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What’s a thing worth?

When M’hijito and I were buying appliances for the Renovation House, we picked up a nice but not gaudy gas stove at Sears for about $800. It occurred to me to wonder what really, in human terms, an $800 stove costs. Based on what we know people in various trades and professions earn, here’s an estimate:

  • About 4 hours, plus an LL.D. and 40 years of legal experience, of practicing law at Prestigious Southwestern Law Firm
  • About two days of house painting and plaster or drywall repair
  • About 29 hours, plus a Ph.D. and 30 years’ editorial experience, of deciphering cryptic English written by Chinese mathematicians and training graduate students to spend their lives doing the same
  • About 29 hours, plus a contractor’s license, bonding, and 30 years of experience in the trades, of tiling bathroom stalls and counters, demolition work, installing cabinetry, repairing lath & plaster, rebuilding foundations, installing toilets, installing glass shower doors, hauling trash, and undoing some other guy’s mess
  • About 47½ hours of talking on the telephone to distressed, pained, and enraged Vast Nationwide Insurance Company policy-holders
  • About five 14-hour days (no overtime paid) at the Great Desert University of grading illiterate, plagiarized papers scribbled by the sons and daughters of the American middle class
  • About 66 hours of scrubbing floors, cleaning bathrooms, dusting furniture, scouring kitchens, polishing windows, changing catboxes, changing and laundering sheets, dusting miniblinds, vacuuming carpets, mopping tile, and sweeping the front porch
  • About 80 hours — two endless 40-hour weeks — of chasing other people’s children around, changing diapers, feeding children junk food, listening to children scream, cleaning up baby barf, and wiping toddler bottoms
  • About 114 hours — that’s almost 2½ six-day or almost 3 five-day weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of mowing lawns, trimming thorny shrubbery, digging ditches, and hauling trash
  • About 155 hours — almost four 40-hour weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of lifting demented, stinking old men and women, of steeling yourself to their wails, of stuffing food and medication down their throats, of changing their diapers, of parking them in wheelchairs and rolling them into the shower and washing the sh** and the sweat and the barf off them, of changing their sheets and changing their clothes

So it goes. Every thing that we own has a human cost. These are just the costs to you and me and our fellow workers of buying a thing. They don’t count the human cost of digging the raw materials out of the ground to mill the steel required to make its parts or the gas required to operate it; they don’t count the time and effort human beings had to put in to building it and installing the infrastructure to make it work.

Each time we decide we want to buy an object, we should think about what the privilege of owning that object really costs.


4 Comments left on iWeb site


I love it.

Friday, May 30, 200810:46 AM


This is fabulous!

Saturday, May 31, 200803:03 PM


You don’t sound very happy about, nor do you sound well-suited for, working at a nursing home, or wherever you “lift stinking old men and women” around.

Someday, you’ll be there, too. I hope you receive morecompassionate care.

Monday, June 2, 200806:50 AM


I don’t work in a nursing home, thank God. But I watched my mother die in one. It was a horrible place. I watched the women who worked there, from the nurses to the drudges who had to do the most awful scutwork. Nurses are paid well, but drudges are not. The work is just hideous.

My mother did stink. The smell of cancer is not pleasant. Nor are the screams and moans of the desperately demented and the truly anguished.The “compassion” you get when you’re in an HMO and your disease cuts into the profit margin is negligible.

It’s easy to be self-righteous…but the truth is, a nursing home can be a dreadful place to work, and the labor is difficult and unpleasant.

Monday, June 2, 200807:06 AM

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