Vendors profit from inflation
Every Wednesday at 10am in my neighborhood, I see a line of people, about 200m to 300m long, extending to the covered walkway of the Bank of Taiwan on Nanchang Road. It turns out that a philanthropic vendor there gives away 200 lunchboxes on that day every week.
When I passed the end of the line on Wednesday, I overheard a volunteer telling people waiting in line that they would be giving out an extra 30 boxes that day.
However, when I looked closely at the people waiting for the free fare, most of them did not seem to be homeless or down-and-out. I was a bit shocked to see so many people willing to spend half an hour lining up for a free lunchbox worth NT$100. Perhaps some people are feeling more financial pressure lately.
As I kept walking, I began to understand the reason behind the long line. As the cost of living in Taipei is already higher than in other cities, many eateries and food stalls have put up signs that say: “Due to an increase in food prices, we have raised menu prices slightly as of March 1.”
Foods prices have risen at different rates. Oyster vermicelli increased to NT$75 from NT$70, and 10 pork dumplings to NT$70 from NT$60, while lunchboxes priced below NT$100 have become something of a rarity.
This is the umpteenth time that the catering industry has tweaked prices recently, and “rising food costs” is to blame for every wave of inflation.
Nonetheless, the price hikes have gone against the principle of proportionality, and one has to suspect that simple profiteering is the actual reason.
People have complained that because the price of 10 eggs increased by only NT$20 — meaning a NT$2 increase per egg — it was unreasonable for vendors to raise the price of fried rice by NT$10.
Even with a recent egg shortage that drove up prices a bit further, vendors have used the opportunity to fix prices to boost profits again.
Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rising costs have been a common global issue. The egg shortage is not exclusive to Taiwan — it is also taking place in Europe, the US and elsewhere in Asia. Even the UK has introduced a temporary limit on the number of eggs an individual can buy at one time.
However, vendors and retailers have always been able to navigate rising food costs one way or another. Without publishing their cost analyses, the premature and disproportionate inflation has put enormous pressure on the purses of consumers.
Some media have also been exaggerating the egg shortage, which gave vendors another opportunity to increase prices.
The government should not just focus on addressing the egg shortage and stabilizing egg prices, but also on curbing the trend of price hikes.
The government should establish teams or send out civil organizations to conduct inquiries, or the Consumers’ Foundation should see if the price hikes follow the principle of proportionality. They should make known those bent on profiteering, so consumers can boycott such devious vendors.
Otherwise, if wages gradually fall out of step with increasing food costs, rising discontent could work against the governing party in next year’s presidential election.
Ethical education sacrosanct
Phathara-on Wesarat, who heads the Bachelor of Business Administration Program at Prince of Songkla University in Thailand, absolutely hits the nail on the head in her article “Ethics education benefits everyone” published in the Taipei Times on Wednesday.
This is a subject that my public relations professional and professorial colleagues around the world and I have been “preaching” for eons, and it is reassuring to see respected educators echoing our mantra.
Sadly, decent taxpaying citizens of almost every country are being subjected more frequently to glaring, public examples of business and government leaders — including former presidents — who should know better, but have chosen not to, and in many cases have suffered the consequences.
As a public relations professional-turned-professor, I have made ethics a major emphasis in everything I say and do. Let us hope that others follow suit. Ethical education, awareness and practice are non-negotiable.
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