Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Home Sapiens Assinus

How many man-hours are wasted every year by that worst sub-species of Homo Sapiens, the Common Two-legged Jackass?

Consider the gas station. Have you ever had to go in and leave your license or something before getting a fill-up, then go back in to pay afterwards? That extra trip to get them to turn on the pump is because the station had too many “customers” drive off without paying. Only an extra 30 seconds or a minute – but multiply that by every customer, every time, day after day.

Consider the grocery store. The idiot who brings 23 items to the 15-items-or-less line. She’s actually saving the time of the one or two customers in the regular line…but costing that same amount of time to the four or five customers behind her in the express lane. Net change, two or three people times the extra five minutes or so for her full transaction.

Consider a traffic jam on the interstate. The jerk who pulls out into the offramp or onramp to get around a dozen stopped cars, then forces his way in front of them. Not much of a cost, a few seconds – times the dozen cars he passed. Times the four or five people who seem to do this EVERY time I’m caught in traffic at the Fort Belvoir exit off of I-95. Plus all the idiots who do the same thing when I’m not there to see it. Plus all the other exits in busy areas where the same thing occurs.

Maybe those examples are too insignificant for you. Consider safety seals. Not just the extra few seconds it takes to peel off the extra plastic seals on any over-the-counter medicine bottle, but also the extra time and resources it took to PUT that plastic there. You can calculate it based on the time it took to wrap it on the bottle, to make the plastic, to crack the petroleum, to drill for the oil – or you can calculate it based on the extra cost to the consumer, in terms of his hourly wage. It’ll probably work out about the same, and it IS significant. All from one very successful jackass, the 1982 Tylenol Killer, and a few copycats.

Consider locks. If we didn’t have people who can’t be trusted to leave our possessions alone, we wouldn’t need them. Calculate the extra time we all spend locking and unlocking our houses, cars, offices, etc. Add in the extra time and resources to make the locks, alarm systems, security cameras. Add in the time and resources of police who have to investigate burglaries. The time of the courts and the lawyers. The extra prison space and resources we need to hold the crooks. Even the time of the thieves, themselves – if they weren’t committing crimes and/or sitting in prison, they could theoretically be doing something useful.

Heinlein said that time is the total capital of our lives – you can spend it, waste it, lose it, or have it taken from you, but you can never get it back. Ayn Rand suggests that every product or service is beneficial based on how much time it saves the consumer through increased efficiency. If we had some way to prevent all that sort of wasteful behavior by jackasses, big and small – how much more could we accomplish?

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