Monday, March 12, 2007

What Is a Bargain?

I use Google Reader as my RSS manager; it's pretty decent, but at times buggy. A recent bug caused it to load some old posts by Vietnamese God about Pavement Pounders in Hanoi. Finally, a good bug, 'cause I hadn't seen these posts. Check them out.

One post, about basket sellers, he spoke about the need to bargain in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. 'Cause I recently bought a small little basket, I thought about this post a bit.

It also reminded me of this by Hanoi Life:
We then wandered around the Old Quarter for a while, stopping to buy some oranges and bananas. Once again the same ethical question came up. Just because people are poor, should we overpay? We found a small bunch of bananas that seemed not overripe and asked "how much?" She asked 20VND which is outrageous although still only $1.25US. Ira said 6 which may still be a bit high. She countered with 10 and he wound up giving her 6. It is easy to rationalize either argument. Perhaps the tourist should overpay while the expat should not. Perhaps both should. The vendor most likely hawks her fruit in the Old Quarter to benefit from tourist trade. We can salve any pangs of conscience by noting that she wouldn't sell them for 6 if she wasn't making something on it.

What is a bargain, anyhow? A voluntary, arms-length transaction between two parties with the exchange of consideration would be one familiar definition.

I haven't really haggled prices down since I've got here, especially on the street. If it seems a bit too much, I just tell the vendor that, politely ask for a reduction and just walk away from the deal. If it seems reasonable, then I'll buy it.

I am not advocating paying any quoted price, but why this fascination with grinding down folks' margins? I cannot reconcile on the one hand haggling like you're subsisting on 30k VND a day, and on the other protesting the "scourge" that is Wal-Mart (or some other big-box store) entering the neighborhood. If Wal-Mart should not be a corporate bully in paring down vendors' (and employees') margins, then why should you?

The "fact" that the vendor accepts the deal does not mean it is indeed a "bargain," for voluntariness is a component of a bargain. It is not an issue of being patronizing and parochial - without things like minimum wage and labor laws in the US, people would accept compensation packages far below what is legally mandated /socially acceptable / morally defensible.

Let's go back to Wal-Mart, who got dinged by the DOL for, among other things, failing to properly and timely pay wages, including overtime. Yet those people who didn't get paid still showed up for work.

But just because it is acceptable does not mean it is fair. It is a fine line to walk, to be sure, but be reasonable, will ya? Bargaining is fun and games unless you're destitute.


Teresa and kids said...

I've contemplated this issue a few times lately, even on the way back to our hotel this afternoon as I bargained with a women. I paid 10,000VND for a bag of pineapple knowing it was double the price I would have paid in Tam Ky, but half the price she was asking. Was it necessary? Sometimes I think not, but then again.. I am trying to live off 65,000VND/day for food. :)

D. said...

Given your herculean efforts to save the world, one little kid at a time, I don't begrudge your haggling efforts. I do find it quite interesting when people talk about hagglng over things like pirated DVDs.

Hope you guys are finding Hanoi to your liking.

Teresa and kids said...

I'd love Ha Noi if I could just find a place to live. :)

And I definitely don't fit into the Herculean category, but would try if I could figure out how.