Thursday, May 22, 2014

Piketty Reaffirms What We Knew

Thomas Piketty has created controversy among economists and confusion for those who pay attention to pronouncements by scholars who practice the "dismal science."

Disarray and doubt in the complex world of economics is nothing new. George Bernard Shaw once summed it up: "If all economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion."

Piketty is a French economist who analyzed tons of data to reach a disturbing conclusion--the gap between the rich and poor is growing larger throughout the world and there is no obvious reason to
believe the trend will stop.  In his book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," Piketty presents a simple little formula indicating that the rate of return on capital always is greater than the rate of growth in an economy. Ultimately, he shows, if nothing changes world power will rest in the hands of a few individuals whose immense wealth continues to produce ever-growing income for them, and depresses the income of everyone else.

The economist assembled, I am told, all sorts of dull data sets to produce charts and graphs sprinkled throughout his 696-page book.  The tome quickly sold out in most bookstores and on Amazon, which should produce bonanzas for Piketty in the form of publishing royalties and academic recognition. Based on my experience editing the writings of economists, I doubt if many of the book buyers who are not economists will actually get beyond the first twenty or so pages. At least they won't without a nap.

Nevertheless, such prominent economists as lefty Paul Krugman said Piketty's book will "change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics."

Give Krugman an A for the economics study part of the statement. Piketty used modern technology to locate and study huge volumes of data dating back centuries. He has shown the way forward for fellow economists in how they can conduct important studies.

But Krugman flunks the "way we think about society" part of the course. Many have long said what Piketty's major point states. American society said it years ago in song: "the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer." American society said it in slogans dating at least back into the sixties: "the big fish always eat the little fish."  People around the world have said the same thing in various ways. Is there anyone out there who doesn't believe it?

Several righty economists are more consistent than Krugman. They are completely wrong. Their charge is that Picketty's views equate to those of Karl Marx. Nonsense. Picketty disciples say he clearly states his anti-Marx stance and also takes issue with other far-left philosophers. Communism has failed dismally as an economic system, and very few current experts continue to support the ideas that formed its basis.

So what's new?

One new thing is Piketty proposes an unusual solution--a global tax on wealth. Unfortunately, that is wildly impractical. We'll have to find an economist to point in a different direction, which shouldn't be difficult.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finally, a Well-Deserved Discount

The geezer has maintained for some time that the pricing structure for men's haircuts is all wrong.

Kids get a big discount. Have you seen one of the little rascals screaming, kicking, crying and otherwise obstructing the best efforts of a barber?  Based on problems created, those tykes should be charged double.

Other discounts are based solely on age on the other end of the spectrum. "Seniors" get deals just because they are. The guy with an "extended forehead" who needs only one or two zips with a clipper
This luxurious head of hair finally earned a permanent discount
gets no better deal than the man with long wavy gray hair that requires all sorts of snipping, trimming, and styling. 

It makes better sense to base discounts on hair volume and the complexity of the job.

For several years, I've pleaded my case just before climbing into the chair. "Considering what's up there, I ought to get a special rate," my statement goes. Most barbers smile and charge me the regular rate. The others just charge me the regular rate.

Recently, I tried a new shop because the owner advertised a one-day special on haircuts at a ridiculously low price. I saw no reason to suggest anything more.

About half-way through the 10-minute clipper job it takes to do my sparse "do," the barber asked if I'd visited the shop before. I said I had not.

"We hope you'll come back," she said. "We have a senior discount every Wednesday. In your case, we'll give you the discount any day."

Hallelujah! A sensibly based discount finally happened, and I didn't even ask.  If nature continues to take its course, I'll hit them up for ever bigger price reductions in the years ahead. Wonder if the price eventually will get down close to "no charge"?