The Answer Guy Online

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Sunday, February 09, 2003

Sorry, dear readers. I know it's been a while....

All About The Benjamins?

OK, here’s the not-quite-hypothetical question presented.

Suppose A, B, C, and D are co-workers. All four live on the west side of Washington, and the workplace is east of the city. A and B are essentially neighbors, as are C and D. The distance to work for A and B is about 11 miles; C and D live about 9 miles from work. A has a car, and B, C, and D do not. While C and D do not quite live on the most direct route to work for A, the route to stop by C and D’s neighborhood is on most days a damn good shortcut to work for A, allowing A (and B) to avoid downtown Washington entirely. Picking up C and D adds essentially nothing to the duration of the trip and very little in terms of extra distance. D started working at the workplace a couple weeks after A, B, and C did.

If you haven’t figured it out, yet, the Answer Guy is D. I got along fairly well with the other parties. I had been friends with C for some time, and I sort of bonded with A over her interest in weblogs and other things. I’d still like to get along with B and C, but who knows?

OK, so A wants to be reimbursed. (Well, apparently not anymore, but that’s another personal story not worth delving into.) Fair enough. The costs to be recouped are fairly small but are worth accounting for in at least some fashion. I’m going to guess A’s vehicle gets, in city rush hour traffic (not actually as bad as that sounds, since it’s essentially a reverse commute most of the way) between 25 and 30 miles to the gallon.

There was a misunderstanding about what A wanted to charge. I’m not going to go into the nature of the misunderstanding, since, well, it’s not all that interesting to anyone save the parties involved. I had thought it would be $4 a day – turns out it was $8 a day.

Doing the math, that’s $120 a week profit, minus whatever her fuel and other costs actually are. It’s not so much the sheer number of it that so perturbed me, it’s more the idea that she turns what seems more like a favor (one I’m willing to defray the actual costs of) into a profit-making enterprise.

Suffice to say I was prepared to accept $2 each way with a stoic demeanor with maybe some private, down-low grousing. It was somewhat less than I was going to be paying Metro and more convenient. $2 isn’t that far above what it would cost her to make the trip alone, or to make the trip along, picking up only me along the way. But a of charge $4 each way. $8 a day, somehow struck me as different, in a way I found offensive. I thought was she was doing was unseemly. I thought that we were friends. I get very upset when I sense someone is trying to take advantage of my situation. I don’t like being used.

I am now not on speaking terms with A. It was less civil than perhaps it should have been, to be sure. But, I’ve seen that there are always people, friend, foe, and otherwise, looking out to get whatever they can out of you. Partly because I aspire to something better, and partly because I want to believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity, I avoid dealing with such people whenever possible.

However…from the standpoint of Homo economicus, the kind of creature that inhabits intro microeconomics textbooks, the whole thing makes perfect sense.

From the opposite perspective, it of course makes sense to charge whatever price you think the market will bear for your good or service. Sometimes you’ll find people unwilling to pay. As far as I know, B and C seemed willing to pay, which seemed strange to me, but whatever.

Operating under the assumption that time = money, and that it’s a time suck to be riding transit for over two hours a day (it will, however, allow to catch up on my reading I suppose), it would make sense to suck it up and accept being “used” in this fashion.

Well, needless to say, I am not, for better or for worse, Homo economicus.

In some contexts, I accept the inevitability of having the position of inferior bargaining power. But anywhere I can possibly draw the line, I will. I’m not saving much money in strict dollar-cents terms, and I’ve just made things really awkward at work. But I’m stubborn that way.


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