Men and women

At the 'Masaai Market' in front of the building where I'm staying, there are a row of massively competitive stall-holders (male), all trying to sell the same carvings, postcards and (sometimes) dog-eared copies of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to the khaki safari 'trucks' that periodically arrive from safari parks in the southern Rift to disgorge pink tourists for half an hour with the locals. (Don't get me wrong, I'm as pink a tourist as anyone; but I try not to wear paramilitary rancher hats and hiking boots to go to the bank, and you'll be pleased to know I'm yet to use the 'Bear Grylls-endorsed' craghopper trousers I bought in a shameful moment of paranoid weakness in Debenhams last month).

Since everyone's selling the same thing, and I have to pass by them every day, I don't want to buy from any of the stalls (especially as one of them is run by my landlady's boyfriend, so choosing another one could be social death).

Several women also sell bags of mangoes and oranges in the market. When I finally plucked up the courage to speak to them, I learned that although they stand in different places, Josephine, Naomi, Lilian and Dorothy all work together, sharing profits. As a result, I often buy mangoes (more mangoes, in fact, than I, my landlady or her niece can possibly eat. It's becoming a bit awkward).*

Lesson: in a market where everyone knows each other, so favouritism carries a real social cost, collaboration may be a better strategy than competition. Or at least, the marginal cost of profit-sharing over competing may be smaller than the marginal social capital cost of competing over profit-sharing.**

*Obviously the comparison isn't 100% accurate – I am always going to buy mangoes more often than postcards – but I also go a long way outside the market to buy books.

**Would anyone like to correct this cod-economic-speak?

1 comment:

  1. that's quite interesting. but i wonder how other people manage it with the men? either everyone just accepts you buy from the person you're loyal to, or they don't buy anything? Or they rotate? you should ask the men on your last day or something.