Thursday, May 21, 2015

How I Zapped a Whole Foods Cashier Over Minimum Wage Policy

I really have fun with economics when I am able to pull off what I call an "economic zap."

The idea behind an economic zap is to say something to someone in a manner that causes them to pause becasue it goes against their gut thinking, but they see the logic and are "zapped" into an expanded view of the world.

The other day, I got the opportunity to zap a Whole Foods cashier.

At Whole Foods, they have a couple of roving baggers, but not a bagger for each cashier. It appears that the function of a Whole Foods' baggers is to bag groceries where there is the greatest jam up.

As a cashier finished ringing up my groceries, he started bagging them and said to me, as a mild complaint, "I haven't had a bagger help me all day."

I immediately said, "In the old days, in every grocery store, every lane had a bagger. It's the high minimum wage law, Grocery stores can't afford to hire baggers for every lane."

Then the pause came. I zapped him. He had to process for a minute, he probably had a gut instinct view that the minimum wage was a good thing. But the zap worked and he nodded in agreement.

I caution, though, use the economic zap carefully. I once almost got killed in NYC when I zapped a cabbie.

This was a few years back, before Uber, and I was in a cab in midtown.

My cabbie was ranting about how taxi fares should be raised. I asked him if he owned his cab or leased. He leased. After learning that I said to him, "Well then, you are not going to see any benefit from a fare hike. There is a lot of competition among drivers. A higher fare will just mean the lease rates will go up and it will benefit the medallion owners since the higher lease rates will push the medallion prices up even faster."

Zap. The stunned pause came next that always follows a well placed economic zap. But the zap was so powerful, the cabbie went through a red light and almost got both of us killed because of cross traffic.



  1. Here is one that doubles as an economic/democracy zap:

    A person who is doing fairly well financially -makes more than most -but is pissed off that someone else is richer and starts tossing around terms like "the 1%" and getting them to "pay their fair share".

    Ask them how they should "get them to pay" The answer inevitably comes back to passing a law/changing the tax code. Ask them how laws get passed and they say " if enough people vote for it, we can have it passed- that's how a democracy works."

    Ask them if they think that is how things should work and they will spout some platitude about democracy they learned in 7th grade.

    Then tell them you are in favor of the top 49% paying far more taxes and the 51% not paying any. This way the 51% can enjoy having more money.

    Tell them you are getting support for a bill that would require the top 49% wage earners to pay 90% income tax.

    Ask you democracy touting interlocutor if he would vote for such a bill? If not why?

  2. Waiting for Starbuck to initiate a new policy whereby they engage their customers in a discussion about the minimum wage- Barristas will draw "Wage Together!" on coffee cups

  3. Depends on the age of the cashier. If 17, you're probably correct. if 25 or older he probably has some fleeting memory of the way things used to be.

    I was a bagger at a grocery store in the 1980s. There were almost as many baggers as cashiers but cart fetching and other duties took up baggers as did break periods. At any given time it was a lane or two short of a 100%.

  4. yep baggers by me were not ALWAYS behind every register-sometime they had to call upon the price changer to come and bag

  5. I think that policy pretty much exists in most jobs that deal with the public. I work in sales and avoid politics while working (unless its with co-workers) because 1. I want to make the sale 2. I dont want to get fired and 3. I dont want to get physically attacked

    Personally I hate dealing with cashiers and baggers at the supermarket and always use the self checkout lane.

  6. @unowned

    You must be suffering from a bit of Aspergers Syndrome, if you can't tell the difference between someone who is keeping his mouth shut because of store policy and someone who is stunned, or as Wenzel puts it "zapped'.

  7. I like engaging people around their profession because it's a space they have thought about and feel able to discuss. I recently told a leftist doctor I believed in free market drug production. His head about exploded, his face aghast in sheer horror. For 20 solid minutes he challenged me to explain at every step how a free system without regulation or patents might work, tracing incentives from investors, to drug companies, to insurers, to patients. I was glad for the genuine engagement, even if all it did was leave a few splinters in his mind.

  8. Robert, this piece was very entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable over a cup of coffee this morning. I would very much like to see more "ZAP!" occurrences on EPJ. Your expounding upon economic ideas in order to discredit modern, mythical narratives is quite enjoyable. Keep them coming!!!

  9. My latest ZAP was on USA citizenship with a woman from Syria. She is in the USA due to marriage. I asked her why she was going for USA citizenship and she really did not know why. Telling her some of the drawbacks of citizenship she became thoughtful.

    I have had many similar encounters on economic and political issues. Participants range from friends and family to activists outside grocery stores. My favorite was with those getting signatures for gay marriage. I asked: other than the discriminatory benefits that should not exist, why do you need, why would you want the government to sanctify your marriage? They looked at me like I had two heads.