By Fareeha Qayoom
ou must have heard of the law of the instrument, attributed to Maslow and Kaplan, ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Well, Eduardo Porter’s book, ‘The price of everything’ is something like that, if all you know is economics, everything looks like cost-benefit analysis. By everything, he means literally everything, life, death and love, freedom, religion and culture, parenting, shopping, and garbage. Where you buy your coffee, where you plan to live and even the number of kids you plan to have and will it be a boy child or a girl child; it all boils down to prices – and it’s all relative.
For example, the blurb on the back cover reads, “The Price of Everything starts with a simple premise: there is a price behind each choice that we make, whether we’re deciding to have a baby, drive a car, or buy a book. We often fail to appreciate just how critical prices are as a motivating force shaping our lives. But their power becomes clear when distorted prices steer our decisions the wrong way.”
Not that the book is not interesting. It’s very interesting; in fact, it’s one of those dry tomes that you don’t want to put down because a. it’s very readable b. it’s full of fun facts and c. it connects the dots in real interesting ways to make a whole new picture out of an old hat. Nowadays, time is money. Best of all, it gives you value for your money and indeed time. It’s funny, engaging and very, very entertaining. I enjoyed it and finished it in couple of days flat.
Do I agree with Porter? Am not sure I do. But it sure is interesting looking at the world through his eyes.
Here’s a short excerpt from the book’s introduction – enjoy!
The prices are everywhere
Anybody who has visited a garbage dump in the developing world knows that value is an ambiguous concept. To most people in the developed world, household waste is worthless, of course. That’s why we throw it away. Apparently, Norwegians are willing to pay about $114 a ton for somebody else to sort their recyclables from the general garbage. A survey of families in the Carter community of Tennessee several years ago found they were willing to pay $363 a year in today’s money, to avoid a landfill nearby.
But slightly beyond our immediate experience, waste becomes a valuable commodity. In Kamboinse, outside Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, farmers pay municipal trash haulers to dump unsorted solid waste in their sorghum and millet fields as fertilizer – bits of plastic included. The going rate in 2003 was 400 francs per ton. In New Delhi, a study in 2002 found that waste pickers earned two rupees per kilo of PET soda bottles and seven rupees per kilo of hard plastic shampoo bottles. A child working on foot on Delhi’s dumps could make twenty to thirty rupees per day.