Should we create what we can’t afford?

As I continue working on items to sell in my Etsy shop, I think yet again about an issue that has also come up with regard to dulcimers, being a semi-professional musician, and shopping for clothes, groceries, and other things. It’s about quality, price, stewardship, and ethics.

I generally believe “you get what you pay for.” That is, it’s often worthwhile to spend extra to get something that will last, that will be sturdy, that will be versatile, that will be more enjoyable, or whatever. That the difference between the $20 item and the $200 item is usually an important difference.

My dulcimer was more expensive than many others — I thought it was worth it because a) it sounds and looks more appealing to me than others and b) when I bought it I was already performing and getting ready to record a CD and it seemed being semi-professional could justify having a better instrument.

How many starving children could I have fed with the money I spent on the dulcimer?

Likewise, we’re paying for Montessori school and the gas and time to get Amy there, when there are much less expensive (and much more local) options available, because we believe the difference matters. If the difference matters to us, shouldn’t it matter to everyone else, too? If Montessori is really that great, shouldn’t everyone have access to it?

How much less oil could we have consumed if we hadn’t picked a school an hour away?

If I make things to sell on Etsy that I couldn’t afford to buy (remembering that materials are cheaper than finished products), am I increasing the gap between the rich and the poor?

If the $200 item is really better than the $20 item, shouldn’t everyone be able to get one? And if the $20 item is really good enough, why would anyone need the $200 item?

On the one hand, we should honor and value the work that people put into their craft — prices should reflect their labor and attention to detail and the quality of the product.

On the other hand, we should make it more possible for more people to buy better things — better in the most solid sense of the word, and not just faddish or flashy.

Sometimes I sidestep the issue by buying secondhand, or learning to do things myself…

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6 thoughts on “Should we create what we can’t afford?

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Marcy. I find these lines of thought painful, but I think about them anyway. It is overwhelming how much of our basic way of life in America contributes to injustice. And I have to balance that with making adjustments and changes in my life gradually enough that I don’t burn out and give up. I think people in developed countries have the weighty task of learning to choose less than we could have in order to give others more. It’s like self-inflicted suffering (not that we have it bad at all, but still…that is a hard choice to make.)

    I guess with regards to things we create, like you were mentioning…I wonder how generosity fits in. I mean, I completely do not think it is wrong to create high-quality items that will benefit someone who can afford it. But I know what you mean–what about having high-quality available for those who can’t afford it? Perhaps there is a place for an artist/creator to provide both–to ask a fair price for their work, and to make a way to share generously in the context of those who can’t pay as much as it is worth. This is an undeveloped thought. I don’t really know how I would handle it. Thanks for bringing it up for discussion.

  2. Because I am able to create a high quality items that folks who have money can afford we can keep our house warm and food on the table. My husband works at a low wage job to serve the needs of special needs preschoolers. It keeps a roof over our heads and pays the bills. I am thankful for the creative gift God gave me.

  3. I think about this a lot too – I say, if it’s something you truly enjoy and it gives you a lot of pleasure for a long time, like an instrument; if it provides a new life experience and learning, like travel; if it has anything remotely to do with education – then it’s money well spent, even if you didn’t give it to charity.

  4. HCC — I think what gets me is the expectation that others should support my livelihood — what right do I have to ask other people to pay such and such for what I create, when I wouldn’t spend that much if they made it? And the related issue is, to what extent should I change my spending habits and the way I value the things I want to get. I tend to not buy much at all, so that when I do buy something I can buy something I think is quality — and lately I’ve started thinking about the ethics of production, too — sweatshops, slavery, environmental concerns, and the like.

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