Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved. Direct inquiries to CIS I.D
Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.
Comparable worth at the supermarket...
No one can say the Economist had not earned his fate. After
all, the Grocer was getting his ideas from somewhere. It may be unfair
to hold the teachings of all against one, but the Economist was the
one who was there at the time. Besides, the Redistribution of
Injustice device is still in R&D.
What happened was this: the Economist was in front of me on
line at the local B&Q. I'm not one of those snoops who sneaks peeks at
other people's groceries, but his stuff stood out: a six-pack of All
New Substance-Free Fizz and a frozen Mantra's Entree (granola
Anyway, being good Gothamites, we practiced ovine virtues
while waiting for the Grocer to look up from his Racing Form. Would
that he hadn't; you see, that was when the trouble started.
The Grocer said: "Taxable garbage food." He hit one of the
keys on his register. "Non-taxable frozen food." He hit more keys. He
said, "Sub-total. Tax. Total. That'll be one hundred dollars."
The Economist had the bills half out of his wallet before he
stopped to think. "Wait a minute... One hundred dollars for soda and a
"Yes, Sir," said the Grocer. "Worthiest prices in town."
"None worthier," said the Grocer. "The backward market price
system has finally been consigned to the dustbin of history."
"Hmm... Well, how much for just the soda?"
"One hundred dollars."
"This is robbery!" Economists know all about robbery; plumbers
know all about pipes.
"You have no right to say that! A fair, just, socially
conscious means of assuring economic tranquility," said the Grocer.
"But, but, but..."
"But nothing, buster. Doesn't everyone agree that I have a
much right to a decent living as anyone?" The Economist's nod looked
Pavlovian. "Well, then," said the Grocer, "look at these nails. Look
at my teeth. Look how clean my hair is!"
"What does your =hair= have to do with the price of a frozen
"Well... do you think any lawyer has nails that look as good
as these? A dentist might do a better job on his teeth, and surgeons
are said to keep their bodies fairly clean. But can any of them
compare their nails to mine?"
Economist: "Your nails?"
"That's right, my nails." The Grocer's smile was smug. "Isn't
it an established fact that the sole criterion of worth is value added
by labor?" Another knee-jerk nod. "Well, then, which attorney has
devoted more labor to his manicure than I?"
"Sorry, destiny won't wait. Irreversible historical trends are
"Do you mean," asked the Economist, "that no matter what I'd
selected, the price would be one hundred dollars?"
"I have done away with personal preference at this check-out
"Then what would prevent me from buying three cart loads at
the same price?"
The Grocer pointed to a sign over his head. It said: "Express
Lane--Twelve items or fewer". He said: "Note that for once the message
is expressed gramatically. In what architect's office will you find
"But there =are= no other registers!"
The Grocer looked smitten: "Would you let unbridled
competitive forces deny me my right to my comparable worth? Now, if
it's a bargain you want, grab ten of the fifty pound bags of Frisky
Chow; that'd run you a hundred-ten at any other store."
"But I don't =need= five hundred pounds of dog food..."
"Tell me about it... Haven't you heard? This is the age of
consumption for use, not profit."
"But, but, but..."
"But you agree that I'm as worthy as anyone?" The Economist's
operant conditioning proved its effectiveness. "Then how can you deny
me the value that my labor has added to my person? It's not just my
nails, you know! Why, I go to the opera, I shop at Brooks Brothers, I
finish the Sunday crossword puzzle. Comparatively speaking, I'm just
as worthy as the next guy."
"Hold it..." The Economist looked hurt and confused.
I said: "I wonder if I could squeeze ahead..." The Economist
looked up, but he didn't protest. He was mumbling to himself.
The Grocer pulled my purchases forward. He said: "Non-taxable
produce. Non-taxable meats. Taxable baked goods. That'll be one
"You'll take a check, of course?"
"A check..." The Grocer pulled at an eyebrow. "Well... I don't
know about that..."
"But it's a perfectly good check," I said. "Finest paper,
finest ink. I filled it in with a Cross pen. You won't see a worthier
check all week."
I handed the check to the Grocer. He examined it minutely.
"'First Bank of Oz'...?"
I said: "'Satisfied customers for over 450 billion
"Account number minus seven?!?"
"A special arrangement. You see, I'm one of their worthier
customers." I've added a lot of labor to my smile, so I quarried it to
full value. "Perhaps the worthiest..."
"All right, all right," the Grocer sighed. "I'll take the
check. Just don't start in with that 'worthier than thou' stuff."
As I was leaving, the Economist stopped me. "Wait," he said.
"I think I've missed something..."
I smiled gently; true pity is a revolting thing. "Not
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