(Disclaimer: VERY rough notes. Published to push myself to develop it. I DO promise it gets fresher and more interesting after the jump.)
America now: Supporting free market competition is a radical, subversive position.
If power these days is based on corporate manipulation of politics, then the place to fight the power may not be politics directly, but with manipulation of the corporations by consumers.
Corporations are enjoying greater and greater power over ordinary people. Consider the astounding lack of choice between internet providers for American consumers. Almost everywhere it is a defacto monopoly. Worse still, the unholy alliance of insurers and the entire for-profit medicine cabal, for example, has American consumers in a locked down helpless position where they will be overcharged at every single point of contact. From medicine to mortgages, we are milked regularly as if we were financial livestock. Current capitalism seeks to avoid the free market competition that we are told is the beauty of the system. They want to eliminate the issue of our preferences from the equation and it’s clear that our government has largely become a corporate surrogate, advancing the interests of their corporate funders and lobbyists. Add to that, the obvious lust of big corporations to privatize schools, the postal system, prisons, and armed services support. It has nothing to do with some ornery high minded independent spirit trying to eliminate a wasteful bureaucracy, the one percent simply see these citizen services as paydirt that they have a right to.
They want to run the unavoidable essential services, the innate services that every citizen pays into. Somewhere in here, the corruption becomes so complete that the relationship between government and business is like an animal so parasitized that it’s impossible to tell the host from the worm.
Unions were once a powerful counterforce, but can they continue to play that role? Workers unions are as relevant to the future as trained and skilled employees are to a corporation’s bottom line. I mean that as both a serious way to find an answer to the question and as the rather gloomy answer. It’s always been common sense that businesses must have no more employees than are needed. Technology is driving that truism toward a shocking new level. There is no question that there will be a huge drop off in jobs over the years to come and new technological breakthroughs will only make that happen faster. For certain there will still be skilled and specialized trades but they won’t be in production or transportation and they won’t carry enough political heft to make corporations listen. A significant side issue is that there will also be fewer news reporters in a solid position to reveal misdeeds and crimes of powerful corporations.
Corporations have also started making themselves virtually unreachable. They place themselves behind impenetrable phone tree systems, they have no direct contact option on their websites. Often it’s a desire to save money but it’s also a telling choice to avoid their customers. They are clearly making it as difficult as possible to reach them. They don’t want to hear from us.
Some new leverage is needed for American citizens to bring corporate power to heel…or at least to listen. The Consumers Union exists and is a noble group but they have little impact either politically or on the lives of consumers. Perhaps it’s because they have all the excitement of an ergonomic training slideshow from HR playing on C-Span.
We need a useful and powerful version of a consumers union that people opt into because it makes a daily difference in their lives. We need an internet based USEFUL and popular way to apply the power of consumer opinion as a groundswell. We don’t start by “building Rome”. Perhaps we start with the missing element of modern corporations, listening. It’s interesting that it is SO HARD to complain these days. After a bad experience, people want the company to hear how upset they are and show human remorse. If a pissed off consumer even can find a place to complain, the response will always be a little “kiss-off” boilerplate like:
“We’re sorry to hear to you had a bad experience with Blobco. Please be assured we are doing our best to serve you better every day!”
And that will be it. Pretty much the opposite of either listening or apologizing. There is no follow up.
So Step 1. Bitching with an impact
We create a Website/App that allows for corporate feedback, positive or negative with a promise of getting their words in front of the responsible parties. We avoid the “Amazon review/Yelp” problem by not mixing positive and negative in a way that can be easily manipulated. We make it the go-to place for grumbling.
We list the company category, description, history, product base, parent companies, political affiliations. We start to take complaints and issues. Categorizing them in a database we look for patterns. Gradually we gather a portrait/ report card of how that company is failing to make its customers happy. We measure. We also solicit suggestions from consumers on how those companies should behave differently. We start to generate reports on how each company is doing and how they should change. And as promised, we deliver those reports. Reports will be published on whatever frequency and with high standards of transparency and accuracy.
We never take money from companies to weight their reviews but we give the best performer a high profile and allow them to pay us for ad space exactly and only in that best-of-its-kind spot. We explain this clearly for our members. This gives the dual benefit of carrot rather than just stick but helps to pay for all this.
We gradually develop a shopping guide to common products where we rate/compare very simply each product by ingredients with simple icon and color ratings for how healthy for people and the environment, as well as political repercussions of the company’s policies (land use, child labor, monopoly practices, shady dealing). But we let people tune in their own political focus and give them a clear choice between partisan and nonpartisan suggestions. We don’t want to be the shopping equivalent of Facebook news.
If a person enters a shopping list or scans a SKU code and the best suggestions come up beside each item based on general knowledge and informed by their special areas of concern. Where possible we provide possibilities for alternate services in the area (without endorsing, we don’t want to be Yelp).
Further steps on the road:
The Good Business Alliance (working title), what it would mean
This is a series of statements of intent identifying the business as pro competition, pro-customer satisfaction and dedicated to succeeding on that basis. We emphasize HOW much room there is in the currently under-exploited area of customer satisfaction. It’s about having a people based value system that says, “We are here to get rich by treating people well. We are here to succeed by exploiting the enormous untapped potential of being slightly LESS greedy.”
An example: As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, When Centurylink stepped on the stage as a competitor to Comcast they chose to model themselves on Comcast in every way. There were no better options or freer choices or even lower costs. Bear in mind that Comcast is the most despised company in the United States, and justifiably so. Centurylink decided to be as ungenerous as possible to the consumer. They decided to help Comcast maintain it’s horrible policy of offering the public no choice. Do you want internet? OK, it costs the same as Comcast AND you have to have home phone service with it. No choice. This is a controlling and miserly approach to customers. It is not far from saying “You’ll buy what we FEEL like selling you. As for you being happy with it? We don’t give a fuck.” If Centurylink or someone else offered a blissfully simple and affordable internet service with no frigging “have-to’s” forced on the customer they would be welcomed like US soldiers in Paris, in 1944.
Another example: Payment gateways on the web are awful, the most notable example being Paypal. Paypal (like the others) takes a percentage of each transaction, say 4 to 5% As well as a flat per transaction cost. There is unused room for a company to offer a simple flat rate per transaction cost or even a flat monthly/yearly subscription. Nobody is doing this right now because companies choose models that look for maximum take and possibly (?) as a way to protect their kind by not offering consumers a better model to choose. Someone could get wildly rich by offering people a better deal. There would be tons of money in a low-cost payment gateway.
It’s not as aggressive as the typical model, and the way it would succeed is by red, white and blue free market competition. It is the flowing aikido style as opposed to standard business’s Russian street fight approach. The fact is that many companies are so unpleasant and controlling and demanding that they’ve left themselves vulnerable. Let’s expose their weak underbellies. Let’s exploit the abundant territory they never thought to explore, happy customers. There’s an old saying that when the poor conspire against the rich, that’s class warfare; but when the rich conspire against the poor that’s good business.
Let’s end the zero-sum game, let’s spread happiness and opportunity…and grind the fatcats beneath our boots.
And finally, for now…
- The crowdfunding potential to start up new businesses that DO care what the public wants. The community could act to crowd-source startup money for businesses that would use the good business alliance model and offer competition to “control-freak” businesses. This would have its own straightforward value as well as put intense pressure on the “problem” companies.
- Pipedreams and such: This community could also be the foundation of common sense self-interest alliances such as a “Costco style” buying club for health insurance.