Monday, May 23, 2016

"Is The Concept of 'Worth It' Worth Anything?"

Since my current dietary preference leans towards gluten-free comestibles, I have taken a particular liking to “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal.  True to its name, unlike gluten-free “Quaker Puffed Rice”, among others, “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal stands up stalwartly to almond milk – I am also trying to be “dairy free” – remaining vibrantly crunchy during the almondy onslaught.

I like that – “almondy onslaught.”  Good thing I don’t drink soy milk.


Recently, the one store where I could buy “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal abruptly stopped carrying it, meaning, I was cut off from my favorite cereal, relegated to my distant second favorite, “Rice Chex”, whose ability to withstand almond milk is hopelessly pathetic.


What about Flax Cereal?

VICTORIOUS ALMOND MILK:  (SMIRKING) “You can’t buy that anymore.”

Since I despise inanimate alternate milk products getting the last word, I accessed the Internet to see if I could purchase “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal directly.  And, of course, since everything is available on the Internet – I bought a case of Manischewitz Memorial Candles on the Internet – I found it.

But there was a catch.

The minimum “purchase order” was twelve boxes of “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal.  Which is a daunting amount of the same breakfast cereal.  More importantly, the Internet “asking price” for the twelve-box order of “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal was one hundred eighty-eight dollars.

Which – I did the math earlier – is more than fifteen dollars a box.

Though hardly an assiduous “price checker”, I intuitively realized that that was a lot.  But just to be sure – and since no effort is too great in the service of my readers – I put my shoes on and I went across the street to the nearby convenience store to see what they were charging for a comparable ouncage of breakfast cereal.

The price was four ninety-nine.

That’s at a convenience store, not a discount supermarket.  They’ve got a banner outside: 

“We rip you off, but we’re convenient.” 

I made the immediate calculation:  Fifteen-plus dollars versus four ninety-nine.  Quoting a line from A League of Their Own,

“That would be more then, wouldn’t it.”

So what do I do?

I want the “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal.  I have the financial wherewithal to pay for it.  But the “asking price” is exorbitant.  My tentative decision on the purchase:

It’s not worth it.

The question then is,

What does that mean?

Paying for overpriced “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal is not going to “break the bank.”  Still, my instinctive response the requisite charge for this product is an incensed, “Are you kidding me?”

At this point, I am aware of veering dangerously close to “Grumpy Old Men” territory. 

“When I was a kid, a hotdog was a dime and we could ride the street car (electronic trolley) for three cents!”

I have exaggerated these numbers for comedic purposes… No, wait!  I didn’t.

“Weltz’s Delicatessen”, near my elementary school, sold hotdogs for a dime.  There was a deli across the street that sold hotdogs for fifteen cents whose name I do not remember because I never went there because they sold hotdogs for fifteen cents.  Plus, we were restricted from crossing the street.


Fifty percent more for the same hotdog?  Why would anybody eat there?  People in limousines, throwing money out the window…

I’m stopping before some young person excoriates me with merciless derision.

The question remains, however, even for that deriding young person:

“How much is ‘too much’?”  Or, worded otherly:

“When is it appropriate to consider a service or commodity to be indisputably ‘not worthy it’?”


“The ‘value’ of a service or commodity is what the ‘free market place’ is willing to pay for it.”

Really?  The “AM-PM” minimart chain – there is an outlet four-and-a-half blocks from my house – announced that it is beginning to sell “Dodger Dogs” – the same hotdogs they sell at Dodger Stadium – at an “introductory offer” price of six dollars a hotdog.

I paid a dime!

Sorry, I’ll be careful.  Still, allow me the investigation.  Thank you.

What makes prices go up? 

The conventional answer is,


And what exactly is inflation?

“‘Inflation’ is when the prices go up.”

Okay, so we just went in a circle.  The prices go up because of inflation, and “‘inflation” is when “the prices go up”.  Let me try that again.

Why do the prices go up?  (And, except for gas prices, never ultimately go down?)

“When the ‘cost of doing business’ goes up, the increased expenses are passed along to the consumer through elevated prices.”

Fair enough.  But why does the “cost of doing business” go up?


“Third base.” *  (* Reference to the classic comedy routine “Who’s On First?”, where you inevitably arrive at the same place.)

There is something disturbingly unsatisfying about this avenue of inquiry.  Perhaps in retrospect, the “Free Market Capitalist” was correct.  Prices are based on what the proverbial “consumer” is willing to shell out, and that’s it.

You want “Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax” breakfast cereal – you make a private evaluation predicated on desire, available resources, and an indefinable “third thing” commonly verbalized as,

“Fifteen dollars for that?

You do your personal computation.  Then, you either do it, or you don’t.

Truth be told, I am figuratively torn asunder by this crunchy flax cereal dilemma.  There are some days I think,

“I’ll just go for it.”

Then I think, “It’s not worth it”, and I don’t.

And that’s where you find me – refusing to pull the trigger on fifteen-dollar-a-box cereal, swallowing wilted-in-almond-milk Rice Chex, and cursing inflation.

Which I do not even understand.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Well, one website (Instacart) claims, with what accuracy I don't know, that it's stocked in what I imagine to be your zip code (90401) as here:

It lists Whole Foods, where I can easily believe a box of cereal might also cost $15. The number of sites that list it unavailable (so far: two. I don't have a lot of patience for other people's searches.) suggest it's possible it's been discontinued and that $15 is for dwindling remaining stocks. (If you buy it, you may find yourself doubtfully considering the box like a latter-day Elaine Benes, "Is this day Flax-cereal-worthy?")

However, this site lists it as $3.99: It says "with Chia", which may or may not be good. My only association with chia is chia pets, which don't seem like something I'd want to eat for breakfast.

Ah. They also have the non-chia kind, for 10 cents less:


JED said...

Ah, if Chia Pets were only 10 cents, my Christmas shopping would go a lot faster.

Mike T. said...

Inflation, properly defined, is an increase in the money supply. The rise in prices is the effect of the inflation: As more dollars are in circulation, people are willing to spend more, bidding prices up. Put another way, an increase in the supply of money makes each dollar less valuable, just as an increase in the supply of any other commodity tends to reduce that commodity's value.

None of this would matter much if the new money were distributed equally among the populace; everyone's purchasing power would remain pretty much the same. The problem is that some people--namely the politically connected, who are usually already well off--tend to get the new money first and spend it before prices have had time to adjust to the influx of cash. Those lower on the new-money food chain, so to speak, then get stuck paying the higher prices without the concomitant increase in their bank accounts to make it possible.

In a free market with a stable currency, prices tend to decrease over time as productivity increases, and the economy then grows. This happened in the United States for about a century before the creation of the Federal Reserve, the engine of inflation. It happens even today despite an unstable currency, as witness the fall in the price of new gadgets after they have been on the market a while. Certainly, individual commodities' prices may rise from time to time due to changes in supply and demand, but the overall price level does not rise inexorably in the absence of continual injections of new fiat currency into the economy.