Vol. 5, Issue 2, March 20, 2007
Massachusetts Distributes Vowels as Economic Stimulus Package
Massachusetts has awarded more than three hundred letter Es to nineteen shopping centers in five counties as part of an economic development package designed to spur commerce.
"The Massachusetts economy is burdened by stagnant employment growth in key industry clusters, persistent emigration, and a progressively limited workforce," said Governor Deval Patrick. "Government vowel distribution is not something to be undertaken lightly, but I believe that we are at a critical juncture in our economic development where such action is appropriate."
The Es are being distributed to a variety of retail outlets and restaurants, transforming shops to shoppes and town centers to towne centers.
"We are frankly relieved that the governor has taken this bold and visionary step," said James Peterson of the Pioneer Valley Chamber of Commerce. "These extraneous vowels may mean the difference between success and failure for many small to midsized businesses."
The appendage of an E to the end of a business name has a demonstrable, if poorly understood, effect upon small business revenues; it is often termed the "Mr. E" effect, after the Harvard economist Edgar Ennis who first identified the phenomenon in the 1940s. Businesses with the extra E are able to charge anywhere from ten to fifty percent more for essentially identical goods and services.
"Well, it stands to reason," said Mary Silverman, a shopper at the newly renamed Calme Waters Shoppes in Suffolk. "I mean, paying $8 for a club sandwich at a grill is one thing, but when you buy it at a grille, that's entirely different. I wouldn't pay less than $12 for a sandwich at a grille."
Despite the short-term boost that the extra Es can provide, economists caution that overuse can lead to "e-flation", in which universally appended Es lead to devaluation of the vowel and a diminution of its effect upon prices.
"It's not a panacea," warned Milt Goldberg, an economist with the Brookings Institution. "You also need to be sure you're distributing the correct vowel; extra Es may work well in Massachusetts, whereas in some cases, as with Mayor Bloomberg's distribution of extra 'Os' in Little Italy last year, other vowels may be more appropriate. And it should be noted that the 'Mr. E' effect doesn't work when the clientele is insufficiently literate to tell the difference between Shoppe, Shop, or Ship."
Despite such cautionary notes, Governor Patrick's program is being well received by residents of the greater Boston area.
"There's just something about that extra letter," said Silverman. "Even when it doesn't make sense. I mean, I don't know what a 'Krogere' is, but I didn't know what a 'Kroger' was in the first place. And I'm certainly willing to pay more for groceries at a Krogere than a Kroger."