Numlock News: March 29, 2019 • Frogs, Insulin, Sandwiches
By Walt Hickey
Have a wonderful weekend!
The price of a vial of Humalog was $35 in 2001. Humalog is Eli Lilly’s star insulin, and insulin is an essential hormone the body needs so as to not die in agony. Naturally, someone at Eli Lilly realized they could shake down diabetics for a fortune, what with their lives on the line, and has since jacked up the price of a vial of Humalog to about $275. In the rest of the world, where the point of medicine is to treat patients rather than maximizing shareholder value the price of Humalog is less absurd: in Germany, a vial costs $55, $45 if you buy five at a time.
The SAT costs $47.50 — $64.50 with the essay portion — and the ACT will set students back $50.50, or $67 with the writing portion. AP tests cost $94 to take. All this means that simply in order to get the credentials needed in order to pursue higher education, students with more money already have an edge over students with less money. It’s not like the nonprofits who administer the exams are hard up: Educational Testing Service conducts the SAT for the College Board, and you can probably guess what ACT Inc. runs. ETS had $1.4 billion in revenue in their most recent tax return, while ACT Inc made over $353 million.
The pendulum of American homework has swung back towards “a ton of homework,” with American teens spending twice as much time on homework daily compared to teens in the 1990s. Researchers generally agree that kindergartners should not have any take-home work, and yet they’re spending 25 minutes per night on homework. In reality, the amount of time students spent on homework was correlated to how they performed on tests, but only up to a point, and with an effect more pronounced among older students than younger ones.
A fungal disease afflicting amphibians has spread thanks to human trade, and it’s claiming species around the world. It’s responsible for the decline of at least 501 amphibians, 90 of which are now presumed extinct. Those species that declined account for 6.5 percent of total described amphibians, meaning that this once unknown fungus is one of the most destructive invasive species of all time based on the collapse in biodiversity it has caused.
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While delivery startups are locked in fearsome battle in the United States, the rivalries are utterly cutthroat in China, and it all comes down to density. China’s urban areas have 2,426 people per square kilometer, eight times the density of America’s urban areas. There are 10 cities with 1 million people or more in the U.S. and deliveries cost about $5. Compare that to China, where there are 156 such cities and deliveries cost $1. The crux is a fight between Alibaba, the most valuable company in China, and Meituan, which dominates the market. They’re in a vicious cost cutting fight, and Meituan is winning, controlling about 63 percent of China’s meal delivery market at the end of 2018.
Ferry vs. Subway
A long time ago, the best way to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan was a boat. Then bridges and tunnels made their way into the picture, and those were way more efficient, so boats kind of fell to the wayside. Then a mayor asked, given how bad the subway’s deteriorated, what if we brought the boats back? What if we created NYC Ferry, a transit option that would revolutionize the way New Yorkers commute? That mayor was wrong, ferries are stupid and expensive and a wildly inefficient use of resources. NYC Ferry provided 4.1 million rides in 2018 with ridership projected to hit 4.6 million in 2019. For comparison, the ferry transports fewer people in a year than the subway does in a day, and it’s even more expensive, sucking up a subsidy of $10.73 per ride, with future NYC Ferry expansions requiring even dumber subsidies of $24.75 per ride to keep the price the same as the subway. By comparison, the bus and subway’s public subsidy per ride is a fairly affordable at $1.05 per ride. The moral of the story is that sometimes there isn’t a bold, out of the box solution to a difficult problem, sometimes you just have to keep the train fixed.
Subways, But The Other Kind
Sandwich shop Subway has also been having problems, with the store count plummeting in 2018. The franchised chain lost over 1,100 shops in the U.S. in 2018 compared to 800 in 2017. The shop count peaked in 2015, when there were 27,103 Subways, each pumping out a distinct odor that can best be described as “fresh bread mixed with eau du Chuck E. Cheese mixed with ammonia.” Today there are just 24,798 Subway locations. The line from corporate has been basically Darwinian, as they essentially argue that culling the herd is necessary for the survival of the species, and though there may be fewer, those that remain will be more profitable at the end of the day. Once Subway rides out this low-carb period — it’s throwing $80 million at developing new menu items — they hope to climb back on top stronger than before.
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