Bread lines

Jeff Tucker reminds us that supply-demand imbalances can be cleared by long waiting times instead of price hikes, where monopolies prevent the natural expression of prices.  In this case, the monopoly is the natural effect of a tiny number of specialized workers who know how to repair antique clocks.  In part because they're proudly "not in it for the money," prices don't go up, new repairmen don't enter the market, and people wait years to get their clocks repaired.


raven said...

Repairmen are not charging more because the guy who bought the clock for $35 won't pay more. He bought the bargain clock, and he wants a bargain fix. This is not rocket science. Yes, the repairman could charge $1000 minimum to repair a clock, and he would not have a wait list. He won't have any business either.

Texan99 said...

Hmmm, I don't know. Anyone with a customer waiting list probably hasn't fully tested his customers' willingness to pay a little more for faster service.

raven said...

They can't speed it up- it is probably a one man shop, with finicky repairs (AKA they can't use grunt labor,) and the only thing they can do is to shuffle customers, prioritizing one over another based on who has deepest pockets. That won't reduce the backlog, just re-arrange it, and maybe leave a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths who wait for a long time. That is a good way to lose customers- which is fine if one wants to deal with the top end only-but it is a risky game to assume the clientele will always be there to support it- but the writers idea was to reduce the time in line, not the number of customers wanting work.
I suppose if they could figure out a system to streamline they could do better, but that would be hard- I know people in the antique restoration business and every job is different- a hard thing to organize and predict, and everyone wants to know how much it will cost. Also, on a purely personal note- nobody goes into clock repair to get rich- it is going to be a avocation- and unfortunately, the rich "gotta have it now" customers do not make life fun- I have "fired" super wealthy customers because they were jerks. No fun, high stress.

Semi related-
I sent off an old Pfaff sewing machine to the best repair shop around here- they could not figure out what was wrong- they did not have a mechanically savvy tech person-all the modern machines are a screen with a numerically controlled needle position. CNC. Finally had to source a manual from the Pfaff archeology dept and fix it myself. I can't imagine what it would take to train a clock-maker. It must be an order of magnitude harder than fixing a sewing machine.

I am in the repairman's boat myself, but in a production sense- accurate finicky work, long waits, and my main competition just bailed out. I wish they were still there, then I would have someone to hand off problematic customers to. I would rather retire ,than hire someone in the regulatory climate we have. When I spend money on production it is on iron and steel, not flesh and blood. Machines show up on time and do what they are told, mostly. And they won't sue. But mechanizing repair work is really hard to do.

Texan99 said...

That's exactly how they can speed it up: by adding workers until the supply meets the demand.

douglas said...

I once saw a sign in a shop that read as follows:

You can have your work:

*Pick any two

Sums it up.

Fascinating article.