9 June 2007

The Just Price

I did a delightful piece of shopping today. I bought a mohair and wool shawl from a local trader at Nailsworth market. Ok, it was so hot that I could hardly bear to touch it, never mind try it on, but I know I will feel the benefit by October, and besides it was purple.

Having rushed back to my friends with my purchase I faced a difficult situation when Odi, who had recommended I buy it, commented on the excellent price of £5. This was the price she had been offered; I had paid £15. In fact I was prepared to offer £20.

I felt quite happy with the £15 I had paid, but realising that Odi had been offered only £5 made me ask various questions. In fact, I didn't feel I had been cheated. I felt that £15 was the right price. I wondered whether the trader had assessed the relative incomes of Odi and myself and decide the price to ask. Or whether she just thought Odi might be a better haggler--as she herself confirmed.

I never haggle. I decide what I am prepared to pay and if the price is too high I move on. If the price quoted is too low I feel a little uncomfortable but buy the thing if I want it. But I am beginning to think that haggling may be a way of balancing the needs of the buyer and the seller. So when we pay far over the odds for tat during our foreign holidays we may justify this as redistributing wealth, and the traders may have their suspicions that we have more money than sense amply confirmed.

So what is the meaning of a price in the global market? The price is fixed by all sorts of factors beyond our control and enforced by the corporate storeholder. It doesn't respond to the needs or situation of the buyer or seller, as might be enabled by haggling. And what is a bargain? Is it really any more than the exercise of their superior power by the person who has been allocated more money in the unjust global system?

In Medieval times the price of most goods was actually fixed in a pseudo-religious fashion. It was considered unGodly to charge too much for something. The guilds controlled production and they also controlled price. Most of the methods used to make money today, including buying when something is plentiful and selling when it is in shortage, or buying in one market and selling more expensively elsewhere were outlawed by the guild. If you committed these crimes or sins you were thrown out of the guild, which meant the end of your livelihood.

I know I'm going to enjoy wearing my shawl, but I'm still left wondering whether I would enjoy it more or less if I had paid £5 for it.


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  2. Hi 'lowbudgetlife'--can't be your name I feel! Glad you are enjoying the book. I'm involved in a textiles group which is growing hemp but also refurbishing old clothes. I got a velvet jacket from a charity shop and jazzed it up. I've just bought some ribbon roses and netting to do something about a purple velvet dress I also got from a charity shop and have never worn. This is very creative and fun but not too challenging. Also something I can share with my daughter.