After posting on the problem of “free” plastic bags at market, I ran across this interesting piece from Ezra Klein on the econonics of customer freebies like bread at a restaurant. The basic idea, which is nothing new, is that consumers do not behave rationally when something is percieved to be free. He recounts multiple excellent examples of such behavior, and the effects of even a tiny charge on changing consumer consumption of an item.
The problem as I see it, is that for incremental charges to work, they have to be percieved as unavoidable. One restaurant that charges for bread may lose offended customers to all the others that don’t. One grocery store that charges for bags, one market stand, etc. If everyone at a market charged equally for bags, perhaps the effect would take place. But if we just started it, chances are we’d annoy or offend customers who might go elsewhere, even if that extra nickel was more than worth the access to our produce.
Still, it’s a great quick look at the psychology of consumerism, and what kind of factors market farmers have to keep in mind as they compete for customers in a wide-open marketplace.