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Friday, July 13, 2007

The Spirit of Capitalism

posted by on July 13 at 10:17 AM

In the present and most advanced stage of capitalism, corporations not only layoff workers but also customers:

The WSJ confirms earlier reports that Sprint Nextel is terminating the contracts of subscribers who call customer service too much (registration required). The 1,000 or so terminated subscribers called an average of 25 times a month ó 40x times higher than average ó according to a company spokeswoman, who also noted that a large number of calls from these customers were related to billing issues.
This must be the ultimate power for capitalism. How can it go beyond this point, this seemingly impossible achievement?

In the previous stage (the postindustrial stage), capital detached itself from labor, dissolved the gold standard, and magically transformed paper money into an ether of electronic information. The project for the present capitalist is to terminate its last real obstacle: the customer. No labor, no customers, no money exchanges, no problem—profits continue to grow. This is the system’s spiritual stage. Capitalism without customers is like Jesus turning water into wine.

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Goddamnit. Had I known it would be that easy to get out of my contract if I kept calling and bitching about them double billing me every other month ...

Posted by GW2 | July 13, 2007 10:24 AM

You're so full of crap and you know it Chaz. The customer becomes a burden on the entire company when they cease to bring in more income than is expended on them.

good for sprint!

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 10:27 AM

So I'm thinking I need to start calling them and bitching all the time...their phone service sucks and I want out!!!

Posted by Dianna | July 13, 2007 10:28 AM

chaz, you know what equilibrium means? any customer over a certain amount costs the company money, and customer less than a certain amount means less profit.

why am i explaining this to an adult who went to college?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 10:32 AM

How is this any different than a "No shirt, no shoes, no business" or a "We reserve the right not to serve" sign?

What must it be like to be Marxist with no underlying sense of economics, capitalism or even history?

Is it like being a blind astrologer, a celibate eunuch, or a deaf music critic?

Posted by dirge | July 13, 2007 10:33 AM

Bah ... you're humorless drones, BA and dirge.

Posted by tsm | July 13, 2007 10:41 AM

I just lost brain cells. Reding tshs postt.

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 13, 2007 10:42 AM

When The Stranger next stops its distribution at a given drop-off point and effectively "fires" the readers/customers in that neighborhood, will our blogger have words for his employer? Will he resign in protest from the capitalist endeavor that provides his income?

Posted by Mason | July 13, 2007 10:43 AM

When The Stranger next stops its distribution at a given drop-off point and effectively "fires" the readers/customers in that neighborhood, will our blogger have words for his employer? Will he resign in protest from the capitalist endeavor that provides his income?

Posted by Mason | July 13, 2007 10:44 AM

Sounds like the phone companies are taking lessons from America's Great Patriotic Health Insurance Companies.

Posted by cdc | July 13, 2007 10:46 AM

25 calls a month? Thank you Sprint for dropping these dumbass customers. Customer Service workers around the nation applaud you.

Posted by Matthew | July 13, 2007 10:48 AM

I would say it is bad customer service; capitalism run amoke though? I think that is stretching it. Unless Charles has other examples I would assume this is isolated with a company that is stuggling in the market. They posted losses first quarter of 2007 and are not making any gains in new subscribers. I do not see the quantitative evidence this is capitalism as opposed to just a poorly run company that is continuing to make bad business choices.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 13, 2007 10:53 AM

please further explain your capitalism w/out customers and jesus/wine simily.

Posted by brad | July 13, 2007 10:57 AM

"Hello, my xBox360 is locking up again. Can you fix it?"


"I'm sorry, we've decided to terminate you as a customer."

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 13, 2007 10:57 AM

sorry i meant "simile".

Posted by brad | July 13, 2007 10:58 AM

good post charles. subtle yet brilliant.

the market, thus capital has grown to the point of becoming face-less. dependent states pay tribute to the market and beg the market to come in and take what little resources they have. the market can decide wether they want to exploit u or not. the market makes u feel like u have choices. the market controls and knows all. political institutions become irelevant and they only answer to the needs of the market. this all seems normal, and to think otherwise will cause others to accuse you of being a fringe conspiracy theorist. it is brilliant, since it has no need to repress and it makes humanity act against their interest. this is the age of empire.

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 10:58 AM

SeMe, are you really just a Chaz alter ego?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 11:01 AM

Will in Seattle should change his name to Dumbass in Seattle.

Posted by I beat up Charles when he was a kid. | July 13, 2007 11:01 AM

Personally, I found this post hillarious.

Now I'm off to call Sprint 10 times a day until they release me from the bonds of my crappy contract.

Posted by arduous | July 13, 2007 11:11 AM

What's that? Terminated customers were scamming Sprint for free service? Or maybe you just have a lot of sympathy for people who want free shit and bitch about it a lot.

Posted by Ben | July 13, 2007 11:19 AM

@ 17

ive disagreed with charles' post quite a bit in the past. specially his zimbabwe posts. i happen to find this one, quite insightful.

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 11:24 AM

but how insightful is it to come up with some kind of nonsense about concepts he doesnt understand (economics), when there are completely rational reasons for this decision that can be explained in the framework of free market theory?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 11:26 AM

well said.

Charles, if you were a merchant, would you sell to customers who demanded services that cost more than the fees they paid you? If you wouldn't, why should Sprint?

Posted by Matt | July 13, 2007 11:33 AM

Well, #22, I would argue that the Marxist explanation is more than about mere rationality in the short run. It is a narrative, in the vein of Hegel, to explain the development of human economic activity. Whether or not this narrative is useful or needed is an important question to ask.

(Some "scientific" Marxists (perhaps more lately Althusserians) might have a problem with my characterization of Marxist thought in terms of a grand narrative, and with good reason.)

Actually, I find this post about money to be kind of funny, but problematic all the same. Whatever.

Posted by David E. | July 13, 2007 11:52 AM


of course it can be explained, and it makes logical sense from a market point of view, i donít think that was the point of the post, i think he was just pointing out to how quickly the market(he calls it capatilism) has evolved; how different things are since the end of the industrial revolution, which by the way contradicts his thrashing of the rural folk of the developing world, but thatís another topic.

the emancipation of the markets leading to the dismissal of customers, regardless of how annoying they are is a fascinating thing to think about. wether youre an economist or not. i dont think the example is the important point here-clearly no one is saying that this scientifically proves that the market is dismissing customers, but it does point to something that was unheard of 50 years ago. to some the market has religous like qualities.

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 11:55 AM

is narrative a good way to explain sociology, psychology, or any of the social sciences like economics?

also, why is chaz shackled to thinking of economics in terms of narrative, as if he can't view these things in any other way.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 11:59 AM

oh wow, markets change! UNBELIEVABLE!

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 12:02 PM

It wouldn't surprise me much if these were the people that hit 0 as soon as the automated system answered the phone.

Posted by Mike of Renton | July 13, 2007 12:29 PM

@26 and 27: some would argue (I'm somewhat partial to this line of thought, but find it has many problems) that all explanations are narratives of one sort or another, each with its own blind spots and difficulties. Connecting this to what seems like reality is a difficult thing to do. Among the social scientists, I would bet that it's generally the sociologists (especially those with a qualitative bent) who recognize this argument. As for economists, well, most "orthodox" ones probably think of this line of argumentation as anathema. After all, there's a bunch of math involved! How could that involve narratives at all?! I mean, it's practically scientific! There's certainly more math involved than in physics (check out Deirdre McCloskey's work on this for more)!

As for "Chaz" being "shackled" to this "narrative thinking," well...perhaps he's just more self-conscious about it than some economists are--not that they are trying to hide anything, though.

However, what I really think bothers some people about his posts about economics is that he doesn't refer to what so many people have come to think of as economics--and "good" economics at that. In other words, the sort of economic thought he engages in is extremely qualitative, and, therefore (as many would argue), not worth serious consideration because it escapes the sought-after objectivity of scientific research. After all, it seems unwise to base policy and law on what seems to be extremely speculative interpretation, doesn't it?

Anyhow, I find these posts amusing and interesting, even if I don't always agree with him.

Posted by David E. | July 13, 2007 12:32 PM

Charles, you are smarter (and certainly more poetic) than most of the Sloggers today. Good post. SeMe gets it too.

And, if nothing else, it does provide customers a way to get out of those goddamned contracts.

Sprint: Welcome, to Sprint customer service, may I help you?
Disgruntled Customer: Your service sucks, any chance of letting me out of my contract early?
Sprint: No
Disgruntled Customer: OK, I'll talk to you in a few hours then.
Sprint: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Disgruntled Customer: No
Sprint: Thank you for calling Sprint. Have a great day.

Posted by SteveR | July 13, 2007 12:34 PM

Bellevue Ave, remind me to never go out for a drink with you.

Posted by Paulus | July 13, 2007 12:43 PM

if you are anyrhing like charles then you're doing me a favor

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 1:18 PM

I'm Charles times Charles.


Posted by Paulus | July 13, 2007 1:27 PM

I know Charles, and you aren't Charles.

Nice try, Paulus.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 13, 2007 1:38 PM

An interesting angle on this whole thing (without none of that fancy hegalian talk) would be the unquestioned one-sidedness of it all. It makes perfect sense to stop serving a customer if they are a pain in the ass, sure. But not if that customer is under contract. At that point it ceases to be a merely rational, economic issue and and becomes an ethical issue as well. Although I don't know, maybe sprint has caveats in their contracts about not calling customer service too much.

Posted by douglas | July 13, 2007 1:51 PM

sprint has a clause in all their contracts saying that they(sprint) can let you go at their choosing. These customers were unprofitable and burdensome. they let them go. good for them. for the love of god stop trying to view this from the lens of an antiquated political religion, it's 2007 and sprint doesn't give two shits about dialects.

Posted by aarons | July 13, 2007 2:13 PM

Yeah, and we've already shown their contracts are illegal in this state for other reasons - who is to say this isn't illegal too?

You have RIGHTS, people. Use them. Don't believe what you read, especially if you're not allowed to alter it in a contract.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 13, 2007 2:40 PM

whats illegal about their contracts

Posted by Bellevue Ave | July 13, 2007 2:43 PM


Dialectics. ;)

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 2:45 PM

@39- thanks yes dialectics. i'm sure they don't care about varities of language and accents either.

Posted by aarons | July 13, 2007 2:47 PM

@37- yes, you have the right not to have a cell phone. It's your choice.

Posted by aarons | July 13, 2007 2:50 PM


i beg to differ. if they didnt care about languages and accents, than SPRINT wouldnt spend so much in advertising in spanish speaking newspapers and spanish media like UNIVISION, and they wouldnt have their spokes people speaking with Mexican, Dominican or Puertorican accents depending on the market theyre targeting. im sure they also spend quite a bit in other languages.

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 2:58 PM

@40 a fucking joke making fun of my poor spelling.

Posted by aarons | July 13, 2007 3:22 PM

@ 43

my bad.

Posted by SeMe | July 13, 2007 3:41 PM


I think #37 is referring to the Cingular class action case just decided by the Washington Supreme Court. The court held the arbitration only/no class actions clause in the Cingular contract unenforceable, because it infringed on public policy established in the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Since most contracts (think cell phones, credit cards, etc.) these days include mandatory arbitration clauses, this is good news for Washington consumers. Class actions allow groups of people with small claims to band together to bring one large claim. Companies hate class actions because without them, they can nickel and dime people to death, because no individual has enough of an injury to spend the effort fighting back.

Posted by asdf | July 13, 2007 4:29 PM

What is interesting here is the evolution of value and currency. The point of Charles' post was to magnify the fact that capitalism has moved from tangible items - that people trade, buy and sell (and can generally identify as valuable) - towards paper currency, and now electronic bytes generated by financial software as indicators of profit. The side note about Sprint is a hilarious anecdote to symbolize that the consumer has the potential to become almost irrelevent in the process of profit generation. Consumer spending, notwithstanding its sizable impacts on the economy, could theoretically take a back seat to other market indicators such as interest rates as the market evolves more toward futures markets and other pretend profit generating mechanisms - especially as our country's debt, both personal and national continues to grow at unprecedented rates. Consumers are the only piece of the equation that prevents smooth, predictable growth rates in the global economy, it makes perfect sense to remove the unprofitable ones.

Posted by Morgan | July 13, 2007 4:44 PM

@46: Ha, I like that about the customers being the last piece of the equation. :-)

Posted by David E. | July 13, 2007 5:48 PM

Charles' original post reminds me of Peter Lamborn Wilson's book "Escape from the Nineteenth Century" which is a fascinating commentary on how capitalism has evolved, and how it the 20th century version has many curious and brutal parallels to the 19th C. version. I can't summarize it fully here, so I'd urge each of you to read it (it's only $12). Very insightful and very cogent to this discussion. You can probably find it at Left Bank Books.

While people are stopped at the borders and faced with increasing restrictions to their movement, capital becomes ever more insubstantial and fluid... crossing borders with ease; punishing entire countries for "bad" decisions; funding war and drugs; all the while abusing the food supply (GMOs), and privatizing water (an otherwise "public good").

Since under capitalism virtually anything can become private property controlled via cyberspace (even your DNA, cowboy), it reminds me of Ambrose Bierce's definition for Land:

LAND, n. A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B and C, there will be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.

Who own's ya, baby?

Posted by treacle | July 14, 2007 3:32 PM

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