Everyday Ethics: Consumer Rights... and Wrongs
Course DescriptionWe talk endlessly about consumer rights, but is there such a thing as consumer obligations? Dennis Prager, best selling author and nationally syndicated talk show host, answers this question and comes up with some answers that will not only change the way you shop, but the way you live.
Taught ByDennis Prager
Login to Receive Credit!
TranscriptAlright, I would like to tell you a real story—this actually happened—and it was told to me by friends of mine who run a major photography store—a camera store--in the Los Angeles area.
One day a woman came by and she wanted to buy a camera—a digital camera--and she asked the guy to show her what cameras they had, and the storekeeper, the clerk, showed the woman cameras. She spent about 30 or 35 minutes with the man, and at the end of taking the man’s half hour to figure out what she really liked, she asked him if he might give her the name of a good website where she could buy the camera cheaper.
Now, I hope that you realize something is wrong here. Now, what could possibly be wrong? The woman stole the man’s time. Had she taken money from his cash register it would have been the same exact thing. This woman went in to the store knowing that she would not buy the camera at that store, but she would choose what camera she wants at that store, because they would help her decide—she would feel them, see them, learn them—and then she would go to the internet and buy one.
What this woman did was absolutely wrong. People do it all the time. I’ll give you example after example, but it does, in fact, violate--believe it or not--a law that exists in the book called the Talmud.
The Talmud is the second holiest book of the Jewish religion, after the Bible itself. It’s the compendium of law, philosophy and stories. And there’s a phenomenal law there, which, when I first heard it, it actually changed my life. And it was simply this: If you enter a store, you are not allowed to ask the storekeeper the price of an item if you know you won’t buy it.
Now, if you don’t know whether you’ll buy it or not of course you can ask the price. You can comparison shop. You can go to store A and ask how much this camera is, store B how much the camera is, you can take up the time of somebody to figure out—but if you know you won’t buy it there, you know in advance you’re going to get it mail order or you’re going to get it from a friend for wholesale, or whatever, you’re just going to choose the one you want, taking up their time—that’s a complete no-no.
The power of this law to change a life is quite remarkable. It sounds quite constricted, but in fact it can change the way society functions. That’s how highly I regard this particular law. First of all, it says to you as a consumer that you have moral obligations, not just rights. Now did you ever hear of the concept of consumer obligations? No. We hear about consumer rights, but what about consumer obligations? We are rights drunk, but in fact, to make a better world, people must think of their moral obligations to others much more than their own rights. When I walk into a store I have moral obligations as a consumer, and one of them is, in fact, not to ask the price of an item if I know in advance I won’t buy it. I can’t take up their time.
Not only is this done in camera stores, that’s a typical example, there are people who run department stores where women will come in and they will take a dress, they will wear for an event on Friday or Saturday night—over the weekend—and come back on a Sunday or Monday and say they didn’t like it and return it. That’s another example of somebody doing something not moral in the name of "Hey, that’s my right to do it. It’s just a store."
You are misleading a person if you ask the person the price of an item if you know you won’t buy it. You’re tricking them, because you know you don’t care what answer they’ll give. You’re going to get it elsewhere. You are stealing their time. You are misleading them. You are taking away time they could devote to a customer who might in fact buy something.
And here’s one more powerful idea here about this misleading notion. I gave this speech to a singles group and a woman got up afterwards and she asked the following question: "Does this apply to a man when dating?" What a brilliant question. In other words, can you say you are in love to get a woman in to bed, let’s say, when in fact you know you’re not going to "buy" the product—you’re not going to marry the person, but you say all sorts of things, implying you might to get what you want.
This idea is throughout life, of not fooling people when you know in advance you don’t want what you imply you wanted. From that little law, a life-changing idea: whenever we are with others we must ask not only, "what am I owed?" but "what do I owe to them?"
I’m Dennis Prager.