IN THE PAPERS by David Crawford
THE Tower of Babel, remote though it is in the earlier reaches of the Old Testament, must, I think, have held the record, until now, for the most successful means of confusing
I say until now advisedly. Confusion has been evident for sonic time—you have only to read the papers to discover that —but it didn't, at least in my opinion, become rampant until last weekend, when housewives in various parts of Britain charged into supermarkets like Gadarene swine, and once there, fought like Bacchantes to get some little bits of coloured paper worth a fraction of their nominal value.
Trading stamps have at last threatened to overwhelm the bulk of British society, with the result that a number of perfectly normal and useful human activities. such as comparing quality and price. looking for bargains. budgeting with the housekeeping money. saving for the future will all lose their point for these screaming hordes of emancipated women.
For them the sight of a pink or a green stamp is as much of an incentive to madness as the thought of a ticket for the Beatles is for the younger generation whose mothers come to the supermarket in order to be able to feed them, so that they are strong and healthy enough to be able to go out and queue all night. The Press, in my opinion. has not yet done its duty to its readers, many of whom persist in believing that they are getting something for nothing. The Daily Sketch has already had what are left of its fingers burnt by the vouchers for trading stamps which it carried in a recent edition. Some people thought they were to get stamps for buying the paper.
The Daily Express made one of the more curious contributions to the trading stamp controversy (I refuse to call it a war). Noting that the London Co-operative Society had lined itself up with other retailers who were opposed to trading stamps, the Express challenged the right of the L.C.S. to attack stamps when it ,offered dividend on purchases itself.
For a frank admission that the Express has not the faintest idea what consumer co-operation is about, this could scarcely be bettered. Dividend is distributed surplus on trading, while stamps are a superimposed trading operation.
What is surprising. however. is that a paper as much in favour of individual enterprise as the E.vpress should have so little apparent sympathy with an organisation built up by a lot of individuals handing together in a common enterprise. which is what co-operation boils down to.
The real difference, of course, between co-operation and "(rcc" enterprise is that co-operation, flaccid and mediocre as it may be. is the only form of enterprise or participation which is open to millions of people in this country. If they don't want even this minimal degree of participation. they have a perfect right to reject it.
The Financial Times published on Tuesday an article on trading stamps by its American correspondent. Geoffrey Owen. which gives an extremely useful background to the present situation in Britain.
Stamps have been around. both in this country. and in America, for many years. and it is only their sudden spread (from the hillsides of Wales) in our case that has caused all the ballyhoo. The Financial Times article cautiously concluded that stamps can be a valuable merchandizing tool in some areas. and for some shops.
In the U.S., however, trading stamps account for 14 per cent. of the overheads of a supermarket, with the inevitable result that prices have risen, and that it has proved impossible in America, as it is feared it will do here, to increase trade sufficiently for the stamps to pay for themselves in competition witli rivals who adopt other stamp schemes.
There is no evidence. concluded the Financial Times report, that stamps are on the way out. I am not looking forward to the future.