Recently, I saw a reference to a book entitled The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. I bought the book, which is lengthy, and started reading it. One observation that prompted me to think about how we waste assets was his statement that cars are parked 95% of the time. I thought about that comment, along with several other observations:
The challenges in addressing this wastage are to figure out why it exists and what workable solutions exist for it. Interestingly enough, the use of the Internet for both voice and data communications is an improvement on telecommunications that both reduces wastage and improves redundancy. Historically, both voice and data were carried over dedicated lines intact from origin to destination. The Internet introduced the idea of breaking apart voice and data transmission into packets which could travel over multiple paths and be re-assembled at the destination. In essence, the Internet created a far more efficient use of resources than the traditional dedicated land-line.
We need to think differently about assets. We need to be less focused on owning and more focused on using. We also need to recognize that a used asset may have enough value that we do not need to buy something new. Finally, we need to dispose of what we do not need so that others can use it while it still has value.
Our society has a lot of capacity to reduce the cost of living by defining our needs more precisely. I grew up in a working-class household in which my parents were experts at finding used items, re-using materials for other purposes, and taking something seemingly without value and finding a way to give it value.
The golf clubs I used when I was growing up were bought at a Salvation Army store and were so old that they had wooden shafts. My first suit was given to me by a cousin who had torn a pant leg on the trousers. My mother got the trouser re-woven and I wore the suit for years. My parents used torn tee-shirts as cleaning rags, and used body lotions as mosquito repellants. Vinegar was used to absorb cigarette smoke because we could not afford more expensive air cleaning systems at our home.
Today, the media is highlighting how desperate the lives of many people are, and they are right. But we could do these individuals a great deal of good by giving them access to necessary goods and services in a less expensive way. For many goods and services, this is a far better alternative than moving production and service operations offshore to create a lower-cost version of a new product.