Skip to main content

The Economics of an Ice Cream Cone

It’s summer and with a young child, ice cream is a joyful, daily ritual. But as I’ve been shelling out dollars over the past days, I began to realize just how our economy plays out — even with something as simple as an ice cream cone.

In New York City, Mr. Softee is our basic ice cream man — a truck that features a smiling ice cream cone with a swirl of vanilla on his head that is a bit Carmen Miranda-looking to me.

One truck usually pops up outside my daughter’s school downtown when warm weather hits. The deal is simple — you hand your kid $1.50, and she comes running back with a vanilla cone covered in rainbow sprinkles.

Three weekends ago, the little one was treated to a cone in SoHo Vanilla ice cream, please, with sprinkles. With $1.50 in hand, my husband turned back to me and asked me for another $3. One for me too? Nope. In SoHo the treat was $4.

Then, last weekend, we all ended up on the Upper East Side — a rushed visit to my daughter’s doctor when her temperature hit 104ºF. With The Plaza hotel and tourists in the background, her beloved cone clocked in at $3.50.

New York is always a numbers game. But how can the price of a basic summer ritual be jacked up nearly 300 percent? When it’s 90ºF outside, and a 6-year-old is staring longingly at the ice cream truck, $4 is a bargain. And when you’ve taken a $34 horse and carriage ride through Central Park (for 17 minutes) on your first trip to New York, what is $3.50?

One family may decide to spend $30,000 for a Volvo station wagon because they believe the safety features validate the price. Another will choose the Honda Fit, at $15,000, because the rest of the money doesn’t justify the extras.

Price is what the market will bear. Price is what people collectively agree to spend. If the tourists stopped buying $3.50 soft serves and opted for $1 Popsicles, I’d bet Mr. Softee would adjust his prices. And if we stopped buying $13 packages of organic diapers, or $95 American Girls, so too might those numbers.

As for me? I’ve got a fiver in my pocket for the rest of the summer. Just in case.


Anonymous said…
Just an FYI: The cost of a standard 20 minute ride in Central Park has remained unchanged for 20 years.

$34 for a family of four or five in 2009 is a bargain by any measure - what other thing that charges $$ is that cheap? Imagine the cost of maintaining a horse, driver, and carriage in NYC in 2009.
A guided tour, a few travel tips & recommendations, some photos and memories to last a lifetime.

A carriage ride in Central Park is probably the best deal in NYC.

Certainly tops a $4 ice cream cone.
Anonymous said…
Oh, and by the way - there is no 'free market' with carriage rides. The rpices are set by the City, with no increases since 1989.

Popular posts from this blog

Apologies for being incommunicado this week and hope none of you out there are too distraught not to be receiving the usual almost-daily MotV missives. The reason for the silence is that I'm up to my neck, metaphorically-speaking, in research papers for my first grad course assessment. This experience has made me realise how rigorously un-academic I am in my thinking. It has also illuminated how reliant I am on red wine in order to get through endless evenings typing furiously on my laptop, not to mention the fueling of increasingly colorful curses that I feel obliged to aim at the University's online library system which consistently refuses to spit out any of the journals I'm desperate for (I refuse to believe this is 100% due to my technical incompetence...)Oh well, if this is the price one has to pay in order to realize a long-cherished dream then it's not all that bad... No one ever said a mid-life career change would be easy. Wish me luck!

Recommended & the Mahiki dance-off

My GFs and I went to Mahiki last night, great fun as usual but made me feel a bit old; it seems that Thursday night is the playground of the just-past-pubescent. Oh well. Good tunes though, so whatever.In between taking over the dancefloor - the youngsters may have youth on their side but frankly that shrinks to insignificance in the face of two decades of clubbing experience - one of my GFs and I got into a conversation about why so many people are full of bull.It appears that many people we come across are content to live their lives in a superficial way, skimming the surface of what life has to offer and equating the ownership of stuff (cars, houses, boats, jewelry, designer clothes) with happiness. They converse in terms of status, strut their possessions as a measure of their own self-worth, take themselves far too seriously, are quick to judge others, easily annoyed, complain a lot about very little and their worries seem to far outweigh their joys. Personally, I think all that…


Following on from the realisation that my lungs are filthy and if I don't give up the smokes soon I face a life of wheezing at best, off I trotted to see the charming Dr T.

Dr T, who's charming by virtue of the fact that he's less jaded than the other doctors in the surgery (in other words, he treats patients as if they're human beings with a right to NHS services rather than annoying fraudsters trying to gain sympathy for imaginary illnesses) promptly put me on potentially habit-forming drugs to get me off the evil weed. Something doesn't feel quite right about this but since I'm so pathetically grateful to have a doctor who's willing to give me more than two seconds of his precious time, I have acquiesced to his demands.

Anyway, this wonder drug is called Champix and promises to have me merrily chucking my smokes in the bin in no time. Or it will if I can get past the possible side effects, the highlights being abnormal dreams, nausea, flatulence, snoring, …