Mosque at Ground Zero

Excellent question from Thomas Sowell’s column today:

Our betters are telling us that we need to be more “tolerant” and more “sensitive” to the feelings of Muslims. But if we are supposed to be sensitive to Muslims, why are Muslims not supposed to be sensitive to the feelings of millions of Americans, for whom 9/11 was the biggest national trauma since Pearl Harbor?

It does seem to be a bit of a double standard.

Trader Joes: Lesson in Value Proposition

One topic I talk about often in business presentations is value proposition.  It’s a simple concept that few people seem to grasp, even though we each deal with it many times a day.

Value proposition is simply why you bought the product you bought.  But, answer to that isn’t always as simple as you think it is or very clear.  There can be many factors.  Some you may be aware of and some you may not be.  Sometimes we think we understand the value proposition, but it often turns out to be something else.

Trader Joes offers an excellent illustration of value proposition.  It has a successful value proposition as evidenced by  its success.  People want what Trader Joe’s sells.

When I first walked into a Trader Joes, I commented to my wife “this seems to be like an Aldi for organic.”  I then read this article about Trader Joe’s a few days ago.  It turns out there’s some truth to my observation.  An excerpt from the article:

Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany’s ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire. (A different branch of the family controls Aldi Süd, parent of the U.S. Aldi grocery chain.)

Aldi and Trader Joe’s are both low-priced grocery stores that carry fewer off-brand items in smaller footprints than other grocery stores. On those factors they are very similar.

But, after researching the history of both chains on wikipedia, it occurred to me that the ownership mattered little to producing these similarities as both chains resulted from successful, independent black swans (experiments that worked).

And, while they are similar on some basic descriptors, they serve consumers who want very different things.  Aldi serves cash constrained, practical, bargain shoppers, while Trader Joe’s appeals to a different crowd.  As the article put it:

Who’s a fan of Trader Joe’s? Young Hollywood types like Jessica Alba are regularly photographed brandishing Trader Joe’s shopping bags — but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reportedly is a fan too.  Kevin Kelley, whose consulting firm Shook Kelley has researched Trader Joe’s for its competitors, jokes that the typical shopper is the “Volvo-driving professor who could be CEO of a Fortune 100 company if he could get over his capitalist angst.”

Many business managers and owners could benefit from understanding the simple but subtle art of value proposition.

WTF WSJ?

I was pleased to see Spreading Hayek, Spurning Keynes in the Wall Street Journal this morning about professor of economics Peter Boettke at George Mason University.

After spending the entire article laying out the thinking behind Austrian economics, it ends with this:

But as much as the Austrian diagnosis may resonate now, it doesn’t provide a playbook for what to do next, which could limit its current resurgence.  Mr. Hayek rightly warned of the dangers of central planning, Mr. Boettke says, but “he didn’t give a prescription for how to move from ‘serfdom’ back.”

Straw man.  I’d be shocked if Boettke’s quote was taken in context.

Keynesians need “playbooks”.  Austrians want less government and more adult behavior.   Move in that direction.

The Listen Challenge

One of my pet peeves is baseless accusations.

I often respond to baseless accusations of folks like Limbaugh and Beck by simply asking if the accuser has any specific evidence to support their accusations or if they’ve ever even listened to the show.

If they say no, I challenge them to listen to an hour of the show and write down the things they agree and disagree with and the things that annoy them and then I’d be happy to have a conversation about those specific things.

I got to hear a perfect example of my Listen Challenge on the radio.

The DJ and her sidekick of local alternative music station morning drive show were discussing some Glenn Beck sound bites.  The sidekick played the first sound bite and the host responded something like:

Uggh…I don’t know what it is, but I can’t even listen to him.  There’s something about him that I just disdain.  If others like him, great, but he’s not for me.  I couldn’t even tell you what he just said because something in my brain shuts down whenever he starts talking.

The sidekick then falsely teed up the second sound bite:

In this one, Beck basically claims Martin Luther King applies now only to white people [or something like that].

The sidekick played the clip and something wonderful happened.  The host listened. She realized that her sidekick misrepresented the sound bite and she called him on it.

No, I don’t think that’s what he said.  I think he just said that we can all rejoice in Martin Luther King, which I agree with.

That’s a huge breakthrough. The first time she accidentally didn’t shut her brain down and listened to Glenn Beck, she agreed with him.

Maybe from this she’ll learn not to be so judgmental and she will listen more to what is actually said and rely less on the distortions from folks like her sidekick.

She may still disdain Beck.  But, if  she listens more she may be able to explain why instead of believing that it’s just an involuntary reaction in her brain. That will result in her being able to explain her disdain in more a convincing fashion:

“I don’t like [or simply] disagree with Glenn Beck because he believes X.  I think X is wrong because Y and Z.”

I can respect bashing when you have actual reasons.  I don’t respect bashing ‘just because’.  ‘Just because’ has never persuaded me.

Experiments

Below is a photo of a drink cabinet at a grocery store.  Lots to choose from.

First, it strikes me as odd in a world where we have this much to choose from to meet our individual preferences for something as simple as satisfying our thirst, that so many people think that one-size-fits-all approaches to things like health care and education are good ideas.

Second, what I love about each one of these drinks is that they are all ongoing experiments.  The hypothesis for these experiment:  Do people find enough value in these products to buy?

But drinks aren’t the only experiments going on here.  The drink cabinet,  its placement within the grocery store and the grocery store this is in are all experiments that are continuously testing a similar hypothesis.

The products we enjoy and that make our lives better are results of successful experiments.

For those who think one-size-fits all approaches are a good idea, take a hard look at this cabinet.  If we were to keep one drink, which would it be?  What flavor?  What size?  Would you even want to live in a world where we have only one choice?  Sometimes I feel like drinking one of these (like Gatorade when I’m exercising) and I drink others at other times (Honest Tea for lunch maybe).

If we were to measure the result of drinking anyone of these, on paper, the results would look very similar.  Do they quench your thirst?  Yes.  Does it keep you hydrated?  Sure.  That reminds me of measuring the results of school voucher programs based on test results.

But, ask people which drink they prefer and when, an you’ll get vastly different answers.  One drink just doesn’t cut it, as evidenced the results here.

Market Signals

At a gathering last weekend, my cousin — an electrician by trade– articulated well the market signals he faces.

I asked how his job hunt was going.  He replied:

Not great.  There’s no work out there.  Everybody says I should set up my own shop, but that doesn’t work either.  There’s a lot of out-of-work electricians.  Whenever you bid work, you’re competing against 20 others.  The only way you can win is if you do it at a loss.  I’m trying to figure out something else.

He has a skill.  He invested time and money in developing it.  A few years ago there was high demand for that skill.  Now there’s not.  That high demand created high supply as people like him chose to pursue that skill.

He’s trying to figure out what to do with the signals the market is sending him.  Does he change professions?  Some money is better than no money.  Does he wait it out?  There’s no easy answer.

Sometimes market signals are subtle, sometimes they slap you in the face.

I Know It When I See It

I got into an exchange about a number of things, including education, with Brutus in the comments section of this post at Cafe Hayek.

The exchange began over how to cut Federal government spending.  I suggested comparing what the Federal government spends money on to what it is empowered to spend money on.  This would reveal that spending on things like the Department of Education is outside the scope of the Federal government.

Brutus, taking a utilitarian approach basically asked, what if Federal education spending is doing some good?

To me that’s like asking, what if forcibly extracting kidneys from folks for organ donation does some good? (Thanks to Steven Landsburg for that view).  Most people would be against this in principle and few would buy the utilitarian (“greater good”) argument because people generally intuitively recognize that we have rights to have a say with what we do with our bodies.

But, I’m still usually willing to have the utilitarian argument with folks because I think most arguments for government Continue reading

Turnabout is Fair Play

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek makes an excellent point in his letter to the Wall Street Journal and post titled, Regulate THIS!.

You’re correct that the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 will discourage lenders from extending credit to households most in need of it by arbitrarily reducing the penalties that lenders may assess against dead-beat and delinquent debtors  (“The Politics of Plastic,” August 24).  Our Leaders, though, cling to their peculiar faith that regulations never create incentives for people to do what Our Leaders would prefer people not to do.

Let’s put this faith to a real test: Ask Congress and the White House to regulate more strictly the penalties assessed by the IRS against dead-beat and delinquent taxpayers – for example, let’s reduce fees and interest charges for late payment of taxes, and eliminate jail time as a punishment for tax evasion.  If Our Leaders’ faith is sound, there will be no increase in tax evasion and delinquencies.  Revenue collected by the IRS will be unaffected.  The IRS’s stiff penalties will be seen to have been unjustified because (if Our Leaders’ faith is true) these penalties do nothing to encourage timely and full payment of taxes.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux