Opinion: Cost of not knowing


Cocktail menus are often conspicuously absent prices. Some food menus are, too. Boutiques routinely keep the MSRP on a need-to-know basis. Consumers, it seems, don’t need to know. One is urged to try it on, fall in love and throw down the credit card. How much we would pay and how much the object is worth to us is not a consideration.

Health care is likewise priceless. Asking cost is almost always met with a look of abject confusion. “Why do you care? How much is your health worth to you?” How can we know the answer to that question unless we know how much we are about to be charged? Shaming and social pressure do the dirty work. It is like middle school all over again and good decision-making is out the window.

Nonprofits have their own version. An acquaintance reaches out to see if we’re interested in catching up over a meal. In fact, he has an open spot at an event next week. No need to buy tickets, it’s on him. In addition to our talk, we’ll learn something about the cause. It all conceals a modern fundraising tool, the “get-to-know-us” breakfast.

The host is already sold on the project and is “network marketing” to us. For the cost of a continental breakfast, he becomes entitled to arm-twist cash for the cause before we are freed. It is a timeshare presentation for charity. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the device if we know what we are getting ourselves into. But the Trojan horse of it all, is the demand for giving. “Give a lot,” the pledge card directly placed into our hands by the host pressures. “Give every month,” it not-so-politely urges. We find ourselves cajoled into giving to a cause that, while important, is not central to our priorities.