Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Short Story About Fairness

Imagine you went to the supermarket this afternoon. It's a nice sunny day, all is well with the world, and you have nothing major planned for the evening, so you decide that you'll buy something nice for dinner.

You pick up a decent-sized pair of pork chops, some exotic-looking salad and a colourful trifle for dessert. You'd normally spend far less than this on dinner, but you've had a long day, worked hard, served the public admirably despite some very difficult circumstances, and frankly, you deserve it. You go to the counter, hand over a £10 note, and retire to your modest home and start cooking.

The pork chops are sizzling in the pan and smelling delicious when there's a knock at the front door.

You take the pan off the heat and get to the door to find that it has been opened for you, and that the supermarket manager is standing in the doorway. You recognise him from his picture, which you saw earlier above the supermarket's most prominent advertising slogan. He is dressed in an extremely sharp suit and has a no-nonsense expression on his face.

Slightly nonplussed, you say, 'Can I help you?'

'Yes sir,' (or miss, or madam). 'There's a bit of a problem, I'm afraid. You see, the supermarket is experiencing some financial difficulties and I need to speak to you about the goods you purchased this afternoon.' He points past you to where the salad is arranged neatly on your plate.

'I'm sorry,' you say, 'I'm not following you.'

'Sir, I understand that you purchased a number of items this afternoon for £10. I'm sorry, but the cost of those goods is now £20, and I must ask you to make up the difference for me now. It's only fair to those of us that work in the supermarket.'

You think you may have misheard, but he is not finished yet. 'Furthermore,' he continues, 'I'm afraid you didn't spend long enough in the shop today.'

You laugh. He doesn't. 'How much longer should I have spent in there?' you ask.

'In order to purchase goods in our store, you must spend at least an hour there each time you shop. It's only fair, because our service is quicker than people get in other stores.'

You are dumbfounded and cannot say anything. The manager waits patiently while you absorb what he has said. After a minute or two, he says, 'Sir, I'd like to ask you to pay me that extra £10 now and return to the store with me for another twenty minutes. Oh, and I'll have to ask you to return those pork chops as well, please. No refunds, I'm afraid.'

By now, quite angry, you demand to know why you should return the pork chops.

Smoothly as anything, the manager says, 'It's only fair, sir. Not everyone can eat pork chops.'

QUESTION: Are you angry at the supermarket for moving the goalposts after you have agreed terms?

If your answer to this question is 'yes', please support tomorrow's public sector strikes over pension reform.


  1. But don't forget you have a lot of shares in the supermarket, and that you work there. You'll be screwed for the rest of your life if it goes bankrupt.

    So even though the problems aren't your fault, you're going to need to help them.

    Which probably makes it even more unfair than you were suggesting.

  2. Hello Phil, good points and well made. I was sure for certain that someone would continue the analogy here!

    If you're one of the Phils I know personally, or even just a regular reader, you probably know my stance on the budget deficit. There are other ways to skin a cat than pick on poor souls who have done nothing more than work hard and keep their heads down. But there is another salient point that probably needs to be mentioned.

    The strength of a pension fund lies in its longevity - and effectively, this is all due to the wonder of compound interest. So why then are the government maintaining interest rates at record low levels while inflation continues to rocket ever skywards? This is surely an artificially-maintained state in the economy that supports multiple homeowners while discouraging savers and those who rely on the income from their savings.