Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Despicably Subtle

So let’s say you’re a bank (I know, nobody can “be” a bank, but just go with it), and let’s say you have this deal where you provide a convenience to your customers – a debit card that allows them to buy stuff with their money in checking without having to mess with checks. This is not only great for them, but imagine the efficiencies gained by retailers; time saved at the register, processing, etc. You set up the system and provide the cards. You have no problem, therefore, asking retailers to pay to play (the now infamous swipe fee). A fine example of the market at work; everyone pursuing their own separate interests, and society benefits.

Now let’s say you’re Wal-Mart (just go with it), the world’s largest retailer, and you’ve expanded insanely fast just south of the border. And, of course, as many an American who’s motored through Mexico knows, you can’t penetrate far without knowing extortion at the hands of the Federales. The thing is, for the motorist, bribing a Mexican officer gets one out of, not into, trouble. But for the likes of Wal-Mart, bribing a foreign official is a prosecutory offense. But hey, till the other day, it was working just fine. And besides, what’s the harm? The economically-challenged Mexican consumer gets goods at a price only Wal-Mart can deliver (not to mention the jobs) and a great (now in question) American brand makes out. Forget about laws, ethics even; when it comes to bottom lines, the ends justify the means.

That’s why collusion among CEOs and lawmakers in America is perfectly legal. Even when the consumer gets screwed. Like when Wal-Mart slipped a fundraiser and a few grand into the pocket of one Senator Richard Durbin in exchange for his “Durbin Amendment” – an outright hijacking of the aforementioned swipe fee arrangement. That’s right, Señor Durbin through the good old American legislative process, got the swipe fee halved, got his cut, and the economically-challenged U.S. consumer now gets to pay up to offset the billions Durbin and Wal-Mart extorted from the banks. Subtle, and, like the Mexican bribery case, utterly despicable!

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