“Good, Fast, or Cheap- Pick two”. It was a phrase I often used in my Remodeling business prior to life here at the church. Lots of stories to go with it.
But today, let’s focus just on “Cheap”. What is the real cost of Cheap? An engineer friend of mine explained this in economic terms to me by saying that in making and selling things, if two identical products have different prices, you have to ask why. Why is one of them cheaper? Or why is one more expensive? Likewise, if two products cost the same, but one comes from halfway around the globe and the other from 10 miles away… why? Assuming the same margin for the seller, somehow down the chain, cost is being pulled out of the product to make it cheaper.
If the model discussed above is broken-down into the significant components, three groups would form. Those groups are Materials, People, and Environment.
In the case of identical items, assume that the materials are the same. Therefore, there has to be less “people” cost or less “environmental” cost for one product to be less than another. Lower wages for the workers, or less attention to environmental regulation can result in a lower cost product. Governmental subsidies should also be factored in. For a product to be shipped a great distance compared to a short distance, the shipping cost must be higher. So in mathematical terms, materials are equal, transportation is more of the total cost, therefore the people must be getting less.
And here lies the issue as a Christian. This is a tough one. We all want a good deal. We want to be smart, value shoppers. But do we ever consider the people behind the products we buy and consume? Perhaps that $6 T-shirt is made in a factory where the workers are only getting $1 per day in wages. The $24 domestically made shirt manufacturer pays it workers a living wage. Which is the right choice? How do you feel about the statement that “At least those making $1 have a job, if I don’t buy it, what will they do?” As I said this is a tough one.
Our Methodist Social Principals say “Consumers should evaluate their consumption of goods and services in the light of the need for enhanced quality of life rather than unlimited production of material goods.” The MSP’s address this issue (and the theme of Cheap) from several directions but my interpretation is that we vote with our dollars and support the companies and their policies more than the people. Therefore, we should consider more what we buy because in making that purchase, we are saying “Yes” to the company’s behavior and policies.
I also understand, that someone will suffer because of my actions. I have to pray that I am making a long term difference for the greater good. If a company is losing sales because we are voting to not support their behavior, perhaps they will change to remain in business. One can only hope.
If subjects like this, and others, about how we live and move through our world and our effect on it interest you, my wife Vicki and I are forming a new Sunday morning adult class that will meet at the downtown church at 9 AM. We will talk about current events and our response as followers of Jesus. We will look at our behaviors and actions, discuss environmental impacts, social justice, simplicity, compassion, and what we can or should do about political and moral issues. In other words, we are going to get into it in a lively, Methodist kind of way. I look forward to hearing your points of view.