Common law of business balance
The common law of business balance is the principle that one cannot pay a little and get a lot.
Versions with variant wording
The statement is often displayed or published in a one-sentence version: "There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person's lawful prey."
This statement is also found in this lengthier version: "There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person's lawful prey. It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better."
The statement has frequently been attributed to 19th-century art critic and social thinker John Ruskin, although there is little evidence to support Ruskin's authorship.
In the Yale Book of Quotations, editor Fred R. Shapiro states that this statement was "Attributed in Chicago Daily Tribune, 29 Jan. 1928. This quotation, repeated in many commercial advertisements, has not been found anywhere in Ruskin's works. An earlier unattributed occurrence appeared in the Washington Post, 1 Nov. 1914: "There is absolutely nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper; and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."
In a posting of the Ruskin Library News, a blog associated with the Ruskin Library, a major repository of Ruskiniana at Lancaster University, the statement gets a brief mention. The anonymous library staff member briefly mentions the statement and its widespread use, saying that, "This is one of many quotations ascribed to Ruskin, without there being any trace of them in his writings – although someone, somewhere, thought they sounded like Ruskin".
Unattributed usages in trade magazines
Prior to its widespread attribution to Ruskin, various publishers reprinted the statement – without attribution – in different trade magazines in the early part of the 20th century.
An unattributed usage of the first sentence of the long version appears in the December 1913 issue of Plymouth Products, a trade magazine of Plymouth Cordage, a rope manufacturer. The editors inserted the statement as an anonymous business proverb after the end of an article, Mississippi River Improvements, within a typographical box.
Railway Maintenance Engineer, a trade publication related to railroads included the unattributed statement as filler text material after the completion of an article – "How an Old Masonry Arch Bridge Was Rebuilt" – in its July 1919 issue.
Displays of the statement at Baskin-Robbins
Baskin-Robbins, the ice cream parlor chain, often featured the statement and attributed it to Ruskin, displaying the statement in framed signs in their retail stores. The signs listed Ruskin as the author of the statement, but the signs gave no information on where or when Ruskin was supposed to have written, published, or spoken the statement.
- Fred R. Shapiro (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 657. ISBN 9780300107982. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- Landow, George P. (27 July 2007). "A Ruskin Quotation?". VictorianWeb.org. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- Ruskin Library (23 May 2011). "On the present economic situation:". Ruskin Library. Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- Plymouth Cordage, Co. (December 1913). "Mississippi River Improvements". Plymouth Products (21). Retrieved 7 January 2013.
- Anonymous. (August 1917). "Ain't it the Truth". Northwestern Druggist 18 (8): 53. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Anonymous. (July 1919). "How an Old Masonry Arch Bridge Was Rebuilt". Railway Maintenance Engineer 15 (7): 228–230. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Falcone, Marc (3 July 1973). "Paradise Lost Or, Baskin-Robbins Rated". New York 6 (27). Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- North, Gary (August 1974). "Price Competition and Expanding Alternatives". The Freeman 24 (8): 467–476. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Bruce Philp (2011). Consumer republic : using brands to get what you want, make corporations behave, and maybe even save the world. Toronto: Emblem. p. 141. ISBN 9780771070044. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
- John L Mariotti (2008). The complexity crisis: Why too many products, markets, and customers are crippling your company—and what to do about it. Avon, Mass.: Platinum Press ; Adams Media. p. 100. ISBN 9781598692143. Retrieved 2013-01-23.