January 26, 2008

On Etsy, Pacman, And The Law Of Comparative Advantage

As a free market economy develops and becomes more efficient, participants begin to specialize, providing those inputs to which they are most optimally suited, relatively speaking.

To update an example of the great neoclassical economist Paul Samuelson, you probably could make that shake thicker and better than the pimply high school dropout who just handed it to you, but you--and indeed, we all--are better off because you're driving through the drive-thru on your way to an important client presentation instead. In absolute terms, you do both Powerpoint and shake making better than the punk, but as The Law of Comparative Advantage shows, by letting him make the shake, you free up your time to do more Powerpoint, which benefits everyone! [ed. note: data source for more=better for ppt??]


Similarly, there are many items on etsy that you could probably figure out how to make yourself. A $60 2-foot styrofoam Pacman and Blinky wall art set, for example, which would look kind of awesome on a nursery wall. For Samuelson's ever-rational Homo economicus, the purchase or make-it-yourself decision is straightforward: just plot it out, and maximize your utility.

But there's nothing rational about decorating almost anything, much less a nursery. And what could be less rational than expressing nostalgia for a 30-yo video game through giant, handmade plastic icons?

Or as the Vancouver hippie economist Tom Green put it,

Homo economicus...never had a childhood, never has children, has never depended upon a caregiver and does not have anyone he provides care for. He only experiences well-being by consuming. He is rational, selfish, a psychopath.
Sounds like one helluva Powerpointer, though.

2-ft Blinky and Pacman, $30 each, at Pacman Wall Art [etsy via wonderland]

1 Comment

I've never really understood what sells/doesn't sell on Etsy. I've seen tutus that cost $5 to make sell for $50 while other very beautiful and well priced items (cough) sit unsold. I kind of understand the kitsch/fun factor but obviously not well enough to make a living from it.

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