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Change we can really believe in

I just went to get some lunch at a laughingly named “cafe” around here on North Capitol St.; a sandwich shop, really, run by Korean immigrants and doing a very brisk business at the time.  I handed the fellow at the front a sawbuck for my meal; I received in change two fives and a bit of coin.  I stared at the cash for the briefest of seconds.  He’d mistaken my ten for a twenty.  Decision time, right there at the register.  What was my conscience saying to me?

It is of course wrong to say that I don’t have a well-developed conscience, a sense of right and wrong, and I believe that it’s pretty strong, in general.  I’ve been known to return to stores to give them money, and I’ve only shoplifted once in my life – that was a comic book.  On the other hand, I, er, may have been known to download music from the Interwebs without paying for it, and may have otherwise acted unfairly in other ways.

It’s not wrong to say, however, that most interactions under capitalism involve what you can get away with, although I’m not naive enough to think there’s any system that’s truly free of it.  Self-interest is assumed, and the assumption is further that you will put yourself out the least and attempt to gain the most.  Even better is when you can leave your customer without a choice – they must deal with things on your terms…such as when record companies jack up the price of music across the board, or when a sandwich shop overcharges based on their neighborhood.  I got a turkey club with a side of fries and a bottle of iced tea; nine bucks and change, as indicated above.

I would guess – and I’m just throwing this out there, it wasn’t a justification before the fact – that in a way, I’m introducing fairness to my interactions through selective rewards and punishment.  Charge me $9.50 for something that’s six bucks tops and you are stealing from me, just as surely as if you’d taken the extra money out of my hands by force.  Charge me the six bucks in advance and make a mistake with the change and I’ll give it back to you.  Similarly, if you’re an artist putting your music out there along with the equivalent of a tip jar, I’ll pay.  If you’re a bunch of assholes and scream about “your property” and “theft”, then I will do everything in my power to jack you up.  It’s your “intellectual property”?  Then fine – you go to your own bedroom and play it for yourself.  Getting it on the ‘net is “theft”?  You want to explain your CD prices, then?  Do something about your theft and I’ll do something about mine.  Having the “law” on your side (particularly law that you paid for, through lobbyists) doesn’t make it any different, or any more right.

You might guess what I did with the change.


2 Responses

  1. And why aren’t you guys taking the lead from your Canuck friends and colouring your money? Here, you know if it’s a blue bill, it’s a five; a purple one, a ten; a green one, a twenty; a pink one, a fifty; and a brown one would be $100. I would hazard a guess that this doesn’t happen nearly as much per capita here as it does down there. I definitely can’t tell your bills apart by a glance, and by the inference here, the people who accepted your money haven’t had as much experience with it as most of the patrons either, being (newly arrived?) immigrants.

  2. And to think, after my $3 in quarters (and nickels and dimes) was tossed back to me last night, I gave it to you for a second time — even for a $4.50 beer for someone who has no problem drinking Natty Boh. If I were you, I wouldn’t count the days until you get that last buck fifty (plus tip).

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