So you’re Cliff Asness, and you’re in Washington for dinner with a couple of buddies, one of whom happens to be Republican congressman Paul Ryan. Just you, some bros, a nice meal, a little chat about monetary policy and the debt ceiling negotiations.
And you’re feeling pretty good, maybe because you just saw the Atlas Shrugged movie for the fifth time and bought the special John Galt action figure, so you splurge on a couple of bottles of the best wine you can get your hands on. Unfortunately you’re in D.C., so you’re stuck with the Jayer-Gilles 2004 Échezeaux, not a slouch exactly but kind of unsubtle and maybe a bit too young to drink. (Burghound: 89-92, drink 2012+, “Strongly reduced, however the big, rich, generous and powerful full-bodied flavors are deep, well-muscled and extremely long, all wrapped in an impeccably well-balanced finish. This definitely has the best material of any wine in the range and if it can add more complexity over time, it could surprise to the upside as it is definitely impressive.”)
So NBD right? You’d think so. But then some possibly drunk lady, who turns out to be Rutgers business professor Susan Feinberg (she teaches a course called “Love and Money”), starts snooping on your table. She sees the label and consults the wine list, where she finds out that it runs $350 a bottle. And then she breaks out her Ph.D.-level math skills:
Feinberg, an economist by training, was even more appalled when the table ordered a second bottle. She quickly did the math and figured out that the $700 in wine the trio consumed over the course of 90 minutes amounted to more than the entire weekly income of a couple making minimum wage.
“We were just stunned," said Feinberg, who e-mailed TPM about her encounter later the same evening. "I was an economist so I started doing the envelope calculations and quickly figured out that those two bottles of wine was more than two-income working family making minimum wage earned in a week."
After successfully completing that multiplication, she comes over to nag, pointing out that (1) Paul Ryan is “sipping expensive wine while advocating for cuts to programs for seniors and the poor,” which, what, it’s not like Medicaid pays for grand cru Burgundy anyway, and (2) if he’s drinking it with lobbyists and on their dime, he’s violating Congressional ethics rules.
But you’re Cliff Asness, so you deal with the situation swiftly and efficiently, and with as little profanity as possible (but no less):
"[Fuck] her," [Asness] replied and stood up in a menacing way, according to Feinberg's account. Feinberg said her husband then "puffed out his chest" in response before the manager and a waiter came over and Feinberg decided she had said her piece and it was time to leave.
Right, like I said, NBD.
Unfortunately, Feinberg takes her story to Talking Points Memo, Matt Yglesias gets involved, and all of a sudden Paul Ryan gets all man-of-the-people and claims he was only drinking water and maybe a sip or two of wine which he’d thought was Two-Buck Chuck and had no idea what you were ordering:
Ryan: "Yeah, I was like this is ridiculous. Who buys wine that expensive? It surprised me, and I think it's stupid under any circumstance to pay anything close to 100 dollars for a bottle of wine.
TPM: So you wouldn't do it again?
Ryan: "Well, of course not, because I think it's too much money to pay for wine. Yeah, I don't really know what exactly it cost. It was expensive. But um, 250 maybe it was 250, I don't really remember."
Meanwhile, if you’d joined other hedge fund managers for Obama’s dinner at Daniel, you’d have been stuck drinking a plain old American pinot noir (retailing for $19.95). But you’d have paid $35,800 for it.