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For those students who have whiled away incredibly dull hours dishing out University food, stacking books, or cleaning rooms, the establishment of Harvard Student Agencies, Inc. should come as a major blessing. The Agency promises to expand not only the quantity of student employment at the University, but to give an incentive to original, and perhaps more interesting forms of lucrative endeavor.
By providing an office, auditing and legal services, a legal address outside College rooms, and risk capital, the new institution will enable students with selling and promotion ideas to expand them greatly. A student with a good idea will be able to borrow up to $5,000 to start a new business if he can convince the Agency's directors that it would be profitable and proper to set him up selling typewriters or toe-nail clippers. Within the rather vague limits of propriety, the opportunities for future hucksters seem boundless.
Yet some established agents have expressed their discontent at the combine's ten per cent tariff on their profits, charging that the tax amounts to confiscation. In most cases, however, the complaint is unsound, as it overlooks the fact that the Agency provides them with legal business addresses--something which their rooms in tax-exempt University property failed to give them.
Those salesmen who already had outside addresses do have a legitimate quarrel. They can argue, and rightly, that the University's Solicitation Committee should not withdraw or withhold their right to sell in dormitories simply because they have not joined a firm which offers them no particular benefits. It seems clear that such "join-or-lose-your-franchise" threats have been at least implied, if not explicitly stated.
The most serious drawback in the outlined operation is the monopoly, or group of monopolies that would be created. Gregory B. Stone '58, undergraduate president, has made it clear that the Agency does not expect the University to issue solicitation permits to two competing typewriter agents, or refrigerator renters. He argues that the market is not big enough for two dealers in this sort of field, and expects the University to favor the Organization's Man.
But this paternalism implies too great a concern with the undergraduate salesmen, and insufficient regard for the undergraduate purchaser. Monopolies rarely care for their customers' needs too well, and free competition here will benefit the buyer. Where demand is large, in laundry service for example, competing agencies should be encouraged as protection for the buyer.
Where demand cannot support two firms, in birthday cake sales, for example, the problem is more difficult. The best expedient would seem to be allowing all prospective cakemen to compete for the franchise each year, forcing the incumbent to show that he was providing quality and service at a fair price. If not, bureaucratic stagnation could easily set in, and overshadow the fine effects that the creation of Harvard Student Agencies, Inc., should have on the student employment field here.
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