Problems with Capitalism

I'm starting to compile a list of specific examples where capitalism and relatively uncontrolled free-enterprise may support itself, but doesn't do much to help or improve society, or people. I'm sure others may well blame the problem on government regulations, and in many cases I'll agree. But aren't many such regulations lobbied for by private industries who want to maintian a high price for their product? I welcome all contributions. I have plenty of my own, but mostly I don't think to write about them. But here's one for example:

Recently I was "rock climbing" on cliffs at San Francisco's Baker Beach. At one point when I was close to the ground I got a bit careless, slipped and hit my head on a rock. Nothing too serious, except a crescent-shaped wound where the rim of my metal-framed glasses tried to make contact with the bone of my eye socket, and a bit of a black eye. I also broke one lens of my glasses, and then lost the rest, which gets to the point of this.

I went to LensCrafters, where I'd bought the previous pair, and they had my prescription. They would sell me plastic lenses for I think about $50, but I like phototropic (gets dark in the sunlight), therefore glass lenses. They don't do these "in about an hour", more like two weeks. When I was almost out the door, I found they could make me a pair of "loaner" plastic glasses, which I would later exchange. They said they return the lenses to the manufacturer (whom I hope gives them to organizations that furnish glasses for third world countries) and get a rebate.

The point is that they can afford to make plastic lenses "for free", or rather as a convenience to a paying customer, for which they would normally charge $50. (If I'd still had the other lens, would they have made just one lens? I'm pretty sure they'd have found an excuse not to.)

I've read of a modular system for making "prescription" plastic glasses for poor people here in the US, for about $1 each, possibly subsidized. Reading glasses cost about $10 and up. Maybe neither of these regular prescription quality, but why aren't such options (for glasses and many other products) available for the rest of us? (Because reading glasses have a long history before many government regulations, like tobacco and alcohol as opposed to many presently illegal drugs.) I'd like to be able to afford two or three pairs of glasses for different purposes, for instance with a focus right for looking at a computer screen.

I'm betting we could have _at least_ 90% of the quality for 90% of the people, at 10% of the cost. A thoroughly modular system, would first have a machine that one could self-test one's eyes, probably including a test for glaucoma, which is one excuse they give for not making self-tests available. A simple system, that emphasized function, rather than style and jewelry, would have round lenses, of a few standard sizes. (The need for more standards in general is also a big thing with me.) Technically speaking, each lens would come from a large inventory, in two parts, one spherical and one cylindrical. They would be round so the cylindrical part could be turned to cancel the specific stigmatism of each eye. They would be glued together into one lens, and snapped into plastic frames. I could imagine this all being done by a machine at a higher-end drug store.

Concerning what would happen to the jobs of eye doctors and opticians...


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/