Here's a paradox: If your firm produces a good or service that is a large part of the overall value of a final product, you may have a hard time keeping your price high or raising it. After all, precisely because you are a large part of total costs, any attempt to raise the price will be noticeable when passed on to customers, and those using your product have a strong incentive to take a tough line when negotiating terms. On the other side, if your firm produces a good or service that is necessary to a final product, but only a small share of total costs, you may be much more successful in keeping your price high or raising it further. When the price of your input climbs, it makes a relatively small difference to total costs. Aggressive competition from others to supplant your market niche may be less likely. Thus, it may be important to be unimportant, and fortunes can be made from unimportant inventions.
The Theory of Economics does not furnish a body of settled conclusions immediately applicable to policy. It is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique of thinking, which helps its possessor to draw correct conclusions. It is not difficult in the sense in which mathematical and scientific techniques are difficult; but the fact that its modes of expression are much less precise than these, renders decidedly difficult the task of conveying it correctly to the minds of learners.I have often quoted the opening two lines to those who want to know if economics systematically leads to liberal or convervative policy conclusions. But I also love the comment from Keynes in 1922--that is, well before he wrote the General Theory--saying that in the subject of economics, "important improvements in its elements are becoming rare.")
Before Adam Smith this apparatus of thought scarcely existed. Between his time and this it has been steadily enlarged and improved. Nor is there any branch of knowledge in the formation of which Englishmen can claim a more predominant part. It is not complete yet, but important improvements in its elements are becoming rare. The main task of the professional economist now consists, either in obtaining a wide knowledge of relevant facts and exercising skill in the application of economic principles to them, or in expounding the elements of his method in a lucid, accurate and illuminating way, so that, through his instruction, the number of those who can think for themselves may be increased.
Tenner offers some vivid example of important unimportant inventions. For example, the valve is quite important part of a tire, but a relatively small part of total cost. Back in the 1890s, August Schrader and his son George not only built a better valve, but also standardized the size of valves so that valves could connect with a variety of air pumps. It's why I can pump up either car tires or my bicycle tires with either a hand-pump in my garage or a mechanical pump at a gas station.