Extrapolation of the “Captain Samuel Vimes Boots theory of socio-economic unfairness”.
In 1993 Sir Terry Pratchett published Men at Arms and with it the Sam Vimes Boots theory. It goes something like this:
A really good pair of boots costs the equivalent of more than a month’s wages, and an ok pair cost about 1/5th of the price. And whilst the ok pair may last for six months if you are lucky, the good pair will last for years. Thus the poor man who buys the ok boots will, in the long run spend more on boots and still have wet feet.
Whilst in the most general of terms it is probably one of the truisms of life, I believe it misses out a few points that need to be considered. Also, because I am a motorcyclist who actually uses a bike for the daily commute in all weathers and because I have been employed for most of my adult life in one workshop or another, I have been wearing boots rather than shoes since before I left school. Thus I have a soft spot for boots. Particularly ones that don’t leak and last for a more than a few weeks. Oh, and don’t cost the earth.
Now, if you are not already fed up and have read thus far then there is probably not a lot of point in asking for your permission to continue.
So, first let us consider the boots. Here I’d like to re-categorise slightly. Now have boots “A” the really good boots, handmade and tailored to fit your feet by craftsman, using only the best materials. The real cherry on the top type boots, that will not only last for years but also, provided they are looked after, can be re-soled and heeled ad infinitum.
Next we have boots “O” the good boots. These are well made on a produced basis with good materials. These boots generally have an all in one sole and heel that can be replaced perhaps once or twice before the rest of the boots gives up.
And at the bottom of the pile we have boots “X” the mass market, mass produced boot. It is made from the cheapest of material in poorly equipped workshops, by hard pressed workers trying to scratch a living in whichever country currently has the lowest wages. These boots either tend to fall off of your feet after three days, or if you are lucky, will last six months. They are often sprayed with a rubber polymer that seals them and makes them waterproof but also makes polishing them a waste of time. However, once they get the slightest scratch the floodgates will open and you’ll have wet feet all day at work.
Boots “A” cost £1000 and last 10 years
Boots “O” cost £250 and last 2 years
Boots “X” cost £75 and last ½ a year
Thus as stated in Sir Terry’s well-grounded theory, in the 10 year life span of boots “A”, you will have spent £1250 on boots “O” or £1500 on boots “X”. Clearly the poor security guard on £12,000 a year will have to spend half as much again as the man in the boardroom earning £1,000,000 a year plus bonuses…
Buts life isn’t that simple. Boardroom man is all too aware of this fact. And since everything he owns falls under the boots “A” category, he is able to save all these savings and buy up the high-street chain that sells boots “X”. Now because boardroom man very quickly becomes the largest retailer for said boots, he is either able to demand an exclusivity clause from the Far East producer of boots “X”, and/or demand a lower wholesale price. He has Far East producer over a barrel because if he takes his business elsewhere then Far East producer will have no one to buy his boots and he will go out of business. Unfortunately, Far East producer now has no option but to reduce his cost. He already pays the lowest wages, and his factory has seen better days so he has no option except to use even cheaper materials.
Now boots “X” still look like boots “X”. They still cost security guard man £75 but fall apart in 1/3rd of a year so he has to buy even more boots or, if he can afford it, save his pennies and buy boots “O”.
Boardroom man is happy to start with because he is selling more boots “X” to begin with. Then starts getting complains from his customers and, more importantly to him, his sales begin falling. Therefore he needs a way to hide the fact that the boots are rubbish. How can he get customers to want to replace their boots every few months? Enter the idea of fashion, a la mode, the in thing, the where it’s at now.
Boardroom man now gets far east producer to change the style every three months, add a line of stitching here, a sequin there, coloured laces etc. etc. He then carefully advertises to the masses that he has the latest style in his shops. His new fashionable boots become popular, the must have for the season. All he has to do is sits back as the money rolls in.
Poor old security guard isn’t part of the masses and just wants the plain old boots he has bought for years. His need isn’t influenced by fashion and he is now forced to save up and buy boots “O”.
This is fine to start with, as boardroom man’s empire grows, people stop buying boots “O” because they want the cheaper fashionable boots “X”. Soon the factories making and the shops selling boots “O” become fewer in number. They either have to adapt and start producing and selling cheaper and more fashionable boots or they will go out of business.
Boardroom man is happy because he can still buy boots “A” and have dry feet, oh and he has made lots of money in the process as well. But poor old security guard is stuffed because not only is he a lot poorer having spent more on boots, he now can’t buy the boots he needs and has wet feet.
Confused? So am I. I realise that this is a highly simplistic view of things and someone will usually fill in any gaps in the market, but only if the gap is large enough. And it is only a matter of time before Far East producer’s prices become too high and he is replaced with South American producer and eventually African producer. But what happens when there is no new cheap labour force? We will all be buying boots “X” but at boots “O” prices except for boardroom man who will always be able to buy boots “A” because quality never goes out of fashion.
Please feel free to comment or rant. Your thoughts and opinions have as much right to exist as mine. I may not agree with them but that is what makes the world what it is.
If you are interested in my further musings then please visit my website www.lyonnessetales.co.uk or read my book first book, Bubble of Time which is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BNWH4KI.
Today is a very exciting day! Quest in Time: A Beginning, will be released on Kindle on the 1st of September and is now available to pre-order
The paper back will be out later in September!
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