Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Logic Puzzle

Here's a puzzle to solve. Megan McArdle posts about the Whole Foods boycott, and this...
Okay, what are the odds that half the people who signed up to boycott Whole Foods spend $200 a week there? The class of people who are most worked up over this is not necessarily contiguous with the class of people who drops $800 every single month at a single grocery store. Looking over the Facebook list, I see, broadly, three groups of people:

■People who live in a
handful of very liberal urban areas
■People who live in hippy towns and/or
college towns

There are exceptions, but this is the overwhelming effect of the list. There is also an amusing minority who live in places that don't have a Whole Foods anywhere near them, like Waterloo, Iowa, or Finland.

...contradicts this:
These people think they are indispensible to Whole Foods' business, because in their area, they are. But according to Google, there are more Whole Foods per person in Houston, Texas, than in New York City. I don't think anyone could look at a map of the distribution of Whole Foods stores in, say, Philadelphia, and proclaim that this looks much like the distribution of people who are so fired up about national health care that they are willing to cause themselves great personal inconvenience in order to punish the CEO of Whole Foods for writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Whole Foods' customers are hippies, yet there are more Whole Foods in conservative areas? How could Whole Foods survive under those conditions? To resolve this contradiction we have to determine which is correct--is Houston less liberal than she thinks, or do more conservatives shop at Whole Foods than she thinks? Whole Foods would not have so many stores in Houston if they were not making money. The Whole Foods in Houston have the same progressive, environmentalist, organic hippie image that they have in more liberal places. People who are not political would not go out of their way to shop at a more expensive store when you can find organic foods in every store unless there were another reason, such as image. So let's check to see how conservative Houston actually is.

Here is a study by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research [pdf] that says that while Houston is the largest conservative city in the nation, it is only moderately conservative. A Houston blogger notes:
Houston, as the 62nd most conservative and 177th most liberal (out of 237 total cities), on the surface seems to tilt pretty far to the right, but only voted 53.6/46.3 for Bush over Kerry. The national vote was something like 51/48 (1% other), so Houston is pretty darn close to the national average. The skew is the result of a national bias of larger cities towards liberal. Manchester, NH was the most balanced city I could find in their list, at almost exactly 50/50, and that got it ranked #80 most conservative and #159 most liberal, very close to Houston's rankings.

The bottom line: compared to other large cities, we're very conservative, but compared to the country as a whole, we're right in middle. In my humble and biased opinion, that makes for a more diverse and more interesting city than other cities that are more monocultural (or at least monopolitical).

When we see contradictions we make a decision, to either question our biases or assume our emotional reaction is the correct one. Ideologues will go with their biases, as will fundamentalists of every kind. We can't afford to indulge people who deliberately refuse to think a problem through, for fear it will make them question themselves or because they are being paid to look the other way.


clever pseudonym said...

So McArdle is basically arguing that consumers should never make conscientious choices because they won't actually wind up making a gigantic difference? I know not buying Nike products will not put an end to sweat shops. I know not shopping at WalMart does not make a huge dent in their profits. I know bringing my own canvas bag to the grocery store isn't going to end global warming. I do these things anyway because I feel I have a social responsibility.

At least she's done some actual research, albeit on something as silly as a social networking site. Baby steps. That's all I'm asking for.

Downpuppy said...

Andrew Gelman at 538 just happens to have a post up that covers the same area with real numbers. If you're sick of wallowing in the shallow end -

shows that there are plenty of rich liberal Democrats. (But not many poor conservatives)

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks, that's a very interesting post, Downpuppy. It seems the poorer you are, the less ideological you are? Which makes sense to me because the poor are less able to persuade themselves that politics will help them.

CP, she seems to think that nobody makes conscientious choices, they only operate out of self-interest and spite. I wonder why.

Paul said...

Back in 2008, this Whole Foods, CEO John Mackey (how old is this kid?), was caught posting negative comments (trash talk) about a competitor on Yahoo Finance message boards in an effort to push down the stock price. So now I am suppose to take this loser seriously? Please, snore, snore.

It’s funny we hear Republicans say that they do not want “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions but they have no problem with “private sector” “faceless bureaucrats” daily declining medical coverage and financially ruining good hard working people (honestly where can they go with a pre-condition). And who says that the “private sector” is always right, do we forget failures like Long-Term Capital, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron, Tyco, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Of course the federal government will destroy heathcare by getting involved, Oh but wait, Medicare and Medicaid and our military men and women and the Senate and Congress get the best heathcare in the world, and oh, that’s right, its run by our federal government. I can understand why some may think that the federal government will fail, if you look at the past eight years as a current history, with failures like the financial meltdown and Katrina but the facts is they can and if we support them they will succeed.

How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings, endears them to anyone. Especially when the organizations that are telling them where to go and what to do and say are Republicans political operatives, not real grassroots. How does shouting someone down or chasing them out like a “lynch mob” advanced the debate, it does not. So I think the American people will see through all of this and know, like the teabagger, the birthers, these lynch mobs types AKA “screamers” are just the same, people who have to resort to these tactics because they have no leadership to articulate what they real want. It’s easy to pickup a bus load of people who hate, and that’s all I been seeing, they hate and can’t debate. Too bad.

Euripides said...

She seems to think that the only reason you would boycott is to destroy?

I haven't seen one person express that they want to destroy Whole Foods, the most common reason for the boycott is to stop giving their money to an idiot.

Why does she compare 'conservative' boycotts with 'liberal' boycotts anyway? Lets boycott X because there was a hint of subversive scarf wearing, is not the same as Lets boycott X because I do not agree with X's moral stance and therefore do not want X to make a profit from me.

Cheap Cigars said...

I live in Houston and can definitely account for the Whole Foods on every corner. Boycotting isn't necessarily to destroy a business, but to stand up for what you do or do not believe in.

Ken Houghton said...

NYC already has Fairway (and its web service, Having Whole Paycheck move into Manhattan proper would likely be a Bad Business Decision, unless it were as part of development of an area. (Brooklyn's mileage may vary.)

A quick glance at Google Maps shows multiple WF in the NYC suburbs (including the one down the road apiece from us). But I guess McMegan's definition of liberal areas ends when the Upper West Side does. And that, as noted, has had Fairway since before Whole Paycheck was on her radar for providing mediocre, overpriced food.

Dr Zen said...

Doesn't Houston have a Democratic mayor, albeit a DINO? It can't be that conservative.