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-   -   Shrimpin' in America (and the rest of the world) (http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2743)

Prime Junta September 18th, 2007 11:31

Shrimpin' in America (and the rest of the world)
 
Before you read any further, I'd like you to participate in a little experiment.

Think about the following question a moment, write your answer in the reply, and then write which cultural group you're from at any degree of precision you're comfortable with — American, European, Asian, French, Nebraskan, whatever.

"People today eat much more shrimp than twenty years ago. Why?"
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OK, here's the story.

I recently came across a column by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of "Freakonomics." They asked this question of a bunch of people. They weren't actually interested in the specifics of the reply, but whether the reply was "supply-based" or "demand-based."

A "demand-based" answer would be something like "People eat more shrimp because of health education — they've realized that too much meat isn't good for you and have substituted shrimp" or "Many vegetarians have decided to eat fish and seafood in addition to veggies" or "People are more comfortable with trying out foods they're not used to."

"Supply-based" answers are like "The Chinese have invented a newer, more efficient way of fishing for shrimp, so there's much more on the market" or "Improvements in logistics have made it possible to import flash-frozen fresh shrimp from Bangladesh and bring it to the corner store" and so on.

Dubner and Levitt discovered that most people they asked came up with demand-based answers, with trained economists coming up slightly more frequently with supply-based ones. They surmised that people naturally think in terms of demand, while supply is harder to understand and you need training to do it.

I got interested and put this question to a bunch of people around me — Europeans mostly. None of them had any formal education in economics. All in all, I asked perhaps ten people, none of whom had read the column.

Guess what? I got 100% supply-based answers. Every. Single. One.

I found this rather surprising, and it got me thinking.

(1) Could this disparity reflect a cultural difference between Americans and Europeans? That is, could Americans be culturally condition to think in terms of demand while Europeans in terms of supply? If so, what would explain this difference?

(2) If this does reflect a genuine cultural difference, could this difference be an explanatory factor in many of the more obvious differences between the two continents? For example, the American economy is more dynamic than the European one and Americans are more likely to move in pursuit of work or opportunities than Europeans. What impact would this difference have on the economic, political, and social choices people make? What are the advantages and drawbacks of each attitude? What could be done to reinforce the advantages and mitigate the drawbacks?

The column in question is here: [ http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.co…shrimponomics/ ].

Discuss.

Alrik Fassbauer September 18th, 2007 15:45

Very interesting question. I must think about it.
Might need a few days, though.

txa1265 September 18th, 2007 15:55

The problem I have with using that as a cultural metric is that the obvious answer is 'both' - during the last generation, knowledge about the balancing of food types has been accompanied by the cheaper production and wider availability of food such as shrimp that previously was only regionally and seasonally available and commanded a premium price.

I wonder how much the answers had to do with how hungry people were?

magerette September 18th, 2007 17:07

My answer would be that people eat more shrimp because shrimp is less costly and more available. especially as it's promoted and advertised more by restaurants. I personally eat less of it because I'm on a quest for local self-sufficiency and it all comes from the Far East, a place where we spend too many dollars and where we have no control over production.
I find the idea that this means something profound quite interesting. :)

Prime Junta September 18th, 2007 17:37

Quote:

Originally Posted by txa1265 (Post 45728)
The problem I have with using that as a cultural metric is that the obvious answer is 'both' - during the last generation, knowledge about the balancing of food types has been accompanied by the cheaper production and wider availability of food such as shrimp that previously was only regionally and seasonally available and commanded a premium price.

The real answer doesn't really matter (for the purposes of the discussion). The interesting bit was the explanations people came up with.

(According to Dubner & Levitt, the real answer is more supply-based than demand-based; specifically, there's been a revolution in shrimp farming that has dramatically increased supply and reduced prices.)

Quote:

I wonder how much the answers had to do with how hungry people were?
Yup, this discussion can't be 100% serious unless we've really established that there *is* a significant disparity between Europeans and Americans in the explanations they offer. However, I think it might be interesting to assume for the sake of the discussion that this disparity exists, and see where that takes us.

Prime Junta September 18th, 2007 17:44

Quote:

Originally Posted by magerette (Post 45742)
My answer would be that people eat more shrimp because shrimp is less costly and more available. especially as it's promoted and advertised more by restaurants.

A supply-based explanation, then. Are you an economist by any chance?

Quote:

I personally eat less of it because I'm on a quest for local self-sufficiency and it all comes from the Far East, a place where we spend too many dollars and where we have no control over production.
I find the idea that this means something profound quite interesting. :)
Then funny thing was that something about the observation "clicked" with my own experiences about the differences between living in the US and Europe. For example, Americans demand (and get) far better service from businesses, whereas Europeans tend to hunker down and queue, if that's what it takes.

Similarly, a dynamic economy implies a society that's quick to notice and exploit business opportunities — and demand-driven business opportunities are a lot easier to exploit than supply-driven business opportunities. One common criticism of my country is that even though we're good at innovating and engineering, we're lousy at turning the innovations into commercially successful products — i.e., we're good at managing, improving, and optimizing supply, but lousy at recognizing and exploiting demand.

magerette September 18th, 2007 18:57

I know you don't want to reveal your country, Prime J, but those hints are quite tantalizing. ;)
(And I'm far from an economist—my profession was horticulture.)

Quote:

For example, Americans demand (and get) far better service from businesses, whereas Europeans tend to hunker down and queue, if that's what it takes.
Perhaps that's because we have so many options, as well as the leisure and means to explore and take advantage of them. I've read descriptions of Europeans standing in queue for hours for a product but I suspect this is because of scarcity, not desire. It's certainly hard to determine which is the cause and which is the effect.

Prime Junta September 18th, 2007 19:15

Quote:

Originally Posted by magerette (Post 45751)
Perhaps that's because we have so many options, as well as the leisure and means to explore and take advantage of them.

Well, western Europeans have considerably more leisure time than Americans; we work shorter hours and have longer vacations — so I don't think leisure can be a factor in the explanation. Of course, we earn less too, so that can have something to do with it; still, I don't think so, as we do have a high enough standard of living to afford stuff beyond the bare necessities.

However, the question is *why* do you have more options? There, I think the answers are cultural.

Quote:

I've read descriptions of Europeans standing in queue for hours for a product but I suspect this is because of scarcity, not desire. It's certainly hard to determine which is the cause and which is the effect.
Actually, we rarely queue for products — that only really happened in socialist countries. However, we often queue for services — I had to queue for forty minutes today to return a faulty pair of headphones, and I had to queue for fifteen minutes on the phone to sort out a problem with my credit card bill (and I was surprised that it was *only* fifteen minutes).

Anyway, I brought up queuing as a metaphor for putting up with bad customer service; in particular, at attitudes towards bad customer service. When confronted with bad customer service, we tend to grit our teeth and put up with it. Sort of a "you'll eat what's in front of you and be thankful for it" kind of attitude.

magerette September 18th, 2007 19:35

I don't think you're alone in the services wait; when I moved it took almost four hours to get all my utilities transfered to my new address, I've spent hours on the phone with A.T.&T. billing trying to correct problems, I worked for a big box warehouse store where people routinely went through weeks of snafus and delays to obtain a special order item(not because of product availability but because of customer service issues) etc.

However, many of us do tend to rant and get pissed off about it, e-mail corporate headquarters and write our congressman rather than meekly accept it all, I agree. ;)

I can't speculate about the economics driver on this; I am thinking it's more of a labor issue. Customer service is only as good as the people offering it, which means training issues, motivation, etc. Of course, low pay and regarding your payroll as the first item to cut to maximize profit or reduce loss is indeed economic.

Yes, you're right on the queue thing, I think I was flashing on a short story I read from a collection by women writers in the soviet bloc(years ago) which described the 12 hour ordeal of buying a banana.

JemyM September 18th, 2007 23:06

I know squat about economics but I know that shrimps are packed with omega 3. Ofcourse, considering I live in a country surrounded with water we tend to eat alot of fish. Not as much as norweigans, there is something fishy about norway.

Bartacus September 19th, 2007 01:23

Another thing we differ in is like PJ already said 'we put up with it'. When we stm buy a bad product, we will not complain automaticly unless it's really worhty. I mean that we will not get a lawyer and prosecute them all the time. It's more of a 'hey, I'll never buy anything from you and I will give you some negative publicity in return'.

zakhal September 19th, 2007 01:54

Quote:

Originally Posted by magerette (Post 45751)
I know you don't want to reveal your country, Prime J, but those hints are quite tantalizing. ;)

These posts of his are 100% accurate descriptions of Finland. I have a good guess he is from there.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Prime Junta (Post 45748)
One common criticism of my country is that even though we're good at innovating and engineering, we're lousy at turning the innovations into commercially successful products — i.e., we're good at managing, improving, and optimizing supply, but lousy at recognizing and exploiting demand.

Quote:

Don't need war for idiocies like that. My country wiped out three-quarters of our building heritage in the 1960's and 1970's. There are very few small towns where the center isn't a concrete-paved square surrounded by dismal, low concrete-glass-and-rusting-steel boxes.

Corwin September 19th, 2007 02:37

Actually, we eat Prawns, not Shrimp!! :) I'd suggest NOT buying the stuff from China; it contains massive amounts of toxins which are causing major news scandals down here. Seems the testing of imported fish is very haphazard and the Chinese are flooding our markets with stuff which is decidedly unhealthy. Supply of fresh seafood here, is huge as you can imagine.

txa1265 September 19th, 2007 02:54

Quote:

Originally Posted by Corwin (Post 45830)
Actually, we eat Prawns, not Shrimp!! :) I'd suggest NOT buying the stuff from China; it contains massive amounts of toxins which are causing major news scandals down here. Seems the testing of imported fish is very haphazard and the Chinese are flooding our markets with stuff which is decidedly unhealthy. Supply of fresh seafood here, is huge as you can imagine.

I know … I was just flipping through pictures from 'the worlds most polluted cities' and so many regions were in China … I'm glad I live near the corner of Quahog and Lobster :D

mudsling3 September 19th, 2007 06:47

although shrimps are low in fat, high in protein and tasty in all kinds of dishes. I eat them at rare occasions despite finding them in abundance in suprermarkets because of their high cholesterol content… less than once a month.

chamr September 19th, 2007 22:22

Here's my half-baked theory:

America is an extremely young country and culture, comparative to Europe. We have very few traditions and little history to leverage in fulfilling the basic human psychological need to feel we're part of a larger whole and have some meaning in life. This is compounded by our very high land mass to population ratio, which contributes to the fracturing of families. What we do have is Christianity, Merchandising and Professional Sports. So we stretch these three to fill the gap. In the case of Merchandising, one of the tried and true tricks of marketing here is to bastardize the American myth of the rugged pioneer/cowboy/ entrepreneur/John Wayne/Rambo/etc into making the consumer think that by buying product X, they are defining themselves as heroic individuals, swimming against the tide and standing out in a crowd! (the irony is obvious, so I'll restrain myself from getting into that) This leads to an overdeveloped sense of entitlement as well as self-absorption. So, we see the world as demand driven (give ME what I want!) and are ready to see any delay in satisfying our desires (e.g. bad customer service, long waits, etc.) as a threat to our image as individuals. (how dare you get in the way of my God-given right to indulge in X, Y or Z! you're trying to hold me back! I've just got to be MEEEEEE!!!)

So, if there's more shrimp being eaten in America, it must be because the almighty consumer wanted it that way. At least that's what the commercials tell me is true… ;)

Corwin September 20th, 2007 01:58

And everyone in America believes what they hear in commercials!! :)

Alrik Fassbauer September 20th, 2007 12:26

Quote:

Originally Posted by Prime Junta (Post 45748)
One common criticism of my country is that even though we're good at innovating and engineering, we're lousy at turning the innovations into commercially successful products — i.e., we're good at managing, improving, and optimizing supply, but lousy at recognizing and exploiting demand.

Same here in Germany. At least in some key areas - key areas the people who should've recognized them didn't recognize them.


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