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Market Forces II

July 6, 2008

I was telling my father what happened to me during one of my visits to Gozo.

“That’s immoral,” he said. “That’s stealing.”

“I told her, later, that we gave him too little for the bag …”

“No. I meant the seller.”

“Why?”

“He was asking you for much more than what the bag was – or is – worth. Hadn’t it been for her and her sister you’d have forked out the money.”

“Yes I would have BUT out of my own free will, so to speak. I wasn’t forced to take the bag AND give him the money.”

“We call his action profiteering – except that bags aren’t in particularly short supply.

“I’d rather have a profiterole …”

He shook his head in exasperation and continued zapping channels. (For my father the greatest thing ever invented is the television remote control, not the sliced loaf. He can go for days on end without food and water, but I don’t see him lasting longer than 10 minutes without a remote control)

I understood his point but I still couldn’t agree with it. It is true that the hawker tried to sell the bag for more than it was worth, but a) he didn’t mislead me b) he didn’t make me take it c) the bag is not an essential item without which I can’t live.

If anything I am the fool who is easily parted from his money. I should have shopped around a bit before plumping for the first bag I saw. But let’s say that I bought the bag at the price he wanted to sell it to me. I could have come across a similar – or perhaps even identical – bag with a smaller price tag. I would obviously have told everybody about it. In the long run the original seller would have lost more than what he had gained by selling me the bag at an exorbitant price.

“You see,” I told him (my father), “his behaviour is like a parasite’s …”

“Well, you should know. You’ve been sucking me dry since the day you were born.”

“No, really. A parasite lives off its host until it kills it, however, once the host dies, the parasite dies with it. The species only survives because during its stay in the host the parasite manages to smuggle out some eggs or seeds – but that’s beside the point. The point is that a parasite can only take so much off its host. Then it dies. An ideal parasite is one that doesn’t shorten its host’s life expectancy.”

“But then it wouldn’t be a parasite, would it?” He zapped to the National Geographic Channel.

“But that’s beside the point.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. My point is that this person is killing – sort of – his host. He is reducing his ‘client base’. It’s what’s been happening to many local shops. Bookshops, clothes shops, CD and DVD shops … even the grocers”

“Are you all right?” He was looking for a shopping channel, probably.

“With the internet firmly planted in our midst, people are beginning to realise that quite a few shops have taken us on long and expensive rides. So what happens? We scrap the shops and buy everything from the internet. So the shops just wither away and close down. It’s a bit like the survival of the fittest really, if you think about it.”

“But increasing the price of things just because you can is not fair. Look at what’s happening with oil and grain prices the world over. Just because it doesn’t suit some people to grow grain for food they don’t do it. Or, some people are just speculating in oil. Is that fair? Isn’t that survival of the fittest? You can’t say that just because human activity follows a pattern that is seen in nature it is right. Or fair.”

“Hang on a minute. Hold your horses.” Somehow I saw horses on the television. Honestly, the man and his remote are in perfect sync. “I am only talking about “little luxuries” here. I did not say the principle should be applied to essentials as well, even though it does explain the logic behind what we’re seeing.”

“So who, in your opinion, should draw the line? I think that this is an ad hoc line you just drew to save face.”

“No it isn’t… I’m just saying that “biological principles” can explain – and possibly predict – the outcomes of certain goings-on around us. Never did I mention that they SHOULD be extended to the essentials, even though I insist that they could.”

“It’s still immoral.”

“OK.”

Some people are so hard-headed they make diamond look like a marshmallow. Honestly. Reliving the conversation has tired me out. Got to take a rest.

Toodle-oo.

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