People believe they get what they pay for. Moreover, emotion makes them act, while logic only makes them think. Put those two immutable theorems together, and you have what I've termed the Mercedes-Benz syndrome (MBS).

When people enter an auto showroom today, no matter at what economic stratum, the salespeople don't launch into intricate pitches about the electronic fuel injection or the wonders of rack-and-pinion steering. They encourage the potential buyer to sit in the car and then mention, with a straight face, "You really look cool in that car!" Yes, and the more expensive the model, the cooler we tend to look.

No one needs a Mercedes-Benz for transportation. Not at that price level, they don't. But a car purchase is, after all, a lifestyle statement, and a Mercedes can begin to look quite reasonable in that light. When women try on a new frock, the sales help always say, "That was made for you; it brings out your eyes!" Despite the fact that I've never understood why a woman wants her eyes brought out, this ploy is always effective, even though it's repeated 26,000 times every day in the same department. When a man orders wine at dinner, the captain always says in response, "Excellent choice!" as the guy preens in that complimentary glow. (Never mind that he ordered Wild Coyote Road Kill or that May wasn't such a good month.)

Fees are based on perceived value. That perceived value is in the eyes and the cerebellum of the buyer. Consequently, ...

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