The Democrat's Store
I have done my shopping for a number of years at a local co-op. They carry a wide variety of goods, and while the goods may not all be top of the line, or best value for money, there is a wide selection. And the store is pretty much the only game in town.
A major accounting firm recently audited the co-op, and they discovered that they have been overcharging their customers, on everything from soup to soap, from rakes to radios. The money had somehow built up in the balance sheet in a surplus account that had not been used before.
The store manager announced the results of the audit, and told customers that they were sorry for having charged so much, and that they would return the money. So, I went down the next week to find out about how much I had coming back to me. I had used a store credit card for all purchases, so had complete records of what I had spent and what I had bought.
The Customer Service manager seemed well meaning, but the meeting did not go well.
First, he wanted to know my annual income. "I'm not sure I understand why that's important; you have overcharged me, and I am due a refund. The store promised me a refund."
"Well," he said, "Some of our customers need a refund more than others. If you are among the top 1% wealthiest of our customers, then we don't think you really need a refund. You could afford the high prices we were charging."
Happily, sort of, I noted that I didn't earn enough to be in the top 1% of the stores customers.
"OK," he said. He broke out a calculator, added up my purchases, figured out the overcharge. I was getting excited at the number. I had a thousand bucks coming my way! "Yep, you've got 250 dollars coming your way."
"What? I just saw you do the calculations. That's only a quarter of what I was overcharged!"
"We can't just go and give it all back! We may think of something that the store wants to do with that money later on."
"But the store has all the money it needs. Everything that you planned to spend, you spent. This money is left over; there is no other need for the store to have it."
"We're still trying to think some stuff up. Sorry, you get 250 dollars. Do you want it?"
250 dollars is better than nothing, I thought, so I sighed and said, "OK, I’ll take it."
"Fine," said the Customer Service manager. "Let's see what we can do. We have many ways of refunding your money to you. Would you like some free diapers?"
"No, I don't have any babies at home, so free diapers are no use to me."
"Ah. Perhaps you would like some free dentures? We have denture cream, too!"
"No. I still have my own teeth. Don't have any call for dentures." I was beginning to be a bit puzzled here. I thought I was going to get back at least part of what I had been overcharged.
"I know!," beamed the manager. "College textbooks!! They're expensive if you have to buy them, you know."
"Well, that's possible. I have kids in college. OK. Where do I go to get the books?"
"Great… let's see here… OK. Does your wife work? How much is your house worth? Are your kids in State colleges, or private schools? Are they maintaining at least a B average? Are they willing to come work for the Store for 4 years after graduating?"
"Hold it! What does this have to do with my free college books? You overcharged me, and now the only way I can get my money back is through free college texts… why don't you just give me the books?"
Undeterred, he continued, "What are they majoring in? We can't give out textbooks for unworthy majors. Have they ever been arrested? Do they work during the summers? What is their income?"
"STOP!" I shouted. "Just what in the blue blazes is going on here? You've been overcharging my neighbors and me for a long time; you didn't even know it until the year was up and the accountants discovered the 'surplus'. Then you tell me that you'll give me my own money back, but only part of it and not if I earn too much, not if I don't need diapers or dentures, not if my kids are taking the wrong majors in college. What kind of refund is that?"
"We call it a 'targeted' refund. We want to refund the money where we think it will do the most good."
"But it's not your money to make that decision with," I spluttered. "It's my money, and my neighbors' money. Give us our money, and those who need diapers will buy diapers, and those who need dentures will buy dentures, and those who need things you haven't thought of, or don't approve of, can get those things if they choose."
"Sorry, but that's the way management wants it."
"Well, then, I want to talk to the owners!"
"But you are one of the owners. And your neighbors; after all, this is a co-op."
"Well, then, who picks the management team, which decided to limit the return only to people and activities it approves?"