December 3, 2008

The "Undercover Economist" on Free Lunches

Tim Harford, author of the Undercover Economist, writes here how free lunches always leave a bad taste. This article brings to mind how the Wal-Mart worker who died after being stampeded by shoppers hungry for a shopping deal.

Harford writes: "The more attractive the gift, the more damage people will do to themselves, and each other, trying to get hold of it. If that idea seems counterintuitive, it is nevertheless true, as the managers of Ikea, the furniture giant, can testify. They opened a new London store recently, offering opening night discounts of nearly 90 per cent on a limited number of leather sofas. The store closed 40 minutes later after 6,000 people tried to force their way through the doors; several had to be taken to hospital.

The press immediately blamed either the boorish stupidity of the British public or the hypnotic influence of the wily Swedes. But the ill-tempered scenes are not unique to Britain: at the grand opening of Jeddah’s Ikea last summer, two people died in the crowds queuing to get hold of $150 vouchers. Nor are these incidents the result of some quasi-religious shopping frenzy. The curse of the free lunch is at work…"

Read more here.

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