Boycott Joe!

Today I received a “send this to 10 other people” email, instructing me to boycott Exxon. The theory was that a massive consumer boycott would force the oil giant to lower its gas prices, and other oil companies would be forced to follow suit. I am not an economist, but something tells me that market equilibrium would upset the whole process. For example:

– An Exxon station is located across the street from Oil Company B in a small town. Both sell gas for $2.70/gallon. Let’s assume for the purposes of this hypothetical that Oil Company B isn’t actually a subsidiary of Exxon, which it probably really is (Exxon, Esso, Mobile, etc., are all one)

– Consumers boycott the Exxon station and buy gas only at Oil Company B

– Oil Company B is delighted at the reduced competition and it raises its price to $2.75/gallon

– Exxon continues to offer gas at $2.70, or perhaps it drops its price one cent to $2.69/gallon. Maybe it even sends Joe, the station attendant, home early every night because the station isn’t busy. Now Joe, who was just trying to make ends meet, can’t afford to feed his kids

– Consumers eventually get sick of paying $2.75 at Oil Company B, and they flood back to the “cheaper” Exxon

– Exxon raises its price back to $2.70, and Oil Company B lowers its price back to $2.70

– Consumers have made no profit. Exxon lost some profit during the boycott, but regained most of it when consumers flooded back. Oil Company B gained profit during the non-competitive period, and then lost some profit as consumers returned to Exxon. Everyone pretty much breaks even, except that some people feel silly for boycotting Exxon, and Joe has to take out a loan at 19.8% interest so that his daughter can get her insulin. Poor Joe. Why did you do that to him?

Anyway, I ride the subway.


Adventures in Upselling

Alternate title: Assault of the Manhattan Merchants

What’s with all of the upselling these days? Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a tried-and-true sales technique, but it seems to be more in-your-face than ever.

I ventured uptown today (relatively speaking) to do some quick shopping in anticipation of my mini-vacation to warmer climes later this week. On my quest for cargo shorts I stopped in at the Gap and picked out a pair of boxers. At the sales counter, the saleswoman informed me with a look of concern, “These aren’t the ones that are on sale for $6.50, these are the ones that are two for $20.” I told her that that was fine, but she objected “they’re $12.50 otherwise.” I again assured her that this was not a problem and she flashed me a look that said, “You poor sad, fool. You don’t understand how to shop.” She might be right.

On my way back to the office I stopped by McDonald’s for an apple pie. I’m not a regular at Mickey D’s, but every now and then I get a rare urge for one of those pies. They aren’t as good (or as bad for you) as they were when I was a kid — when they fried them until the filling inside reached temperatures only dreamed of by personal injury lawyers — but they are still pretty hard to resist.

When I asked the woman at the counter for one pie, she replied, “They’re two for a dollar.” I objected weakly, “I only want one,” to which she replied, “one is eighty-five cents, two are a dollar.” In the end I gave in and headed back downtown with two pies and one pair of boxers, so I suppose I came out even. Sort of.

Come to think of it, when I was a young counter-minder at McD’s *gasp* twenty years ago, my instructions were to offer “fries with that” or “a sundae with that,” but I never had the heart to do it. Donald Trump would have fired me instantly.

In any event, I suppose I have no room to complain about manipulative merchanting maneuvers, considering that I am shopping at the likes of the Gap and McDonald’s: clearly, I asked for it.


Transcript of recent text message conversation with a friend:

Her: What are you doing?
Me: I am at work.
Her: You are always at work. You must work in a coal mine.
Me: True, but they pay me over $100,000/year + bonus to be here all the time.
Her: Oh. You work in a gold mine.