People have more money than brains

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, April 27, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Some things seem to cost a lot more than they're worth.
Take cars, for instance. A 1998 study showed that through the wonders of mass production the average car cost about $2,000 to build.
The average car, in 1998, cost about $17,000 to buy.
Seven years later, cars are made almost entirely out of plastic, a commodity that's cheaper than steel, and the price of cars has actually increased.
The average American pays a 1000 percent markup on a car they will have to replace in just a few years.
Some people just aren't happy until they've paid essentially a 2000 percent markup on essentially the same car. For an extra $20,000 people can buy a base-model Lexus or Acura for the same price as a top-of-the-line Toyota or Mazda that's made in the same factory with pretty much the same specifications.
The reason car manufacturers charge so much for cars is that they know that the average American will pay it because very few of us have the ability to make our own cars. Let's face it; most of us lack the mechanical ability to change our own oil. Telling me to build an internal combustion engine from scratch would be like telling a chimp to build an internal combustion engine from scratch.
We're dependent on car manufacturers to get us from point A to Point B (although we'd rather be at point C, which is a sunny tropical beach).
Recently I overheard some people talking about a horse that cost over $50,000.
For that price it'd better be a winged unicorn.
Granted, a horse could be considered transportation, but would you pay 50 grand for a car that only went 35 miles per hour, didn't have a radio or air-conditioning, and left presents in the driveway that had to be shoveled up daily?
No, of course not. Unless it was a Rolls Royce, of course.
Horses are great. They helped forge this country and made those old westerns great but not that great.
Clint Eastwood just wouldn't be the same without a horse. It would be hard for him to squint and intimidate the bad guys if he rode up on a bicycle.
And jumping from a window onto the seat of a bicycle could prove fatal.
The fact remains that the only thing sillier than paying $50,000 for a barnyard animal – unless of course you're raising it to create lots of other really expensive animals that you can sell – is paying $80,000 for a vehicle that doesn't move at all.
Ebay, the people who brought us the international yard sale, has a Star Wars X-Wing fighter listed for sale. Now this is not a toy or a model but is in fact one of the full-size X-Wing fighters used in the original Star Wars movies.
But it doesn't fly, it doesn't run, it doesn't even have any neat flashy bits that make those cool zhew, zhew kabang sounds from the movie.
It's just a life-size toy.
For more money than most of us make in two years you can own a giant metal and plastic lawn ornament that would make you the envy of every nerd on the block.
Why do we spend so much for so little?
In America we spend money to look cool. That's all there is to it.
A rapper wouldn't be caught dead driving a Geo Metro, Clint wouldn't be caught dead on a Schwinn and the only thing cooler to a nerd than a life-size X-Wing would be a life-size Millennium Falcon.
Obviously we as Americans are transportation connoisseurs.
On the other hand we live in a country where a box of toothpicks has directions written on it and a warning label.
Lee Weyhrich is the Managing Editor of the Atmore Advance. His column appears weekly.

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