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The world is full of egregious injustices: racism, human rights
abuses, noncustomer ATM fees — things against which we must fight
gallantly and unceasingly. And the good citizens of San Francisco are
doing just that, at least for the last item on the list.
It’s certainly the easier problem to solve; you just storm the ballot
booths and pass a measure to nip noncustomer ATM fees in the bud,
something San Franciscan voters did Nov. 2, when they passed Proposition
F, a measure which places a city-wide ban on such auto teller charges.
One Reuters article on the vote noted that people “are tired of
paying simply to get their own money.” But if these people actually
think that’s all they’re “simply” paying for, then they’ve got heads
stuffed with rice pudding instead of brains.
Take for example, Daniel Dunn, who while writing a column for the
Rocky Mountain Collegian in praise of Frisco’s ban demonstrates the
logic that makes us all a bit worried about the education level in
American universities. “You walk up to the machine built into the
wall,” he writes describing the process by which the banks hit you with
“those annoying fees,” and after you insert card and enter the
withdrawal amount, “the machine decides to pull a little trick. It
says, ‘there’s a fee of $1.’ You don’t go to the bank that sponsors the
ATM, so you must pay the extra dollar. …”
Of course, if you owned your own ATM, you wouldn’t have to pay that
extra dollar; using the Reuters adverb, you could “simply” get your
money for free, right? Absolutely, but of course, the first thing you’d
notice is that it isn’t so free, after all. You’d have to purchase the
thing, rent wall space to put it, hire tech support when it gets glitchy
or when hooligans deface it and get security cameras so folks don’t try
ripping you off. All of a sudden your free money just got very
expensive. Well, surprise! It’s not any more “free” for the bank than
it is for you.
Dunn’s “little trick” is nothing more than the bank’s charge for the
maintenance and operation of the ATM so he can have the convenience of
cash-anywhere. That dollar is a price placed on a service. If you
don’t want the service, you don’t pay the price.
Prices are simply a function of scarcity. The Rolling Stones had it
right when they sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” People can
only direct their time, effort and money in so many directions at once.
So you have to choose; what do you want to do more: A, B, or C? We pick
one item over another because it benefits us more. Banks are no
different. They’ve chosen to focus some of their limited resources
toward offering ATM services. The price they charge you is simply an
economic expression of how much it’s worth it to them to do so.
The customer/noncustomer distinction made in the “little trick” Dunn
so eloquently criticizes is simply an extension of this fact. Banks buy
or rent ATMs, incurring costs, to provide auto teller service to their
customers. Bank customers provide capital for banks, which they can in
turn loan for interest and thus make the bank money. For this reason,
banks like their customers; without them they go out of business.
But why should Bank A care two hoots about Bank B’s customers? They
don’t deposit money in Bank A’s vaults. They don’t benefit Bank A at
all. They’re just a drain on the system. Thus, the extra dollar charge
is merely an economic reflection of how much it’s worth it to the bank
to offer ATM service to noncustomers. This isn’t hard to figure out.
We’re faced with the very same sorts of decisions. You’re at the
store and you want to buy the latest hoozawitz. You’ve only got $3 in
your wallet, so you go to the ATM to get some cash for the purchase.
Here’s the cost vs. benefit decision: Do you pay the dollar fee at the
ATM or drive across town, incurring a one-dollar cost in gas, plus
driving stress and time wasted? The answer to the question is another
simple question: what’s it worth to you? Is cash now, without having to
drive across town, worth a dollar or not?
To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, costs happen. You can’t get
around them. They’re a fact of life. You can’t blame Bank A for
charging a dollar for their trouble any more than you can blame your
bank for being on the wrong side of town and imposing a dollar cost in
gas to drive there. The only question is, who’s going to eat that cost?
The voters of San Francisco think the banks should.
Lewis Mumford once wrote that robbery was the greatest labor
saving device ever invented. He was wrong; politics is. Want to
benefit from another man’s labor without having to pay? Don’t meet him
in a dark alleyway and screw a gun in his ear. That’s dangerous.
Instead, just meet him at the polling station and vote him out of his
money. Besides, “voting” is a much more antiseptic term than
And that’s all it is.
People want the benefit of quick cash without having to carry wads of
dough in their wallets. Banks are willing to make this desire a
possibility — even banks completely unaffiliated with the institutions
at which the person might bank. All they ask is a small fee for their
trouble. Instead of appreciating the service, however, voters whine
that they’re being taken advantage of (even though using an ATM is an
entirely voluntary and customer-instigated transaction) and then use the
coercive power of the state to force the banks to eat the cost of
maintaining and providing the service.
All San Francisco’s vote means is that people want something for
nothing, and they’re willing to use political force to get it. This
differs from a back-alley holdup only in style and method. The end
result is still the same; someone is getting shafted — and it isn’t ATM
Joel Miller is Assistant
Editor of WorldNetDaily.