Cyclists are Economic Disasters

A colleague of mine posted this today. It was in quotations but was uncited. I attempted to discover the source, but the best I could do was to find a post from 2017 citing another author, Kaushik Patel on LinkedIn, but I do not know if this person originated this. It doesn’t really matter. In the spirit of full disclosure, my colleague is a fully indoctrinated, unapologetic Libertarian Capitalist. He also is an avid bicyclist, so reconciling the meta must be a challenge.

A Cyclist – is a disaster for the economy:

1. He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan.
2. Does not buy vehicle insurance.
3. Does not buy fuel.
4. Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes.
5. Does not use paid parking.
6. Does not become obese.
7. Yes, and well, dammit ! Healthy people are not needed for the economy. They do not buy drugs. They do not go to private doctors. They do not increase the country’s GDP ! On the contrary, every new McDonald’s outlet creates 30 jobs: 10 Dentists, 10 Cardiologists and 10 Weight Loss Experts.

So, what do you prefer- Cycling or fast food?

Like the Jackass parable, I recently shared, how one reacts to this is largely predictable if you know the worldview of the reactor.

This piece takes the perspective of the cyclist critiquing GDP economics satirically through the lens of an orthodox economist. Of course, there are also many internal contradictions and mistruths. I don’t intend to fully critique what I take to be a meme, but I’ll comment somewhat. To be fair, I get annoyed by bicycles intermingling with either automobiles or pedestrians. I’d prefer there be dedicated thoroughfares for bikes. When I am walking, I feel they’re like mosquitos or horseflies. When I’m driving, I see them as drunken toddlers. Who knows what they’re going to do next.

Meantime

Crossed my Facebook Feed

To be honest, I see them as anachronistic. They serve a purpose—many purposes, in fact—, but that doesn’t obviate the nuisance factors. I am not wholly anti-bicycle, but I feel they need a better implementation strategy. I rode bicycles until I was twelve years old or so. Not being the nineteenth century, I still view them as child’s toys. Regarding adults, there are generally two categories—the privileged (and self-righteous) and the underprivileged (and disenfranchised).

Privilege

The author of this quote is likely in this category. How dare someone try to undermine my god-given right to responsibly ride a bike for the greater good of humankind. These people not only own expensive bicycles. Some own several for on-road cycling, off-road cycling, and perhaps even performance cycling. Generally, they own the accoutrements and matching aerodynamic vestiments—padded bicycle shorts, a tight jersey, a sleek helmet, and proper cycling shoes, each contributing to the economy.

In the categories are the commuters, who cannot necessarily wear their gear on the commute, but trust me, they got it in the closet, and they’d wear it if they could.

Underprivilege

This category is for the poor who need to commute a relative distance but either can’t afford or justify an automobile or have had their licence revoked. These people are not a part of bike culture. They are bicyclists by necessity. This is not a play to the greater good. It’s just a way to not have to walk as much.

More Colour and Shape

There is a large cultural component evident here. Japan has a bike culture. When I lived outside of Tokyo, I could drive past parking lots filled with thousands of bicycles. But that’s their culture.

A parking lot for bicycles in Niigata, NiigataJapan

I didn’t even own a car in Japan. I relied on their public transportation system and my feet. I drove friends’ cars and motorbikes. Japan also has favourable motorbike regulations, but that’s another topic.

What does it mean?

The meta of this satire is that from the perspective of the GDP, the cyclist does not contribute to the larger economy. I’ll not mention beyond this that the cyclist is a male.

He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan

This presumes that the bicycle is the sole means of transportation. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps he buys a car but pays cash. Why is he introducing financing into the equation? Of course, the bike needs to be purchased. Some are more expensive than a used car.

Does not buy vehicle insurance

This relies on the previous situation, but—and I hate to be the one to break it to you— not all people who own cars or drive buy automobile insurance. Do all jurisdictions actually require a person to purchase insurance?

Does not buy fuel

Ditto. Presuming this means petrol for the motorcar.

Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes

This is just silly. As with fuel, obviously, this is scoped to auto repair. And many people don’t use or rarely use car washes. Whilst one may bypass auto repair, you may not escape the need for bicycle repairs or tyres or frames and so on. Sure, these might be less expensive, but they are no zero-cost events.

Does not use paid parking

I am presuming this person either does not live in a congested city where one would have to pay for parking or his city subsidises parking, thus contributing to GDP.

Does not become obese

A bit of fat-shaming, perhaps? I guess he’s never seen a fat person on a bike. I’ll give him that the person on the bike might get some cardiovascular activity that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and perhaps he’d avoid becoming morbidly obese, but I’m not accepting this one. Moreover, I’ll suggest that selection bias is more the factor.

Healthy people are not needed for the economy

Here’s the punchline. Healthy people don’t contribute to the Medical-Industrial Complex. Speaking from the perspective of the US, these people pay for preventative care, buy upscale food, eat in upscale restaurants—not to mention McDonald’s—, live in upscale housing in upscale neighbourhoods, shop in upscale stores, and so on. I’ve heard the sentiment that if you don’t spend money on Organic™ food and health supplements and treatment modalities, then you’ll spend it later in trying to recover your (inevitable) lost health.

How does McDonald’s generate dentists? Conveniently, he left out the medical personnel who get to treat knee injuries, injuries from falling and getting hit by cars (or maybe just car doors).

Closing

In the end, economics is not a good measure for much of anything, but it is a measure that can increase or decrease and, for what it’s worth, we can compare X to Y.

After all is said and done, I don’t care about the GDP, and I don’t care about cycling. Chalk it up to non-attachment or apathy—perhaps a little of each.

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