An immense amount of marketing talent comes from rationalizing human behavior, particularly when money is involved. Combining my interest in American history with my passion for marketing, I submit to you my passage below…
In the Old West, more specifically 1881, a famous silver mining town spawned in the Arizona State of the United States of America. Tombstone, the town “too tough to die”, as it is nicknamed, is best known for it’s association with the battle at the O.K. Corral in which the infamous post-lawmen Earp brothers fought against the Cowboys aided by none other than renowned Doc Holiday.
I give to you the story of incentives that powered Tombstone, which in turn, through a butterfly effect, shaped bits and pieces of our American culture, the location of a capital, and arguably the standing of our nation as recognized today through the political influence of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Now, before we travel back to 1881, let me ask the question, “How do you spot incentives?”. Data is always a great way to scratch away at falsehoods and find the driving force of a batch of cases, but let’s assume we’re looking at an isolated case. Data might prove less helpful here. Well, we can ask questions. However, it’s important that they are answered with awareness and a lack of biases, which is actually surprising hard to come by.
For example, I bought a wrist watch yesterday. Go ahead. Ask why I bought it. If you asked why I bought it, I might say, “I wanted a black waterproof watch.” Is that it? Is that really why this transaction took place? No, it goes deeper. Deeper than most will even be aware.
Waterproof and dark met the basic criteria of my purchase but, what was the real driving force, the motive, the ultimate and underlying incentive that lead me to this watch? It was, of course, a messy combination of things. I love the look and textural appearance of matte black, I surf regularly and would like to see the time during such occasions. I wanted a watch that can be worn 24/7 and somewhat match with anything I might wear. I would prefer to find it online. It must not interfere when typing on a keyboard. It needs to be more than $100 dollars for quality purposes, yet less than $200 dollars for financial purposes. It also needs to resonate with me on a more personal level. In fact, this is the case with many purchases, whether you pay attention to it or not. It just so happens, this watch marks the date of a drastic change in my life.
Based on this reflection, we might deduce that my truest incentive for buying a watch was to mark a change. Would you call this an incentive? I would! I might call this a self-fulfilling incentive scheme which I’ve inflicted unto myself. I don’t expect anyone to see me different, therefore I can’t classify this as some peer-approving social incentive that drives so many of today’s gym-goers. This was strictly to remind myself of the change I’ve made. I restate, without data, we must, without bias, answer penetrating questions as correct as possible.
Now, back in time we go.
It’s no feat to uncover the root incentive of Tombstone. Silver. For obvious reasons, we can call this a financial incentive during the time of the Silver Rush. As stated in “Think Like a Freak”, the size of a financial incentive matters. Let’s try to work it backwards. How much money would it take to get a swarm of bankers and lawyers to leave their high posts by train to the boonies of Tucson, Arizona, followed by a seventeen hour stagecoach ride across the barren desert in which they will have a 70% chance of getting shot and killed by the Apache legend ‘Geronimo’ before arriving in the booming town of Tombstone. Then, upon entering, they must leave their days of luxury literally in the dirt as they dig up rock embedded with silver ore using only hammer, nail, and dynamite for ten hours a day in a dark cramped underground tunnel. I can assure you, they were profiting handsomely.
The financially obscure town of Tombstone was such a powerful oddity, that it caused a trickle effect throughout the capillaries of the community. The miners were mining the mines, and the townsfolk were mining the miners. Tombstone was said to have 140 saloons on it’s main street which didn’t stretch more than a quarter mile. The miners became gamblers in the evening, and watched as the chips dwindled to the mining done by “the house”.
Additionally, these 140 saloons obviously served alcohol. The bartenders would typically offer a drink for a pinch of silver-dust. Silver was carried in a sack as ground-down dust to deter robbers from knowing whom to shoot. There were three primary bartender tactics used to mine miners. One, the bartender grew his thumb nail and pointer finger nail extra long to secretly stash extra silver with each pinch. Two, the bartender would constantly sweep the counter for excess silver. Three, at nights end, he would then sweep the floors, allowing dust to fall between the beams to then pan for silver underneath the flooring. Even the laundromats, run by Chinese Hop-Town captives had a hand in the game. When the miners clothes were washed, they were panned! Financial incentives, indeed. Money drove the townspeople in, and money drove the townspeople out. But before we go there, let’s see what effect this town had on the world.
Amid-st this towns boom were two fires which demolished the town, twice, and a historical gun fight at the O.K. Corral headed by Wyatt Earp. There are at least a handful of movies depicting this exact scene. However, it is lesser known that the entire infatuation of the cowboy genre, was heavily influenced by this battle, more particularly by Wyatt Earp himself. You see, after left behind his legacy, it didn’t immediately become popularized on a wide-spread scale. Wyatt lived his latter years out in Los Angeles, California. It was here he was found near a Hollywood set babbling in his old age about the Old West to some director and some young actor. That young actor was whom would soon be recognized as John Wayne. Thus the the film “Stagecoach” and hundreds of westerns that tailed it.
Now, do you believe in the butterfly effect? It’s not fair to ask such a question because it biases the respondent. The truth anything in history has a direct effect on some things, and some of those things have large impacts while others do not. It’s really a matter of distinguishing the two from one another to uncover whether or not is a profound realization. FDR, prior to his attendance at Harvard, attended the highly exclusive Groton School of Massachusetts. It is said that his experience there helped shape him into what he became, but to what extent? The reason I ask is because this school was primarily funded by a man who had become wealthy by his time in Tombstone. Considering FDR lead the nation through the Great Depression as well as World War II in addition to establishing the New Deal, it is worth bouncing around how much of his character and life’s path was influenced by that Tombstone-funded school.
As I mentioned earlier, money drove the townspeople in, and money drove the townspeople out. With one swift government decision, gold was in, and silver was out. The price of silver plummeted and it became more expensive to mine than to sell. If this weren’t the case, it is likely that tombstone would have become the capitol of Arizona. That’s the weight of financial incentives speaking.
While I have you here, let me clear up a few misconceptions about the Old West. First, we have the swinging doors at the entrance of every saloon. That’s a gross exaggeration. Some had them, but they were usually followed by a five foot deck to the actual door, the others were simply your standard door. Next, the red sashes. Cowboys didn’t all wear red sashes. That would give them away and they would be shot. It is simply a fake artifact dreamed up in Hollywood. Also, recall the high-noon quick draw. Most fights were forgotten the day of due to severe drunkenness, and there were by far more deaths by disease than any barrage of air-borne bullets. Oh and by the way, a shot glass is a called a shot glass because a bullet could pass as currency for it’s purchase.
Here’s an unanswered question for your own consideration. Why are there still people living in Tombstone today?