Sunday, October 30, 2011

Things I wish I'd known before:

A number of summers ago I began work on remodeling a house my wife and I recently moved into. The remodeling involved a number of complex tasks from replacing electrical wiring, insulation, roofing, to simple tasks such as painting and to what I thought might also be simple, improving the yard. I performed this task with my old man, 64 years old at the time. My dad is an attorney and also owns a number or rental units in the town I grew up. He also loves physical labor, and I mean, loves it. He spends the better part of every Saturday and Sunday working with his hands on just about everything that can be touched outside. My love for physical labor is not as pronounced.
So back to, what I thought, was going to be some rather simple yard improvements. It was July in Nevada when we started. For those of you not familiar Nevada that is the equivalent of saying the temperature outside was Hell on earth. Our first task, I was told, was to remove an Elm tree in the yard. One week later, and a few pounds lighter, and still on that same damn tree, I looked my father square in the eye and told him, "ya know, we could rent a machine to do this". He responded, "yeah, for 500 bucks", and went back to chopping at the roots.
My education into economics at that point was very limited. But now I know the value of trade and opportunity cost. My old man only looked at one side of the equation, him having to pay someone for a machine that could do a job that he himself could do with his own labor. What he failed to realize is that the inventor of the machine had created a comparative advantage over the physical labor of his competitors. He also failed to remember that he had a comparative advantage over the owner of the machine with his legal knowledge. So we all lost out economically. My father could have traded his legal expertise for the 4 hours needed from the machine to do the job that took us two weeks!


  1. AMEN BROTHER! my dad is a building inspector but before that he was a contractor. He for my entire life has been trying to tell me that doing it yourself was always the best alternative. What he failed to understand when i was a child is that a 9 year old is a very innefficient work partner, he would have been able to get much more work done if he had just hired an assistant. also he will blow 5 weekends to do what would be a weekends worth of work for a well equiped proffesional. If our fathers could understand the true value of their work, they would realize in many cases it is much cheaper to have someone else do it.

  2. I bet both your dads were gaining some level of utility from doing it themselves. You can't forget to value that.

  3. Am I missing something? Both fathers seem intelligent, have either of you considered the that the simplest answer is usually the correct one...that they both understood they could pay someone or get something to get the job done faster, but they both enjoyed the time spent with their sons, bonding while doing "guy stuff".

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