Thursday, September 02, 2004

Wall Street G's Theory of Value; Professor Vic Learns to Breathe

W! You gotta admit, no matter your political persuasion, a George Bush speech is far more interesting as a spectator sport than a Kerry speech. It's kind of like watching a gymnastics routine - if you are for him, you are praying he doesn't fall off of the balance beam onto his head, and in the event that he does, you are hoping he gets back up and completes the rest of the routine. If you are against, you are rooting for the exact opposite. With Kerry, you feel like you are Charlie Brown staring up at the parent who is never seen - "Wa wa waa wa waa wa." Unintelligibly boring, but a great elixir for insomnia.

I thought he did a fine job. I liked his jab taken at his own rhetorical skills - that he knew his English was bad when he started getting corrected by Arnie. It was Reaganesque in a way. His occasional mistakes are jumped upon by all of his humorless critics (does he have any other kind?) as if they show a lack of character, when in fact the cheap shots they take show their lack of character. Reagan used to take such jabs for Bedtime with Bonzo; like Bush last night, he turned the joke back on himself (I don't remember the exact way he did this) and in the process revealed the shallowness of those who tried to use the chimp as a stick to beat him with.


Before I get started, let me bring your attention to two articles in the American Spectator online - hilarious no matter what your political persuasion: the first involves the reporter being sent to the hooch with some of the protestors in NY; the second involves the Axis of Eve drumming up a little anti-Bush press by showing a little skin ... well, I think that is a protest even some conservatives can get behind.


Anyway, onto my man on the street - Wall Street G's (aka T-Rex, because rap stars, when they become really famous, need an aka in addition to the primary nickname) theory of value. Not content to keep up with the changing value of the dollar, he has come up with a commodity good whose utility never seems to change, even as its dollar price surely does. Rather than think of the dollar cost of various items, he thinks of the opportunity costs in beers or nights out:

"As I've gotten older, and arguably more mature, I've initiated different ways to measure "value". Particularly being a new home owner, I've had to come up with ways to evaluate the relative merits of one project or good versus an alternative. In your world (the world of the economist, that is), I believe it is called the Production Possibliities Curve.

Either way, I've been able to reduce the number of variables in my own decision-making process by holding one constant. Basically, I think of lower budgetary decisions in terms of how much beer one can purchase. (Usually, it is in terms of beer purchased at a bar at regular prices.) So, to put it in graphical terms, one of the axes is alwasy beer. For example: If one assumes the average pint of beer in the NYC Metropolitan area costs $4 to $5 per pint at a bar (not a night club or anyplace that employes a velvet rope to control its patrons, I am talking a moderately nice NYC pub with food and a reasonable crowd), then the recently hired cleaning lady is basically a decent Friday night out. (Figure 4-6 pints on the average Thurs or Friday at $5 per pint. Plus tips and some random purchases for friends at the bar.) If, like me, you could consume a few more than 4-6 pints, then the math gets easy. By rounding the average night out to about 12 pints (for you, friends, tips, etc.) now all decisions are evaluated against a very simple yard stick, the $60 to $70 night out."

Sounds like a good evaluative technique, but for one problem. Wall Street G is Irish, so this particular calculus of decision making for him probably results in many drunken nights and a house that is slowly falling apart. Most of the involuntary subscribers to Ideas Hatched no doubt used a similar calculus, without being able to explain it as well as Wall Street G, in each of the seven years of their college careers. Those who graduated in four probably never stumbled onto Wall Street G's decision-making apparatus. Interestingly enough, the social critic and economist Thorsten Veblen, teaching a conservative religious student in the early portion of the 20th century, scandalously asked her to value her religious beliefs in terms of kegs of beer.

I have come up with a similar non-dollar denominated metric of opportunity cost - retirement days. When my wife says, "Gee, I'd really like to get that leather couch", my mind starts racing to determine how many more days that will require me to work in my life. Each day retirement is delayed, mind you, is a missed opportunity to fashion and perfect an effective but turtous looking golf swing that manages to not aggravate the aches and pains of aging. A fourth kid? Added a lot of days, brother. But, of course, with each kid you factor in the probability, remote as it is, that he or she will be a golf prodigy, and will hasten you to a quicker and more comfortable retirement. That turned out to be the deciding factor for kid #4, although I had to inflate the probability. He or she owes me one!

Two very funny e-mails to share with you this morning. One from Professor Vic, just days away from becoming a first time father, after I suggested he take a few days off from commenting on the blog for the good of his health:

"I'll probably be reading the blog while Jolie is in labor, you'll say something objectionable, and Jolie will have to say, "Ok, Victor, breathe...""

Short and funny ... kinda like Professor Vic.

And then there is this, from a Monty Python fan:

"I didn't understand that last bit nor did I understand any of the bits before that however I do suspect that they may be offensive in some manner. Why doesn't he write about something nice, like a bear in a zoo who just got something yummy to eat? Sincerely Yours, Mrs. Higabonds Clarke, III, Age 92."


Blogger John Wolfram said...

Hatcher, you are on the money! W speeches are great precisely because he is not a great speaker. I personally thought the funniest part was when he said that people comment on his swagger, that folks in Texas call "walking" Now that is funny stuff.

However, I did not find Kerry's speech boring. I thought he was reasonably exciting and positive and inspiring, and it was only afterwards that I realized the extent of his rhetorical and oratorial skill, because I did not get anything positive when I read through the text of his speech.

From the two speeches, I believe Kerry is a better orator but Bush comes across as more principled and real.

11:24 AM  

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