Yesterday, I was at an all-day meeting of “left and right” in Washington to see if we could put together a coalition against the various wars that the U.S. is in but not in. (War has not been declared since December 8, 1941.) There were about 30 people or so at the meeting. I came out encouraged, but those who know me know that I tend to find green shoots all over the place. For the noon and afternoon part of the meeting, Ralph Nader was there. I had interviewed him (really, argued with him) for about an hour and a half 20 years ago, but had never met him. I reminded him that I had interviewed him on the phone for a piece I had done in Barron’s where I went after him about the CAFE laws. I quote some highlights from that interview in my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey.

One thing that I highlighted in my Barron’s piece that the editor, the late Robert Bleiberg, edited out, was Ralph’s sense of humor. I saw it again on display yesterday. Later this week, I’ll deal with one of the serious issues we tangled on yesterday–campaign finance laws–but I have a plane to catch and so I want simply to highlight a fun interaction.

Ralph had brought along copies of his latest book for sale for $27.50. Earlier, in his lunch talk, he had said that we don’t really have freedom of contract because corporations give us boilerplate contracts that don’t allow us to change the terms. It’s take it or leave it. I wanted an autographed copy but I didn’t want to pay $27.50. So I went up to him while he was autographing and put my arm around him and said, “You know how you think we should be able to negotiate and you don’t like take or it leave it deals.” I held out a $20 bill and said, “I’ll give you $20.” He grinned and knew he was trapped. “How about $22?,” he said. “Deal,” I said. I opened my wallet and didn’t have two ones and his aide noticed a $5 in there and said, “What about $25?” “No,” I said. “But you have $25,” said his aide. “Right,” I said, “and $25 is not $22.” Ralph pulled out three ones and we finished the transaction.

Maybe it’s that I’ve lived in California too long but I’ve become a hugger. Earlier, before his talk, when he and I had spoken at some length, I asked him for a hug. He obliged.