Friday, December 16, 2011

Romanconomics: It's Tebow Time!

I now watch football. What was once a confusing and seemingly pointless Sunday-afternoon waste of time has now become my weekend centerpiece. I actually worry about where I can find a televised Broncos game in NYC, and if I can't find one, I check Yahoo sports updates like an alcoholic guzzling the last drop of vanilla extract. Once, I had a friend texting me a play-by-play as I waited to board a flight. It's getting bad.

Why the sudden football mania? Two words: TIM. TEBOW*. I, like every other single twenty-something (or thirty-something or forty-something, or really anyone who's ever heard of football) am in love. Tim Tebow boils down to basically two key characteristics: 1) He loves Jesus 2) He's a real man. 

These two characteristics are rare these days, as my fellow Christian single ladies know. So every Sunday, when my Facebook feed is full of my peers drooling (in a really chaste, attractive way, of course) over Tebow, I have to wonder why there aren't some good substitutes. 

See, Tebow is like the iPod: he's filling a need we couldn't really identify better than anything we've ever imagined. He's manly, he loves Jesus, and he also routinely spends Sunday afternoons with your family. PERFECT! Unfortunately, we don't have other companies rushing to meet this newfound demand: we don't even have the Zune of the Christian Singles world (which, incidentally, I'm pretty sure is a member of PlusOne). All we need is for guys to step up and love Jesus and act like men. Really. You don't even have to win a football game in overtime. 

This is the simple idea of supply and demand: if one company (or in this case, Broncos quarterback) starts offering a really amazing product (himself), and it's wildly popular with the public, other companies will try to compete. They'll put out their own versions of the same basic idea, leading to competition and eventually advanced technology and lower prices (which is why an iPod mini cost about as much as an iPod nano, even though it had way less memory). 

Instead, what's happening is there just isn't enough Tebow to go around. Not only am I having to fight off every sports commentator seduced by his surreal statistics, I have to deal with:
UF students, alumni, fans, and frenemies
Broncos fans and frenemies and other NFL teams trying to draft him
Single Christian girls
Mothers of single Christian girls 
People who own a television

There's one very hot product, in very high demand. Why are there no knockoffs? Let's face it, ladies: you're not going to marry Tim Tebow. But I, being the kindhearted, future Mrs. Tebow that I am, want you to come away with a really good second-best. This leads us to the question: Where are all the Tebow knock-offs? 

Unfortunately, they're probably deep into level 11 of Halo or something. And similarly, you're probably on chapter 12 of "Twilight." In the world of romanconomics, too often both parties are to blame for the lack of mutually beneficial, voluntary transactions (called "dates"). Both parties sit around waiting for the perfect "other" to fall out of the sky like a miracle interception, but too often it's an incomplete pass.

That's what's remarkable about Tebow: he can help us separate fact and fancy; ideal and achievable. He's a manly man, and he loves Jesus. So for all of you haters who told us that was impossible, take that. Still, he does not ballroom dance. He does not write incredible love sonnets. He may not eat free-range chicken. He's still human, and he'll still have flaws. He's everything you need, but still himself underneath. That's all we're looking for in a substitute: someone who has the essentials (loves Jesus, is a manly-man), but doesn't have to live up to crazy expectations. He could be a computer programmer. Or a statesman. Or a merchant. If he has those two golden traits (loves Jesus, manly), he's exactly what we've been looking for.

So Mr. Tebow, while I wait for you to "tebow" and pull a ring out of your pocket while you're down on one knee, tell the fellas to get their act together. We'd rather not wait until the final three minutes for a proposal. 

I waited for the Broncos/Patriots game in:
Black skinny pants, blue collared blouse with shoulder cut-outs, black eight earrings, armored rhinestone ring, gunmetal gray owl necklace, and black leather over-the-knee boots.  

*Even though I now watch football, I'm hardly a sports commentator. For all of Tebow's amazing last-minute game saves (and disappointing loss to the New England Patriots), please go to ESPN, or my brother. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If Everyone's a Size 4 ...

Even as world currencies fluctuate like Katy Perry's moods, another currency of sorts is in crisis: women's sizing. A few loyal Adventurers recently brought to my attention what they call "size inflation." Size inflation refers to a growing trend (real or perceived) in women's apparel to make roomier garments with smaller numbers: in other words, you don't have to be a supermodel to wear a size 2.

This brilliant sales technique invades the feminine psyche, saying "go ahead - have another piece of pie, and then come shop here. You'll always be a 4 to us!" In a world of conditional love, this incentivizes purchases - and since this world is also one of continuing economic difficulty, that's important. Alluringly, this allows women (most of whom care a great deal about that little number next to the washing instructions) to feel smaller than they may be in reality.

This trend, say my very concerned, rather petite, fellow lovers of business casual, is alarming and makes it impossible to buy properly-fitting clothes. I'd like to point out that no one above a size 8 is complaining. See, as with any inflationary measure, the currency is devalued. For petite women, their value proposition is their tininess. If everyone can be tiny, they're forced into "made up" sizes like 00 (if I wore it, I wouldn't complain), and they get fewer points for foregoing the aforementioned second piece of pie. There are more women at the envied "small number" end of the spectrum, so the petite ladies' sizes are "worth" less. To paraphrase The Incredibles: If everyone's a size 4, no one is.

What's probably more difficult, though, is that a 4 is never just a 4. See, women's sizes are a lot more psychological than men's sizes. Men literally buy their pants based on how wide and tall they are. Two measurements, bam! Fits every time. Women, however, need a lot more veiling and subtlety. It's not entirely accurate to call this size inflation - it's more like an unregulated currency. There is no objective standard.

First, there's the cut: because women are not all shaped the same. Let's establish that there are two very different sized pairs of hips that fit into a size 6 boot-cut, and a size 6 curvy. This isn't bad, it's just complicated. Second, different sizes are trying to accommodate a number of different features. Even something as simple as pants contain waist measurements, hip measurements, inseams, thigh width, and degrees of bootyliciousness. So, going from a 6 to an 8 could mean they're a half inch longer and a half inch wider at the waist, or they could be the same length with an extra half inch in the rear. You just don't know. 

If you want to get really complicated, try a dress. This has to fit every part of a woman's body, minus her ankles. No wonder a 4 is never just a 4! Finally, different stores have different sizes. All you really ever know about a size 6 is that some part of it is smaller than the size 8, and bigger than the size 4. Probably. You also know it may or may not be any more exact than buying a Small, Medium, or Large, or which one of those would include a size 6.

This means that many stores* have decided to ease the psychological burden and cut things a bit wider. They don't want to drive a hard line on your bottom, they want to drive their bottom line hard. They win, we win, and our petite friends end up with closets full of 0s, 2s, and 4s. EVERYONE IS A WINNER.

That's the point of inflation - it spreads the wealth around by devaluing it. Instead of having $1 that can buy four cheeseburgers, you have $4 that can buy one cheeseburger. (For reals - $0.25 burgers vs. a $6 burger at Chili's, anyone?)

The analogy is a bit flawed, though, because it only recognizes the value of the small end of the spectrum, and women's sizes are more varied than inflated. Additionally, as Aristotle says, "No very small animal** can be beautiful ... nor can any very large one."
Size 6, anyone?

I experienced size inflation while wearing:
Black below-the-knee, high-waisted pencil skirt, black cami, gray jacket with lace overlay and bow waist, black pearl earrings, sheer black hose, large silver ring, and black and gray wingtip-inspired stilettos ... all in a variety of sizes.

*H&M is working hard to deflate sizes. I wear gigantic sizes there. It makes me hate the Swedes. 

** This is not to imply that women are animals. Merely that they are human, and as such, qualify as rational animals. I know this may shock some of you. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Euro Trap

Earlier this week, I wondered if there would ever be fresh news items again. Once again, Lindsay Lohan violated probation (after looking near death at her court appearance a week and a half ago), and once again, the EU extended bailout funds and austerity stipulations to Greece (after looking near death prior to the summit). I'd like to point out that despite several stints in rehab, neither party looks poised for success any time soon.

Interestingly enough, our friends LiLo and Greece have more in common than meets the eye. Both had great starts: Lindsay was an adorable child star in The Parent Trap, and Greece birthed Western Civilization: to paraphrase Vizzini in The Princess Bride, "You ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Greeks." Unfortunately, despite promising starts like having Dennis Quaid as your movie father and creating democracy, the going quotation seems to be "You ever heard of Lindsay? Greece? Spencer Pratt? Morons."

To be fair, both of our friends had tremendous obstacles to overcome. For Lohan, the typically warped life of a child starlet meant a difficult home life. After a couple of sweet movies, her role in Mean Girls seemed to open her eyes to the possibilities of life outside the Disney halo, much like her character Cady Heron. Finding out the hard way that the press is every bit as ruthless as high school girls, Lindsay's future with substance abuse would be a public affair.

Greece has had a rough time since Nazi occupation during WWII. They've experimented with a variety of governments (monarchy, parliamentary democracy, parliamentary republic, military coups, socialists leading a parliamentary republic, and the EU), and experienced a variety of strikes, natural disasters, wars, and other internal conflict since 1944. Discovering that the euro may glisten without being gold, Greece adopted the now-famous currency in 2002, and in 2004 was found to have lied about its deficit numbers before joining.

Lindsay has had multiple DUIs, arrests, prison stints, probation attempts, rehab stays, and a really terrible relationship with DJ Samantha Ronsen. Greece has had a variety of binge-and-purge-without-the-binge relationships with austerity measures and EU emergency funds, coupled with strikes, credit downgrades, and some deadly wildfires on top of it all.

Lindsey is now doing community service in a morgue, and recently bared it all in Playboy for a $1 million payout. Greece is about to begin its community service in its own morgue as it increases austerity measures and gets another multi-billion-euro bailout that will (if everything goes perfectly) reduce its debt to a mere 120% of GDP by 2020. EU leaders were criticized for suggesting that Europe bare it all and beg "Chinaboy," President Hu Jintao, for a big payout.

Sadly, until Lindsay steps away from the drugs, alcohol, and expensive necklaces she doesn't own, she's going to keep showing up in court, and keep having to pay the bills unconventionally. She's lost her honor, and shows no desire to regain it. She'd need to cut ties with old friends and bad habits and set out anew—less fame and fortune, but more respectability.

Greece might have a little bit more of a chance, but it will be an uphill battle given its massive debts,  and repeated tax hikes and austerity cuts. Greece lost its honor by lying to join the EU in the first place, and allowing other member nations (notably France and Germany) to repeatedly bail it out despite their own massive debts is hardly a step in the right direction. If Greece wants to maintain national sovereignty in any capacity, it must cut ties with old friends and bad habits and set out anew—less EU economic blessing, more internal stability.

I'm not sure if Greece can survive on its own at this point. But I am almost certain that the EU cannot survive without some drastic changes. Last week's "rescue" was closer to the teeth tune-up Lindsay got than to solving the problem. It may have fixed the aesthetic, but the internal problems are still raging. Sadly, our friends seem to be staring as twin disasters hoping to get their lives (not parents) back together in the Thanksgiving blockbuster, The Euro Trap.

I drew analogies between starlets and states in:
Gray slacks with faint plaid, white oxford, black one-button blazer with rolled sleeves, purple bead and chain statement necklace, gunmetal and rhinestone ring, and teal suede pumps.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy ... The American Dream?

Since my last post, in which I responded to the demands* of Occupy Wall Street, their movement has grown; similar protests have started in cities worldwide, including Washington D.C., Denver, Seattle, London, and Rome. The protests are made up of a variety of people with a variety of agendas, and the "official" site now specifies that there are no official demands. Indeed, the movement has become an umbrella term for nearly anyone upset about the economy. In the past week, celebrities like Kanye West "joined in solidarity" with the Wall Street group, and protests in Rome have turned extremely violent, prompting the closing of all museums—all under the "Occupy" name. Despite different specific agendas, frustration with government and "Wall Street" (this can be a stand-in for banks, large corporations, financial services firms, CEOs, millionaires, or Michael Douglas) are cited in lists of grievances.

Faithful reader "jrbutler" left a thoughtful comment on my previous post, in which he pointed out that the list of demands was a work in progress, and that many of the protesters were upset about the death of the American Dream (he was also wearing a brown straw fedora!). Thanks to unemployment, many good, hard-working people find themselves unable to make ends meet, sandbagged by high tuition, healthcare, or other costs. This is a tragic reality about any time of recession—a lack of jobs leads to great financial difficulty for many. Similarly, many of the protestors have expressed frustration at the large percentage of income the top 1% of earners make,** and the growing disparity between rich and poor. 

Certainly, I believe in the American Dream. I don't believe in government hand-outs. I don't think the protestors at Occupy Wall Street will save the American Dream—in fact, they're inadvertently working to destroy it. The American Dream is about taking what's dealt to you and working hard to make something better out of it. Occupy Wall Street is about sitting in a privately-owned park in sub-par sanitary conditions demanding a wide range of changes, reforms, or hand-outs. Believers in the American Dream are out there working or looking for work. Yes, unemployment is high. Yes, many who would like to work are unable to do so. But those truly pursuing the American Dream wouldn't be fighting police over the temporary cleaning of their sidewalk bedrooms—they'd be working to live the dream.

That can-do attitude could resuscitate the middle class. Instead, we have attitudes of entitlement at all socioeconomic levels. Whether it's an upper-middle-class teenager who expects a car for his 16th birthday, a blue-collar single mother who expects an income supplement from the government, or an economics blogger who expects stylish clothes at affordable prices and at least six hours of sleep, we've grown accustomed to a lot of things our predecessors neither had nor expected. Instead of seeing the last few decades as times of plenty deserving thanks, we've seen them as the bare-minimum, deserving only a demand for more. Europe is even worse—huge government programs have lulled nations into expecting free healthcare or 30-hour workweeks. As the eurozone debt crisis worsens (Italy, one of the PIIG countries earlier on the brink of bankruptcy has made extensive austerity cuts, and is now in the midst of violent rioting), the dissolution of the eurozone is looking more likely.

When austerity strikes (and it may in the US), there are two main courses of action. The first is to protest or riot. This option says that as citizens, we will not stand for a reduction in government services. Instead, whether through peace or violence, we will ensure that we have access to the same economic benefits as before, regardless of the government's ability to pay (indirectly the people's ability to pay, since government income comes primarily from taxes). The second course of action is to accept it, whether through a reduction in living standards or an increased work effort. This option says that as citizens, we will bear the pain of a reduction in government services. We will weather good times and bad, and in the bad ones, we recognize that the luxuries of bygone days are no more. Instead of complaining, we will buckle down and sacrifice for the good of our countrymen.

The first option will lead to a greater divide between classes (as the issue increasingly focuses on the haves and have-nots), and will result in a more powerful government—either one big enough to give people everything they want, or one dissolved into rule by rebels (typically followed by military rule). The second option will lead to hard times. There is no getting around that. But it will also leave the power of personal economics in the hands of individuals, and will help grow (eventually) the middle class. It may be more modest, but it eliminates entitled attitudes. Even though we value the right to protest in a democracy, at the present time, it is unwise. It's like being married to a chronic gambler—if the marriage is going to survive, intervention is needed, but there's still no money in the bank. As citizens, if our nation is going to survive, intervention is needed, but there's not much money in the bank. 

I love my country. I love the American Dream, the freedom to protest, and the right to vote. I value the public education I received in high school. I've been responsible with my money, as has my family. I'll accept budget cuts, and I think raising taxes is a foolish policy, but if it happened, I would begrudgingly accept it (to a point) as well. What I will not do is protest for government hand-outs. I want people to be successful and be able to pursue the American Dream—this doesn't happen with more government programs, it happens with a go-get-em attitude (and lower taxes help too). The great paradox here is that these "fat times" of government services have actually created an entitlement attitude that leads to the following: structural poverty (when people can survive without a job, they have no incentive to get one), irresponsible borrowing (when people of any financial background can get huge, variable-rate loans and mortgages, defaults are inevitable), and a growing deficit (this is an oft-mentioned woe, but compared to our GDP, our deficit is still considerably lower than those of France and other eurozone nations). Certainly there are more ills, but government services haven't done us much good. Yes, cutting them will be painful, since we've grown accustomed to them. Like a band-aid that's been left on too long, government services may sting when removed, but the people under them can't breathe, and can't fully heal. 

The closing lines of the great novel of the American Dream, The Great Gatsby, are poignant here: 

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning -
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

To respond, jrbutler, I appreciate your comments, and I agree. Good people are getting hurt out there. But if we truly value the American Dream, we must get in our boats and beat against the current. We cannot stand on the dock, staring wistfully at the green light, and complaining that no one giftwrapped it. 

I worked towards the American Dream in:
Below-the-knee black pencil skirt, cream sleeveless ruffled blouse, purple silk flower barrette, antique-style charm bracelet, and black and nude snakeskin heels.

*Since posting, the following note has been posted above the demands: "Admin note: This is not an official list of demands. This is a forum post submitted by a single user and hyped by irresponsible news/commentary agencies like Fox News and This content was not published by the collective, nor was it ever proposed or agreed to on a consensus basis with the NYC General Assembly. There is NO official list of demands."

**NB: These views are usually prefaced with "I'm one of the 99%" or something. A new movement, prefaced with "I'm on of the 53%" is for people in the 53% of the tax-paying population. The top 1% are one of the 53%. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Your Guide to "Occupy Wall Street!"

For those of you who missed my last post, Tea Time with Greece, or have lived without any access to the outside world for the last three years, let me catch you up: the world economy is not doing well. It turns out that, in that classy French-Revolution-style mentality, there is now a group so mad they've decided to stand around and yell about it on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been taking place in lower Manhattan for several days now. What they lack in facts, they make up for in arrests! Seriously people - these have got to be some of the coolest angry young liberals around. Michael Moore offered to buy them vegan ice cream.*

Anyway, they have demands. That's right. They know what they want, and they have a picture of a raised fist to prove it. In fact, they've rather helpfully listed their demands on their site, Occupy Wall St.Org. As much as these protestors care, they have a pretty sad grasp on economics. They also probably hate business casual, so take them for what they're worth.

Below, I'm answering some of their demands with fun, real-life economic analysis. I've shortened most of their demands, and I'm not even going to point out their lack of specificity or data. Read on!

Demand 1: Restore the living wage, reintroduce trade tariffs, and raise the minimum wage to $20/hour.
Living wage: Apart from being extremely expensive and impractical, living wages also mean paying people what they need, not what they deserve. This gets into ethical problems fast — what if that white male simply needs more (to support his family of four) than that asian female (to support her love of free trade coffee)? Should they be paid differently? A living wage says yes. I'd like to know who gets to decide how much money I or anyone else need to "live."
Trade tariffs: considering manufacturing and other "hard" industries have declined, I'm not sure how much there is to protect here.
Minimum wage raised to $20: First, this is decidedly different than a "living wage." Which is it? Assuming we've abandoned the living wage in favor of $20/hr minimums, I'd like to point out that this more than doubles the current minimum wage in NYC, meaning unless companies suddenly make a lot more money, they'll be able to employ fewer than half the people. How does this create jobs again?

Demand 2: Institute a single-payer healthcare system, because private insurance only takes money away from doctors and gives it to Wall Street investors.
Reply: Actually, private insurance gives money to the doctors far more often than the uninsured or underinsured, many of whom free ride off hospital emergency rooms, which drives up expenses for the paying population. Also, private insurance companies don't hand money over to investors just for kicks. Or at all, really.

Demand 3: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.
Reply: Considering that unemployment benefits are a lot more than I currently make each month, I'm pretty sure this one is taken care of. Except, of course, that completely biased "living wage" thing.

Demand 4: Free college education.
Reply: TEMPTING! Actually, education expenses are really quite high. However, not everyone values a college education, and not everyone needs one. If it's free, there's going to be an artificially high demand, but prices can't rise. This is going to flood colleges, who won't be able to hire more professors because they have NO revenue, so education standards will decline, and a diploma won't be worth anything. But it will be free ...

Demand 5: Start a fast-track process to get us off fossil fuels and on alternative energy.
Reply: Ok, I'm sorry. What is this fast-track process going to be? I know I wasn't going to press for details, but I just can't work with this at all.

Demand 6: "One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now" [sic].
Reply: Spending for the sake of spending doesn't do anything. It doesn't create jobs, it doesn't improve infrastructure, it doesn't change anything. Even with Obama's big-spending habits, $1,000,000,000 is still a lot of money. Where are we getting it from?

Demand 7: Another trillion dollars in ecological restoration, meaning planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of rivers and streams ... and shutting down nuclear power.
Reply: Again, not sure how this is going to do anything for the economy,  and not sure how a to plant a forest or reestablish a wetland, or when water started flowing unnatrually. Also not sure how nuclear power fits in with this, has anything to do with the economy, or doesn't completely negate that "alternative energy" point we made earlier.

Demand 8: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.
Reply: Obviously, equal rights are good. But they can't exist along with a living wage. We also already have a lot on the books about equality before the law. In fact, we also have amendments prohibiting racial and sexist discrimination (Amendments 13, 14, 15, 19). Not to be a wet blanket or anything, but this has been addressed.

Demand 9: Open borders migration.
Reply: If we're imposing trade tariffs above, why are we deregulating our labor market as far as possible? How does an unlimited employee pool create jobs?

Demand 10: Voting reform, including paper ballots counted in front of a third party.
Reply: Are they going to ask for chocolate milk in the water fountains next? What does this have to do with anything, other than adding time and expense, and reducing accuracy in the electoral process?

Demand 11: Immediate debt forgiveness of all debts anywhere. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head: gone!
Reply: Certainly, reducing debt has been tried and worked before (Weimar Republic, anyone?). But "all debts everywhere" would create mayhem, and would hamstring the creditors. I'm willing to have an intelligent conversation about reducing debts for countries, but only in very precise language. And private debts? We have Chapter 11 Bankruptcy anytime you want to eliminate all your debt and hamstring your creditors.

Demand 12: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.
Reply: If there are no debts, and chocolate milk in the water fountains, we've now entered a world where credit is free, so of course you won't have credit reporting agencies.

Demand 13: Allow all workers to vote on whether they want to unionize at any time.
Reply: Hypothetically, what happens if everyone can unionize and there are no border controls? Everyone gets up really early to unionize and keep extra employees out. Or they just riot.

Author Lloyd J. Harris sums it up this way: These demands will create so many jobs it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.
Reply: Lloyd, that makes as much sense as trying to be shorter by wearing high heels.

While they were protesting, I contributed to the economy in:
Black leggings, gray drop-waist coat-dress, abalone shell earrings, landmarks cuff bracelet, studded ring, and black and cream snakeskin round-toe concealed platforms.

*Upon rejection, Michael Moore instead decided to eat all the vegan ice cream himself. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tea Time With Greece

So, as some of you may recall from my post "A Series of Unfortunate Events," sometimes it feels like the world is going to end when you watch the news. This happened again on Friday, when world markets plummeted, the dollar rose considerably as the euro cowered into French-military-style submission, and everyone wondered how the birthplace of Western Civilization, Greece, could be such a freaking headache. Unfortunately, I don't think Mr. Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding has enough Windex for the rash of problems in the Greek financial system.

Why does it feel like we're stuck on a never-ending Ferris Wheel of déjà vu with world financial markets?  Why does it feel like we're stuck on a never-ending Ferris Wheel of déjà vu with world financial markets?  Maybe because the same things keep happening over and over? It's like every time someone says boo, we have to bail out half of the involved parties, let the other half fail,* watch as those bastions of knowledge, Moody's and S&P downgrade the living daylights out of everything, and then hang on tight for a sine-curve style ride through the stock markets.** This cycle then ripples through all the major world markets, causing tons of fun for everyone involved.

What used to happen is that the financial markets and Dominique Strauss-Kahn screwed everyone and got away with it. Now, we just watch the financial markets screw everyone while everyone looks on and is powerless to help. For example, the new IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, says that the IMF doesn't have enough cash to bail everyone out, and the British may (once again) have to save Europe's arse. If this weren't full of poetic irony, it would be a little ridiculous.

Since it's the Brits who are being asked to potentially put up a lot of capital for the IMF so that someone else can sign Greece's checks, I think we should remember a few lines from a play by epicurean British person Oscar Wilde.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, self-indulgent Algie has eaten all of the cucumber sandwiches prepared for tea with his Aunt Augusta. Upon his aunt's arrival, he lies and says that the market was all out of cucumbers—there were none to be had, not even for ready money! Aunt Augusta huffs, and the scene continues. Later, the audience finds out that Algie has substantial debts thanks to his propensity for paying for luxury with credit, not "ready money" (cash). The plot actually does not center around this interesting bout of aristocratic finance, strangely, but continues traipsing along happily.

What we learn here, is that regardless of your standing as an aristocrat, epicurean British person, or propensity to snack on finger food, there is no free lunch. There are also only so many cucumber sandwiches in the world. Once they have been eaten, and once all your credit has been used up, you must simply forego cucumber sandwiches. The IMF cannot be your sugar daddy forever—and, as we saw around 1789, sometimes the French get tired of paying for other people's luxuries (just ask Marie Antoinette). The question at hand is really "who is going to keep bankrolling the eurozone?" The fact that no one jumped up to answer that question is just one of many reasons the stock market started yo-yo-ing like a rap artist at a family reunion.

At some point, our credit (and the cucumbers) are going to run out. So far, repeated bailouts to "stem financial panic and doom" have actually only contributed to the cycle of financial panic and doom. It may be time to try tea without cucumber sandwiches. If that happens, I don't think the eurozone will survive. If the euro is saved at the expense of, well, everyone else coming to tea, I still don't think the eurozone will survive ... the deja-vu will just keep happening. Any way you look at it, those Greek cucumber sandwiches may not have been worth all the trouble they caused.

I watched the world financial markets go berserk (again and again) in:***
Black below-the-knee pencil skirt, gray sleeveless blouse, purple silk flower, pearl studs, pearl necklace, cameo ring, and black-and-gray wingtip-inspired stilettos.

Black shirt-dress, black pearl earrings, silver flower ring, zebra pumps.

* It's like a little girl plucking daisy petals going "Lehman Brothers, he loves me not, Freddie Mac, he loves me!"

**For those of you playing along at home, yes, I did just throw in some pre-calculus. Look at us and our high school knowledge go!

*** Déjà vuis double the biz-cazh fun!  Déjà vu is double the biz-cazh fun! Two outfits for one adventure!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Rain on my Platform Parade

So, sometimes in NYC, crazy things happen. These crazy things include, but are not limited to, seeing hot pink stretch limos with hot tubs in the back,* having President Obama attend a fundraiser across the street from your apartment,** and wearing high heels as a safety measure.

A couple of weeks ago, when it was raining like mad and half of Pennsylvania was asking the Amish population how long it would take to build an ark, I had not worn rainboots. I had walked through a light mist in flip-flops that morning (I was running late and needed to be able to dodge people quickly), and had then switched into the tallest shoes I own. It was raining considerably, and there was standing water on the ground. Out of concern for my safety, I decided to walk back in platform strappy sandals.

Typically, when one is surrounded by people who think safety is a virtue (and who also probably wear really butch dress pants), one is scolded for heels. "You'll screw up your back," "You'll throw out your hip," and "You'll stumble over a tiny tourist who ran under your feet" are all common warnings received. We get it: high heels, like hurricanes and Michael Moore in hot pants, are really dangerous.

The thing is, flip flops have basically no traction. They are also very near to the ground. This means that in standing water, you will go slipping and sliding everywhere, and have a very real chance of falling. Platform strappy sandals, however, are high above the ground, keeping your feet dry, have straps to keep your feet from sliding, and are way more stylish. Thus, I opted for my very tall shoes, and stayed safe the whole way home.

I mention these two strange  NYC occurrences because economics assumes rational actions. There are just sometimes where what may seem rational on the surface is actually irrational given all the facts. Flip flops look safer, but having more information (thanks to past experiences), I knew that counterintuitively, my heels were the way to go.

In economics, you never have all the information, but you can make rational decisions even without knowing everything. This is one of the most impressive things about the free market—even without all the information possible, most people have enough information to make the best decision for themselves most of the time. This happens without any mass planning, any formal informational training, and it's generally not noticeable. But sometimes it looks as crazy as platforms in the rain.

I acted as rationally as possible in:

Khaki skirt, brown tank top, hyacinth blue thick-knit sweater with safety pin, brown disk earrings, brown flower ring, and camel leather platform sandals.

*The first year I lived in NYC, I really did see this. I do not, unfortunately, remember what I was wearing.

**Really. I had to ask two cops why the roads were closed off. They looked at me like I was crazy and then told me "Obama." Guess I'm slow on the uptake ...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Excuse Me, Is This Seat Taken?

Yesterday after church, I was heading to an espresso bar to do some reading. It was a really nice day out, and as I was on my way, I stumbled upon what looked like a cute little French deli-type thing.
The French, of course, value food too much to serve it in a deli-style atmosphere, and I'm sure I'll be getting hate mail from Sarkozy after that comment. In reality, it's an epicerie (it comes from the french word for spice), and is actually a real market/grocery/deli kind of thing. This one is called Epicerie Boulud, and it's kind of like the food court in a Whole Foods, except instead of being inside a grocery store, it was attached to a sit-down bar and restaurant of the same name.

I was able to get a really exquisite florentine egg tartine on brioche, and it was painstakingly garnished, and it only cost me $4.50, and I was sure that this was going to be a wonderful day. Since it was too nice a day to sit inside, I wanted to find outdoor seating. There were only three tables, and they all appeared to be in various levels of use. I went to the one on the end, asked the group who was haphazardly saving seats (while trying to look like they were being really considerate and not taking up all the seating out there) if I could sit there, and they skeptically said yes.

I had a nice little seat on the fringe of this table, and started doing my homework and eating my tartine. When the group left, I had the table all to myself. A middle-aged man drank a small coffee at my table and left, and then a jogger and her random European man-friend came and sat for a bit (they nicely watched my stuff while I stepped away for a moment). I ran in and bought a salad, but I didn't leave my things at my table. When I came out, salad in hand, someone new had taken my seat at the table, so I headed to the park.

I know what you're thinking. "How does it feel to have stumbled upon so pure an example of Lockean property theory in my everyday life?" Exhilarating, that's how. For my readers with a slightly less-nerdy reaction, let me explain.

John Locke defended private property by saying (generally) that men owned themselves, and so as an extension of that, they owned the work they produced. Since they owned the fruit of their labor, they were entitled to keep it and protect it. He created a sort of founding myth, in which land is unlimited, so everyone can have as much as he wants. He's entitled to everything that he works, as his own property. If he has more than he can work or use profitably though, and if someone else who works the land comes along, the new guy can lay claim to it.

This theory is far from perfect, but I was excited to get to live it. There wasn't unlimited land/table space, but the first group of people had more than they needed. I got a little bit of it. When they left, tables were "unlimited" from my point of view, so I laid claim to a larger share. I couldn't use all of it profitably though, so when others came along and asked, I was willing to let them have a bit too. Then the couple watched my stuff, acting a little bit like tenant farmers. When I left the table permanently, I ceded my rights to it, and it was snatched up by the next opportunist.

Here's the amazing thing: people came up and asked my permission to sit at a table owned by the restaurant. They didn't have to do that - theoretically they could have just sat down. I also didn't have to let them sit there - theoretically I could have been a jerk and told them to go find another table. But in a polite, Lockean society, you can give strangers permission to share your outdoor table at an epicerie. It's the kind of society that creates carefully garnished tartines on brioche. It's a nice place to live.

I had my property rights legitimized (and bid adieu to summer clothing) in:
Orange halter-top dress, white hibiscus earrings, white, yellow, and orange watch, and white open-toed stilettos. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday in the Apartment with Irene

Yesterday, I was quite worried that I'd have to have a decidedly unpleasant Adventure in Business Casual. I had procrastinated about buying groceries—granted, I was also being frugal and eating the food that I insist on buying but that sits, uneaten and unloved, on my shelf. But in a sad twist of fate, I waited to buy groceries until the entire east coast had reached Jane-Fonda-like levels of loudly complaining to an empty audience about Hurricane Irene.

As with any other Jane Fonda pet project, there was a much bigger media storm than an actual storm. This meant that KMart had been sold out of flashlights since sunny Thursday. I needed groceries on sunny Friday, and it is only just now cloudy Saturday morning. Still, the perception was that hurricane doom would come whether we were ready or not ... so be ready, New York! Somehow there was a joint perception that if we all stocked our tiny apartments with canned goods, bottled water, and some trendy little scones from that free-trade coffee shop down the street, we could all survive, and even make time for a "stay-cation" brunch and DIY spa weekend. Fab-u-lous!*

The problem, of course, is that everyone has this same idea (combined with a healthy dose of panic) at the same time. So everyone runs out and buys not one flashlight, but seven; not one jug of water, but 11! This happy "there's enough to go around" feeling that we have most of the time disappears thanks to an injection of scarcity. This is the same basic principle that happens when there's a run on a bank—everyone panics that there won't be enough money, so they take out ALL their money, which means there's not enough left, and the bank fails. People worry there won't be enough flashlights or trendy scones, so they buy more than they need, which means there aren't enough flashlights or trendy scones, and the shelves are bare.

Anyway, all of this hoopla about hurricane preparedness made my little weekend quest for groceries a Pandora's box waiting to be unleashed. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's, which is typically busy and under-stocked (but also cheap and organic and clever and cool, so I love them with every fiber of my being). I was prepared to leave work, go down to Trader Joe's at 3:00 PM on a Friday afternoon when every major news network was preaching that we had to prepare for this hurricane ... or else!** I was prepared to write an Adventure in Business Casual describing harrowing experiences reaching for the last carton of skim Greek yogurt, frightening escapades with parkour in the produce department, and being double-crossed by some artist-type who I asked to hold my place in line. I was readying for battle and I was equal parts quaky knees, morbid curiosity, and adrenaline-fueled bravado.

Thankfully, before the doom broke out, I had a stroke of genius. I went to Walgreen's. This is going to sound like shameless product placement, but Walgreen's was really convenient. More amazingly, Walgreen's had everything I needed. Granted, I wasn't going to buy a ton of stuff (cereal, milk, bread, eggs, a gallon of water, and granola bars), but Walgreen's had my back. Even more amazing, they let me use a coupon to buy some premium cereal on their 2 for $5 deal, and let me use rainchecks to buy brownie mix. Not only was Walgreen's convenient, it was fully stocked and affordable! For a few glimmering moments, Walgreen's was the platonic ideal of a drugstore. It was a virtuous drugstore. My warrior-like thumos thawing in the oppressive humidity, I walked back to my apartment with a Greek chorus singing the praises of Walgreen's inside my head.***

I am now fully stocked, and sitting in my apartment. They are shutting off power in Lower Manhattan. I'm ready to roll. Prepare for one unforgettable hurricane brunch, Irene. I'm stocked and ready to go.

I did not contribute to Hurricane Irene panic in:
Black crop pants, pink collared wrap top, silver hoop earrings, silver bangles, and black and white polka dot slingback peeptoes.

*New Yorkers tend to be extremely concerned with brunch, and incredibly amazed at their own ability to turn small things into a party. Hurricane Irene brunches will be all the rage this weekend. 

**Major news networks enjoy acting like everyone's mother when they're not acting like the friend who somehow knows everything about everyone and decides what gossip you're privy to. 

*** No Greek chorus in NYC would ever sing the praises of Walgreen's, because it would compete with their corner convenience store in Astoria. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I thought about starting this post off with "so, when the US financial markets sucked" and then realized that after this past week, that sentence really didn't narrow anything down. Last week, I rode the elevator and saw that 3.4 miles away, the Dow plunged lower than a Pamela Anderson neckline. I sat at my desk and wrote for our website while 11,765 miles away, the Chinese government told the American government that the "good old days" were over, and we could no longer "borrow our way out of messes," or, presumably, expect an MSG-free version of beef with broccoli. I sat at my desk and assembled folders while the Italian government considered how to "front-load austerity measures."Today I opened an internet window to get to my email, and I saw the Dow had sunk lower than Britney in the K-Fed days.

In cheerier news, a weatherman swallowed a bug. Last week was full of gloomy news stories, and the weekend was even worse. Today capped it off with another huge drop in the markets, and more riots in London. For a humble microeconomics and fashion blog, these larger-than-life stories are a bit daunting. Still, a bit of news concerning the eurozone crisis caught my attention and I bring you my analysis now.

Italy is the latest country in the eurozone to ask basic questions like "where does money come from?" (the stork in this scenario is "Germany!" the real answer is "hard work!") Despite questions regarding elections and obscene amounts of debt, there is still a question surrounding whether Italy should "front-load" its austerity measures. (For those of you playing along at home, "front-load" is a word which here means "actually do something instead of starting that budgetary diet tomorrow.") Since it's an Italian question, I think it's appropriate to provide an Italian answer. Amidst exports like soft leathers, pizza, and Snooki's ancestors, the Italians also gave us that gem of the pre-Enlightenment, Machiavelli.

Machiavelli, known for a gritty realism (and for being such a charmer with the ladies), advised that whenever you had to do something unpleasant, it was best to do it all at once at then back off, rather than extending the misery (which, in Machiavelli's head, always meant killing lots of political enemies). Basically, his political advise for when something was unpleasant was similar to mothers' advice when their children are faced with the daunting and nauseating task of eating cauliflower: hold your nose, take big bites, and swallow fast. In other words, do what needs to be done as quickly as possible, and then move on.

Italy and the US (and most of the other countries in the developed world) have been smushing the food around on their proverbial plates for too long, and the cauliflower is still sitting there. S&P had essentially counted to three, and now we're in time-out. Just like Italy's never going to tackle its debt problem until it actually faces austerity measures, we're never going to tackle our debt problem until we start making actual cuts. New Jersey's Chris Christie did it—now perhaps the rest of the world ought to follow suit. If we don't start fixing this problem, I'm not going to be able to have any more Adventures in Business Casual, because I'll be stuck at my desk watching the world fall apart on Drudge.

One of the outfits I got terrible news in was:
Gray high-waisted skirt, black ribbed tank top, owl necklace, industrial flower ring, and black strappy ankle-bootie-inspired heels. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Red Flags in a Bull Market?

The third and final post in my brief romanconomics series focuses on some of the troubles men face in the modern dating world (see my posts about the troubles for women and the market at large). I know, I know. I'm not a man, so how would I know? Well, always anxious to avoid coming across as pretentious, I asked some guys! 
Fortuitously, (no, I don't go there often) has just published their annual Great Male Survey, which asks men a variety of questions about life. There's a whole section on "Dating & Sex," which corresponds perfectly to the third part in our miniseries. So, that's the good news.
The bad news is that out of the four guys I asked, only one responded (for those of you keeping track at home, that's a terrible response rate, and it's not even an impressive batting average). Luckily, the one guy who replied graciously wrote enough for four people, someone else conducted an international survey, and I have a bit of common sense. So we ought to be in good shape.
This guy, Jake,* is a confident junior majoring in Business Management. He takes an approach he likes to call the "FZ," short for "friend zone," and can often be seen laughing it up with a pretty stable group of co-eds. In this scenario, girls mill about in the FZ for 6-12 months, while Jake assesses their compatibility. He describes this as playing the stock market, and instead of doing something trendy and risky, like buying "5,000 shares of Pandora today," he says "I'd rather put my money in more stable investments, like commodities or well-established firms with current profitability." Jake says the FZ lets people determine compatibility in a low-risk environment, and then take a slower, more casual approach to dating. He's wary of outside pressure to conform to a "rom-com-onomic," unrealistic view of relationships, and of other one-size-fits-all solutions. When I asked if he's gotten any feedback on his views, he said that most girls tend to support them. He admits that he's able to hang out with interesting women who tend to share his views, because "given the supply and demand of females and males, guys often have the luxury of the friend zone."
 Next, we have the Great Male Survey results. One of the most striking things was that a whopping 66%, when asked if they "believe in the institution of marriage" said that  "Yes, I believe it is a necessary institution and one in which I will participate to help preserve." On the two separate questions with the option "I am single," the most common response was that the participant was single (though one question listed 35% single, the other had 46% single ...). Over half the participants want to get married, but nearly half replied that they're single. If men want to get married, why are so many of them unattached? Could it be that they're spending 6-12 months rocking the "friend zone?" Or are there really no appealing women left?
Finally, we have a bit of anecdotal evidence from nightlife in NYC.  The New York Times article, "Dress Codes In New York Clubs—Will This Get Me In?"highlights one club owner who recommends guys wear "a blazer, a solid button-down or a solid sweater," but says that for women, shoes with a "minimum five-inch heel," preferably Christian Louboutin, are a must for admittance. Guys are told to dress like they're playing it cool, but women should vamp it up ... without being cheap. 

It seems that Jake's original analysis of dating being like the stock market is actually spot-on. What's happening now is a classic bull market. Like oil barons watching the price of a barrel rise, the question becomes how long to fish around for the best possible option. In other words, with a host of eligible women at your fingertips, you should wait awhile to make sure the best are really the best. If the commodity (your singleness) is going to go to $500/share, why sell at $350? If a trendy EuroBabe is coming to the club tomorrow night, why buy a drink for the former cheerleader? Did you remember your play-it-cool blazer or what? There's no reason to put yourself out there before you have to.

I'm not saying guys are cads (in fact, Jake says he's recently started dating someone). The market is definitely in their favor. Spouses are a lifetime investment, and even boyfriends/girlfriends are an emotional commitment, so it's worth waiting and picking a good one. It sounds like guys have marriage on the mind (37% said a family was the ultimate status symbol, picking that over beautiful wife/girlfriend, beautiful house, beautiful car, and country club membership), but they aren't dating. There just seems to be a disconnect, and I imagine it's frustrating for some.

My analysis? Sure, the FZ is a good plan for awhile, because it's low-risk, but at some point you have to up the ante. Otherwise, the bubble might pop before you've gotten that big payout you were waiting for.

I was on the singles market in:

Grayish pencil skirt, brown tank top, hyacinth blue sweater with giant safety-pin, abalone disk earrings, and green leather stilettos with cork heel and platform.

*Name may have been changed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Structural Singleness

This is Part 2 of a short series about what I call "Romanconomics" and what many other writers are calling "sexual economics."

In my last post, I described the surplus of women in the dating and marriage markets. I promised more explanation, as it is a multifaceted problem, so here comes another one! Since people already complain about structural poverty, structural unemployment, and structural film, I think it's about time we start talking about structural singleness.

Structural singleness happens when the system quits working, is working against you, or no longer exists. Thanks to a lack of both a "life script" (achieving life goals at a routine time), and a real-life script (knowing what to say and when to say it), structural singleness is wreaking havoc everywhere. Singles today often don't know how to date ... and often have no idea how to talk to each other.

There's actually a big problem with vocabulary. Our grandparents "went out." This was the term for casual dating—a revolutionary phase in relationship statuses that allowed people to hang out one-on-one to find out if they were interested in each other. Then people "went steady." This was after several dates when you upped the ante and decided to date exclusively. This theoretically progressed until you "got serious," then you "got engaged," and then you "got married." You went, and you got. You made an effort, and it worked out. You didn't meet and then hook up, and you didn't have the same set of friends and hang out all the time for five years and then suddenly quit talking to each other. You dated.

Today, the few brave souls who somehow end up with significant others swim through a murky pool of verbiage. These vague phrases have shifting definitions and no standard actions. Someone may be "in a relationship," which can mean anything from "sometimes he eats lunch at my table" to "we're getting engaged next week." The relationship might be "complicated," which can mean anything from "we both cheated," to "there's actually nothing here." You can be "dating," which is probably close to being "in a relationship." Or, you can "just be friends."* In other words, there's no industry standard. There's also no "career path."

Not knowing how to get from point "Hi-I-think-you're-cool" to point "Hi-we-should-date" means you're probably stuck between saying something that sounds way too serious and something that sounds way too casual. For example, one guy told me, "Hey, I like you," and then told me later that that meant he liked me as a friend. I've had a guy burn me a mix-tape of love songs ... as a purely platonic overture towards music appreciation. And I've definitely gotten the opaque, "We should get coffee sometime" ... over text message.

In a world where guys don't always know how to go from friends to more-than-friends (or what to call it if they did), girls hardly know how to read a guy. Does coffee mean coffee, a casual date, or a marriage proposal? Does "that's a great outfit" mean he's gay, stylish, or interested? These structural problems typically result in misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and needlessly failed relationships where the only possibility is to "just be friends."

The only way to get out of this mess is to change the way we date. Short of romance centralization offices, arranged marriages, or ever-lonely-hearts-clubs, the best solution is to be upfront about relationships with that special someone. Clear communication never hurt anyone, right? In fact, I'd love to discuss this over coffee with you sometime.

I was sent unclear signals in:

Brownish pencil skirt, warm white sleeveless ruffle blouse, teal cardigan, silk scarf headband, teal bead earrings, floral cuff bracelet, and faux suede teal pumps.

*The premise of the film When Harry Met Sally is that men and women can't be friends because "the sex part always gets in the way." This premise bears reflection. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Many Fish in the Sea?

Not to brag or anything, but last week I had a really good outfit. As I was bopping around work and through the lobby, I got an uncommon number of compliments, winks, smiles, and enthusiastic hellos from the security guards than normal. Admittedly, I looked cute—just not that cute. I was slightly suspicious. Not quite as suspicious as I am when Maureen Dowd has something nice to say, but a little suspicious. So I began thinking.

New Yorkers leave the city for 4th of July weekend faster than they grab cabs when it's raining. Working at a college means you're typically surrounded by all of your young female coworkers and peers. Working at a college over the 4th of July in New York means that you are suddenly the ONLY eligible bachelorette in the world, and you're going to get complimented. Suddenly, it all began to come together under what trendy journalists are calling "sexual economics" (I know, right?).

A few of my faithful readers may remember my blog post "Romanconomics," that discussed some of the market principles guiding male/female relationships. What has become increasingly important to point out is that the "singles market" simply isn't performing very well. Various headlines, beginning with Kay S. Hymowitz's "Where Have the Good Men Gone" in the Wall Street Journal, and more recently Mark Regnerus's "Sex is Cheap" on Slate, have tapped into what many find to be an alarming cultural trend. Namely, young people today don't date and don't know how.  

Reasons for this include a knowledge economy that requires more years of schooling and extra-curriculars, a "dude" culture that features bum-glorifying movies like The Hangover and Knocked Up, and a move towards sexual promiscuity by many women.* When you put these things together, you get a surplus of eligible women. 

Surpluses and shortages are generally caused by price floors and ceilings. If there's a surplus of eligible women, it means that something has happened in the market for smart, attractive, successful women. For a long time, men went to college and women didn't. Men had to be ambitious to take care of their homemaking wives. Then a few women went to college. Men had to be ambitious to end up with the pretty humanities major, and not the future librarian. Today, lots of women go to college. Women have to be ambitious to get internships and boyfriends. Men can sit back, relax, and maybe reply to the three girls who texted them while you read this paragraph.** 

When the number of eligible men and women is closer to equilibrium, dating is both more efficient and more fulfilling (more good options means less time wasted in angst). When I was suddenly one of very few young women around, lots of men who had previously labeled me as "just one more blue-eyed fish in a sea of pretty faces" began to say hello. In other words, being in an unsaturated market can change your whole day! The challenge today is for college women to find those unsaturated markets. After all, exceptionally cute outfits can only happen so often. 

I got complimented in:
Gray shirt-dress with skinny black belt, orange "hole punch" scarf, silver disk earrings with coral flowers, straw fedora, silver daisy ring, white watch with orange and yellow flowers, and black patent peep-toes with a wicker wedge. 

*I'm not trying to say that you're any of these things simply because you fit into a demographic. I'm also not saying that there's no one in the world worthy of dating me, or anything else obnoxious. Just analyzing a trend.

**This surplus has a variety of interconnected variables, so I'll be doing a short series of posts on this topic. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brussels Sprouts, 1 Euro

Last week, I was able to take a delightful day trip into Brussels, Belgium. As the European capital for waffles, chocolate, and the Parliament of the European Union (EU), there was lots to see! Since more things to do means more economic applications, Brussels was a magical place. 

I got to speak with an intern at the World Youth Alliance (WYA), a non-government organization  (NGO) that lobbies at the EU about the euro (€)*. You'll notice that my last post referenced some of the positive aspects of the euro, mostly in comparison to the atrocious inflation of the dollar ($). Talking with the WYA intern was really interesting, because she's Italian and has experienced the switch to the euro firsthand. She spoke about how it's really helpful for smaller countries to be able to join the EU and enter something so stable. The flipside of that is that more stable countries (like France and Germany) have to bail out less stable countries (like Greece) because they're tied to the same currency.

From a more practical, day-to-day aspect, the euro makes life in the EU much simpler. With a common currency, trade and travel are both significantly easier. Instead of having to gamble on exchange rates, or go to the bank only to find out that it's Pentecost Monday and so you can't change money, you just buy and sell and ride trains like normal. This is something the US discovered in the early days of the Articles of Confederation. If every state issues its own money, it significantly weakens the power of the collective body. The US eventually abandoned the Articles in favor of a more centralized Constitution (though still much less centralized than our government today). The fifty US states all share a common currency that makes travel and trade between them much easier. The euro also comes with these benefits, but with a less-defined federalism between the EU and the sovereign nations within it. 

This is one of the fascinating things about economics. Something that most people consider really boring, like currency, actually has huge political ramifications and daily implications. Joining the EU is supposed to mean using the euro (though Great Britain is still holding out). Using the euro means committing to a currency that will suffer when other nations suffer (or spend beyond their means) and will thrive when they thrive. It's a gamble. In exchange for this political uncertainty, your nation is granted all the ease of conducting business on a single currency, which translates into time saved for your people. If you're France though, and have had to bail out Greece even while your own books are in shambles, there's certainly less appeal. As the world financial situation continues to be bleak, it will be interesting to see whether the euro will survive. If it does, it will almost certainly come with a more powerful EU that means less sovereignty for member nations. If it does not, Europe will be in the middle of a serious identity crisis. Common currency is like man-capris: it may seem like a good idea at first, but it's hard to undo after it's played out. 

I discussed all of this in:

Brown business dress with gold stud detailing, green and gold beaded hoop earrings, and brown tweed peep-toe almost-an-ankle-bootie stilettos. 

*Please note that my coolness factor is directly correlated to the number of abbreviations I can use in a single sentence. I am rapidly approaching Miley Cyrus levels of unwarranted popularity. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Euro-ver My Budget!

Bonjour, mon amis!

I am in the middle of a delightful adventure in Paris,* and even though it's involved a lot less business casual than usual, the economic applications are robust! (And you know, all the art, culture, and food are pretty good too.) Also noteworthy is the B.O. on the Metro. There is absolutely nothing like coming off a long day of beautiful sightseeing, mind dazzled by crown molding, stomach full with delicious French dessert, and nose full of sweaty Parisians. In NYC, people carry pepper spray for protection. In Paris, I think they could carry Axe. (Imagine the headlines: Americans prove cleanliness is next to godliness with personal hygiene! Tourist creates large personal bubble with deodorant zone! Two hospitalized due to lack of personal odor!)

A few days** ago, I went to the ATM. This is big for me, because I think it's the third time in my life I've ever been to an ATM. (This is because I never carry cash. Ever. Unless I have to.) Anyway, I went to the ATM, and got some euros out, so that in case I needed to pay cash, I could. Let me just say, exchange rates will bite you. Hard.

The not-so-magical thing about inflation is it means your money is worth basically nothing. In a quick, oversimplified summary of US economic policy, if you have a lot of debt, you print a lot of money so that you can pay the Chinese back. It seems like a great plan, because the dollars you give them are worth less than the dollars they loaned you. "Au-hau-hau-hau, we have tricked you," you say in a French accent. Sadly, inflation is a lot like wearing sandals with socks. Even though it seems like no one will notice, your feet will be cozy, and you can avoid tying your shoes, it's bad. Really bad. Even though it seems like no one will notice inflation and you'll get away with deficit spending, it's actually really bad. It kills your exchange rate.

So, when I try to figure out how much a croque-monsieur (or, as a fellow tourist calls it, "A frikkin' ham and cheese") costs, I have to multiply the price in euros by 1.5. This is unfortunate for several reasons:

  1. It involves mental math on an empty stomach
  2. It makes euros feel like the entire metric system: a way less precise way to measure things and have it all round to 10
  3. It's demeaning to the American spirit. It feels like you're paying for the privilege of using a different currency (don't tell anyone I said that - I think they'd love that idea.)

So, when I got out 30 wee little euros, it cost my bank account a whopping $45, plus a 3% international service fee. AWESOME. As much as this is a death blow to my tiny little bank account, it's a good reminder of some fun economic principles, like "Money Can Be Bought" (this is what bonds are), "Incentivize What You Want (chic Europeans with their euros), Tax What You Don't Want (American tourists)," and "Printing Money to Pay Your Debt Will Turn You Into Zimbabwe or the Weimar Republic, and We All Know How That Turned Out" (less catchy, but true).
Oh, and everyone's favorite: [Even in Paris] There is No Free Lunch.

I bought some expensive euros in:
Brown patterned maxi dress, silver tribal disk earrings, and brown flip-flops.

*No. Don't get any ideas about robbing me because I'm abroad. I live with people who are home right now. Also, you should know better than to believe everything you read on the internet. 

** This is probably about now. The time change puts me about 6-8 hours ahead of my friends in the US. Let's just say I'm scouting out the future for you all. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Graduamutations, Guac, and Goods

May is the month of early graduations, and I've been to my share of them. In one week, I've attended two graduations, and four parties—in two states. As young adults graduamutate from student A to student B or adult 1, there is excitement and nervousness looking forward, sadness and (usually) fondness looking back with closure.  Watching this repeatedly has given me some great time for reflection, which includes the economic analysis you've been craving like a hot dog with mustard.

Graduation Ceremonies
These are nice, formal occasions. The best ones make you appreciate what you love about your school, the worst ones make you glad to leave. I've been to two nice ceremonies, but what always gets me is the "we're-not-going-to-clap-for-the-one-person-you-came-to-see-because-we-want-to-hold-applause" rule. Yes, I understand. It takes a long time to get through all those kids, and all their middle names (and after awhile it feels like you're playing moniker roulette with all the  "Nicole/Marie/Elizabeth/Annes"). As an economist, I understand the need for timeliness and efficiency! But if those were the goals, trust me—we'd email diplomas. 

The goal is to recognize an individual's years of hard work and accomplishment. After four years, you get a quick ovation and maybe a "woooooo!" from your extended family. It's a terrible return on investment, but ultimately the little celebration isn't why you get educated (you also get a diploma, so it balances out). Still, the powers that be have tried to take away even this small token of recognition.
The high school phrased it this way in the program this year:

Graduation from high school is a milestone in the life of students and their families. The dignity of the occasion can best be observed by refraining from whistling, shouting or applauding for any one student. This will allow everyone in attendance to hear the name of each graduate. Your congratulations can best be shown by applause for the total group after the last graduate has been awarded his diploma.

If you told me it was for decorum, fine. If you told me it was for efficiency, fine. But telling me that I'm only allowed to congratulate the whole group is like some recognition Ponzi scheme—you pour in and pour in and wait and wait, and then in the end, you get way less than your fair share, because everyone ahead of you has used it all up. 

Thankfully though, no one observes this ridiculous rule. Those reading the names pause just long enough for some quick whistling, shouting, and applauding, and the families and friends comply. This is what I like about America—we recognize individual effort, even when told to only think in group identity. 

Graduation Parties
If I were one of those bitter people who believed that Valentine's Day was a ploy invented by Hallmark (for my views on Valentine's Day, click here), I'd believe that graduation was invented by the growers of avocados and other snacky products. There is a LOT of demand for guac, brie, and brownie bites around graduation.  Graduation raises the demand for one good (chips), and then also raises the demand for a complimentary good (guac, salsa, hummus, bruschetta, bean dip, queso, spinach dip, sour cream and onion dip, etc.). In other words, when someone buys hot dogs, they also buy hot dog buns. When someone buys lemonade mix, they also buy plastic cups. Graduation parties generate a lot of demand for a lot of complimentary goods—meaning producers of those goods (and partygoers with enthusiastic palettes) benefit. 

If we celebrated all the graduates together, there would be one mass graduation party, with one mass instance of applause, and the world would be a dreary place. So while reading through Nicole Marie Johnson and Elizabeth Nicole Miller, and party hopping from chunky guac to guac dip to hummus, remember. It's better to celebrate everyone individually. More lemonade?

I kicked off the graduation season in:
Tribal zebra print sheath dress, black cotton cardigan, skinny braided belt (courtesy of my roommate!), silver disk earrings, black flower ring, and black open-toe leather slingbacks.

*In Colorado, May also includes freak hailstorms, rainy days, and outdoor graduations.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mom Was Right

As I'm sure you're aware, today is Mother's Day! What you may or may not be aware of, is that mothers play a huge role in the economy. In Love & Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work, Jennifer Roback Morse argues that since humans are not born as rational adults, they have to be taught and raised to be moral, rational, economic beings. In other words, mothers make the economy possible. My mom certainly taught me crucial lessons that have led to my illustrious life as the girl behind an economics blog. They appear below.

Thanks to sayings like "It doesn't matter what anyone around you is doing, YOU have to do the right thing," my mom instilled in me a strong sense of right and wrong. This is a crucial aspect of economics, because the market requires that players do not engage in dishonest and unethical behavior, from price fixing to false advertising to cooked books. Similarly, in order to have a free market with minimal government intrusion, people have to behave themselves. If moms haven't raised ethical children, the government has to keep raising them.

As you may know, my mom is a very stylish woman—she taught me everything I know. She also taught me that there are ways to keep up with trends without breaking the bank. With a little help from Christmas gifts, I've never spent more than $35 on a pair of shoes. Thanks to my mother, I have good taste and know how to wait until sale season or a coupon for fantastic pieces. Thrifty individuals make the economy work for them—by getting more clothes for the dollar, they raise their "real wage" and standard of living.

Hard Work
Another grain of wisdom from my youth is "Clean your room. You'll feel better." As much as I hated this (after all—it puts such a damper on pity parties!), it's been good advice. This weekend, I spent hours cleaning my apartment to prepare for move-out day. It was long, difficult, and smelled like bleach, but I didn't give up (I also felt better!). Similarly, the economy is ultimately a collection of entrepreneurs and their efforts. Starting a new business is hard work, and you can't luxuriate in pity parties. After all that hard work, you'll certainly feel better.

Thanks to my mom, I have learned valuable lessons that not only save me money, but contribute to the running of a free market (in fabulous shoes). My mom has taught me many other lessons as well, but those will have to come another day. I have work to do, money to save, and clothes to wear!

I celebrated Mother's Day in:
Black cropped pants, brightly patterned bias-cut empire waist blouse, black and silver hoop earrings, green zipper bracelet, and black leather, open-toe slingback pumps.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As you all know, but may have forgotten, last Sunday was Easter. Easter is a great day. See, it's the end of Lent, so after 40 days of fasting from something (coffee this year), it jumps back into your life with a caffeinated one-two punch, allowing you to stay WIDE AWAKE all day long. This Easter in NYC was also a beautiful, warm, sunny day after an appropriately rainy and glum Holy Week.

Even though I had a friend in town and got to spend time with friends all day, I typically miss my family like crazy on Easter. This leads to me compensating for being alone in all sorts of grand and glorious ways, but primarily in spurts of domesticity and sociability.

A dear friend was hosting brunch for all of us lonely students, and made some delicious chicken salad for lunch. I offered to make cheese grits — a family recipe that we only eat on Easter. I'm not from the South, but this dish is AMAZING. It's definitely not the nasty Velveeta's-white-trash-cousin-meets-Quaker-instant-grits recipe on the back of the container. It tastes like the comfort food of the rich and famous. I had made the cheese grits the night before, and then popped them into the oven after church. We then took two casserole dishes full of cheese grits up to the roof of my apartment building, where they joined the chicken salad, some green beans, lemonade, limeade, brownies, and bundt cake.

A group of about 20 of us then shared a wonderful Easter brunch. We talked, we laughed, we ate. Most people had been able to come without having to bring anything, and there was plenty of food to go around. We enjoyed each other's company, and only had one dog pee on the table we brought up (but alas, he peed twice).

See, the interesting thing about economics is that it typically tries to save resources. In the name of efficiency and self-interest, generosity can be smirked at as anything from a benign experiment to harmfully removing incentives to work. In reality though, generosity helps everyone. Through the generosity of those who provided food, about 15 people got a completely free lunch on Easter.

The astute reader will notice the phrase "free lunch" and point out that it cost the few people who made lunch quite a lot. Well, on the one hand, yes. I had to buy ingredients to make cheese grits, and I took time out of my day to make them. But, not only did I enjoy getting to cook a family recipe, I could not have found a restaurant with chicken salad, cheese grits, green beans, lemonade, limeade, brownies, and bundt cake for under $15 (what I spent making cheese grits). Granted, I made a side dish, so it wasn't extremely expensive. But for significantly less than what I would have spent feeding just myself, I was able to contribute to the free lunch of many others.

From an economic standpoint, I used economies of scale, and specialized in the part of the meal in which I had a comparative advantage. From a human standpoint, I got to give of myself and reap benefits tenfold. Our brunch was one of the most fun things I've done in quite some time. It was the kind of soiree that simultaneously energizes and relaxes you, instead of the usual combination that drains and overstimulates. It was the kind of party in which conversation and food were generously given and freely taken. The kind of event that reminds us that He is risen indeed.

(Easter also called for outfit changes! Although the second was not strictly business casual, it made sense to include it.)

I went to church and put cheese grits in the oven in:

Orange empire-waisted halter-top dress, gray knit shrug, silver hoop earrings, silver bangles, silver daisy ring, and gray patent round-toe stilettos

I ate brunch in:

Floral tunic blouse, slim denim crop pants, blue glass bead dangly earrings, black flower ring, and black patent peep-toe wedges