The Cost of Convenience…

Shipping Labels

Yesterday I received four padded mailers from Amazon. Each contained one or more small booklets that I had ordered two days prior – yes, I am a Prime Member. Each mailer was identical in size. Two plastic mailers. Two manila mailers. One mailer came from Philadelphia. One from Kansas City. One from Columbus. One from Kenosha. All were sent to the Amazon sort center in Hebron (Kentucky) which directed them to the Noblesville Postal Service for delivery to my home.

I work for Amazon. Each day I have occasion to think, “How in the world does my company make any money?” I see inefficiencies everywhere. I believe this question is endemic to all persons in all workplaces, i.e. I am not alone in sighing at my perceived sense of waste of dollars and human effort. When I return from work where I raised that question and find FOUR mailers for ONE order on my front porch, I sigh and raise the same question again: How is it possible for any person or non-person to make any money with such apparent waste?

I have an undergraduate degree where I majored in Economics and one quarter of a Masters of Business Administration in Economics. I “learned” that markets, processes, human endeavors, human consumption and human delights, if left unattended, unregulated, untaxed, unpersuaded and uncontrolled (whatever that may mean) in any manner would seek an equilibrium point of interaction that would be the most “efficient” point for that particular transaction or endeavor. (I recognize that this is a gross oversimplification of very complex and many-layered ventures and undertakings.)

In the Good Old Days of Yore I would have shopped for the same items at my local Barnes & Noble in Noblesville. One shopper – me. One store. All eight items located in the same shelf. I would have paid the listed price printed on the ISBN label less the discount for being a Barnes & Noble Loyal Customer. I would bring those items home and happily consume them in the way in which each was created to be consumed.

Fast forward to today. I paid the same list price for the items on the ISBN at Amazon – sorry, no price reduction. I received my employee discount which is roughly equivalent to a Loyal Customer discount. My shipping was as free as if I had brought the items home from Barnes & Noble of Noblesville myself – again, I am a Prime Member.

Net out-of-pocketbook dollar cost to me, Mr. Consumer, is the same for both transactions.

So, here’s the rub: How is it that Amazon.com flirts with being the World’s Most Valuable Company in this scenario?

Surely, it can’t be because of any efficiency gains created by the United States’ sole God, the God of the Free Market, and His Son, Economies of Scale and Efficient Equilibrium Who is constantly being crucified by Socialists, Market Manipulators and Taxes? Any sane Priest of Economics would say that this is exactly what is happening and defend Jeff Bezos’ right, indeed any person’s right, to interact with the Noble Consumer who is pushed around and/or pulled by the Invisible Hand of the God – or Goddess – of Whimsy.

I, once a Priest of Economics, a Follower of Friedman, a Dilettante of Dodd and Debreau and a Student of Stigler (yes, I was George Stigler’s caddy every Tuesday morning at Flossmoor Country Club during the summers of my youth), am now – and, to be honest, have been for some time – skeptical of the Holy Scripture of Economic Efficiency.

I am now declaring myself a Conservative in that I rejoice in and believe to be true that the sole measure of efficiency, any sort of efficiency, is that which gives me the most output of goods and services provided by others for as little input as possible of my own time and Being and personal resources i.e. conserves my time, my self, and my money.

I am now…conveniently…a Conservative of Convenience…my convenience.