Fixing a Broken Window

The often overlooked benefits of our commercialized world


Some knucklehead threw a brick through my car window the other night while the vehicle was parked on the street outside my brother-in-law's house in Washington, D.C.

As crimes go, it wasn't much. My family and I were inside the house asleep, so no one was injured. The only valuable thing that appears to have been stolen out of the car was the visitor parking permit, a laminated piece of city-issued paper that, when I borrowed it from my brother-in-law and placed it on the dashboard, allowed me to leave the car on the street for more than two hours at a time without risking a parking ticket. One of the police officers who came to investigate said there must be a market for these placards, because ours wasn't the first to be stolen.

But this isn't a column about how criminals are knuckleheads or about how the D.C. government is foolish to require out-of-town visitors to leave valuable bait for criminals on display overnight behind glass windshields.

No, the more interesting part of this story is what happened after the cops left: a miracle of modern technology and free market competition that combined to get my car fixed, curbside, in less than three hours from when the police left the scene — and on a holiday weekend, no less.

The prospects for a quick fix appeared, at first, to be grim.

My car insurance company put me on hold while it checked three different auto glass repair shops, none of which had the replacement window available. The insurance company gave me the names and numbers of two other companies to call, but those companies either didn't have the part or did not answer the phone.

One large company, recommended by one of the smaller companies that didn't have the part, said I could drive the car, whose seats and floor were covered with broken glass, to its outpost in Virginia. There this company could wrap the window in plastic and duct tape, so I could go ahead with my plans to drive home to Massachusetts the next day. Then they could then get the replacement window to their Massachusetts outlet and offer me an appointment to fix it there a few days later.

Here's where the technology comes it. I had Googled the name of the large auto glass company, Safelite Auto Glass, to find its phone number. On the page of search results was an ad for a local Safelite competitor, Beltway Auto Glass.

The leftist critique of advertising is that it convinces people to buy things that they do not need. But here was a case where I really did need my car window fixed. It wasn't an ad that used sexist stereotypes or played on status anxiety. It just gave the name of the competing company and a clickable link. Its presence at the top of the search page signaled that the company had enough money to win the mini-auction that Google uses to allocate those ad spaces — and it also served as a clue that it might have enough inventory to have the window I needed available on a weekend morning.

So I called, and Beltway Auto Glass did indeed have the window in stock. Exactly two hours after I called, a technician was at the curb where my car had been parked, vacuuming out the broken glass. Forty minutes later, the window was totally fixed and the car was cleaner than it had been when I had parked it, pre-crime, the night before. The same technician then swiped my credit card through the mobile payment device attachment on his iPad, which also sent a receipt to the email address I had entered into the iPad.

Maybe 20 years ago these same functions could have been carried out by a printed Yellow Pages phone book, with the size of the Yellow Pages ad sending the same signal that the ad at the top of the Google search results does now. Instead of an email receipt I would have had one generated by an impression on carbon paper.

The new technology is incrementally better. The mobile card readers, unlike the old-fashioned manual carbon machines, can tell if your credit card is real and authorized for the amount of the expenditure. The Google search results page is updated more frequently than the Yellow Pages and is more portable.

The technology that really underlies the fix to my car window, though, isn't Google's search ads or Apple's iPad, nifty as they are, but capitalism. It solves problems by connecting customers with needs to other people who can meet the needs in voluntary, mutually beneficially transactions. There's a marketing piece of it, there's a supply-chain management piece of it, and there are profit and competition pieces of it. It all works pretty well.

So the next time your car's window is smashed or cracked, be consoled and maybe even inspired by knowing that there's a system that can fix that window so quickly and efficiently.

NEXT: Egyptian Secret Police Round Up AlJazeera Journalists

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  1. Left-libertarians have a sad.

  2. You're just depriving yourself of a government approved repair shop experience. Why paying this yourself should not only be illegal, it's immoral.

    1. Think of the person who threw the brick through the window: Do you think he's rich enough to afford curbside window repair? No. Maybe that's why he did it.

      1. It's a government jobs program. They pay thugs to break out car windows which then becomes employment for cops, insurance claim handlers and glaziers.

        1. For his next trick, Krugman will advocate that the government hire lowlife democrat thugs to break into people's houses and rip the copper out of their walls. "Urban Recycling Stimulus", he called it.

          "You see, the reactionary libertarians might have old-fashioned ideas about human rights, property rights, and production & trade, but look at all this underutilized labor in the prisons! Instead of sitting around lifting weights, they could be out scrapping the copper from your house! It's an economic stimulus *and* a victory in the white guilt crusade!"

      2. No shit! I was wishing I could afford some poor bastard to come service my fucking car on Christmas Eve. Fucking richies.

  3. Perhaps Stoll will stop to marvel at the modern technology and free market competition that combines to get the car *rebroken*, curbside, in less than *four* hours from when the police left the scene?and on a holiday weekend, no less.

  4. we libertarians need to stop neoconsevatism in the republican party

  5. So, what you are saying is that broken windows stimulate the economy?

  6. we libertarians need to stop neoconservatism in the republican party

  7. we libertarians need to stop neoconservatism in the republican party

  8. If only libertarians weren't useless fucks and they could stop neoconservatism (link please) in the republican party.

  9. my roomate's half-sister makes 74 dollars an hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her check was 19922 dollars just working on the laptop for a few hours. published here

  10. Glass replacement is a scam since glass vendors use an overpriced retail price listing from NAGS (National Auto Glass Specifications), then discount the glass. Because the insurance company is involved this becomes a cluster fuck over what discount can be obtained.

    There's no competition at the retail consumer level so markup on the glass can be jacked up 3-5 times over the actual cost. It has very little to do with the actual cost of the glass plus a reasonable amount for markup and labor.

    1. Maybe where you live.Not where I's an extremely competitive market.

    2. Uh no sir this is the Free Market the perfect wonderful immaculate Free Market the Free Market god always provides the perfect prices and products as long as we make our blood sacrifices of working-poor.

      1. ^ Wow, I wonder if you're being sacastic? Blood sacrifices of working labor? Puhlease. People are paid for labor. I'm pretty sure the auto-glass labor is made up of mostly robots, who can't really pay in BLOOD.

        Update: I just looked it up. These production lines are almost entirely robots.

        1. Ignore him. He's a piece of shit racist troll who's all bent out of shape that libertarians won't join him in pushing out the brown hordes that are stealing jerbs from good, hardworking Muricans (just look at the site linked in his handle - Stormfront is a Nazi messageboard).

          He'll get himself banned within a day, his posting history will be removed, and he will start the cycle all over again in a week under a new handle.

  11. my roomate's half-sister makes 74 dollars an hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her check was 19922 dollars just working on the laptop for a few hours. published here

  12. "said I could drive the car, whose seats and floor were covered with broken glass"

    Jesus, is it that hard to brush the broken glass on to the floor and drive to the nearest gas station with a vacuum and then plastic up the window yourself??

    I suppose taking the door panel off, pulling a window at the junkyard, and replacing the window yourself is completely out of the question.

    1. That's the glory of it. Some people's lack of skill in handiwork equates to a demand for auto-glass curbside repairmenmenmenmenmen.

      1. ^ The real miracle of capitalism.

  13. The leftist critique of advertising is that it convinces people to buy things that they do not need.

    Where the hell did "leftist" come from? Everyone says that!

  14. So did he end up with a ticket by the morning since his visitor parking permit was now missing?

  15. This also reminds me of the fact that some retailers choose to stay open on weekends, especially holidays. This really bothers many on the right, like Dennis Prager.

    I for one am glad capitalism is good 24 hours, 7 days a week, including holidays.

    1. Tell capitalism to make me sneakers that will last more than 6 months.

  16. There are two big problems with this scenario that makes your argument that the new-technology-is-better a moot premise.

    First, remote credit card readers on wireless devices are incredibly insecure. See Gibson computer research corporation for an explanation on why no wireless communications are secure. You really want to be zipping your credit card over a stranger's Ipad allowing goodness knows how many third parties (to put it gently) to have access to your personal and financial information. Have you SEEN your friends' computers? Have you noticed how chaotic and riddled with viruses and spyware they are? So um why would you trust a stranger's computer?

    Second biggest problem in this article. " Its presence at the top of the search page signaled that the company had enough money to win the mini-auction that Google uses to allocate those ad spaces"

    So you think that the company that has the most money is going to give you best deal/best quality repair job? For example, car windshields have to be done properly because they need not just to be tempered but they also offer a secondary support in the event of a roll over. You really want to trust the Google kids to verify whether the highest bidder to their search engine is going to be a legitimate company? I don't think so.

    Every year data and security breaches, fraud and online theft is becoming more and more common. Why take added risks?

    I'll keep my yellowpages thank you very much.

    1. are* becoming more and more common... (There doesn't seem to be a way to edit messages on this site once they've been posted.)

    2. I always look forward each year to the annual news story about untempered windshields being sold in the United States and installed by poorly trained "technicians." The cost of this activity to the economy, and the threat to life, demands immediate regulation by a national cabinet level agency.

      Yellow pages? ROTFL! The yellow pages have been worthless for years.

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