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Monday, 18 April 2022 17:58

To Haggle or Not to Haggle?

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     I hate haggling. I have always hated haggling. Why do I dislike it so? In the first place, haggling seems like a tremendous waste of time, energy, and resources that could have been better spent on other things. It seems horribly inefficient. Beyond that, and even more fundamentally, haggling tacitly presupposes as a distinct possibility (if not probability) that there is a threat of rapacious hostility on the part of the seller. To defend himself from this threat, the buyer is coerced into haggling himself as it is his only means of countering it. For me, the underlying antagonism robs the experience of shopping of whatever pleasure it might otherwise possess.

     Clearly, not all people feel the way I do about haggling. In certain Middle-Eastern and Oriental countries, haggling is so much a part of the cultural software that it is generally expected that, whenever you go to make any kind of purchase, the seller will outrageously inflate his price at first, while you, as the buyer, are expected to counter him with an outrageously low ball offer. All of this is done with the tacit understanding that, eventually, through a lengthy process of going back and forth, a sensible price for both buyer and seller will be arrived at. The ‘wonders’ of haggling apply to everything, even to something as innocuous as a bunch of bananas. Is it any wonder that Westerners who find themselves in an Eastern bazaar, but who have not been duly forewarned, often end up like lambs led to the slaughter?

     There is, of course, an alternative to haggling which is in operation to some significant but imperfect extent throughout the world, and which has its roots in Western culture: the notion of the ‘just price.’ To my mind, setting and ‘publishing’ (making public) a price that is, in some fundamental sense, ‘fair’, to both the seller and the buyer, so that neither one is taking advantage of the other, is infinitely preferable to having to haggle. This price could be arrived at through custom, through the operations of the free market (assuming the participation of virtuous actors), or through some form of government regulation and oversight. The difficulty with the ‘just price approach’ has usually to do with how do we determine what the objective basis for the ‘just price’ could or should be. As they say in French, “ce n’est pas évident”.

     Whether because of the influence of Christianity and/or other cultural factors, C.H. Douglas noted that when it comes to the question of price, there is a basic bifurcation between the East and its love of haggling on the one hand, and the West and its desire (never completely fulfilled) to transcend haggling altogether through an application of some kind of rational principle on the other:

“Perhaps the cleavage in outlook between the East and West is most practically exemplified in the idea of ‘price’ as simply the haggling of the market, or as Sir Marcus Samuel put it, ‘the price of an article is what it will fetch,’ on the one hand, and the struggles of the Mediaeval Church (the foundation of Europeanism) with the concept of the Just Price. Whether St. Thomas Aquinas achieved any stable mechanism for this doctrine, I do not know—probably not. But the philosophy of it is basic. There is no part of the Social Credit thesis which has roused such rancour as the demonstration that the Just, or what we now prefer to call the Compensated Price, is at the root of economic democracy.”[1]

     My love for the clear, the linear, and the logical has always put me firmly in the Western camp where mentalities are concerned, and so my marked preference for the Western approach to price (and my disdain for haggling) now become self-explanatory. Similarly, since Douglas Social Credit is the only doctrine of which I am aware which finally provides, as Major Douglas intimates, a firm foundation for the concept of the previously elusive concept of the ‘just price’, my passionate interest in Douglas Social Credit follows inexorably.

     Douglas established that as the true or natural cost of producing any good or service involves the consumption of all of the matter and energy involved in brining that good or service into being, the financial cost of any such item should never exceed the sum of the financial costs paid out to cover the raw materials and the process of their transformation into a finished piece of output. The global C/P or consumption/production ratio gives us the objective standard for regulating final prices so that they reflect the true or natural costs of production. Once applied, retail prices would be lowered by the price factor (the discount that needs to be granted to reduce financial prices so that they reflect natural costs) and the National Credit Authority would reimburse retailers with the difference via an issue of debt-free credit. Neither the seller nor the buyer would be able to take advantage of the other. In addition, the seller would have all of his costs met, while the buyer would have the price of items lowered so that they become more affordable to him (thereby indirectly increasing his purchasing power). As a condition of participating in the compensated price reimbursement system, Douglas proposed that profit margins on turnover would have to be negotiated and agreed to so that retailers could not arbitrarily raise or inflate their prices so as to negate the debt-free injections into the economy made possible via the discount.

     Since price levels would be regulated by means of the c/p ratio in line with the rational principle that ‘the true cost of production is consumption’, the establishment of a full-fledged Douglas Social Credit financial system would effectively put a final end to haggling, at least as far as the flow of current production is concerned. It’s an interesting question whether haggling for second-hand goods would continue in a Douglas Social Credit Commonwealth. There would probably be no law or regulation prohibiting it. However, the fact that new goods (including houses) would be priced at the compensated price means that second hand goods would have to be similarly priced if they are to compete. This is likely to restrict the space and the possibility for haggling. As far as I am concerned, I would be none too pleased if we could get rid of haggling entirely.

     As an interesting aside, the Western antipathy for haggling is so strong as a cultural undercurrent that, in the absence of a more perfect Douglas Social Credit ‘just price’ system, one wonders if the desire to avoid it must not seek out other ways to manifest itself in whatever way that it can … in whatever way is available to it. In this regard, I do wonder whether the Australian attitude towards tipping might be a case in point. Perhaps a historian might answer.

     One of the things that, in my estimation, Australia does right is the elimination of any expectation of tipping in restaurants, cafés, bars and so forth. While not formally embodying the practice of haggling, tipping is, quite often, just another manifestation of the same or similar dynamic. Unsurprisingly, I don’t like tipping either.

     Wherever there is, in the world, this expectation of tipping a waiter or waitress, immediately one has to decide how much should they be tipped, i.e., what percentage of the final bill? While a certain percentage may be customary as the default, it is understood that the tip can be more or less depending on the quality of the service. If the service exceeds expectations it should be more (as much as 20% or higher). If the service fails to meet expectations it should be less.  As a result, it can happen that the wait staff and the customers enter into an elaborate dance: the wait staff are trying to suss out how much effort a customer may be worth in attempting to induce the highest possible tips from him before committing themselves fully to extra-special service (a sort of cost-benefit analysis) and the customers are testing and observing the wait staff to see whether they are worth more than the customary percentage. In the bad old days, before electronic transfers were possible or common, the decision-making was further complicated by whether one had enough notes and coins to make up the appropriate sum.

     Sometimes this ritual, almost ‘courtship-like’ behaviour, takes on strange hues. I remember once, after I had recently relocated to Arkansas, being told by a waitress that she earned a measly $2.15 USD per hour as a wage and was therefore mostly dependent on tips in order to survive. I was sure to tip her very generously indeed.

     In any case, tipping, like haggling, seems inefficient and fraught with the possibility of insult, injury, misunderstandings, and so forth. While it is, perhaps, not so demanding as to ruin a dinner or one’s appetite, it does have the potential to provoke a disagreeable turn to an otherwise pleasant experience. It’s far better to do what is done in Australia: pay wait staff decent wages so that everything is already included in the final tally.

 

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[1] Cf. https://alor.org/Storage/Library/Douglas%20CH%20-%20Programme%20for%20the%20Third%20World%20War.htm

Last modified on Monday, 18 April 2022 18:02

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