Integrity Matters
July 16, 2003

Hucksters come in many forms

Question: (E-047)

Dear Jim:

A businessman that I know charges his retail customers for priority mail postage - as though it were a reimbursement for his costs - but then collects a refund from the Postal Service whenever it fails to meet the delivery schedule, which happens a lot. In effect, this businessman has another source of revenue: reimbursed fees that were subsequently refunded. Is this right? Does this action have integrity?


As a youngster, growing up in small-town Indiana, there was an expression, actually a word, used to describe such behavior. The word described individuals who were on the borderline of what was legal and moral. They may have been unscrupulous or maybe just greedy. They knew every way imaginable to cut a corner, save a buck, take advantage of any opportunity -- and they were not above pushing their way to the front of the line at the county fair just to get a corndog and a root-beer.

These were the folks who complained loudly in restaurants and often ate for free or for a reduced price. Their focus on every nickel and dime was so extreme that some called them tight and others described them as cheap. But the one term that always stuck in my memory was much more descriptive. It gathered the force of resentment that can only described as suitable for selfish and nasty personalities. This hideous term smelled of smoked-filled rooms where questionable deals might be completed. And always, the word carried with it a tone of rudeness and ruthlessness.

Later in my life, after living in Missouri, Illinois, Connecticut and then California, I would be reassured the term had been accurate. Even in friendly games of cards, horseshoes, golf or Monopoly, this kind of person exists to do one thing, over and over: take advantage of every occasion and, where possible, cheat. They are beneath any level of basic niceness. These individuals are hucksters. That's right, hucksters. In more polite circles, one might call them by different terms such as foxy, clever, prudent, calculating, competitive, or shrewd. The truth is they are hucksters.

Folks like your "postal fraud" gouger can all too easily ignore integrity because they have forgotten that integrity matters. Hopefully, their ill-gotten dollars, which sometimes have led them to fame and recognition, will enable them to "buy" enough friends to hang around so they will have a social life when they are old, rich and often peering through their squinty-eyed bitterness.

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