Thursday, June 02, 2011I'd like to point out to everybody this wonderfully insightful piece by Bradford Plumer. In it Plumer describes how irrational our attitudes towards commuting and home-buying have become, that we gladly fork over hours of our lives every week in order to have a slightly bigger yard of an extra bedroom. What I find compelling about this piece is that it identifies the one really useful thing I learned in my economics classes: the principle of opportunity costs. Whenever you decide to do A, you forgo B, and need to take the value of B into account. For me, time is precious. I had a good friend who referred to it as his "f*@cking around time." One simply did not interfere with it. For every minute of time I spend commuting (or at work, or mowing the lawn - name your unpleasant task), I'm sacrificing time with my lovely wife or my hobbies or a good book.
What does this have to do with commuting? Well, I hate driving. I was in my mid-twenties before I learned how and to this day I gladly hand over the wheel. One of the reasons I hate driving is that I'm not particularly good at it, but another is that I've never investing sitting in a car with the concept of freedom - I just don't get any inherent pleasure from it. At all. To me every second I spend in the car getting from place to place is a second wasted. At least when I'm walking somewhere I can happily space out. When I'm on a train I can open up a book. Cars? They're mainly good for getting annoyed at your fellow motorists.
So like any good middle-class American I love having a house with a yard and spacious kitchen. I don't think I could ever go back to those tiny holes I lived in New York. On the other hand, I miss the ability to go to the grocery store or to work or the movies without having to sit in a damned car. Or (shudder) look for parking. Bradford is right - there are those of us who would pay good money to have slightly smaller homes that were close to mass transit and/or basic services. Unfortunately the cities we've built either demand "great money" rather than simply good, or don't have a yard for my dog.
Maybe I'm just expecting too much.