This morning I read a short essay written by a fellow I know, Joseph Pearce. He is a very decent fellow and, I like to think, a friend. Not only that, he is smart; smart enough to know when folks aren’t. Also, he is kind enough to let them know the truth about themselves. He’s classy enough, too, to do it in such a classy way that only the dummy will know who he or she is. One hopes that brings about the necessary reform. But, dummies can be stubborn.
I read his article, titled What Is Economics, which appears in an online journal called The Imaginative Conservative and I think of an old friend of mine who is dead nearly one year, now. So, at least he is not old any longer. He is as Rod Stewart sings, forever young, I pray
My friend was named Charlie. Joseph Pearce’s article brings to my mind some things about Charlie which I thought at the time were dumb things for him to do. Alas, I was no Joseph Pearce, then, and I simply watched my friend. Nor am I now, and would probably do the same thing, watch. Besides, it is too late. It also makes me think about some things, big things, which I began thinking about a few years ago. But more about that below. For now, Charlie
We were friends from an early age. Close friends, I would say, but not so close as we would call each other best friends or bosom buddies, or stuff like that. We lived about a block or so away from each other on Bailey Avenue in The Bronx. Charlie was, what can I say, an intense kind of guy, not quite driven, not possessed, but simply intense. Maybe, thinking about it, he was more a mule than a bulldog. But he had bulldogian notions. I won’t say he had no sense of humor, but, though he could get a joke, he couldn’t tell one. He had a kind of sense of purpose instead. It’s odd he would find a companion in me, who has lived an Un-Purposed Life for three quarters of a century.
We “knocked around:” with the other guys our age on the block, doing the things the other guys on the block, and guys all over the city, did back then; which included getting into trouble, too. And, then, we started growing up.
One day he asked me to write a poem for him; to write a poem for a girl from Brooklyn he had met at a dance, a girl he wanted to impress. Now, we lived in the Bronx, which at that time could as well have been in another galaxy, and this girl of another species entirely. She was, I think, an Italian girl; so she really was a member of another species. But, Charlie was determined, even if getting to Brooklyn took about as long as it took The Owl and The Pussycat to get to The Land Where the Bong Trees Grow; which I understand is a nice place. I hope to visit it someday. I will probably find out I have already been there. A lot.
Well, I wrote the poem. Charlie began a weekly odyssey to Brooklyn under the tunneled streets and under the tunneled river, and under God knows where else. He surfaced from time to time back among us and often asked for the loan of a buck or two for his trips to a Strange Land. We gave of our surplus to supply his want. What are friends for? One day Charlie announced that he had found a better way, he would need our help no longer to visit his Brooklyn doll. He had found the horses, and happy days were here again!
I am not going into all the details, but you know them already, don’t you. We were in college then, me at Manhattan College. which was foolish enough to give me a scholarship, and Charlie at Fordham University. He studied accounting and I studied English, a language I already knew, so I figure I do not have to do anything, a thing I still know how to do about better than anyone else. I know how to do it certainly better than anything else I know how to do, which anyone will tell you is not much.
Charlie spends most of his time at school in Accounting classes learning how to develop a system to beat the horses, which have become a nearly full time occupation, and we begin to lose contact, to drift apart and finally lose sight of each other as the horizon intervenes. Before that happens, he tells me that he is doing this by using statistics, which I do not now understand, and never will, but which he say is very very necessary for winning horse races and figuring whether it will rain in July , or whether it will be good to buy or sell almost anything. It’s part of Economics, he says.
I do not understand.
There is a term that is used in the NYPD to describe people who gamble for a living. They are called a Degenerate Gambler; and I used to see the initials DG next to a lot of guys when I riffed through the police records looking for one bad guy or another, one clown or another in whom I took a professional interest. I do not know if Charlie ever earned his DG patch. Gosh, I hope not. He was a man, for all that, and deserved better
But I remember, though, the several times before the sea between us was too wide, when he showed my his “books” the ledger he had on just about every horse at every track in the country. He was sure he would develop a foolproof system. He would have been the first if he had; which he didn’t. But, I was impressed with his dogged devotion to the task, and the fire of the true believer in his eyes.
I asked him what of all these columns and numbers was most important for success. “It’s all statistics,” he answered. “Like batting averages?” Batting averages were about the only thing I knew about statistics then, and still know now. I listened to statistics about horses, and jockey weight, and the weather on race days, and stuff like that which Charlie said mattered while I drank his beer. Then, I left.
While in college I was tempted to take a course in psychology, but shied away when I was told by the catalogue I needed to take a course in statistics. I think that my experience with my friend may have had something to do with that also. Anyway, Mr. Pearce’s article makes a point about economics, and whence the discipline comes; about which I had known nothing. He binds it to philosophy, a thing which it definitely doesn’t resemble today. I mean, philosophy requires more than “doing the numbers”, and is about more than that, the truth, for one thing. But, Economics is, I kind of think, statistics dressed up. Simple statistics can as the saying goes, lie; or lead one to that, a lie. And so can Economics, which someone once told me is sort of “Anyone’s guess.”
Here is the other thing I am thinking about because of Mr. Pearce’s article. The other night I watch President Trump talk to Congress and the rest of us. You all know what he says by now, and think what you think about what he says. I don’t pay too much attention to that. But one little part interests me. That’s the part where he says they get rid of NAFTA, and they are going after this Pacific thing where we all get in a circle and deal straight up.
I say “Yippee!” to myself when I hear that. And you know why? It’s because economists and politicians, and millionaire business men, and one world maniacs think that there’s nothing better in the world than free trade. They think this so fervently that they don’t see Detroit becoming a desert, and drugs becoming a number one commodity in places where folks once could make an honest living making shirts, shoes, pants, desks, chairs and what all from Maine to Mississippi.
And that was because the market analysis told them everyone would rise on the rising tide of free trade. Well except the ones who couldn’t swim. Swimmers love a rising tide. little folks drown, or go on welfare, or to war, in the mud. Turns out that NAFTA really was anyone’s guess.
Statistics don’t care, and Economics don’t either. What the hell, there’s always welfare and surplus peanut butter.
You gotta get close to folks. The corner store’s the best.