Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Economic Naturalist: Why do 24-hour convenience stores have locks on their doors?

If you are the owner of a 24-hour convenience store, would you think of regularly closing the establishment for a particular time of the day for some reason? Apparently not, for closing half an hour will make it a 23.5-hour Convenience Store. lol. In other words, an owner would not think of closing the store for even a single minute of the day. But why do 24-hour convenience stores have their locks?

Of course our answer would be: "JUST IN CASE..." the store needs to close inevitably during emergency instances. In case the store temporarily runs out of stocks or becomes bankrupt, it has to close. In case no one is able to tend to it, it must also have to close.

While the answer is valid, Robert Frank points out another reason why these stores have locks it is difficult to find or even more expensive to purchase doors without locks. Industrial doors are sold mostly to establishments that are not open 24 hours a day. These establishments obviously have reasons for wanting locks on their doors. Therefore, door makers make doors with locks, thereby making production cost cheaper in following the same process. Making doors without locks deviates from the usual process and therefore needs an assembly line modification resulting to additional cost. Using doors with locks makes negligible cost on oddities compared to the manufacturing cost of those without.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Economic Naturalist: Why fuel doors are on the driver’s side of some cars but on the passenger’s side of others?

Any driver can be frustrated pulling up for gas only to realize that the gas tank is located on the other side of the car away from the pump. Would car manufacturers intentionally cause this to their prospective buyers and stand the chance of incurring opportunity cost (not to mention the added manufacturing cost)? Frustrating as it may seem, cars have their fuel doors on either side.

Some cars have it on the driver's side and some on the passenger's. I think you already have an idea why this is so. In case you didn't realize or didn't notice at all, Frank points out one good reason.

In some countries (USA, Philippines, etc.) cars drive on the right side of the road. It is more convenient for drivers to turn right, thus they always buy at gas stations they can enter by turning right. Suppose all gas tanks are located on the driver's side, all cars entering the station will have to park at the right side of the pump to load up. During busy hours, cars will have to line up on the right side of the pump only leaving the left side empty. By putting fuel doors on the other side of some cars, drivers can also load up on the left side of the pump thus shortening the waiting time. With this, the shortening the gas loading time greatly outweighs the cost of occasionally pulling up at the wrong side of the pump.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Economic Naturalist: Why do women’s clothes always button from the left while men’s clothes always button from the right?

If not for Robert Frank's book, I would not know that men's and women's clothes button from different sides. Yes, they do! You can try comparing your buttoned clothes with that of your husband or wife. Men's clothes button from the right while women's clothes button from the left.

One can begin to think of a reason for this and make the conclusion that it is in the convenience of dressing up that button designs are based. If this is so, we will have to conclude that most men are right- handed and most women are left-handed. It seems that this is not the case. Most people are right-handed (almost 90%) yet they are not only men. A great number of women are also right-handed. Our conclusion that one's convenience (whether a rightee or a leftee) in dressing up seemed to be wrong in this analysis.

Yes, the reason is still convenience but not in the present context of history. We are talking of convenience in dressing up way back in time. When buttons first appeared in the seventeenth century, the wealthy people are the ones using them in their garments. During that time, it was the custom that men dress themselves while women have servants to dress them up. Having women's shirt button from the left made it easier for mostly right-handed servants to do the task. It was also convenient for men (mostly right-handed too) who button from the right to dress up by themselves. Aside from that, because a sword is drawn from the left hip with the man's right hand, the design helps to make it less likely to become caught in the shirt.

A norm, once established, resists change.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rectangular Cartons and Cylindrical Cans

You may sometimes get baffled by the random questions asked by your toddlers while strolling at the park, or buying groceries at the supermarket. You wonder how these seemingly simple questions are a little hard to explain. You should thank Robert H. Frank, a professor of Economics at Cornell University who seemed to have found sound and simple explanations to your children's inquiries. His explanations are contained in his book, The Economic Naturalist. I will try to devote a few entries on this fascinatingly relevant information.

Why is milk sold in rectangular cartons, while soft drinks are sold in round cans?

Frank offers a number of possible explanations for this:

  1. Soft drinks are directly consumed from the container while milk isn't. Cylindrical cans fit more comfortably in hand while drinking.
  2. Rectangular containers save shelf space. The shelf space they save counts much more in the case of milk than in soft drinks. Soft drinks can be stored in open shelves that cost less and with little (or no) operating expense. Milk, on the other hand, must be stored under a strictly regulated low temperature (to prevent spoilage). A specially made shelf then must be used to keep its freshness. These shelves cost more than an average one and always incur a bigger operating cost. Thus, every inch a pack of milk occupies is worth more than that of a soft drink can and must be maximized hence the rectangular cartons which practically fill every available space when arranged side by side.