BANANA SEAT ECONOMICS
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 15 July 2011
"Despite a voluminous and often fervent literature on "income distribution," the cold fact is most income is not distributed: It is earned." and,"Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender and ethnicity cannot be considered within it." Thomas Sowell
Not so many days ago, a couple Saturdays back, dialogue with a newspaper publisher about an ongoing issue with sporadic delivery morphed into a cordial, interesting discussion about unemployment, the challenges of finding and keeping good help, and economics. First, the publisher explained the delivery hiccups but, as of this writing, it's not any better. So much for good help. We next swapped hardship stories about friends out of and looking for work which led to banter about the economic woes of our community, state, and country. We solved nothing. Time might, if politicians get out of the way. We parted ways agreeing things could be worse but didn't want to think about it.
After that conversation I thought more about our economic problems, mostly on a national scale--after all, that's what's causing small scale problems--and came to the conclusion we'd not be in this mess if folks who'd been successful paperboys (or girls) ran companies and held office. To some extent, a void of simplicity has had a hand in making for a complex problem.
Now to explain.
A paperboy--independent contractor--a 13 to 14 year-old kid who, Monday-Friday, delivered papers before school, and early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The all-weather transportation--single speed, coaster brake, banana seat, spider bicycle(Note1) outfitted with front-mounted wire basket. The open cage large enough for Monday through Saturday papers. A heavy duty canvas bag with wide strap--to sling across chest--necessary as augment tote for the thicker Sunday paper; the added off-center weight making for more challenging peddling and throwing.
Paperboy math--kept simple for the sake of illustration and argument...
Seventy-five customers Monday through Sunday. Another 25 Sunday only.
Customer monthly rate(Note 2) for 7-day delivery: $7.00 Sunday only: $3.00
75 customers x $7.00 = $525.00 / 25 customers x $3.00 = $75.00
Provided all customers pay paperboy, total gross monthly income : $600.00
Monthly cost of papers to paperboy: $450.00.
Paperboy monthly net, provided all customers pay promptly and in full: $150.00 (less after costs of rubber bands, inclement weather bags, and bicycle maintenance)
But all customers paying not reality--ergo $150.00 net per month not reality. And it doesn't take long for a new paperboy to realize non-paying customers kill the bottom line. And they make early mornings peddling to the gas station to fold papers, load basket, and ride route while fending off pesky dogs not an especially rewarding job; fun nor financially.
So paperboy takes problem-solving initiative--buys 65 papers thereby stopping delivery to non-payers. In short order, customers--aka: freeloaders--wonder what's happened to their paper and complain to newspaper.
Manager phones paperboy, "I'm receiving complaints from a number of your customers--they're not getting their paper(s). Are you aware and do you know what's going on?" Paperboy to manager, "Yes, I know. They're not getting a paper because I quit delivering. They owe me for several months. They either ignore the door when I attempt to collect or make up excuses for not having the money and say come back next month. I will no longer pay for their papers." Manager, "I understand. I know it's frustrating but you must deliver." Paperboy, "Okay, I will deliver but you pay for the papers. Otherwise, find a new paperboy. But know when showing the new paperboy the route I will point out the problem customers (which the boy I replaced did not do for me)."
Manager concedes--knows paperboy is right and, besides, finding a new reliable boy is a headache. Happy ending--paperboy throws 65 papers--90 on Sundays (canvas sling bag still necessary). And the paperboy knocked on doors and picked up new paying customers. Ah, profit.
As Kenneth Minogue opined, "Capitalism is what people do if you leave them alone."
That is, don't over regulate and tax (any form) to accommodate freeloaders thus choking capitalists--even paperboys--to death. The scuffed steel-toed boot of oppression, pressing against the throat, hampers CPR--whether to lifeless human or business enterprise. In fact, death most likely and that's our economy's reality--has been for some time. Look around--businesses are dead, others dying, and the foreseeable future is bleak.
In short, all the responsibility, accountability, customer service, customer relations, marketing, door-to-door sales, understanding PL (profit loss) statements, need over want purchasing, budget balancing, economics, entitlements, and "social justice" lessons anyone needs to know to succeed in life, at least in America, can be learned throwing papers from a spider bike banana seat.
Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Walt Disney, John Wayne, and Ross Perot were paperboys. Bob Hope and Martin Luther King, Jr. threw papers, too. And all before banana seats came along. Respectable company. Just maybe there's a connection between lessons learned throwing papers and success.
So that's the simplicity to complexity issue--the deficiency--with corporate America and our president and congress, and many in America: No experience throwing papers.
What's the fix? For one, hire (elect) folks who, as kids, threw papers and were successful at it. They will fix the damn problems. And, no, when you get right down to it our, and the globe's, economic problems are not any more complicated than those faced and solved by paperboys, or any other aspiring capitalist, struggling to turn a small business with thin margin into a profit-maker. Yes, agreed, certainly there is another variable or two, and many more 'customers' on the national and planetary fronts, but the principles of simplicity to complexity and the drag of freeloading are the same.
Nothing is free. And if it is free, someone else is paying for it. Freeloading begins small, with newspapers for instance, then grows into habit, mindset, and expectancy; for just about any and everything--flat screen TVs, cars, houses, vacations, education, healthcare, and so on and so forth. Children learn from adults. And the problem magnified negatively impacts economies--from small town to city to state to country to globe. Whether inept or corrupt, enabling government(s) exacerbates the problem.
There aren't so many youths throwing papers these days--there hasn't been for some years. And that's too bad--for the boys (and girls), and for our country, as we've lost an important 'how the real world works' education and training experience for future leaders and office seekers. Sooner or later deficiencies catch up. They always do, and have they ever. Again, look around--empty real estate (residential and commercial); foreclosures; struggling businesses; many underemployed and unemployed; tight money; higher prices; etc.
That newspaper publisher told me, though print news is a dwindling business (courtesy of cable television, the Internet, and commonplace handheld communication devices) and it's as cost effective to use bulk mail (but the news is old), they're working to again have youths deliver papers in some areas. Good. I hope so, for the sake of youth and our country--provided there's any validity to my theory; supported by ideas of chaos and nonlinearity and small things making for disproportionately large happenings.
Nothing in our president's bio indicates time spent throwing papers from a bicycle seat--banana or otherwise. Nor do bios of many in congress (and corporate America) reflect such experience. Thus efforts to deliver to non-payers, by way of regulation and taxing, on the backs of paying customers. That approach simply doesn't work--with any commodity in any business.
And with that, a thought from a successful American, who, had he thrown papers, and he might have, would have made one hell of a paperboy. From legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, "The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price." Mr. Lombardi just might have made a damn good congressman or president.
And finally, while polishing today's missive our president held another rhetoric-heavy press conference about the must of raising the debt limit (which he opposed when a Senator). Sounding much like an old manager favoring free papers, he again chided those mean ol' greedy corporate jet owners and told all it was time to "Eat our peas." Puzzling. For starters, there's the hypocrisy of Marine One and Air Force One (corporate aircraft of sorts to supposedly do his job); jet-setting; golfing; and nothing substantive accomplished moving America forward--domestically or internationally--after 2 1/2 years in office. Big promises. High hopes. More speeches. Tiresome. Credibility ever sinking and public confidence and support tanking. That's the polls talking, not me.
Such a void, a pity, we have--folks in charge of our country but not leading. Officers eat last and humility come to mind. More on these qualities next week. Yet again, I'm reminded of the sign behind an old CO's desk: "Don't Confuse Effort With Results!"
And as the 2012 race continues, a movie, as metaphor, comes to mind--"Sink the Bismarck!"
Our country has little more than a year to find some good help--paperboys (or youth jobs of similar experience). Might we find some competent, reliable ones (adding term limits) who'll deliver--all weather--with due consideration to the hard-working, paying customers?! And cease delivery to freeloaders. Now that would be news. Refreshing news.
Oh, and as for those peas? Paperboys prefer green--favorite of capitalists. Black eye(d) for the gang in Washington, D.C.
Today's offering a Laffer, as in curve, not a knee-slapper by any means. And so concludes 'Banana Seat Economics.'
The real world schooling while a paperboy were lessons for life. And along the way were other eye-opening, character-building jobs. All of them and college, as it turned out, critical preparation for shouldering the duties of a Marine. An education, on the streets and in the classroom, opens doors but there'll always be call for hard work to succeed. That, plain and simple, is life in the United States of America.
1. A peculiar situation--tangentially linked to throwing papers from bicycle--led to delivery via four wheels; as a precaution. The business of collecting continued on two wheels.
2. 1970/71 rates (to best of memory).