Published on:

A Beer for a Cigarette: When is a Bargain Good Value?

I witnessed a humorous contract negotiation while waiting at a bus stop the other day:
Three men with a case of beer walked past the bus stop.  A couple (of people) who were waiting at the bus stop called out to them, asking for a beer.  The 3 men turned and counter-offered, “we’ll give you a beer if you carry this case for the next couple of blocks.”  No go.  The couple then offered a cigarette for a beer.  Offer accepted.  They all met in the median strip, the deal was done, and everyone was happy, especially since the bus finally arrived.
Aside from the fact that this was a cheap beer and cancer-stick exchange, and we see much less humorous transactions on the street, I’m not sure I could say who got the better deal, but both parties were perfectly happy so who am I to say there was a winner or a loser?
It did start me thinking about other transactions that might not be so fair, agreeable, or that produce such a high (so to speak) happiness value for buyers (and observers).  Sellers sometimes have the upper hand in many of these transactions so a conclusion on whether there is mutual satisfaction is murkier than the beer-cigarette example.
Sometimes, the only way to make sure you get good value is a willingness to walk away, but that is not always an option.
Here are some exchanges we make:
1) If you have a grocery store “discount” card or use plastic to pay, the price of that discount is a measurable amount of your personal privacy.
2) Another “privacy” bargain we make is eBooks.  Andrei Codrescu sums it up humorously, and crankily, with this, from an NPR interview: 
“… I’m reading a new book I downloaded on my Kindle and I noticed an underlined passage. It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don’t know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books. They derail my private enjoyment.
When somebody offers perception of what’s important, something moronic, usually, which is why I always prefer buying books new so I could make my own moronic marks. But moronic or not, it was all between me and my new book.
And this thing on my Kindle is supposed to be new. And then I discovered that the horror doesn’t stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who’s defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station….” [Link to full NPR interview.]
More bargains we make:
3) “Change machines” at the grocery store: those change machines in stores that count your loose change.  The cost for this service ranges from 0 to 10%, maybe not a great deal for some, but for others, perhaps a fair exchange.
4) Commissions for things bought and sold, e.g. art, clothes, real estate, can be negotiated but I might safely say it will range from 2% to 90% (pretty safe bet there, eh? :-).
5) Pawn shops vary in the percentages they charge for their loans and so do payday lenders.
6) Oregon Lottery Statutes and Rules (these are more complicated than it appears so read the Oregon lottery laws if you want specifics):
Lottery sellers in Oregon get a % of “traditional games” sold (versus video lottery games), e.g. megabucks.  See, for example:
177-040-0025 Retailer Compensation – Traditional Lottery Games
…. Traditional Sales Compensation: The Lottery shall pay a retailer the following compensation rates for the weekly sales of traditional lottery game tickets or shares offered by the Lottery and sold by the retailer as set forth below: … [Link to OAR – also from the Oregon Lottery website.]
7) Taxes, tolls, and user fees: The cost of living in a country, with free roads to drive on, lakes to fish in, a mostly fully-functioning utility and infrastructure grid, a usually fair and honest legal system, a trustworthy recording system for property, etc., is worth $$ to some and $$$$$$ to others.  People who have lived in countries without these services (e.g. where bribes of a different sort are a fact of life) might value what we have in the U.S. differently from people who believe that only the “the little people pay taxes.”  On the other hand, people who have lived in countries where infrastructure is kept in finer fettle and a person’s health and freedom are valued more highly than in the U.S. might value those services at another rate.
If you’re wondering about the legal research angle here, think negotiating contract terms, regulating games of chance, and maybe the most important one, consumer protection law, starting perhaps with these 2 agencies:
Contact Information