The Market Value of Soiled Sheets
True story: some months ago my wife purchased some bedding sheets from one of the nation’s largest off-price retail stores. I won’t say which or give you a hint like “character on Friends” because my interest here is not petty vengeance.
As the sheets weren’t immediately needed–she planned to use them as covers for some memory foam couch-cushions that she was making–the sheets hung around our place for few days.
When she finally opened the packaging, she was hit by an overwhelming stench of heavy perfume, but an even more disturbing discovery awaited her. When she started to unfold them, she noticed the sheets had dried something or other caked on them.
Ignorant us, we thought that a mistake had been made and that the store had not knowingly sold us sheets with a crusty spot. I learned otherwise when returning the item. The manager refunded our money with no complaint, but he didn’t apologize. Instead, he said the item had been marked down in price precisely because of the smell and the dried surprise. When I said to the manager that I hoped he didn’t try to resell them, he simply responded, with forced pleasantness, “Have a nice day.” Lovely. What’s a little sanitation concern when there’s a profit to be made, eh?
What bothers me most about this minor but high-on-the-eww-factor unpleasantness isn’t the soiled sheets, but rather the clear indication from the manager that he, knowing the condition of the sheets and my theories about the makeup of the caked material, would see those sheets returned to the shelves. Would I be wrong to speculate that this sort of incident happens regularly? After all, if soiled sheets have a market value, then why not sell them, right?
I’m not especially knowledgeable about economic theory or policy–you’ll notice I don’t talk economics much–so take what I say next as a remark from one uniformed. Way I see it, this incident illustrates that even a regulated market won’t be ordered toward the good without some basic moral decency among those acting in the market. We’re not at a Hunger Games level of consumeristic debauchery, but when soiled sheets can be knowingly brought to the shelves of a major retailer, well, that’s a sign that more than sheets may be soiled. Our economic culture itself may bear the stain of sin.