The greeter at Wal-Mart pushed a huge shopping cart my way as I entered the store. The cart was the Hummer of shopping carts. I was glad I lift weights so I could push it around. I checked the tire pressure and wheel alignment and started shopping. I always grab a cart whether I’m at the grocery store or department store because I like to keep my hands free. A cart avoids the awkward juggling at the checkout counter while waiting in line. I pride myself on reading Cosmo, Good Housekeeping, and People magazines in the five minutes I wait to check out. So I grab a cart even if I only have one item.
While reading the Armchair Economist, by Steven Landsburg, the author posed the question, why are shopping carts bigger now and challenged his readers to use economic tools to answer the question. Mr. Landsburg offers the following answers, which I find impoverished. 1) people are busier now. A bigger shopping cart is needed so there’s fewer trips to the store. 2) stores now offer a full array of shopping under one roof. Now when people shop it’s one stop so the cart needs to be bigger to accommodate the stereo, the carton of milk, and the dress bought for graduation. 3.) A bigger shopping cart is a psychological trick to make you feel inadequate. If Smith is checking out with a gallon of milk and Jones is checking out with a cart overflowing with products, Smith might feel like he’s not keeping up. A bigger cart allows Smith and Jones to race through conspicuous consumption.
Sometimes when faced with a complex question, I think like a beginner. This is one of those cases. I think the Armchair Economist has confused a change in demand with a change in quantity demanded.
Technology and globalization have put downward pressure on prices, especially in electronics and food. So prices have decreased. The law of demand states that as the price of good decreases, consumers buy more. So the supply of food and electronics have increased lowering the price. People buy more and need a bigger cart.