Archive for the ‘Vignettes’ Category

Pick your own bilberries…and beat the minimum wage!

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

When I set out to quantify in money terms the potential utility and remuneration for picking your own bilberries, I didn’t even expect to beat the minimum wage. I thought that picking your own bilberries would turn out to be a brazen act of self-exploitation, and that any self-respecting homo economicus would choose to hire cheap migrant workers to undercut themselves, thus freeing up their own labour time up for more profitable ventures.

However, this afternoon two of us picked around 3,000 bilberries in just one hour (with the jet-engine roar of a geothermal power plant in the background). That’s marginally over 800g. If bilberries sell for around £3 per 150g in the shops, then according to my calculations we earned ourselves about £8 per hour of bilberry utility.

And then there’s the benefit of being out in the fresh air and striking yoga-type poses on the hillside as you try to balance on the slope while reaching for those low-lying berries. Lets say the exercise and suppleness value-equivalent is two hours of yoga sessions at £6 per hour – and I’ve no idea how you monetise fresh air – that brings the total quantifiable utility of our harvest to £28, or a very respectable £14 an hour.

Of course, I’ve not included transport and fuel costs, which can apparently have a considerable impact on bilberry prices (read a detailed analysis of the relationship between fuel prices and blueberry prices here).

The Erosion of Use Value

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I went to Kringlan today to get a wooden spoon to use for making cakes and tarts, so dessert doesn’t end up tasting of curry and garlic, and ended up with a medium-sized specimen for Kr 300 that seemed to combine in the best way available the qualities of durability, utilitarian looks, and affordability. So I’ve added that to my Consumption Fund, and because the initial outlay was so minute I didn’t even need a loan to finance the purchase. The Consumption Fund, by the way, comprises commodities that

are not consumed directly but serve as instruments of consumption. They include items as diverse as cutlery and kitchen utensils, refrigerators, television sets and washing machines, houses, and the various means of collective consumption such as parks and walkways. All such items can conveniently be grouped together under the heading of the consumption fund. [David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (London: Verso, 2006), p.229]

After all that shopping I wanted a tasty morsel to speed me on my way, so I popped into Hagkaup and bought myself a cheesy pastry type thing. I was really looking forward to my cheesy pastry, so I popped it into the top pocket of my panier bag, which I left unzipped for convenience because, after all, I wasn’t going far, and went in search of a quiet grassy spot to enjoy my lunch. Then suddenly the bike felt lighter and I had an awful premonition. I turned my head to check the pastry was still there. It can only have weighed a few grams but the bike felt lighter, and when I turned my head the pastry was gone.

I went back to search for it, in case it had landed somewhere clean, or maybe just to assess the situation and work out exactly where things had gone wrong. I found it lying on the tarmac in the middle of the entrance channel to Kringlan car park. A car drove over it, but the wheels went around it and it wasn’t squashed. Two birds hopped around, pecking at the flaky crumbs. And there I was confronted with the sudden, catastrophic erosion of use value. Something that had been useful a moment ago had, without undergoing any substantial change to its physical state, had its total utility eroded in a flash. It was like seeing a boll of ice cream that’s toppled off its cone, and I was the child that had been holding the cone.