Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is There a Connection Between Pervasive Negotiation and Being a Low Trust Society?

Such seems pretty likely to me, as most of the societies that spring most to mind when I think 'low trust' are also associated with all kinds of haggling and negotiation, and not just on rare big-ticket purchases.  George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, also seemed to think so, believing that negotiation inherently disadvantaged the meek and who introduced fixed pricing in England as the implementation of his belief.  Just from a pure productivity standpoint, were this a technology in a game like Civilization, it'd almost certainly be considered radically overpowered.  Think of how many hours are expended haggling over prices---guessing that fixed pricing practices resulted in a 5-10% improvement in overall productivity is probably an underestimate, to say nothing of the reduction in stress levels, particularly among the more introverted segments of the population.
Can a case be made that the introduction of fixed pricing and the marginalization of negotiation in daily life increased the trust levels in the Anglosphere (George Fox pushed the idea pretty charismatically on Quaker merchants, and the success of it lead to increasing adoption over the years by other merchants---the reputation of Quaker businessmen for honest dealing, relative to the standards of that era, was commercially valuable)?  Is it an accident that people that negotiate prices in general are thought poorly of in our society (e.g., car salesmen and furniture salesmen)?


Hail said...

Hagglers are thought of poorly in -our- society, definitely, but in others it may be considered positively.

Actually, I've always viewed one of the unique traits of Northwest-Europeans as an inherent-anti-haggling attitude. I have talked to people from many cultures on this issue, and without exception (it seems), the ones who find haggling 'dirty' and try to avoid it are NW-Europeans.

Our ancestors were not very much unlike us, today. Can you imagine NW-Europeans of centuries ago acting like Arabs in regard to haggling? Maybe it existed, but it's hard for me to imagine anything like a pervasiveness to it.

Olave d'Estienne said...

This is a great topic. I've thought about it a lot. I wouldn't be happy in a haggling society, because I hate arguing. I would be the sort of grouch who would go up, tell them my final price, and walk away if their price were higher. They'd make no money off of me and I wouldn't get the price I needed.

Put another way, our fixed-pricing habits allow the meek to consume more.

I'm really not looking forward to a Mexicanized America, with a huge black market allowing you to choose lining the pockets of a criminal middleman if you don't feel like bribing the officials who make the other markets legal.

Anonymous said...

I detest haggling. Too much deception in the process.

Jehu said...

Hail---prior to George Fox in England, at least moderate haggling was the norm on pretty much everything. He's considered pretty revolutionary on that front alone. My guess is they never were at Middle Eastern levels of haggling, but probably closer to Eastern European presently. It's also likely that the 'Farewell to Alms' genetic transition in England laid the groundwork that made Fox's innovation actually thinkable.

CorkyAgain said...

Unlike Olave, I haven't thought about this topic very much, but this article's take on it makes a lot of sense to me.

Maybe that's because I grew up in a part of the US populated mostly by NW European immigrants or their descendants.

I once walked off a used car lot in protest over the salesman's refusal to simply quote me their price for a vehicle that I was interested in. I didn't want to haggle, I just wanted to see the sticker and make a go/no-go decision. I repeated this request several times. But no, he wanted to walk me around the lot and show me other cars "to try to find the best fit for me", then take me to see his manager, etc. etc.

The thing is, if he'd quoted me a price and it wasn't too absurd, I probably would have bought the car. With cash. (This was back when I had a high-paying job and a son who was ready for his first car. Money was no real concern for me in those days.)

But as it is, he soured me on the whole idea -- because he was a bad salesman who failed to understand or even listen to his customer.

Jehu said...

Car buying in the US has the feeling of an anachronism, I agree. It is far more painful than it needs to be. In general, American business has no bloody clue how to sell to introverts without annoying the devil out of them, and God forbid they be dealing with non-neurotypicals. Saturn has a (mostly) no-haggle policy with their dealerships, but the idea doesn't seem to have caught on much.