Tim "Undercover Economist" Harford's column "Casinos’ worrying knack for consumer manipulation," takes a skeptical look at business and markets -- specifically their reputation for offering a fair trade between buyers and sellers. Inspired by Natasha Dow Schüll's book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, a 2012 book on the calculated means by which gamblers are inveigled to part with more money than they consciously intend to, Harford asks a fundamental question about capitalism: are markets built on fair exchanges, or on trickery?
Consider, first, confusion by design: Las Vegas casinos are mazes, carefully crafted to draw players to the slot machines and to keep them there. Casino designers warn against the “yellow brick road” effect of having a clear route through the casino. (One side effect: it takes paramedics a long time to find gamblers in cardiac arrest; as Ms Schüll also documents, it can be tough to get the slot-machine players to assist, or even to make room for, the medical team.)
Most mazes in our economy are metaphorical: the confusion of multi-part tariffs for mobile phones, cable television or electricity. My phone company regularly contacts me to assure me that I am on the cheapest possible plan given my patterns of usage. No doubt this claim can be justified on some narrow technicality but it seems calculated to deceive. Every time I have put it to the test it has proved false.
I recently cancelled a contract with a different provider after some gizmo broke. The company first told me the whole thing was my problem, then at the last moment offered me hundreds of pounds to stay. When your phone company starts using the playbook of an emotionally abusive spouse, this is not a market in good working order.
Casinos’ worrying knack for consumer manipulation
(Image: Slot Machine, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kubina's photostream)
In July 2012, professional poker-player Phil Ivey won $4.8M from the baccarat tables at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 17 hours; on other occasions, he took a total of $9M out of the Borgata: he did it by asking the house to deal Gemaco Borgata cards, whose backs contained minute asymmetries in […]
The five Volkswagen executives who were criminally charged in the USA for their role in the Dieselgate scandal have been advised not to travel to the USA because they are liable to arrest there: they’ve also been told that leaving Germany is risky because they might be arrested and extradited to the USA.
When you open the box for a Storm Trooper snuggie blanket, you’ll discover a card telling you that by buying the blanket, you’ve waived your right to sue the manufacturer and will subject yourself to binding arbitration if your blanket gives you cancer or burns you to death or any of the other bad things […]
One of the best ways to progress a career in project management is through earning recognized certifications. These certifications carry significant clout and don’t require expensive tuition or student loans. This Ultimate Project Management Certification Bundle is a great example of an affordable way to get ahead. It includes training for 9 certifications including PMP, […]
There’s nothing quite like the rush of playing against a real human opponent. But from a developer standpoint, creating fun multiplayer experiences is incredibly complex. Fortunately, the Unity3D game engine has made all aspects of game creation, including multiplayer functionality, as accessible as ever.This Unity Course Bundle introduces all of the necessary elements of creating […]
The 2016 World Series game 7 will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. With endless suspense, a nefariously-timed rain delay, and extra innings, it reminded over 40 million viewers why they love America’s pastime – and why all bets were truly off in 2016. Savor the […]