Monday, March 16, 2009

First you think about how much things cost...

and then you think about how many people can afford to buy them. There wouldn't be wheelsets costing thousands of dollars if those sets could not be sold. They can be sold, and that's the point.

They can be sold and will be sold; no one will raise a hand to say: What's going on here? This post is me raising my hand and wondering online about serious money for silly stuff: bike parts.

In this great nation, lots of people have made or are making so much money that they can just buy $4000 wheels for their bicycle on a whim. See 'em, like 'em, buy 'em. They don't save up.

They may in fact try to get a deal on the wheels, not 'cause the few dollars make a difference, but because the idea of paying full price offends them. They didn't pay sticker for the Lexus.

It's not just Joe Sixpack who can't believe we pay so much for bicycle stuff. Lots of us older riders are just as amazed. We never dreamed there'd be $4000 wheelsets - or riders aching to buy them.

Now, weekend riders buy $4000 wheelsets. They work hard. They deserve them. Nice wheels. Nicest wheels on the club ride for sure. 

I think about how much wealth we have created in this country and what we have sacrificed to make it possible. Some of the things we ignore or merely pretend to care about are important, I'd say. Not that those wheels aren't important. Nicest ones on the ride.

I try not to think that it's a violation somehow to buy $4000 wheelsets, that it's thoughtless, raging consumption - those are unAmerican ideas; I fight against them. I'm no commie.

Tons of people can buy four thousand dollar bicycle wheels. At the same time millions of kids go to classes in rundown, dirty schools, classes taught by teachers who are just getting by. We have compulsory education sure enough but it so-often sucks. 

We lament the low pay and low status of teachers in the car on the way to the shop where we buy the four thousand dollar wheels. 

We have the most expensive health care in the world and it isn't the best in the world. You can add whatever unfairnesses upset you here. Use the other side of the paper if you run out of room.

I'm not blaming those unfairnesses on bicycle wheels, no way. But kids need education, we all need health care and almost no son of a bitch on this planet needs a four thousand dollar set of wheels. Guys who do need them get them free from their sponsors. 

Does saying that make me a commie?

No one will stand still for higher taxes in this kind and gentle land. But if people can afford to buy luxury items costing a multiple of what "average" or "perfectly serviceable" items cost, there should be a surcharge, a way for those people to help others by sharing (kicking and screaming as the case may be) a bit of what this system has graciously allowed them to accumulate.  

Let's say that 10% is a good rate, a luxury tax that shouldn't affect sales of items like $4000 wheelsets, but would do some good elsewhere. Four hundred dollars, say, collected each time a set of four grand mega-wheels or the equivalent was sold, would put books in the hands of schoolkids in low-income neighborhoods. Or give a shot at a living wage to their teachers.

Would folks who buy $4000 wheelsets or $4000 Rolexes balk at paying $4400 for them, knowing that the four hundred was actually going to trickle down to folks who might truly need it? Would they stop buying prestige items, items just a bit better than their friends have bought?

Is this redistribution of wealth? Sure. Is it creation of wealth? No. But we've proved to the world that we're on top of this widespread wealth creation stuff; we're Number One.

We should take a shot at spreading just a little of what we have around where it can do some good - for folks who can't make it to the Saturday club ride. Not because they're embarrassed by their low-budget bicycle wheels. No. Because they have weekend second jobs. 

PS   When Tamar and I lived in Tucson, I wrote a piece about guys I rode with several times. A few of them would tell you they had 15 racing bicycles in their suburban garages. I suggested in the local free bike paper that guys who had bikes they no longer rode could donate them to their clubs - for young riders or people who couldn't afford new bikes. 

The guy who administered the email ride list took me off it. If you suggest to real Americans what they might do with their money, you are a pariah, an outcast. And proud of it, I say....


Donald Dickson said...

I never took an econ class Maynard, but I think a luxury tax could both redistribute wealth and generate wealth - in the long term. Wouldn't the improved education lead to better jobs and more prosperity? Doesn't the economy do better as an ever larger % of the people participate at an ever higher level (with better education and better jobs)? We have vice taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, why not luxury taxes? If you call $4k for a set of wheels conspicuous consumption as I do, then isn't that a vice we could put a vice tax on? Well, maybe folk would react more positively if they were contributing with a luxury tax than a vice tax - it's all in the marketing. I think it's a good idea. Can you imagine if there had been a luxury tax on the millions of McMansions built? Americans have been too spoiled for too long. They should continue to be spoiled, but contribute to the community through luxury taxes. Send your idea to the President!


Kirk said...

@Donald But there is a luxury tax on McMansions, property tax paid each year (on the value of the house).

It is an interesting commentary, no doubt. Having been on both sides of the tax spectrum (basically none and maximum), and watched close to 40% of total income go to the gov't (quite a bit of coin supporting the "community"), it seems a bit onerous on those folks to expect to pay *even more* (relative and absolute amounts).

At the end of the day, how much is going to be enough to support the needs of America?

At the end of the day, I'd like to think it is more a question of values.

Why funnel more money into an inefficient machine (gov't)? Why not take ownership of problems in our communities?

For example, parents taking a stake in their child's education rather than put the onus on overburdened (and often underfunded) educators?

Don't get me wrong, I would not designate Maynard a pariah by any means. However, I truly believe we can all do a bit more to take ownership of our collective community problems by "walking the walk" (in any way you determine).

- Kirk

Russell said...


I'd say that way lies madness.

Who gets to decide which goods are luxuries, and in which categories? Don't like Bologna? Too bad, the Taxman cometh for your artisan salami...

I agree that it is ridiculous consumption, but I'd also argue it doesn't really hurt anyone. Try and look on the bright side. My guess is that the people designing/making 4k wheelsets are making some kind of a living wage.

Khal said...

I'm an unabashed commie, and agree with Maynard. Taxes are too low, and there is too much undone in this country. Bridges and schools falling down, etc. Kinda hard to enjoy your 4k wheelset when the community can't patch the roads.

Sure, keep the funding close to home rather than sending it to Dee Cee, but get the public work done.

bill said...


Big fan of your work, but with all due respect, why are you paying so much attention to what someone else does with their money?

With regards to your title, the first thought isn't cost, the first thought is DEMAND. And if there is demand (for whatever reason) then you figure out cost, price, margin, etc...

Some people have yellow Lamborghinis, some people ride desmosedici rr's, some people pay $2,000 for a Mac laptop. Your luxury is their necessity.

The point is that you have every right to not like the wheels, to resent the wheels, to not like and resent the owner as well. But you stretch to a dangerous point when you decide that because *you* think something is unnecessary or over-the-top, it should be taxed higher?

I am riding on the same wheels that I built in the mid 90's, that are clamped to the same steel frame that I bought in 1990. I get your point about $4k wheels being ostentatious, but personally, I draw the line at judging how other people spend their money, to say nothing of taking more of it from them. We have to respect other people's right to make choices, even if they are tasteless. It's the same right that we have to choose motorcycles and/or bicycles - which many other people hate and want taxed more and banned.

You used to write a lot about the "experience" of cycling, but now you seem more consumed with people's kit and whether or not they are giving "their share". Your writing seems to have forgotten the romance of the bicycle, it's sad to see.