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Ben Edelman Apologizes, Society Still Loses (UPDATED)

Ben Edelman Apologizes, Society Still Loses (UPDATED)

This isn’t about a $4 overcharge anymore.

Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman has apologized amid backlash from his private-made-public harassment of Boston-are Sichuan Garden manager Ran Duan.

Edelman made headlines after lambasting Duan over a $4 overcharge on his Chinese takeout order. After realizing that the menu prices posted online differed from what he was charged by $1, Edelman sent Duan a series of e-mails threatening agency action and demanding damages (yes, damages) for the incident. The Boston Globe has the exchange:

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A serious violation, I tell you!

It just keeps getting worse:

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Your theory, sir, is REJECTED!

I’ve been told you shouldn’t trifle with a Harvard Lad, and judged by this exchange, it’s because they have a tendency to lose their minds at the slightest provocation (Legal Insurrection company excluded, of course!)

But is this just a Harvard Lad gone rogue? Or is society staring into a mirror as they read this exchange and the ensuing apology from Professor Edelman? Here we have a man who has the privilege to instruct students at one of the finest institutions for higher education in the entire world, and he chose to use his wonderful, learned, miraculous brain to threaten the livelihoods of an entire family of small business entrepreneurs.

I don’t care that he apologized; what I really want to know is what possessed this man to give the local Chinese restaurant hell over a $4 overcharge that probably could have been taken care of with a phone call to the establishment, a receipt, and a screenshot of the website.

Instead, this guy engages in behavior that is mostly reserved for $500-an-hour lawyers trying to nail Fortune 500 companies to the wall over systemic advertising fraud, spews some ethics rules, and threatens to bring down the fire and brimstone of the government unless he is awarded treble damages for his trouble.

We ask ourselves far too often “well, what can be done?” over petty slights that have no actual consequence in the real world. Instead of addressing the problem, we threaten regulatory action; instead of having a conversation about what we may be sensitive to, we sue for harassment and infliction of emotional distress. Judging by the tone of the e-mails, Edelman would have been perfectly happy to destroy this family’s business in order to prove a point.

We have created a nightmare society where we’ve conditioned and encouraged the general public to take personally and to heart what a reasonable person should let go; and if we don’t stop this ridiculous trend of scorching the earth over irrelevant inconveniences, we’re not going to recover from it.


Apparently this isn’t the first time Edelman has gone completely off the deep end in the name of “consumer protection.” The Globe has the tip: received a tip from a “former manager” of a “Back Bay sushi restaurant,” who stated that he had read the Edelman email exchange published on this site, and that when “it sounded familiar” he realized he had seen a similar email exchange several years prior.

The restaurant manager declined to give his name or the name of the restaurant, but described both emails and phone calls with Ben Edelman over a dispute related to the use of a Groupon promotion.

We were then sent copies of several emails exchanged in August 2010 between Ben Edelman and Osushi Restaurant management. confirmed the authenticity of these emails with Tim Panagopoulos, one of three partners who owned and operated Osushi, which has since closed.

Click through and read his e-mails. This is real life.

Part of me really wants to believe this is an elaborate scheme to teach his students a lesson about judicious use of the ax; the other part of me keeps picturing Edelman as some sort of power-hungry madman who holds a serious grudge against duck sauce.


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It’s stupidity like this which leads the Texas Legislature to pare back the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act every couple of years.

What was once a useful statute for truly injured individual consumers or moderately injured groups of consumers to be able to sue for their damages and have their fees and costs borne by the party which deceptively injured them now is so limited that it is almost unusable.

When I read the apology I was convinced that his academic credentials were published incorrectly; it certainly looked like an MIT apology to me.

Nevertheless, it’s just typical elitist behavior. Puff up your intelligentsia ego, say what you really feel about those beneath your status, issue an empty apology when you get busted, go back to feeling superior.

Do you hear the sound of all of his friends (and the friends of his MIT buddy, for that matter) coming to his defense?

    guyjones in reply to BillF. | December 11, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Precisely; what Edelman evinces is a toxic melange of smug, self-perceived intellectual superiority and a vindictive, self-anointed “crusader” status that he believes entitles him to engage in sociopathic behavior, visiting his spite upon trivial wrongs and slights. This behavior seems to be more and more prevalent amongst the Leftist elites in all spheres of society, but, especially in academia, and, sadly, the twits who behave this way seem utterly unabashed and un-self-aware about how out of line their behavior is.

Both Shakespeare and Buckley were right. Shakespeare about lawyers and Buckley the faculty at Harvard.

These people are sick.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Anchovy. | December 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    “These types” always “slip up” and show what they really are over the tiniest things. Just look at Obama!

You can imagine the weight on his shoulders given the planetary size of the brain contained within his skull!

Sometimes the most intelligent people are also the dumbest people you will ever meet and this clown certainly fits that description to a tee. Instead of taking a step back and asking himself whether this really is worth his time he just piled in demanding compensation as if he was truly entitled to it.

Perhaps whats most troubling about this whole affair is that this guy probably had absolutely no idea of the kind of push back he would get once their communications was released in to the wild. I very much doubt it ever crossed his mind that he had got this completely wrong.

Is this a learning moment for the guy? I highly doubt it, especially if he truly believes his actions were in the right.


“Is this a learning moment for the guy? I highly doubt it”

Well, he has done this before:

While I get that he may be thinking that he is really just trying to make sure that local businesses are operating on the up-and-up (just because a business is a “mom-and-pop” business doesn’t exempt it from potentially acting in a pretty shady manner – not saying that happened here, just saying it can) he obviously took this too far. If that is really what you cared about, once you could confirm that the website was being updated, you simply drop the matter or – at the most – ask for your $4 back. There’s a not-so-fine line between ensuring lawful business practices and simply bullying for bullying’s sake. He is definitely looking at that line in his rear view mirror.

duck sauce is out of season, it’s rabbit sauce.

    Freddie Sykes in reply to Mark. | December 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Duck sauce is never out of season. It contains no ducks just as lobster sauce contains no lobsters.

    It is oyster sauce you have to be careful of.

      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Freddie Sykes. | December 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Ah yes….duck sauce is never out of season, especially with the current “lame duck since birth” administration in DC.

    tom swift in reply to Mark. | December 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    That’s “wabbit” season. A different kettle of fish altogether.

The elitist crowd seem to be taking to Edelman’s defense here in comments sections.

I don’t see the people who ordered using the outdated menu as being “ripped off” per se. If the restaurant owner is speaking truly, then their menu in the store has the higher price and people who come in would be charged the same as people ordering over the phone. Is it sloppy? Yeah a little bit…is it fraud? Not hardly.

    Milhouse in reply to healthguyfsu. | December 12, 2014 at 5:12 am

    It is absolutely fraud. They advertised a lower price and charged a higher one. That is the definition of fraud. As Edelman says, it’s a serious violation of MA law. And they knowingly did this “for quite some time”. It’s really very simple: take down the ad, and then raise your prices. You cannot leave the ad out there with the low prices to attract customers, and then charge them more when they place their orders. When a hotel chain charges each room night an extra 57 cents they get hit with a class action. How is this any different?

Hopefully the dean of HBS will allow poor Prof. Edelman to postpone giving finals exams to his students in light of the horrible trauma and existential worry he’s surely suffered from being overcharged.

And he also broke the cardinal rule: Don’t eff with the people that fix your food.

Here’s how I would handle the situation.

Dear Professor A-Dub,

I have mailed you a check for $12. Do not step foot on my restaurant property for any reason as you will be charged with trespassing!

John Doe

P.S. Getting rid of you is well worth the $12!

What an absolute jerk. Just another sanctimonious lib.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | December 11, 2014 at 2:14 pm

The liberal mindset considers all businesses oppressors. I think it goes back to the robber baron days when tycoons really did take advantage of consumers because they often had monopolies and few laws prevented them from engaging in predatory behavior. Today there are probably at least 100,000 restaurants in America. CONSUMERS have all the power. Consumers get to decide which restaurants fail and which ones succeed by voting with their dollars. With that kind of competitive environment I suspect this little mom and pop restaurant is lucky just to earn enough to keep the lights on and scratch out a living.

When I was in college I remember reading about how Mao in China and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia sent the intellectuals to work in the fields as peasants. It made no sense to me why they’d essentially turn the “smartest” people in society into manual/slave laborers. After the behavior of this guy and Gruber, I think I’m starting to understand it a bit better.

Edelman is originally from Washington, D.C., and was raised by two lawyers. His mother has represented senior citizens, and his father has worked on behalf of labor unions. Edelman’s aunt, Marian Wright Edelman, is president of the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund.

    Estragon in reply to Neo. | December 11, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    She and her husband are close friends of Hillary, and were the only appointees to resign when Bill Clinton finally signed the Welfare Reform bill.

    Check his political donations. Bet I can guess where all those coupon savings go!

      gregjgrose in reply to Estragon. | December 11, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      >> She and her husband … were the only appointees to resign when Bill Clinton finally signed the Welfare Reform bill.

      And we call that integrity, don’t we?

      To go against the stream here, his public apology as to form (can’t judge the heart) is pretty good: no “if I offended”, no impersonal “the wrong words were spoken”–the explicit “I failed” and “I’m sorry”, and a promise to personally apologize–the guy may be the world’s biggest jerk, but that’s not a bad apology, as apologies go. ymmv

I tore a ad page out of an old newspaper from 1961. Now I’m off to buy a new Cadillac advertised for $3,100! Hell, I’ll get three!

Does “apologize to him” mean he’ll drop all legal actions? Will he compensate Duan for being forced to suffer under and deal with his REVOLTING/DISGUSTING/PERVERSE/[INSERT APPROPRIATE OBSCENITIES HERE] behavior?!?

TRUE JUSTICE SERVED (I can dream) would have the above emails be tattooed on his forehead…or butt…or both.

The present unpleasantness is toward a Chinese restaurant. The previous one was toward a Japanese restaurant. How easily would such a fine penetrating mind make the case that the professor was a Racist!

    Anchovy in reply to Drosophila. | December 11, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Successful Chinese and Japanese (I know…. almost redundant) are considered white.

      Midwest Rhino in reply to Anchovy. | December 12, 2014 at 6:39 am

      Sure, but conservatives insisting on controlled borders are still slammed as “racist” against “white Hispanics”.

      It’s amazing (to me at least) we can still use “race” in legal terminology for something so vague. Of course it IS a convenient way for lowlifes to divide us.

      Wiki’ tells me:

      Race is a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.

      The recent Sony leaked emails indicates maybe leftists in Hollywood have just learned to hide their KKK tendencies. But this Harvard guy at least appears to like ethnic food … unless he was clued in and ordered only to have grounds for his tirade.

DINORightMarie | December 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm

What a cheapskate! I would bet, being a Harvard grad and prof, as well as a connected lawyer/businessman, that he is in the “evil 1%”…….probably even in the “more evil .1%!!

Why are leftists so miserable, and why do they take their misery out on poor, innocent people who are trying to make a living?

Elitist scum.

Q: Why are leftists so universally cheap with their own money?

A: Because they’re leftists.

I blame the lawyers.

Instead, this guy engages in behavior that is mostly reserved for $500-an-hour lawyers trying to nail Fortune 500 companies to the wall over systemic advertising fraud, spews some ethics rules, and threatens to bring down the fire and brimstone of the government unless he is awarded treble damages for his trouble.

Justice is supposed to be no respecter of persons. What’s sauce for a Fortune 500 company is sauce for a small business. If Edelman was a hero for going after large companies for overcharging their customers just a few dollars each (or even less than a dollar!) then how can he be wrong to do the same to this restaurant? The facts he alleges seem to be undisputed. For many months the restaurant has knowingly been advertising one price and then charging customers a higher price. That is by definition fraud, and they have been ripping off all their customers by just a few dollars each, not enough for most people to make a fuss over, or even to notice. They deserve a class action suit, or as Edelman proposed to go over their records and refund each customer what they overcharged, plus a penalty.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to Milhouse. | December 12, 2014 at 7:11 am


    I wonder if the revelation of his previous Sushi disagreement made him fear being labelled “racist”, and that is the real reason for his apology.

    The whole “treble damages” thing comes from evidence that this sort of practice has indeed been done intentionally, as most won’t notice or won’t fight a small overcharge. Some groceries even promised double the difference back at the checkout for any overcharge, apparently to win customers that believed the practice had been applied.

    Regardless of his state of mind, or these restaurants’ intentions, Edelman gave the fraudulent practice national attention. Perhaps more consumers will be quick to demand the right price AND changed menus.

    Knowledge of case law affords them extra leverage, and is reason to thank the “crazy” professor. Consumers don’t need a lawyer, just the link. But if Edelman is labelled a pariah, the terrorists win. heh

Rhino, let’s assume that it was the fear of being labeled “racist” that made him back off, even though he was not indeed a racist. That should be used to attack what you describe in your previous post regarding the “social concept”. Membership in this “social concept” is determined by the rules so variable that the set itself is worthless. Maybe a ‘fuzzy set” is worth something as an experimental vehicle to establishing true set membership, but that is not how leftists use membership. It seems to be an ad hoc criterion that is used for ideological reasons.
We must not accept their imprecise rules.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to Drosophila. | December 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Right, I’m not sure who is giving thumbs down or why, but yeah …

    Indeed dividing on superficial means is just to “divide and conquer”, as I think you are saying. 🙂

    I’m just curious what motivated Edelman’s about face, and that sensitivity that is so prevalent in the “race card” world, comes to mind. And I often hear people admonish others that “Hispanic is not a race”. I guess it comes down to the meaning of the word “is” or something. ha

    We are not “white” to the anthropologist, but Caucasian. And Japanese and Chinese are Mongoloid, and then there is Negroid, with maybe 30 sub-divisions. But there are no definitive answers to all the variations … I like how this guy puts it.

    . . . I define a “race” as a vast group of people loosely bound together by historically contingent, socially significant elements of their morphology and/or ancestry. I argue that race must be understood as a sui generis social phenomenon in which contested systems of meaning serve as the connections between physical features, races, and personal characteristics.

    In other words, social meanings connect our faces to our souls. Race is neither an essence nor an illusion, but rather an ongoing, contradictory, self-reinforcing process subject to the macro forces of social and political struggle and the micro effects of daily decisions.

      Drosophila in reply to Midwest Rhino. | December 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      I come from the world of mathematics and linguistics (and simultaneous interpreting), and have been cringing for years on the conquest by the left of semantics (together with the abandonment of syntax). How I wish to retake those concepts and make them once again “Neutral”!

TrooperJohnSmith | December 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

After full analysis of the situation, you come to the inescapable conclusion that some people are just dicks.

Before e-mail, twitter, Facebook and all the other “advancements” in communication, people used to get mad, cool down and react in a sane, rational manner. No, everything is visceral, real-time and “right back at ya”. We now “say” things electronically we’d never, ever say to anyone’s face, before.

We complain about all the drama out there, but are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

Hmmm. Anytime you pump gasoline into your vehicle, you can see that there is a Weights & Measures seal to indicate that you are actually getting a full gallon of gasoline and are not being shorted. Same with the scale at the butcher’s, and you watch that a thumb does not secretly add weight to increase the store’s profit margin. You object if your hard alcohol is watered down or under-poured, or the speedometer of a used automobile has been altered to make the vehicle a more attractive buy. You object to counterfeit branded products that quickly deteriorate. Yet you object to a legally trained individual objecting to being overcharged and then are all right with him being treated shabbily when he objects to the ongoing overcharge scheme?

What would your opinion be if the Massachusetts Attorney General spent significant taxpayer funds investigating and quantifying the amount of systemic overcharge and the total was more than your yearly salary? What amount of overcharge would be acceptable to you?