The Corner

A Little Economics, a Little Language

In a column and a Corner post yesterday, I said something about income inequality. Thought you would enjoy the below letter, as I did.

Dear Jay,

Your writings and the clip of Lady Thatcher brought back an episode from my college days at Amherst that I remember like it happened yesterday. It occurred in 1974 and I was taking one of the required courses for an Economics major. At that time, Economics at Amherst was pure Keynes and nothing else.

Let me break in to say: WFB once wrote, “I majored in Keynesianism at Yale.” Okay, back to the letter:

One day my professor wound up a long-winded point by suddenly asking, “And based on that, Mr. Saunders, what should our incomes policy be?” I hadn’t been playing close enough attention to just repeat whatever he had been saying. Worse, I had no idea what an incomes policy was or why anyone needed one. I knew I didn’t have enough income, even though I bused tables at the dining hall (and I can’t say I found that work demeaning, which may surprise Newt Gingrich’s critics).

So my response was, “Why wouldn’t it be for everyone to maximize their income?” The professor told me that I needed to consider income distribution. By now, I was truly baffled and asked why I should care about what anyone else made. The professor launched into another discussion — I think it was about the Phillips Curve — and I remember thinking any economic theory that was concerned with income distribution was just wrong.

Although I always say I started to become a conservative on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon, I think this earlier exchange was also a key moment in my conversion.

Let me give you one more. In yesterday’s column — debate notes — I commented on the Greater Pittsburgh pronunciation exemplified by candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. A reader writes,


As a Jersey guy who moved to Pittsburgh years ago (and sadly had to leave), I fully understand the “little w’s” you hear in Pittsburghese. There are a couple of other indicators that let you know you’re dealing with a Pittsburgher:

– The dropping of the verb “to be”: “That car needs washed.”

– The use of an observational question as a greeting: “Eatin’ lunch?” “Readin’ a book?”

– My personal favorite is the use of “whenever” when the speaker means “when”: “Whenever we went to Kennywood last week, I had two hot dogs and a pop at the concession stand.”

– Of course, the use of “an’at,” which is a wonderful piece of oral punctuation: “So we went down to Primanti’s and got some kielbasa and cheese sandwiches an’at.”

This reader goes on to say he’s a “soda” man, not a “pop” man. I’m the opposite (as a native Michigander). Whenever I force myself to order a “soda” here in New York, or elsewhere in the “soda” territories — there are Internet maps that chart all this — my face hurts.


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