A recent news story by staff writer Timothy S. Robinson told of a number of men in the public eye who had been accused of various kinds of misdeeds.
In each case, the accused hired a topnotch Washington lawyer to handle his defense. In each case the charges were eventually found to have little or no merit. But in each case the cost of the legal defense ran $100,000 or more.
Tim's report reminded me of a true story about a man who retained Clark Clifford as his defense counsel. Several months after the trial, a friend asked the defendant, "How did you ever make out in that court case?"
"Well," was the rueful reply, "until I got Clark Clifford's bill, I thought I had won."
If you laugh at that line, it's a pretty good bet you haven't engaged the services of a high-priced lawyer recently. INFLATION NOTES
Speaking of high prices, I mentioned in a recent column that I am not embarrassed to say, "The price is too high; I can't afford it," and walk out of the store without buying.
I thought I was the only cheapskate in town, but I am pleased to report that a few District Liners share my veiw.
Harry DeWitt concedes that most people "will think an individual a bit strange to refuse to buy something he wants and can afford, just because it is overpriced," but he thinks we must do that to bring prices down. "There are only two things that control prices," he says, "and they are competition and refusal to buy overpriced goods."
Some of the most astonishing prices of our time are recorded on restaurant menus. For example, Mrs. R. S. writes: "Our daughter and her two children were visiting from Arizona. I took them sightseeing, and we stopped at the Kennedy Center cafeteria for a snack. A chicken leg and thigh (nothing else on the plate) was $3. One slice of grapefruit, two spears of cantaloupe and two orange slices were also $3. I consider such prices outrageous."
I do, too. The difference between us is that I get up and walk out, but that would embarrass you.
I'm not embarrassed. The salesman brings me a nice pair of shoes and when I ask him how much they cost he gives me the casual reply, "One forty." I say, "You mean one hundred and forty dollars?" He blinks his eyes and deadpans, "Yes, one forty." I say, "Can you afford to pay $140 for a pair of shoes?" He blinks twice and, with noticeable loss of cool says, "Me? pNo way, man." I say, "I can't either," and I get the hell out of there. I'm not embarrassed.
But my wife is. When we're back on the sidewalk, she says, "Couldn't you have said you didn't like the style? Do you have to let everybody know you're living in the past and haven't caught up with today's prices yet?"
Yes, lady. That's the whole point. Unless the merchant gets the message clearly and passes it back to his supplier, the customer's refusal to buy loses some of its impact.
P.S.: Warren Silzer of Rixeyville, Va., wonders whether we could launch a protest movement based on the use of $2 bills, Susan B. Anthony $1 coins, and half-dollars. Merchants hate all of these because most cash drawers are designed to accommodate only eight denominations: pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, singles, fives, tens and twenties. There's no convenient place to put Susies, $2 bills or halves. a
I think Warren's idea has some merit because if it ever caught on nationally it would focus tremendous attention on the customer protest against high prices. The only trouble is that it's not just the retailer who needs to have his knuckles rapped.
It's true that some retailers have tried to cash in on the absurd escalation of prices lately, but retailers are not really at the root of the problem.
Suppliers of raw materials, manufacturers, jobbers, wholesalers, transportation firms, middlemen, labor unions and others who do not deal directly with the public have for some time been charging everything the traffic would bear rather than just enought to make a living.
The retailer, who is almost at the end of the merchandising chain, has had little choice except to add his markup to the high prices he pays for goods and hope that "The Bigger Fool Theory" is still valid.
This is the theory that says regardless of how big a fool you are to pay so much (especially for a house), there's a bigger fool around the corner who will buy it from you at a profit.
The Bigger Fool Theory has begun to come apart at the seams in the housing sector, and if buyers will discipline themselves in other fields we may see those prices come down, too.
It's not really as difficult as you might think. All you have to do is learn to shake your head from east to west and back, instead of from north to south. Learn to say, "No, that's too much" instead of, "All right, I'll take it. Here's my charge card."