Ev Ehrlich's Everyday Economics


Items From Our Collection

ITEM: The Halper Collection, the worlds largest private collection of baseball memorabilia, was recently sold at auction at Sothebys for more than $40 million. As baseball begins its biggest season ever, who know what treasures will soon come to market?

Item 1. Ty Cobb Blast Em Coin Bank
The ever-competitive Cobb held on to every dollar as resolutely as he did his bat while accumulating a lifetime average of .367. This 1908 Ty Cobb version of the then-popular Uncle Sam penny banks capitalized on his both his fabled fielding prowess and his parsimony: roll a penny down the chute, and The Geogia Peach picks it and throws it into a waiting first basemans mitt. Moreover, true to Ol' Ty's cantankerous nature, the bank could also be fitted with a small caliber bullet to catch unawares the larcenous interloper who turned the bank over without first flipping the banks secret signal switch for time out. Caught stealing, Cobb style

Item 2. Dizzy Deans Tarot Cards
Everyone knows Jerome Hanna Dizzy Dean won 30 games in 1934 to propel the fabled Cardinal Gashouse Gang into the Fall Classic against the Bengals of Detroit. But tarot? Let The Wild Horse of the Osage, hot corner specialist Pepper Martin, tell the story:

Ol Diz might have been a hillbilly, but he had his mystic side, too, an he never traveled without them tarot cards. We wuz on the train to Detroit when he consulted them cards as to how to pitch to the Tiger line-up, which wuz loaded with big guns like Gehringer, Cochrane, Goose Goslin, and that sheeny Greenberg. So Diz takes out his deck of the Major Arcana an he closes his eyes, spits, makes a sign, and says Greenberg, an then he draws The Fool, then Temperance, then The Devil, and then The Hanged Man, an he says, I knew it Curve ball for strike one, a slow one for strike two, then the heater an hes struck out An in the third frame of the first game, Diz was holdin a 3-1 lead with two gone an Cochrane on third an Gehringer on second, an he fanned the big Jew on just them same pitches

Item 3. Cap Ansons Gall Stones
Anson, the first man to knock 3,000 hits, batted a towering .399 as player-manager in Chicagos 1881 campaign. But did you know that he did it all while suffering from a debilitating case of gallstones? Anson later described the affliction as being as painful as getting plunked in the brisket by Cy Youngs hard one. Absent the malady, Ol' Cap surely would have legged out one more base-knock that season to reach the magical .400 mark And the distraction of the ceaseless agony no doubt played some role in Ansons grumpy boycott of competing Clubs who put Black players on the field, leading to the Negros 60-year hiatus from Big League Action

Item 4. Casey Stengels 1912 First Edition Copy of Remembrance of Things Past
True baseball fans know that the Old Perfesser graduated from Western Dental College in Kansas City in 1912, one year before he won the starting center fielders job for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the same year that Marcel Proust published the first of the thirteen volumes of his literary classic. But how many know that, after being selected as class valedictorian, Casey was gifted by his fellow cuspidrilles with a leather-bound first edition of that same first volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The dog-eared volume, inscribed to Charles D. Stengel, with kudos, from his classmates, was Caseys constant companion on the road in a five-decade baseball career.
Casey's third sacker, Dr. Bobby Brown, shared his love of literature. As Bobby tells it: Case was sitting peaceably in the dugout one day, holding that Proust book in his lap he was never without it, you know when Yogi comes by and says, So, Casey, howd that book on helping your memory finally turn out? and Casey, he winks at me and turns to Yog and says, with that famous twinkle in his eye, I cant remember. I thought Woodling and Bauer would bust a gut laughing

Item 5. Hitler's Baseball Glove
As war clouds grew over the Atlantic in the late 1930's, a group of prominent Americans, led by Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg, encouraged Hitler to court American public opinion. To make their case, they sent him a baseball glove in the hope of stimulating an interest in the National Pastime. While war ensued nonetheless, the Fuhrer grew fond of the mitt a Tris Speaker model whiling away sunny afternoons at Berchtesgaden tossing the horsehide pill with Baseball Annie Eva Braun. Ol' Adolf's plan to form a playing nine at the German High Command took a nosedive, however, when first-sacker Rudolph Hess jumped the Club to barnstorm rival England. Thats why free agency is so detrimental to baseball, the diminutive tyrant is said to have remarked. OSS certificate of authenticity included

Item 6. Satchel Paige's Birth Certificate
Leroy Robert Satchel Paige claimed to have won over a thousand games in his Negro League career before he cracked the color line in 1948, going 6 and 1 for the pennant-winning Indians and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. But how old was he? He claimed to be born in Mobile, Alabama in 1906, but some historians put the date at 1905, or even 1904 or '03
The discovery of Paige's actual birth certificate ends the debate: Ol' Satch was actually born in...1875 Blessed with a youthful appearance and a spry agility earned by years of stoop labor, Paige broke into The Show not at 42, but 73, a remarkable athletic achievement.

Former Tribe manager Lou Boudreau wasn't surprised. Ol' Satch used to get these envelopes from the Social Security Administration each month. I'd ask him what they were, and he's say 'They's actuarial tables, Mr. Lou. I'm tryin' to calculate what might be gainin' on me.' I guess Satch put it over on all of us

6 and 1 at 73 Imagine what Ol' Satch would have done if he'd made it to the big leagues in his prime


Taking the Sheen off the Candidate

The Presidential candidacy of actor Martin Sheen, in the role of Josiah Bartlett, was broadsided today by claims that Sheen's Vietnam-era heroism in the role of Military Officer Benjamin Willard was based on false information. Opponents of Sheen-as-Bartlett have appeared to publicly dispute the oft-cited account of wartime valor so central to his campaign - that, in the role of Willard, he was captured and imprisoned by renegade Marine Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in the back jungles of Cambodia. Specifically, they claim that the story of Colonel Kurtz dropping the severed head of a comrade into the lap of Sheen-as-Willard as he lay shackled and helpless never happened.

"I was there," said former Gunner's Mate Third Class Lance B. Johnson. "There was no head."

Johnson, who left the service in 1969 and to pursue a successful career as a professional surfer, is now the lead spokesman for a group of former Vietnam intelligence officers called Military Intelligence Officers For the Truth. "I was on the boat that went up the Mekong River with Sheen-as-Willard in October of 1967. If there was a severed head, I would have known it."

Sheen-as-Willard's heroic narrative, a centerpiece of Sheen-as-Bartlett's campaign, holds that, as a young military officer, he ventured into Cambodia on a top secret mission to terminate the allegedly deranged Colonel Kurtz "with extreme prejudice." He was promoted to Major after the mission. Gunner's Mate Johnson's assertions, if substantiated, would cast grave doubt on the veracity of Sheen-as-Bartlett's account.

The accusation gained further momentum this week when it was supported by retired Lieutenant Colonel William Kilgore, a flamboyant former cavalry officer who knew both Sheen-as-Willard and Johnson in Vietnam. "The head story’s a load of crap," said Kilgore, now a retired oil executive, when contacted on his estate outside of Houston. Kilgore also noted that Sheen had displayed wartime cowardice in the role of Private Eddie Slovik. “How can Sheen-as-Willard be a hero when Sheen-as-Slovik was a coward? It’s just another flip-flop,” the former helicopter commander said.

But Sheen-as-Bartlett supporters contest the new allegation. “This is a standard campaign smear,” said an unnamed campaign aide. “It’s just like when they claimed that President Ronald Reagan-as-George Gipp was on steroids.” They also note that Kilgore, who has been a major source of financial support for Military Intelligence Officers for the Truth, has been a long-standing ally and fund-raiser for Sheen-as-Bartlett's election year opponent. "These Texas oil guys are all tied to Rove," said a senior campaign official. Moreover, they note that Kilgore was one of the senior officers who originally endorsed Sheen-as-Willard's version of events when they were first noted during the war. "I never saw the report," Kilgore now maintains. "I probably gave it to an aide to sign, particularly if the surf was up that day."

As proof of the veracity of Sheen-as-Bartlett's story, campaign aides are pointing to the testimony of former Lieutenant Scott Glenn as Richard M. Colby. Colby, now a news editor in Chicago, also served as a military intelligence officer in Vietnam. Colby had previously been assigned the mission of eliminating Colonel Kurtz. But when he found the Colonel, Colby joined Kurtz's cult-like following of thousands of Montagnard tribesmen. Cobly was rescued by Sheen-as-Willard as the future Presidential candidate escaped from the remote highland compound after slaying the demented officer.

Colby's whereabouts were unknown for 35 years until he unexpectedly appeared at a Sheen-as-Bartlett rally during the Iowa caucuses and embraced the candidate. "I owe this man my life," Colby said then, fighting back tears. "If it weren't for Martin Sheen-as-Willard, I'd probably be wandering around in a loincloth somewhere in Kampuchea. Or worse."


All-Star Game, 2038

News Item: Baseball owners are working on a plan that would radically realign the major leagues.

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I’m Bob Kostas and I’m here with Tim McCarver to bring you the 2038 Baseball All-Start Game, delivered to you in full hologrammic relief on the Microsoft/Citicorp Network, live from the Taco Bell (A Division Of Pepsi Cola) Bowl in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This afternoon, we’ll be watching the best players in the Teams From States That Begin With “New” Division and the I-95 Corridor Division play the top stars from the Sunbelt Confederation and the Bank of America/American Hormone Products Coalition. And boy, can you ever feel the excitement here in Albuquerque!”

“Yes Bob, it's been five years now since baseball realigned its divisions and eliminated the DH in response to Attorney General Klein's anti-trust suit, and the game is now more vibrant than ever!”

“As is evident from the 140,000 people here tonight, if we count the special blimp bleachers that have been flown in for this event. Tell us about our starting pitchers tonight, Tim.”

“Will do, Bob. The eyes of the baseball world will be on the number one flame thrower of the Mexico City Blues, eight-foot, two-inch Bluto Savarkic, the Serbian Serpent, whose fastball is posting strike-outs at rates not seen since such great legendary hurlers as Sandy Johnson and Walter Koufax pitched back before the record book was officially closed at the end of the Classic Era.”

“And with a record of 14-0 this season, those problems with the war crimes tribunal don't seem to be bothering Bluto on the mound.”

“Bluto’s looked sharp in his pre-game warm-ups, but he’s up against the ace hurler of the Newark Boat People, Buzz Benson, who is back from the disabled list after surgery to correct some software problems in his reconstructed right arm. Shades of Pete Gray, Tim.”

“I was talking to Buzz a few moments ago, Bob, and he’s just happy that the patent infringement suit’s been settled and the arm could be reattached. Acting Commissioner Selig did a great job mediating that dispute.”

“Yes, Tim, Wendy says the U.S. Special Trade Representative supports her position prohibiting the alternative operating system used by the pitching staff of the Tokyo Giants from on-the-field play.”

“Although it will be used experimentally next spring, Bob.”

“Some hardball over hard drives, Tim. And that’s not the only baseball controversy we have. With the elimination of the old American and National Leagues, baseball’s lawyers have announced that all sluggers with 50 dingers have to announce by Labor Day which home run record they’re pursuing — Alex Rodriquez’s AL mark of 78 or Barry Bonds’ senior loop standard of 85. What an amazing comeback at age 50!”

“Yes, Tim, but how about the zany Buck Belson of the Charlotte Expos, who has notified them that he is shooting for 159 taters this season so he could unify the two titles?”

“Only Baseball has that commitment to tradition, Bob.”

“That’s what makes it special, Tim. Now, let’s review the pennant race picture for our viewers. If the hometown Albuquerque Tacos Brought To You By Taco Bell (A Division of Pepsi Cola) go on to win their Division, what’s next for them?”

“Bob, Albuquerque's next opponent in that best of thirteen series will be either Bluto's Mexico City Blues or the Winnipeg White Owls, who are tied for first place in the Friendly Nearby Neighbors Division. And the winner there will meet the winner of the first round match between the winner of the Midwestern Teams That Nobody Cares About Division — where the Astros, Royals, Brewers, Pirates, Rangers, Indians, Reds, White Sox, and Twins are all still in contention — and the champion of the Fantasy Camp Invitational Tournament, which at this point shapes up to be a group of ear, nose, and throat physicians from Potomac, Maryland.”

“Well, Tim, whoever gets through that thicket will end up in the six team tournament that will decide the World Championship. Who do you like there?”

“Bob, everybody’s been taking about the Yankees being a lock this year, particularly after Mr. Steinbrenner traded two minor league prospects to the Cubs for a 12-win call option for delivery on the interdivisional game exchange later this season. But for me, the smart money, once again, has to be on the Phillies.”

“Of course, they’ve won it all four years in a row now, Tim, ever since BT Wolfensohn negotiated their cash buyout of the New York Mets. We’re talking dynasty, here.”

“I agree, Bob. It all goes to show that baseball is back, and it’s better than ever.”

“Unless unreasonable player salary demands kill it first, Tim.”

“Right on, Bob. But now, it’s time for today’s first pitch, and here comes our honored guest now —”

“He's still the most popular man in baseball today — listen to this crowd!”

“Yes, he is, Bob ... they’re wheeling him out now — ladies and gentlemen, the cryogenically preserved remains of Ted Williams!”


Tax Cuts of the Future

President Bush's tax program, described by rat-race-losing malcontents as a sop to the nation's idle rich, is poised to pass the Congress and will soon be signed by the President in a Rose Garden ceremony, after which key Republican and Democratic legislators (except Jeffords) will receive ceremonial crayons, the special kind with glitter mixed right in.

But even as this landmark package reaches fruition, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, hinted at new and potentially even more radical proposals in a second tax package from the Administration. Speculation has already begun as to what such a package might include.

Extend the Personal Deduction to the Unborn. "If the unborn are people, then it's time to give them the full tax treatment they deserve," argues Felix Lechat, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Faith-Based Revenue Policy. Families reporting unborn children would receive the full standard deduction of $2,500. "After all," the Bush G-Man chirps, "don't they say that a pregnant Mom eats for two? Here's Uncle Sam's chance to pick up part of that tab!"

Economists at the conservative Torquemada Institute find evidence supporting the idea in a study commissioned by the Business Coalition For A Really Great Economy, but express caution regarding the proposal's interaction with other features of tax policy. "It's a fine idea," argues one, "but if we continue to phase out the standard deduction at the upper income brackets, we'll give poor people a greater incentive to have kids than we do rich people. And since we know that poor people aren't as smart or hard-working, we'll just be creating a greater burden for our economy down the line."

Pass the Equipment That Doesn't Work Tax Credit. America's business invested at an all-time record pace in the closing years of the 1990's – computers, servers, routers, and every other manner of technological device. Now, much of that gear is shot. The solution? A tax credit for businesses that donate equipment that doesn't work to local community colleges or other educational institutions.

"Our economy's equipment that doesn't work is a hidden national treasure," says Mervis Flyswat, Executive Director of the Business Coalition For The Best Economy Imaginable. "A tax credit for companies that make the magnanimous eleemosynary gesture of giving away equipment that doesn't work would allow those companies to buy new and better equipment that does work, which would be good for the economy. Meanwhile they would be giving our local educational institutions equipment that might once again be fully operational if they whack it on the side a little to see if it works or take it to the repair shop run by those two Chinese kids over by the industrial park. It's a classic win-win situation."

Pass the Tax Credit For Activities Related to Extending Daylight Savings Time. As Vice-President Cheney has told us, America's in an energy crisis that calls for dramatic action – drilling up the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve, whacking the Three Mile Island reactor on the side a little to see if it works, and now, in a bold new proposal bubbling up from several states, instituting year-round Daylight Savings Time, in order to save light-producing energy during the late hours of the day.

"Universal daylight savings time is about our modern way of life," says Laslo Schang, Director of the Business Coalition For An Economy So Good You'd Plotz. "The time that was read in the Roman hour glass and the Babylonian water clock should not be the time we read on the LED display of a digital watch."

Universal daylight time, of course, has its detractors. Drive-in movie theater owners protest that their screens would be blank an extra hour, costing their local economies valuable income and jobs. "A kid who loses his job at a drive-in movie theater is a kid who won't be buying Limp Biskit CDs or over-the-counter acne preparations," says Lois Shill, spokesperson for the Business Coalition To Save the In-Vehicle Entertainment Industry And Have A Really Great Economy, Too. Others worry about schoolchildren heading for school on dark mornings. "We're concerned about that too," says Assistant Secretary of Education for Energy Policy Clarence Canus, "and are prepared to consider any solution. Short of busing."

Implement the "Negative Income Tax". A proposal made thirty years ago by erstwhile Presidential candidate and Communist sympathizer George McGovern for a "negative income tax" is coming back, albeit with a twist. McGovern's proposal was a "negative" income tax in that it gave money to people below a certain level of income.

"Ours is different," explains Presidential economics advisor Lawrence Lindsay. "We intend to tax negative income. That is, if people go broke – or, technically, make negative income – we intend to tax them."

Heartless? Not according to the President's rotund steward of the dismal science. "People who go broke represent a staggering waste of human and financial resources. So long as we encourage going broke with favorable tax treatment, we'll get more of it. We stand for letting people keep their positive income, but taxing their negative income."

Lindsay's proposal won the immediate endorsement of the Business Coalition For the Best Damn Economy Ever And Don't You Forget It.


Alternative History: The Inaugural Address of President Elian Gonzalez

January 20, 2049

My fellow Americans.

It is with great pride and honor that I say muchas gracias, Estados Unidos, and take the Oath of Office as the fifty-first President of the United States.

I cannot help but think back to the day I first set a trembling, wet foot onto this great country’s soil, a boy on a raft with nothing but rags on his back and hope in his heart. So I must say gracias as well to the men and women of the 106th Congress, almost 50 years ago -- yes, the Congress that passed the Patient’s Bill of Rights that is now recited along with a prayer every day in every classroom in America, the Congress that took the first meaningful steps against gun violence by authorizing the use of bullet-attracting implants for recidivist criminals -- but also the same Congress that took time out from this great work to grant citizenship to a small, oppressed boy from a small, oppressed place.

And I must also thank that same Congress for setting in motion the 32nd Amendment, which expressly exempted me from the provisions of the Constitution stating that only natural-born citizens of the United States can hold the office of the Presidency. It is only due to their generosity and foresight that I can stand before you today.

For me, this crowns a remarkable journey. I recall the first months I spent with my uncles and aunts in Miami, my heart full of American liberty and my eyes and stomach full of American prosperity. I thank them now for the values they taught me when I was a stranger in this wonderful land: that a man has a right to his property, even if it was expropriated two generations ago; that pictures of naked ladies are bad but a Jennifer Lopez video isn’t a sin against the church; that you can say what you want in America, so long as it’s in general agreement with what everybody else in the neighborhood is saying; that Sega has much better graphics than Nintendo; that shooting a plane down is usually but not always a very bad thing; that there is nothing as enduring as a mother’s love for a son, followed by an uncle’s love for his nephew, followed by an aunt’s, then a few cousins, then some in-laws, then your uncles’ and aunt’s friends, then the lady down the street, then the priest at the local church, then the people outside waving flags, then the fellows who come by the house with guns in the trunks of their cars, and last, your father and your two abuelas; that people who think you’re the Son of God or some other kind of Mircale will usually give you a dollar; that my cousin Marisleysis is right and that nasty boy Hernando who drove her to the beach the other night had nothing but bad things on his mind; and that when the television people come around, it’s important to act natural.

And I remember all of the moments in my journey since then: leading this, my new country’s, delegation to Fidel Castro’s funeral (my first pair of long pants!); returning to the land of my birth after its counterrevolution to introduce our Cuban brothers and sisters to capitalism through such innovative enterprises as the organos internales por el mundo donor program, the late night tourist service centers, the Desi Arnaz University of Music at Cubo-Disney World, and our wildly successful Internet-based foreign trade enterprise, 57chevy.com; being elected as governor of Florida; serving as Vice-President after President Keyes tenth and ultimately successful run for the Presidency; and now this great moment.

But there remains much to be done for the American people. We need to expand the federal Little Boy on a Raft scholarship program that gives children who flee the People’s Republic of Puerto Rico and who make it past the Coast Guard the right to go to college. We need to enact my program for rhumba band and colada cocktail training programs to realize the full tourist potential of Minnesota and the Dakotas during a time of global warming. We need to move forward aggressively on my proposal to make Cuba the 51st state. (People of the District of Columbia, you will soon follow! This I swear!). And we need to expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover such new and revolutionary therapies as Santeria.

And if I may, a personal note. How I wish my mother could be with me today. Although, I suppose, if she was here with me today, I wouldn’t be here. Never mind. And Papá, we will one day be together again! The Committee on Post-Revolutionary Adjustment back in Havana meets to review your case next week. Rest assured, I will put in a good word for you!


The Mystery Woman Appears

Secret Transcripts of the Starr Chamber Grand Jury Proceedings

Prosecutor: We will begin the questioning with Juror Number One.

#1: Yes, thank you. Do you know anything about Madison Trust?

Monica: Wasn't he a President?

#1: No, the bank. Did you help the President obtain an illegal loan?

Prosecutor: No, no, that was the illegal loan. Now we're talking about illegal alone.

#1: I'm confused. Isn't this the girl from Little Rock, the one with the bald husband?

Monica: (helpfully) I have a bald father.

Prosecutor: No, no, that was a different girl.

#1: The one in manacles?

Prosecutor: Closer. Maybe we should move on to Juror Number Two.

#2: Hey, honey. Don't all them remarks made ‛bout “trailer park trash” piss you off?

Monica: What?

#2: All them bad things they said ‛bout you.

Prosecutor: (exasperated) No, no, that was yet another —

#2: An' I think yo' nose job looks perfectly fine, baby.

Prosecutor: Juror Number Three, please.

#3: Is the President as good looking in person as he is on television?

Monica: (beams) Oh yes! He has all that silvery hair, and those grey eyes. He's just dreamy!

#3: I bet!

Monica: Did you ever look at his hands? They're so graceful! One time, he was playing “Chapel of Love” for me on the saxophone in the Oval Office and —

Prosecutor: Juror Number Four, please.

#4: Where did you get that beret? I think it's the cutest!

Monica: Do you like it? I was worried it was a little too Alanis Morisette.

#4: I was thinking Ricki Lee Jones.

Monica: Who?

#4: And the dress! Everyone I know wants one just like it! Where's it from?

Monica: I tell people Gap. But it's Nieman's.

#4: I knew it!

Monica: (suppressing a giggle) Please don't tell!

Prosecutor: Juror Number Five, please.

#5: What about this Ginsberg guy?

Monica: Tell me about it!

#5: What planet is he from?

Monica: Really! Daddy met him at High Holidays at temple. He helped Daddy win some laetrile case, so Daddy thought he was Oliver Wendell Douglas or something.

#5: He looked like a loser on television.

Monica: Mr. Starr hated him.

Prosecutor: Please! Conversations and negotiations with counsel are privileged — well, some of them are, anyway. At least while you're alive.

Monica: He used to say that Starr was so stupid that they had to make him a Special Prosecutor.

Jurors: (laughter)

Prosecutor: Out of order! Juror Number Six.

#6: Are we getting that bag lunch again today or do we have to eat in the cafeteria? And when will that nice Mr. Erskine Bowles be back?

#1: Oh yes! I liked him!

Monica: But those glasses! They're so...yesterday!

#2: They ofay, baby.

Monica: What?

Prosecutor: Juror Number Seven, please.

#7: Can you tell us anything about the distinguishing characteristic?

Monica: (blushes) Mom says a nice girl doesn't talk about that kind of thing.

#7: Are you lying to us, young lady?

Monica: (earnestly) No, really, that's what Mom says.

#7: No, no. I mean, what makes the President...special?

Monica: Well, only fifteen men in the history of our nation have ever been elected President twice. By my count.

Prosecutor: (exasperated) Excuse me, but I don't think you get it.

Monica: (irritated) Oh, I get it all right.

Prosecutor: Did you hear that? I move we indict!


Jack Sprat Speaks

He walks out of the paddock door, his gait gangly but brisk. Your first thought is the one everyone has...Jack Sprat is still lean.

“Oh, sure,” he smiles, sitting angularly on a nearby bench. “I still hear it all the time — lean, gaunt, lanky, scrawny. But however you say it, that’s me,” he smiles. Traces of an Elizabethan accent still sparkle in his speech.

He extracts a smoke and lights it. The smell of the nearby stables pervades the air. Sprat has worked these last twenty years as a hot walker at the race track at Santa Anita. “I had to get away,” he laughs derisively. “Ma Goose might as well have been Ma Bell by the time I left. The operation had gone corporate. And when those on-line blokes bought up the other fellows, I could see the writing on the wall.

“I would’ve ended up like Mickey Mouse, shilling for a network,” he sneers, flicking his ash. “What then? The old cat-and-mouse stuff, sticking the firecracker up the poor cat's ass? Not me,” he says, shaking a knobby, close-cropped head.

So when others would have gone with the program, Jack Sprat walked.

But what of the famous partnership with his ex-wife — the Burns and Allen, Burton and Taylor, of the Goose stable?

“Oh, at first it was ideal,” he smiles nostalgically. An early publicity still shows them together — she, with spoon, hovering over a banana split, while his needly fingers reach around her for the banana. “My solo act wasn't going anywhere: it went something like this:

"Jack Sprat can eat no fat
It aggravates his ulcer
When gravy’s passed his way, he asks
“May I have something else, sir?”

“So they came to me and they said, ‛Jack, how about a partner?' And in walks Dora and I thought to myself, ‘That’s a lot of woman’.”

A wedding picture shows her resplendent in white, beaming, happy, as her gnarled, tuxedoed husband stands beside her. Sprat’s eyes sadden. “But she became so self-destructive. Fat, grease, lard, all the time. One night I found a piece of suet hidden under the sofa. That was the end. I couldn’t watch her hurt herself anymore.”


Dora Sprat is sweating. Not the dissipated moisture of the obese, but the glowing, rigorous shine of an athlete. A stunningly short black dress covers much of the middle of her more-than-ample frame. Her hair is a radiant purple. An archipelago of studs, hoops, and bangles runs down her right earlobe. On stage, she moves in every direction at once, as only a big girl can, as she vocalizes growlingly over thumping bass rifts and distorted power chords. Her fans throw pork rinds. She snatches one out of the air with her generous lips and the crowd goes wild.

Her band, Big Ass, is the hottest item in young New York today.

She swirls a frozen kaluha concoction between sets and gulps it down lustily. “Oh, he got quite testy at the end. He’d hide my food, wanted me to eat crudites with him. ‘Dora, you’re killing yourself,’ he’d whine. But look at me!” she commands. “I’m getting bigger all the time and I’m just beginning to live!”

So she came East to join the music scene. “These young people don’t judge you the way others do,” she says, as a second drink is placed before her. She makes quick work of it. An album, Lick Me Clean, is due next year.

She is unafraid to show her bitterness. “I wanted to stay with the Goose people, sure,” she says. “After all those low-end children’s books, we were finally going to have a big payday. But Jack wouldn’t hear of it — he was true to his art, he said — and he split. They tried to pair me with Wee Willie Winkie but it didn’t work. He was short, really, rather than skinny. It’s not the same thing.”

And are the rumors true? Is Marriage to Jack Horner around the corner? “We’re good friends,” Dora smiles coyly. “But I love his plums!”


A jockey leads a laconic thoroughbred past where Jack Sprat sits. “I don’t worry about the future. I like what I do. And I have plenty of options.” A film deal was said to be in the works, but is on hold. “Roseanne was interested. They wanted Robin Williams to play me, but I said, ‘But he’s not lean.’ I said, ‘Malkovitch, how about Malkovitch?’ but they said, ‛Too dark.’” He shrugs and reedy hands light another smoke.

“Still, I’m alright. I still do personal appearances — mummy and daddy want all the little nippers to see me. I lecture the kids on good food habits. And I’m doing public service spots about eating disorders. Want to hear it?

Jack Sprat still eats no fat
You'd think that he'd get pallid
But he stays well and rosy-cheeked
On veggies, fish, and salad


The Life of Giffen

(Author’s Note: Giffen, a Victorian-era economist, discovered a class of goods for which demand fell instead of rose when prices fell. So-called “Giffen goods” are the exception to the laws of supply and demand taught toi every economics undergraduate ever since, offering a low-key immortality to an otherwise unexceptional economist of a bygone age.

Written with my friend Dan Luria in Brighton, Michigan, summer of 1986. We performed it once, for our wives.)

The scene is the study of Sir Robert Giffen, a Victorian library of the mid1850's. Giffen sits, working feverishly, by the light of a lamp. It is about 4 A.M. His wife enters.

Heloise: Sir Robert! I was afraid I'd find you here!

Giffen: (puts down his pen and sighs deeply) That is quite alright, my dear. I am, in fact, here.

Heloise: What are you doing up at this hour, Sir Robert?

Giffen: Actually, Heloise, I was working on another new idea. It is about a mathematical system that describes the equilibrium level of national income, but rather than a predetermined level of equilibrium, as handed to us by Providence, alternative values for such a level, only one of which corresponds to the full employment of resources. (triumphantly) I shall call it...Giffenism!

Heloise: (repeating him) Equilibrium level...but Sir Robert, didn't Say put an end to all that?

Giffen: (with sudden anger, snapping his pen) Say! Damn his eyes to hell! (quickly getting his composure, his spirits dampened) Yes, yes, that's correct. You might say that Say has rendered the concept of the determination of national income somewhat...meaningless...granted. But (regaining his enthusiasm)...here! Look at my calculations. To begin, we must first list every type of demand for a good or service, or, when they are added together, Comprehensive Demand, as I call it, so as to distinguish it from the demands in individual markets. C, here, is for consumption. G is for government. Poor houses, that kind of thing. I is for investment, as in steam engines for pumping mine water, or equipment that is used in the process of manufacturing. When you sum these, they add up to income, or I.

Heloise: But I thought that the letter I signified investment.

Giffen: (deflated) Yes, yes, that is so. Yes, I did not think of that. (now once again buoyed) But no matter, income can be signified by the letter Y.

Heloise: Why?

Giffen: Y. Exactly. Yes, that's right! (He picks up a new pencil and begins to work anew).

Heloise: Oh, Sir Robert, please come to bed. It is 4 A.M.

Giffen: (correcting her) It was 4 A.M. when you entered, my dear. It surely later than that now.

Heloise: (She kneels besides him, imploringly) I beg of you, Sir Robert. Return to our bed, so that we may be man and wife once again. (passionately) Sir Robert, I am a woman! I have needs!

Giffen: Yes! Needs! And tastes and preferences, and income constraints, too. (suddenly in anger) But Cournot has already thought of that, the supercilious twit! How I loathe him and his little mathematical systems, so neat and orderly, as if anybody could ever understand them! I hope he rots in hell!

Heloise: (soothingly) My poor darling!

Giffen: He is almost as odious as Mill.

Heloise: (imploringly) Please don't bring up Mill right now, Sir Robert. It is almost dawn, and you must rest.

Giffen: (enraged) Mill! That bastard. That despicable little bastard! How tired I am of hearing his name! (In the singsong of a child) Mill wrote the best political economy since Ricardo. Mill wrote on the rights of women. Mill is more than a political economist, he is a philosopher. Mill spoke Latin and Greek at the age of 18 months. (In his normal voice) I should hope to vomit at the command of the demons of Hades if I am ever to hear this litany again!

Heloise: Yes, yes, I know, I know. Please, Sir Robert.

Giffen: Eighteen months, indeed! I can't even recall where I was at the age of 18 months!

Heloise: I am sure, Sir Robert. But please

(She is interrupted by a knock on the door.)

Giffen: Who could that be?

Heloise: I have no idea, Sir Robert. Footman! Go to the door and admit our visitor!

(in a moment, Schwindler, Giffen's graduate student, enters)

Schwindler: Sir Robert! Sir Robert! Thank heavens I have found you!

Giffen: Be calmed, my lad. Why have you come to find me at this time of night?

Schwindler: You must come to the laboratory immediately, Sir Robert! There is a matter there that requires your immediate attention!

Heloise: But it is so late!

Giffen: I must go nevertheless, my darling. I shall return to you at the earliest possible convenience. Lead on, Schwindler, and I shall follow.


The scene is the library of the University of London. At center stage is a large writing desk covered with papers and pens, compasses and protractors. Giffen and Schwindler enter.

Schwindler: Here, Sir Robert, is the problem of which I have spoken.

Giffen: On these sheets?

Schwindler: Exactly, Sir.

Giffen: (studying the paper) I fail to comprehend you, Schwindler. All I see on these papers are arrays of numbers.

Schwindler: They are more than numbers, Sir Robert. They are data. They describe the consumption of potatoes in all of Ireland and the price of said potatoes at the time in which they were consumed.

Giffen: (suddenly livid) Have you no shame, Schwindler? These are precisely the type of data that are used to validate the writings of that cretinous dago, Cournot.

Schwindler: Hear me out, Sir Robert, I beg of you. I have examined these data time and time again, and I can only come to one inevitable conclusion.

Giffen: And that is?

Schwindler: (dramatically) That the Irish eat fewer potatoes when their price goes down.

Giffen: (repeating it to himself) The Irish...eat fewer potatoes...when their price...I say, Schwindler, are you quite sure?

Schwindler: Absolutely, Sir Robert.

Giffen: (cagily) What does Mill have to say on this topic?

Schwindler: Nothing, Sir Robert. This matter does not appear in any of Mill's writings.

Giffen: Are you quite sure?

Schwindler: Yes sir, I am.

Giffen: (nods and pauses) I say, Schwindler. What exactly do you think of Mill?

Schwindler: Mill, Sir Robert? If I may venture an opinion contrary to the rest, Sir Robert, I find him a mediocre figure whose lone of inquiry is at once ahistorical and apologetic for the ancien regime, so to speak.

Giffen: (suppressing his glee) Do you think so, Schwindler? Is that what most of your fellow apprenticed political economists believe?

Schwindler: I know not what the others think, Sir Robert. But I, for one, think that Mill is, if I may, overrated.

Giffen: You do? Then whom do you admire in political economy?

Schwindler: Marx, Sir Robert.

Giffen: (taken aback) Marx? Who the devil is Marx?

Schwindler: He is a German philosopher, Sir Robert. He has written this pamphlet entitled the Communist Manifesto. I carry one with me, Sir Robert. (He reaches in his back pocket) Here it is.

Giffen: (takes it from him and reads) A specter is haunting Europethe specter of(he stops reading irritatedly) Oh, I should hope to read Bentham again before I read this twaddle! We were speaking of Mill, boy.

Schwindler: Mill, yes, Sir Robert. To the best of my recollection, Mill has never addressed this exception to the basic Smith and Ricardian tenet concerning the relationship between the price of a good and the quantity of that good that is demanded.

Giffen: Never, you say? Fine, then. You have done well, Schwindler, and I shall remember this service.

Schwindler: Then my dissertation on this subject shall be considered, Sir Robert? And my degree granted?

Giffen: We shall discuss those matters later, Schwindler. Right now, give me your papers so that I may write an article for the Fellows of the Royal Society!


A meeting of the Royal Society. Economists sit in the audience, talking among themselves.

Chairman: Very well, then, very well. The meeting will come to order. The first topic on the agenda is a paper that has been distributed to you by Sir Robert Giffen on the consumption of potatoes in Ireland. (a collective groan comes from the audience) There, there. Let's have none of that. Giffen, step forward and summarize your paper.

Giffen steps up from the audience and stands behind the podium.

Giffen: As those of you who have read my paper are aware, I have discovered the existence of a class of goods, the demand for which responds perversely to changes in prices. The particular commodity that exemplifies this response is that of the potato in Ireland, (there is some chuckling from the audience, which Giffen talks over forcefully) for which, it can be shown, the quantity consumed actually decreases when the price declines, in contrast to the traditional system as described by such analysts as Cournot (spitefully) and Mill.

Chairman: (cutting him short) Very good, very good. We shall have questions now. Who has a question for Giffen? (no hands are raised) Come now, there must be a question, a paper as controversial as this, and so on. Any questions? (A solitary hand is raised in the back of the room) Ah, excellent! Professor Mill himself! Stand and ask your question, Sir John Stuart.

Mill: (clears his throat presumptuously and mumbles condescendingly) Ah, yes, yes, very good paper, Sir Robert, I enjoyed reading it immensely, very informative. (raises his voice) Now, about this business of reversing the mathematical properties of Professor Cournot's specification of the demand relationship--and that is what it is, isn't it, we all know that, simply a mathematical relationship with topological smoothly twice-differentiable properties -- you are following me here, aren't you, Giffen? -- we all know that if you invert the signs of the demand relationships then (with emphasis) the entire nature of the general equilibrium system changes, doesn't it, Giffen? (calmly now) But, of course, that doesn't concern you for you have not, as a true political economist (again, with emphasis) and philosopher (again, calmly) like myself would, thought through your rather unremarkable observation about what the Irish eat to its logical conclusion, that is, that the system becomes unstable under conditions such as your own and cannot exist in the long run! Or, as the great philosopher Aristotle said, "echo ena pieta kreas phippili terena anna", which was loosely translated by the great Roman Pliny the Elder as "in hoc signo amas amat vinces parenti". (There is a long silence) Well, Giffen, we are awaiting your response.

Giffen: (stoically) You may mock me if you like, Sir John Stuart, but the facts remain as I have presented them. The Irish eat fewer potatoes when their price declines.

Mill: (sarcastically) Oh, that is rich, Giffen. I suppose that if they were free they wouldn't eat any, would they? I suppose that Newton was wrong and there is no gravity in Ireland, either. Or perhaps Copernicus was wrong and the sun revolves around Ireland as well. Come now, Giffen, do you take the members of the Royal Society for fools? Do you suppose that we will believe this blathering nonsense from such an insignificant scholar such as yourself? I say that Giffen is an ignorant clod and that if he thinks that they eat fewer potatoes in Ireland when their price declines, then he should go there and stay there. Who agrees with me?

All: Hear hear.

Mill: So say we all, then. Giffen, you are a fool.

Giffen: You may laugh at me if you wish. But one day you will recognize that there are such goods as Giffen goods, and I shall be vindicated!