Sunday, August 22, 2010

Barbies and Bargain Stores

Dear readers, an exciting update! Now that I'm back in school, the blog will be weekly, not daily. I think it's clear that the daily thing wasn't really working out.

Moving on from that, I've been having economic adventures as usual! Today, I went to "Jack's 99 Cent Store" (aka Jack's World, Jack's, and the-place-that-sells-moldy-Wonder-bread) to purchase some supplies for my house's* welcome dinner. Jack's appeals to a wide socioeconomic range, and sells everything from school supplies to Michelina's frozen dinners to limited bridal accoutrements.

As I was paying for my finds (plastic utensils, tea lights, etc.), I heard the man next to me ask, "Are you sure you're happy with it? We're spending a lot of money on you ...". I casually glanced over and saw a caucasian man of middle age, height and build, whose brown hair was barely visible from under his bright red baseball hat. He was wearing jeans and a faded red t-shirt with some kind of writing on it. He had a weathered face with an expression that looked kind one minute and harsh the next. He directed his comments to a small African-American girl of about four, with big brown eyes, and a bright pink t-shirt, sitting on the check-out counter rapturously holding onto something wrapped in a Jack's plastic bag. An adorable little boy, who looked like he was her slightly older brother was doing an impatient sort of jig - the kind brothers who have been dragged on shopping expeditions are known to perform from time to time.

The man continued, "Are you sure it's what you want? You know, it's made in China." This made the two cashier girls giggle. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, and I was certainly hoping it was. After a moment, he added (half to his daughter, half to himself, and half to the cashiers [perhaps I was confused because his fractions didn't add up]), "It's made in China for about $.50, and then they sell it here for 20 bucks. You know, those people are just getting rich off this." Then, with a little twinkle in his eye (by now I knew he was mostly kidding and mostly talking to the cashiers), he added, "But if you want to support that kind of thing, I guess I understand."

Then he told the cashiers he wasn't sure the girl understood, which the cashiers found rather funny, he finished paying, and left - the girl clutching her new made-in-China mystery object to her chest as they left the store.

Though the cashiers thought he was rather clever, I was struck by how tragically mistaken his economic position was. Let's assume the girl had a Barbie doll. To put a Barbie doll on the shelf, you need: material for her hair, plastic for the rest of her, clothing material, paint, labor, a factory where you can assemble her (all the raw materials needed for her hair, plastic, the clothes), the box (cardboard, so all the way back to a paper factory, back to a truck, back to a forest - and the truck needed gas and brakes and all its raw materials and labor, plus a driver, etc.), the little twistie-ties that strap Barbie in, the printer to print the box, the thread and plastic to stitch Barbie's hair to the box, and the plastic for the front of the box that lets you see through it. All these are hidden costs of Barbie. Once she's finished being assembled and is nicely in her box, she is then shipped (via truck, plane, truck most likely) to Jack's, which has to rent their space, pay their employees, keep the lights and A/C on, and try to make a little money. In fact, no one is getting rich off this Barbie - they're all trying to cover expenses and make a living. Is there a mark-up every time she passes to a new middle-man? Of course. Still though - it's a far more efficient (and cheap) way to get a Barbie than making one yourself.

I understand that the man in the red hat probably isn't thinking about all the hidden costs when his wallet loses a $20 bill - it still hurts. But instead of guilt-tripping the girl, giving the cashiers something to giggle about, and complaining about over-priced toys in a dollar store, I wish he would have thought about exactly what had to go into that Barbie. Even things made in China have hidden costs.

Earlier this rainy Sunday, I got drenched in:
Black pencil skirt, white and black rain-jacket-like short-sleeved jacket (that is not actually waterproof), white hoop earrings, pink ribbon-band watch, long pink heart necklace, and black leather open-toe heels.

*Ohhh! Aren't you excited you found the asterisk comment? 10 bonus points for you. This is the part of my blog where I explain what the house of Susan B. Anthony is.
At my school, we have "houses" (they aren't real buildings, but rather entities) named after various influential people throughout history. Everyone is automatically and somewhat randomly placed into a house their freshman year and remains in the house for all four years. We have house competitions, events, and traditions. I've been told it's like the houses in Harry Potter, but I haven't read it, so it's all hearsay to me.

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