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So far, I haven't been too impressed with these things they call "seasons" out here in the Pacific Northwest. In Florida, we all know how it's supposed to work: we don't have seasons, we have weather. Sometimes, that weather is hot, and other times it's brutally hot, but at least we know what to expect. And so do building contractors, who put central A/C into every building in Florida, no matter what it might be--home, office building, store, garden shed, doghouse, whatever. If it's got four walls and a roof, it's got air conditioning.

Now the pacific northwest doesn't much cotton to such fancy modern amenities as air conditioning. They claim it's because the weather is always mild here, except when it's not, and so they don't need it, except when they do.

Last week was a week when they did. Here in the Portland suburb I live in, the temperature reached 110 for two days in a row, then settled down to a nice cool 107 for a few days. I'm told this is unusual, and during those same days Seattle set a new 118-year record. Whatever.

Say you live in a place where the temperature is in the triple digits during the day, and descends all the way down to 98 at night. Say you don't have air conditioning. At this point, you face a predicament: you can buy an air conditioner and live in comfort, or you can suffer all day and wake at night every six minutes or so in a pool of your own sweat and tears.

An air conditioning unit can be had for a hundred bucks and change. Given several days in a row of back-to-back triple-digit weather, I bet you can see where this is going, right?

If you guessed "a total and complete failure of the free-market system of capitalism," you guessed right!




The heat created a demand for air conditioning units. And if ol' Adam Smith here is to be believed, that demand would naturally lead people who sold air conditioning units to make them available. Those folks make money; the folks who buy 'em have an improvement in their quality of life; the invisible hand makes everything win-win, right?

Well, 'cept for the inconvenient fact that large corporations tend, by and large, to run on inertia.

You'd think that companies that sold air conditioners would respond to the demand by supplying them--and you'd think wrong. See, a big company tends to settle into a Way Of Doing Things. They develop supply lines,a nd warehouses, and inventory, and distribution channels, and shipping lines, and those things take on a sort of momentum of their own.

So when there's a sudden spike in demand for a product, most companies don't really rise to the occasions. Oh, sure, they'll look in the warehouse and ship stuff out if they've got it, but that's about it.

Last week, you could not find an air conditioner for sale in Portland for love or money.

Which is silly, and a failure of capitalism.

See, if I were an executive vice president at Home Depot, I'd say "We're selling out of this product as fast as we can truck it in. Okay, screw our normal warehousing and distribution network. Underlings, do whatever it takes to load up some trucks with this product and get it into town by tomorrow."

But, like I said, companies over a certain size operate on inertia, not on the desire to meet a demand with a product or service. What actually happens is more like the executive vice president says "I could spend my entire night here in the office instead of at home working out how to get an extra truckload or two of product to where it's selling, but what's the point? What will the company make...an extra four million dollars? Five million? Hell, that's barely a rounding error. It sure as hell isn't worth me spending all night here."

So you get Capitalism Fail.




The notion that businesses succeed by doing their best to provide a good or service that is in demand with greater efficiency and better value than their competitors is a charming myth, much like the notion that an invisible fairy will descend on gossamer wings to give you money or, I don't know, blow you or something when you lose a tooth. Hell, even Wal-Mart, which is nominally a capitalism success story (for some value of "success story" that involves child labor violations, anyway) fell down on the job.

We eventually got our hands on one, which has been improving the quality of our lives ever since, but damn. Not capitalism's finest hour.

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( 48 comments — Leave a comment )
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sheyeblaze
Aug. 3rd, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
Being a native Washingtonian and all -- I usually cotton to the idea that we don't need stinking air conditioners. I do happen to have a small one I bought the first summer at a yard sale for $25. So, my apartment was 80 degrees instead of 105 degrees. But, I digress...

After the last three summers of increasing heatocaplyse conditions, I now have every intention of searching out air conditioners on Craig's list right before Christmas this year to try to score myself a much better one for next year.

We didn't use to get 4 seasons. We used to have two -- Spring & Fall. That was always my joke -- Seattle had the opposite seasons of New Hampshire (lived in both states). All of sudden, we're getting all four! We don't know how to handle this! =)
musicman
Aug. 3rd, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)
Another example of why the notion of "privitization" is an illusion. The claim that private business will be more efficient and save money for the government is so wrong. What privitization will do is put more money into the hands of inefficient corporations who will do what they wish, rather than what their client needs. Same thing that happened to you who needed an AC unit during a specific time of the year when such seasonal hardware should be sold. Another friend, in Australia, has been trying to buy a swimsuit that fits and is having an enormously hard time. The excuse of the retailers? She is an odd size, and it is not the height of the season, and yada yada. More business fail, in my opinion. No wonder the internet is doing so well, and that leads me to wonder why you didn't order one over the net and have it delivered overnight?

Edited at 2009-08-03 10:27 am (UTC)
delphinea
Aug. 3rd, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
I was wondering the same thing. Home Failure Depot, Lowes and Sears all have them online. Sears is cheap, too. You could buy several a/c units new and sell them locally for a markup. :D
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:06 am (UTC) - Expand
I feel your pain - musicman - Aug. 6th, 2009 08:25 am (UTC) - Expand
delphinea
Aug. 3rd, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
So where did you finally find one?
zaiah
Aug. 3rd, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
Home Depot. At a more suburban location. In a line of eager, overheated individuals at the back of the (only) delivering truck (in the whole surrounding area) with over 30 other people by the time we got there and nearly missing out altogether because we were only calling on the incoming shipment every half hour instead of the 5 minute iterations it required to actually, you know, be there at the head of the line.
xaotica
Aug. 3rd, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
I've had an amazon prime membership for years and it regularly saves my ass. Free two day shipping or $4 one day shipping = anything seasonal that's hard to find locally delivered to my door. Since they're a local Seattle company and many of the products ship from here, it's often still supporting the local economy. Full time work & full time school doesn't leave me with much time to shop, and it's prolly better for the environment than driving aroun and around trying to find a store that has what I want

i've just been suffering, but then, I've been to burning man enough years that I picked up a few tactics. Damp sheets/clothes help
sheyeblaze
Aug. 4th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Most of their stuff now ships from somewhere like Kentucky... But, they still employ a lot of people in the NW.
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:07 am (UTC) - Expand
onyxrising
Aug. 3rd, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
We finally got one last summer.
Prior to that, our house full of displaced Alaskans had been resorting to such methods as shaving off all body hair except eyebrows and eyelashes, and competing for the bathtub full of ice water.
Most people here argue that you don't need an AC, because it's just hot for one week, maybe two, all summer.
I'd argue that the one week is bad enough to make the AC purchase worth it.
tacit
Aug. 6th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
I'd argue that the one week is bad enough to make the AC purchase worth it.

Oh, yeah. And I'd be right there with them. It's definitely a quality of life issue from where I was sitting.
cjhm
Aug. 3rd, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
Ah welcome to the left-coast. I'm now 6 hours north of you and we share the same fate - and usually the same weather patterns. After I noticed this tendency for warming, I started buy a/c units and we now have several in our house. I buy them in the off-season - that would be when it rains (you'll learn about the west coast rain *evil laugh*) Buy your a/c units then, they're cheap and then when this warm weather happens you'll be able to give people that look that some of us have perfected "Oh, the warm doesn't bother me at all- I have a/c".

Oh don't tell anyone that when it's not really fucking hot out - you'll get the left coast global warming lecture ;-)
jonnymoon
Aug. 3rd, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
"Left coast" ... priceless! I'm going to start using that instead of "fruity-nutty land".
chipotle
Aug. 3rd, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
That happens here, too -- my (very expensive!) apartment doesn't have A/C. It hasn't actually needed it this year, but it could have used it a few days last year. Leaving with Tugrik in San Jose it was notably less comfortable, since San Jose reliably gets up to the 90s in August and September, and his house didn't have central A/C -- which turns out to be pretty uncommon here, and I suspect that really means "from here north"; by the time you're up to the northern coastal reaches of Sonoma County, you're starting to get into the Pacific Northwest climate.

And, I've observed the A/C sales failure here, although it may take a slightly different form: usually stores have a fairly good stock when summer starts, and it sits around, until the day before the first day predicted to go up into the 90s or higher. Then there's a run on the stores. My suspicion is that it's specifically a breakdown of the distribution system and the entire concept of "just in time" inventory management: inventory you're not selling is inventory that's taking up space that could be occupied by inventory that will sell, so you try not to have stuff sitting around stores that won't sell. And when this works, you extend it to the distribution warehouses: they have enough stuff to keep ahead of normal demand for any given item, but not much more than that. And this all works fine until demand for a specific class of item surges, at which point the entire system collapses. The stores put in orders to their distribution centers like they're supposed to, and the distribution centers are pretty much out on the first day.

Having said all that, even with the occasional heat blast and the underutilization of A/C out here, climate is not something I miss from Florida. I'm not sure how well I'd adjust to Portland or Seattle year-round (despite Florida's advertising, it's actually sunnier in SF Bay than it is in Tampa Bay), but I'd certainly be willing to see whether 200 days of drizzle is, on the balance, better than 200 days of melting.
tacit
Aug. 6th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
I have to believe that, yeah, the drizzle beats the heat. It's a lot easier to hide from rain than it is to hide from the unpleasant day star, all things being equal.

Of course, it remains to be seen how true that is of the cold this winter...
antayla
Aug. 3rd, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
Are you trying to say that the government would have gotten them here faster or at all?

The purpose of all economics is to allocate scarce resources; in centrally managed economies this is done by rationing, and in capitalistic economies it's done by pricing. Either way, there wouldn't have been enough air conditioners in the PNW because we have less of a need for them... there are much more pressing needs to be met around here.
tacit
Aug. 3rd, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
Nope, not saying that at all. In fact, I AM a capitalist, in the sense that I've been supported by my own enterprises rather than as an employee for most of the last twenty years.

What I'm saying is that in this case, capitalism doesn't work the way its supposed to, because inertia overcomes the "normal" impulse for a for-profit entity to manage allocation of resources. Businesses are run by people; if a person says "my going home on time tonight is worth more than my spending the whole friggin' night in the office managing this demand," that's where the breakdown happens.
(no subject) - jonnymoon - Aug. 3rd, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - antayla - Aug. 4th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dayo - Aug. 4th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC) - Expand
fla_sunshine
Aug. 3rd, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
A REAL capitalist could have made a fortune in the air conditioner futures market. Wait...what?
sterno
Aug. 3rd, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
A good sign that your executive isn't worth their salary: they watch porn at work all day.

That company's out of business now :)
the_no_lj_d
Aug. 3rd, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
A good sign that your executive isn't worth their salary: being in business for 15 years and still considering yourself a "start-up" company that often cannot pay the 6 staff personnel managing 3 employees. Even after being supplied with around a million-ish dollars of VC...which was blown on 2 condos, travel expenses for the executives and poorly planned internet advertising that marketed toward the wrong consumer base.
zaiah
Aug. 3rd, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
you know.. for example. *snerk*
(no subject) - the_no_lj_d - Aug. 3rd, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_no_lj_d - Aug. 8th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
joreth
Aug. 3rd, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
Silly Floridian!

I grew up in San Jose with no a/c and it was fine! We had a few hot days, but ceiling fans, big open windows and large sliding glass doors were enough. It was still pretty hot for those couple of weeks that the temperature rose that high, but it was less noticeable because of the lower humidity and had fewer side effects than the in-and-out of heat/ac/heat/ac that happens here in Florida. I get sick WAY more often in the summer here because I go outside and smack into the Wall O'Humidity then walk into the freezing fucking refrigerator they call public buildings, and back out again.

At least my Lasik took care of the damn fogging problem that happens every single time I walk out of any building in Florida.

Plus, even when it's unbearably hot on the west coast, I can still BREATHE without developing gills!

Oh, and I discovered that a waterbed with no heater is EXCELLENT for combating any hot nights on the west coast!
joreth
Aug. 3rd, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
P.S. - I really miss seasons - fuck all this sunshine - the evil daystar burns and the humidity tries to drown me and there is no escape from mosquitos!

I move to Florida and immediately lose my tan. I never go outdoors here except to run from one air conditioned building to the air conditioned car. That is NOT worth the exchange - I'd take a couple of weeks of dry heat over this if I could!
(no subject) - zaiah - Aug. 4th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC) - Expand
masterhyde
Aug. 4th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
Capitalism isn't the problem. It's just air conditioners take a while to make, and you can't just whip up a few thousand on 24 hours notice. The factories that build them gear up months in advance, build what they need and by the time summer comes around, they're probably building something else.
dayo
Aug. 4th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
Exactly!
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 07:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - masterhyde - Aug. 7th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dayo - Aug. 7th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
fallingupthesky
Aug. 4th, 2009 06:02 am (UTC)
You're making those temperature numbers up. Portland hit 106 for 2 days. Seattle never went above 103. Nowhere in the entire region went over 108. Just mentioning this so that the comment readers from other areas know that you're exaggerating.

That's still very unusual, to say the least. Here in the Pacific Northwest 90+ is rare, and 100+ is almost unheard of.
tacit
Aug. 4th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
Those are the "official" temperatures, but Tualatin really did hit 110. :) At least according to the thermometer stuck out in front of one of my friends' houses.
(no subject) - fallingupthesky - Aug. 5th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 6th, 2009 06:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
tacit
Aug. 6th, 2009 06:59 am (UTC)
Honestly...I spent most of my life from high school onward in Florida, minutes from the beach, and yet I've never learned to swim.

Don't much cotton to being wet, in fact.
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