Episode 54: Boots Theory – How It’s More Expensive to be Poor

You’re shivering, huddled under your thin, discount-store jacket as the winter wind slices through it. Meanwhile, a woman walks by, snug and warm in her expensive, high-quality coat that will last her for years. It dawns on you: she pays more upfront, yet less in the long run. Your bargain coat, replaced each year, costs you more over time. A vivid reminder of economic disparity, articulated through contrasting experiences of the same cold wind. This is the Boots Theory of Economics.

Or the original quote:

“Take boots, for example. He earned $38 a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost $50. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about $10.

“Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

“But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford $50 had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in 10 years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

“This was Capt. Samuel Vimes’ boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

Terry Pratchett, “Men at Arms”


  • From Terry Pratchet’s Men at Arms
  • Matthew Principle: the tendency of individuals to accrue social or economic success in proportion to their initial level of popularity, friends, and wealth. It is sometimes summarized by the adage “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
  • Wrestling with Ghosts (Phil’s term): Arguing against something you think you heard but the person didn’t say because you’ve heard the a similar argument so many times already that you mistake one for the other.
    • In this example: Steve said “you have to pay with time and money” and Phil heard “You have to pay with time or money”, which is something he’s heard many times before, but Steve didn’t say.
  • Cognitive Load: the amount of working memory resources used. Broadly, there are three types of cognitive load: intrinsic cognitive load is the effort associated with a specific topic; extraneous cognitive load refers to the way information or tasks are presented to a learner; and germane cognitive load refers to the work put into creating a permanent store of knowledge (a schema). However, over the years, the additivity of these types of cognitive load has been investigated and questioned. Now it is believed that they circularly influence each other.
  • Stroop Test: A basic task that demonstrates this effect occurs when there is a mismatch between the name of a color (e.g., “blue”, “green”, or “red”) and the color it is printed in (i.e., the word “red” printed in blue ink instead of red ink). When asked to name the color of the word it takes longer and is more prone to errors when the color of the ink does not match the name of the color.
  • Mani, Mullainathan, Shafir, and Zhao (2013)Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function: examined the relationship between poverty and cognitive function, finding that poverty imposes a significant cognitive burden.
  • Stereotype Threat: a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group.
  • Priming: the idea that exposure to one stimulus may influence a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.
  • Availability Bias: a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method, or decision.
  • HR Guy – Pipelining
  • Episode 53: Third Places
  • Industry 4.0 (4th Industrial Revolution): conceptualises rapid change to technology, industries, and societal patterns and processes in the 21st century due to increasing interconnectivity and smart automation.
  • Capsule Wardrobe: a small collection of clothes that can be put together in different ways and includes everything you would normally need to wear.
  • Kijiji.ca – a Canadian online classified advertising website and part of eBay Classifieds Group, which was acquired by Adevinta in 2020; Canadian Craig’s List
  • Gumtree.com.au –  Aussie equivalent of Kijiji and Craig’s List

Recent Posts