Why You Should (Almost) Never Wait in Line
We pay too little attention to ‘opportunity cost’—in our personal lives and in public policy.
Practicing law at a large firm for an extended period—17 years in my case before I fully embraced wonkery—does weird things to your brain. You tend to think, speak, and argue in enumerated-list format (something annoyed spouses know all too well). You get antsy when someone doesn’t return your texts or emails within 5 minutes (at most) or when you can’t respond instantly in-kind. You become incredibly adept at breezing through airport security and develop unreasonable expectations about office coffee. But perhaps the most brain-altering thing about practicing in “Big Law” is that recording your entire professional life in detailed, six-minute increments—and getting compensated on that basis—makes you acutely, obsessively aware of time and its value.
Unlike the other disorders, however, this last one is an objectively good thing.
(Well, most of the time.)
I thought of this a couple weeks ago during my regular Costco run when I noticed the literal traffic jam in the parking lot, caused by antsy shoppers waiting in long lines—each at least 15 cars deep—for the company’s famously cheap gas.
My decision to forgo the line and pay a little more for gas across the street made for an easy joke on Twitter (as things do), but it also hit on an economic principle—“opportunity cost”—that gets little attention in Washington yet should inform our thinking on not only personal line-waiting protocols but also public policy.