As a recent college graduate I found that stores open 24 hours per day were an unmixed blessing. I could write code until 2:00 am, stop by a store on my way home, and pick up a pint of Haagen-Daz coffee ice cream for immediate consumption. Now that my life is more intertwined with family it turns out that CVS being open all night simply means that the window for potential required errands has been expanded. Visiting D.C. this weekend I had the opportunity to make a late-night visit to CVS to purchase a toothbrush for one of my traveling companions; she had neglected to pack hers in Boston. As I walked back through a pouring rain I reflected “How could this [non-electric] toothbrush have cost $6.29? It contains the same amount of plastic as a toy that comes free with a Happy Meal.” Later, I poked around on the Web and discovered that hotels can buy those toothbrushes (admittedly crummy) that they give away to guests for less than 10 cents. A Colgate-branded toothbrush is about 45 cents (quantity 144).
So Question 1 for tonight is how is it possible in our competitive economy for a toothbrush to cost $6.29?
Question 2 is why there aren’t high quality generic LEGO bricks available. The LEGO patents have expired (and in fact perhaps should not have been very broad (source)). Given how popular LEGO is with kids, and the number of kids in the U.S., and the supposedly ruthlessly competitive nature of our economy, why aren’t there huge boxes of LEGO-compatible bricks available for slightly more than it costs to mold and package them?
Our economy is efficient enough that people buy generic versions of heart medicine. Why hasn’t a similar market developed for generic LEGO? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_clone lists a bunch of clones, but none seem to be popular or cheap enough that you could start building living room furniture out of the bricks.)