When I wrote about my $80 pajamas, I never imagined it'd spark a three-part series of articles. Yet here we are.
- On Monday, I wrote about why I chose to buy high-quality pajamas. (I've been wearing them all week, by the way. They're awesome.)
- On Wednesday, I published a follow-up piece that explored the “buy it for life” philosophy, and explained why sometimes it makes sense to shop based on quality instead of price.
- Today, I want to spend a little time exploring the ethical implications of buying expensive items.
Quality tends to come with a price. While there are ways to mitigate some of these higher costs — buy used, wait for sales, etc. — if you want to buy new quality items, you're going to pay a premium.
Because of this, quality is often something reserved for the rich. If you have money, you enjoy the luxury of being able to buy quality items (if that's what you want). If you're struggling with money, if you're still in debt, then it may be difficult for you to prioritize quality over price.
Like so many things in life, this is fundamentally unfair. But that's how things are.
The Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness
In our discussions earlier this week, two different GRS readers pointed me to the Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, which is derived from this passage in a Terry Pratchett novel:
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes' ‘Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
This is an astute observation.
Quality costs more in the short-term. In this example, purchasing quality boots costs $50 instead of $10. However, the economics reverse over time. When you look at cost per use (or similar metrics), quality items eventually become less expensive — sometimes much less expensive.
That catch — the reason for this “socioeconomic unfairness” — is that if you're poor and/or struggling to make ends meet, you cannot afford to pay for quality. You're forced to choose the cheapest option…which is actually the most expensive option.
If, on the other hand, you're wealthy, then you have the luxury of being able to absorb the initial expense and allowing time to reduce your cost per use.
Going back to my pajama example, I had been buying the equivalent of $10 boots. Each year, I was spending $20 to buy a new pair because the old ones were wearing out. Because I'm in a position to afford it, I decided to buy the equivalent of $50 boots. I spent $80 on high-quality sleepwear in the hopes that it will last years instead of months.
If these PJs make it through four years, I'll have reached a break-even point with the cheap pajamas. (And, as an added benefit, I will have received much more pleasure from them.)
Does all of this make sense? If not, maybe a graph or two will help. [Read more…]