FLAPJACKS: Why are we here?
ME: Is that an existential question or a specific one?
FLAPJACKS: The second one. Why are we at the One of a Kind Show?
ME: Because I’m Christmas shopping.
FLAPJACKS: That doesn’t answer the question, though. That explains what you’re doing. It doesn’t explain why you’re in the land of magically high prices. We had to pay just to get in the door!
ME: No we didn’t.
FLAPJACKS: Okay, we didn’t, because you “know people.” But spiritually we paid to get in the door.
ME: That doesn’t make any sense.
FLAPJACKS: Neither does shopping where you have to pay fourteen bucks just to get in the door for the privilege of shopping, but hey, look at all these people.
ME: Look, there’s perfectly nice stuff here.
FLAPJACKS: I’m not saying it’s not nice. It’s very nice. Except for that guy selling the clay goblins.
ME: I missed that.
FLAPJACKS: He wanted thirty dollars each for the small ones. He wasn’t getting much traffic.
ME: So maybe he misjudged his potential market. Why is that so bad?
FLAPJACKS: Because he is this entire show in microcosm. Handmade stuff that nobody wants for too much money.
ME: Well, it’s handmade. The entire ethos of this show is –
FLAPJACKS: Look, I get it. It’s nice to have nice things that people made, sure, and not all of the stuff for sale here is clay goblins. But let’s be honest: we walked through this entire thing twice before you bought anything, and it was because you were visibly wincing at the prices.
ME: I was really hoping that wasn’t that obvious.
FLAPJACKS: It was.
ME: It’s not that it isn’t nice stuff.
FLAPJACKS: If I may give you an example? You looked appreciatively at a pepper mill that was made from a hollowed-out tree branch. And I agree, that was a clever bit of craftsmanship. But they wanted seventy dollars for that pepper mill, which, let’s be blunt, did not take more than a couple of hours to make if you don’t count the time for the lacquer on the outside to dry. Figure that the raw materials cost them ten bucks or so, including amortizing the cost of the drill, and that is sixty dollars’ worth of labour. That person is telling you that his labour to create tree-branch pepper mills is worth thirty dollars an hour. Extrapolate that out to a forty-hour workweek and that’s sixty thousand dollars a year in income. Is tree-branch pepper mill creation worth that?
ME: I think you’re picking an outside example that you perceive as particularly easy, simple and reproducible. I mean, there’s a guy here who makes watches. That’s not easy. Surely we’re willing to pay a premium for skill?
FLAPJACKS: Yeah, but you overlook the fact that his prices are actually reasonable. Like, he starts at $400 or so for a wristwatch and the craftsmanship is obvious. If you want a fancy watch, his watches are not unreasonable as compared to going to… okay, I don’t know who makes fancy watches in the corporate world. Fancy Watch Place or something. The watch guy’s wares are priced comparably to what one might buy elsewhere – as compared to the two other places that were selling watches, which were showier, uglier, and more expensive for what they were.
ME: This seems like a bad apples argument. The fashion sellers here aren’t overpricing as compared to designer originals. The artists selling painted goods aren’t selling their art for less than what you’d buy it elsewhere. Original anything is more expensive.
FLAPJACKS: But shouldn’t there be a ceiling on what more expensive should be? I mean, look at that circular scarf over there. It’s pretty nice, granted. But it’s twenty-eight bucks at American Apparel.
ME: But this one is handmade from wool. I think actually that might make a good Christmas present for somebody. Excuse me, how much are those scarves?
DEALER SPEAKING IN ROUGH FRENCH ACCENT: Fifty-five.
FLAPJACKS: I suppose that isn’t too bad.
ME: It’s only about double the price, and that’s fair for not having to pay to produce their I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-fetish-porn catalogue, right?
FLAPJACKS: I concur. Go forth and shop.
ME: All right. Excuse me, I would like to purchase this circular scarf, please.
OTHER DEALER SPEAKING MUCH BETTER ENGLISH: Well, that will be $135.
ME: Wait, what?
DEALER SPEAKING IN ROUGH FRENCH ACCENT: I am sorry, I think you mean regular scarf. Neverending scarf is one-thirty-five. I am sorry.
ME: Uh, yes. I have to just go hit a cash machine. I will be back… when I have enough money for this.
FLAPJACKS: We’re walking awfully fast here.
FLAPJACKS: You realize they basically asked for an extra eighty bucks to sew the two ends of the scarf together?
ME: And that’s why I am not buying it. I will, in a very specific sense, never have enough money for that.
FLAPJACKS: Well, this is fascinating. We went from “I’m willing to pay that to avoid the fetish porn catalogue” to “okay, fine, I’ll pay to promote unhealthy depictions of women wearing T-shirts provocatively” in less than thirty seconds.
ME: I am not paying that much money for a scarf and I don’t care who knows it.
FLAPJACKS: Apparently you’re willing to sometimes pay double to buy ethically, but not five times as much. There’s probably an XKCD strip that could be made out of this incident.
ME: In all seriousness, I think you’re oversimplifying. At a certain point, doesn’t “handmade” lose attractiveness? I mean, this isn’t me endorsing slave labour, you understand. I avoid buying chocolate if I can’t be sure it isn’t the product of child labour, which discounts a lot of chocolate. But there’s nothing wrong with machine-produced goods so long as the machine operators get a fair wage and the goods are decent, and nowadays that is a fair amount of stuff.
FLAPJACKS: And I assume a fair wage is “whatever you think is reasonable” in this context?
ME: You’re being awfully judgemental today, you know that?
FLAPJACKS: I blame the clay goblin guy. When we passed his stall he was complaining that all the shoppers were buying the gourmet food things rather than clay goblins. What did you expect, clay goblin guy? The gourmet food items aren’t that much more expensive than regular food, and they give out free samples! Where is my free sample-size clay goblin?
ME: I’m pretty sure that business model doesn’t work, like, ever. Also I note your “whatever I think is reasonable” sarcasm is now coming back to bite you in the ass.
FLAPJACKS: Well, I think it’s time to re-evaluate the “artisan” business model. If you want to see things on the basis that you made them and this makes them intrinsically better than, I dunno, mass-produced clay goblins, then you have to come up with a way to sell more of them, and that means lowering your price at least a little.
ME: But isn’t this the “Henry Ford was wrong” scenario? That the only solution is for all of us to lower the cost of our labour until only a few can profit?
FLAPJACKS: I’ve already got that covered, Mr. Occupy Whatever. I plan to become a plutocrat.
ME: But you have no appreciable skills beyond a capability to borrow woks and not return them.
FLAPJACKS: Metaphorically, is that not more or less the entire premise of the financial industry at this point?
ME: …you make a reasonable point.