It was Thursday afternoon on a pleasant, late summer day. I was sitting at Target Field in Minneapolis with my wife’s family celebrating her mother’s birthday by watching the Minnesota Twins play the Texas Rangers.
Early in the game, my thoughts went to the principles of a free market and a conversation between poker player Amarillo Slim and Johnny Carson on one of his late-night talk shows long, long ago.
Obviously, I wasn’t paying much attention to the baseball game.
I believe in free markets with just enough regulation for the purposes of stability and integrity.
I like knowing that the scale where my corn or soybeans are weighed registers accurately and the pumps where I buy gasoline and diesel fuel dispenses the gallons I pay for.
When I sign a contract specifying amount, price, delivery date, and standards of quality for a commodity, I want to know it is binding on me and the other party.
Without regulation, free markets become exploitative in nature with an every-man-for himself attitude. A black market is the freest of markets where everyone operates in mistrust and fear, and the only law is the law of supply and demand.
The conversation between Amarillo Slim and Johnny Carson that I recalled was when Carson was asking Slim about his amazing ability with a deck of cards. Slim seemed to know where every card was just by holding the deck in his hand.
Amarillo Slim was unbeatable in poker and Carson asked him about just simply cleaning out a customer the first thing instead of playing several hands.
Amarillo Slim’s answer was, “You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once.”
Why did thoughts about the free market and Amarillo Slim’s answer to Johnny Carson’s question cross my mind at a major league baseball game?
When we left home that morning, I had a cup of coffee and a half a slice of toast for breakfast. By early afternoon, I was ready for something more.
They were selling hot dogs and drinks just behind where we were sitting. A hot dog during a baseball game sounded good.
As I got up to get something to eat and drink, my wife told me get her a jug of water.
I ordered my hot dog; it was $8.50. I ordered a jug of ice tea and water; they were $5.00 each. It shot up a $20 bill.
The hot dog was good but overpriced. Five dollars would have been enough on any day. I can buy those jugs of ice tea and water for $1.89 each at any convenience store, sometimes less if they are on sale.
Sitting there eating my hot dog, I realized that I knew the prices before I ordered and was free to go somewhere else, one of the principles of a free market.
It was then I realized that I wasn’t sheared. I had been skinned.
That was my only trip to the refreshment stand.
As Amarillo Slim said about a sheep, “You can only skin them once.”
And the Twins lost, 6 to 5.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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