Tag Archives: economy

History will teach us nothing

While reading Frederik Pohl’s autobiography, The Way the Future Was last night, I was struck by the following remarks he made in the first chapter:

Hoover did not plant the seeds [of the Great Depression], they were sown over the boom years of the 20s, in easy credit buying and mad stock swindles

I realize that people have been calling what we are in a recession and not a depression (and they are very careful to do this).  But what struck me about the above statement is its strong parallels with our current situation.  This recession was sown over the boom years of the late 1990 and early 2000s (especially in the real estate market); in the easy credit that made people think they could afford houses they couldn’t actually afford; and in mad stock swindles like we’ve seen at some of the big financial institutions that have gone under, to say nothing of the Madoffs and Stanfords of the world.

Of course, we can’t call this a depression since we have social security and unemployment and welfare and all the other social aid that folks in the 1930s didn’t have.  But come on.  Set those things aside and who are we really kidding?

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Friday the Thirteenth

Welcome to another Friday the Thirteenth. Hope you have a lucky day.

Anyone who knows me knows that I lack the superstitious gene, so Friday the Thirteenth is just another day to me, one which perhaps allows me to indulge a bit more in my penchant for mocking pitying those who retain the superstitious gene. (The previous statement, those people will say, is called “tempting fate”.)

But Friday the Thirteenth got me thinking about numbers and that in turn got me thinking about the price of a gallon of gas. Not how much it has gone up recently. Not the fact that it is now over $4/gallon. That kind of stuff is way over-reported at this point. No, what I was thinking about was how gas prices are displayed, with that silly 9/10 of a cent tacked onto the end of the price. It’s been done forever. I have photos of my grandpa’s gas station in the Bronx, taken in the 1970s and the prices are listed with that extra 9/10 of a cent per gallon.

Given that gas prices are as high as they are, I think that service stations could pull of a minor marketing coup by finally getting rid of those 9/10th of a cent. In fact, while many politicians are proposing all kinds of freezing of gas taxes to weather the high price of oil, I think Joe (“Six Pack”) American would much more appreciate the symbolic discount of 9/10th of a cent per gallon. Removing that near-penny says, “We realize that you are not idiots after all, and that for all of this time we were fooling no one, so we are getting rid of the 9/10th of a cent. Let the cheering begin.” Just imagine how much service stations across the nation would save on those extra, smaller-sized numbers that they have to buy to display 9/10 twelve-to-24 times at each service station. When a price of gas read $4.19, we would know that it was $4.19, and not have to do any kind of mental trickery to remember that in fact, it is actually $4.199, or rounded up, $4.20/gallon.

Gasoline would become minutely cheaper. Life would grow minutely easier.

Besides, they haven’t been fooling anyone with their deceptive pricing schemes.

Or have they? It seems to me that when I hear people refer to the price of gas, they refer to the posted price and ignore that extra 9/10 of a cent. When they report prices on the news they seem to report the price per gallon, without reference to the 9/10 of a cent. And remember, the people doing the buying are the same people who build buildings without a 13th floor; who don’t walk under ladders; who shudder when they break mirrors; who throw salt over their shoulders; who cross their fingers for good luck; who avoid seats in the 13th row of an airplane.

On second thought, I look grimly upon the fact that the extra 9/10ths of a cent will ever be repealed. We are too oblivious to it to even know that it is there.

Now maybe if it was changed from 9/10th to 13/14ths…