The Puritans still don't understand the meaning of the word "waste"


Apparently households are "wasting" as much as £18 a year by continuing to use tumble driers even in the summer months. We're told that we should all be out there hanging the stuff up from a washing line instead. Quite apart from the fact that a British summer is not a period of guaranteed dryness this is showing a depressing ignorance of the meaning of the word "waste" in an economic sense. There is one indication of how much richer we all are now though:

Official statistics show that more than 16.5m UK households own either a washer-dryer or a tumble dryer.

Sales of tumble dryers in particular have soared in the past decade. Almost 12.5m households in the UK owned a tumble dryer as of 2013, an increase of 3m since 2003. By contrast, in 1970 just 138,000 homes owned one.

This is all part of that great economic emancipation of women that has been the signal change of the past two generations. As running a household becomes ever more mechanised then both the gender division of labour and the restriction of women to largely household duties simply fade away. But about that waste:

The declining popularity of the traditional washing line is costing British families at least £120m a year, as tumble dryers are routinely used throughout warm summer months.

More than half of all households who own a tumble dryer use it at least once a week during the summer, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

The organisation, a charitable foundation which offers advice on cutting energy bills, said that a typical household could save £18 from their annual electricity bills “by line drying clothes instead of tumble drying” during June, July and August.

It would be rare to find a household that had a budget constraint that bit harshly on £18. And as to whether the spending of that £18 is waste or not is really up to those spending it rather than some bunch of puritan prodnoses. The actual budget constraint that none of us is ever free from is that on our time. And so the question becomes whether, in the minds of those doing it, the time spent with a tumble drier is worth the £18 as against the longer period of time used with the washing line. We've good authority as to how to measure this in a theoretical sense too. The Sarkozy Commission (including the laureates Stiglitz and Sen) pointed out that such household labour should be valued at the rate for "undifferentiated labour" or, in more understandable terms, minimum wage. That £18 is 3 hours of minimum wage labour. If using a tumble drier saves three hours over an entire summer as opposed to the alternative washing line then it's an entirely rational allocation of time and money. It's simply not waste at all.