October 12, 2003

Telemarketers, candlemakers and jobless recoveries

Dave Barry has a couple of delicious pieces (1|2) on a popular uprising against telemarketers — and what they're doing to try and protect their right to interrupt your dinner in your home with your family to inform you about (say) insurance in which you have no interest.

Now that I'm back in the UK — with anonymous call rejection activiated — the degree of the problem in the US is a fading memory. But I can still recall that it was a significant annoyance when we were living in San Diego. One evening my wife even got called up by a machine asking her to "Press 1 if you're interested in this great offer!". In other words, they don't want to waste the time of a human being (I use the term loosely) at their end unless they know you're interested, but they don't care about wasting the time of the 99.999% of people they call who already have insurance, thank you very much. Just like spammers, these people are pissing in the well and they deserve contempt.

Here's a snippet from the first of Barry's columns:

Leading the charge for the telemarketing industry is the American Teleservices Association (suggested motto: "Some Day, We Will Get a Dictionary and Look Up 'Services'"). This group argues that, if its members are prohibited from calling people who do not want to be called, then two million telemarketers will lose their jobs. Of course, you could use pretty much the same reasoning to argue that laws against mugging cause unemployment among muggers. But that would be unfair. Muggers rarely intrude into your home.

Nice one, Dave. It's a worryingly common fallacy that just because you have a job you're somehow entitled to keep doing it forever even if it turns out that you're not actually doing anything useful, or that someone else can it do it twice as well.

As Frederic Bastiat pointed out in the 19th century, of you follow this course long enough then you end up with a society that achieves nothing at great expense. Particularly entertaining is his famous satirical petition, issued by candlemakers complaining that they cannot possibly compete against the bright, cheap light flooding into their territory from the sun. If employment is to be preserved, they insist, laws must be passed requiring windows and curtains to remain closed.

It's hilarious, though quite far-fetched of course. Or so you think until you read American press reports about the jobless recovery or the outsourcing of well-paid jobs to India, and the shrill reactions these elicit. Then you realise that the economically illiterate, self-serving candlemakers are still among us.

Posted by timo at October 12, 2003 10:51 PM | TrackBack
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