The other morning, the professor cruised over to her favorite coffee house, ordered a latte and settled down with her laptop to check her e-mail via the wi-fi connection. Momentarily, regular customers Red and Fred ambled in and took a seat at a nearby table.
“Morning, professor,” one of them said.
“Good morning gentlemen,” the professor replied with a smile.
Red and Fred are best friends, have coffee together every morning and argue about everything. Little do they know, but the professor eavesdrops on them to keep up with grassroots feelings about current events.
Red took a sip of his dark roast java. Fred loaded up his cup with cream and sugar, poured a bit of the mixture into his saucer and began sipping away.
“Now tell me again why you drink your coffee that way,” Red said.
“My grandfather drank it this way and his grandfather drank it that way,” Fred replied.
“Sounds communist,” Red said.
“Probably is,” Fred replied matter-of-factly, not wanting to delve into that subject today.
This morning the professor waited expectantly for them to begin arguing about presidential politics, Medicaid cuts, Social Security or flu shots. Instead there was another issue on the table that morning.
“How are you going to vote on the convention center for downtown Jackson?” Fred asked.
“I’m against it,” Red replied, as he took a long, slow sip.
“That means you are probably for it.”
“You are right.”
“Give me one good reason to vote for that boondoggle,” Red said.
“You’re going to have to explain that one.”
“Communities that support such projects show community spirit — a sense of working together for the future. It’s a way for everybody to come together. It’s sort of like a school bond issue. It shows that the community cares about the education of its children.”
“And what if it’s a money-loser?” Red asked. “Have you seen the numbers on this thing?”
“I have,” Fred said. “Most conventions centers are money-losers in the short run, but long-term the community winds up benefiting.”
Red looked over at the professor. “Hey Professor, do you have a calculator on that computer in front you?” The professor smiled and nodded affirmatively. “Please divide $30 million by 700 new jobs.”
The professor made a few keystrokes and said, “Forty-two thousand, eight hundred and fifty seven.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Red said, then turned back to Fred.
“There you go. You telling me that it is worth voting for that much money per job. And one more thing — what about the operating expenses? I hear that these convention centers don’t make enough to pay the bills. Who is going to pay for that? I can answer that question immediately. It’s going to be you and me, buddy.”
“Red, would you be in favor of the convention center if it did not lose money, or even if it made a profit?”
“Honestly, no,” Red said. “Let private business handle this.”
“Obviously, neither one of us is going to convince the other,” Fred said. “Let’s get an unbiased opinion.”
They turned to the professor, who lifted her chin and smiled. Red spoke up. “Professor, you been hearing this. Who do you think is right?”
“You both are,” she said.
“And how in the world can that be?” Red asked.
“One of you is making a values-driven decision and one of you is making a data-driven decision. Therefore, each of you is correct based on your decision-making model.”
Red scrunched his forehead. “What did she say?”
“We’re both right,” Fred said.
Red slowly rose from his chair. “Y’all want some more coffee?”
Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.