Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics"

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Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review


There are political messages circulating currently that offer the information that Medicare (a government program) is more efficient than private insurance. A quick bit of Google'ing will illustrate there are arguments both pro and con.

I don't know enough to discuss the issue intelligently. I know nothing about accounting or auditing, nor do I have the research skills to prove which argument may be more accurate. 

I do have a position: With the complexity and size of the USA's post-industrial, technology-driven society combined with a diverse population and a skewed distribution of wealth, it seems logical that the country should have some sort of universal healthcare. 

Most people fear bureaucracy, and rightfully so. Strangely enough, life has placed three different bureaucracies in my family's path over the last six months, one even being the dreaded motor vehicle registration bugaboo. In each case, our business was handled quickly, efficiently, and most of all politely and with concern for our interests. New birth certificate: mailed. New historic license for a historic vehicle: in progress, after the agent politely corrected my error. Social Security change: a friendly, outgoing, communicative agent resolved the issue, the evidence of which appeared in our bank account within 48 hours.

When I compare these experiences with recent interaction with DISH-Network and AT&T, the service from the government agencies was friendlier, more efficient, and far more consumer-oriented. 

It took nearly six months to resolve termination-of-service issues with DISH. There were claims we did not return DISH equipment. There were charges for services we did not request. There were bills amounting to several hundred dollars even though the service was terminated at the end of contract and all equipment was returned in DISH-provided packaging. After being threatened through a collection agency for $30 of unresolved charges, I simply paid the amount to be rid of DISH. As Woody Guthrie sang, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen."

In truth, it is whining to complain about AT&T. The services are expensive, of course. We pay $135 for three cell phones. The contract offers only unlimited text. There is no web access without per-kilobyte charges. AT&T service, however, does seem to be available and reliable where we need it. Conversely, AT&T does nothing to make it easier for a customer to spend more money with them, even after more than a decade of uninterrupted business with them. An attempt to switch to iPhones in mid-contract, and for only two of the phones on the contract, means a charge of $500 to $1,000 depending upon the iPhone selected. This, of course, doesn't account for the fact we would be boosting our monthly charge by another twenty or thirty dollars.

Truth be told, I believe the beloved American free enterprise system has been hijacked by agents of greed. The deregulation of financial trading and banking, mismanaged by Greenspan and his ilk, resulted in a dramatic shift in wealth into the deep pockets of the already-rich. We are dealing with a new class of robber barons. Corporations preach humanistic values, sell sweat-shop labor-made goods, and hide the profits in off-shore accounts. 

Free enterprise is no longer about customer service and quality product; free enterprise is about keeping profits, executive salaries, and multi-million dollar bonuses free of taxes and social responsibility.

All we need is for Bain Capital to pull Lehman Brothers out of hock, buy Nike, McDonalds, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart, and then hire Fox News as its public relations agency. 


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