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Tips to avoid being cheated while shopping

December 25, 2007
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All of us at one time or the other have have fallen victim to tantalizing offers by traders or have got taken in by misleading advertising. Here’s a reminder of the traps we could fall into, many of which we are familiar with but still get caught in!

Be alert for the following trading practices:
1. Enticing customers by talking about ‘sales’ and ‘discounts’ but actually keeping limited items on sale. The customer is then lured to the other, higher priced goods.
2. Prices being hiked up and then slashed to “show” reductions.
3. When you see signs like up to 50 percent discount, it does not mean that all items are on such a heavy discount. Often very few are.
4. Shops with continuous ‘offers’ and ‘sales.’ Signs outside the shop give the impression that the sale is temporary and that you better come and get it before the stock is over…but there are retailers who have these sales on all the time.
5. At times discounts can be minuscule and unless the original selling price (OSP) is clearly mentioned, customers can get fooled. This is assuming that the OSP is genuine!
6. There have been cases where discounts are not taken into account in the final bill. So check that out, particularly if the discount is substantial.
7. Free gifts are usually not provided unless asked for.
8. When you come across a buy one get one free offer on a food product, check expiry dates. And if it is not a perishable product, check for defects. Ask if the products are ‘Seconds’.
9. Buy 1 get 1 free offers are tempting and tempt one to buy products which may land up lying around the house unused.
10. With regard to clothes, not all have washing instructions issued on them. If not, ensure that you find out. Thin silk easily tears when you hand-wash it and cotton bleeds.

Be alert when you come across the following type of advertising:
1. When you are told that everyone else is doing it and so must you. Or that buyers of the product are just like you.
2. Advertisements which give incomplete information or there is something in the fine print that you don’t notice until you buy. The phrase ‘Conditions Apply’ is a red flag! Often so-called “lifetime guarantees” are not lifetime at all.
3. Advertisements in newspapers which appear like articles or inside of articles, but are actually product placements and paid for.
4. Product placements in movies can be misleading…be aware that they are being paid for.
5. Ads which try to sell a dubious medical product or treatment not backed by scientific evidence. This can range from ads which promise to get rid your glasses to those which guarantee to make you thin.
6. Even authentic testimonials by real people can be edited, and not quoted in toto, and if this happens, they can be misleading. The words of these people could also be taken out of context and presented to you in a misleading way.
7. Never ever forget that celebrities rarely use the product they advertise. I once read of a famous model for a fancy skin cream who actually used Vaseline on her skin! If anyone is being paid to say they use such and such cream, why should anyone give it any credence? In any case remember that you are not going to be able to contact anyone for verification.
8. There is research which says that people unconsciously trust the printed ad more than a tv commercial. But print ads can be equally deceptive.

Note: While many of the tricks of the trade are from my own observation and experience, I have also used the following sources: [1] [2]

(The photographs are copyrighted to me)

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55 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 25, 2007 9:28 am

    Nita,

    Thanks a lot for this post, which I never expected from someone like you, a self-confessed champion of free market capitalism. Of course you have used more moderate language than I would have.

    To your entire list of cautions against advertising, I have a simple question: What other kind of advertising IS there? At least when it comes to selling, exhorting people to buy, telling them that unless they submit to the superior wisdom of the advertiser they are morons?

    Let me make an extreme statement. ALL ADVERTISING IS ANTI-SOCIAL AND A FRAUD, ALL ADVERTISERS ARE CHEATS AND CRIMINALS, AND ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ADVERTISING, OR BELIEVE THAT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH IT, NEED TO HAVE THEIR HEADS EXAMINED.

    Also, a seller (a mere, third-rate seller) trying to give unsolicited advice to a buyer regarding what to buy, must always be firmly put in place.

    It is high time we had a movement of right-thinking citizens vs. advertising and marketing.

  2. inder permalink
    December 25, 2007 10:25 am

    Hi Nita…, one more tip, during sales and heavy rush always be extra careful to make sure you receive an invoice for your purchases and verify the value, dishonest employees use these situations towards lining their own pockets !

    happy shopping :-)

  3. December 25, 2007 10:49 am

    Vivek, as you know I do not think that a consumer consciousness does not sit well with capitalism. Both are needed and as you can see from my various posts here. I care a lot about consumer issues.
    However I shall answer your points soon. Need to put my answer in a coherent fashion before I can do so…but in the meantime I will just leave you with a teaser…without advertising you would be paying at least Rs 100/- for your daily newspaper. You will find no doubt a solution to this as well, but once I put my answer in a more detailed fashion, I welcome you to argue!

    Inder, thanks for that tip! I would add that at times dishonest employees keep some items back and don’t put it in your bag! I have had this experience once.

  4. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 25, 2007 11:41 am

    //You will find no doubt a solution to this as well//

    I have!

    Strange coincidence that you should use the newspaper as an example. I recently went through the experience of starting to take the Ahmedabad edition of the DNA (not because of their aggressive advertising but because for a week it was delivered free, and I found the first few issues a welcome relief from the snooty “Ahmedabad is a backwater” attitude of the local editions of the Times and the Express.

    Within three weeks I found that DNA was not really any different. The same staple of page 3 jokers, bollywood and cricket. Needless to stay, I stopped my subscription within four weeks.

    Finally, I have not suggested that consumer consciousness and capitalism don’t go together. But the “you must want (and pay for) this product/service because we are offering it, and if you don’t you are an anachronism” attitude of a desperate-to-sell system so intrinsically linked with capitalism is something I find despicable.

  5. December 25, 2007 12:25 pm

    there r chains like koutons which will have 70% discount round the year….
    and as u correctly pointed out all they do is inflate the MRP to riddiculously high prices

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 25, 2007 3:31 pm

    Pegasus/Nita,

    There are “chains” called Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, Gandhi Haat and assorted allied names that have genuine discounts (not as riduculously high as 70%)round the year and and still higher discounts around 2nd October and 30th January. These are on base prices which are already a loss-making proposition to the parent organiation (KVIC), kept afloat by taxpayer’s money. All this is done ostensably to honour a man whose great work we have forgotten in deed, but like to pay hypocritic lip service to. It is bad business under any system — capitalist, socialist, Gandhian or anything else you choose to call it.

  7. December 25, 2007 4:13 pm

    Vivek,
    As I was penning down a response to your comment, to try and list out the points why advertising is needed, I realised my comment was far too long. Therefore I am planning to make a complete post out of it…so thanks for that idea! :) I will send you a mail when the post appears (next week, as this week I have already scheduled some other topics).

    Pegasus, thanks. only now did I realise though that you are one and the same Ankur – because of your avatar! Now I remember you had commented on my by blog as Pegasus a very long time back!

  8. December 25, 2007 6:20 pm

    .. And I bought skirt for my wife, which costs me 800 bucks. I thought it is under discount..

    Watch out at ‘Shopper’s stop’ they will make you fool in everyway.

  9. December 25, 2007 6:30 pm

    OMG, Vivek! Who would have thought you would say all this in block letters?!
    First of all, Nita, for all her virtues, is certainly no votary of the free market, irrespective of her claims. She is more of a centrist mixed-economy advocate. No offence intended, of course, Nita, but if you want to identify a votary of the free market, you have to look at me or someone similar! :-)
    Coming back to Vivek’s point, advertising is free speech, and any controls on it (and there are plenty of them the world over) is a serious infringement of individual freedom. To say it is criminal is ridiculous, Vivek!
    You may choose to disregard advertising and its tall claims, but to many (including most doctors, unfortunately) it is the only source of getting information on a product.
    Finally, no one buys a product at gun point. So where is the problem? Anyone can claim anything, and have the freedom to do so, but let the buyer beware! There is no Constitutional protection for idiocy, is there? So an idiot and his money are soon parted…. such is the nature of life!

  10. December 25, 2007 6:41 pm

    Rambodoc, Mixed Economy Advocate! :D I cannot help but cringe! No offence taken ofcourse as I realise that if one compares your free market views to my free market views, I do fall somewhere in the middle!
    However a free market to me means free market with responsibility and I agree with you that buyers have to beware, and advertisers have to advertise for the umpteen reasons which I shall talk about next week. btw (and I think now Vivek will cringe!) I used to teach the importance to advertising to NIE (Newspaper in Education) to little kids in Bangalore for well over two years. I have my class notes ready from which I shall make a short post.
    It’s important not to follow any concept, whether it’s religion or Capitalism to the letter. One has to interpret and see that the rights of consumers are protected.

    Kartik, thanks. But maybe that skirt was really worth Rs 800/- A few washes and you shall find out! :)

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 25, 2007 7:54 pm

    Rambodoc:

    I am a firm believer in democracy and the freedoms that are guaranteed as part of the package. But in exercising my freedom I have no right to infringe on the rights of others. I have the freedom to swing my fist around, but that freedom stops short of your nose.

    This is particularly true of advertising, which is misleading, gives selective information, and often disseminates outright lies. It is also intrusive, loud, offensive, cheap and caters to the least common denominator of intelligence and taste. In many cases it also amounts to insidious malignant propaganda.

    And all this is promoted by the ethos of the holy cow called the free market, which is anything but free. It is just a ruthless game of the big fish swallowing the small fish.

    Politically (and this bodes ill for the future of democracy) the “free market” celebrates the abolition of diversity in choice, the crushing of the weak, the dictum of might is right, and the unleashing of fascistic forces.

  12. December 25, 2007 9:48 pm

    Vivek: The freedom to swing your arms example is just fine. But tell me how advertising should constitute a violation of anyone’s rights. I can tell any number of lies about myself or something. Still, the choice to use my services or products is wilfully exercised by the consumer. The choice is made without coercion. There is no violation of rights here. You may choose to criticise the methodology, rationale, taste and credibility of the marketing industry, but not its basic existence and its right to exist and freely function.
    I would be very happy to learn how the free markets serve fascist forces and the eating up of the weak, etc.
    Wherever markets are freer, the societies are amongst the most free. No fascist forces can survive the free market. The concept of force is anathema in the market. What is the law there for but prevent use of force?
    Milton Friedman got a Nobel Prize for explaining how free markets is not economic cannibalism, but genuine emancipation of the poor.
    Disclaimer: I do not believe that the existence of the market should be justified on the basis of giving benefits to the poor and weak, though that is a given phenomenon in capitalistic societies.

  13. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 6:38 am

    Doc,

    By bringing in Friedman you have expanded the horizons of this discourse to an almost esoterically academic debate. Withoug casting the net too far and wide, let me just point out how Friedman’s economics could be (and HAS been) logically extended in diametrically opposite directions by his own disciple Andre Gunder Frank (whose contribution pertinent to the present discussion is his work on World Systems Theory), and his son and disciple David D Friedman (one of the founders of the idea of Anarcho-Capitalism).

    However, neither Frank nor Friedman Junior is paricularly focussed on either our times or on India. For that we must turn to Frank’s disciple (i.e. Friedman’s grand-disciple) Samir Amin, whose article on India in the Monthly Review, published as recently as 2005, can be seen at http://www.monthlyreview.org/0205amin.htm I think Amin answers some of your questions better than I can.

    As to how free markets serve fascistic forces and eat up the weak, the whole debate on WalMart and walmartisation is an illustration of that. And I am not even beginning to name the several walmarts that are beginning to happen in India.

    Going from the WalMart example to a less populistic argument, one of the fundamental premises of the free market is perfect competition (which I understand — from my reading of someone as ancient as Adam Smith — as competition on a level playing field). Can you honestly show me where such competition is happening today? The rules of the game are heavily tilted in favour of those who can swing their fists, and even information (erroneously called “knowledge”) is tightly controlled for the benefit of those who seek to gain and retail control over the “free” market.

    Finally (for now anyway) the way the capitalist market economy seeks to effectively control even what strain of rice I may eat, what kind of music I may listen to, what design of clothes I must wear (if you insist, I can elaborate on each one of these accusations and more, but not on this blog — and in any case I think you know what I mean, whether or not you agree with me) can hardly be considered democratic.

    In conclusion, I could not help noticing that your list of what I may criticise about the “marketing industry” (thank you for that interesting and useful term) does not include ethics.

  14. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 8:44 am

    Kartik Mistry:

    Bahaila, aajna jamanama 800 rupiya to kaeen na ganaay. Skirt ek vaar vaapri shakya etle ghanoon thayoon. Saaraa hotelmaan beujan jamva gayaa hote to ena karta vadhaare kharchya hote ne?

  15. December 26, 2007 9:22 am

    if all the “creativity” and “brilliance” of ads is simply to make people drink more of either coke or pepsi, I consider it a gross waste of human talents and energy. As for those people who think that having both coke and pepsi available to them when they walk into a store signifies some kind of choice and freedom, the less said about their delusion, the better it is. (Sorry, don’t mean to be judgmental of coke/pepsi drinkers, I’m just citing it as an example, which can be similarly extended to other products.) And the biggest blind-spot of “objectivists” and “free marketers” is their inability to see (or maybe they ignore it) how corporations regularly trample and curtail rights of individuals, which I find both amusing and paradoxical, since the “objectivists” often think they are champions of individual’s rights.

  16. December 26, 2007 10:21 am

    thoughtfully made post -very practical tips

    especially the one about billing issues one must have a hawks eye while doin the billing
    also ur right most discounts are big lies sometimes

  17. December 26, 2007 10:21 am

    intelligent post -very practical tips

    especially the one about billing issues one must have a hawks eye while doin the billing
    also ur right most discounts are big lies sometimes

  18. December 26, 2007 10:44 am

    nice one :)

  19. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 11:05 am

    Amit,

    Thanks a lot for saying in very simple language what I tried to convey in my post (and probably tied myself up in knots) :-)

  20. December 26, 2007 4:17 pm

    Vivek:
    I just don’t see how you appreciate the rhetorical Coke monster raised by Amit. If a consumer is deluded by an ad, then so be it. It is a matter of one’s freedom to choose. For actual violation of rights, the law is always there. That said, the real violation of rights is a constant feature of the activities not of corporations, but mainly of the Governments.
    The demon of Big Business just doesn’t work as a concept. It is Big Government that is the real demon. Reality has proven that well enough around the world.
    All said and done, I rest my case.
    Too much for one blog post comment box!

  21. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 5:25 pm

    Doc,

    As Amit himself has pointed out “Coke” is just an illustrative example. I’d use a more general term such as “megacorporation” or something.

    I agree that Big Government is a demon; it follows logically from concept of the State as a tyrant. But that does not absolve Big Business of its villainy.

    Anyway, as you say, this is too big a debate to take up in a blog post comment box. Shall we put it on hold until we discover a more apposite forum?

    In the mean time, please do read Samir Amin’s article in the Monthly Review to which I have provided a link above. And P Sainath’s piece which I forwarded via The Hindu’s server.

    Regards,

    Vivek

  22. December 26, 2007 8:19 pm

    Vivek, I think your comments were right on the mark.

    Rambodoc, it’s not rhetoric, and there’s no monster – just my opinion. If it comes across to you as rhetorical monster, then we see things from different angles. :)
    BTW, I’m not an advocate of big government, but I trust the corporations even less for the very simple reason of power being concentrated into the (unaccountable) hands of a few is never good for rights + freedom.

  23. vish permalink
    December 26, 2007 9:55 pm

    Vivek, the link to Samir Amin’s article is not connecting. Please check whether it is still available or they have removed.

  24. December 26, 2007 9:57 pm

    vish, you just need to delete the last “.” in the URL and it’ll work.

  25. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 10:41 pm

    Vish:

    I haven’t tried Amit’s method, but copy-pasting it in the address window works.

    As Amit pointed out, the full-stop in your link after the link was an extra, that is why it didn’t work. I will remove it. – Nita.

  26. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 26, 2007 11:18 pm

    To all interested:

    Some quotations from Noam Chomsky (arguably the most revered and reviled US intellectual today) that you may find at least entertaining, if not seriously relevant to the present discussion:

    “I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system.”

    “… democracy is largely a sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers, and technocrats, a vanguard party, or a State bureaucracy.”

    “Unlimited economic growth has the marvelous quality of stilling discontent while maintaining privilege — a fact that has not gone unnoticed among liberal economists.”

  27. December 27, 2007 4:53 am

    Nita, a timely post here. The other day I went into a shop announcing 50 to 75 percent discount all over the store. Turned out they have those discounts all the time. So, it really wasn’t a sale.

    My mother-in-law was almost duped by an infomercial on TV about investing her money. Why would a 77 year old woman need to invest? My husband stopped her from calling just in time.

  28. December 27, 2007 7:54 am

    Rdoc, Amit and Vivek, thanks for a very lively discussion. And I hope you guys will add your valued comments to today’s post as it is a related subject.
    Prax, Vishesh, thanks for reading and the response. :)
    Vish, thanks.
    Christine, unfortunately both my mother and mother-in-law fall for these type of gimmicks! They have grown up in a different era I think, and are more trusting. On the other hand my teenage daughter is extra alert! Though I think I am pretty smart at not getting cheated, there are times when my daughter has warned me, just in time!

  29. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 27, 2007 8:15 am

    Nita,

    Your mother and mother-in-law are representative of an unfortunately large class of people, cutting across age and education, within which the only difference is in what they get seduced by — a cricket star; a Hindi film star (#@!*%); a beauty contest winner (#@!*%); a
    “cho chweet” brat; or a look-alike of one of our innumerable gods or goddesses.

    Which is why it is healthy to be skeptical of and hostile to the big fraud called advertising, which is a particularly despicable subset of a bigger fraud called marketing.

    That’s enough invective for now. I’ll take it up in your new post from where I left off. :-)

  30. December 27, 2007 10:18 am

    The demon of Big Business just doesn’t work as a concept. It is Big Government that is the real demon. Reality has proven that well enough around the world.

    I think the people who were at the receiving end of/in
    a. Love Canal
    b. Union Carbide in Bhopal
    c. Enron
    might have a different and less charitable opinion of Big Business than you do, and may be looking at a different reality than you are. Which is not to exonerate the role of respective governments in these cases.

  31. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 27, 2007 11:26 am

    Amit, I wholeheartedly endorse what you say, although your list can be elaborated severalfold.

  32. December 27, 2007 1:48 pm

    Vivek: Quoting Chomsky when talking of the free market is like quoting Stalin on democracy or liberty.
    Amit: I never said that all corporations are innocent baa-lambs. I merely said that it is Big Government that is the biggest threat to human freedoms (and has always been). It is pointless talking of a couple of corporations/corporate episodes to rubbish the massive contribution to human progress and modernity. For all their flaws, corporations don’t generally put a gun to your head and ask you to fork out your money. If they do, call the cops or your lawyer. When the State forces your pay out of you as taxes (both direct and indirect) who do you call to protect your rights?

  33. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 27, 2007 2:10 pm

    Doc:

    I thought I had issued an adequate disclaimer (“…entertaining, if not seriously relevant to the present discussion…”) :-)

  34. December 27, 2007 3:49 pm

    I never said that all corporations are innocent baa-lambs. I merely said that it is Big Government that is the biggest threat to human freedoms (and has always been).

    Your words:
    The demon of Big Business just doesn’t work as a concept. It is Big Government that is the real demon. Reality has proven that well enough around the world.
    ==================================

    It is pointless talking of a couple of corporations/corporate episodes to rubbish the massive contribution to human progress and modernity.

    Why is it pointless? That’s just being irrational and ignoring facts. I’m not denying the contribution to human progress – but that doesn’t give corporations a free pass to kill people when those deaths could’ve been prevented. Your argument is similar to a physician saying, “I’ve saved so many lives, and physicians have saved countless lives over the past 100+ years, so I should not be held accountable if my negligence/error happened to kill two or three patients.” As I said before, “objectivists” and “free marketers” remain willfully blind to any abuse and concentration of power by corporations (“apologists” is the term in vogue these days ;) ) because that would mean admitting that their pet economic theories and philosophies are at fault – common human nature which is true of any and all philosophies/ ideologies/ -isms/foo-bar that one identifies with and/or strongly believes in.

    As for couple of corporations, those three cases resulted in:
    a. 56% of the children born from 1974-1978 had a birth defect (Love Canal)
    b. between 2500 and 5000 people killed in Bhopal
    c. thousands of Enron employees and investors lost all their savings, children’s college funds, and pensions when Enron collapsed.
    Just because I can instantly communicate with you halfway across the globe using a computer and broadband network (progress+modernity) doesn’t mean these tragedies are inconsequential or justified. It actually proves that a single corporation has immense power to affect the lives of hundreds and thousands – whether it’s for good or bad depends on the corporation.

    I merely gave three examples off the top of my head. Google is your friend if you really want to find more such cases (or I can suggest a movie called “The Corporation“), though I can start with doctors endorsing cigarettes in ads (http://www.newstarget.com/021949.html), opposition to seat belts by GM and other auto companies, and DuPont’s role in CFCs and ozone hole. Which is not to say that all corporations are evil, but to assert that in general, bottom-line matters more to corporations than the lives of people, or ethics, or honesty. I see it as a major glitch in the system that needs to be discussed, and if you see it as rubbishing all corporations and progress, that’s your prerogative.

    For all their flaws, corporations don’t generally put a gun to your head and ask you to fork out your money. If they do, call the cops or your lawyer.

    Very simplistic statement that ignores the inherent information+power imbalances in the transaction, and it doesn’t work for those who are dead because of Union Carbide or Occidental Petroleum, when some basic ethical considerations by the CEOs instead of blind obedience to bottom-line could’ve possibly prevented such disasters and/or saved lives (which you yourself have stated as being morally wrong – {letting people die when it can be prevented}), or provided justice sooner. As I see it, other than greed and hubris, there was nothing stopping Union Carbide from saying “By Galt, we fukced up, sorry!” and providing just compensation to the victims, Indian government’s despicable role notwithstanding. I very much doubt that Howard Roark would’ve acted in such a pusillanimous manner.

    When the State forces your pay out of you as taxes (both direct and indirect) who do you call to protect your rights?

    In the above statement, you = you, not me. :)
    I’m fine with paying taxes in return for certain services, and at the same time petitioning for lesser government and making it more efficient. I can let my elected officials know what I think of certain issues and give them feedback – there’s an open channel of communication available to me. I can vote once every x years to elect a representative whose policies are more aligned with mine.
    I’m 100% certain that the CEO of Dow née Union Carbide won’t give me similar access, or allow me to vote him out of office because of what happened in Bhopal.

  35. December 27, 2007 11:04 pm

    Amit, you still don’t get it. A corporation can be evil, but it could still be held accountable by the laws of society. I never said that being engines of progress, corporations can be allowed to murder. That is clearly a twisting of words you could have avoided.
    If you are the shareholder of a company, you will have the right to question/replace the management of a corporation. However, it doesn’t change anything in the arguments I put in. The State is an agent of coercion, while a corporation is an agent of profit from volitional activities.
    And now you can have the last word in.

  36. December 27, 2007 11:15 pm

    you still don’t get it.

    I was thinking the same thing about you. :)
    Good enough as a last word? :)

  37. December 28, 2007 10:19 pm

    The USA is the envy of the world. People come here to get the best education, the best jobs, the best everything. Our “poor” people make more money than most of the rest of the world. In only 200 years, this country has become a world leader, all because of basic human rights and free markets. Free markets where competition brings about new medicine, innovation, quality. I’ve never seen a Socialist society display those attributes!

  38. December 28, 2007 10:24 pm

    StruttinWolf, I am a great admirer of the United States and a great admirer of the free economy, with checks and balances ofcourse. I think socialism is the ruin of everything, it ruined our country as we practiced it for almost 50 years. Socialism only brings poverty and corruption to a country.

  39. vish permalink
    December 28, 2007 11:11 pm

    Nita, you cannot say that India was ruined in the last 50 years due to socialism…i got my education from state run schools and I owe to whatever ‘ism’ that was practied in India…btw, can anyone say that in US there is no corruption?

  40. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 29, 2007 6:33 am

    Vish,

    I think the problem with running down Indian socialism and praising US capitalism to high heavens lies in the fact that the debate is focussed on the outstanding achievements of the US vs. the outstanding failures of India.

    It was during those “bad old socialist days” that India progressed in food production from being an international begging-bowl case to self-sufficiency to even being an exporter of a few items. Today, with an increasing trend among farmers to shift from food crops to cash crops and high-end horticulture, we stand once again on the verge of food insecurity.

    Despite a better transport infrastructure (most of it conceived and achieved, admittedly at a snail’s pace, in the socialist days) penetrating the remotest parts of the country, the variety of indigenous agricultural and horticultural produce in the market is less today. I am not very fond of apples, but can’t help noticing that the shop where I buy fruit stocks only one or two Indian varieties of apple as agains three or four from abroad.

    Apples are no doubt an elite item of consumption. So go to any rural weekly “haat” or “shandy” and try to find out how many varieties of rice and “inferior” cereals, how many varieties of nutritious fruit and vegetables, how many varieties of “locally made” artifacts benefiting “local” artisans are available now, as against 10-20-30-40 years ago. Don’t you think it is more important to have access to dozens of varieties of these than 100 brands of soap and toothpaste or scores of makes of car?

    The point you make about state-run schools is very appropriate. That system, even though it left much to be desired, did give you an education which helped you to achieve a few things in life. Today, with everyone dismissing the state-run schools system as bad and opting for “private” and “English medium” schooling, the state-run system is progressively declining while private schools — many of them of very questionable quality — flourish (as indeed they are meant to in a “free market” economy).

    I have for the last ten years been volunteering some time to an NGO working with sewerage workers. These are the ultimate dalits among dalits. Many of them refuse to send their children to municipal schools which they say are bad, and send their children to private schools spending the equivalent of three months’ family income annually on EACH child. Hardly any of these children make it beyond upper primary school, and even the few that do, cannot aspire to any job other than what they are condemned to do by virtue of their caste. The only “choice” they have is to find jobs in the municipal system where, at least in theory, they have “permanent” employment, job-related perks, the right to form a union etc., vs. doing the same kind of work with a “private sector” contractor, with no job security and highly exploitative work conditions.

    NIta: This may seem off-topic on this thread, but since the themes of capitalism vs. socialism, private vs. public sector, US vs. India have become a recurrent feature, and since Vish provided an opening, I felt impelled to write.

  41. December 29, 2007 7:45 am

    Vish, ofcourse there is corruption in the US as in every country but it’s a matter of how much corruption there is, and also whether there is as much poverty as in India. And just because some good things did happen during socialist rule, it doesn’t mean that our country wasn’t ruined. I think there are a lot of facts to support my point of view, in terms of our growing GDP after liberlization, our alleviation of poverty etc so there is no point me saying anythng futher. In fact there are many posts on my blog which talk of our gorwing economy. It’s not because of Solialism that we have reached where we are today.Socialism would never let the IT industry grow for example….and again I am not saying that nothing good happened during Socialism, I am saying it ruined our country,.

    Vivek, I think you know my opinion on the matter. :) In any case Inever said nothing good happening during Socialism, as I said in my response to Vish. I said our country was ruined and I guess if you and vish are saying that Socialism is better for a country rather than Capitalism, then I disagree. The facts are there to see. A free market and healthy competition is what alleviates poverty It is the only hope for your country.
    And all private schools are not good. I know people like you mentioned Vivek. I have taught them in tuitions. Also, all private companies are certainly not good! They can cheat you. And certainlhy all state schools are not bad so the examples are not convincing me. I am talking at a very macro level.
    thanks. .

  42. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 29, 2007 8:37 am

    Nita,

    I think we can continue to disagree on some points and still make progress.

    //A free market and healthy competition is what alleviates poverty//.

    The essential phrase there is “healthy competition”. Where is it? If megacorp A goes about crushing competition from medium firms and small traders by questionable and ruthless means, that is hardly healthy. People like you and Rambodoc would piously say “so be it” (I am actually quoting from pertinent posts, not putting words in your respective mouths). To me that translates as “let the big fish swallow the small fish; it is a law of nature”.

    And many people do not seem to realise that a competition in a free market does not HAVE to mean across the board privatisation. Just two examples of which I have direct personal experience: both LIC and Indian Airlines have improved radically since competition began in their respective fields. Today, I’d much rather fly IA than any of the fancy airlines with “gorgeous” flight attendants (in any case, some of the places I fly to — en route to even more remote interior destinations — are served only by IA).

    Finally, the true indicator of development is not GDP growth but a reduction of the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It is about making state-run schools good so that the elite schools become less sought after, if not redundant. I means not just better curative health care but excellent preventive health care that reduces the need for highly qualified doctors to treat diarrhoea, and leaves them free to attend to more serious kinds of morbidity. It means adequate livelihoods for people equipped with the necessary life skills, not unproductive, well-paid jobs demanding artificially inflated entry level qualifications (the selling of which itself is one of the most parsitical industries in India today).

  43. December 29, 2007 9:34 am

    Vivek, tell me one country which is an example of the model you propose. There is no point discussing theories. This you might know about me…whether it’s about religion or politics, abstract concepts hold no meaning for me.
    Capitalism and its various forms is the best way to alleviate the gap between the haves and the have-nots and there are examples to prove it. The poorest people in the U.S are richer than in India, and i do not need to provide proof of that. Japan is a shining example of a reduced gap between the haves and the have-nots, more so than the U.S .and we need to study that system. It’s certainly not Socialism.
    Thanks.
    p.s. as my pc is giving trouble I may not be online, I mean I don’t know whether I will be able to start my pc. luckily I am not posting tomorrow or day after. My summary posts for tomorrow is ready…unfortunately it’s holiday season and the pc guy is not available! but my pc is giving a lot of trouble starting up. :( At times it starts and at times it doesn’t!

  44. December 29, 2007 12:56 pm

    Nita,
    Get an iMac, and do your self a favor.
    Vivek,
    Your example of IA and LIC is the right one. You may choose them, but I may choose different. The only difference in the companies here is that they are funded out of our salaries, while Kingfisher is from the profits they made when I chose to spend my money on their products (beer, etc.).
    In the market economy a bigger fish can eat a smaller one (though not necessarily so), but the outcome is always the same: a benefit for the society of consumers. A protected economy is one in which society protects the unproductive or less productive against the bigger, richer competitor. An example of this is the retail sector, where consumers can benefit from better products at cheaper rates. Ideally, this protection should not be afforded to even the bigger domestic players, and foreign companies should be allowed to fight for the consumer’s attention and patronage.
    Transport and roadways is a great example of how roads and railways need privatisation as the airline industry needed it. Rarely do you find countries with such bad roads.

  45. December 29, 2007 3:20 pm

    Great discussion on this post.
    at the end of the day, in my opinion – as the content of this original post, it is still the consumers who need to be cautious since they are spending their hard earned money irrespective of what the Ads are and who presents those Ads. Co-incidentally, I had a similar conversation while driving this afternoon – i will post it on my blog later sometime.

  46. vish permalink
    December 29, 2007 5:04 pm

    Nita, I am not a great supporter of socialism but always felt that India has to look at an economic model that of its own instead of just copying some other model ‘as is’. There are failed capitalist economies also…

    // tell me one country which is an example of the model you propose//

    I think Cuba has the best healthcare delivery system than its powerful neighbour…

    Maybe, few years down the line, there will be another generation blaming ‘capitalism’ for all the failures at that time and anyway the politicians are always there to be blamed for all the failures.

  47. December 29, 2007 7:24 pm

    Rdoc, I am thinking of getting a better pc, perhaps next year. In the meantime here I am on a borrowed pc (my hubby’s).

    Ram, thanks. You have raised a pertinent point. Advertising is not the prerogative of capitalism. All government propaganda is also advertising and in many countries it’s dangerous as people do not have access to information that is contradictory.

    vish, the healthcare delivery system is just one thing…one has to look at the whole economy, whether it is healthy or not. And nobody is advocating copying any model…but there are tried and tested models, the basic principles of which one can adopt, not necessarily take it in toto. we can learn from the mistakes.
    But are you advocating some new model which has never been tested before…I am nto sure I understand.

  48. December 30, 2007 12:13 am

    pc u said , im here to help – i know lamington rd at the back of my head maybe i can awaken the tech part of my blog that is dormant due to lack of time

    these days things have been good for the buyer
    things have gotten so darn cheap !

  49. December 30, 2007 12:16 am

    maybe all u need is an upgrade im here to help if u need any !

  50. January 2, 2008 2:56 pm

    Hi Nita what do you have to say about this offer at one store in Blore?
    http://crapbook.wordpress.com/2007/12/31/the-big-offer/ :)

  51. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 2, 2008 5:18 pm

    Xylene:

    In an era of globalisation, one possible explanation could be fluctuations in exchange rates :-) . Depends on what proportions of imported ingredients are mandated by WTO for cheeses made in India :-)

  52. Raj Yadav permalink
    January 5, 2008 7:37 pm

    Hi Nita,
    A very well written and very informative article. WIll be immensly helpful to consumers.

    I am Lt Col Raj Yadav a self confessed Consumer Rights activist and an army officer by profession. I have had a few Consumer Cases the most prominent one being against ICICI Bank where it was fined Rs 87000 and slammed for its activities. All these cases have been published in the prominent dailies and The ICICI Case on TV too.
    I have formed a yahoo group called Adhikaar where we try to advise consumers on various issues and problems. Various informative articles are posted there for everyone to get acquainted with the legal processes and also their rights.
    I would like to use your article and post it to my group where it will be of help to the readers and members. If you permit I will post it therewith due credit to you.
    Thanks and regards
    Raj Yadav

  53. January 5, 2008 8:41 pm

    you are welcome to use my tips, and as you said, with acknowledgement. A link to this article would be ideal.
    the link is this:
    http://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2007/12/25/tips-to-avoid-being-cheated-while-shopping/

    Thanks.

Trackbacks

  1. December 24: National Consumer Rights Day! « Visceral Observations
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