I have a couple of pairs of nice dress shoes. They’re well-made, nicely designed, and they cost $35 a pair. If the heels ever wear down to the point where they need to be replaced, or if I ever get a hole in the sole, it will be cheaper to buy new shoes than to have them repaired.
This is because the United States priced itself out of the labor market for the manufacture of shoes. People in Indonesia will happily make shoes for a fraction of the wage an American worker would demand. Back when I was a kid, we would have a pair of dress shoes re-soled or re-heeled four or five times over their lifespan. I hardly bother to shine them anymore. If they start looking a little scuffed up, I go shoe-shopping.
Over this past weekend, my printer ran out of ink. It’s an all-in-one unit that functions as a printer, a copier and a scanner. But it’s been giving me problems lately, because the printer drivers aren’t fully supported on my new computer, which came with a new operating system.
When I drove to the store, I discovered that a pair of ink cartridges would cost me $55. I took a walk down the printer aisle and found an all-in-one printer for sale that costs $69 and includes two ink cartridges. It’s brand-new, prints faster, works with my operating system and includes a fax in addition to all of the other functions. Better still, new cartridges for it only cost $39 a pair. Guess what I did.
It’s rapidly reaching the point where the cost of production of printers is outpacing the greedy pricing for replacement cartridges. In a few years, I expect to see a printer on the market that has no replaceable cartridges at all. It will come with a “lifetime supply” of ink. I can’t believe that someone in Indonesia hasn’t figured out a way to make printer cartridges dirt cheap.
I don’t want the world to work this way. I should be able to repair my shoes and feed ink to my printer at reasonable cost. But I can’t. People will say this is a flaw in the capitalist system, others will say it’s a symptom of American consumer culture, and others will say it’s a failure of government to impose proper import duties or regulate business. I have no idea. But if you think it’s a problem with government, let me know and I’ll send them a fax.