“A penny for your thoughts,” my parents often said. But I was thinking of a dollar. (More)

Viva Cliché, Part II: A Penny for Your Thoughts

This week Morning Feature considers clichés. Yesterday we looked back into the mists of time at history repeating itself. Today we see why a penny saved is worth two in the bush. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with how clichés rot from the head down. Or something.

Happiness doesn’t grow on trees

They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but that’s false. Oranges grow on trees. So do apples and bananas. They bring in money. Plus a long time ago trees fell in the forest and nobody heard them, so the fallen trees got buried and turned into oil, which brought in money too. Just ask the Beverly Hillbillies, and that was a comedy so they were happy.

But happiness doesn’t grow on trees. I know, I know, money can’t buy happiness. On the other hand, happiness can’t buy groceries. Money also can’t buy love, except in Nevada and the Netherlands and a lot of other places, many of them places most people wouldn’t go for love or money.

The point is, money makes the world go round, and money is the root of all evil, which is why astrologers predict evil based on the movements of the planets and stars. And they get paid to do it. Not that astrologers are money grubbers, although grubs do grow on trees, just like money. But not happiness.

A state of mind

Because happiness is a state of mind, as exemplified by larks, clams, and pigs in feces. You can take off on those larks, and up those clams, but you shouldn’t wrestle with the pigs because you’ll both get covered in the feces and the pig will like it.

A lot of people must do that, because the pigs are happy. Or maybe the people just step in it. Or watch bears do it in the woods, behind the trees, which they then scratch their backs on. And look very happy. The point is, you don’t want to step in it, but it’s okay to shoot it, until someone tells you to cut it.

Or to wish in one hand and do it in the other and see which fills up first. But that assumes one hand knows what the other is doing. Anyway, if you try that you better hope one hand washes the other, and not the hand you did it in, because then you’ll be up to your ears in it.

In a fountain

So wash with the hand you wished in, even if that seems wishy washy. If there’s a star to be on while you wishy wash, so much the better. Or maybe that’s how a star is born. Your lucky one, twinkling or studded, depending on your fashion preference I guess.

The correct way to wish, of course, is to throw three coins in a fountain. You can even wash in the fountain while you’re wishing. But not with that other hand.

The coins shouldn’t be pennies. You should save those for thoughts. That’s how you earn them. Unless they’re face down. Then they’re bad luck, which is better than no luck at all. Lucky stars with no luck at all are probably black holes.

Nickels and dimes are okay, but don’t toss them together because no one likes to be nickeled and dimed. Not even wishes. Silver dollars are a bit pricey for wishes, so keep those for saloons and pancakes. Two bits is plenty, unless you took one between your teeth. Then you’d be bobbing for wishes, and he’s your uncle, like a cork on the waves in the fountain after you pull your head out.

The Price is Wrong

Pull your head out of the fountain, that is. Not out of that other place, where the hole is. If you try that, you might go over a teakettle and call a pot black, or vice versa, depending on your vices. Or your virtues, which are their own rewards.

And that’s why you should be careful what you wish for. See, it’s all about supply and demand. It’s Econ 101, and if you lay out economists’ wishes end to end, they’ll all point in different directions. For a price, which may be right, or not:

There are strong policy implications of these two views. If you think the problem is that wages are too high, your solution is that we need to meaner to workers – cut off their unemployment insurance, make them hungry by cutting off food stamps, so they have no alternative to do whatever it takes to get jobs, and wages fall. If you think the problem is the zero lower bound on interest rates, you think that this kind of solution wouldn’t just be cruel, it would make the economy worse, both because cutting workers’ incomes would reduce demand and because deflation would increase the burden of debt.

What my side of the debate would call for, instead, is a reduction in the real interest rate, if possible, by raising expected inflation; and failing that, more government spending to increase demand and put idle resources to work.

But beggars can’t be choosers – and none of our choosers are beggars – so they chose to beggar their neighbors to prove a point. Or to point less:

Ben Casselman points out that we’ve had a sort of natural experiment in the alleged effects of unemployment benefits in reducing employment. Extended benefits were cancelled at the beginning of this year; have the long-term unemployed shown any tendency to find jobs faster? And the answer is no.
Making the unemployed miserable arguably increases labor supply, as workers become less choosy and more willing to take whatever job they can find. But the U.S. labor market in 2014 isn’t constrained by supply, it’s constrained by demand: given what firms can sell, they have no need for as many hours of work as workers are willing to give.

So make the long-term unemployed more desperate; so what? They can’t do anything to increase the amount of work demanded, and in fact their reduced purchasing power reduces labor demand.

What a waste, or a tangled web, which has nothing to do with the price of tea in China, or of peas in Poughkeepsie. Maybe if we’d read those tea leaves first. But they don’t grow on trees, where the money is. So give peas a chance.


Happy Friday!