re in the middle of a hot spot.

And from MNB reader Olivier Kielwasser:

You’re right, we must remain vigilant and responsible, anywhere and everywhere.  July and August, traditionally vacation months, act as catalysts for people to enjoy themselves and rightfully socialize, sometimes at the expense of vigilance.  Socializing, much needed for everyone after several months in confinement, unless practiced with vigilance, leads to bad consequences for society in general and at enormous costs for the newly infected. 

Although difficult in an industry as social as ours, for the next 6 months to a year it is necessary to act responsibly in regards to socializing.  Can we decide to put our “unguarded” social lives on hold, intentionally, for the sake of society?  Most people have adopted this approach already, a small amount of us doesn’t seem to notice or even care and their actions continue to have tragic and unintended consequences for us all.

Responding to the story about Whole Foods not allowing employees to wear face masks emblazoned with the words "Black Lives Matter," one MNB reader wrote:

If they allow these masks, then they need to allow everyone else to where whatever cause or design they choose as well—whether it be pro-life, pro-Trump, Confederate flag, etc.  It’s pretty selective when only one point of view is being allowed.  As long as they are consistent, I believe they are doing the right thing in not allowing ANY message.  If they are allowing others - then enough said - they’re in the wrong.  Did they distribute “generic” masks to all or Whole Foods branded?  That should have been step one.

Regarding the possible sale of bankrupt Brooks Brothers to an Italian company, MNB reader (and MNB fave) Beatrice Orlandini wrote:

I guess most Americans don't know that Brooks Brothers is in Italian hands since 2001 when Claudio Del Vecchio (son of Leonardo, Luxottica) bought it from Marks & Spencers (UK).

So it hasn't been American for quite a while...

Regarding my exchange with an MNB reader who called the pandemic a "shamdemic," MNB reader Michael Fetterer wrote:

Deniers like him surely have enough of a platform in far-right media.  Don't give them the luxury of your time, it's not worth it.

A note on another subject from MNB reader Chelsea Ware:

I saw your post on doomscrolling and have some thoughts on how recent events have impacted consumer’s mental health, and in turn, food trends. 

I’ve been reading a lot about how people are planting freedom gardens right now. In fact, garden stores are seeing record sales despite the covid economic fallout. 

Not only does growing one’s own produce give people a sense of  control in these chaotic times, but they also provide an outlet to be outside and away from the news. The trend of rage baking has transferred over to rage gardening, and people are embracing channeling their anger into homegrown vegetables that nourish their bodies and soul. 

I’ve also seen in consumer insights reports that people are interested in prepared /packaged food items that offer physical and mental health benefits.

“Mood boosting” is a growing label trend right now, and I think people will continue to seek out items that have that value add. 

I'm a big fan of mood-boosting, and find Tito's to be a pretty good prescription.

Regarding a proposal by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst that would have essential workers excused from paying federal taxes for a period of time, one MNB reader wrote:

As an Iowan and a spouse of an “essential person” who is a medical provider, I am conflicted by this story.  By going to work each day, my wife puts herself into harm’s way while taking care of her patients and during that time she has always understood the risks that she has faced in her job, both to herself and her family.  Over the past four months, I’ve never gotten the sense that she or her co-workers felt that they needed to be financially rewarded by our government for simply doing their jobs.

Ironically, my spouse was given her share of her employer’s PPP funds by her boss in a lump sum last month and was told that it was her annual bonus six months early (it all went into her 401(k))……so she has already received another form of “government aid” for doing exactly the same work she has been doing for almost three decades.   Is her sense of personal discomfort in dealing with the public currently increased in this pandemic environment?   Absolutely.  Does she think she is worthy of being financially incentivized by our government for upholding the oath she took after graduation?   She would say not.    

Given the substantial amount of debt that has been created this year by our Federal government in an attempt to keep our economy afloat, my wife would argue that she would rather see that debt used to benefit someone else who was food-insecure or jobless and needed it far more than she does.   Senator Ernst has not accomplished a great amount during her time in office and this bill proposal smacks of being a last-ditch attempt to have something she could point to as an accomplishment going into the election.  It helps to explain why her Senate seat is currently a toss-up and the polls are in a statistical dead heat.  

If Senator Ernst and her fellow Iowa Republican lawmakers truly wanted to reward health-care workers (and others who are deemed  “essential personnel”), they would set a personal example by wearing masks and enforce a statewide mandate of mask-wearing that would benefit all of us - as well as take enormous pressure off all the folks who are working with the public every day.  

One MNB reader responded to Michael Sansolo's comment about vaccinations last week by saying, "What difference does it make if everybody doesn't get vaccinated as long as you get vaccinated?"

This set me off … because if, say, only 50 percent of the population were to get vaccinated, it would mean that the nation would never have a real economic recovery, there would be continued stresses in the health care industry, and it would reflect selfishness and a singular lack of faith in science - not to mention ignorance - on the part of the population refusing to be vaccinated.

MNB reader Bob Samples responded:

You’re right on, if everyone doesn’t get vaccinated then will have a rinse and repeat COVID-19 maybe Covid 20 and Covid 21. 

Who’s to say a vaccine will last a year, or two years? Or Six months? Is it like your dogs rabies vaccine that has to be renewed every year. Or Is it like the measles vaccine that lasts nearly a lifetime?

We just won’t know for a long time. 

The economic impact of doing this piecemeal will take the USA out of our leadership position internationally. We’re almost there now.

Let’s start by everybody wearing your mask. It has been shown to reduce the impact of catching Covid to a asymptomatic level in 40% or more of the population. Well also reducing the chance of catching it at all. 

MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

KC you hit the nail on the head today - and I will tell you that what I'm seeing and hearing is that the anti-vaxxers are the same people who won't wear masks, because it's all about them.  Their rights, their freedom, etc.  They don't care about the rest of the country/world, which is very sad... 

MNB reader Ron Johnston wrote:

My sentiments exactly, Kevin.  If World War II was the greatest generation (and it was), this one is the most selfish...and dangerous.

I'm not sure that the people we're talking about here are part of just one generation - it actually seems to be cross-generational.

But I get your point.

Regarding the story about the former Amazon VP advocating for the break up of Amazon, one MNB reader wrote:

It's curious to me that some advocate for government to expand into new areas, yet have a completely opposite POV when a business expands.  Does a city/county have the expertise to lead and manage effectively these areas: library, k-12 school system, college, water/waste system, garbage/recycling, recreation: water parks, beaches, forest preserves, golf courses, Medical: hospitals, nursing homes/assisted living, Safety: fire/police, Justice: courts/prisons, public transportation: roads, bus, trains, airports, bicycles, scooters, Pension/investments, land and buildings infrastructure: codes, audits, and the list is much longer.

Seems to me we should be advocating for a break up of government.

Really?  And who exactly will make sure that the roads are repaired, that the water is clean, that public safety is assured, that buildings are up to code, and that children are educated?  Are we leaving that to the vagaries of the open market?

I cannot imagine anyone would argue that most government entities do these things as well as they can be done.  But I'm not ready to turn the entire country into the wild west.