Common law of business balance

The common law of business balance is the principle that one cannot pay a little and get a lot. In addition, paying a cheap price will not guarantee the buyer will receive a product of high quality value. In other words, a low price of a good may indicate that the producer compromised quality.

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."[citation needed] Or simply, "you get what you pay for."

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."[citation needed]

Questions of Ruskin's authorship

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."[1] Shapiro maintains that the statement does not appear anywhere in Ruskin's works,[1]

George Landow, a professor of English and art history at Brown University and a specialist on Victorian literature is also skeptical of Ruskin's authorship of this statement.[2]

In a posting of the Ruskin Library News, a blog associated with the Ruskin Library (a major collection of Ruskiniana located at Lancaster University), an 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."[3] Ruth Hutchison, who maintains the website for the Ruskin Centre at Lancaster University, stated that, "we have been asked many times about this quote, or similar versions of it, and have never been able to identify it as being by Ruskin. We suspect that it has been wrongly attributed to him in the past and found its way into a book of quotations or something like that."[2]

In an issue of the journal, Heat Transfer Engineering, Bell quotes the statement and mentions that it has been attributed to Ruskin. While Bell believes in the veracity of the content of the statement, he adds that the statement does not appear in Ruskin's published works.[4]

Appearances in trade magazines and other publications

In the 20th century, this statement appeared—without any authorship attribution—in magazine advertisements,[5][6][7] business catalogs,[8] student publications,[9] and, occasionally, in editorial columns.[10][11]

Also in the 20th century, magazine advertisements, student publications, business books, technical publications, and business catalogs often included the statement with attribution to Ruskin.[1][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Displays of the statement at Baskin-Robbins

For many years, various Baskin Robbins ice cream parlors prominently displayed a section of the statement in framed signs. ("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 man's lawful prey.") [2][19][20][21][22] 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, spoken, or published the statement. Due to the statement's widespread use as a promotional slogan, and despite questions of Ruskin's authorship, it is likely that many people who are otherwise unfamiliar with Ruskin now associate him with this statement.


  1. ^ a b c Fred R. Shapiro (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 657. ISBN 9780300107982. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Landow, George P. (27 July 2007). "A Ruskin Quotation?". Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  3. ^ Ruskin Library (23 May 2011). "On the present economic situation". Ruskin Library. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  4. ^ Bell, Kenneth J. (1992). "Go Figure--Some Reflections on John Ruskin, Bid Evaluation, and the Accidental Triumph of Good Engineering". Heat Transfer Engineering. 13 (4): 5. doi:10.1080/01457639208939784.
  5. ^ Lewis C. Bowers; Sons, Inc. (9–15 March 1952). "Construction Costs". Town Topics. Princeton, NJ: Donald C. Stuart, Jr. and Dan D. Coyle. p. 11. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  6. ^ Plymouth Cordage, Co. (December 1913). "Mississippi River Improvements". Plymouth Products (21). Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  7. ^ Anonymous. (August 1917). "Ain't it the Truth". Northwestern Druggist. 18 (8): 53. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  8. ^ Pittsburgh Reflector Co. Permaflector Lighting Catalog. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Pittsburgh Reflector Co. p. 3. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  9. ^ Art's Beauty Salon (1938). Sweet Briar YWCA (ed.). "Advertisement". Students' Handbook: Sweet Briar College. Sweet Briar, Va.: Sweet Briar College. 1938-1939: [ii]. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  10. ^ F.E.C. [F.E. Charles] (8 February 1933). "Progress of Kansas Press". Kansas Industrialist. Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. 59 (17): 4. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  11. ^ Skoog, Jr., Charles V. (21 April 1958). "Advertising in the Barter Basement: Is Pitch More Potent than Payoff?" (PDF). Broadcasting: The Businessweekly of Television and Radio. Washington, DC: Broadcasting Publications, Inc.: 133. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  12. ^ Lehman Sprayshield Company (1938). Shower Bath Enclosures by Lehman. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lehman Sprayshield Company. p. 4. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Don't You be the Goat". The Carleton. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Carleton College. 10 (8): 6. 12 October 1954. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  14. ^ Lamb, Geo[rge] N[ewton] (1940). How to Identify Genuine Mahogany and Avoid Substitutes. Chicago, Illinois: Mahogany Association, Inc. p. 24. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  15. ^ Shore High School (1934). The Log. Euclid, Ohio: Shore High School. p. 41. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  16. ^ Lamb, George N[ewton] (1947). The Mahogany Book (6th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Mahogany Association, Inc. p. 47. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  17. ^ Woods, Baldwin M.; Raber, Benedict F. (March 1935). "Air Conditioning for California Homes". Bulletin. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California, College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station. 589: 43. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  18. ^ Charles T. Bainbridge's Sons (February 1965). "Advertisement". Today's Art. New York: Syndicate Magazines, Inc. 13 (2): 3. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  19. ^ Mariotti, John L. (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. ISBN 9781605508535. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  20. ^ Falcone, Marc (3 July 1973). "Paradise Lost Or, Baskin-Robbins Rated". New York. 6 (27). Retrieved 22 January 2013.
  21. ^ North, Gary (August 1974). "Price Competition and Expanding Alternatives" (PDF). The Freeman. 24 (8): 467–476. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  22. ^ Philip, Bruce (2011). Consumer Republic: Using Brands to Get What You Want, Make Corporations Behave, and Maybe Even Save the World. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. p. 141. ISBN 9780771070068. Retrieved 1 February 2016.

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