Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What Makes a Luxury?

NP - Novembre - Nothijngrad

I was lying in bed last night, remembering this movie I watched earlier in the day, V for Vendetta. An awesome movie, I recommend that everyone goes and sees it. But there was one part of the movie that was troubling me. It wasn't expanded upon, it was just taken for granted after being mentioned at one point in the movie. I suppose it was to fit in with the whole world that the movie was based in (futuristic London). But anyway, butter was not available to the general public, rather a substitute was used. But butter was available to the Prime Minister (or whatever the title of his position was).

Butter. Butter is something which is like, well, nothing. We dont think anything of butter. How is it suddenly a luxury? This line of thought led me onwards to thinking about the nature of luxuries, and boy, this scared the hell out of me.

One of the definitions of 'luxury' is 'something expensive or hard to obtain'. I find this accurate enough, but with the word 'luxury' comes the notion of some sort of quality associated with it - what differentiates one type of car from another, for example, is the notion of some sort of engineered quality. It may not even be quality, it may be simply a status symbol. Clothes from FCUK may not be of higher quality than Next, but they are much pricier.

However, these aspects are secondary. Whats primary here is the notion of scarcity, which is whats mentioned in the definition. What makes something precious is its scarcity. They talk of water one day being a luxury - precisely because of predictions of it becoming increasingly hard to obtain in the future.

Back to the present day. We have luxuries, and they are luxuries precisely because they are scarce - not everyone has them. As we would have it, most of these luxuries have some sort of quality which is higher than alternatives. This higher quality often associates higher costs, perhaps to the extent that the cost of engineering quality to create a luxury is greater than the benefits of that greater quality. This is central to my point.

So heres the question: why spend more on ingraining quality into a product in order to make it a luxury? Why not instead deny people access to that product? Restricting the access of the common man to a commodity, by definition makes that commodity a luxury. And that, is a very, very scary thought.

Because it means we can create luxuries not by going through the advanced efforts of engineering quality and working towards excellence, but rather by controlling access to that product. If nobody in the world had butter and I had butter, butter would be a luxury.

A long winded explanation to get to a very simple pointed, but I wanted to make sure it was understood. Its a scary thought isn't it, one that, if followed, serves to retard human progress in whatever field you can think of.

Posted by illogicist at 10:09 AM


  1. Blogger Lym posted at 4/13/2006 08:14:00 PM  
    An impressive post, I must admit. I'm too lazy to comment on it, but well done :P

    And anyways, I told you what I think!
  2. Blogger Samyah posted at 4/16/2006 12:18:00 PM  
    You always amaze me how you bring out such a broad topic and go into such detail about the most subtle of things.

    Really enjoyed that insight
  3. Blogger illogicist posted at 4/17/2006 03:22:00 PM  
    lol thanks guys :p I usually have my best thoughts at night, when Im in that half-awake state and im about to drop off, it seems.

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