Mark Hartless: Fairness in groceries
July 25, 2012
I was caught up in something rather infuriating yesterday. I was in line behind a woman who was purchasing the exact same items as I had chosen. In all my life, this has never happened to me at the grocery store. The clerk tallied and bagged the items. He returned the woman's frequent shopper card, smiled and said, "That will be $39.72, ma'am." She paid him and went her way as my items began their conveyor belt ride toward the clerk.
The clerk had not noticed the curious coincidence, so I was way ahead of him when he returned my frequent shopper card. "That'll be $51.27, sir," the clerk said with the same pre-packaged smile he had given the previous customer.
There I stood with $39.72 in my outstretched hand, ready to confound him with my prophetic ability to know the total before he uttered a word. Now, I was in shock. What had just happened? The clerk was over-charging me!
Perhaps he had counted some of my items twice. I reviewed my receipt; no mistakes or double charges. I could pretend I hadn't noticed what just happened, or I could question the clerk and politely demand an explanation. Because money is not exactly growing on trees these days, I chose to ask for the explanation.
"Pardon me, but I used the frequent customer card and had the exact same items as the previous customer, so why is my bill $11 more than hers?" I demanded.
What I heard next left me staring at the clerk like a calf staring at a new gate.
He informed me that the store recently had instituted a "fairness" policy and that the information on my card had revealed that I earned more than the previous customer, and therefore, my bill would be more than hers.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Different prices for the exact same groceries? What idiot came up with a policy like this? I left the groceries at the register and walked out in protest. I will never be back.
Don't you hate it when that happens?
What? This has never happened to you? Think again. We are being charged varying rates for the exact same products every day, just not at the grocery store.
Here is just a partial list of the things we all buy or have available to us in equal amounts:
■ Military protection
■ Roads and bridges
■ National parks, forests, monuments and historic sites
■ Rivers and lakes
■ Legal system
■ Law enforcement, fire and medical rescue and Coast Guard assistance
■ Weather forecast and warning systems
■ Reliable, safe electric grid
And the list goes on and on. So why are we charged different prices for the same product? Why, when we do business with this one particular company, a monopoly called government, are we charged based on a discriminatory scale uncommon to almost any other entity with which we do business?
In fact, the systematic use of such a fee scale, were it applied elsewhere, likely would be grounds for legal action. Perhaps some attorney would win a big lawsuit by calling it "financial profiling."
Why are we told that such a method of payment for government products is "fairness" when it is not practiced anywhere else? Is the customary one-price-fits-all pricing we see at Walmart, McDonald's or the gas station not fair?
It is more than a little frustrating to see some Americans paying exorbitant prices for items while others get the same products at a discount. Worse still, many pay nothing at all, and some are even given other people's money in addition to receiving their "stuff."
Not surprisingly, those who pay the least for these products vigorously support this injustice while those who preside over this plunder shamelessly proclaim to us with a straight face that this is "fairness." I wonder how so many people came to view "fairness" as one person paying half their income in taxes while another pays nothing.
Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of Frederic Bastiat: "There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. I cannot imagine a more alarming situation."
Mark Hartless is a Steamboat Springs resident.