Pandemic creates an inflection point

There is no need to talk about the havoc that this pandemic has brought on to our society. Everybody in the world should all feel it now. Terrible as it is, the pandemic presents an opportunity for us to look at the issues that we overlook in normal times

Paid sick leave

The US is one of the only few, if not the only country, where citizens don’t get paid sick leave. When there is a risk of a wide-spreading pandemic, the lack of this benefit forces workers to go to work even though they may be sick; which increases the threat of a spread. After this catastrophe blows over, perhaps it is time for us to bring this issue to the national spotlight and to pressure lawmakers into taking actions

Stock buybacks and corporate bailouts

The fact that corporations are asking for a big bailout after years of continuous stock repurchases and lucrative executive compensation is inexcusable and intolerable. While there is a case to be made that bailouts chop off a body part to save the body and corporations should be forced to return the money once healthy again, it doesn’t make it right the fact that tax payers’ money is used to bail out companies whose failure to prepare for a macroeconomic risk is the executives’.

Regulations over gig economy

For months, gig economy companies such as Lyft and Uber have fought regulations that would require them to treat workers as employees. What that means is that workers would be entitled to healthcare insurance, paid leave and other benefits that white-collar workers usually enjoy. Some folks I saw on Twitter, most from Silicon Valley, even blasted the regulations. However, a study by The Hustle may change perspectives on this. According to The Hustle, 57% of the surveyed drivers would still drive because that’s the only way to make ends meet. Some are not even making enough to pay for their rented vehicle. Furthermore, the lack of health insurance means that they and their family are vulnerable than ever. In light of this crisis and the impact on gig economy workers, is asking for a well-designed regulation to protect workers too much to ask?

Source: The Hustle

Healthcare system

The lack of tests in the US, compared to what is going on in other countries, is seriously shocking. Ask any American and it’s very likely that you will get told that the US has the most advanced healthcare system in the world. That’s true…for rich people and for very sophisticated treatments. However, when it comes to healthcare for ordinary folks and normal ailments, there is a lot to be desired for in the US. The country had disappointingly managed to fail to deliver a universal healthcare solution even before the pandemic broke. Now, the case cannot be made even more pressing. Recently, it’s reported that a woman was hit with a $35,000 bill for COVID-19 treatments and tests. How was that acceptable? It could happen and bankrupt any of the middle class Americans, or, worse, paycheck-to-paycheck folks.

Work from home

This one is polarizing. Proponents of WFH must be ecstatic to make their case when essentially everybody is required to work remotely now. On the other hand, some will experience cabin-fever, frustration and the drop in productivity. Personally, I prefer going to the office. I prefer meeting my colleagues face-to-face and have a setting that helps me focus on my work more than my comfortable home.

Furthermore, WFH presents an opportunity to test a company’s infrastructure. For most of last week, my colleagues and I experienced a laggy and slow connection. Even though home internet bandwidth can contribute to the issue, it’s undoubtedly our company’s network being not set up for a spike in traffic. Additionally, mass remote working can change how managers keep staff productive and keep track of their work.

Personal finance and change in lifestyle

Many of us now face, if you haven’t already, layoff or a drop in salary as companies are downsizing to survive the pandemic. Income may dry up, but the bills will still be there. Without a fund for a rainy day like we are going through, a financial struggle or bankruptcy is likely. The 11-year bull market since the 2009 crisis which many didn’t experience makes folks become complacent. After this COVID-19 disaster, it’s a great time to ponder hard decisions and establish sensible personal finance practices.

This is a scary and confusing time. But what happens in the next few months will be very interesting as decisions are to be made.

Weekly readings – 29th February 2020

Paris Mayor: It’s Time for a ’15-Minute City’

Checkup for $30, Teeth Cleaning $25: Walmart Gets Into Health Care

Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors. I like Matthew Walker’s book since I learned a lot about sleep from the book. I don’t know which side is correct, but it’s more important to give both sides.

The making of the Mandalorian

FOLDING GLASS: HOW, WHY, AND THE TRUTH OF SAMSUNG’S Z FLIP

Walmart is quietly working on an Amazon Prime competitor called Walmart+

2PM’s analysis of Wayfair

How a Hot $100 Million Home Design Startup Collapsed Overnight

Medicare for all

Healthcare is one of the most pressing and polarizing topics among American voters in this election. Democratic candidates are pushing for, in different forms, Medicare For All (MFA), an idea that many conservatives are vehemently against. Voters have been bombarded with claims about how horrible the current system is (for very good reasons) and also with warnings that MFA will be hugely expensive, lengthen the waiting time and limit choices.

To help you be more informed of the issue, I’ll recommend this piece by John Oliver and his team. It does have a view as in the presenter advocates for some form of MFA, but even if you have doubts about MFA, you should also give it a listen. In addition, there is a recent study by The Lancet, an independent medical journal, on the impact of a single pay, universal healthcare system in the US. Here is a sneak peak

Although health care expenditure per capita is higher in the USA than in any other country, more than 37 million Americans do not have health insurance, and 41 million more have inadequate access to care.

Efforts are ongoing to repeal the Affordable Care Act which would exacerbate health-care inequities. By contrast, a universal system, such as that proposed in the Medicare for All Act, has the potential to transform the availability and efficiency of American health-care services.

Taking into account both the costs of coverage expansion and the savings that would be achieved through the Medicare for All Act, we calculate that a single-payer, universal health-care system is likely to lead to a 13% savings in national health-care expenditure, equivalent to more than US$450 billion annually (based on the value of the US$ in 2017).

The entire system could be funded with less financial outlay than is incurred by employers and households paying for health-care premiums combined with existing government allocations

Source: The Lancet

You can read the study by registering for free on The Lancet’s website, but you can also download a copy from the link below since I already did so for you (I’m nice that way). All the copyrights belong to The Lancet. I highly recommend it. It’s an informative read.

For example, a vial of insulin costs approximately $300 in the USA compared with $30 in Canada.

The average cost of giving birth in Spain is $2333 compared with $14910 in the USA, yet the prevalence of neonatal mortality in the USA is double that in Spain.

Source: The Lancet

Personally, I think that having one single payer will give back a tremendous amount of bargaining power back to the payer. If that payer is a private company, then there is an incentive alignment as the company will want to maximize profits by inflating the bills and taking more money from citizens, which is the opposite of what the people want. Instead, if the payer is the government whose interest is to keep the cost down given that the tax revenue doesn’t increase and whose lawmakers’ interest is to keep being elected to office, then there is an incentive alignment with that of citizens. Healthcare service suppliers will have no choice, but to work more in the interest of citizens.

Admittedly, there will be flaws with MFA. But I agree with John Oliver. A carefully designed MFA that can help improve the current system, albeit still with flaws, will be appreciated.

Weekly readings – 18th Jan 2020

Japan’s Sacred Island

Can a color be trademarked?

Google’s questionable efforts in getting into healthcare

Tesla and Apple Valuation Questions

Unfortunate accidents caused by Amazon’s quest to conquer the last mile challenge

When talking about low unemployment rate, we should also talk about whether the jobs pay enough.

App tracking alert in iOS 13 has dramatically cut location data flow to ad industry

Do DoorDash workers make enough to make ends meet?

Things I wish would happen in this decade

I am about a few days late into 2020 for this kind of activity, but who cares? What makes it personally tricky for me is to balance between imagination and reality, wishes and my estimation of feasibility. I gave it some thoughts and here are a few things that I wish would happen in this decade.

Higher public transportation usage

I am a big fan of public transportation. If done right, what’s there not to like about it? Having lived in Vietnam and the US, which are not known for public transit, I wish there would be a dramatic increase in the use of buses, metros and trains in exchange for a reduction in car ownership and usage.

Converting image and voice to processible data

A lot of information is stored in oral content and images. Nowadays, it is possible to extract such information, yet it takes a lot of time and resources. 10 years from now, I definitely wish that it would be a lot easier and cheaper.

Change of focus in public education

More attention to personal finance, reading, writing, literature, nutrition, cooking and life skills please

Code by voice

I was running into a coding problem at work lately. It was more of a data manipulation kind. The task could be done at the expense of a great deal of effort. It made me wonder how better it would be if we could dictate computers to execute low-level code. Of course, we can’t just tell computers to “write me an Airbnb application”. Such a task as “get me the accounts that were inactive for the last three months but active for more than three months within the last year” or “compare for me the spend of customers at stores during the holiday season year over year”. That would be tremendously helpful for our society.

Augmented presentation of content

I struggled to label this one. I didn’t know how to call it exactly. We all have seen it in movies. One flick of the fingers and more information is presented in 3D in front of our eyes, like this picture below from Avengers. Imagine if at work we could just get the graphs from Excel, use our hands to place them into Power Point, seize them by our will easily and write the caption by voice. The productivity would increase by multiple folds

Tony Stark studying the Tesseract in 'The Avengers.'
Source: Venture Capital Post

Venture into space

The Earth surface isn’t expanding, yet human race is. We already exceeded the 7 billion mark and I wouldn’t be surprised if we surpassed the 8 billion mark ten years from now. That puts a lot of pressure on Mother Nature and ourselves. We need nature which doesn’t need us. Hence, I wish to see more ventures into space to see what is out there.

More people will have access to sufficient healthcare and fewer will die from diseases that are terminal today

Healthcare in America is ridiculously expensive. Some drugs like insulin can bankrupt patients and so can a trip to an ER. Folks in poor countries crave for access to better care and there are still diseases against which we seem powerless. I wish there would be some advances on healthcare universally.

I would love to have more peace, kindness, compassion and empathy in the world. Sadly, I fear that would be hard. I fear that isolationism and nationalism will rise. I fear that the ugly side of the world won’t get much prettier. My hope is that the mechanism that brings the ugliness to daylight will be used to shed more light to the beauty of the world.

Weekly readings – 31st August 2019

Free Podcasts Are Good for Me But Bad for Business

Cities Are Saying ‘No’ to 5G, Citing Health, Aesthetics—and FCC Bullying

How Uber Got Lost

Seattle’s ‘microtransit’ experiment drives people to light rail. Is it working?

“He’s full of shit”: How Elon Musk fooled investors, bilked taxpayers, and gambled Tesla to save SolarCity. This article sheds more light on the relationship between SolarCity and Tesla.

Waymo’s Backseat Drivers: Confidential Data Reveals Self-Driving Taxi Hurdles

Costco shuts early on first day in China due to overcrowding

Uber And Lyft Take A Lot More From Drivers Than They Say. The investigation reported cases of take-rate up to 50%.

What Happens When You Don’t Pay a Hospital Bill

How Amazon’s Shipping Empire Is Challenging UPS and FedEx. A super interesting article on Amazon’s capability in logistics and shipping.

Healthcare in France vs in the US

I came across a really good clip on the comparison of healthcare in France and its counterpart in the US. I urge you to have a listen.

Granted, it’s impossible to have a 100% apple-to-apple comparison between any two countries. However, I think France is a good reference since 1) it is a developed country like the US and 2) it receives a lot of immigrants from other countries, especially from Africa due to geographical proximity. I once listened to a doctor opine that immigrants are the primary cause of the healthcare system. I think it’s false, but having France as a yardstick will, to some extent, take out that element.

According to the clip, France spends around $4,900 per capita every year while the figure in the US is $10,200. Despite spending more, the US delivers worse results whether it’s in infant mortality rate, life expectancy and rate of rehospitalization.

Furthermore, the clip mentioned the higher taxes French citizens have to pay in order for the government to cover the social security. The government is like a business. To cover expenses, it needs to have capital. It can’t print money to cover the costs nor run at deficit forever. To finance the social security, the money has to come from taxes. Even though the French pay more taxes, they don’t have to bankrupt themselves whenever care is needed. On the other, I think that Americans focus too much on lowering taxes and when the federal budget runs red, the government starts to look at where to cut. If it’s not military, then social security is the next big ticket item.

Between paying more in taxes like the French do and paying less in taxes while bankrupting myself like we do in the US, I know my choices. I don’t think having a carbon copy of the French healthcare in the US is without difficulty. Healthcare is an incredibly complex issue and any solution is almost guaranteed to carry baggage and influence other issues such as taxes, minimum wage, etc…However, I also believe that there are plenty of things we can learn from the French.