In the prior three posts of this mini-series, I recounted a highly stylized version of an event that happened to Jig, Pat and I as we set out shopping in Delhi. In reality, the actual rug buying/returning event that took place is much less interesting to me than the personal lessons I learned from the experience.
A fool and his money are soon parted
‘A fool and his money are soon parted’ is a phrase that’s so often repeated that the words themselves have almost become meaningless. Reading stories about Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, or Enron a little further back, I know I’ve become fairly blasé when reading about people who put their blind faith into things they don’t understand and consequently lose their money. Fraud is one of the worst possibilities of true free market capitalism; there are rules and standards set in place by the government to instill some level of confidence in transactions, but only if you assume that the other party is acting in good faith. That’s a big assumption, but one we make (successfully) several times per day.
With this daily level of “success” in good faith transactions, it’s very easy to become complacent in verifying that this assumption still holds. In the U.S. and many other Western nations, information is so readily available on any good or service that we tend to assume that the market (or the legal system) is efficiently minimizing the chance that a business is using asymmetric information to the detriment of the consumer. For example, I’ve got a bar-code reader on my iPhone that tells me the best price of a good anywhere across the Internet. If the store I’m in doesn’t have the best price, they’ve got a chance to match it or I’ll purchase the good somewhere else.
But regardless if the store matches the price or not, I can safely assume that whatever is said to be in the box is actually in the box. The store is competing on price, not on whether they can convince you that they can substitute Y good in place and still tell you that they sold you X. The same thing goes for restaurants, home repair technicians, mail-order catalog sites…you can find out information on the quality of nearly any good or service, and because the seller knows this information is readily available, has motivation to correct the problem before you get there (lest they want to go out of business).