What's really important to us and how much are we willing to pay for it?
Several years ago I was talking with a well-known and well-respected business owner in my area. What the topic of conversation was I have long since forgotten, but I do remember one thing he said. The thing that irritated him about job seekers, he said, was when they asked if he would give them a job. No business person gives anyone a job, this person said. Jobs are not gifts. Employers expect employees to make money for the company, he said.
A few years later I was reading a column by free-market economist Thomas Sowell, who explained that every transaction was actually a choice of what a person values more. If the store charges $2 for a gallon of milk, I must decide if I want the milk more than the $2, Sowell said. Apply that to the job market, such as with the ongoing debate over the minimum wage, and people ask how much employers and customers value the labor workers put into their products.
And so it goes as I sit here typing this little essay. I plan to produce a book this year. What will the price point be? If it's $25, will my prospective customer want my book more than she wants her $25?
Likewise I see some traditional industries in decline. Consider the print news media. A daily newspaper can cost $1 or more. Given the competition for people's time and money, how many people would rather have their dollar than a newspaper? How can newspaper publishers change their minds?
Now consider the auto industry. I need a small pickup truck. New, fresh off the lot, they can begin at $30,000 or more. Add taxes and other fees and the price balloons. Right now I don't know that a new truck is worth $30,000 to me. Do I really need a new truck, or would a low-mileage used one do? How about a high-mileage one at less cost? What price do I put on the work I expect my truck to perform?
Or higher education. How many young people have weighed the costs and benefits of a four-year degree and decided that universities have priced themselves out of the market when technical or trades programs offer equal or greater earnings potential?
A year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic led to shutdowns across the economy, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said the pandemic had forced universities and others ten years into the future. The shutdowns accelerated the pace of change as schools were forced to do more teaching online and students and others had to adapt to trends in technology. Maybe the pandemic has forced the rest of us into decisions we would have had to make over the next decade, but we had to make them today. What's really important to us and how much are we willing to pay for it? Many of us have made those decisions, and we may be surprised by the ones we will make before the end of this year.