A Carpenter No More

(Photo: Dylan Foley)

A 50-year-old law professor told me yesterday that between college and law school he worked as a carpenter.  I said it was great to hear that, as it must make him more productive at home.  He said no, he never does carpentry work around his house now for two reasons:

  1. Skill depreciation: he isn’t as good at carpentry as he was when he was doing it full time.
  2. His requirement for quality work is such that he wouldn’t use himself as a carpenter—the income elasticity of demand for quality is positive, and his income is much higher now than after college.

He didn’t mention a third reason, which I think is important, namely that the opportunity cost of his time is too high to make carpentry a good way to spend time. (HT: TB)


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  1. Seminymous Coward says:

    I think there should be a “teaching examples” tag or similar. I suspect it would be applicable to many of Dr. Hamermesh’s posts and perhaps even of use to him.

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  2. longanlon says:

    As in the famous Paul Samuelson example about a lawyer and his secretary

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  3. carpenter's wife says:

    Funny you should mention carpenter. My husband’s uncle was a carpenter. He lived to a very ripe old age- taking care of his home and hearth. He was a man I admired. In the end, he gave away all of his possessions to his family. Even gave me a few baubles which I treasure. Reminds me of my husband.

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  4. ALLEN says:

    How much is the dollar value of time sent on hobbies? And does your friend view carpentry as his hobby?

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    • Dave F. says:

      I believe this ties in well with what Dubner and Levitt have talked about with the hydroponic tomatoes. Financially it doesn’t make any sense at all, but to paraphrase terribly, we know we are rich since we spend time and money having ‘fun’ doing things others are paid to do

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    • James says:

      It’s not as simple as a monetary opportunity cost. Not only is there an enjoyment factor (if in fact you enjoy doing carpentry), there’s a cost in time & aggravation spent in finding people to do the carpentry job, explaining what you want done, making sure they actually do what you want, etc. For most things, it’s just SO much easier to do it myself.

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  5. John Pilge says:

    Also, if he falls off a ladder, cuts his hand or dies on the job that would impact his income activities.

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  6. Jeff Grigg says:

    All excellent reasons. Unless you happen to LIKE doing carpentry. If you get enjoyment value from doing something, this may overwhelm the other values.

    I ride my bicycle to the other side of the hills to eat lunch at the cafe that is over there. That’s not the fastest, best, most efficient or most effective way to get there. And honestly, the cafe isn’t really all that great. But I really like biking. It’s a great place to bike, and it happens that I can get lunch there.

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    • James says:

      In fact it could be the most efficient overall. Just for an example, say your lunchtime bike ride is 8 miles, and you spend half an hour doing it when you could drive there in 10 minutes. But if you drive, then later in the day spend 20 minutes driving to the gym and half an hour doing aerobic exercise. Seems to me that over the course of a day, you’ve saved 30 minutes plus some gas money with that supposedly less efficient lunchtime ride.

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  7. David says:

    Over the last two weekends I dug a drainage ditch (in solid clay) and refreshed mulch beds that had suffered too many years of neglect. I could have hired someone for 1/3rd of what I make M-F but on weekends my income potential is negligible. I don’t make quite enough to pay for excellence so i do well enough myself. My wife, a nurse, on the other hand, should accept a call-in and make over $60/hr with overtime and then pay others to do work she might feel needs to be done.

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  8. Steve S. says:

    Interesting, I would think that he would continue to use his carpentry skills at home due to the “Ikea effect” that it provides. http://hbr.org/web/2009/hbr-list/ikea-effect-when-labor-leads-to-love

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