How a lesson on supply and demand for pizza led to a cesspool of awfulness

I must say, I’ll be glad when this election is over.

Has the election — and politics in general — infected your daily life to such a degree that you feel like giving up? Have you lost friends? Has your annual spending on antacids tripled? Have you found yourself unable to even watch the evening news? Does politics engulf you, like some kind of trauma victim experiencing PTSD, in a profound sense of dread?

The answer for a lot of us is yes.

Let me tell you a little story to demonstrate just how insane politics has made people this year.

Last Friday, my nine-year-old son’s school held an “activity night,” sponsored by the soccer team, to give kids a chance to get together and hang out with their friends, and give their parents a chance to have a couple hours to themselves. A genuinely nice concept, and so off to the activity night my son went.

As I dropped him off, I gave him a $10 bill, and told him he could use it to buy slices of pizza for dinner, which were being sold for a dollar a piece. I assumed he would spend three or four dollars and I’d get the remaining cash back.

When I arrived to pick him up, I learned something interesting about my son.

Jim Young | Reuters

Jim Young | Reuters

There he was, laughing with some friends like any kid his age, having a good time. Yet I noticed he was holding an empty pizza box.

“Wow, did you buy an entire pizza?” I asked.

“Yes I did,” he replied.

“So I guess I’m not getting my cash back, then?” I shot back, giving him a hard time.

“No, you are. I actually have $15.50 now.”

Puzzled, I asked him how that was possible. The whole pizza cost him $8, and I had given him $10, so there should be no universe in which he has that much money.

And so he described to me what happened. Apparently, he bought one of the last pizzas available, then consumed three of the eight slices. Soon, it became apparent that the people running the activity night were out of pizza, and other kids were hungry.

My son, apparently, recognized the market demand for pizza. Hungry kids started coming to him, and he started selling them slices.

Realizing the relative value of his product, he upped the price and sold the remaining five slices for a profit, eventually pulling in more than $13 for what he had left.

Now, my son is one of the nicest, friendliest, least greedy kids you will ever meet. If anyone had walked up to him and said, “I’m very hungry, but I don’t have any money,” he would have almost certainly given them a slice. But as it happens, everyone he talked to made a determination of what the relative value of pizza was, and a transaction was made.

And so I felt a great swell of pride that my son, even at a basic level, understood economics. As we drove home, he and I talked about the supply and demand of pizza, and why prices change as each fluctuates. He was genuinely interested, and learned a lot that night.

So, at home, I posted about the experience on social media. I thought it was a neat story to relay about how a kid could learn without any prompting about macroeconomic concepts from something as silly as pizza at a school function.

And that’s when it happened.

The comment section of my post, while mostly positive, got darkly political, and fast. One commenter accused my son — entirely seriously — of price gouging, and chastised me for “celebrating it.”

There was a crack about the minimum wage, and how he didn’t earn it despite his hard work.

And to top it off, in a comment I have since deleted, one person accused my son of being a “greedy little kid” who lacked compassion and was willing to rip off people and take their money. He also launched into a diatribe about how I should punish him for not giving his pizza away.

I realize that comment sections on the internet are a cesspool of awfulness, but enough already.

If we are so political, and the other side makes us so angry and full of vitriol that we find it appropriate to behave like this, then something is fundamentally broken in our culture.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.