A Spiffy Example of Why Economic Liberty is Right

Life Lessons from the Barber Shop

Here’s a bit of Ross Brown trivia for you: exactly three people have ever cut my hair. My first haircut was given to me by a stylist at a national chain (maybe Cost Cutters?) back when I was a toddler. I don’t know who it was. After that came the big stretch: from my second haircut in 1985 all the way through the end of 2016, every single haircut I ever received was given to me by Madison’s local legendary barber Rick Meier.

Even through my four years at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Rick was the only person to cut my hair. When I would come home periodically on the weekends, Rick would open up his barber shop specially for me – not because he had to, but just because that’s the kind of person he was.

Rick cut my father’s hair for an even longer period of time than he cut my own. He gave both my boys their first haircuts – making sure to save some clippings for their baby books. Not surprisingly, Rick and his wife Lucy became like family to us. We enjoyed meals together and celebrated holidays together. He was “Papa Rick” – a surrogate third grandpa to my boys.

Sadly, Rick passed away earlier this year after a five-year bout with cancer. He was a great man who showed me what real success looks like. I penned these words in January when I learned of Ricks’ passing, and they still ring true:

Making a Difficult Choice

Understandably, it took me a while to even consider (let alone implement) a new plan for my hair styling needs after Rick’s passing. But by late February – almost two months after my last haircut with Rick – my mirror (and my wife) told me that it was time. Shag is not a good look for me. So I started to explore my options.

I came across a place called 18|8 Fine Men’s Salon that’s about 10 minutes away from both home and work. Super convenient! I took a quick tour of the place and was impressed, so I gave it a try and liked it – which was no surprise, of course, because I am clearly a “fine man,” right?

Seriously though, Jenna – my new (and only third ever) hairstylist – is super nice and clearly knows what she’s doing. I’m happy to to have 18|8 Fine Men’s Salon take care of my hair styling needs.

Recognizing an Abundance of Choice

I had my third haircut with Jenna last week and – as you’ll recall – I also blogged about the morality of abundant free choice last week. Coincidentally, as I drove up to 18|8 Fine Men’s Salon last Wednesday, I noticed a shining example of abundant free choice sitting there before me. In the immediate vicinity of 18|8 Fine Men’s Salon are three other hair salons: Great Clips, Sport Clips, and Fantastic Sams.

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Freshly aware of last week’s blog post, I could just hear the ornery question in my mind and had to chuckle a bit: “Who needs so many hair salons, especially all in the same location?!”

You know somebody has asked it!

If a haircut is just a haircut, then the ornery question is perhaps reasonable to pose. Yet as my 30+ year experience with Rick Meier proves, the value of a haircut can go far beyond the physical cutting of hair. Of course, not every hairstylist will become like extended family to their customers – but nevertheless, the value of a haircut has many intricate details.

Each one of those four hair salons offers unique value to unique customers who have unique preferences. Sure, all of the shops provide value by cutting hair – but the valuable intricate details are different from shop to shop. Just consider:

  • Some customers place greater value in a low price; some shops respond accordingly.
  • Some customers place greater value in a quick experience; some shops respond accordingly.
  • Some customers place greater value in a longer, more luxurious experience; some shops respond accordingly.
  • Some customers place greater value in not missing a minute of SportsCenter while getting their bangs trimmed; some shops respond accordingly.
  • Some customers place greater value in haircut consistency no matter which stylist cuts their hair; some shops respond accordingly.
My point is that value is subjective – it depends entirely on individuals’ preferences – and it is intricate. Individual liberty and economic liberty empower we individuals to seek out the goods and services we deem valuable based on their intricate details – and suppliers are likewise empowered to provide those intricately valuable goods and services to us.

When you understand that a haircut is much more than a haircut, you see the beauty of economic liberty. May it never go out of fashion in our American culture!


What intricate details do you value in a haircut and in other goods and services you purchase? How do your purchases reflect your values? Please share your thoughts with me and other readers in the comments section below!

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Ross Brown
President at LTP
I'm a 2007 Luther College grad trying to make the most out of every day. I enjoy spending time with my family, charcoal grilling, downhill skiing, double IPAs, fine scotch, going to church, jogging, Texas Holdem, fishing, reading, and watching the Green Bay Packers dominate the NFL.

I'm passionate about passion. Whatever you're passionate about, go do it!