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Economic Theory

August 1, 2011
by Erin B


Today, Portlandize posted this:

People who ride bicycles for transportation in the United States often come to be viewed as elitist by the population at large, and while this may seem odd at first, given that bicycles are cheaper to buy and maintain than cars, take up less space, cause less damage to our roads and thus reduce road maintenance costs, and are even often associated with poor and homeless people in the U.S., I think there are a number of reasons why this happens; attitudes and misunderstandings both from those who choose to ride bicycles for transportation and those who don’t contribute to the confusion.

It’s a good article and worth the read.  My immediate thoughts were this:

I think part of it has to be that I can get a loan to buy a minivan for no money down, no interest and low monthly payments.  Good luck trying to find financing for a $3000 Onderwater Family tandem.  They aren’t available locally, so I would either have to add $1000 to travel to test drive one or buy on faith.  It’s easy to say that you can be poor and get a cheap bike and not have to pay for gas, but really, the kind of bike that will work for day to day family biking,  is beyond of reach of us lower middle class people.

If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a well built bike and don’t have kids and live someplace that doesn’t routinely hit -50C in the winter… trading a car for a bike is easier.

But more than that, this is a prime example of the Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice:

The Sam Vimes “Boots” Theory of Economic Injustice runs thus:

At the time of Men at Arms, Samuel Vimes earnt thirty-eight dollars a month as a Captain of the Watch, plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he, Vimes, could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he, Vimes, would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so as to prolong the moment of shelling out another ten dollars.

Therefore over a period of ten years, he, Vimes, might have paid out a hundred dollars on boots, twice as much as the man who could afford fifty dollars up front ten years before. And he would still have wet feet.

In a lot of ways… this kind of applies to my life.  If we could afford the new house (and new house taxes) we wouldn’t need to be scrimping for home repairs right now.   On the other hand, a new neighbourhood would mean two cars and no hope for biking for groceries.  We would really need more money at that point.  It would be the double mortgage and double the car payments.  It is so far out of our reach, I might as well add the imaginary $10,000 bike collection with a bike for every occasion to the imaginary other expenses.

I know I have spent a lot of time in the last year obsessing about money, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy where I am.  We are SO CLOSE to having all the work the house needs to be structurally sound and warm.  Finish the paint job, a few more windows and that’s all the big stuff done.  It’s all cosmetic from there.  I kind of just want it to be over.

I’m tired of having wet feet.

But my home grown peas taste amazing and it’s going to be a good year for tomatoes.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lorene permalink
    August 1, 2011 10:54 pm

    I would say you’re middle class, not lower middle. Then again from a quick search on the intarwebs, the definition of middle class is so random that I can’t really argue if you want to say you’re lower middle. 🙂

    Maybe it’s being raised in a small town, but I really don’t see the need to have a “fancy” house and vehicles. If what you have works well and looks presentable, that’s what you should be happy with. Which is why it’s great that you’re fixing up the house.

    I’d like to know how much better that $3000 bike is than the $300 bike, because I really have no idea. Is there that much difference in the manufacturing quality?

  2. Erin B permalink*
    August 1, 2011 11:10 pm

    It isn’t just about manufacturing. It’s about function. The tandem mentioned can carry an adult and up to three small kids. Or convert into a cargo bike. I’m adding a picture to the above.

    However, as to the lower middle class, well… I suspect you make about the same as T, or with the same employer, you can figure out about how much he makes. Deduct about a 1/3 for child support and add about $300 a month I make working at the clinic. Then try to budget for 2 adults and 1.8 kids.

    The original poster is car free. I don’t think I could carry groceries for between 3 and 5 people on Claire. No matter how fabulous she is.

    I’m not trying to whine here. I am just having a moment of frustration with the “anyone can do it” attitude on a lot of the bike blogs out there. It isn’t as easy as people want you to believe. Or maybe it just isn’t as easy here with my family circumstances.

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