SORRY, no mail or phone orders” — so the advertisement went, in obvious anticipation of a big scramble to come. The bargain lure on this occasion was women’s ready-made suits which the advertiser offered at a beggarly $175. Another shop nearby was announcing ready-made suits for men at $245. The hundred-dollar felt hat was making its annual reappearance (“The Century” - get it ?), and the shopping columns spoke knowingly of shirts at $40 and a jigsaw puzzle for $350. New York’s largest department store slashed the regular price of its doll’s baby carriage—$34—all the way back to $27. Jewelry wandered in and out of the six-figure dimension, and most mink seemed to begin around $5000, not including, of course, the federal tax. A chain of restaurants stood ready to serve a portion of roast beef, a genuine baked potato, one vegetable or salad, and beverage — isn’t this our old friend the Blue Plate Special? — all for $3.95.
These items, noted at random in the Christmas shopping season just past, suggest a price structure that might reasonably be called firm. Even allowing for breaking a few jigsaw blades, that $350 price for a puzzle may have disconcerted the man who expected to pick one up for a couple of hundred, but in none of these instances is the price itself important: these prices represent free enterprise and private expenditure. A man who chooses to reject the sterling silver “finger-saving” telephone dialer and to have one run up in platinum instead is at least misspending his own money. The hot stuff comes when public money and people on the public payrolls are caught up in the platinum spiral.
I make this statement after brooding for some months over a news story about an “investigation” into the affairs of a bridge authority— a public agency responsible, as I recall it, for a bridge connecting New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. It seems the authority had spent $1,500,000 — it may have been $2,500,000 — on a building to house itself. The building contained several kitchens for the several grades of the authority’s employees, several dining rooms, dormitories, showers, and such, and its showiest feature was a “board room” furnished with, among other things, thirty “Bank of England type” chairs at $400 each. The rug and table ran the cost of the board room’s furnishings up to somewhere around $25,000, and I found myself wondering just what kind of business a bridge authority has to transact in such a room. What, over the years, does a bridge authority do besides collecting tolls and maintaining the bridge in good repair?
I never did learn the upshot of the investigation, or whether the Bank of England type leather chairs have ever been sat in, or whether the table is used for counting the day’s intake of nickels and dimes or for displaying the wares of paint salesmen. In any case, it sounds like an ideal place for the bridge authority to sit down with one of the $350 jigsaw puzzles.