Dry Boots, Fairness, and Social Equality: An Addendum on Weatherizing

A little while ago, while I idly browsing through various mentions of the weatherizing provisions in the economic stimulus bill, I came across this beautiful example of compassion:

Nothing stimulates the economy like government funding, at the expense of working Americans, for layabouts who can't be bothered to weatherize their own homes.

For the time being, let's set aside the assertion that a family of four making $30,000 per year are "layabouts", and not "working Americans". Instead, let's look at the "can't be bothered" thing.

As I pointed out earlier, a family that spends $2,500 weatherizing their house can expect to save about $350 per year on their utility bills. That means that they'll break even on the expense in a little more than seven years, and after 10 years they'll be $1,000 ahead of the game. Weatherizing is an investment. So what possible reason could people have to not weatherize their own homes?

For an answer, let's turn to my favorite British philosopher:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness.

"Men At Arms" (Terry Pratchett)

In most states, a family of four cannot qualify for weatherization assistance funding if they make more than $30,000 per year. That means that, for most of the families who qualify for this program, weatherization costs more than a month's worth of pay. They can (at least sometimes) afford the excess energy costs. The expense of weatherizing, on the other hand, would represent a major hardship.

More like this

Is this a metaphor for our whole banking crisis? The result of sacrificing long-term stability (i.e. more solid investments that may make less money) for short term profits is leaky banks...

Just goes to show you, it's easy to be smart when you have the money for it.

In my own mind, I have labelled a similar concept "Having a Float".

If you have no extra money over your fixed expenses, you only buy stuff in crisis mode. Winter boots when the first snow falls, car repairs the day it doesn't start, a new roof when it starts to leak.

If you have a float - say $ 1000.00 - you buy the same stuff for less. Boots only when on sale, new brakes before they fail, repairs and updates in a timely manner. You can choose to replace a furnace to save energy cost - in the middle of a cool summer when tradesmen are looking for work.
You can avoid paying interest to finance everyday life.

Trouble is - if you work at minimum wage - you will never be able to hold onto a float long enough to benefit.

If you are rich, you have always had the benefit of it.

To paraphrase Withnail & I, things like this are cheap to those who can afford it, but very expensive to those who can't.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 28 Jan 2009 #permalink