The Recession Brings the Division of Labor to My Neighborhood

I really hate shoveling snow. I live on a large corner lot with lots of sidewalk, so the job can take me over an hour. Snowblowers, I’ve found, are overrated. I’ve had two and neither did a very good job and both had maintenance issues. I bought both used, so that might be part of the problem, but when faced with buying a new one (after my 2005 model died this past week), I thought about how much I hated dealing with the snow and questioned the economics of hiring someone to do the shoveling for me.

It’s a little embarrassing. I’m thirty and work from home. I guess I could be considered “lazy” for not doing my own snow removal, but I prefer to think of myself as an ardent believer in the economic concepts of comparative advantage and the division of labor . So I went on Craig’s List and posted a job for “Regular Snow Removal, Good Pay” with all the details. Since there was only one local posting offering snow-removal service, I didn’t know if I’d get a response… But I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Almost instantly, I got two emails. By the time I woke up the next day, I had ten. By the end of the second day, more than twenty. Two people stopped by my house to introduce themselves. And after about eight inches of snow rained down last night, a third young man showed up, unannounced, to take care of it for me.

I paid him $40 and he did a great job. Was this worth it? Well, consider this: as a freelance writer, I typically earn between $25 and $50 an hour. My average is probably around $40. So, assuming I can find an extra hour of work to do, I just have to think of it this way: would I rather spend an extra hour writing or shoveling snow? It’s an easy decision for me to make. In fact, even if I earned only $20 or even $10 an hour, I still think it’d be worth it — that’s how much I hate dealing with the snow.

The exuberant responses I’ve gotten from people wanting to shovel my sidewalk and driveway have me thinking of other ways I can kill two birds with one stone: help people who are out of work and lessen the number of unpleasant tasks I have to perform. I’m thinking of hiring someone to do my family’s laundry, for example. It’s the type of thing that always seems to get only half done (i.e., all of my clean clothes are still in the basement, not hung up in my closet) for one reason or another. Perhaps picking up an extra hour or two of writing work (which I enjoy) could save me and my wife from having to do the laundry (a constant source of marital strife) and help someone put food on the table too. Capitalism is win-win.