Friday, July 21, 2017

Makers and Takers: How Welfare Hurts Entrepreneurs

(Status update: this whole post is another big fat status update. Bottom line, I just earned $18, to add to $5, for the week's living expenses. If your income for the past year was US$12,000 or higher, go here first, and follow instructions: )

I am sooo tired this afternoon, Gentle Readers. It's a Friday afternoon and I've spent the morning in the open-air market in Gate City, Virginia.

Technically, the day started at 5:45 a.m., which was when I woke up. I left home at 7:15. Car-pooling with a fellow vendor, I was in the market at 7:34. The market technically opens at 8:30. Vendors and a few sharpwitted tightwads check out displays before that, if they can. Of the $18 I collected from sales, I'd taken in $13 before 8:30.

I had a few books that have been reviewed at this web site, a few that had not; I try to avoid taking the same ones in twice in a row. Fear it not, with my furniture-smart-but-book-clueless friend's collection on top of mine, I  have enough books for sale to deliver a new collection every week for a year or more, if I make the time to rotate stock.

Mostly I had soda pop.

Earlier in the spring, I happened to be looking for something to buy, "for Miss Manners," in a convenience store where I'd used the facilities. I found some small bottles of soda pop on sale at a price that allowed me to take them into the market that Friday and offer them, not on ice, at a price Wal-Mart couldn't beat. They sold fast. I used the profit, and the frugal supermarket shopping habits I learned in Mrs. Ramey's Home Economics class before Gate City even had a supermarket, to locate more bottles of soda pop at a price Wal-Mart couldn't beat next week, and the next week, and the next week.

Anybody can do this; Sam Walton would have approved. It's merely a matter of taking the time to shop for the lowest prices for an amount of any kind of merchandise that you can handle, on which you can then make a modest, ethical profit by reselling single units of merchandise as impulse purchases. It's how Wal-Mart actually began.

To offer single bottles of soda pop at a price substantially nicer than Wal-Mart's only involved walking seven miles to the supermarket where they were on sale in six-packs, carrying those six-packs to the warehouse on my shoulders. Well, fifty-year-old women do not maintain my kind of body shape by sitting in that ugly slouched-back-then-hunched-forward position car seats force a woman into. The usual sarcastic observations on people who drive past me in half-empty cars, not offering a lift, and then call themselves Christians, naturally apply...

Well...last week people didn't come to the market at all. For the first time I had a lot of bottles to lug back from the market.

This week, however, a well-known welfare cheat was cluttering the path through the market. (In an open-air market it's not an aisle; it's a traffic lane, along which people drive trucks.)

If I'd imagined anybody was going to listen to this character, I would have snapped a picture of him and posted it here (and a cheap cell phone camera can compete with Busted magazine for unflattering snapshots). "The Blighter" used to work in a local supermarket, from which he wasn't fired immediately after I caught him trying to rip me off, and was able to alienate me as a customer. He officially left the supermarket claiming some sort of work-related injury. If he has any such injury, it's not noticeable. He has rented space in the Friday Market. He has usually sold work tools for which he obviously has no use, and sometimes sold iced bottled drinks--smaller bottles, for a higher price. His father, whose disability pension is based on alleged mental illness, is one of my Insane Admirers. (Because he didn't want to admit how accurate his father's claim of mental illness probably was, at one time this poor man was worried that he'd have a stepmother who's a few years younger than he is. He had no need to worry.)

He had not set up a booth. He was just wandering around, telling everyone how terrible it was that "some idiot comes in, offers a lower price, and spoils things for everybody."

In selling bottled drinks at low prices I am not, of course, spoiling anything for anybody--not even the blighter who could, if he were intelligent, buy my drinks early in the day, at my price, and resell them at his price. My best steady customer has been doing that. Steady customer, who was intelligent enough to get a post-"retirement" job, buys bottled drinks at a modest profit to me, puts them in the cooler at his workplace, and resells them at a modest profit to himself.

I don't try to sell things at a price much higher than I'd be willing to pay for my own personal use, because I don't have the best lying skills. I can give people really ridiculous disinformation, in such a way that any competent adult knows it's a joke, but I wouldn't be able to ask the kind of prices The Blighter asks with a straight face. Local lurkers can expect to get dealers' rates on everything...unless they tick me off. When I offer any of the books in a box for $1, it does not bother me at all to see a literate fellow vendor buy a dictionary, Bible, or instruction book, transfer it to her or his own booth, and sell it for $2 or even $5.

As a Christian, I don't presume to forgive people before they repent, but I do release my emotional energy from people who, let's just say, could best serve humankind by dying right now before they waste another breath of oxygen. I've not followed The Blighter around trying to ruin everything he does, although I would technically be in the right if I did that. I would have been delighted to sell him all my bottles and let him spend the rest of the day reselling them at his prices, if he could, while I spent the day online.

The Blighter is not, however, intelligent enough to think of that. It's the sort of thing his pathetic father would have been able to think of, all by himself, if goaded to use what he has in the way of brains. If he needed the money to pay bills and buy groceries, The Blighter would probably have realized that his nasty behavior did him no good at all.

Let's walk through the steps, making this simple enough for a brain like The Blighter's.

A. Intelligent Choice: You, the person who wants to be able to get a higher price for something, buy as much as you can from anyone who's offering a lower price.

Result #1: The person(s) offering the lower price have accomplished what they set out to accomplish. They are pleased. They can go home.

Result #2: Although your purchase doesn't guarantee that they want to buy something from you, their feeling of being pleased in the Friday Market does improve the chance that they'll buy something in the Friday Market. The money may trickle back to you on the very same day.

Result #3: People like good customers, so someone who may have had good reasons to dislike you based on your past behavior (assuming the person spends enough mental energy remembering your past behavior to notice that it's you) may start to form a better opinion of you because you're a good customer...even if you turn around and resell the person's merchandise at a higher price.

B. Stupid Choice: You, the person who wants to be able to get a higher price for something, are able to exploit people's loyalty, ignorance, or fear of your reputation as a middle school bully, enough that they don't buy it at a price Wal-Mart can't match.

Result #1: The person(s) offering the lower price will still be able to sell some merchandise to some people, so you're not making them go away. To whatever extent you do reduce their profits, you merely make them less happy--and less likely to circulate more money around the Friday Market.

Result #2: Inevitably, the person(s) identify who's been sabotaging their business. Then they're motivated to discredit that person. You set up a backlash of dislike and disloyalty against you.

Result #3: A more hostile market is a less lucrative market. In a small town whose economy fluctuates noticeably depending on the Friday Market, your "negativity" may well make a small but noticeable dent in everybody's profits.

Result #4: More people buy food products than sell them, so you're not going to win a war with the person who's willing to sell them cheaper. You can hurt everybody's profits and everybody's feelings, maybe all over the whole town...but you, yourself, aren't going to come out ahead.

Now obviously The Blighter never was Berea material...I'd be surprised if he'd been able to finish a two-year course at one of those public colleges that are required by law to accept anybody who can sign a tuition payment check. Still, he did qualify for a cashier's job and even work his way up to a middle management position in a supermarket, before his "injury" (not that he walks with a noticeable limp). So he probably can count, as well as read at least a little. If all he had to live on were what he earned, he would have figured this out for himself.

How is it possible that he's not figured it out? How is it possible that a man who's old enough to be a grandfather, and can probably even read on at least a third or fourth grade level, is still acting like a fourth grade bully?

Welfare is what makes it possible. As long as this able-bodied semi-skilled worker is able to live as a parasite on working people, as long as he doesn't actually need to make a profit, he can afford to go into the Friday Market for the sole purpose of, well, blighting the market for everyone else. He doesn't have to make a positive contribution to the community. From his drug-warped point of view, it may even seem profitable to him to do only harm to everyone around him.

Frankly, Gentle Readers, I was surprised that this sort of thing could happen. Yes, we all carry around our "wounded inner children of the past," and mine is a sickly middle school student who just couldn't be as big or as strong or as energetic as my alleged peer group, no matter what I did (until I grew up and stopped eating wheat products). My "inner child" is always willing to believe that anyone I don't know well who looks in my direction is going to hit me if I don't knock him down first, because, for no logical reason--after all I was a child prodigy, and "everybody always" hates child prodigies--everyone else is hostile to me. For all my "inner child" knows, if my parents aren't around I probably am the last nice, quiet, peaceable person left on Earth.

(And yes, it's true that all I have to live on is what I if people pass by me in the Friday Market and don't buy something, they are in fact doing me harm. Don't think you "need" anything you see? Well, maybe not; from a broader perspective, there are a lot more humans on Earth than the planet really needs, and maybe what you need is to try to push up some daisies that will undoubtedly be more pleasant to look at than you ever were. Try telling yourself the truth, that you're shopping because you enjoy shopping, and all you need to do is encourage people who are not welfare cheats to stay honest and healthy so that you can grow older in a community of decent human beings. Which means, if there's something else you want more than you want what I currently have--which is likely, given that what I have is what I carried in on my shoulders!--you need to put up the money to order it from me. That's what Amazon is for.)

But no one else seemed surprised. Apparently there are several welfare cheats who have nothing to do but hang around trying to sabotage honest enterprises, even in a town as small as this one. Apparently some lazy, greedy, ignorant son-of-a-pup pulls some sort of stunt like this every time somebody tries to offer prices good enough to attract intelligent customers. Apparently they succeed in discouraging a lot of people into either joining the welfare-cheat demographic, or leaving our little town, moving to cities where they are the ones who tell the rest of the world how worthless towns like Gate City are.

There are things you can do about this, local readers. You can start by showing respect for whatever your neighbors do instead of welfare-cheating. Should you stumble across someone offering dealers' prices to any and all customers in a flea market, make sure the whole market hears you proclaiming how WONDERFUL it is to find anyone PUBLIC-SPIRITED enough to offer this kind of SERVICE TO THE WHOLE COMMUNITY--while you peel off not the one-dollar bills, but the twenty-dollar bills, from that wad I see you pull out and count as you approach. Make sure people see that you're taking from that site a little more than you can comfortably carry.

There's probably no real need to identify The Blighter, although it'd be no less than he deserved if I posted his picture, real name, and home address here--which I could do, and might still do. Just make sure he sees and hears a good strong backlash against his little hate campaign. He knows who he is. Encourage me, encourage any other vendors who you may know are working for their living rather than cultivating old injuries as bogus disabilities, and with any luck The Blighter will go home and commit suicide. Maybe he'll even report his emotional distress to some sort of counsellor who might (with God all things are possible) help him develop into a decent human being.

But this is not only a conflict between two individual vendors who've chosen different pricing strategies for their own reasons. That would not be a story worth publishing. This is also a conflict between honest business and welfare-cheating. It involves many other people as well as The Blighter and me, and there are things you can do to help all of those other people, build a healthier community.

One of those things is to demand a pitiless reexamination of the whole monthly pension plan: In order to draw one penny beyond the amount they have personally paid into their own retirement, disability, or unemployment accounts, people need to be genuinely disabled, which means they're not walking around town making nuisances of themselves. Anyone who is able to walk, or steer a wheelchair, and who receives any tax-funded benefits needs to spend the "business hours," 9-5 Monday-Friday, on a designated day labor site holding up a list of the unskilled labor jobs s/he is able to do. Any absence from that "job," except when and as they've been led away from the site by an employer, should mean no benefits for at least one month. There's a reason why the Bible tells us that even widows should not be able to depend on handouts before age 70--which in Bible days meant "before they were totally bedridden": lest

 they learn to be idle, cwandering about from house to house; and not only idle, butdtattlers also and ebusybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 

The Bible tells us that able-bodied people should be paid for what they do, not according to what they supposedly "need," but because they and their work are worthy:

the labourer is worthy of his hire.

We all need to stop deluding ourselves that anybody "needs" anything. At best people "need" things in order to stay alive. Well, if all they're doing is sitting around (or sauntering around) going "needy-needy-needy," maybe they really need not to stay alive. Let'em starve, see how they like it! Let's admit that adults in these United States buy things because we want and choose and enjoy them, and public-spirited people enjoy supporting honest, public-spirited people rather than lazy, greedy parasites. Let's start rewarding honest efforts that are worthy of compensation, rather than listening to any blather about "needs."