During the past couple of years, the public has been appalled to hear of the predatory lending practices of mortgage companies that led to the current economic crisis. But I've been realizing that predatory business practices exist everywhere, and we don't notice because we're just so used to it.
Exhibit A: airport food. Don't laugh--it's true. When you go to an airport, you will be paying $10 for a mediocre vegetarian sandwich that doesn't even come with a side. Or $5 for a latte, or $4 for an orange juice. I'm doubting that rents are that high that restaurants and food stalls have to jack up their prices that much, but even if they are that high, why is the airport charging that much for rent? The mentality here is: people will be hungry and will have to stop for food, and they won't have anywhere to turn, so we can charge whatever we can get away with. It puts a little damper on your flight before you board the plane.
Exhibit B: parking garages. In downtown LA, you have to know exactly where you're parking before you get there, otherwise you'll be paying $12 for every 15 minutes you spend in one of the garages. And that's not an exaggeration, that's a real charge. There's no way that rent or operations cost so much that you have to charge $48 an hour for 60 square feet of space, but that's what happens. It's highway robbery. It has nothing to do with the actual worth of what you're getting--it's just what they can get away with.
Exhibit C: illegal immigrants. Some people will say that illegal immigrants are "good for the economy," but what they mean is that restaurant and farm owners can pay them less than minimum wage and get away with it. Several immigrants will live together in one-bedrooom apartments, and ride used bicycles while they try and send money home. How could you live with yourself if you were one of these employers? It takes a real jerk to do that.
Can you imagine if we treated our friends and family this way? "Thanks for returning my ladder, Larry, but if you read the fine print you'll see that you were actually leasing it. You owe me $500." Larry would soon ditch you as a friend. We accept this behavior from businesses because we are used to it, and because we often don't have any other place to shop.
Meditate on this image, which happens probably hundreds of times a day at a large sports stadium:
"Hi, I'll take two Bud Lights."
Employee pours out two cups of beer, "that'll be $15."
"$15 for two beers? That's bull****. Sheesh."
Employee, who has no control over pricing, and earns $8 an hour, absorbs negativity and frowns at customer as he hands him the change, and both leave the interaction with a bad feeling.