Follow the Money

I’m not ready yet with my next installment in the gentrification series, so I’ll return to one of my other recurring topics, a small-business association whose stated goal is preventing 7‑Eleven stores from opening in the East Village. I am referring, of course, to No 7‑Eleven NYC. They posted a flurry of tweets two days before the law was to go into effect banning the sale of sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. Here is one of them:

In another tweet No 7‑Eleven NYC posted, they advance the idea that once in place, the law will be ineffective, because people will go into 7‑Elevens and bodegas to buy their sodas (which they seem to think they will then be permitted to take into restaurants and movie theaters), but in the one above they claim that the ban will hurt bodegas. The fact is that, while the ban would not have affected 7‑Eleven, neither would it have affected bodegas. Bodegas don’t sell sugary drinks in cups, and bottles and cans would not have been affected by the law.

But there are bigger issues than this. Back in January they tweeted:

The day after Judge Milton Tingling blocked the ban from going into effect, the NY Times ran an article detailing the relationship between the soft-drink industry and community groups around the country:

    Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years, arguing that such measures — perhaps the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced — are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective.

    Many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry that has flowed to nonprofit and educational organizations serving blacks and Hispanics over the last decade, according to a review by The New York Times of charity records and other documents.

These activities echo those of the tobacco industry, that for decades contributed to minority and women’s organizations, encouraging them to focus on concerns other than smoking. Leaders faced a real conflict: either accept the money, or speak out about the disproportionate toll of tobacco on the health of minority populations. Women’s groups, heavily supported and buoyed by support for events like the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour, were silent on the rapidly escalating epidemic of lung cancer in women, focusing instead on breast cancer and other problems. (Advocacy Institute 1998).

When speaking publicly about their products, the beverage industry uses a playbook similar to that used by the tobacco industry, that focusses on “personal responsibility,” raises fears of government action destroying personal freedom and civil liberties, criticizes studies that hurt the industry as “junk science,” and promotes physical activity over diet.

Both industries’ tactics rely heavily on “personal responsibility” arguments that claim regulation isn’t necessary because it’s up to consumers to make healthy choices, yet they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to undermine personal responsibility. On February 24, the NY Times published an article describing the efforts food companies have made over the years to addict people to their products:

    As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or “bliss,” point). …

    “[M]outh feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. … [T]he mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce. …

    “[S]ensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. … The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Efforts to encourage these industries to self-regulate are failing. Instead, the companies are consolidating power by building financial connections with health agencies and non-governmental organizations — and using that power to lobby politicians to oppose health reforms. In the February 23 issue of the English medical journal The Lancet, a team of researchers from around the world wrote:

    [T]hrough the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of [non-communicable diseases] NCDs. … Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public—private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.

On the day the ban was halted, No 7‑Eleven NYC retweeted:

That’s where they stand.

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Further reading:

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Swedish House Mafia

I’m adding a new tag today: Swedish House Mafia. Why, you ask?

I recently did a search on Google for “shmnyc”, to see what would turn up. I discovered there was a group (or band, or “crew”) called Swedish House Mafia, that some people abbreviate as SHM:

shmnyc-google-search

I guess shmnyc refers to when the Swedish House Mafia plays in New York City. Kids these days, with their txtspk! It’s bad enough that smh is a dyslexic ordering of my initials.

Why do I bring this up? It’s not as if sharing initials with some pop band is uncommon, or even worth mentioning. It’s that I get tweets attempting to reference them, such as:

So as a bonus feature for my readers, I will post these whenever I get them. It’s probably not as interesting as Kenneth Goldsmith reading the fan mail he got that was intended for Kenny G, back when he was at WFMU, but hey… you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

Neil Smith Walking Tour

I was just about to post the next in my gentrification series when… Take a look at this! It was retweeted by David Harvey. I got it at 2:27pm:

(I don’t know how to explain what happened. The time I got this was 2:27pm. The walking tour began at 2:30pm. Now, however, when I embed the tweet, the time shows as 2:45pm.)

I replied: “When? Today? In three minutes?” Right away, though, I deleted it. I thought “David Harvey isn’t responsible for this tour. And he doesn’t even know me!”

So I went to the source tweet, and responded to them something like: “You really need to give people more notice of these things.” Then I thought “Maybe they did. I don’t follow them, I follow David Harvey,” so I deleted that one too.

Apparently, Neil Smith led walking tours in New York. I never knew this. I’m really surprised I never knew this. In all the years I’ve lived in New York, this is the kind of thing I would know. Maybe they were CUNY-Grad events? I don’t know. I’m sorry I missed these though.

The Local Economy?

There was another bodega walk this past Saturday.

no711-bodega-walk-0216

By the looks of their photos though, it wasn’t well attended.

Here is a flyer they typed up. I’m only going to address a few of their claims.

why-no-711-flier

(I left in the line about the free market because it’s funny. East Villagers, Unite! Defend the Free Market!)

It makes no sense to describe the East Village as having its own economy. There is no East Village industry, there are no East Village exports. Bodegas do not create a net inflow of capital (i.e., money is not coming into the East Village because of bodegas). The people of this area do not depend on the bodegas for their livelihood. If this were Pittsburgh and the steel mills were closing, it would be a different story. Rather than complain about which stores are opening, it would be better to limit the number and locations of all stores. Rather than view the area as an enterprise zone, it should be viewed as a neighborhood.

Whenever the phrase “the economy” is used, what is meant is profits — and in this case, it’s not even gross profits, it’s the Owner Class’s share of those profits. If one 7‑Eleven displaces one bodega, the net effect is zero, all else being equal. The revenue that went to the bodega now goes to the 7‑Eleven. If that was $10,000/month, it stays $10,000/month. The difference exists in how much of this remains with the owner. The bodega owner would have kept the entire $10,000, but the 7‑Eleven owner must send 50% of it to the corporate office, so he keeps only $5,000. So some of the profits do leave the area. But they don’t consider the effect on a particular owner, since the owner’s salary might be an increase for him. They only consider the effect to the Owner Class: Owner A receives $10,000, Owner B receives $5,000, net effect to Owner Class: -$5,000.

Now we need to look at the number of people working at each location. For my calculations, I use the likely-minimum number of workers. (My research indicates a minimum of two workers per bodega. According to Entrepreneur.com, the number of employees needed to run a 7‑Eleven is seven to ten.)

Bodega 7-Eleven
Profits/mo: $10,000 **$5,000
Wages/mo. – 2 empl.* 2,320
Wages/mo. – 7 empl.* 8,120
_____ _____
Total Income $12,320 $13,120
*$7.25/hr x 40 hrs
**1/2 goes to corporate hq
.

So with sales held constant, and the minimum number of workers employed, a 7‑Eleven raises the income of the neighborhood.

Equally ludicrous is the claim that 7‑Eleven has an unfair advantage over local businesses by being exempt from the >16-ounce soda ban. The only businesses in the neighborhood affected by the “soda ban” are restaurants and movie theaters, neither of which compete with 7‑Eleven. Mind you, Slurpees® are probably disgusting (I’ve never had one), and I don’t encourage anyone to drink them, and they should be regulated by the ban, but they do not give the 7‑Eleven an unfair advantage.

As far as homogenizing the neighborhood? That happened a long time ago.

NYC’s “Soda Ban” and “No 7-Eleven”

This morning I saw that the No 7-Eleven tweeter tweeted a link to an article in today’s New York Times that explains the “soda ban,” with comment:

Who is it unfair to? Are they saying that deli/bodega owners made their money selling >16-ounce fountain sodas, until the ban? Are they saying 7-Eleven competes with local restaurants and movie theaters? I wonder how much thought they put into their pronouncements?

Health efforts such as the “soda ban,” to be effective, must target the source. Everyone knows this. The profits of producers/retailers cannot be what drives health policy. (Naturally, this includes insurance!)

Since Bloomberg took office, New York has become the first city to require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus (prompting a federal law compelling all fast food retailers to do the same), to ban trans fats from restaurant foods, to ban public smoking from most corners of the city, and pushed hospitals to keep baby formula locked up in order to encourage breast-feeding in new mothers.

But then these are primarily shopkeepers — by definition, not a very progressive bunch.

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