Ye Olde Pizza Principle
Economics is boring. Very boring. In fact, to the people who have majored in economics, I salute you. All of those numbers, and graphs, and pie charts certainly make most people want to snooze. But there’s one crazy economic theory that is sure to make any person, an economics nut or not, want to double check the facts. And coincidentally enough it is birthed from New York City’s two constants: Pizza and the Subway.
The Pizza Principle.
Back in 1980 lawyer, Eric Bram, wrote in the Metropolitan Diary for the New York Times (A diary that featured anecdotes and poems from New Yorker) that since the early 1960’s, “the price of a slice of pizza has matched, with uncanny precision, the cost of a New York subway ride.” This idea wasn’t popularized until another article in the New York Times called, “If You Understand Pizza, You Understand Subway Fares”. When the fare reached 90 cents in 1984, he contemplated the rise of this fare with a fellow banker, until he came to the conclusion that the relationship to the then token was not, “to capital costs, union contracts, passenger miles, or depreciation schedules. Forget all that. The critical variables are flour, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.” Since then, journalists left and right have always popped the Pizza Principle into question whenever MTA price hikes loom over the horizon.
I’ve tried to do a little bit of research concerning this economic theory. Despite the “amazing” service of certain trains like the L or the 7, the MTA is almost always severely underfunded. Day to day costs, like worker’s pay and benefits, and actually running the subway lines. Capital costs are what maintain the system and add new cars, subway extensions/lines, etc. Whenever there are shortcomings in either of these budgets, the fare is raised to occupy it.
Yet, the pizza has strived to meet the swipe’s price. According to a Columbia study by a data scientist and an adjunct professor, the slice (regular ol’ cheese, no toppings), the price hovers around $2.50. I think we can all agree that Pizza at this point, represents the income inequality we face in this nation. It even pulled out the crazy Slice wars, with pizza parlors undercutting each other’s prices, from a dollar to a crazy 75 cents!
The Pizza Principle has been around since the 80’s, and that Eric Bram guy was right, and looks to still be right. The problems of New York City can be metamorphosed in this simple theory. Elected officials decimating MTA budgets, apartments with crazy high rents, businessmen buying up and gentrifying neighborhoods so the unlucky go into poverty and buy a $1 slice. Buying a slice for $2.75 is symbolic for how the world around here is so interconnected, so important, and so messed up.
Like the boogeyman in Staten Island, or a botched Nazi spy mission, it’s a New York thing. The boroughs, the politics, and the people are incredibly interconnected here via food and subway. Economics is still boring, yes, but it’s still important to understand. Who knows if the fares for the BART have a relationship with the price of pink popcorn, or those calm chowder bowls, or those god-for-saken Rice A Ron-is?