November 7th, 2005

158IgnoreConsensusReality

Complacency is strength.

My new cell phone came with a user guide that explains how to use the phone by describing menus and options that do not exist on the phone. As if to add insult to injury, the phone came with update pages to the user's guide that have nothing to do with the discrepancies between how the guide explains how to use the phone and how the phone works. The phone also displays "enhanced services" that have been "experiencing technical difficulties" since I bought the phone. I could go back to the store and ask them to fix the discrepancy, but I'm afraid of what I would do or say if they respond as I predict they would: they can't help me, they don't control the circumstances.

I indict my culture for accepting weak consumer rights, like contracts that waive your right to sue and limit your sole recourse for bad service to binding arbitration performed by an arbitrator you pay for and the company chooses, at a location the company chooses, which allows them to choose a location on the other side of the country from where you live. This legal situation allows companies to provide minimal service, because even if you win, you still lose money because the arbitration costs more than any amount available for you to win. Check your contracts: this situation appears in lots of service agreements. And we let it happen. We continue to let it happen.

I feel sad that lower and middle-class consumers don't act in our own defense to protect each other. Why? Fear of losing global competitiveness?  Too late.  Resentment of other people abusing consumer's rights? Maybe.  The old lady who sued McDonald's for the hot coffee really did receive treatment in a real hospital from 3rd-degree burns from McDonald's coffee, but those causes and effects don't seem to enter the debate of who should be responsible when and for what.  If tort reformers had their way, the $800 initial offer to the 3rd-degree burn victim would become law and McDonald's could factor that expense into the cost savings of keeping their coffee boiling hot for their own convenience.

Speaking of hospitals, if your hospital can get their legislature to set legal maximum lawsuit amounts for wrongful death, your death has a fixed cost on the hospital, and hospitals can decrease their quality of care so that you're worth one dollar more to them alive than dead. I would like to believe that we care about each other more than this. I believe that societies that continue to exist are the ones that maintain the principle of balancing reward for effort with assurances of individual protection, so people can focus on effort without being distracted by the fear of being lied to and ripped off. People lie and cheat because they believe the rewards of lying and cheating outweigh the risks. As an American consumer, I feel inclined to agree with them.