Thursday, December 05, 2002

Really, Really Basic Economics

My most recent visit to Ruminator Books resulted in more than the usual - which would be leg cramps for me (due to hours of sitting inactivity) and suspicious and indignant looks from the management (as I typically occupy their prime seating locations for hours on end with nary a suggestion of actually making a purchase). This time I purchased two entire books (which fills my self imposed quota for them for all of 2003). From the regular stacks, I scored what was a new addition to their economics section, the brilliant Basic Economics - A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell. And from the clearance credenza (everything at Ruminator has an air of liberal arts sophistication - even the discount bin), a copy of the pamphlet Quotations from Chairman Calvin which is a compilation of the public remarks of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith, edited by David Anderson.

Upon skim reading one and comprehensively devouring the other (I’ll let you decide which is which) I must say I feel somewhat cheated, as they appear to be the SAME BOOK. Yes, Sowell has advanced degrees, an excellent vocabulary, logical arguments, and a fluid and effective communication style. Whereas Calvin is a uneducated, blunt, and vulgar. But, they’re essentially saying the same things. Don’t believe me?

On incentives in the marketplace -

Sowell: “Incentives matter because most people will do more for their own benefit than for the benefit of others. Incentives link the two concerns together. A waitress brings food to your table, not because of your hunger, but because her salary and tips depend on it. Giant corporations hire people to find out what their customers want, not because of altruism, but because they know that this is the way to make a profit and avoid losses.”

Griffith: “If you keep a player a little hungry, he’ll play better for you. If you grease his palms all the time there’s no incentive for him.”

On the relationship of scarcity to economics -

Sowell: “Economics is the study of cause-and-effect relationships in an economy. It’s purpose is to discern the consequences of various ways of allocating scarce resources which have alternative uses.

How much of each resource should be allocated to each of its many uses? Every economy has to answer that question, and each one does, in one way or another, efficiently or inefficiently."

Griffith: “There’s only so much milk in the cow. I don’t have no worries. I’m going to get mine.”

On economics and racial discrimination -

Sowell: “While it is obvious that discrimination imposes a cost on those being discriminated against, in the form of lost opportunities for higher incomes, it is also true that discrimination can impose costs on those who do the discriminating, where they too lose opportunities for higher incomes. For example, when a landlord refuses to rent an apartment to people from the “wrong” group, that can mean leaving the apartment vacant longer.“

Griffith: “What the hell, racism is a thing of the past. Why do we have colored ball players on our ball club? They’re the best ones. If you don’t have them you’re not going to have a club.

Look, I’m no bigot. When we sign a prospect, I don’t ask what color he is. I only ask ‘Can he run? Hit? Throw?’ After this season, I’m going one more question. Can he field? We made so many errors this season ..... ah, never mind.”

On supply and demand -

Sowell: “There is perhaps no more basic or more obvious principle of economics than the fact that people tend to buy more at a lower price and less at a higher price. By the same token, people who produce goods or supply services tend to supply more at a higher price and less at a lower price.”

Griffith: (regarding Butch Wynegar’s recent marriage) “He was playing hands with his wife during spring training and instead of running around the outfield he did his running in the bedroom. Now love is love. But it comes pretty cheap for young ball players these days and I think they should take advantage of that and wait to get married.”

And finally, on collective bargaining -

Sowell: “...maximum employment in any industry is achieved under free and open market competition, without organized collusion among either employers or employees. Looked at more generally, the only individual bargains that can be made anywhere in a free market are those whose terms are acceptable to both sides - that is buyers and sellers of labor, computers, shoes, or whatever. Any other terms, whether set higher or lower, and whether set by collective actions of employers or unions or imposed by government by decree, favors one side or the other and therefore causes the disfavored side to make fewer transactions.”

Griffith: (on Ron Davis who had just won his salary arbitration hearing in 1983) “The guy won three ball games. Can you believe that? Three! I’m so sick about Davis winning I feel like vomiting. He is no more entitled to that kind of salary than I am to being President of the United States.

If I had to pay him that much money for a whole year, I know deep down in my heart I would die a slow death.”

As good as it is, I’m not sure I even need to attempt a comprehensive reading of the Sowell book, as I’ve already got Griffith down cold. Pending a quick cross referencing of Calvin’s wisdom with a few other weighty and unread tomes on my night stand, I also might be able to skip Being and Nothingness, Ulysses, and the entire New Testament. And then I’d finally have time to accept the same advice Calvin once gave Tom Kelly, when he was a struggling first baseman for the Twins:

“He never could relax. I’d tell him, ‘Tommy, go out and get yourself a bottle of g*dd*mned whiskey and a woman, and tomorrow you’ll go four for four.’”

Sweet Jesus, four for four. I can’t remember the last time I went four for four. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I had a plate appearance.

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