Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cheap glasses - can you see the difference?

There's an article in today's paper talking about the emergence of a number of big companies offering cheap eye glasses. The price difference is a lot; you can get 2 pairs of "cheap" prescription glasses for $179, or pay $500 for one pair of the regularly priced glasses at an independent optometry store. Of course, the cheaper ones do not come with anti-glare coating or correction for astigmatism.

I think it is not right for the higher-priced independent optometrists to run down the cheaper alternatives by claiming the cheaper ones are appalling and are potentially damaging to the health. I am not promoting the cheaper ones either. I think it is good for consumers to have a choice. People who otherwise cannot afford the best would do well to to go for the second best. That's why the market always caters to different levels of affordability. Unfortunately there are policy makers who do not understand economics very well. They make policies requiring everyone to only use what is the very best. For example, childcare centers are very expensive because they have to meet the quality standards (e.g. carer to children ratio), thereby making it unaffordable to those who need this service the most. School textbooks are revised every so often just for the smallest changes. This is perhaps to make sure the previous years' books are not re-used. Councilors raise council rates every year to improve services which may be good for a well-heeled district, but may be an unaffordable luxury for a poorer constituent. Policymakers should understand the needs of the people instead of always promoting the very best.

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