Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 11, 2005

Consumer Experience

The vacuum cleaner nozzle has some problems and I drew the task to care for a spare part. I hate to fight with customer services. The machine is several years old and I expected trouble.

I wrote down the model number and got on the web. After four clicks through the Miele site I reached the repair part order page. But damn, how archaic, there was nothing I could do online, just a phone number. Well, at least it was toll free.

Expecting a long callcenter hassle I first grabbed a fresh cup of tea.

First surprise - I did get connected within ten seconds and rerouted to the right desk in another ten.
Second surprise - a friendly female voice asking understandable questions. Within one minute she had looked up the part number and had it entered together with my address into her system.
Third suprise -  she said the part would leave their warehouse this afternoon and be delivered by regular post service within two days max. Costs are €48.34, payment is cash on delivery. She also recommended some herb pills for my sore voice.

Time to drink that tea now. Mhh, what are the other products this company sells....

Posted by b on April 11, 2005 at 08:27 AM | Permalink

Comments

b,

Miele is a fine brand and the premium price you payed for your vacuum should give you some customer service. It is always refreshing to actually find people who speak your language when you do have a problem and I will keep your experience in mind the next time I need to buy some kitchen appliances.

Where I work the decision was made to go with Dell Computers in part because they have fantastic service both online and telephone. Imagine our disappointment when Dell decided to transfer their call centers to India. Though they are quite good it just wasn't the same and many people complained. Dell then backtracked and opened call centers in Alabama for federal users. It seemed so wrong that a manufacturer supplying the US government would play cheap on customer service and take jobs away from the very taxpayers that are paying for their stuff in the first place.

Posted by: Dan of Steele | Apr 11, 2005 11:13:14 AM | 1

dan of steele

The "liberal" complaints about job-outsourcing are interesting, given the interest the left should have in the improvement of every worker's welfare, whether American or Indian.

Protectionism is not a solution to the evils of globalism. About this there is endless confusion on the ostensible "left."

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 11:22:12 AM | 2

Slothrop: Peronsally, I'm quite wary of outsourcing and don't mind some measure of protectionism. On the other hand, I'm quite delighted to see the main backer of ultra-capitalist laissez-faire, of uber-liberal anti-protectionism, get a taste of its own medicine.
Maybe, once all the US industries have been outsourced, will people see that leftist calls to some limits to outsourcing were founded, whether it was for European countries or 3rd world nations, which suffer the most from this in agriculture.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Apr 11, 2005 11:29:46 AM | 3

Peronsally

Exactly the problem.

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 11:43:31 AM | 4

The problem is that this globalization like others before leads to extrem unbalances that are not tolerable for many people. To some part this is because it is happening too fast. Another issue is credit, the price of money and exchange rates. In theory the well-off countries should loose business to not-so-well-off countries and than win new business by selling to those people in China who now have the outsourced jobs.

Two problems with this.
The time lag between loosing business and winning new business is huge and too long for the low wage worker that lost his job.
The business losts are different from the businesses gained. The benefits flow to different people. Loosing in manufacturing and winning in services is bad if you are a manufacturing worker/business owner.

The best thing now would be a slow down of globalization through higher commodity prices and through more regulated international finance (Tobin tax?) and higher real interest rates. Put on some brakes (but no full stop) until some of the inbalances have corrected themselfs (5-10 years).

The worst thing would be full blown protectionism and isolationism. Unfortunatly looking at history the odds are more on this side.

History warns that this is precisely the phase in the globalization cycle when protectionism and geopolitical instability have reared their ugly heads in the past. That was the case in three of the most recent episodes of globalization -- the integration of the Atlantic economy in the second half of the 19th century, the global integration in the first decade of the 1900s, and the globalization in the inter-war era of the 1920s. In each of these instances, the initial rush to global convergence was characterized by a sharp expansion of world trade and global capital flows that seemed unstoppable at the time. Unfortunately, there came a point in all of those periods when that convergence was undermined by mounting instabilities -- namely, ever-widening cross-border income inequalities, unstable trade and capital flows, mounting geopolitical tensions, systemic problems in banking systems, and a reaction against international migration (see Kevin H. O’Rourke and Jeffrey G. Williamson, Globalization and History, The MIT Press, 1999). Unfortunately, many of those destabilizing characteristics of the past are very much in evidence today. For a world that is currently afflicted by record imbalances, those are hardly precedents to take lightly.
writes Steven Roach

Posted by: b | Apr 11, 2005 11:58:47 AM | 5

The best thing now would be a slow down of globalization through higher commodity prices and through more regulated international finance (Tobin tax?) and higher real interest rates.

I have to avoid the temptation of reductive logic, but this sounds to me like a, albeit well-meaning, evasion. Higher commodity prices without wagerate increases=inflation, offset presumably by higher interest rates. This is the usual game, right? If so, the improvement of global capitalism means reducing the standard of living of "1st world" workers while supposedly improving the lives of "developing" countries (wow: a million winners working in call centers in southern India). Improvement of standards of living in India/China, etc. requires the equalization of wage-rates on a global scale. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the success of global capitalism depends on such equalization. Yet, as ever, because this system is based on labor exploitation, the "improvements" can only be won through lowering standards of living for western workers or through barrier-to-entry protectionism. In the jargon of classic political economy, the "reserve army of workers" is expanded and the "organic composition of capital" lowered, or "mercantalism" reigns. In either case, the contradictions of the syustem cannmot possibly improve the lives of workers in the long run.

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 12:25:17 PM | 6

The problem is that this globalization like others before leads to extrem unbalances

In my view, this is a misrecognition of the contradictions of capitalist development. The contradictions are insurmountable--they can not be overcome as you suggest by some kind of measured advance of capitalist exploitation.

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 12:31:44 PM | 7

I welcomne corrections to my evolving neophyte marxism, of course.

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 12:34:04 PM | 8

slothrop,

I guess you are pulling my chain but just to waste some bandwidth please allow me to explain where I am coming from. If this seems not leftie enough I will gladly accept suggestions on how to achieve the proper level.

I was referring to computing equipment purchased by the federal government meaning it was bought by tax dollars. The computer equipment is assembled (some of it anyway), packaged, and sold by a US owned company that has enjoyed tax breaks and other perks so that it could be competitive in the US. For this company then to fire US employees so that it can hire Indian employess for a few dollars less seems to be a slap in the face to all the taxpayers who with their tax dollars buy their equipment.

I have this silly quirk of looking for fairness, it is probably my Lutheran North Dakota upbringing but I have not been able to get rid of it completely.

How would I as a liberal help anyone by taking work away from my neighbor and giving it to a stranger who has no interest in my community? I don't get it.

Posted by: Dan of Steele | Apr 11, 2005 1:07:45 PM | 9

@Dan

But should the government use taxes -your money- to buy as cheap as possible? Shoudn´t Dell by as cheap as possible to be able to sell as cheap as possible?

Not that I do know the answer...

Posted by: b | Apr 11, 2005 1:40:03 PM | 10

b,

Buying cheap does not exclude buying locally. I have no problems with Michael Dell and his billions. Good for him. I also believe that people will pay a dollar or two more for equipment if it has good warranty and good service. You could have bought some Korean vacuum for a lot less money than what you paid for the Miele, when it broke you would have found it cheaper to throw the whole thing away rather than replace the nozzle. Is that better for anyone in Hamburg?

Posted by: Dan of Steele | Apr 11, 2005 1:51:06 PM | 11

dan of steele

It's no trivial problem to think through these contradictions. Protectionism is bad for workers, even while a few workers might benefit in the shortrun.

But you are right. I'm probably wasting bandwidth. I feel the view often defended here for a kinder, gentler capitalism is deeply unjustified. But, I'm willing to admit I'm wrong when provided proof of my errors.

Posted by: slothrop | Apr 11, 2005 1:57:26 PM | 12

wow, the browser stuck and posted a bunch of gibberish.

Yes the government should save money when it can and not waste resources.

The government's main purpose as I understand it is to protect its citizens. Choosing to buy services from another country when those services are available in your own country and there is an over abundant supply of workers to provide them does not do that.

Posted by: Dan of Steele | Apr 11, 2005 1:59:27 PM | 13

Outsourcing is fine if workers (world) benefit, following the fairness principle ... the idea that market share must be shared.. there is only so much to go around, so the Indians should have some of it too, sure...

But if the profits go to the fat cats, the skimmers and cheaters (and the ordinary people like myself who pay into pension funds which invest, most of us are part of this system and indirectly rely on the savy of the World Bank, the WTO, etc...), and if these procedures take place in a totally screwed up system of production and transport, it becomes hard to argue one pov or the other. The whole framework or system is rotten to the core, and taking off from it as a base to which minor twitches could be applied to provide a fix is not on.

The answer may well lie with strong protectionism and curtailing trade to local areas, basically shutting it down. Or it may lie with tempered, fair regulations (but regulations all the same) of World Trade. One thing is for sure: unbridled capitalism and exploitation of the world’s resources and the work and health of the people on it, not to mention animals and plants, an ideology of perpetual growth and rapine, are unacceptable. Pragmatically and morally...

Well it is all a bit late in the day. But there we are. For the moment, anyway.

alarmist, but worth a read (short):

Current food production system due for collapse

Published on 7 Apr 2005 by Institute of Science in Society.

http://www.energybulletin.net/5173.html>EnergyBulletin

Posted by: Blackie | Apr 11, 2005 2:00:41 PM | 14

Protectionism is bad for workers, even while a few workers might benefit in the shortrun

I don't believe that. You have to protect things that are unable to protect themselves. The government has no qualms protecting industry and banks, why are jobs any different? Granted, protecting carriage whip makers when there is no longer a demand for carriage whips is not a good idea. That is not the case for the help desk call center workers.

I do believe that starting up call centers in India is NOT helping the Indian people. Sure, some of them will make a few extra rupees and it may even keep some from starving due to the trickle down effect. You can be sure that as soon as another location becomes more competetive all those call centers will close and those happy millions will soon be hapless millions. Hell, Korea lost its position as a favorite place for cheap services to Ireland a few years back, aint that a kick in the head!

Posted by: Dan of Steele | Apr 11, 2005 2:16:51 PM | 15

dan of steele

Protectionism in the U.S. has helped to elites buy the loyalty of workers while foreign workers are unable to compete for jobs. By the logic of capital expansion, protectionism decreases presumed benefits for workers, but more importantly, decreases opportunities for labor exploitation and contributes to declining profits. At home, protectionism stultifies workers and depoliticizes and immobilizes labor, generally.

I don't think the defense of labor via protectionism is a viable, longterm strategy for labor, based on what such protections accomplish within the prevailing social relations of capitalist production.

Posted by: | Apr 11, 2005 9:21:35 PM | 16

The outsourcing debate is just arguments about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Imperial-Islamic Forever War and the Peak Oil Crunch will transform the developed world. It is like the peddling bio-diesel as the future energy source for suburbia. In fact, once all the petroleum reserves are gone, all the arable farm land will be needed to feed humans and work animals. Read James Wolcott’s We Can't Say We Weren't Warned

Posted by: Jim S | Apr 11, 2005 11:13:37 PM | 17

Protectionism hmmm. Protecting one's financial institutions and money from wildcat cross-border currency speculators doesn't seem like such a bad thing. Trade protectionism, well, it could mean protecting your home industries from competition and reducing other countries to raw materials sources (British Empah style); or it could mean, for one of those struggling smaller countries, protecting your domestic industries and agriculture against product-dumping from the industrialised giants.

Tend to agree w/slothrop that creating nationalist islands of semi-decent working conditions and wages in an otherwise immiserated world (a) is morally unpleasant and (b) won't work unless you fetter the movement of capital, which the capitalists won't let you. A global minimum wage would be a start; but before we even get that monetist, a global minimum diet, global minimum clean water ration, a global right to shelter would be precursors. In that other universe. The one that isn't ruled by the biggest and greediest rats.

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 12, 2005 1:24:41 AM | 18

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