Should we Privatize the Senate Barbershop? Absolutely.

Senate Office Building Barbershop (Harris and Ewing photography).

Before you start thinking I am a crazy right-winger hell bent on privatizing everything, hear me out. I am a customer of the Senate barbershop, and have been for five plus years as a former Senate and House staffer. The only barbershop I like better in the whole world is Joe Sgro’s in Shaker Heights since they can cut my hair the way I want for a lower cost. To be fair, I got my hair cut there for 18 years, they have an advantage.

Just tonight on Fox News, I unmuted Bret Baier when I saw him next to a graphic of a barber pole and the U.S. Capitol. I feared something bad had happened, like somebody was suing or somebody died. Bret reported that the shop ran a $300,000 loss last year. I was somewhat surprised.

Conservatives often lament that when the government gets involved in business, it is hard for the private sector to compete. After all, how many private sector companies will continually subsidize large losses? The Senate haircuts are not cheap — $25 by my last count, not $27 as reported by The Daily.

$25 is what my former residence’s salon/spa charged, and they are probably pretty pricey for St. Louis.

Some people I know from my Senate days swear by the barbershop, while others for some reason despise it. The lead man at the barbershop is Mario D’Angelo. He is my barber.

He cuts John McCain’s hair and much of the Senate’s. The chairs are old, and Mario even cut Sen. Strom Thurmond’s hair — it is kind of a neat feeling to know you’re sitting in the chair that much of the U.S. Senators get their hair cut in. The interior of the shop has autographed pictures from nearly 90 percent of the U.S. Senate. It is a cool place.

 Senator McCain says of Mario:

“I call him the butcher. He is a butcher, and I’ve got the scars to prove it,” McCain joked. “I’m lucky to be alive and have needed several blood transfusions to survive.”

All kidding aside, those scars are probably from other things, not Mario. In close to 50 haircuts, not once have I left bleeding or with a scar. That’s just John McCain’s sense of humor though. Mario is one of the best barbers in the country, and I have no doubt he earns his keep.

To privatization — I am all for it. If that means no subsidies from taxpayers means a more expensive haircut, I am cool with that. On occasion, I have had to get my hair cut elsewhere in town, and haven’t been terribly pleased. You’d be surprised how ineffective Google searches are for “Italian barbers” are. Yes — I prefer older Italian men cutting my hair, and maybe that’s being discriminatory. Which is not to say I haven’t gotten good haircuts from women or people of other ethnicities — I have. The House barbershop is not nearly as good, and there are not many good places in Old Town to get your hair cut. Sorry House staffers, John Q has nothing on Mario.

There is a place near my residence in Huntington called Mr. Kim’s Barbershop that charges $12.50. This is clearly more affordable, but the haircut is only about 30% as good. To me, it is worth my while (and my money) to pay more for a haircut with Mario. Price is very important, as is quality. It is the intersection of price and quality that individuals use to compare similar goods/services in making their decision.

If I were the Senate barbershop, I think privatization wouldn’t be harmful if done correctly. By this, I mean making the womens’ beauty shop a separate entity entirely. They’re likely the dead weight. I haven’t seen the P&L statements, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d bet that the barbershop does fine and the salon loses money. Sure, some female Senators might go there, but women love sharing with their friends which Salon they went to. It’s a prestige game for many. Can you really expect many of them brag about getting their highlights done in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building? Unlikely.

But, how likely is privatization? The Senate Democrats eventually privatized the restaurants in the Senate in 2008, after running million-dollar plus deficits year after year. However, this wasn’t done without fanfare:

But Feinstein’s efforts to change the system ran into obstacles from four Democratic senators: Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who questioned whether current workers would face lower wages, reduced benefits and be deprived of union representation.

I will admit I was outraged at the fact that, as a recent college graduate, people in cafeteria jobs were making twice my starting salary. Making food in the cafeteria, which wasn’t good, is not a skill worth 2x the value of a college degree. Adding the union label to the food does little to change it quality wise, but it likely just increases cost. Becoming a member of AFSCME is more beneficial to a low-skilled food preparing employee than it is a highly skilled artisan like the staff of the Senate Barbershop. I am sure that, without union representation, they will do just fine.

I never knew how much Mario made until today when this story came up. He makes 62% more than I made when I left my job in Congress. For some comparison, he cut Strom Thurmond’s hair for 25 years — meaning he’s been in the Senate since at least 1978. Given how important his job is, relative to what mine was, I am OK with him making what he makes. One need only look at the former Rep. Jim Traficant to know how important haircuts are.

If you’ve ever had a haircut from Mario, you know it is worth it at twice the price. And I would pay that. Will the Senate privatize the barbershop? Probably not.  Should they? Absolutely. If that happens and prices go up, you can bet that I’ll be in the chair there — because even at $25, I was getting a pretty good deal.

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