Archives For Economics

Since I started running in 2008 there have been a number of things that I’ve noticed. I’m fitter, feel better, and think clearer. The other thing that I’ve noticed is that I buy a lot of running shoes. I’m not addicted to shoes by any means, but I run approximately 60 kilometers a week in training and then add the marathons and running events to that and you see the numbers add up. In my basement storage space I have a closet full of worn out shoes. It is generally the uppers that wear out the fastest I find, though a loss of traction is also an issue.

Last year alone I purchased 4 pairs of running shoes and over 2000 km of running including three city marathons and four mountain marathons completely destroyed the shoes. The question always remains though, what can be done with the shoes?

Believing that I would one day come up with a brilliant scheme to process and recycle my shoes, I have not been throwing them in the garbage but saving them. The other day I was speaking with a shoe manufacturer and asking them about shoe recycling and I was told that it is currently too difficult. But I decided to look around on the Internet again for a program that recycles shoes.

I found that Nike has such a program in place. They turn shoes into three different sport surfaces:

The fabric (uppers) –> basketball court underlay

The foam (midsole) –> tennis courts

The rubber (outsole) –> running tracks

Nike Shoe Recycling

What to do with your old running shoes

This program does not exist in Switzerland, but it does in Germany and there is even a Nike shoe recycling plant in Belgium.

Here is my idea:

On April 22, 2012 the Zurich Marathon will take place for the tenth time. Nike is one of the official sponsors. Nike should set up a giant shoe collection for recycling at this year’s marathon. With over 6,000 runners and many more spectators this could be a huge drive to collect shoes. Furthermore, the city of Zurich or other developers could already work with Nike to possibly purchase some of the flooring components that will be made with the shoes.

On their site, Nike says that they will recycle running shoes from every brand, but stress that they can only recycle running shoes. Furthermore, the shoes cannot have any metal components like spikes (so no cleats).

Beside the shoe drive for broken and worn-out running shoes, it would also be great to have a shoe donation. It has happened to me that I’ve tried on a new pair of shoes in the shop, they felt great, I bought them, but when I actually went to use them I didn’t like the way they felt. These shoes could be donated to people in other countries, who would benefit from having protection for their feet.

Any major event that brings thousands of people together should by its vary nature also seek to increase social responsibility and address a social need. Shoe recycling addresses the environment and shoe donations raise poverty awareness.

Shoe facts:

Every year the Swiss pay more than 50 million francs for running shoes.* In Germany that number is over 165 million euros**. That is a lot of running shoes. In Switzerland that’s more than 200,000 pairs of shoes.

According to a report in National Geographic, it takes approximately 80 million liters of water to produce a million francs worth of shoes. Or 80 liters for every franc of shoe value. The environmental impact of shoe production must not be underestimated.

16000 liters of water for a pair of shoes

*This number was 48 million in 2000, so it must surely be much higher now.

**This number is from 2008, and is probably also higher now.

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Life Costs

December 30, 2011 — Leave a comment

A friend of mine posted the American budget in terms of a household budget to highlight how little the American government has actually achieved in attempting to balance the federal budget. The exercise was very helpful and looks like this:

It’s actually quite simple. Now I know there are many people out there that love the idea of “not spending beyond one’s means”. This principle is great and kudos to all that can do that. But to be honest, if you can, you are already in the secure upper percentile of society. You are a minority. Life costs money.

The US government (the people) have obliged themselves to certain costs. However, few want to pay for these obligations. America’s three largest expenditures are for defense (20%), social security (20%) and health (23%). The security budget is hard to cut because the country has so many obligations to other countries and put itself into such a delicate position. The social security costs are a promise to many retired people who helped build America. The health care budget could be reduced through some regulation and economic incentives like in Singapore. Without getting into a long discussion on health care and possible solutions and existing problems, I’ll just say that there are too many intertwined factors that give certain industries copious amounts of money for ensuring that their shortsighted interests are met.

Getting back to the budgetary element, what I would like to point out, and this is an issue in many EU countries and even in Switzerland, is that to run a modern society there are many costs. When these costs are met and investments are made, all of society stands to benefit, when they are not we all lose.

America and Europe are modern economies. Modern economies need to operate in the knowledge economy and produce innovation in procedure, technology and better services. If America and Europe stop investing in their people and their infrastructure, the customers (companies) that create jobs and wealth will go elsewhere to where their needs and desires are met.

I will not disagree that some excess spending can be cut, but more importantly, revenues need to increase to pay for the costs of running a modern state. Just like it cannot be expected that a modern American family making $21,700 a year should save more, it cannot be expected that the American federal government really spend less, unless the future wants to be sacrificed. Read Paul Krugman’s latest article on the pitfalls of the current austerity measures.

Broken Swiss Democracy

September 27, 2011 — Leave a comment

Swiss politics has become a scary place. From blatantly prejudice campaign posters to remarkably low voter turnout, Swiss democracy finds itself in a perilous situation. How the Swiss vote on October 23 can possibly change the face of this rather young democracy very quickly.

Young democracy you may be questioning. What about the 1291 founding of Switzerland and the established country since then? Truth be told this is all part of the larger Swiss mythology with which children are raised and what politicians call upon to inspire the nationalistic vote. However, the simple fact is that the current political system was founded in 1848, the same year the rest of Europe was undergoing its failed revolutions, shows that something different was happening in the alpine nation. Already before that though, it was Napoleon who freed the majority of the people from the tyranny of a few wealthy families that controlled the different cities and willingly sold off their inhabitants (as they were not allowed to vote) to be mercenaries for different and often competing royal households.

Swiss Flag from 1798 - 1803

On a call back to Napoleonic times the political party known as Secondos Plus called for the retirement of the current Swiss flag and the possible revival of the Napoleonic flag for the country – green, red, yellow. Their claim is that the white cross on a red background no longer represents the societal landscape of Switzerland and that the cross is a clear symbol of Christianity. Now what must be understood is that this party also has many “real” Swiss members, so it’s not just a group of immigrants that have suggested this change. However, this suggestion could not have been made at a worse time.

Latest SVP ads in print and digital against Secondos Plus

To suggest the replacement of the internationally renowned Swiss cross will have the equivalent effect of giving the SVP, Switzerland’s rightist party, X tens of thousands of votes. Already this week the party has launched an aggressive attack on the idea from Secondos Plus as well as what they consider a justification for their xenophobic stance on immigration. They are using fear of the abolition on traditional Swiss values to win votes. These are the same tactics that the American Tea Party and GOP are using every time they accuse Democratic politicians of trying to install a socialistic/communistic government.

The problem that both Switzerland and America as well as the majority of the western world faces is that the democratic systems are not functioning. We are told that we live in democracies yet few of us are political beings in an Aristotelean sense. Just like many parents go around treating their children like small adults allowing them to make choices they are not yet fit to make, we go around believing we have a right to vote. However, one should only have the right to vote if you’re actually politically inclined. Or said another way, having the right to vote demands that you partake in politics. This means more than reading posters and listening to TV personalities give their two cents on what they think about current events.

In today’s world, politics is more complicated than ever as our systems work in more integrated ways. With this in mind we need to understand that we are a part of a system and that everything that we know today is dependent on the relationships that exist today. The SVP would like the Swiss to believe that Switzerland can exist as an island without symbiotic relationships with other countries. They want to give the people (das Volk) the right to make decisions on everything, without asking them to be politically skeptical, inquisitive and aware of the repercussions in an international context. For this reason Switzerland has already started to fall on the ranking of democracies and during the last election we even had an agency supervise the elections.

From where Switzerland stands today, it is clear that the majority of citizens have not earned the right to vote and/or lived up to their responsibilities as voting citizens. This is further backed by the fact that in the last election more than 53% of the population did not bother to cast a ballot. For this reason, it is imperative that politicians in parliament be given the task of evaluating the laws and treaties that the country signs and to be aware of everything that they entail. A country cannot exist in a vacuum.

Most people today are too busy worrying about paying their bills, working, taking care of their family and other things than to worry about politics. Just like hardly anyone understands how their mobile works most people do not understand how politics work, but nonetheless they expect it to function and not leave them in a bind.

Switzerland used to have a grand coalition whereby members of different linguistics and geographic areas as well as from different segments of the political spectrum worked together to come up with resolutions best suited for Switzerland as a country and its people. Today the country is on a race to the bottom with the growth of party politics and an economically incentivized political program that will eventually bankrupt the state and leave piles of debt to future generations. In terms of human rights the country is already being taken to the European Human Rights tribunal in Strasbourg for the 2009 laws against the building of Minarets.

If you’re interested in Swiss politics and its current state read: “Die käufliche Schweiz” by Viktor Parma and Oswald Sigg. The authors will also be talking at Kaufleuten on Monday, October 10th at 8pm.