Leisure Time Is Valuable

by Don Boudreaux on July 28, 2008

in Myths and Fallacies

A Cafe visitor e-mails me with the following comment on this post — the post in which I argue that time spent waiting in line to buy gasoline is part of the cost of acquiring gasoline:

The only time this would make sense is if you were taking time away from earning time.  On your own time, it means nothing.

I disagree.  It might be difficult to put a precise monetary figure on the value of the time spent waiting in line, but the fact that even leisure time is valuable is beyond question.

If the person who wrote the above-quoted words disagrees with me, then that person must attach zero value to the time that he or she spends not earning income.  I hope, under these circumstances, that he or she lives in the DC area.  If so, that person will not mind baby-sitting my son for an hourly wage of $0.00.  (Or, to ensure that this person gains something for sitting for my son, I’ll reimburse all of his or her travel expenses to and from my home and pay an hourly wage of $0.01.)

If this person would refuse to sit with my son for $0.01 per hour (when he or she isn’t otherwise earning income at his or her job), then this person doesn’t really believe what he or she wrote above.

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Kevin Dick July 28, 2008 at 2:14 pm

One of the classic blunders! Like fighting a land war in Asia or going up against a Sicilian when death is involved. You don't argue about leisure time with an economist. :-)

BoscoH July 28, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Yeah, the comment is bunk. Even the government is starting to realize that PT has value, with TSA offering expedited screening at airports to passengers who pay to be in the program. Seriously, I flew this weekend and if I start flying often again, I'd just pay it. I'd get the airport the same 1.5 hours before my flights, and I'd pay just to not wait in line during that time! Which probably makes me and everyone else such a program is aimed it highly irrational.

Mike July 28, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Well, clearly this person has no free time. If he or she attaches no value to time not spent working they must have three or four jobs and only stop to sleep a few hours a night.

Gary July 28, 2008 at 3:03 pm

I referee inline hockey as a side gig, in part because I love hockey, and in part because I enjoy the money. Some weekends, I can make a quick extra $600 or more refereeing a tournament. Often I pass, because at some point, having a life is worth more to me than some extra money.

Sometimes, when I just say no, leagues will offer substantially more money. My weekends are seldom worth $1,000 to me, so I agree to come referee.

My time certainly has a price.

Methinks July 28, 2008 at 3:30 pm

This reminds me of people who think that they're "throwing money away" when they rent a house instead of buying one. This is, obviously, true…unless you're one of those weirdos who actually values having a roof over your head.

Speedmaster July 28, 2008 at 3:40 pm

>> "The only time this would make sense is if you were taking time away from earning time. On your own time, it means nothing."

Wow, way off.

Michael F. Martin July 28, 2008 at 3:45 pm

The person who sent you that comment would be considered the perfect employee by a great many companies. But not mine.

Chris July 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm

I'm going to take the other side here. Here's Don's original comment:

"So if a worker in 1979, earning that year's average hourly wage of $6.19, spent one hour waiting in line to buy five gallons of gasoline – a standard maximum amount that filling stations would sell to customers during periods of shortage – he would have spent, waiting in queues, $1.24 worth of his time for every gallon he bought."

The comment was more/less correct. A lot of people say something like "I'm paid $XX per hour. I'm not going to cut my own grass when I can pay somebody a lot less than $XX to do it." The two bear no relation to each other unless the alternative is to actually go to work and get paid $XX for an additional hour. Most people don't have that sort of job.

Of course leisure time is worth something. But, there's no reason to expect it to be worth the same thing as working time.

Bret July 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Just because one wouldn't be willing to put in the effort to babysit Don's kid at any price (much less for free), doesn't mean that one would mind sitting in one's car, kicking back, listening to music, maybe reading a book, while he or she is waiting for gas.

In other words, for many people, sitting in a car IS leisure, even if it's waiting for gas.

John Dewey July 28, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Bret: "In other words, for many people, sitting in a car IS leisure, even if it's waiting for gas."

I am confident that very few Americans would consider waiting in line for gasoline to be leisure. In the 70's gasoline lines, tempers flared and some folks even became violent after others attempted to cut in lines.

I don't know, Bret. It's hard for me to understand how someone's life could be so drab that waiting for gas might be an enjoyable experience.

Ken July 28, 2008 at 7:55 pm

"The two bear no relation to each other unless the alternative is to actually go to work and get paid $XX for an additional hour. Most people don't have that sort of job." -Chris

But everyone can get a second job to fill in that time and get paid $YY. If your leisure time has no value or very little, then you wouldn't mind getting a second or third job to fill those hours and make some money at $YY.

If people didn't value their time off at a pretty high dollar amount, overtime would not be time and a half. I would imagine that people value their time off at a higher rate than they get paid at work. The reason I say this is because people who work longer hours typically get paid more, even more per hour because they are willing to put in that extra time.

I work for the federal government, with substantial time off and the virtual guarantee of not having to work more than 40 hrs/week. Many of my previous co-workers have stepped into the private sector and instantly had a wage increase of anywhere between 30% to 100%. But the trade off is less time off and an expectation of working more than 40 hrs/week.

While I understand that not EVERYONE is in this situation, I'd be willing to bet that a majority of workers have the opportunity to make more money (per hour) by working longer hours by taking a job that pays more, but expects more. The fact that these workers do not do this suggests that they value their personal time at a higher rate than they get paid, or even what they could potentially make.

Martin Brock July 28, 2008 at 7:57 pm

"… he would have spent, waiting in queues, $1.24 worth of his time for every gallon he bought."

I don't dispute this statement, given the assumptions, but the assumptions are picked from thin air. We can't conclude from this analysis that gasoline today is less costly, because the conclusion involves many other assumptions, like the assumption that everyone waited an hour for gas every time they bought gas in '79 or at least that the average wait time for everyone, everywhere, at all times was an hour, because everyone, everywhere at all times pays roughly $4.00/gallon for gasoline today.

In my rural, small town, I never waited in line for gas in 1979, and the lines weren't continuous at filling stations even where they occurred. Like mayhem more generally, I saw it a lot on television but never experienced it myself. Since this experience was not universal, for this analysis to make gas prices in '79 comparable to current prices, the waits must be much longer than an hour. The argument is fallacious for this reason.

Furthermore, Don and Russ routinely argue in this forum that the CPI overstates inflation. If so, the CPI-adjusted value of the '79 gas price is too high, and the current price is correspondingly higher by comparison. Somehow, when political economists (essentially all economists) find the CPI convenient for their analyses, it's fine the way it is, but when it's inconvenient, it begs correction.

Current gasoline prices, per gallon, in the U.S. are as unprecedented as they seem to be. Since peak oil production approaches while demand rises and politicians provoke war in oil rich regions, the unprecedented price is hardly surprising. It's not catastrophic, and price controls could only worsen the problem, but the high price is not illusory. Prices in the U.S. are still low compared with prices in the U.K. for example, and we can very easily lower the price we pay per mile, but the problem really exists. Let's not deny it to give our partisans political cover. They'll do that well enough by themselves.

Bret July 28, 2008 at 8:07 pm

John Dewey wrote: "It's hard for me to understand how someone's life could be so drab that waiting for gas might be an enjoyable experience."

You missed or ignored the point. The point is that if one is forced to wait to do something (like buying gas) and is not allowed to do anything else, then, yes, waiting is a drag.

However, waiting to buy gas does not preclude one from doing a huge range of other things that can pretty much be done just as well in your car as anywhere else. Therefore, waiting has essentially zero cost.

I'm not personally old enough to have had to wait in lines for gas in the 1970s, but for me, waiting to get on the freeways because of the metered on-ramps in California seems to pretty similar. I don't mind at all because I just surf the Internet and read emails on my TREO, send text messages, make calls, transact business, drink tea, and/or listen to the stereo, all while inching forward in line to get on the freeway. These are all things that I enjoy doing or need to do anyway and I can do them about equally well in my car while waiting to get on the freeway.

I imagine waiting in line for gas is very similar. Many people I know are at least as well connected as I am (like instapundit who I'm sure would post 10 blog posts if he was waiting for gas), and they aren't much inconvenienced by things like waiting for gas.

They would be much more inconvenienced having to having to baby sit Don's child. Thus Don's argument is inapplicable.

Methinks July 28, 2008 at 8:42 pm

They would be much more inconvenienced having to having to baby sit Don's child. Thus Don's argument is inapplicable.

Who told you that watching Don's kid would be any more inconvenient than getting stuck in their car, sniffing the exhaust of other cars?

Some people love kids and enjoy spending time with them and would seek to do so for free. For example, I love having my friend's kids over when they have places to be because I love kids but I'm way too busy to have any of my own. They come over, I put on my best "Auntie Mame" and we have a high ole' time (then I give them back). Surely, since I find this an incredibly useful way to spend my time, so should everyone else. Right?

On the other hand, I don't even like being in the car long enough to drive anywhere – let alone text and surf the internet (while driving, Bret? Really?)

vidyohs July 28, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Ahhh, but Don, You haven't answered my question or addressed my point:

How do we assume that time spent in line is taken from "productive" or "pleasing activities" and can thus be used to balance out the price at the pump today to equate with the price at the pump of yesteryear?

My question and point was what if the time spent in line was universally time spent away from situations or activities that are unproductive and unpleasant such as spending time with a spouse that one detests, time away from mindless TV shows that one detests, kids one can't stand, and why would we automatically assume that the time spent in line would always be valued at a fixed price level comprable to ones salary or anticiapated hourly income?

My question or point to you still stands, why should time spent in line that allows you freedom from unpleasant or detestable situations be considered a net value to you to be deducted from the price at the pump?

In your own logic, how could you know then and how can you state positively now?

We are all different and we all value different things in different ways and this affects how we view the value of our time spent……does it not?

Until I am doused with some sort of reasonable explantion of why my view is wrong I still say this one was a stretch. Almost a slavish stretch.

vidyohs July 28, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Double damn:

My question or point to you still stands, why should time spent in line that allows you freedom from unpleasant or detestable situations be considered a net value to you to be deducted from the price at the pump?

Should read:

My question or point to you still stands, why should not time spent in line that allows you freedom from unpleasant or destestable situations be considered a net value to you to be deducted from the price at the pump?

Jay July 28, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Obviously leisure time is valuable. Why else would the government make it illegal for two consenting adults to enter into a contract where one member sells his time for less than $6.55 an hour?

Unit July 28, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Vidyohs,

In this discussion I think we should consider activities that are repeated over time. Yes maybe you can enjoy being stuck in traffic once in a while, say, on Mondays when the new Econtalk episode comes out. But saying that you enjoy waiting in line for an hour on a frequent basis because your alternatives are worse is not credible. Why don't you just take a stroll in the park? Or go read a book at the local bookstore?
I don't see how you could label "freedom" an imposition such as long lines at the pump. Why, if it were that easy why not have long lines at every check-out counter in the land?

Unit July 28, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Also what might be bearable for you, does not mean mean it should be bearable for someone else. Maybe you only fill up once a week, but a truck-driver or a cab-driver needs to fill up daily etc…Someone could be late for work etc…because the wait is an imposition my presumption is that is a loss not a gain.

Unit July 29, 2008 at 1:40 am

Vidyohs,

The extra hour that people had to wait in line in the 70s because of price controls can be thought of as an extra tax on gasoline. It works the same way: people consume less but pay more. Now would you say that such a tax would give you the "freedom" to spend one more hour at work (to make up the difference) and would spare you from other detestable situations?

mpkomara July 29, 2008 at 2:18 am

Professor,

Unless you answer Martin Brock's main question, your argument falls flat. What was the average waiting time for gas in the 70's? I doubt it was anywhere close to an hour.

Scott July 29, 2008 at 3:25 am

My question or point to you still stands, why should not time spent in line that allows you freedom from unpleasant or destestable situations be considered a net value to you to be deducted from the price at the pump?

Vidyohs,

Am I to presume that when you fill up with gas these days you voluntarily wait at the station for a period of time before filling up and leaving?

If, as you claim, time spent waiting wasn't a negative, presumably you voluntarily wait to capture the same benefit that those who had to wait were getting back then.

BAP July 29, 2008 at 5:01 am

Just like offering to have someone watch my child for free, to settle this problem I offer a solution, if there were gas lines today, I would gladly let those who value their leisure time at zero take my car and sit in a gas line and fill it up for me (I'll pay for the gas) while I use my leisure time, that I don't value at zero, to do something else. In fact, wouldn't this be a much more efficient outcome: those who do not value their time sitting in gas lines (without compensation) in the place of those who do.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 6:19 am

Unit, Scott & BAP,

My comments are a statement of intellectual position, not a personal preference.

You guys, like Don, miss the point and that point I have stated simply several times now. So, what the hell, I'll do it again.

No one person or group can make the decision for everyone as to what their time is worth in any given situation, and to use an arbitrary method of calculating time spent in line measured at any particular given value is a stretch when trying to justify equalization of price at the pump.

To specify time spent waiting in a line is for all people an added cost is make a blanket statement of the nature common to the socialist mind set.

I know people that would rather have root canal performed without novacaine than go home any sooner than they have to, so a nice peaceful quiet wait in a line could to them be seen as a benefit not a cost.

I am sorry guys but how can you grasp the idiocy of the left in its blanket pronouncements and not see that this is the same thing in reverse?

Because you think of it as a cost, a little intellectual honesty still forces you to recognize that it is very likely not true for everyone; or, do you imagine that your viewpoint on life is shared universally, no differences allowed or recognized?

:-)

Don Boudreaux July 29, 2008 at 7:13 am

I'm afraid that everyone is missing the big picture here. My principal point is that waiting in line is part of the price that people pay to acquire goods whose acquisition requires queuing. Put differently, I am challenging the notion that comparing the real dollar price of gasoline in the 1970s to the dollar price of gasoline today is sufficient to settle the question of in which of these periods gasoline is more costly.

I was not making a scientific claim that gasoline in 1979 costs more than it does today. I merely gave an example to illustrate the larger point.

Now Martin Brock might not have waited back then in a gasoline line. I did – several times (once for six hours, having relieved my father who'd waited the previous six hours). I know – both from vivid memories of that era and from easily accessible news reports from the era — that queues, along with other forms of rationing, were common at various times. These queues AND THE OTHER FORMS OF RATIONING (typically involving inability to get gasoline on demand) added to the real cost to consumers of filling their tanks.

Methinks July 29, 2008 at 8:19 am

Professor,

I think a lot of people understand the point you're making. Some of us are taking issue with the claim that being forced to wait in line should be considered a leisure activity instead of an imposition of a cost.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 8:22 am

Yes, Don.

I understood your point and if one only considers it from that viewpoint I would agree with you.

"My principal point is that waiting in line is part of the price that people pay to acquire goods whose acquisition requires queuing."

However, my point remains unrebutted thatit is impossible to make a blanket statement that queing is always a cost to everyone in all circumstances.

Then having made that blanket statement to use that in any attempt to equate prices today with prices of yesterday is a stretch that I am surprised you are willing to make.

Am I to waste in my queu while cursing the man in the queu next to me that is moving much faster…..oh the inequality of our costs!

Perhaps he will trade places with me because he doesn't want to get anywhere quickly and is happy to spend the time alone, in peace, and to listen to his radio without unpleasantries intruding? Oh the inequality of our costs.

Blanket statements don't work for socialist and they don't work any better for libertarians.

Don Boudreaux July 29, 2008 at 9:11 am

Vidyohs,

Do you really think it to be impossible to conclude that most people would prefer not to wait in line? When queues don't exist, persons who want to sit around listening to music in their cars, or doing whatever, have that option. When queues do exist, persons who want the good in short supply badly enough to wait in line have little choice but to wait in line even if they'd prefer to spend their time otherwise.

When you see a long line at airport security, do you think "Hey, perhaps this long line itself is a blessing, for I can make no blanket statement about whether or not the persons waiting in that long line enjoy doing so or not"?

John Dewey July 29, 2008 at 9:34 am

vidyohs: "my point remains unrebutted thatit is impossible to make a blanket statement that queing is always a cost to everyone in all circumstances."

That may be true, but there is no doubt in my mind that an overwhelming majority of people prefer no queues over queues. I have never heard anyone complain becuase they didn't have a line to wait in. Never. But I hear and read all the time complaints about queues.

That businesses spend large sums of money studying ways to reduce queuing is, to me, solid evidence that queues impose costs on almost everyone who must endure them.

My friend, we generally agree on almost everything, but this time I'm not sure I understand where you're coming from.

James Hanley July 29, 2008 at 9:36 am

"However, my point remains unrebutted thatit is impossible to make a blanket statement that queing is always a cost to everyone in all circumstances."

No, vidyohs, your point has been thoroughly rebutted. Waiting in line is always a cost, because people always have something they'd prefer to be doing. If waiting in line was a benefit, people would voluntarily do it–but go stand in a grocery store, and count on your fingers how many people purposefully pick the longest line; an armless person could do it.

All you've demonstrated is that, given that people don't want to waste time waiting in line, they will find ways to minimize the cost by making as productive use of that time as circumstances allow. You have not come close to demonstrating that people would prefer to surf the web and answer email while waiting in line for gas or the metered LA onramps (brings back memories!) than to do so at home.

You've confused people's efforts to maximize what otherwise would be even more wasted time with that time being desirable in and of itself.

Unit July 29, 2008 at 9:48 am

Vidyohs,

As always these kind of statements (Don's argument) are to be understood "ceteris paribus" and the way I understand them is not that we actually can hold all else important constant (which might well be impossible to do) but that on "average" over all possible concomitant changes the probability is very high that people will consider queueing a cost not a benefit. No blanketing here.

David July 29, 2008 at 9:50 am

I know one circumstance where this Cafe Patron could be right: While waiting in line for gas, listen to an Econtalk podcast in your car.

Bret July 29, 2008 at 11:05 am

James Hanley wrote: "You have not come close to demonstrating that people would prefer to surf the web and answer email while waiting in line for gas or the metered LA onramps (brings back memories!) than to do so at home."

It doesn't need to be demonstrated that people prefer to do things in the car. It only needs to be demonstrated that at least one person doesn't have a material preference not to be in their car to do those sorts of things. I am that person.

Therefore, at least one person experiences no cost for queueing in his car (up to a point). That same person would experience enormous inconvenience babysitting someone else's kid.

If I had to queue for 12 hours per Don's example, then I would run out of things which I could enjoyably do in the car so that I too, at that point, would experience quite a cost! Then I really would be missing work.

Methinks July 29, 2008 at 11:06 am

I know one circumstance where this Cafe Patron could be right: While waiting in line for gas, listen to an Econtalk podcast in your car.

Still rather do that in my living room.

[takes another whack at the dead horse]

Slocum July 29, 2008 at 11:27 am

A lot of people say something like "I'm paid $XX per hour. I'm not going to cut my own grass when I can pay somebody a lot less than $XX to do it."

But $XX is the wrong figure — what you really need to think about is $XX after being taxed at your highest marginal rate. My own marginal rate is nearly 50% (Federal + State + FICA), so I figure if the worker only makes half my hourly rate, it's still worth it to do the work myself. Not to mention the satisfaction of being able to do valuable work for myself without government taking a cut.

That's why, BTW, a lot of Europeans are do-it-yourselfers (high marginal tax rate combined with ample leisure time).

Unit July 29, 2008 at 11:37 am

"Europeans are do-it-yourselfers" uh?

Quite the opposite I would say.

Sam Grove July 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Certainly Don's leisure time holds no value for the writer.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Don,
This is a different question from your original proposal. "Do you really think it to be impossible to conclude that most people would prefer not to wait in line?"

"Prefering not to wait in line" is different from "waiting in line must always be recognized as a cost to everyone in every single case". The latter being what your original proposal amounted to.

And, yes, I maintain that there are many times in many people's lives when time spent in a line might be a blessing or a benefit and that you, nor I, can make a blanket statement regarding how they must view the value of that time spent in line being calculated and assigned.

Fannie's restaurant outside of Boston circa 1982, popular place for Prime Rib and Lobster, located in the basement of a popular Italian Restaurant. It was common to arrive there at 0600PM and find the line beginning at the host station downstairs, up the stairs and into the street. Having just lived for three plus years in Utah where everyone tried to ignore everyone else in public, those people waiting to eat at Fannie's couldn't have cared less about a line. The entire line up and down carried on converstations with perfect strangers and listened to wisdom from long time sports fans about their local teams. It was like a meeting of family, and if you'd have asked them if they reckoned the time spent line as a cost they would have laughed at you. Now I recognize this was not a gas station, but it was a queue that people were compelled to submit too.

It doesn't matter that one could be doing something other with his time or the other lame arguments above, what matters is how the individual views his time spent and whether at any particular time it is in the cost or benefit column. We can not dictate that, we can only generalize.

To be specific on costs today compared to yesteryear, your original post on this subject seemed so out of character that I had the tinge of feeling that you were shilling for Big Oil.

One year ago I could take a $100 FRN to town, buy four bottles of wine slightly under $10 each, drive back to my home and fill up a gas tank (no waiting involved) which had the little warning tank showing. After doing so I would typically have %50 left in my wallet, give or take a dollar.

Last week I did that and bought four bottles of the same exact wines at the same prices, and filled up my empty tank (no waiting involved) and had slightly under $15 left in my wallet. What changed? Not the wine.

Again, Don, this: "I can make no blanket statement about whether or not the persons waiting in that long line enjoy doing so or not"?" is off topic. Making blanket statements about "enjoying" being line is different from making blanket statements about queuing having to be reckoned a cost.

John Dewey,
This: "That may be true, but there is no doubt in my mind that an overwhelming majority of people prefer no queues over queues." is a different argument than making a blanket statement that all queuing must be reckoned as a cost to everyone in every single situation, particularly queues at gas stations.

Hey, I prefer no lines, but what I prefer is irrelevant to what you prefer in virtually every single situation I can think of.

James Hanley,

This: "No, vidyohs, your point has been thoroughly rebutted. Waiting in line is always a cost, because people always have something they'd prefer to be doing." is the most silly ass non-sensical thing that has been said yet.

Unit,

Well that was pretty damn good, but go back to the post that began all of this, I believe it was "Market Rally" and reread Don's original posting. I choose disagreement with intellects such as our hosts casually.

Bret,

Yes. You got it.

Slocum July 29, 2008 at 2:22 pm

"Europeans are do-it-yourselfers" uh?

Quite the opposite I would say.

"According to the Commission, the current proposal should encourage economic growth and shift more work from the do-it-yourself and black economy areas to the formal economy. "

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7492834.stm

I can't say I know a huge number of Europeans, but among the ones I know, working on the house during some of their many weeks of vacation seems common enough.

Scott July 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

vidyohs,

If there were people who did not view waiting in line as a negative, they still have the option to voluntarily wait nowadays, so they are not made worse off.

Those who did view waiting in line as a negative are better off by not having to wait in line.

Since no one is made worse off and some are made better, a Pareto improvement, I don't see how one couldn't conclude that waiting in line is a non monetary cost.

Mule July 29, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Vidyohs has staked out his "we all maximize utility differently" position in great detail. I'm trying hard to wrap my brain around his contrarian position (or is it more of a dissenter-for-dissent's sake role?).

I can honestly say that there were a couple of times when my day at work was so hectic that I didn't truly "mind" sitting in traffic on the way home, knowing my wife would ambush me with a honey-do list before my car was even parked. But those were distinct outliers that would have to be thrown out of this discussion, would they not? Should these rare occasions serve as a basis in the cost of Don's original point? To me, it seems to border more on the philosophical rather than economical.

Either way, the comments were a fun review of (quasi-)opportunity cost.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Scott
This: "If there were people who did not view waiting in line as a negative, they still have the option to voluntarily wait nowadays, so they are not made worse off." is not quite in the James Hanley silly-ass non-sensical class, but it is oh so close.

Mule,

"I'm trying hard to wrap my brain around his contrarian position (or is it more of a dissenter-for-dissent's sake role?)."

My contrarian position is taken simply from intellectual honesty, no more, no less. You will see below the relevant parts of the post Don made that prompted all of this discussion; and, in that seeing you and others will note that it is indeed a blanket statement/claim that waiting in line must be calculated as a cost to all consumers.

Now, shift gears here with me for a moment, and suppose that Don reads an opinion piece in the on-line NY Times (and he has plenty of times) and sees where Mr. X, a devout left wing clueless ideolouge, calls for complete regulation of an obviously corrupt system of capitalism and all markets because Mr. Y, CEO of Marbles Inc. looted his employee pension fund and abscounded to the Virgin Islands leaving the poor Marbles Inc. retirees destitute.

With that supposition tell me what Don's most probable response would be. I am confident that he would respond that to condemn captialism because of the actions of a morally corrupt individual would be a huge mistake because they system was not what was wrong, it was the individual crook. And, Don would be correct to do just that. He would know that the blanket statement made by the clueless Mr. X had no basis in reality and would not hesitate to say so.

My contrarian position stems from doing the exact same thing by inserting the understanding that what is cost to one may not be calculated as cost to all in the same way or even to the same extent. I submit that one would even have to consider that there is one individual out there that might consider waiting in line as no cost nor as a benefit, in other words in his life it is a nuetral thing.

Furthermore, I also make the contrarian position because I still feel like Don's original post on this subject seemed to me to be that stretch beyond reason to justify acceptance of current gas prices, to the point that it seemed like he was shilling for the industry. And, that surprised me.

Last point before I go and it relates to this:
"When you see a long line at airport security, do you think "Hey, perhaps this long line itself is a blessing, for I can make no blanket statement about whether or not the persons waiting in that long line enjoy doing so or not"?
Posted by: Don Boudreaux | Jul 29, 2008 9:11:01 AM"

Again, my point is not about what I think about any particular line, my point is that I can look up the line and see many different people in many different situations in their life, and their perception of the cost/benefit of that line may differ dramtically.

For instance, Mule and Don, I can look behind me in that airport line that is dragging for me and I see a young soldier with a wife and child who are clinging to each other trying to hide the tears and pain of separating again as he leaves for another tour in Iraq and I know he is praying for the line to crawl so he can be with his family for those precious few more moments……and brother that crawling line is a benefit to him. A cost to me, a benefit to him.

Now how do I know that the guy in the line next to mine at the gas station is not a devout Catholic who will not divorce, but has made a terrible decision in a wife? Anything that keeps him legitimately away from his home may be a benefit to him. And, there behind him is an abused wife whose crawling line is legitimately keeping her away from going home and she cherishes each of those moments the line keeps her secure. A cost to me, a benefit to her.

Of course those people are of my imagination, but tell me the possibility of them existing in any given line in any given circumstance is not to be thought of. A cost to me, a benefit to them, and neither you nor I know who they are. My sole and only point.

July 25, 2008
The Cost of Gasoline
Don Boudreaux

Is gasoline now more expensive for consumers than it was in the 1970s (as claimed by, among others, the author(s) of this article in the most recent issue of The Economist)?

The 1970s were notorious for long queues at filling stations. These queues meant that consumers back then paid not only with dollars at the pump, but also with hours spent waiting in line (not to mention suffering anxiety over the prospect of being unable to get gasoline at all).

The important pont is that, no matter how you slice it, the full price that Americans paid for gasoline during the many shortages of the 1970s was higher than the simple money prices they paid at the pump.

Methinks July 29, 2008 at 4:18 pm

It occurs to me that most people who are making a case for the relief of waiting in line are using something unpleasant as the alternative to waiting in line – a meeting at work, a honey-do list, hiding from an unpleasant boss, etc. Alternatively, waiting in line in a place they seem to like to spend time anyway (Bret's car) is not a drag because they prefer to spend their leisure time there anyway. None of these examples are alternatives to leisure time. I'll bet Mule would rather neither work through a honey-do list nor sit in traffic.

But for those who just love queuing up for its own sake, please contact me. I need somebody to go to the post office, the DMV and a variety of other government offices on my behalf.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 4:52 pm

Methinks,

Does this: "It occurs to me that most people who are making a case for the relief of waiting in line are using something unpleasant as the alternative to waiting in line – a meeting at work, a honey-do list, hiding from an unpleasant boss, etc." make the case being made any less valid?

and

Do we know any of these: "But for those who just love queuing up for its own sake"?

Kevin S. July 29, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I see what you are saying Vidyohs, and I agree. Queuing costs are not the same for everybody and the cost (or gain to an admittedly small minority) is very individual. For me and others, there was no queue cost in the 70's, so we obviously are paying more for a gallon of gas today than in the 70's. As others have pointed out, the efficiency gains probably result in a net decrease in total gasoline spending for most people, which would have been a more convincing argument when making the case for comparably lower gas prices today.

The value of one's time is highly individual. For me, it may be possible that a doubling of gas prices today actually saves me money. How, you ask? It might make using public transportation a net gain for some or most people, thus reducing traffic and allowing me to get around faster, increasing my efficiency. It might also make our public transportation sytem more efficient and possibly self-sufficient thereby reducing my tax burden (Although I have little doubt it would be diverted to some other useless cause). Other people whose time is not as valuable in real dollars, may find public transportation more valuable than $8 gas.

Can we agree that we should be free to make those value judgements without a mandate from gov't?

John Dewey July 29, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Kevin S: "It might make using public transportation a net gain for some or most people… It might also make our public transportation sytem more efficient and possibly self-sufficient thereby reducing my tax burden."

IMO, it would be a huge economic risk to have a majority of the nation's workforce dependent on public transportation systems. That's just plain scary.

Bret July 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Kevin S. wrote: "It might make using public transportation a net gain for some or most people, thus reducing traffic and allowing me to get around faster, increasing my efficiency."

Sure. If it wasn't for the damage to the economy, I'd love $10/gallon gas because my commute time, which has already become noticeably more pleasant and shorter due to $4/gallon gas, would be even better.

Kevin S. also wrote: "Can we agree that we should be free to make those value judgements without a mandate from gov't?"

Sure. That's my preference. It's a subjective preference, however.

Kevin S. July 29, 2008 at 6:07 pm

JD, I agree in their current form public transportation stinks. My point was that I may personally benefit from $8 gas, while others may not. I have no idea whether I would benefit or not, I never figured it out, and the answer would depend on the value of my time when it occurs.

Would you be more comfortable with a private transit system? One where large employers (or groups of employees) have vans/small buses and they could park and ride (voluntarily, of course)?

Tom July 29, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Chris says:

Of course leisure time is worth something. But, there's no reason to expect it to be worth the same thing as working time.

Wrong. Sometimes it's worth more, and sometimes it's worth less. Read a chapter on consumer choice theory. The more you have of something, the less relative worth it has. The more you work, the more value you'll begin to place on leisure.

vidyohs July 29, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Tom,

Not to be viewed as a smart-ass here but this is funny.

First you pull the quote from Chris:
"Of course leisure time is worth something. But, there's no reason to expect it to be worth the same thing as working time"
and you state emphatically he is "wrong".

Then you turn right around and confirm what he said with this: "Sometimes it's worth more, and sometimes it's worth less."

Just thought you'd want to be aware and tighten up your arguments in the future.

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