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 Post subject: the $140 homemade scarf
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2007 11:54 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:01 am
Posts: 243
JD posted a link to a NY Times article asking why some individuals spend time making something when it would be a lot cheaper to buy it. One example proposed is that someone might spend 14 hours knitting a scarf, which would cost $140 if they accounted for a labour rate of $10/hour. One theory proposed by the article is that if someone tells you to do something, it becomes a job and there is little enjoyment from it. Whereas if you choose to do that activity, it is more like leisure.

While there is perhaps some merit to the whole "leisure" angle, here are at least two other economic theories I have:

1) If the person were to actually try to buy the scarf they really wanted, it might cost more than $140. Factor in cost of transportation to the store and time spent looking for the scarf. Let's say six hours ($60) plus four car trips ($40). That might use up $100 already. That is assuming that the scarf the person wants is actually available for purchase. Buying any scarf from the Gap is one thing. Buying a very particular scarf that the person wants to very exacting specifications is another thing entirely different. If you went to someone to have that particular scarf made, it might cost you $500. In this sense, the decision to make the scarf makes a lot of economical sense.

2) The person is (relatively speaking) much better at knitting scarves than doing something where he could get a job. Let's say this person has spent all of their money, but still wants a scarf. If he can't get more hours at his current job, he is going to have to look for another job. How many hours is he going to have to spend sending our resumes, conducting interviews, and then working, in order to collect the money to get that additional scarf. He may need to spend 30 hours finding the new job and working in order to collect enough to get his new scarf. Economically, it is cheaper to make the scarf himself.

With respect to cooking, I would say theory number 1 plays a large role. If you go out to eat, you have very little control over what goes into your meal (including whether or not the cook washes his hands). To pay for the equivalent amount of control over your meal is likely extremely expensive. Even a professional cook may take issue with you trying to dictate her ingredients.

So while the NY Times article frames the situation as one where pure economics don't appear to rule, I would argue that the underlying reasons are actually quite economical. There are inefficiencies in trade. Sometimes if you want something done properly, you just have to do it yourself.

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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2007 12:52 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2007 3:00 pm
Posts: 411
Location: Chicago
Another concept is satisfaction. There is no pride in wearing a scarf from the gap (well, I suppose for some people, who derive self-worth from brand names, there is) but I'd say that being able to respond to the question "Where did you get that?" with "I made it." is probably worth some money in itself.

My wife crochets while she's watching TV. So that would be lost time otherwise. Suddenly that lost time becomes a $10/hr job. :) We've been giving home-made presents a lot lately, and while at times I feel a little "cheap" because we're giving gifts of things we'd make for free because we enjoy doing it, that's all erased when someone says "You should sell this stuff!". Seeing the afghans my wife makes balled up in the corner of the couch when we visit relatives makes us proud. You can't buy that at the gap for any amount of money.

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