Thursday, April 02, 2015

French Nails and Capitalism

I looked at The Girlfriend and said, "Girlfriend!"

She said, "Yes, Boyfriend?"

"I have decided I like French nails!" I decreed.

"Really, why is that?" she asked.

"Because it goes well with your white lingerie numbers, plus they just look classy."

And sure enough within 48 hours she was downstairs with a French nail kit trying to do her own French nails. 

While the operation to get my girlfriend to do something for me went smoothly, the same could not be said about her endeavor to do her own French nails.  For not only had she never done them before, but doing one's own nails requires that one hand, by necessity, not be used.  At best they came out "average."  Lines not perfectly geometric, depth not perfectly uniform, the coating not perfectly applied, etc.  But they were still cute and the fact she did it for me is all that really mattered.  However, she was not personally satisfied with the results, and when the varnish and nail polish chipped and deteriorated away within 10 days, she went and had them professionally done.

I wasn't expecting anything much different, but when she returned the difference was jaw-dropping.  The shine and sheen were perfect.  The color spot on.  And the craftsmanship in terms of precision and uniformity was obvious.  The difference was blindingly obvious even to a boorish bachelor such as myself.

Curious as to how much this cost I said, "What did that set you back?"

And to my shock she said, "$30."

Immediately my SAEG(TM) mind went into action.  The materiel The Girlfriend purchased to do her nails the first time was at least $10.  Then a solid hour was spent doing them, followed by at least 20 minutes of incapacitation because she couldn't "touch anything" as they dried.  But in what was no more than a 40 minute professional job, and for a mere $20 more in price she had far superior French nails when all was said and done.

But the amazing French nails did not stop amazing there.  A full MONTH had passed and they were STILL in perfect shape, showing no signs of wear or chipping.  And it is here my economic mind noticed just what testament to the powers of capitalism French nails were.

To simplify this important economic lesson we will do away with things like wage and opportunity cost (that will follow in the sequel to this post) and focus solely on the only unit of economic value - time.

The original outlay of time The Girlfriend had to spend on doing her own French nails was this:

26 minutes of labor earning the money to pay for the materiel
60 minutes actually doing the nails
20 minutes running around with a gay-esque hand pose as they dried

Total Investment - 106 minutes of life

The outlay of time needed to afford a pro to do her nails for her was this:

79 minutes of labor earning the money to pay the pro
40 minutes sitting time while her nails were done
0 minutes waiting for them to dry because they have an infrared drying device that cures the varnish

Total Investment - 119 minutes of life

However, while at first it may seem it's still better to "DIY," keep in mind when she did it herself, it only lasted 10 days.  The professional job lasted three times that long.  So assuming The Girlfriend would have to do her nails three times a month, the real effective costs are:

318 minutes (for a marginal job I might add) vs. 119 minutes for a professional job.

It is here we plainly see what is arguably the most important and powerful aspect of capitalism - the law of specialization.  In allowing people to specialize in a trade or skill, not only do prices dramatically drop, but the quality of the goods and services dramatically increase.  This increases people's purchasing power, as well as improves the quality of the goods and services we consume, increasing overall standards of living.

However there is a problem with specialization.  It requires you be really good at something.  It requires that you "excel" in something.  And excellence is increasingly becoming a four-letter word in today's ever-more socialist society.  And as society has decided to lash out, punish and tax excellence, it has ignorantly also lashed out, punished, and attacked one of the key engines of economic growth and human advancement.

The consequences of which are the topic of our next post.


Anonymous said...

Question-how many uses can she get out of the French nail kit? If one kit lasts for many applications, then you only need to factor the 26 minutes in once. This would lead to only counting 80 minutes for each subsequent application that month, which would save quite a bit of time.

PDB said...

Sort of. Another phenomenon is that we're willing to accept not-quite-excellent as long as it is much cheaper. Hence, people who would get paid $50/hour (by way of example) for doing a perfect job putting together an iPhone lose their jobs to Chinese Foxconn slaves who can do a passable, though not quite excellent, job for $2 a day. And with this money they save by buying lower quality, they buy greater quantity. And so the process of churning out large amounts of mediocre products (and services) continues.

It's not just governmental policy (and I get the feeling you're going to rant about Obama and taxes or something here), but also consumer choices on the whole. And until we all change, and are willing to pay for the highest quality (and are willing to give up quanity), we're going to keep declining as a society.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

SM777 said...

"The consequences of which are the topic of our next post."
Complete economic collapse? Open martial law? Dictatorship?

grey enlightenment said...

And excellence is increasingly becoming a four-letter word in today's ever-more socialist society. And as society has decided to lash out, punish and tax excellence, it has ignorantly also lashed out, punished, and attacked one of the key engines of economic growth and human advancement.

This is key. Our system is failing America's best minds.

Matt said...

Take an average Joe, who worked his ass to become excellent only to lose his job to an H1-B who would work for much cheaper.

Can that average Joe really be blamed for thinking that government might do a better job of rewarding excellence?

If people are working their ass off in a capitalist society and still losing ground, then of course they're going to favor socialism.

Capitalism and years of hard work have left most working Americans no better off than they were 20 years ago, ergo most working Americans support socialism far more than they did 20 years ago. It's not a difficult concept

Captain Capitalism said...

Funny Matt, that the government pass that H1B laws. You know the STATE passed the law, intervening in the free market.

Kind of like how capitalism failed when the government bailed out the banks.

Anonymous said...

To be accurate you have to include travel time/expenses.

grey enlightenment said...

If there is a huge pool of cheap labor overseas, is it unethical for companies to tap into it, passing up Americans that could have had that job at the cost of more pay? Top American STEM talent can make good money out of college, the solution would be to improve your skills to be more valuable in the eyes of employers.

Jamie MacMaster said...

Matt. What we have seen over the past 20 years is not capitalism at work, but rather, its erosion in progress.

Matt said...

So what's your suggestion? Take the state out it entirely?

If you take government out of the picture, you get the H1-B problem multiplied by 10,000.

Jamie MacMaster said...

Nope - my comment didn't suggest that at all. But it surely pointed out the apparent connection between increased state intervention and economic and social decline.

Matt said...

@grey enlightenment

Is it unethical? No, but that's not the issue I'm driving at.

The issue we're seeing plays out as follows:

1. Businesses go elsewhere to pay less for labor, as is their right.
2. People who have lost their jobs in today's America have difficulty being able to adapt and learn new skills fast enough to keep up.

Now, is that your problem if they can't keep up? No.

Problem is, those people can vote, same as you can, and a socialist will make a case that sounds very compelling to someone who's struggling

To paraphrase an old saying, it's kind of "socialist if you do, socialist if you don't."

1. You take government out, you let people who can't keep up fall behind, then watch your taxes skyrocket as they vote in socialists en masse

2. You implement policies that are just "socialist" enough to keep people content so they don't vote in something worse

Ron said...

The requirement for an H1b is that the salary is above prevailing market wage.

For most stem jobs there are a lot more openings than qualified candidates, let alone domestic qualified candidates.

Survivorman said...

Never liked french nails.
Especially on their feet - just something "icky" about them.

A boner-killer for me..