Sunday, July 19, 2009

Commentary: I really should stop buying cheap toy cars

I just listened to an interview with Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. In the interview she mentioned that the price tag was invented by John Wanamaker, an American merchant born in 1838. The price tag is such a ubiquitous part of my own economic experience that I had never considered that price tags have only been around for about 150 years. It amazes me how quickly some ideas can transform the world.

Ellen Ruppel also talked about how the American consumer has been trained to not expect much of the items we purchase, especially when those items are inexpensive. I'm thinking of the cheap toy cars that I buy my son. The axles always bend after just a short time of play. Do I take the broken toy back demanding a replacement? No, I just do as I have been trained -I rationalize the poor quality by admitting that it only cost a dollar or two. I am sad to report that I have also been known to buy poor quality furniture, clothes, tools, electronics, etc, all in the name of low cost. Even my housing choices are governed more by cost that by value and quality. How did we ever get to the point where cheap junk is acceptable as long as it has a low price? Such waste of money and resources. My grandparents are rolling over in their graves!