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Beyond the Immediate

I’ll occasionally get into a discussion about how much more it costs for compact fluorescent lamps. Or solar. Or electric cars. Or extra insulation in our homes. Or Fair Trade chocolate and coffee (life-essentials). And while it often can become an interesting discussion, it can also become frustrating. Frustrating because we don’t seem to be able to look beyond the immediate at the long-term benefits (or even the long-term costs) of some of these things.

Take, for example, the shoes pictured in this post. These are my shoes. I paid $180 for them. And that made me stop, think, agonize even. To the point I almost didn’t buy them. But they had some features that tipped me beyond the immediate. First, they are made in the USA. And partly because of that, they cost more (overseas slave labor is even cheaper than minimum wage). But they only cost more initially. You see, I bought them in 2005. And for the last six plus years, they have pretty much been my only pair of dress shoes. Which means I wear them every day to work and Sundays to church and to “dress up” events. I also walk a lot. And they’re VERY comfortable.

One of the other benefits to these shoes is the warranty. The heels recently wore down enough (after six years of daily walking) that I took them in for new heels. But because of the warranty, I got all new soles. For $20. Total. The uppers are still in excellent shape (high quality leather, no doubt). So I have shoes that are probably going to last at least another six years. For a total cost of about $200 (plus shoe laces). That will be less than $17 per year for shoes. I could have bought $50 shoes that last a couple of years (been there before) and realistically ended up paying 50% more for my shoes. Do you see where this is going?

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) generally last between 6 and 15 times as long as an incandescent lamp. They usually cost $3 to $6 each compared to $1 or so for an incandescent. They also put out the same amount of light as a 60 watt lamp with about 11 watts. So over the life of the lamp, while they initially cost a bit less or at worst about the same, because they last longer it’s at least a push. But factor in the savings in electricity and you have some real dollar savings as well as the need for fewer electric generating plants (regardless of whether or not they’re hydro, coal or nuclear). Do you see where this is going?

Extra insulation in our homes and air sealing (a fancy term for caulking the cracks) can reduce our heating and energy bills in our homes by a huge percentage. In fact, only 15% of the cost of a home is the initial cost to build or buy it. Fully 85% of the cost of that home is in the operations and maintenance of that home. Perspective. All-electric cars, depending on the electric costs in your locality, get the equivalent of over 100 mpg (or the equivalent of gas for 75ยข a gallon. Use whichever comparison works for you). So the initial cost is higher, but the operating costs for fuel and maintenance (which is almost nil) far offset that initial investment. Do you see where this is going?

But many people I know have the perspective only of the immediate. And when government tries to help us get past that limited perspective (through regulations on gas mileage for cars, energy codes for homes, light bulb efficiency standards, etc), we lament that our government is becoming socialist and we have Presidential candidates saying that “Let me tell you, President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want in the United States of America.” I would only hope Ms. Bachmann could at some point see beyond the immediate if she’s actually tapped to lead our country.

While I love our country and appreciate the Constitutional freedoms we have, I don’t think we should have zero regulation (aka Anarchy, or a few steps beyond Libertarian or Tea Party views). I see the value in things like the speed limits on our roads. And laws against drunk driving. I also see the value in government regulations when we as individuals can’t or won’t choose to see beyond the immediate. When we get absorbed in our selfishness and only look out for ourselves and not our society and culture as a whole, we miss the point.

We have to look beyond the immediate and beyond our own individual self-interests to our entire society. And we have to elect people to represent those values and not the knee-jerk ideas that left to our own, unfettered, unregulated devices, we will always make the right choice. We won’t. If we always took a vote on every decision that needed to be made, most of us would either not vote at all or we’d vote emotion and not intellect. Call me un-American if you want, but I believe we would be far better off electing people to make decisions that benefit all of us, rather than just a few, even if that decision ends up costing me money or time or inconvenience.

When Jesus said “love your neighbor” I think it is safe to say that such actions will sometimes be uncomfortable or inconvenient and will always cost me something.

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3 Responses so far.

  1. David Hesla says:

    Hi Bill,

    Great Post…glad I stumbled upon your site! I love the house plans.

    After two years of reconstructive foot surgery (younger years)…I can certainly see the value in a high quality, well made pair of shoes. “Built to stand the test of time” has given way to an obsession with “maximising profits at all costs” and I am perplexed at our Nation’s insatiable appetite for cheap plastic trinkets from china. My last pair of hand made (in America) work boots lasted me fifteen years and my last combined monthly energy bills (electric, gas and water) totaled a whopping $33 bucks. My hope is as a Nation we reconize our errors before its too late.

    I wish You, Your Family and the whole Arbor South “band of misfits” a fantastic 2012!

    David Hesla

  2. Mike Dean says:

    Thanks Bill.
    I find your Moral and Intellectual curiosity and consistency very refreshing and instructive. In these days of division and vitriol – your invitations to thoughtful understanding are inspirational – in the finest meanings of that word.
    About the “stuff” – We’ve never really be willing to pay the actual cost of it. Whether the Rubber from India – the Tea from Ceylon – Cotton from the ‘South’ or our Coffee from Colombia. The sad reality is that we’ve never stopped our dependency on slavery – we’ve only outsourced it.

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