I just got back from a Stop and Shop enlightenment.

As I was browsing the bottled water aisle, I asked the lady who was stocking other items how much a certain brand of water costs. Right after I asked the question, I noticed the price. It was about $6.99 or so for a 24-pack. So I said, "Oh, I found the price, thanks, anyway." At which point she responded, "That's a really good price." My first mistake was responding to that outrageous claim by saying, "Um... not at all. That's a horrible price." Then she responded with some unintelligible words about it being an okay price and working at Stop and Shop. After about 10 seconds of back and forth banter about the quality of the price, she began to explain to me why goods are so expensive; she blamed China. She said that it's so expensive to ship the goods over to the United States that prices, in turn, are raised so much. However, I think she forgets the task of the "market" in capitalism. If it were cheaper to produce the goods here, in this case, plastic bottles, they would be produced here. Therefore, since the goods are produced in China, it stands to reason that Americans are actually buying the goods at cheaper prices since those goods are still being produced in China. (The "horrible" price I was referring to was in relation to the other cases of bottled water).

Another flaw in this lady's reasoning had to do with tariffs. She stated that tariffs are partially responsible for such high prices. Tariffs do make goods more expensive because a tariff is a tax on a good that an exporting country must pay to have that good imported into a certain country, thus dissuading particular countries from exporting to other particular countries and persuading countries to produce goods on their own. For example, a while ago, a tariff was placed on Chinese paper being imported into the United States so that more paper would be produced in the United States. I rejoiced because I am big fan of tariffs and not of outsourcing. I think we should have a closed economy (yes, I know that would spell out disaster for the United States, but if I could start this country over or start my own country, it would be closed). However, that tariff on China made semi-big news because there aren't really any tariffs on goods from China - that's what free trade is about (and obviously something of which I'm not really a fan). So, her reasoning that tariffs are responsible for high prices of all goods? Wrong. Because there are essentially no tariffs in existence.

So, I thought to myself, this lady has thought a little about economics, and good for her since I love economics.

After her tariff rant, she told me that she was an economist, and that is the reason why she's familiar with these economic concepts. Most unlikely, but possible. She did have a heavy Russian accent, so it's possible that in Russia she was an economist and the only work she can find here is stocking shelves. Sad, but unlikely, because an advanced economics degree, especially with experience as an economist, in any country, transfers over very well to the United States as long as you speak English. She spoke English very well.

Then, she told me that she's working as an Undercover economist. She said she's just working at Stop and Shop to learn about goods at the consumer level - the lowest level. I guess that's reasonable. I mean, Barbara Ehrenreich, a successful journalist and writer, somewhat did it in the Nickel and Dimed, where she went undercover and worked as a waitress, a maid, a cashier at Wal-Mart, and a few other places, to see if she could survive on minimum wage. Ehrenreich, however, kept her secret identity a secret, unlike this lady at Stop and Shop.

So, I wonder, was this lady absolutely crazy or... well, I'm sure she was crazy, but maybe she really wants to write an book on her experience with goods and consumers. Good for her, either way. If she is indeed crazy, then she's probably enjoying her job as an "undercover economist," so that's nice. And, if she is really is an undercover economist, then even better. It's a win-win for her. Mazel tov.

This experience makes me wonder even more... how many Stop and Shop employees are undercover? Are all of them undercover? Is this some sort of conspiracy? Who would have thought the lady stocking bread and water was a clandestine journalist who threw herself into the unsurvivable world of minimum wages in order to write an expose on... what would she write it on? The fact that minimum wage is not a living wage is no secret, and numerous exposes, books, articles, papers, etc., have already been written. Who knows. I guess I'll have to wait for her book to be published to find out.

Maybe the baker is journalist for Bon Appetit magazine. Or maybe the guy selling lottery tickets behind the customer service desk is really a lobbyist for some anti-gambling group. Who knows. I guess I'll have to wait for their books and articles to come out, too.

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