Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comparative Advantage

Pardon another economics-fueled post.

So I'm one year from the target date when I really want to convince my wife to trade in her beloved Honda Civic. I've been agonizing over what we should get, agonizing that it couldn't be a minivan. Two growing kids, ambitions of great family vacations, and the forethought that we'll often be hauling more than just Sam and Caroline to this-and-that at church, scouts, and school means we need space. But a minivan? Oh, no, never that. Instead, we look at the Ford Flex's love-it-or-leave-it styling (for me the former, for my wife the latter), the large-rear-ended Honda Crosstour (a/k/a the Cross-turd according to several automotive sites), or, well, we don't know.

It's starting to hit me that perhaps we as consumers are foolish looking into the fashionable automotive Swiss Army knife that is the Crossover or SUV. For alleged utility that is rarely used, one concedes back-seat comfort, ease of egress, and fuel economy. In trying to find a vehicle that can haul people short distances, haul them and their stuff long distances, weather the weather, and still be pleasant to drive we have found a flawed jack of all trades.

I wonder if a family in our neighborhood has it right. Four kids: two cars. One is a equipped to the brim minivan, the other is a compact four-door. Two cars, two specialists.

Coincidentally, I stumbled upon this insight from Motor Trend.

A fundamental concept in economics is that trade makes people better off. Essentially, we are better off as individuals and as a society when we specialize in one area rather than be jacks of all trades. In many ways, it makes sense. The world is better off since Steve Jobs decided to specialize in creating iProducts, that I specialized in teaching high school Social Studies, that my brother-in-law specialized in music. The alternative: we're each subsistence farmers.

Two hundred years ago this area was peppered with self-sufficient and relatively prosperous family farms. Montgomery County is far richer now as a home of teachers, engineers, police officers, architects, and construction workers.

Perhaps it's true for autos as well. You want to drive? Get a sedan. You want to haul? Get a pickup. You want to move people? Get a minivan. Only the rare family needs to do all three of those things. Most of us can subsist with two of the three. Besides, it might help us plan our time and use of other resources more purposefully.

1 comment:

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

For many years, and even yet, we had a sedan and a minivan. The minivan could hold a Den of Cub Scouts and everything a college student would need on moving in day (but not at the same time, obviously). It also can haul a 17-foot sailboat. I'm not really sure how a minivan and SUV differ, but we never entertained the idea of the latter.