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  • Writer's pictureKevin O'Keefe

Mr. T’s Closest Shave

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Excuse me while I bitch about a petty problem while promising to connect it to something more meaningful to many.

I walked into my local Rite Aid Pharmacy the other day. In the shaving section I encountered a grizzled man about my age (I’m 59). In his hand he held a plastic razor handle with no blade. He blankly stared in obvious confusion at the razor display case. Noticing that I was there for the very same reason we started to commiserate.

He peppered me with questions, perhaps assuming I knew more than he about razors.

“Is this box of blades for the ProGlide or the Mach 3?”

“Does this handle fit this blade?”

“Why do come with only two in such a big box?”

“Why do they cost $639 per ounce?”

“They are expensive,” I reasoned, “because Gillette has a near-monopoly.” His four-day beard a testament to my theory. Continuing I said, “And they put two in a big box so you don’t realize how they are hosing you every time you buy. I tried to get some knock-offs from China last year and that failed. But how can American technology put a man on the moon in 1969 and in 2018 we haven’t figured out a device for sharpening razor blades?”

He picked up the thread and continued, “If such a device exists I’m sure Gillette owns the patent and/or killed the project. Just like car companies did back in the day, and software companies do today. That’s the nature of capitalism - large corporate interests devour the small entrepreneurial ones, co-opting their innovation and technology, sometimes at the expense of the public good.”

By then we’d made our choices, after reassuring each other, and we continued to converse while moving toward the check-out line. As we got to the front of the store I noticed that I was ahead of him, and next in line, although I came into the store after him. I wondered if he would let me go to the register first or if I would yield, or would he try to pull rank of some kind. You see, this capitalism thing is the very air we breathe. I turned back to him and said, “If such a device were available there would be no need for us to spend $120 a year for new blades.”

He pulled out his cell phone which in some way for me is the death of a conversation. Now there was an expert in between us who knew more about everything than either of us. He held up a finger signaling me to wait, “I just heard about something called Harry’s Shave Club. Two young guys in NYC started it.” I thanked him and made my way to the register, feeling appropriately guilty and only slightly tired of winning.

I paid $42 for 8 razor blades (at a 10% savings!) and returned to my office. I checked out Harry’s and for close to the same money purchased a new razor with 18 blades and two cans of shaving gel.

I wonder how long it will be before Gillette buys Harry out and sends these two innovators off to their island paradise leaving the rest of us to choose between beards or poverty.

When either of the Bushes were president they would both wax poetically about, “The beauty of the free-market” and how our great capitalist system fairly rewarded the many based on their individual effort. The 2nd Bush presidency sunk in the putrid flood waters of New Orleans when it was clear that free-market principles applied to governance left whole cities vulnerable to destruction. No crony of Bush or corporate spokesperson was able to stop the truth from leaking out on national TV as when Kanye West went off-script to say, “George Bush doesn't care about black people.”

Obama tried to put his fingers in the many dike holes of government. Whether he failed or succeeded may be too early to tell but few doubted that he hired a competent staff and was a man of empathy (so was the 2nd Bush for that matter).

Now along comes the Trump administration. Where Bush failed through cronyism and incompetence Trump seems confident that having empty desks at essential posts is the answer. By not filling key leadership and middle management positions in the administration Trump insures that only he will get the credit (or blame). It seems like he is hoping to do for America what he did to many of his bankrupt businesses, namely get his money out, offshore and laundered before the whole enterprise collapses. Trump is slashing costs with a hiring freeze or all-out purge of “Obama’s people,” that effectively guts governmental oversight. I’m calling you out: State Department, HUD, Education, EPA, FCC, and the VA. Lest you think that the legislative branch of government is off the hook on this one, think again. Congress recently repealed of Glass-Stengall act getting rid of the pesky regulations imposed after the 2008 collapse. And lastly the Fed relaxed the Volcker rule. As the NY Times opined: What could go wrong? Is there any doubt that when the shit hits the fan America will be “a shithole country” in its response. Don’t believe me? Just ask Puerto Rico.

With one swift stroke of Trump’s enormous pen he gave a $1.5 trillion dollar tax cut to the already rich corporate stakeholders and stockholders. Not coincidentally, that same amount could have erased all the student debt in America - effectively investing in the education of two entire generations. Or they might have addressed climate change - the single greatest national (and world-wide) security threat ever. Or they could have created jobs and invested in America with an infrastructure bill. But that is not how our free-market system works. It works (perverted by the rich and with the aid of government) in protecting the rich and corporate, the well-connected with K-street lobbyists, the ones with fixers like Michael Cohen or pals like Rupert Murdoch, the white, entitled, and privileged, the ones who can hire a team of lawyers to hide behind and delay their impending doom.

Trump’s unfathomable narcissism, high tolerance for risk and abhorrence of good governance will destroy our society, if we let it. Frankly, the whole enterprise makes me want to retreat to a small cabin in VT and stop shaving, but I can’t, because I’m an American.


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