The Double Thank-You

by Don Boudreaux on May 30, 2007

in Economics

The latest column by John Stossel (of ABC News) is splendid.  I especially like this observation:

How many times have you paid $1 for a cup of coffee and after the clerk said, "thank you," you responded, "thank you"?
There’s a wealth of economics wisdom in the weird double thank-you
moment. Why does it happen? Because you want the coffee more than the
buck, and the store wants the buck more than the coffee. Both of you


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Jefferson Otwell May 30, 2007 at 3:28 pm

Heck yes!

I noticed this seemingly-bizarre double gratefulness at a restaurant last week. That it underscored a basic economic truth never occurred to me — I simply thought it was another social oddity.

Stossel does good work, doesn't he?

noahpoah May 30, 2007 at 4:45 pm

This linguistic convention may well have it's roots in the kind of 'double gratitude' proposed by Stossel, but my guess is that it has become, well, just a linguistic convention. If so, then no more thought goes into it than goes into a typical "how's it going?" "fine" greeting.

trumpetbob15 May 30, 2007 at 5:27 pm


Sure, the "double thank-you" could just be reflexive. However, that does not mean the underlying belief and economic idea is not there. I am sure if you asked someone who just automatically said thank-you if they are happy with their purchase, they will say yes. Besides, how many people say "how's it going" to a complete stranger that they pass by on the street? Isn't it usually someone that the person would want to ask that question to?

triticale May 30, 2007 at 6:56 pm

I get asked "how's it going" by strangers on the street (well, neighbors I don't particularly know) on a regular basis. I answer, with some accuracy, "back and forth".

iceberg May 30, 2007 at 9:06 pm

How many times have you said "thank you, officer" after receiving a summons?

How many times have you said "thank you" after purchasing a $4 water bottle at an airport terminal, because the bottle you brought along with you was commandeered by an overzealous TSA agent who told you "Wasser, bitte".

Billy May 31, 2007 at 12:21 am

While I believe the TSA has gone too far in many of its regulations the fact that someone trades $4 for a bottle of water still signals that they valued the water more than the $4, if not, they would have stayed thirsty.

ben May 31, 2007 at 2:18 am

I'm sure there is more than one reason for saying thank you. I recall many instances of thanking the cashier for a selling me something at way less than I am prepared to pay. I think the thank you is for all the unexpected surplus going may way.

Mathieu Bédard May 31, 2007 at 8:39 am

I seriously think that understanding this single small observation can turn a Marxist into a radical libertarian overnight.

Mathieu Bédard May 31, 2007 at 9:42 am

"Nothing . . . can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade."

Wasn't this J.B. Say and not Adam Smith?

Jon May 31, 2007 at 9:58 am

Stossel once again comes through with a great piece. A very insightful observation about an everyday occurance that we rarely ever think about.

iceberg May 31, 2007 at 8:12 pm


I'm quite the fellow market anarchist, and I was just trying to compare it to other transactions. The first, is obviously a non-market transaction with an agent of state coercion. You thank him for being such a "kind massa" and try to get on with your life.

The second example, whilst a full-fledged and legitimate market transaction, is one where the highwayman strips you of your possessions and there is a kind gentleman standing behind him ready to offer you replacements at a premium. I think this situation can be labeled "enclosure", where the next-best alternatives are happily awaiting to do business with the victims.

St Wendeler June 1, 2007 at 9:49 am

Of course, the 'Double Thank You' moment exchanged between the buyer and seller of a cup of coffee needs to be regulated by the government, just like all capitalist enterprises. As I mentioned above, the price of coffee is at a record high. I think we should chart out the price of coffee over the past 30 years and show how much it's increased. And it would be interesting to understand the correlation between the increase in price and the growth in the number of Starbucks locations around the world. Clearly, this is price gouging since the cost of coffee (hello, the main ingredient is WATER!!!!) is extremely low and the slack-jawed yokel that hands it to you isn't paid a living wage. I would like a Congressional inquiry into the price of coffee, with special attention paid to Starbucks. And any "excess profits" that are found to have been exploited by the Coffee Cartel should be taxed and put to good use by the government. And, is it really a good idea to be held hostage to the Foreign Coffee? I mean, we should bring coffee bean production back into the US. I'm sure we could get some good Colombian beans to grow in Nebraska or Kansas. We must close the trade gap in coffee beans!!!

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