Saturday, April 24, 2010

A bad business

Detail from Anon2 by Pants

The art of our necessities is strange
and can make vile things precious.

King Lear - William Shakespeare

This morning my pre-paid internet credit ran out, or so I thought. It was an unusual situation as I can usually manage to hit the end of the sixty-day cycle dead on the limit but it's only been a month. I was redirected to the recharge page when I tried to access the internet so I assumed this meant I had used up all the credit. It was always possible I had been overdoing the iView.

As I was unable to establish contact with my account details, I phoned the nice people at DingleDongle*. I found I still had half of my credit left, which is exactly the position I would expect to be in after a month. A nice young man called Frank 'refreshed' my account and I was up and running again. It was all very pleasant. I have no complaints about the service and I was very glad not to have to hand over any more money as my finances aren't too clever right now. I was grateful to Frank for being honest.

But why did I get a message asking me to pay money when I didn't owe any? Could it be that there is a default widget at DingleDongle that trips a recharge request when anything goes wrong? And maybe if you're a normal trusting person, you'll give them money that they're not entitled to. I hope Frank doesn't get into trouble for declaring to me straight away and without a prompt that I was in credit. I had my card out ready to pay!

I shop at the local supermarket about once a week and I buy an average of ten things, quite a lot of them 'reduced'. I regularly get charged more than the advertised amount. I always check now. Supermarkets never under-charge. If the 'mistakes' were genuine you'd expect that sometimes they'd turn in your favour. This never happens. Last week a $20 garden hose ambled onto my grocery bill. Corporate employees must be colluding in large numbers. Why would they do this? Because they would lose their job if they didn't? Is every business model built on the belief that the customer probably won't bother to check? On the plus side, all the portable auditing has done wonders for my mental arithmetic, if not my mental health.

The papers today are full of stories about businesses acting either illegally or egregiously. There's the football team owned by the evil media mogul that has been stripped of the trophies and prizes it won by cheating. The club enticed top players by paying them more than is allowed in a competition that has a salary cap. These payments were buried in a second set of books and accounted for as bogus expenses. The EMM says he didn't know anything about it. He needs maybe to review his firm's accounting practices and the expectations he puts on employees to deliver him results in that case. This tawdry event has thrown up the classic sporting excuse beloved of drug cheats - 'everyone does it'. Not cheating, simply staying competitive in 'the real world'.

The appalling behaviour of some airlines following last week's airport closures amounts to corporate blackmail. British Airways is selling seats at outlandish prices rather than allocate them automatically to the passengers stranded in foreign airports. And its excuse for this bizarre abuse of its obligation to get people home on the first available flight? The extortion policy has apparently been implemented to dissuade new bookings. Extraordinary sales strategy.

The reliably reprehensible RyanAir has been forced to back down over its refusal to compensate its stranded passengers for subsistence expenses. Although it has succumbed to pressure from the UK government to comply with European regulations guaranteeing passengers recompense for 'reasonable receipted expenses', claimants are bound to find a barrage of obstacles awaiting them when they submit their chits.

The top prize for bad behaviour, in a week of exceptional candidates, really does go to Goldman Sachs, however. Matt Taibbi suggests in one's beloved Guardian that dastardliness on this level is a threat to "civilisation – which, after all, is really just a collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even when we can."

The allegory he draws presents a stark picture of how far down the scale of cuntliness we're talking,

"Even if he stands to make a buck at it, even your average used-car salesman won't sell some working father a car with wobbly brakes, then buy life insurance policies on that customer and his kids. But this is done almost as a matter of routine in the financial services industry, where the attitude after the inevitable pileup would be that that family was dumb for getting into the car in the first place. Caveat emptor, dude!"

It's a good piece, apart from the ludicrous claim that men behaving badly is all the fault of a woman. Not Thatcher this time, but Ayn Rand. Where we are now cannot be blamed on fiction writers or fictional characters like Gordon Gecko. These are real people doing really bad things that affect global stability with apparent impunity. It's just that every now and then, a token reprobate gets caught with his hand in our shared cookie jar. It all seems dismal. And then I think about Frank and all the people like him, sitting in call centres and responding to customers with instinctive honesty, and the world doesn't seem like such a dreadful place. Thanks Frank and you have a great weekend too!

* DingleDongle is a pseudonym.