Bureaucracy is dead to me.

I put in an order to have my mail held while I was in Italy, and they managed to do that… but the post office was supposed to resume delivery on Wednesday, and they haven’t done so. Since I’m expecting several packages, as well as details of when I’m supposed to show up for jury duty, this is a little alarming. (Really, USPS? Do you want me to go to jail for skipping jury duty? Really?)

This morning, I went in to the post office, only to be given a telephone number to call at which nobody ever answers. Trying the USPS general customer service line gets me a recorded message in every language except English. Enough of this. I just signed up for Ask Sunday. I’m going to let a nice chap in India deal with the post office for me. Let’s see if they can handle a taste of their own medicine.

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15 Responses to “Bureaucracy is dead to me.”

  1. Hux Says:

    “…it’s no big secret why his service is so…cheap.”

    “We set up a call center operation in India…”

    Your own personal slave. Woo!

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    No slavery, and completely morally acceptable. It turns out that the person who responded to my USPS request is located, well, I’m not sure where, but judging by the name, the U.S. Which eliminates some of that moral worry. Edit: so it turns out that’s not true — see the below — some research revealed that the company in question does employ Indian labor. The name may have been deceptive.

    But really, I don’t think it’s wrong to employ people in less-developed countries for things like this at cheap rates. It’s not like stitching garments or assembling circuit boards, not particularly dangerous or hard labor, and the wages are probably better, relative to the bottom-end of the local market, there than here (i.e., they’re probably getting paid further above minimum wage for doing this kind of work in India than people would get paid in the U.S., if only because it requires things like English language skills which are more common here than there).

  3. Hux Says:

    That is a common fallacy. Compare:

    “The child was in a home where they were beaten and raped every day. I took them out and beat and raped them only every third or fourth day, therefore I improved their situation and my actions are morally acceptable.”

    For the sake of discussion only, since I’m pretty sure the jeans I wear as I type this are the product of slave labour.

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    Nonsense. I hardly have the capacity to bring it about that some worker in India gets paid the amount that someone in the U.S. would be paid. By contrast, the child “rescuer” has the capacity to not beat/rape. The better comparison would be to something like this:

    “The child was in a home where they were beaten and raped every day. I took them out and transferred them to the only other home available, in which they were unfortunately beaten and raped every third or fourth day.”

  5. Hux Says:

    I hardly have the capacity to bring it about that some worker in India gets paid the amount that someone in the U.S. would be paid.

    The point is usually it’s bad that you (and I) are supporting such an industry. You have the capacity to not do this.

  6. Paul Gowder Says:

    I don’t think we can talk intelligently about “supporting such an industry” without seriously thinking about the counterfactual. If the consequence of not supporting such an industry is that the market for that industry dries up, and the workers find themselves in better-paying jobs (e.g., because enough market power on the consumer end is directed at demanding better wages), great, it’s wrong to support such an industry. If the consequence of not supporting such an industry is that the market for that industry dries up and the workers find themselves assembling circuit boards for less, well, then it seems like it’s not wrong to support such an industry, and it might even be better than the alternative.

    Given that one consumer doesn’t have the market power to bring about the first rather than the second counterfactual, but many consumers would, what we have is a moral collective action problem. (Coincidentally, I have a paper on those… to a man with a hammer…) It seems to me that my obligation, to the extent there is one, is to contribute to the attempt to organize collective market and/or political power to better the conditions of Indian workers, rather than make futile gestures on an individual basis. That is, to do something effective.

    I did do some research. It looks like AskSunday, despite the names their workers use, is based in India … but this similar company uses U.S. employees. Though I’m not convinced by your argument, it does have some intuitive grip — also, I don’t completely trust my judgment here since I may be biased by cognitive dissonance reduction — so I may switch to the U.S. one. Maybe. Opinions of other readers?

  7. Uncommon Priors » Moral advice from the peanut gallery? Says:

    [...] everyone — I’d appreciate it if you read the discussion between Hux and I on the last post and chime in with any arguments you think are relevant — is it morally objectionable for me [...]

  8. Hux Says:

    It seems to me that my obligation, to the extent there is one, is to contribute to the attempt to organize collective market and/or political power to better the conditions of Indian workers, rather than make futile gestures on an individual basis.

    I can’t tell if this is a legitimate moral consideration or an argumentum ad hominem, but you absolutely did not buy that personal assistant for humanitarian reasons. You bought it because you’re lazy.

    But I’ll leave the rest up to readers.

  9. Paul Gowder Says:

    Uh, you’re wildly misreading if you think I said any such thing. What part of the claim that if I have a moral obligation here it’s to promote collective action do you understand to mean “I hired this time-saving service out of the goodness of my heart?”

    And unless I was making such a ridiculous lying claim, there’s no universe in which your so very insightful point that I’m hiring a company because their service is useful to me is relevant to the discussion. Unless you think every market transaction anyone engages in should be motivated only by respect for the moral law?

  10. Richard Says:

    I think it’s clearly permissible to employ the Indian guy, and indeed probably better to do so (from a cosmopolitan perspective) than to simply benefit another American worker with your consumer dollars.

    (But then, I’m “objectively pro-sweatshop.”)

  11. Paul Gowder Says:

    Thanks Richard. I tend to think that this comment of yours is the key point — it makes little sense to talk about participation in harmful institutions without a discussion about the consequences of one’s non-participation.

    Debra Satz makes some really excellent points in this paper about the way that permitting certain voluntary transactions can distort markets, making conditions worse for participants in those markets than simply banning them would. But I don’t think that political consideration is practically relevant for individual economic actors without lots of market power.

    (jesus, does this mean I’ve really drunk the consequentialist kool-aid? :-) )

  12. Hux Says:

    …there’s no universe in which your so very insightful point that I’m hiring a company because their service is useful to me is relevant to the discussion.

    Compare,

    “The child was in a home where they were beaten and raped every day. I took them out and beat and raped them only every third or fourth day, therefore I improved their situation and my actions are morally acceptable.”

    with,

    “The child was in a home where they were beaten and raped every day. I took them out and transferred them to the only other home available, in which they were unfortunately beaten and raped every third or fourth day.”

    It is relevant.

    What part of the claim that if I have a moral obligation here it’s to promote collective action do you understand to mean “I hired this time-saving service out of the goodness of my heart?”

    The part where you say, “my obligation, to the extent there is one, is to contribute to the attempt to organize collective market and/or political power to better the conditions of Indian workers.” That really sounds like you were saying your purchase was a deliberately humanitarian gesture. As per the first part of this comment (the raped and beaten children thing), I think it is relevant.

  13. JL Says:

    “The child was in a home where they were beaten and raped every day. I took them out and beat and raped them only every third or fourth day, therefore I improved their situation and my actions are morally acceptable.”

    Ultimately, very few transactions are 100% not coercive. Just because the workers in the US call center make federal minimum wage and have OSHA compliant phones doesn’t mean they aren’t exploited. The idea that there are people somewhere (or at least in the type of job that would have them call the USPS help line) that aren’t beaten and raped at least occasionally is, frankly, false.

    Of course, that doesn’t make it ok to aim for the lowest denominator and exploit to your heart’s content. I think you should try to avoid gross exploitation. But you are still participating in an exploitative system. It’s just a measure of degrees.

  14. Hux Says:

    JL –

    Yeah I agree. Most of the people we call affluent I (along with many others, of course) would call wage slaves. But for this discussion I’ve kind of assumed there is a more lamentable variety of wage-slavery, and that is the variety found in India, China etc.

  15. JL Says:

    There is a more lamentable variety of wage-slavery, but I don’t think call servicing in India is necessarily of that variety. It’s not physically dangerous, it (as far as I know) doesn’t require excessive hours.

    Having opted in to a capitalist system, we should prefer to buy from a vendor that doesn’t exploit workers. I think it’s a moral choice too, but not one that breaks down into moral and not moral with a nice line between the two for individuals to observe. It’s nicer to buy from a factory that rapes and beats its workers less than other factories.

    Still, it’s a system in which individual action makes little difference, but collective action is a driving force. In the aggregate, we are better morally when we collectively buy from non-crummy vendors, even though as individuals we sometimes don’t.

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