Megan McArdle spends hundreds upon hundreds of words — well-chosen, artfully-used, and often informative words — justifying her purchase of a $1500 Thermomix food processor, which apparently is the mutt’s nuts for all manner of tedious and/or fiddly kitchen tasks. All she needed were four.
- Apologia pro gadgets sua (title recently changed to something less faux-Latin)
Of course, the whole point is that “need” is not a useful point for comparison. I might inveigh against prune-faced finger-wagging greyfaces with the titular retort, while McMegan might prefer to rant for four digits of word count, and neither one of us is doing it wrong. Envious, grasping, small-minded people who demand that other people justify freely-made purchases with no apparent external costs infuriate me.
The article, with its comment section, is a gold mine of quips. On the subject of technological innovation:
[T]he new gadget represents hours, maybe years, of human ingenuity applied to the problem of making repetitive tasks easier, faster, safer, or more convenient. Which basically sums up 90% of human progress since the industrial revolution, so don’t give it short shrift. We should enjoy these things–their sleek design, their nifty features. I love machines of all types, from welding robots to 50-foot cranes, and when they are specially designed for my favorite room of the house, I love them even more.
On why we use as well as love those innovations:
A good kitchen gadget lowers the marginal cost, in time or money, of producing good food. More than occasionally, they also produce better food than you can do unassisted. Toasters make better toast than your oven does. Food processors make better pie crust than tediously fooling with two forks or a pastry blender while your fat gets warm. Genoise can fail on even the most expert cook, but the Thermomix method is basically foolproof–and produces a product just as good as the old hand method.
Commenter JohnMcG on which consumption choices get criticized:
Assuming Megan was going to use the money on her own consumption (vs. giving it to charity or directly to poor people, etc.), how does her choice compare with the following?
* Having a big celebratory dinner with her husband and friends at a really nice restaurant.
* Eating out with her husband at a moderately priced restaurant (Applebee’s, etc.) an extra two times a month for a year.
* Having an extra lunch out a week instead of packing.
* Buying an iPhone and 2 year service contract.
* Buying a big flat screen TV and buying/upgrading her cable package.
* Buying a nicer car.
* Some convenient but not strictly necessary home improvement
* A vacation with her husband.
I guess I don’t see Megan’s choice as better or worse than any of those listed. Some may bring her closer to her husband or friends, but the Thermomix could as well. Yet, I don’t think many would have criticized her for some of the choices on the list above.
Commenter Melissa on technology transfer and opportunity cost:
I just hope more and more rich people start using these, spurring demand for them and perhaps leading to the production of cheaper models for middle-class consumers. […] I think the dirty secret among farmers who you might think are luddites is that even “slow food”-type farmers often own expensive labor-saving gadgets like egg washers or chicken pluckers. Labor is expensive and opportunity cost for small farmers is often very high since almost all of them have second jobs.
And finally, commenter Rob Lyman on preparedness (gleefully taken out of context):
If you don’t have a saber, a machete can make a serviceable substitute. You do own a machete, don’t you?
Machetes are like fire extinguishers: every responsible adult should own at least three. Right?