Guest columnist Jonathan Kahane: A ‘middle class’ man dissects the economy

  • In this January 2021 file photo, a man walks out of a Marc's Store in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. AP

Published: 7/20/2021 4:14:02 PM

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit at the outset that my credentials and expertise in the topic I plan to discuss below — economics — are severely limited. I don’t have a degree in the subject and have never even taken Econ 101 during my 22 years as a student. (I should have taken it instead of Sociology 101, but that’s water over the dam.)

On the other hand, I did successfully raise and support my family for some 40 years and continue to do so on a “middle class” income. Surely that must count for something these days.

I have been reading about the “labor shortage” in the paper which, according to the “experts,” seems to be one of the main causes holding back our economy. These gurus explain that due to the pandemic, businesses, such as restaurants, are having trouble finding help. The owners complain that people are making more money if they remain on unemployment.

Forgive my ignorance, but I can’t help but believe that if an honest wage were offered (without making the employee depend on tips) there would be a long line of people waiting to fill these positions. Why it was just last week that after eating my breakfast, which I prepared at home, I felt compelled to reduce the tip to myself from 25% to 20%, because my coffee was cold.

On another related issue, we do not have enough educated people in the workforce to fill high-paying positions in the technology field. I believe that this is, in part, due to the sorry state of the education system in this country. The Wall Street Journal calls this phenomenon “mismatch.” I call it “missed school days.” I have written about this issue before (1/1/21), as I’m sure you recall(!), so I will not belabor this point here.

I, and I’m sure many of you, have noticed that prices on a wide range of commodities are skyrocketing now. Warnings about inflation abound. Open your eyes. It’s here. When was your last trip to the market? Have you tried to make some home improvements lately?

More reports have been educating us to the fact that companies are surreptitiously having us pay the same price for the same package of their product, but the amount of the product found within is reduced in size. I went to a “convenience store” the other day and bought a Hershey bar for $1.50. The teeny-bopper behind the counter exclaimed the she remembered when it cost 75 cents. I smirked (behind my mask) and said, “I remember when it was a nickel.” At least the packaging was the same size even though the bar was tiny.

Speaking of packaging, I would love to meet the geniuses who dream up the wrapping containing the product. Have you ever tried to use the “helpful hints” they provide to the consumer located on the container? “Press here” or “Tear along perforated line” are two such examples. If you are foolish enough to follow their directions, the contents will be squashed beyond all use and recognition.

It would be fascinating for me to be able to meet the sage who came up with the idea to seal potato chips in a paper bag leaving one quarter of the chips transformed into potato dust. By now, I’m sure most of you have the vacuum cleaner ready when it’s time to open up a box of Cheerios.

When you buy a 4 ounce tube of toothpaste, if you are able to extract 3 ounces I’d say you’ve won. The more sophisticated gizmos used to dispense shaving cream or lotions are obviously engineered to malfunction after the fourth application.

More frightening are the vessels which could lead to personal injury — or worse. Consider yourself lucky if you simply escape with a lacerated finger after opening a can of soup. Try accessing a brick of shrink wrapped cheese. You will need to use a set of calipers and a razor blade — not included.

Finally the nuclear option: Trying to obtain the electrical component you just purchased from the hardware store, encased in a hard plastic vault with no point of entry, could land you in the ER.

Naturally, all this leads to an enormous waste of product and material which ultimately makes it necessary to buy more and leads to a boost in sales.

After all, wallets are very easy to open.

Jonathan Kahane lives in Westhampton.


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