Punchinello’s Chronicles

September 29, 2009

The Cost of Convenience

Filed under: Butterfly Wings — Punchinello @ 6:23 pm
Tags: , , , ,

We hear that 70% of the US economy is driven by consumers. That means people buying things. It also means that we’re not the America of the past, where Yankee Know-How created a tremendous boom in manufacturing, industry and invention. What do we build? What do we create? People say we’ve become a service industry, but that means either low-end janitorial or minimum-wage services, or high-end consulting to foreign clients.

All these changes come about because of the basic law of business, that people will pay money for convenience. Whatever will save someone time, work (effort), or money, that’s a product you want to be selling. The problems begin when an entire population forgets that convenience is a luxury.

Who cooks anymore? Lots of people or only some people? We don’t know what percentage of the population cooks their meals all the time, but we do know that a large percentage relies on frozen dinners, fast foods, and other convenience foods. We have convenience stores, drive-through everything, and convenient credit cards. Everywhere, people have grown up with the automatic conveniences of a capitalist, business-oriented society.

But what are the costs of convenience? Should we always think of convenience as an extra kind of added value? Or should we believe that convenience is an entitlement — a right? What happens when we each forget the skills involved in producing our goods and services, in producing our everyday needs? Isn’t that what’s taking place? America no longer produces much of anything because it’s more convenient to get everything from China, Europe, Mexico, or anywhere else in the world!

More importantly, we’ve come to believe that everything should be not only convenient, it should ALSO cost exactly the same as it always has in the past. When prices go up, “someone” must be profiting with obscenely high earnings! We should pass laws to regulate how those high prices aren’t “fair,” right? Wrong!

Products just get cheaper, smaller, or disappear. What used to last now falls apart. Plastic replaces metal because it’s more convenient. Making things in limited numbers isn’t convenient, so we have cookie-cutter everything. Lots of people think the articles on this blog are way too long. Too many words aren’t convenient to read. We don’t have the time, we’re all in a rush. Life is all about moving as fast as possible.

Back in the 1950s, there was an entire industry based on Do-It-Yourself. Hardware stores sold everything anyone needed to build something on their own. The Baby Boomers grew up with parents who came back from World War II, and “projects” for the weekend were everywhere. Our fathers taught us that taking apart a toaster to fix it was standard, natural, and that there always were extra nuts and bolts. For no reason…just extra.

We learned how to fix our cars, wash our clothes, cook our meals, make our beds, manage our money. We learned that as inconvenient as it might be, saving up the cash to buy something was “just the way it is.” We were on the brink of a whole new world of convenience.

First came MacDonald’s, making it convenient to pop in and buy a burger and some fries, with a shake to go with it. Then came convenient credit cards so we wouldn’t have to go to the bank each day and carry cash. The automatic transmission made it more convenient to drive, then came the specialization. We had convenient, speedy ways to get dry-cleaning, and oil change, drive-through banking, and the miracle of the remote control for television.

It wasn’t long before whole industries went out of business. They weren’t convenient anymore. Then we found out we could get everything built less expensively overseas, and that brought us the outsourcing revolution. Super stores and cooperatives made it more convenient to buy 20 rolls of paper towels because of the “cost savings” of buying in bulk. That ushered in the age of K-Mart, Zayre’s, Wal Mart and Target.

One-Stop-Shopping became all the rage. Mom-and-pop stores were more and more of a novelty. If prices went up, companies found an even cheaper labor source somewhere else. That eventually led to the slave labor in China producing products for almost nothing. And America continued to buy more and more, selling less and less.

Here we are, and nobody has any money anymore. The convenient credit cards led to thousands upon thousands of dollars of debt, with “easy monthly payments.” More and more, what used to be convenient is now more and more annoying. Super highways were convenient, now they’re gridlocked with 24-hour rush hour traffic.

Then came the laws against having fun. You can’t burn leaves anymore, regardless of the smell of burning leaves being a traditional part of American autumn. Instead, you have to increase labor and effort in order to properly and legally dispose of those leaves in an environmentally safe manner. The cost of all that extra time and effort, not to mention gas to drive to a recycling center, wipes out the convenience everywhere else.

It’s convenient to prop the kids in front of a TV, or send them off to countless after-school programs. It’s not convenient to read to them at night, talk with them around the dinner table, or get together for family projects. We’re too busy with our two-income family jobs. The devaluation of the US dollar might have something to do with needing two incomes, but it’s not convenient to stop and think about all that.

All this convenience has led to a nation that pretty much buys everything from somewhere else. We have one of the most resource filled geographic areas on the planet, yet we’ve outlawed using almost all those resources. It’s more convenient to buy it somewhere else, whatever “it” might be. Throwaway commodities used to be convenient, but now it seems everything is designed for “use it and toss it.”

Some people say this recovery will depend on people getting back to spending money they don’t have, like in the good old days. Others say that the recovery will begin when America gets back to selling products other people in other nations want to buy. “Made in America” used to be as good as the US dollar, relative to quality and value. Today, we have almost nothing made in America! Why not?

It’s not convenient anymore. It’s not cost-effective. The gross margins are too high.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] the original post here:  The Cost of Convenience By admin | category: consulting jobs | tags: also-means, america, claims-every, gbs, […]

    Pingback by The Cost of Convenience IM Consultant — September 29, 2009 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

    Comment by JimmyBean — October 1, 2009 @ 12:28 am | Reply

  3. Thanks, Jim, I appreciate the nice comment. A lot of us are fed up with what’s going on these days, and I find it soothing to rant and rave whenever I get particularly curmudgeonly. 🙂

    Comment by Punchinello — October 2, 2009 @ 4:27 am | Reply


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