Thursday, January 15, 2015

If we have smaller government…

...will smaller corporations follow?

I thought a recent article in the New York Times had a headline linking Jeb Bush and “small government”.  At the time, I only saved the link.  When I revisited the link, the article didn’t have that headline but one about his emails as Governor of Florida.  (“Emails from tenure as governor of Florida show Jeb Bush’s agenda and goals”, 2014-12-25).

He did campaign on promising to make Florida state government smaller. He did set a goal of cutting the number of state employees in half.  “And while he did not slash the number of state employees by half, he did privatize thousands of public jobs.”

The problem with promises of smaller government is that often little discrimination is made between what government services are important and what services are superfluous.  It reminds me of Senator Rudy Boschwitz and his call for “across the board cuts”.  Are we going to cut understaffed court systems as well as grants to the arts?  Many people will step in with increased donations to the arts, but how many are willing to donate to the court systems?

What services did Gov. Bush cut?  Could these cuts have resulted in longer wait time for developmentally disabled individuals to receive assistance?  Did he cut law enforcement?  Would this have resulted in more traffic crashes because irresponsible drivers had more chances to hurt other people?

What about the privatizing of public services?  Who are these companies responsible to: the people or the shareholders?  If prisons are privatized, do the companies have an incentive to help inmates re-integrate with society?  Or do they have an incentive to maximize profits and feed and house prisoners at the lowest possible cost without any concern about recidivism?

What is it that makes some people automatically assume corporations will always do better than government?  Have they considered that both corporations and governments are run by people?  And what do people do too often?  Make mistakes.

Deadly mistakes like air bags that kill people and brakes that don’t work.

People lie too often.  Government officials tell us about weapons that don’t exist.  Corporations tell us that their projects will create jobs and will not harm people or the environment.

Two of the favorite punching bags of government critics are the Departments of Motor Vehicles and the Postal Service.  Sorry, but my experiences with either have been almost always positive.  Sure, I have to wait in line sometimes, but I console myself that the clerks will treat me as if I were the only customer.  And the last words of a postal clerk are “Anything else?”  Our usual postal carrier trudges through the snow and cold, and she can still greet us with a cheery smile.

Most of my interactions with large companies are generally positive, but the number of things that go wrong is far too many.

I have accounts with several corporations for various services from online newspapers to cell phone service.  I make payments to many of these by automatic payment through my credit card. Some of these have been sending me emails that my card has expired!

This was beginning in December and into this month.  Strange!  My card has an expiration date of 01/15!  My bank verified that means 1/31/15.  I’ve called or emailed a few about this.  I said I would probably not receive a new card until mid-January.  How can I update it without an updated card?

My new card arrived this past week!  Hurray, I won’t be receiving these messages for another three years.


I spent half a morning updating half the auto-pay accounts.  I wrote some of this while waiting for Virgin Mobile to give me the next page of ???  I lost count.  Each took over a minute to load.  This is corporate efficiency?

Ah, Virgin Mobile accepted my card.  No, it did not!  It doesn’t like the old card number that is displayed with mostly asterisks.  I replaced that with 16 digits all jammed together.  It didn’t like that.  I can’t remember all that happened but finally I had a screen that had the updated info.  Except my choices now are to cancel or pay now.  I would pay automatically on the due date.  I cancelled.  When the next page finally came up it looked like I was all set, but the expiration date wasn’t included.  Then I was waiting  for the page “Edit info”.  The expiration date was NOT updated.

Then I was watching the wait circle go round-and-round for “Contact Us”.  Ah, it finally loaded.

I received an email from Virgin Mobile a couple of hours later.  The representative listed five straight-forward steps.  Why didn’t I see the first step?  Did I go off to another page where that step was not shown?  I don’t know, and I’m not going to double check now.  I do know that all was not peaches and cream.

“Terms and agreement” had a check-box for acceptance, but it was not obvious.  It was partially hidden by text.  I finally got all the steps done, and was told that it would take fifteen minutes to reflect the change in my account.  I bet it wouldn’t take them fifteen minutes to notify me if I had run over the limit on my credit card.

I could rant on about some of the other problems of two days updating only a few accounts.  Some went smoothly; other were almost as bad as the Virgin Mobile experience.

I do know some people who would not even attempt this task.  They would find an expert to do it for them.  With all the research in the last thirty years that has gone into human interface and ease of use, one would think that large corporations with their “efficiency” would be experts in this field.

Mel wonders if there is a Moore’s law for software bugs: every 18 months, the percentage of errors doubles.