Saturday, November 27, 2004Yesterday I had a truly epic experience with Cablevision. My wife and I finally decided to get cable (why we waited until AFTER the election is beyond me), and Cablevision is the only service provider where we live. We were also happy to do so since Cablevision is one of the few corporate PACs which donates primarily to Democrats. We scheduled to get hooked up yesterday between 11 and 2.
What a mistake.
We figured at first that we would have to wait until after two, given how these sorts of companies work. This was fine, because we didn't want to go outside on Black Friday anyway. But as the time passed (and passed), I began to get concerned. I called Cablevision to find out what was going on, and kept calling. And calling. Finally at 6PM I told them I was cancelling my order, that I was going to get satellite instead. They begged me to wait, and assured me that the technician was going to be there in half an hour, and that they would call back to make sure.
Predictably, he never showed and they never called. So I called for the 5th time that day and told them that I was now cancelling. Thirty minutes later the technician finally showed up. When we asked him, he said he had been contacted at 6:30, after I had cancelled the order. That certainly made up our minds for us. There is no way I am doing business with a company that will only do the minimum amount possible. So satellite it is.
Why am I boring you all with this tale of woe? Because I think it says something alarming about Corporate America. In the 1960's businesses generally adhered to the stakeholder model: the interests of the customer, stockholder, and employee all had the be balanced against one another. Now the shareholder reigns supreme, and employees and customers get the shaft. The consequence has been an erosion in customer service and the quality of products delivered. It's no wonder we are losing our competitive edge, that businesses are off-shoring without the blink of an eye, and that we have seen a wave of corporate scandals. It's just about me and mine, you see. Screw everyone else.
I am also reminded of a book I read many years ago, the Business Complex, which coincidentally has been re-published this year. It lays out the problem with the large corporation. Essentially, the advantages of economy of scale are balanced against the pathologies that always accompany large organizations. After a certain point, the latter begin to outweigh the former. A growing company may at first be a healthy sign of growth (like a child filling out has she matures), but after a while continued growth just means you're getting fat.
Finally, my experience has only reinforced my belief that large retail companies add nothing to the economy. The arguments for having a large corporation have some plausibility when they refer to a business which makes something (either a tangible product or an idea). But retail chains produce nothing. They only transfer goods from one place to another. As they grow, they have all the problems with large organizations (bloated bureaucracies, disregard for their clients, unfair trade practices, abuse of their employees), with none of the benefits. I mean really, what does Wal-Mart really add to the economy?
So my advice this weekend is that when you go shopping, avoid the big chains. Avoid Wal-Mart and Target and Home Depot. Spend a few more minutes looking for an independent proprietor, a mom & pop store that wants your business because they need your business. You'll be doing yourself and your country a favor.