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What does "Daylight Robbery" Mean?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Openly charging exorbitant prices for goods and services is occasionally referred to as daylight robbery. This is in contrast to financial practices that are less open, but still cost more. A robbery during the day is bolder and more evident, hence the term daylight. Clearly, the use of "robbery" suggests that someone is unfairly taking possession of another person’s money.

Though unconfirmed, many people trace the use of daylight robbery as idiom to 17th century English laws that imposed a tax on windows in most residences. There was a per window charge, and since windows were most likely to be present in higher numbers in homes of the wealthy, the tax appeared to unfairly target them. Since the tax was obviously unfair, it was considered an example of daylight robbery: an openhanded theft of money. Though this idiom is frequently historically connected to the window tax, it hasn’t been proven that the origin of the term comes from this time.

Sources trace first recorded use of the term to the early 20th century, though it may have been popularly used long before. It appears in the popular play, Hobson’s Choice, which was written by British playwright Harold Brighouse in the 1910s. Whether or not the idiom was often used before the play, the concept of daylight robbery was familiar. Any instance of openly charging more than seemed fair was disparaged.

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Naturally, there is disagreement on what constitutes daylight robbery, and this may depend, in part, on financial perspective. Many people consider movie ticket and concession stand prices to be an open example of overcharging. Financial experts point to the regular practice of charging very high interest on services like payday loans as another example.

People are more divided when it comes to matters like taxation. Some taxpayers are happy to pay taxes to contribute to a state, and others feel that all taxes are examples of the government reaching into their pockets openly and leaving them with less money. Political orientation sometimes influences whether people view most taxation as daylight robbery.

The advantage to the open practice of charging more is that it is not surprising. A number of recent laws in places like the US have sought to create greater transparency in certain financial industries like the credit card industries. Though assessing huge fees or being able being to switch to a higher default interest rate if a customer falls behind on payments is not pleasant, most credit card lenders now have to make it clear that they have this right. This transparency may make these practices daylight robbery, but by bringing them out of the shadows instead of hiding them behind complicated fine print, consumers can at least be aware of risks and responsibilities of borrowing money.

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