Our family made a brief trip to New York City for a completely capitalist Christmas visit. Here are a few things we learned.
The area around the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is packed with visitors, as are the streets leading up to the Tree, including Fifth and Sixth Avenues nearby. In previous years, we’ve observed spontaneous order emerge in the crowds. People move slowly and politely and there’s no overwhelming crush. This year, the NYPD had erected barricades, parked their imposing vehicles across walking lanes, and were marching around with their weaponry and shouting through bullhorns. The result was chaos and stress.
Lesson 1: Government intervention and the use of coercive force leads to worse results than an unhampered market in every case.
We shopped Fifth Avenue and received excellent service from the personnel in the retail stores, even though they were crowded and heavily shopped. There was one exception: the storefront for a famous brand where my wife received terrible treatment when asking for an exchange of a damaged item she had purchased at that store. She will no longer shop there – competition provides plenty of alternatives – and the famous brand loses the lifetime value of her future purchase stream.
Lesson 2: The consumer is still boss, and customer service is a critical, 365 X 24 promise that can never be broken.
We shopped Madison Avenue on a Sunday, with a different experience than Fifth Avenue: calmer, quieter, less rushed. We found one European fashion store closed in the French manner. It felt like they were missing a commercial opportunity, and making a sacrifice to some other priority.
Lesson 3: Americans are more committed to capitalism than other nations, which will help us in the long run.
Some of our shopping was from a prepared list of gifts, and some was spontaneous. It was instructive and pleasing to find a few occasions when an idea springing from the individual subjective creativity of a clothes designer resonated with the subjective preferences and tastes of my wife in shopping mode. The designer and the shopper become coupled oscillators, and a mutually beneficial exchange takes place, advancing and enriching the capitalist system.
Lesson 4: Spontaneous Order is all around us.
We went to a supper club, where there was a crooner with a band, offering Christmas songs and what the crooning industry calls “classics”: old songs the crooner knows well and with which the audience is familiar. There were two seatings for supper and two shows. The entire evening was meticulously orchestrated, both in the restaurant and on the bandstand. The audience – people of all ages and from all over the country and the world – enjoyed the whole thing immensely and they’ll talk about it for along time with their friends.
Lesson 5: There is a market for traditional entertainment, if you can identify the right recipe. It has ongoing and lasting appeal, even in the world of streaming and digital hip-hop.
We attended a play on Broadway, written by a Netflix-known screenwriter, with a famous Hollywood star in the leading role. The theater, like most on Broadway, was old and decrepit, and lacking in modern entertainment amenities. Nevertheless, it was full, and the experience on offer was exactly as advertised, neither more nor less.
Lesson 6: High quality branded content sells well, even when the packaging is inferior.
We moved around town via walking and Uber. It all worked extremely smoothly. We incurred some “surge pricing” on Uber, which we were happy to pay, and suggested to our driver that the term be changed to “happy for the privilege pricing” or something more mellifluous. All of our Uber drivers were courteous and expert, and the cars clean and comfortable.
Lesson 7: Private transportation options are the best, because consumers determine both price and value.
We exited via Newark Airport, Terminal C. The TSA experience there is horrendous. We had not been yelled at so much, so loudly and so threateningly since second grade. In addition to the constant yelling by TSA employees, we were shoved, constrained, forcibly re-directed and groped, as well as delayed. The people yelling at us were Americans, too, and they’ll probably buy nice gifts for their family and be perfectly nice at the festive table.