Gimme somethin’ mister!

How can we reconcile voluntary, “win-win” market transactions with the popular notion of “giving back” ?*

Consider how sellers have traditionally marketed to you: the street vendor who tosses in an extra “free” orange; the points (or stamps) you get for spending money with X; the “complementary” peanuts or bottled water you get while traveling; “new improved” products, now with “20% free” — and so on.

Every one of these examples raises the cost of what you DO pay for, but most people seem to think they are actually getting something for free.

The same can be said about the rich people, companies and nations who “give back” to various charities. They wouldn’t need to give back if they hadn’t taken too much in the first place — via tax dodges, harmful competition** and colonialism/mercantilism, respectively.

The bottom line? You ain’t get sump’m fer nuthin.

* This post was partially inspired by Chris Rock, who complains in his latest special about “everybody’s talking bullshit… companies say ‘we give back… we give back… we don’t even like the money!'” So true (the BS part).

** My definition of “harmful” competition is much narrower than that of most people — i.e., breaking laws, externalizing negative costs, abuse of market power, etc. I am not too worried about price gouging, excess profits, etc. that are the reward for bearing risk.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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