The Magical Mr. Price

Have you heard about the nationwide teacher shortage? Or the construction trade labor shortage? Or the current avocado shortage vexing millennial hipsters? We wring our hands trying to imagine a solution for these gaps in the otherwise seamlessly supplied market of everything we need.

To fix these and so many other problems, Americans increasingly turn for help to the most powerful person in the world. Who is the most powerful person in the world? Well, he’s not really a person but his name is Mr. Price.

Mr. Price works behind the scenes. Nobody has actually met him. He can take all the information in the world about something and convert it into one number.

If there’s a crop failure and people can’t find food, Mr. Price will find a way to get food to them. He can tell you if something is rare. He can tell you if something is inefficient. He sets your salary. He determines how much you have to pay for gas.

A copper mine in Chile can produce copper without having any idea who it’s going to sell it to. Mr. Price can efficiently get that copper to China to make Christmas lights, an art foundry in Colorado to make bronze, and a construction site to be used for plumbing. He quickly distributes food that’s perishable before it can spoil. He can make some pigmented oil and canvas into a multi-million-dollar asset. He can take a delicate orchid harvested in Florida on Tuesday and put it in the hands of a bride in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

He makes salmon caught in Alaska appear at a Costco in Kansas City the next day.

We all agreed energy prices were becoming insane a few years ago. So Mr. Price created fracking and horizontal drilling which toppled the $100 per barrel oil cartel. Now the Saudis are (gasp!) borrowing money to keep all of their little projects going.

A Builder and a Destroyer in One

You can love Mr. Price. You can hate Mr. Price. I hear people complain endlessly about Mr. Price’s decisions. Teachers aren’t paid enough. It costs too much to live in New York. Why does it cost so much to get my car fixed?

People have tried to overrule Mr. Price’s decisions. He doesn’t take it personally. In the 1970s, America passed laws against Mr. Price’s decisions on gas. But then something terrible happened. More people wanted to buy gas. Fewer people wanted to sell gas. Lines formed. Stations ran out of gas.

A few years ago, a pharmaceutical company named Turing raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a tablet to $750. People screamed for government action. Mr. Price took notice of this turmoil. He recruited another pharmaceutical company to do something about it and within a month it was announced that Daraprim would be offered at $1 per pill.

Mr. Price does not allow ridiculous prices to persist for too long. He looks for lower-cost alternatives and this time he did it faster than the politicians could clear their throats to begin screaming for government intervention.

Mr. Price can also be vengeful. When a company finds a way to exploit its customers, it’s usually because some consumer regulation sets up huge barriers to competition. But Mr. Price often finds a way around that.

Protected by the government for years from any serious competition for local calls, telephone companies eventually fell like a house of cards. Mr. Price invented telephone over internet. At first it was offered as a gimmick, but major companies and individual consumers alike took notice of the substantial savings. I don’t know anyone who gets telephone over a telephone line now. I wonder if any calls still pass under the birds perched on the old telephone lines.

Mr. Price destroyed Blockbuster Video. He’s currently dismantling the taxi and limo industry using Uber and Lyft. Mr. Price says that an enterprising teenager can make $500 in a weekend cutting lawns. Because of Mr. Price, delicacies from the far corners of the world are always on demand. Hotels, flights, cars, food, and clothes all increasingly have become commodities available to almost everyone. Things that take an impossibly long time to plan, organize, ship, fabricate, and design are now just a click away.

Mr. Price conducts an intricate orchestra with billions of moving parts. He feeds the hungry. He employees the unemployed. If you let him do his work, he will enrich only those who find a way to do what they do better, faster, cheaper. Mr. Price hates waste. And when a company doesn’t efficiently employ its workers or wastes resources, Mr. Price looks for a way to do better.

We Mess with Mr. Price at Our Peril

We all agreed energy prices were becoming insane a few years ago. So Mr. Price created fracking and horizontal drilling which toppled the $100 per barrel oil cartel. Now the Saudis are (gasp!) borrowing money to keep all of their little projects going.

And Venezuela, the country that invented an alternative to capitalism has again proven Margaret Thatcher’s timeless quip that socialism only works until you run out of other people’s money. In Venezuela, the government passed a law against Mr. Price’s decisions on food. If stores can’t make a profit on food, starvation is the inevitable result.

Empty grocery stores, unemployed workers, lines at gas stations—these are all indications that Mr. Price is being prevented from doing his work. Taxes, subsidies, regulation or all three usually are at the root of our economic problems.

If an imbalance between supply and demand cannot be resolved by Mr. Price, then somebody is almost always interfering with his important work—even if the “how” is not always obvious.

There is no teacher shortage. The good economy has finally made it possible for teachers to demand higher wages. Teachers, nurses, the construction trades can now command higher wages. Mr. Price says it’s time to give them a raise. When we do, the “shortages” will disappear.

About Adam Mill

Adam Mill is a pen name. He works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law. He graduated from the University of Kansas and has been admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri. Mill has contributed to The Federalist, American Greatness, and The Daily Caller.

Photo: Getty Images

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