Bryan Caplan  

I Just Got $100,000 Worth of Consumer Surplus!

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I've been a pitiful figure the last six months. My feet have been hurting so much that I practically abandoned all walking on paved surfaces. I've been teaching class sitting down. I even started wearing real shoes.

Desperation drove me to a podiatrist. Twice. But the best he could do for me was mummify my feet in tape. That helps, but it's totally impractical. I also tried several different orthotics, but they only provided mild relief.

Then two days ago, I tried the Airplus gel arch support. It cost about $5. I'm just about ready to declare myself 80-90% cured of foot pain. It's truly amazing - I've solved my #1 physical problem for a pittance. Since walking plays a big role in my life, it's no exaggeration to say that the little gel orthotics I'm wearing give me $100,000 in consumers' surplus.

The whole experience has inspired me to codify what I dub the pharmacy heuristic. According to the pharmacy heuristic, which I now vow to follow, the first place you should go to resolve your health problems is not the doctor's office, but the pharmacy. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much pharmacies have done for me relative to doctors. I used to have chronic allergies; now I take Benadryl, and I'm virtually sniffle-free. Athlete's foot? Pharmacies have creams that work, and quickly. Ear aches? Basic ear drops are a huge help.

In an ideal world, of course, a doctor would guide you to the items in the pharmacy of greatest value to you. But few of them do. My podiatrist didn't have a word of advice about the optimal orthotic for my problem, or even a menu of orthotics in his office for his patients to try. (Is it better like this? Or like this?) That's why the next time I need some help, I'm going straight to the pharmacy. And if you feel the need to give paternalistic advice to a friend in ill-health, don't just say, "You should see a doctor." Perhaps you would be a better friend to chide, "You should go to the pharmacy."


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
GU writes:

It would be nice if I didn't have to register my name to a government database everytime I want to buy some Nyquil (the kind that has psuedoephidrine, i.e. the kind that works).

I know it is not the pharmacy's fault (the government is to blame), I guess I'm just venting. Anyone else get pissed at the authoritarian database and the prying, suspicious "is he a drug-dealer" stare that you get when buying "behind the counter" Nyquil?

scott clark writes:

Have you tried to factor in the externality benefits? I am not sure lectures work as well if the prof is sitting down. It may be OK if you have a small class and a conversational style, but you reading from the prepared lecture outlines while seated could be problematic for the students edification. Of course, your teaching style should have evolved since my undergrad days.

randy writes:

it's a shame that pharmacists cannot, or do not, handle prescriptions for routine medications. we could save a lot on healthcare by eliminating some of the more routine visits to the doctor's office.

8 writes:

If you're right, Wal-Mart is going to clean house with their in-store clinics.

Gorgasal writes:
... $100,000 in consumers' surplus.

Does that mean that you would have been willing to pay 100,000$ for the supports?

Fabio Rojas writes:

Ummm... and which of your friends recommended that you needed more arch support? Will he - ahem - get a nice chunk of that $100,000? Just sayin'...

Dr. T writes:

It's too bad you had a mediocre podiatrist. He did not do a good exam.

After hearing your problem I would have looked at your shoes and assessed their wear patterns (outsides vs. insides, heel vs. ball of foot or toes), arch support and arch shape, and cushioning. One problem I've encountered is that our arches flatten as we get older (and often heavier). The shoes that worked when we were 25 are too arched and too narrow for us at 50. Another simple problem is leg length difference.

Medical schools don't teach much podiatry: I learned the shoe stuff from my own running and walking experiences. A podiatrist should know far more than I about shoe-related foot pain.

Unit writes:

I totally agree with the pharmacy being a much faster (and cheaper) way to go. If only more pharmacists would give out prescription medicines under the table (this is commonly done in, say, Italy)...

jim jim writes:

who has to register with a government agency to by nyquil? I just bought some from a drug store without giving my name to anyone ...

David R. Henderson writes:

To respond to GU, yes. I hate having to line up to get Sudafed and then being limited in the amount I can buy so that I can't buy enough for the whole winter season.
I hate being treated like a child by a government that doesn't care about me and claims to.

Tim Fowler writes:

jim jim -

"United States state law

Thirty-seven individual states also have varying laws on the matter: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington laws require pharmacies to sell pseudoephedrine behind-the-counter and to collect personal information from the purchaser. Oregon requires a prescription to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoephedrine#United_States_state_law

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