By Arnold Kling
Don Boudreaux always gets to the heart of these issues.
Suppose, for example, that shirts can be made in one of two ways. The first is by hand. It costs a shirt maker using this method–regardless of how many shirts he produces–$250 to produce each shirt. Working full-time producing shirts by hand, the shirt-maker can produce 10 shirts each month. The second way to produce shirts is in a highly mechanized factory. If the factory runs at a peak capacity of a million shirts monthly, each shirt costs $5 to make. But because building and equipping the factory requires a huge initial investment, operating the factory at less-than-full capacity causes the cost of each shirt to rise. The reason for this increase is that producing fewer shirts denies the shirt-maker the opportunity to spread the investment cost over maximum output. The smaller the factory’s output, the higher the cost of each shirt.
Which method of production would a shirt-maker use? The answer depends on the size of his market. If a shirt-maker expected to serve a market of millions of people, he would use the factory method. But if he expected to serve a market of only a few dozen potential customers, he would produce shirts by hand. If each shirt-maker had access only to small markets, the price of shirts would be higher than it would if shirt-makers had access to larger markets.
If you want your shirts to be manufactured using primitive technology so that they cost a lot, then buy local.