Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ziploc bags--Supply creates its own demand

I tried really hard to think of something profound to say about Pentecost, today being that feast. But nothing came to mind. So rather than bore you with my uninspired thoughts about the Holy Ghost, or even about the collect for Pentecost, I thought I would talk about something I know a lot more about. Ziploc bags.

Why in the world? (I hear you ask.) Well, because I was putting something into a ziploc bag the other evening, and it suddenly occurred to me that I understand now the good sense in which supply creates its own demand. (This, as all of you know, is a saying in economics.) Now, we all have heard people talk about how terrible it is for manufacturers to create by advertising a desire in people for something they never previously wanted. It's supposed to be a form of stimulating lust and so forth. It can be made to sound faintly indecent--making people think they need something that they manifestly don't need. It's easiest to make it sound bad if you get on a roll talking about bigger cars or about food that is probably going to make people fat and isn't good for them anyway. Whiny kids and breakfast cereal commercials are another good target.

But I would bet that I'm not that much over the average age of the people in my audience of, oh, two to five people who will ever read this post. And so I'll bet most of you can remember a world without ziploc bags. Remember? All my toys used to be tumbled into a big padded white toy box. It was like I was putting them away in a padded cell. A very messy padded cell, and one that got dirtier and dirtier as the years went by, so that eventually it was grey and the plastic torn, and I would find pieces of long-forgotten toys rattling around inside. Even if my parents had wanted to be good citizens and give away my toys to the poor(er) as I outgrew them (I having no younger siblings), they couldn't have, because every set and everything with parts was separated into its component parts, which were scattered to the four winds. Or piled into the toy box.

Leftover food had to be kept in tupperware. This was after tupperware. But if it got forgotten in the fridge, the tupperware had mold on it, which might or might not wash off. You couldn't just throw it away. You had to try to scrub it. And sometimes the tupperware lost its seal, or the plastic wrap didn't cling, or one was foolish enough to use tinfoil, which didn't really seal out air, and stuff got completely dried out. (I just recently got rid of a lot of old tupperware.)

And don't even get me started talking about what one did with the pieces from half-finished jigsaw puzzles, nuts and bolts that were no longer in their blister packs, or tiny little lego pieces.

The world needed ziploc bags. The world didn't know that it needed ziploc bags, but it did. Big ones, medium-sized ones, and small ones.

Is need relative? Sure it is. I would rather have the food (that gets dry if not well-sealed) and no ziploc bags to seal it in than have the bags and no food. Right. Check. I'm there.

But the minute whoever-he-was (I haven't googled to try to find out) invented ziploc bags, the world woke up and began to think about how, if it could afford this new product, it could solve a lot of niggly, annoying, practical problems in storage.

My kids have a building toy called Wedgits. I recommend it, with the proviso that if you have more than one child of any age from two to fifteen years old, they will probably squabble over these things. They are very cool. You can build all kinds of fascinating shapes with them. They come in an interesting box that has a plastic storage piece in the bottom. If you put the set of Wedgits together perfectly into the three-dimensional shape of a diamond, the diamond, containing all the Wedgits in that set, will fit back into the storage unit it came in. But who has the time to figure out how to do that every time? And I want the four-year-old to be able to pick up for herself. Ziploc bags.

In other words, and to put it prosaically, this was a case where people did not lust over something that was bad for them or that they should not want as a result of the desire-creation of the market. They looked at something, ingeniously designed, that would help make their lives more efficient, they discovered that it was cheap enough for them to afford, and they rationally decided to buy it. Supply created its own demand, and the rest is history.

I'm for it.


William Luse said...

It should have been I who invented them.

Lydia McGrew said...

It looks as though it was an anonymous engineer with Dow Chemical. I don't know how that works. Maybe he had to sign some statement that Dow would get the patent to any of his ideas found while on the job. But it's sad that his name isn't known to posterity.

So, see, you'd be grinding your teeth that nobody knew you were the inventor if you were the inventor. I know I would.