Bill Me Bill You

He was twenty-six years old, delivering furniture. "I don't like myself that way", he said. "When I have to deal with companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, I have to be rude before they'll listen to me. That's just not who I am." (Might I add PayPal and certain banks to the list? I'm sure you could name others.)

Young but so wise. What happens to people when they become part of a corporate structure? How has the business model of a corporation managed to corrupt so many of us? Employees seem to lose their sense of personal responsibility, their integrity, their initiative. Higher-ups inflate their egos and their purses in pursuit of ever more profit. Isn't there a better way to organize human beings so that they are not swallowed up into a crushing machine? ("Who am I?", they might say. "24601".) Does that sound familiar? It should, as it was brilliantly expressed in Les Miserables years ago.* There are no simple answers, but one that comes to mind is desperation: I need this job, I can't afford to displease my boss. (Remember these lyrics from Chorus Line: I really need this job. Please God I need this job.)? Another might be the passivity that organizations reward: rock the boat and sink yourself. When did a whistle blower last buy a yacht?

Some researchers have explored the difference between "power on the one hand, and its proper exercise on the other". Is it possible to satisfy the needs of shareholders, employees, and consumers? Does the corporation have to guarantee economic wellbeing for its workers? Do shareholder interests have to predominate? What about those who use their products: do we count? One researcher, William E. Halal of George Washington University, has questioned whether an emphasis on responsibility diminishes a corporation's ability to compete. He asks, basically, what comes first: money or society? He further points out that in the United States the emphasis on profits has resulted in the biggest gap between the wealthy and the rest of us since the Great Depression. How do we justify enormous CEO pay, with sloppy merchandise, rude customer service, poorly trained support personnel, shady financial shenanigans and downright fraud? Is it really necessary to create advertisements that are lies in disguise?

An Internet site called Microsuck proposes that Google has already rewritten the rules of corporate structure. The new paradigm, Adam Breckler claims, is "put end-users first and profits will follow". Until that philosophy is proven to be workable, here's another one to consider: why not empower the consumer? If you can bill me, I can bill you. If you sell me a product that doesn't work as advertised, I bill you a per-hour fee for time spent to solve the problem. Why should I spend hours on the phone pressing buttons, listening to automated responders, getting cut off by the phone carrier or being shunted from department to department? My lawyer gets paid for even thinking about me: why shouldn't I be compensated as well for time spent struggling with a poor product? Furthermore, I should be able to record our conversations "for training purposes". Aren't I training you to be a responsible corporate representative as well as an American who is proud of what she/he does?

Why don't I bill the corporation for missed appointments or showing up late? For treating me as if I were a nuisance? For being nastier, if that's possible, to those with an accent, those of the Ynot gender, the elderly or the less sophisticated? After all I am a professional shopper: I've studied it, mastered it, practiced it for years. By now I have earned an advanced degree in Consumerism. How about a Bill of Rights (and wrongs) for those who spend hard-earned dollars and demand at least decent products and respect? Moreover I will be a responsible purchaser: when you fix the problem professionally and in reasonable time, I will give you a ten percent discount. When the item works well for at least six months I will refund another ten percent to you from the amount you paid. Oh, and I promise to provide an easy to understand billing statement, unlike the contorted dare-you-to-comprehend documents that you send me.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that We the People deserve more, are entitled to more, and demand more than shoddy merchandise and disrespectful vendors. After all, if it were not for us you would have no one to buy what you are selling. If I have to be rude in order to be heard, you have to be charged: it's that simple.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2011

*Notes: For a reprieve of that magnificent moment in musical theater, check in to You Tube. Viewers might also want to read "A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100", available at corporation.