4 Modern Luxuries That Should Be Way Less Expensive
We all know that things cost more than they used to. Back in the day, you could crank up your old-timey car, drive it into town, and purchase a meal, a new suit, and an indentured servant, all for a dollar. Things change, and they get more expensive. It's called inflation, and everyone knows what that is.
"Stuff's getting more expensive and stuff."
OK, fine, very few people really know what inflation actually is, and even economists debate the cause of inflation, but we all kind of get that, over a period of time, prices rise and purchasing power decreases. That's why a loaf of bread that was a dollar when I was a kid might be $2 now. It's also why the minimum wage and salaries in general tend to rise. But there are some things that have gotten exponentially more expensive to a degree that inflation doesn't explain. Here are four things that are obscenely more expensive than when I was a kid.
When I was a young suburban lad, wearing acid washed jeans and New Balance sneakers, I went bowling a lot. And it couldn't have been too much money, because we didn't have a lot of money. I remember we'd play two games, but sometimes more, and we'd rent those shoes. And how much did that cost? Like $20 tops. And that was $20 for four kids. So the other day, my three kids and I were looking for something to do, and we said, "Hey, bowling!" (Actually, I said "hey bowling" and they grumbled "OK.") We walked into the local bowling alley, and do you know what the cost was? Eighty bucks. Yes, $80 for a family of four to go bowling for two games.
And for that price, they didn't even let us keep the snazzy shoes.
What Should Inflation Make It?
So, I'm not an idiot. I didn't expect our game to be $20 just like I wasn't expecting to find Ms. Pac-Man in the lobby and the "Super Bowl Shuffle" on the jukebox. Like I said in the intro you didn't read, I get the concept that inflation raises prices. So in 1984, if two games of bowling for four kids cost $20 (at most, and I'm being generous) then, according to a standard rate of inflation, the price today, 30 years later, should be about $45.78. But this was $80!
Well, bowling is in the toilet. Apparently, bowling peaked in the '60s and has been on a steady decline ever since. They've raised prices just to stay in business. And it's how they've raised the prices. When I was a kid, you paid for the lane, not per person, and the shoe rentals were free. Now, it's like $7 a person and $5 per shoe rental. Higher prices are often necessary, and the lack of competitors (because they've gone out of business) might get you to a price that is nearly double what you'd expect from inflation, but will it help you stay in business? I'm guessing no.
We walked out of the alley. No, wait. I said, "Whaaaaaaaaat?????" sounding a lot like Cracked's own Felix Clay when you tell him people don't typically publicly masturbate. Then we walked out of the alley. A price model built on bilking $80 out of a family super desperate to bowl has to fail. I mean, who needs to bowl that much?
"Take me out to the ball game? More like take me out and break my balls with your insane ticket prices" would be something I might write if I were a terrible, terrible writer who wanted to start this entry as poorly as possible. Of course, I would never do that.
"But you did just do that, Gladstone. See me after class."
Baseball is supposed to be our nation's pastime -- right up there with killing people less white than we are and taking their land. I remember going to games as a kid, and decent seats were not a break-the-bank proposition. I remember sitting next to a guy who could not have had a profession beyond selling blood, who was screaming at Pete Rose to "choke on cock," at my very first baseball game. Pretty sure his funds and career options were limited.
What Should Inflation Make It?
Using our trusty inflation calculator, that ticket should go up to about $13.30. But if you tried to get into Shea Stadium for $13.30 today you'd be out of luck. First of all, because they tore Shea Stadium down a couple of years ago, but also because you can't get Mets tickets for $13.30 unless you also provide a deep-tissue massage to security. The average MLB ticket price in 2013 was $27.73 -- and that statistic is for non-premium seats. The cost of a game is more than twice what you'd expect just accounting for inflation.
Other sporting tickets tend to be even more expensive. The average ticket price for an NFL game in 2012 was $77.34. For NHL games, it was $57.39, and the NBA was $48.48. Then again, an MLB team has a 162-game regular season, versus just 16 for NFL teams and 82 for basketball and hockey teams. Ballparks also have a lot more seats. Economically speaking, a shit-ton more. And, again, that was always the case, and yet ticket prices have grown more than inflation. In some cases, ticket prices pay for new ballparks where luxury boxes cater to those who can really afford to pay too much for tickets. In other cases, escalating prices pay for escalating player salaries. But, long story short: with parking, food, souvenirs, and tickets, it's now a $200 proposition for a family day at a game.
I bet this was the first thing that came to your mind when you read the title of this article. (Or possibly it was, "Ooh, an economic article, not the best read for my morning dump. I'll save that for later.") Anyway, yeah, we all know that the concession prices at the movie theater are outrageous. How outrageous? Well, the Internet was able to tell me all sorts of things about prices in the '80s, including that Ivory dish soap was 79 cents in New York, but I could not get an official price quote for a large movie popcorn, so you'll have to take my word for it that back during Reagan's presidency, a large popcorn in my home state of New York was about $1.50.
I'm guessing because President Reagan had all members of the popcorn union shot and replaced by government employees.
What Should Inflation Make It?
Well, calculating for inflation, that $1.50 large popcorn from 1984 should now be $3.43, but anyone who's been to the movies recently knows that's way off. Today, a large popcorn in New York is $8. Yes, $8, and it doesn't even come with a blowjob. That's just for the popcorn.
You can go looking for the answer, and I sure did. You will find news reports and message boards explaining to you that movie theaters make only a percentage of the profit on the films they show, but they keep all of the money they make on concessions. You will have it explained to you that the profits from the concessions aren't just weighed against the cost of the food product or the labor of the employee, but all of the theater's expenses, like electricity and taxes. And to all of that, I say, "So what?" That was always the case. That does not explain why theaters decided to charge more than double what the price of inflation would dictate over the last 30 years.
I would proffer that the most likely explanation is: because they can. They have a captive audience, and with the audacity to dream, they found a price point they could push more and more because people are apparently willing to pay for it. Boy, I bet the theater industry's kicking itself for not bumping up those prices sooner.
"It's true. Back in the day, we just didn't have the balls to charge the same amount for a large popcorn as we do for the ticket itself.
We were short-sighted and cowardly. We apologize."
In 1987, I wanted to see David Bowie at Giants Stadium. The tour was in support of Bowie's worst album, Giants Stadium is a terrible place to see a show, and for reasons that no one understood, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam opened (but for reasons everyone understood, they were booed off the stage). Also, I didn't go because I had a 104-degree fever. But Bowie came back a few months later and I saw him at Madison Square Garden, which is better, and again in '91 and in '95, but the point of the story was the 1987 tickets were $25.
"Gladstone, I remember you from those three shows. You're my favorite fan. I live in New York too. We should totally hang out.
Rick Moody isn't the only writer I enjoy in New York."
What Should Inflation Make It?
Bowie hasn't toured since 2003, which is too bad, because 2013's The Next Day is one of his greatest achievements and is his best album since 1980, but let's see what inflation should do to the price of a similar ticket today. The answer is $57.23. How much is Billy Joel charging for tickets to his Madison Square Garden Show? $124.50. Yep, concerts have gotten insane. (In the membrane.)
Projected cost of Cyprus Hill tickets? Admission free with schwag.
Well, unlike some other entries on this list, this one has too many answers. Most boil down to mere finger-pointing between artist greed and the deleterious effects of communications giant Clear Channel. But, based on my research and my belief that everyone is horrible always, I tend to think there is truth on both sides of the debate.
Some blame the Eagles for starting the trend with their Hell Freezes Over reunion tour, where tickets topped out over $100 for the first time ever in rock concert history. The Eagles are responsible for a lot of terrible things ("New Kid in Town") and they have certainly proven themselves to be greedy bastards, purportedly firing founding member Don Felder for having the audacity to believe he was entitled to an equal cut of tour profits. Still, I don't think that's enough of an explanation.
Others say elaborate stage shows are responsible for the price hike. Well, that's pretty stupid considering the Eagles show I just mentioned was five dudes sitting on chairs.
But each chair had Transformers technology to change into a really boring classic rock song.
Furthermore, Bowie's super elaborate Glass Spider tour that I mentioned above had affordable tickets because he got Pepsi to sponsor him, leading to this horrible commercial.
Some point out that many artists are relying increasingly on touring because decreased record sales due to Internet sharing has destroyed their profits. Unlike the arguments above, that one seems pretty persuasive and hard to avoid.
But, as I mentioned, there's another player in the mix. Clear Channel. If you don't know what Clear Channel is: they are everything. All the time. They are a mass media company that owns everything there is to own when it comes to music. Now here's something you might not know. Those big acts that play those big venues? They usually don't just sell tickets and make money, splitting some with the venue. The venue actually pays the artist to perform there and then sells tickets to make a profit over the amount they've just shelled out.
In 2000, Clear Channel paid out $2.9 billion to buy a bunch of concert venues. Eager to fill those halls, they started offering top dollar to acts, forcing other promoters to do the same to compete, and leading to the inevitable price hikes to recoup.
So artists relying on touring profits to compensate for decreased record sales and corporate giants feeding that need with big venue offers is all working hand-in-hand to create increased ticket sales way beyond anything that inflation could imagine.
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