On Cyclists and the Economy

Below is an interesting parable on the modern economy, using bicyclists as a focus point:

The bicycle is the slow death of the planet.

General Director of Euro Exim Bank Ltd. got economists thinking when he said:

cyclists2“A cyclist is a disaster for the country’s economy: he does not buy cars and does not borrow money to buy. He does not pay for insurance policies. He does not buy fuel, does not pay for the necessary maintenance and repairs. He does not use paid parking. He does not cause serious accidents. He does not require multi-lane highways. He does not get fat. Healthy people are neither needed nor useful for the economy. They don’t buy medicine. They do not go to hospitals or doctors. Nothing is added to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product).

On the contrary, every new McDonald’s restaurant creates at least 30 jobs: 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 dietary experts and nutritionists, and obviously, people who work at the restaurant itself.”

Choose carefully: cyclist or McDonald’s? It is worth considering.

P.S. Walking is even worse. Pedestrians don’t even buy bicycles.

There are several different people who have held the position of General Director or CEO of Euro Exim Bank, none of whom were ever proven to have said the above quote.

Sadly, this is not satire.

Fake as it may be, the sentiment behind the little quote, where profit & economic growth is placed as a goal above all else, including the well-being and happiness of the general population, is very real and worth mulling over. Is it doing us any good to think and act like that? Often times, we react in shock when we hear about people doing self-degrading and degenerate things, but when we learn that they earned a lot of money doing it, many of us would suddenly think it’s ok. This is a sign that many of us have subconsciously adopted the idea of profit making as a virtue of sort in our own minds.  Does profit truly justify many of the things we allow to slide in the name of it, though?  That’s something each of us will have to reflect upon with ourselves. 

Just to end the post on a more realistic note, here’s an example of the profit making motive rearing its head in real life:

Years ago I worked for a trading company that imported auto parts from overseas and sold them on a wholesale basis to a local American company. The American company grew up from a mom & pop operation to a mid-sized operation with 10s of millions of dollars of sales per year. They marketed themselves as a very humble, home grown type of company on their website – American dad struggled and pioneered his way, and now, the tradition continues as the son takes over (imagine the tale being told in a husky male voice like from some advertisements, and you’d get the idea on the image they’re trying to paint).

cyclists3One day, we were communicating to their purchasing manager, and were telling them that our company had quality assurance engineers who would inspect the products we sell them before each shipment. We were telling them this to market ourselves and to encourage a bit more sales, by assuring our customer of our products’ quality.

Strangely, upon hearing this, the product manager laughed and jovially told us to stop that. Just fire those quality assurance fellows, save some money. He then helpfully explained that by firing the quality assurance engineers, we can indeed cut the cost of our goods lower. This would then lead to our products being more competitive and we would get more orders from them.  Their company, in turn, can sell the same products to the general public for a little bit cheaper, and hence they can be more competitive too.

He proceeded to explain that if any of their products fail, they’ll just reimburse their customers, and turn around and ask us, who sold them the products, for a reimbursement. So long as we reimburse them too, everything works out peachy. Nothing was said about what happens to the customers who’d have a random part in their car fail on them as they went about their day.

This is the same line of logic as shown in the above cyclist example, where profit was placed as first before anything else.  It’s not just an exaggerated punchline used in a joke about bankers or economists, but a real sort of logic that people in decision making positions use.  Seeing it in practice, in the wild as it were, was disquieting. We never did fire our quality assurance engineers. We too, were a family-run business and to this day I am proud of my family’s decision on this matter.

When I encounter people down the road, especially American consumers, bemoaning the low quality of some of the imported products they’ve purchased, I always think back to this little exchange. It wasn’t just a black and white matter of certain countries in the world, such as China, having “bad” products (cheaper/lower quality) that companies prefer to buy from.

It was a matter of the profit seeking logic actively encouraging cheaper and lower quality items. A blind, insect-like sort of rotten logic that focuses only on efficiency and maximizing profit without regard for anything else.  The same issues will still be prevalent and spread no matter whether the products were made in China or the USA, so long as the same rotten logic is still in place.




Original screen cap of the parable in the beginning:



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