What is the rationale for charging the poor more than everyone else?

I was dropping off a friend of mine at a car repair place on the other side of town last night when I decided to pick up some McDonald’s chicken mcnuggets on the way home. I’d never stopped at any place in this neighborhood before, but this was one of those ethnically diverse areas where most of the signs were in Spanish, bordering on an African-American-based population area. This was the kind of area where a lot of economically struggling families live, although not so bad a neighborhood as to constitute a fear for anyone visiting the neighborhood.

I’m a creature of habit. I tend to buy the same thing constantly, so the meal I always get costs me $6.46 at the McDonald’s I normally frequent. This time, however, the charge came to $6.66. For some reason, a few miles from the other McDonald’s, my cost was twenty cents more than what it normally cost me. I paid it, but it left me thinking, why is the charge more here than in the nicer area where I normally get my food?

It’s not like the people in this area can afford more. Economically, they are less well off than the people who frequent the McDonald’s in my neighborhood. Yet, because they are figuratively in a completely different universe than the other McDonald’s, the pricing is completely different.

I remember when I lived in San Francisco, and I worked at the Hilton downtown. The people at the Hilton liked to say they were in the “financial district”. In reality, they were in the Tenderloin, one of the lowest of the economic areas in San Francisco.

Across the street from the hotel, I used to grab a carton of milk every day. It was one of those habit things where I never thought much about it. The store was owned by a family of Middle Eastern heritage that for reasons never explained were always rude to practically anyone who showed up in their little convenience store. However, one day, I was a paying more attention to what was going on than usual, and I noticed that the clerk in question always looked at a sheet of tax prices that was centered under a glass sheet on the main counter. My milk cost 99 cents, but the clerk looked on his list and then told me my price for the milk (with tax) was now $1.35. Right then and there, I thought, wait, nowhere in the country is the local sales tax 36 percent. NOWHERE. So, I inquired about this. The clerk said, “tax.” I informed him that 36 percent is outrageous.

His response wasn’t “Wow, you’re right” and then charged me the correct amount. Instead, he took the milk out of the bag and proceeded to kick me out of his store. When I protested, I actually saw his hand moving towards a spot under the counter, where I noticed there was a revolver. Taking my losses, I left the store.

What this taught me is that there’s an outright intent to screw people over whenever you can. In the Tenderloin district, I suspect that store owners figure the people are too stupid to realize they’re being cheated, and they’re dimed and quartered (as opposed to being nickle and dimed) endlessly.

So, what are your thoughts? Is this capitalism at its norm? Is this corruption? Or do people just generally not care because it’s happening to the poor, and they’re supposed to be victims any way?

Author of Innocent Until Proven Guilty and 15 other novels. Writer, college professor and computer game designer.

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