One of the foundations of free market theory is that when consumers and producers can both make free decisions, the market will settle on prices and production levels which maximize the benefit to all individuals involved. While this seems to work fine for consumer goods like flat screen TVs and fast food toys, prices go a little crazy for tools which help you grow things and make things.
Case in point: We have a variety of chicken founts in various sizes up to 2 gallons. We’ve avoided buying a larger size because both of our chicken pens have automatic waterer tanks. Unfortunately, when we got the geese this summer we had to buy a 5 gallon fount. Four geese can drink their way through 5 gallons in one thirsty afternoon.
Can someone explain to me why large chicken founts are priced exponentially? We are talking about two blobs of molded plastic. The “design” can be replicated by a 5-gallon bucket and a pan. There’s no packaging. I’m sure there’s no clinical testing to avoid wrongful chicken death lawsuits. What on earth justifies the $50 gold-plated price tag?
In contrast, I recently bought a new carburetor for a small Honda motor for only $18. A carburetor is an extremely complex little device made of cast aluminum. It has intricate machined passages, tiny brass needles, a stainless bowl, valves, springs and levers. It must be assembled with precision in a clean environment, and then packaged and shipped. There were miners, smelters, metallurgists, engineers, machinists, factory workers and more to pay … and all of that for $18.
My only explanation is that the market hates farmers.
You may think I’m on a solitary rant here, but chicken waterers have tried to bite us twice in the last few months. We love our automatic chicken waterers, but after 2 years our first setup failed last week. Water started to trickle continuously out of the valve, even when the bowl was removed. The original waterer packaging had a clear warning that the valve was not just a tire valve stem core and had to be special ordered. I priced the parts from an online supplier: 4 valves @ $1.15 each, replacement tool @ $4.70, and shipping @ $13.40. The total would be $22.70 for valves which look suspiciously like valve stem cores.
I decided to take my chances at the auto parts store.
It’s been a week now and my $0.25 valve is still working fine. I replaced the valve using a $2 tool from the same store. In the picture above, you can see there really was a significant difference between valves: the new valve is red.
This absurdity has given me an idea. If we all want to save money on chicken founts, we need to convince one of the megacorps that the vacuum fount design would work perfectly as a lemonade fountain. (These ideas don’t have to be particularly good: just look at countertop popcorn popper carts.) My prediction: your local big box store would have $5 bathtub-sized “lemonade fountains” within a month.
The market hates farmers.