The Variable Meaning of Market Price

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Captain Awkward recently wrote a thought-provoking post about people who try to recruit friends and family members into multi-level marketing schemes and the like. Within is a paragraph that details how manipulative people take advantage of common confusions in the following areas: (a) cultural mores about money or wealth, (b) various unwritten rules regarding obligations in common types of relationships, and (c) etiquette.

I'm happy to do any ONE of the following at a time: (a) consider a product on your recommendation, (b) buy something from you I know I want, or (c) attend a party at your home. (Image by the Tupperware Corporation, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Have you ever been in a restaurant where a lot of things are labeled "Market Price" on the menu? Market Price is usually code for "expensive," and if you ask "So, how much will that actually cost?" you reveal yourself as someone who might not be willing or able to pay it. The price of a thing you're about to buy is an obvious, not-weird thing to ask, and yet whole fields of marketing, sales, fundraising, and advertising are devoted to selling connection, emotion, identity, status, experiences, and narratives by placing incentives and complicated social frictions between you and what they're trying to sell, in the hopes that some people will fall for the feeling so hard they won't ask the price and others will feel so weird about asking that they'll buy whatever at howmuchever. Companies that refuse to publish their salary range and who frown on you for asking directly about it in an interview are using the same tactic to sell you on accepting less. The harder it feels to ask an obvious, simple question, the more likely it is that strong manipulation is in play, and almost nobody is entirely immune. [italics in original, bold added]
I knew that market price could be code, and this analysis is spot-on, but I have to admit that I never thought this through all the way when seeing this in a restaurant. I always took the term at face value, and as a friendly warning.

Usually, I'd just roll my eyes at the thought of some snob wasting money to look good, or -- in the rare case I saw something I was in the mood for -- consider ... just asking. In my opinion, someone who thinks less of me for wondering what something might cost is a selfless ass who hasn't any idea how to judge people, or anything else for that matter. That's what prices are for. Do I want this delicacy more or less than one of my usual favorites? A high price will help me either confirm or deny that I really do want that thing.

But, yes, and alas! There are psychological depths in that phrase for many, and lows to which a few would stoop that I'd never considered before.

That said, I found the piece interesting, despite the fact that the author might call me a "Barbara Quandt," and so not in much need of the advice therein. It is interesting to speculate on how much less of a problem multilevel marketing and cults might be were the mental kill-switch of altruism not so commonly installed in the skulls of so many. Or the phenomenon of people raking their friends (!) over the coals for not joining in hare-brained schemes they should be embarrassed to admit taking part in. This goes double for many aspects of our politics and culture, particularly organized religion -- the last no matter what good might be munged in with it.

The issue of framing also comes up, and I'll quote the post on that, too:
The way to counteract this kind of manipulation, generally speaking, is to return the awkwardness to the sender. Reject the manipulator's framing of the situation, especially framing that tries to make what is patently ridiculous seem reasonable and what is obviously reasonable seem ridiculous or shameful. Redirect lofty appeals to principle into extremely concrete, immediate actions. Translate euphemisms into plain language. Don't attempt to argue what's fair, or what's owed, resist the impulse to provide reasons to unreasonable people. Instead, embrace your subjective needs and wants as good enough reasons. What is the person actually asking you to do? Are you going to do it? No? Then say it that way.
This is valuable to understand, whether or not you know (or are!) someone who needs some help when such issues come up.

-- CAV

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