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The below actually occurred over twenty years ago here in IL.

A boy purchased a baseball card at a sport memorabilia shop at significantly less than its actual worth. The store owner was not present at the time and he erred twice, once by failing to property train his assistant re the value of the card and again when he completed the card's price tag.

The true value was $500.00 but as written on the tag it could have been read as either $5.00 or $500.00

The boy specifically asked the clerk, "How much does this card cost?" The clerk replied, "Five dollars."

Not surprisingly the boy jumped at the chance to purchase the valuable baseball card at this much discounted price.

When the owner returned to his store and discovered what had transpired he contacted the boy's parents and asked for either the card back or the additional $495.00. The boy's parents refused and the owner filed a lawsuit.

The court found in favor of the boy and his parents, since there had been a "meeting of the minds" the buyers were not legally obligated to comply with either request of the store owner.

What is the objectivist viewpoint re the above? Ethically speaking, should the boy's parents have returned the card or paid the additional money?

asked May 18 '13 at 08:07

Louise's gravatar image


edited May 18 '13 at 12:05

I say it's the store's problem; to be blunt the owner blew it not once but twice.

(May 18 '13 at 11:39) Louise Louise's gravatar image

I'd say the law matches the ethics on this one. Mistake as to value (as opposed to mistake as to fact) is not a reason to void a contract. See http://contract-law.laws.com/legality/mistake-of-fact for a quick description.

If you buy a baseball card, get home, and find out it's worth much less than you paid for it, you wouldn't get to return it. Why should the store owner get to void the sale when it's the other way around?

(May 18 '13 at 22:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

In this case it was established that the buyer (the boy) knew about the sellers' (plural, both owner and clerk) errors prior to transacting the purchase.

Did the buyer's actions violate the Objectivist virtue of Justice?

Why or why not?

(May 19 '13 at 09:26) Louise Louise's gravatar image

How would it be an expression of justice to shield the store owner from the consequences of his own careless mistakes (assuming no fraud or deliberate employee misconduct were involved)? How would it be an expression of justice to penalize a quick thinking, enterprising youth for his ability to recognize significant value when he sees it and act promptly to gain and/or keep it (assuming he acts entirely lawfully)?

(May 19 '13 at 11:14) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

You say the boy knew about the sellers' errors prior to purchase. Can you clarify what you mean by this?

An "error" as to the value of a baseball card isn't really an error, because the baseball card doesn't have a single, absolute, intrinsic, unarguable value. If it were unjust to pay less for something than your opinion as to its worth, then you'd never buy anything.

(May 21 '13 at 13:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If the baseball card were clearly marked $500.00, and the boy noticed this and said nothing, that would constitute knowledge of a factual error. That would be fraud.

In this case the boy believes the card is worth more than $5. The boy probably doesn't think the card is worth $500, and in fact the card probably isn't worth $500. The store owner wanted to try to sell the card for $500, but that price was probably negotiable. In any case, the boy may not specifically tell the clerk that he thinks the card is worth more than $5, but he implicitly tells the clerk this by buying the card.

(May 21 '13 at 13:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If you've ever haggled over the price of something before, you probably understand that there isn't a single correct price, and that there's no obligation to let the other person know when you think you're getting a great deal. You don't go to a car dealership and say "Wow! Are you sure that's not a typo? I'd gladly pay $495 more for this car than what is on the sticker!" The expectation is that the salesperson, who, by the way, isn't the owner of the car, is not going to sell the car for less than the car is worth to the owner.

(May 21 '13 at 13:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I do think a key point here is that the clerk was authorized to negotiate a deal on behalf of the owner. This isn't 100% clear from the description. It was probably discussed in the case, though. (Can you give us a cite?)

If the price were on a barcode and there were a typo on the barcode, and the checkout clerk had no power to negotiate and just was supposed to swipe the code and take the payment, the court might very well have ruled differently, and there's at least an argument that the moral standards are different as well. (Add in self-checkout and the argument is even stronger.)

(May 21 '13 at 13:33) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The case you seem to be referring to involved a boy named Bryan Wrzesinski. The card was marked "1200/.", and was sold for $12.00. Before the court made its ruling, there was a settlement out of court whereby the card was auctioned off for charity. The card sold at auction at $5000. (Would you say the "true value" was $1200, $5000, or something else?)


(May 21 '13 at 13:47) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I looked at the link and that definitely was the story!

I was certain however that the prices in question were $5.00 and $500.00 rather than $12.00 and $1,200.00; my error!

(May 21 '13 at 22:08) Louise Louise's gravatar image
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Asked: May 18 '13 at 08:07

Seen: 691 times

Last updated: May 21 '13 at 22:08