Willingness to Pay

Companies target poor people. Companies target rich people. In the end, we’re all targeted.

When Heathcliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby, donned a modest outfit on his trip to the car dealer, he was attempting to come off as a frugal working class Joe (instead of the wealthy doctor that he was). It may have all been in vain though – he would have been better off sending a white friend to negotiate, regardless of his attire.

Sometimes, retailers do not equate wealth with willingness to pay. Another way of looking at it is that the perceived intelligence/power/respectability of the consumer can affect a retailer’s willingness to exploit/overcharge. A study published in the American Economic Review in 1995 revealed that when using the same scripted bargaining tactics at car dealerships, White men were quoted significantly lower prices than women (of either race) or Black men. Continue reading “Willingness to Pay”


Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret

Mac users are wealthier than their PC counterparts, and companies are eager to exploit that.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that people who use Mac computers are willing to pay up to 30% more than PC users on Orbitz.com. This has led Orbitz to declare that it will show Mac users higher prices.

At first, this seems ridiculous and unfair – the same exact product being offered at different prices. But we shouldn’t be surprised – it’s hardly different than traditional ways of exploiting regional price differentials and targeting certain markets with inflated prices. The only difference is that now, companies use a sort of virtual geography to organize consumers according to wealth and willingness to pay. The type of computer you use is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies are trying to track your every move online – the magazines you read, the products you buy, the clubs you belong to – all in order to determine what sort of consumer you are and how much you are willing to pay for whatever they are selling. Continue reading “Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret”

What’s an Asian (American)?

The only thing that binds Asian Americans is the common fear of disappointing our parents.

Yesterday we took a look at the demographic rise of the Asian American community. And since I took the effort to examine what a Hispanic is a few weeks ago, I thought I’d just touch upon what it means to be Asian American.

I never liked the word Asian. I suppose all racial/ethnic categories are arbitrary and invented, but Asian takes the cake for the silliest. It always seemed absurd to lump together 60% of the world’s population into one group. And as far as geography goes, Europe and Asia are obviously part of the same landmass, so why this arbitrary boundary of the Ural mountains? What do folks from Saudi Arabia and Japan have in common? Malaysia and Mongolia?

While growing up, it was easy to see solidarity and understanding within the Black, White and Hispanic communities (the “big three” as I like to call it) in my neighborhood. There were aspects of language, phenotype, and culture that kept certain kids with “their kind” and not with others. As pretty much the only Indian kid for miles, I took turns emulating and resenting each one of those groups. One day this Vietnamese kid joined our school and I decided right then that this word Asian was bullshit. The boy, I think his name was Phan, served me no purpose – the only thing we had in common was that neither of us were from the big three. Continue reading “What’s an Asian (American)?”

Here Come the Asians

“Nation, we’re getting boxed in. Mexicans do the jobs we don’t want to do, and Asians do the job we’re not able to do.” – Stephen Colbert

Just after the 2000 Census, the Hispanic/Latino community overtook the Black/African American community as the country’s largest minority community. At the time, there were just over 35 million Hispanics in the US. Following the 2010 Census, that figure has grown to over 50 million. The US has more people of Spanish speaking origin than any other country in the world other than Mexico.

As usual though, the demographic tides are turning. According to a new study put out by the Pew Research Center, in 2010, for the first time Asian immigration  (430,000 arrivals) outnumbered Hispanic immigration (370,000 arrivals). Asians currently comprise the largest stream of immigrants in the country.

Continue reading “Here Come the Asians”

Tasting the Price of Wine

Expensive wines taste better, but only if we know they’re expensive.

I like wine, but am about as far from being a connoisseur as one can get. I believe there are good wines and bad wines, but feel we often equate good with expensive. I enjoy reading articles that validate my own plebeian understanding and expose the prestige game that drives much of the wine industry, which topped $32 billion in sales last year in the US, making it the largest wine market in the world.

Jonah Lehrer recently asked on the New Yorker website, Does all wine taste the same? He referenced the now mythical “Judgement of Paris” – the 1976 blind tasting in which a Napa Valley Cabernet beat out bunch of French heavyweights, sending shock waves throughout the wine world. Needless to say, the French judges were not happy. Hollywood even made a cheesy movie about it in 2008.

Continue reading “Tasting the Price of Wine”

Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 3

This is the third and final post in the Catholic series. In the first post we profiled a few individuals who were standing up to the Vatican. Then we took a look at a couple of organizations whose mission it is to reform the Catholic Church. Today we delve into the most general of categories – the whole of the 80 million or so Catholics in the United States.

“Let’s just agree to disagree and sit politely for the photo”.

For the past week, I have argued that there is a disconnect between mainstream Catholic America and the Church’s leaders, but it’s easy to claim that Catholics are liberal, conservative or whatever else.  Today I back it up with some evidence. I’ll try not to be so dry in my language but that’s the nature of such data. Here’s the disconnect on several contentious issues.


The Church is clear on its position that life begins at conception and that abortion is always evil. On abortion, American Catholics are divided, much like non-Catholic America. Whereas only 40% of Catholics find abortion to be morally acceptable (2009 Gallup), about half wish to keep it legal in all or most cases (2008 Pew). Both figures mirror the feelings of non-Catholic Americans. Abortion is probably the only major issue where even half of American Catholics are in line with Vatican teachings – this still means that half are opposed to it. The Gallup poll mentioned above also found that an overwhelming majority of Catholics supported medical research using human embryonic stem cells, which the Vatican categorically opposes.

Contraception  Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 3”

Dhaka to Rome (Indian Express article)

A friend Kaushik and I got an article published in yesterday’s Indian Express.

Dhaka to Rome: the Bangladeshi community, the eternal city’s most visible immigrants, travel “by donkey” to reach Italy, struggle to make a livelihood but believe in a better tomorrow.

FYI – keep an eye out for Kaushik’s novel Windhorse, which will be published by Harper Collins in the coming months.