Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Property rights and time

When I moved to LA a bit more than two years ago, I bought a dryer.  Last week, the heating element went out.  The good news is that the dryer is still under warranty.  The bad news is that when the repair guy came to my house, he didn't have the part to fix it.  As I result, someone needs to be home a second time for the machine to get repaired.

The store from which I bought the dryer will only tell you what day they will come to do repairs--they won't give you a window of time for the day until the night before.  Consequently, to get a dryer that is under warranty repaired, one might well be required to give up two days. 

Because professors have a lot of flexibility in their jobs, this is not a huge deal for me.  For my wife, however, who is a phycician, this would be a big deal.  It would also be a big deal for any production or service worker who has little to no control over hours worked. 

The appliance store that sold and will repair the dryer has essetially asserted a property right to its customers' time--it is imposing costs that it is not forced to bear.  I am not sure whether it is true that this is happening over larger and larger swaths of the economy, but it sure seems so.  For instance, sometimes when I want to change a plane ticket, I am not allowed to do so on the web.  When I call the airline's number, I am sometimes required to wait on hold for a long time before I can talk to someone.  Now it is possible that the time saved on the web when I use it and the lower cost of airfare makes up for the cost of the dreadful phone service, but I am not sure.