Friday, March 11, 2016

Dumbness & Associated Pricing Ethics

To our contemplation of education, immigration, Indian call support centers, and other related subjects, we should take note of the value of stupidity. Pricing in the marketplace indeed rests on innumerable fabrications, but also innumerable realities: Stalin can only extort so much labor per peasant per calorie per hour of regenerative idleness, ergo even the cruelest tyrant will be defeated by the power of death, if he fails to minimally feed or socialize his livestock. The same principle holds true in the western rubble, where the bourgeois won't continue inventing, distracting, and micro-managing the laboring hordes unless they are provided with discernible rewards, in the form of subjective differentiations between their lot and that of the peasantry: the deluxe climate control package on the alternatively-labeled new automobile, rather than the less trinkety deluxe package on the model of six Christmases past. Without these merit badges, the middle managers remain, though, interchangeable, indispensible, until the robotic singularity's pending arrival.

In the higher seats under the colorful big top, the shenanigans still retain an ironical touch of ethics. The most loathsome, corrosive, antiproductive parasite scum--executives; legislators; bankers--have, generally, hellish times of it. Whether by self-flagellating mental compulsions to seek more prominence or by secret gentleman's agreement that one does not get out of the game except in an urn, the thoroughly remunerated are often thoroughly hard workers. A different type of work, to be certain--pompous, hyperobsessive gambling and faith-based theorycrafting; subtle social contests between deranged lunatics; the constant maintenance of deathly, pseudocarefree flair--but work nonetheless.

Take the example of two successful bank robbers. Each must painstakingly learn about possible targets, select a target, and then plan the assault itself. Each must assemble a team of horrible cronies, taking care to select highly experienced ones as well as new ones. To be part of the greater process, you must include veterans, not only to increase your chance of success, but to avoid being seen as an upstart who must be crushed for not playing along. You must also select novices, as others once did for you, because the underworld is watching to see if you're in this for the long haul. Each selection brings benefits, for veterans have done it before and may teach you a thing or two, while novices are eager--and also, their ignorance makes them suitable for taking the heat if someone needs to be pushed out of the back of the van during the escape, to distract the police and public with their ravaged corpse. And each selection comes fraught with peril, for the veterans may be planning on using you as a distracting shill, while the novices may be soft enough that they're willing to fold if any heat comes your way. And they know that you're thinking it, and you know that they're thinking it, and even though you all share distant family connections with the partner who used to work security at the place, and one partner was once an internal functionary there and knows the safety and disaster routines, you're all aware of how easy it is to destroy another man's life to save your own hide.

Stressful and time-consuming as hell, and you haven't even dress-rehearsaled the heist itself. You have to plan the drive, the movement, the taking, the escape, and the storage of the stolen cash; you have to plan how you're going to spend it later on, and how you're going to not (or actually) screw the other partners over, and how you'll be sure that so-and-so doesn't brag to his mistress and give the game away, and you know at least one of you is going to end up in an unfortunate car crash or suicide or died after a long illness. Then you do the job and the pressure shatters your mind all over again, someone goes down and you're so glad it isn't you, and the rest of your life you're wondering when everyone will figure out what you did, when someone will have an attack of conscience and spill his guts to the press, or when your old friends will, worried about your emotional stamina, ensure that you have a tragic brain hemorrhage or stress-related heart attack or untimely stroke.

And it's a lot of work. If it works out, great. Maybe the investment banker successfully gathers a coalition of investors, tosses together a hedge fund, buys off a couple directors to fake a quarterly, buys some stock, and triples his money in a month. And then he does it again, and so on, and it's eighty-hour workweeks from then on, because if you dare take your six million dollars and get a little place in the Ozarks to retire before you're at least sixty, your former associates will send someone to pay you a visit with the heart-attack needle, and the Skulls will use you as an example of why We're In This For Life.

This universal balancing act, such as it is, ensures that it is actually hard work--stress, effort, risk, etc.--to do most of those highly-paid jobs. It's bullshit, and it's performed by soytit idiots who couldn't handle a day on the assembly line, yes--but neither could the factory proles handle the kind of complex effort that goes into, say, investment banking. It pisses the proles off that a physician gets to charge a full day's wages for a 7-minute office visit, but the physician is hung up on different tenterhooks, demoraled and demoralized, and (barring tribal protections, which the real grunt doctors don't possess, in part because of university- and practice-placement, in part because of patient selectivity, and in part just because of membership) subjected to different hells, that are in their own way more troubling.

It's not fair, but it's an uncanny epiphenomenon of this socio-capitalist marketplace: the way intensity of focused, experienced effort does often line up with reward. It's like fairness--enough like fairness that a nursing student can gain experience in different hospitals and private practices, and realize, "Wow, the surgeon who, on paper, only performs three operations a week, actually does work way harder and way longer for his $460K a year than the GP who sees a hundred patients a week for a mere $98K." Powerful investment bankers can be witnessed by their secretaries, and the secretary comes in at 7, finds the boss dozing in his chair in last week's clothes, wakes him, sees him get screamed at and slapped across the head over lunch by a shadow partner from another firm, and sees him struggling to begin a fresh pile of document reviews when she goes home at 5. Yes, he's an evil bastard, and yes, he roofied that pretty intern from Duke last summer, and yes, he got a $3 million bonus last Christmas, but he works so much that she's genuinely glad, even in her retirement, that she never had his job. The work trickles through to the proles; it makes them see a workable ethical system, which they think of as "fair," and which helps them rationalize the fucked-up-ness of the greater system.

How, then, does that tie into dumbness? Well, what this one has been trying to establish here is that it is integral to this economy to maintain an appearance of fairness with regards remuneration. Dumbness is necessary for that process, and no, not the kind of dumbness that leaves someone fooled by the rentier's economy (although that's certainly important, it's not our subject here), but the kind of dumbness that makes work justifiably take longer.

Take a step lower on the scale to help illustrate this point. Imagine that I'm a physician, and I see a hundred patients a week--oh, throw that out, we already did doctors. Imagine that I'm an accountant, and I'm really an expert, and I bill private clients $400 an hour for consulting with them on tax matters. But I only meet with them a little--where I really get in my hours is talking to various financial institutions regarding my clients' paperwork. Their receipts, their inventories, their holdings, etc. What the hell makes me worth that much? And how could I possibly bill ten hours a day for a client's task, when said task actually only involves fifteen minutes of paperwork that I use a computer program for?

Easy. Presume that, to properly fill out a quarterly statement, I have to get accurate information from two banks and three companies. Five quick phone calls later, I've billed half an hour, made $200, and I'm done for the day, having earned a respectable living wage.

Enter the real world. I call the first bank. I get a computer system that puts me on hold. I listen to NPR for ten minutes. When the music ends, a woman from India, named "Susan," answers the phone. She's learned to say things like "please bear with me" and "I'll take care of that for you buddy" but she is hard to understand, and worse, despite all her multiple choice tests, she has great difficulty making out simple words even when I over-enunciate and repeat. When she figures out what I need, she doesn't have authority to access it. That thing was supposed to have been mailed out by an office in the United States. She doesn't have the authority to view what happened to it without her manager. Hold for twenty minutes. The manager makes some canned small talk like they taught him to do, struggles to understand what I'm saying to him, and then says that he can access that information only with the approval of the Blank Department, which will require a letter from me on corporate letterhead before it can act, and it will need 7-10 days business processing before I can follow up. So I write a letter and send it in three different ways and calendar a follow-up and call the next company and get forwarded to "Sam" in India, who struggles for forty minutes to figure out what my client wants before asking for permission to place me on hold for just a bit so he can get his manager to tell me how the process works to obtain authorization for taking care of that for you buddy ~

Ten hours later, four grand and start all over. And if someone were unethical, she could accomplish four or five times the amount of work in the same time by signing letters while on hold.

Sounds cruel, right? Who the hell would ever come see such a person for their taxes? Sure, a few high-net-worth families, but mostly, some corporations that have so much revenue they don't give a shit. So every year, that file earns a week of billing, fifty grand, all 100% ethical and justifiable because I really was on the phone with the same call center in India--albeit they and I were representing different companies each time. I might've been playing Candy Crush or whatever during most of the calls, or sending personal e-mails or blogging, but work is work.

And it doesn't just have to be India. That's old news, really. In Weimerica, reading comprehension ability, as well as basic kindergarten skills ability, is so bad that American call centers are little better than Indian ones. Send something on letterhead to Bank of America, wait three weeks for them to figure out where it went, send it again, and the idiots in several departments can't figure out what the language says, so they have to send it to their legal team to read the second sentence and comprehend it for them. And at the last, "Oh, yeah, they said it authorizes you to get an interest report for that year."

That's why the physician has to charge $385 for what should be a four-minute prescription refill follow-up: because half the people who schedule that meeting have a deep-seated emotional need to spend at least thirty minutes describing ephemeral "symptoms" that raise potential lines of inquiry which can't be avoided without scheduling tests and suggesting follow-ups to avoid malpractice, and then they get lost on the way to the lab across the street and it's somehow your fault, and the ER calls and wants to know why you prescribed marijuana on the same prescription slip as the Simcor, when of course you didn't, but if you don't say it was an accident he'll claim you molested him, and you'll have to waste half a day going before the board, so you apologize and tell your PA not to schedule him again if at all possible. Spread it across everyone since the insurance companies don't let you selectively bill retards and/or assholes, and bam, it's $385 for four minutes.

Yes, they are actually that dumb, and yes, the costs are built into everything. The Pentagon's $800 toilet seat lid is a screaming injustice, but it's not merely a ripoff of a toilet-seat purchaser. It's a bottleneck accumulation of the tax-justifying ripoff that provides for the general stupidity fund. The industrial revolution scared them, scared them terribly; they've been doing everything they can to slow things down in a plausible way. Faster microchips paired with Indian call centers. Huh? And who's paying so many of the bills? Microsoft-as-company deals with all the bourgeois and petty-elite professionals whose ridiculous occupations, and profits, are justified by the need to interact with the stupid rituals and hapless masses that Microsoft worked to create. You're peddling the bike uphill, and fat Microsoft is sitting on your back screaming at you to go faster while pouring an increasing stream of glue and pebbles into the chains. The plausibility, and the decaying productivity of everyone's job depends on the mad illusion that it still takes effort.

Perhaps if we were better, we'd be willing to admit we're no longer needed in some things, and that it's time for us to do better ones. If I'm the accountant in the above example, and Microsoft is one of my firm's clients, then Microsoft is paying those ridiculous bills, a thousand times higher than they should be, to deal with the legislative hurdles, offshoring incompatibilities, and ritual corpocracies that they themselves created. It's like Dick Cheney and the invasion of Iraq: that vile creature did immense damage to the world, and to the more localized part of the world in which he lived, by doing that, and his lesbian legacy may die in a nuclear war with Russia that arises, in part, out of the latest Middle East adventure. And yet he did it--is he really so stupid that he believed the relative short-term gain he experienced (some more oil money, say, when he was already filthy rich before) was worth the hellish intra-elite competition to be part of another Iraq War? The everdeath urge, the purest and most definitive evil, trumps political economy again. Microsoft screws itself in the interest of ending all beginnings.

It is your naive, final hope, and evil's own cunning pretense, that evil drinks the blood of the weak merely to achieve carnal pleasure.

12 comments:

  1. I think your information is outdated. They are now specifically destroying progress, and no longer pretend that progress is not a zero sum game. A vicious form of social Darwinism has returned, i.e. there is less and less need to pretend.

    I just try to cut down my consumption to the bare bones. This is the only way to have , dunno, maybe 2 extra years between meltdown and reconing.

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    1. Help me with your "progress" angle--which kind are they destroying, and which kind is a zero sum from which they (at least partially) benefit?

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  2. It's like fairness--enough like fairness that a nursing student can gain experience in different hospitals and private practices, and realize, "Wow, the surgeon who, on paper, only performs three operations a week, actually does work way harder and way longer for his $460K a year than the GP who sees a hundred patients a week for a mere $98K."

    Not to worry, ACA preserves such fairness, as do Medicaid, Medicare, and all other single-payer notions put forth thus far in the American Medical Services Business Model.

    On other matters, Arka, this might have some tasty gizzards:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-10/iran-told-to-pay-10-5-billion-to-sept-11-kin-insurers

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    1. How many divisions does Bloomberg have?

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    2. Above my pay grade for veracity, but on idle chatter -- apparently his middle name was originally Multitudes, but he changed that since he didn't like the initials MMB because he thought they might lead someone to call him Major Moonbat.

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  3. And how could I possibly bill ten hours a day for a client's task, when said task actually only involves fifteen minutes of paperwork that I use a computer program for?

    Easy. Presume that, to properly fill out a quarterly statement, I have to get accurate information from two banks and three companies. Five quick phone calls later, I've billed half an hour, made $200, and I'm done for the day, having earned a respectable living wage.

    Enter the real world.


    Wait, you just described the un-real world?

    Top Bean Counter isn't so tops if he has to make calls to lowlies in order to get rudimentary info, such lowlies don't have the info relevant. I bet Beanie couldn't even get hired by Vinnie Bag o'Donuts to keep his weekly protection books.

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  4. There is one loophole with your theory, and it is consulting for the World Bank - it truly is money for nothing.

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    1. But, but what about all of the Eyes Wide Shut stress you have to undergo to maintain your consultancy?

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    2. I haven't seen the movie/book, and don't know enough about the plot to get the specifics, but it's true - there is stress involved in determining if you overcharged too much, or if you submitted enough make-work after overcharging in advance.

      In any case, not worth it. Drastically curtailing consumption seems indeed one of the better options, though not available to everyone...

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  5. The everdeath angle is always intriguing, but there is another explanation as to why a filthy rich and powerful old man would commit terrible atrocities for apparently a few dollars more, when he could simply enjoy everything material the world has to offer. The problem might be in the assumption that all those millions and connections came with no strings attached, and that the old rich & powerful man is now simply an old rich & powerful man with a mountain of money in the bank, and free to do whatever he chooses. As you have very well put, once you join a criminal conspiracy, you become a potential liability, and have to worry and work all the time to keep yourself useful. You are most useful as long as you are a good and loyal soldier, able to provide favors and play by the rules. You also need to maintain some skin in the game, or others might start thinking that you've got too little to lose if the entire organization comes crashing down. So one day, an old consigliere might visit and offer the leading role in a heist plan you drew up decades ago, but never could fully execute at the time. Now you are offered all the support, the best people you could wish for, the perfect diversion, the law being paid off from the start, and with way higher prospective profits than what you ever hoped to get. You don't really want to do it, because you have no more need for money. You hint as much, and the consigliere says he understands, even though it is a pity, since you are by far the best man for the job and would certainly make it all go flawlessly. On his way out, he says he hopes your heart condition is holding up and inquires about the health of your lesbian legacy. Oh, and if you change your mind, you know whom to call.

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    1. True, interesting, but how many of them:

      1) Actually care about their children (or actually haven't already not had them, or hated them to due to mismarriage)?

      2) Wouldn't have overriding hatred toward their co-conspirators, such that they'd be willing to go out by ruining them, even if it were painful?

      3) Aren't already able to fake their own deaths and then retire to a ranch in rural New Zealand, leaving their cohorts all the wiser but unable to track them down?

      The code of silence--if there were such a code--would have to be so comprehensively effective at silencing gravebound seniors' final "fuck yous" that it can maintain the system despite a lengthy succession of cantankerous narcissistic billionaires dying in hilltop fortresses under the protection of legions of ex-spec-ops mercenaries. That's too high of a bar to clear that many times in a row.

      The "bound by Satanic oaths" thing might also explain it, but a genuine, independent, organic, moral commitment to ending the suffering of existence is more likely.

      Among the Outer Party, you meet plenty of genuine antinatalists, but very few conspiracy-of-silence Satanists. Seems more likely that the Inner Party is composed of people with a genuine internal belief in everdeath.

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    2. Well then:

      1) Who knows, but even otherwise completely ruthless monsters can care about their children. Even more, children can give all the psychological justification anyone would ever require for committing even the worst of atrocities. Sure, I may have done some bad things, but I have five kids to feed! And it was only work, I'm a completely different person at home. In such a profession, such a thing could be a valuable crutch, and therefore vulnerability, even if it is a delusion.

      2) Why would they hate them? The other co-conspirators would be in the same boat as them, bound by the rules of the game. They'd be young hopeful upstarts with little to lose, and the old dog would see his younger self in them with a feeling of nostalgia, or veterans like himself. The invisible unknown bosses would be, as always, far away.

      3) Perhaps from the local sheriff's deputy's filling-in cousin and the IRS, not from Marcellus Wallace who has someone waiting in every canoe in Thailand. Perhaps it could work if they never used the internet again or looked at the sky, were assured of the absolute loyalty of every single member of their ex-spec-ops mercenary army, were certain there were no unexpected tracking mechanisms their higher-ups had decades to install and didn't care if their family's assets get confiscated for treason if they slip up. Why would they do all of that, though, if staying in means infinite money and power? There might be some work now and then, but they're good at it and possibly derive some pride from that, and it's only other people that get killed.

      The implicit code of silence is natural under these assumptions. The ones who reveal lesser criminal conspiracies do so because they got caught or for money and fame. In this case, there is no one to do the catching, the book rights would hardly matter much in terms of money, and fame can be bought easily if desired.

      As for the final "fuck you", we are talking about people willing to do anything to get/stay in the dominant group. They might hate the other members, but at the end of the day, they are the wolves (or night-vision goggles sporting laser-rifle wielding super predators) and the rest cattle. What would the purpose of betraying their own group to the cattle be? It's not like the sheep could do much except bleat. In the best case scenario, they'd be publicly dismissed as eccentric loons.

      Politicians of the same group may hate each other viciously, but how many final revelational damning "fuck yous" do we ever see from dying or non-dying specimens? If belligerence towards in-group members were enough, there should be constant examples. The only revelations seem to come from people feeling morally outraged, something impossible in this case, as everyone would be thoroughly vetted, willing and expected to soil his hands with blood first (this is perhaps where the Satanic oath could come in).

      In a world where the difference between a king and a beggar lies in the perception of the cattle, the legitimate fear of losing all that illusion-based power could result in all kinds of disturbed paranoia and going overboard with the insanity rather than giving someone time to think.

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