Friday, February 19, 2010

It's The Free Market, Stupid

Capitalism is one of those things I take for granted. Having never lived in a non-Capitalist society, I don't much think about it (also, I am no longer 16, and therefore deeply skeptical of Marxists). We can debate the finer points of how capitalism intersects with social policy, but for today, I'm more concerned with business vs. business/business vs. consumer, and not the oh-god-I'm-so-over-it capitalism vs. healthcare vs. socialist-fake-Muslim-presidents.

Over the weekend, while the TV was being used by devoted partner, cutting into my DVRed Olympic schedule, I took some time to answer a push poll sponsored by Cablevision, my utterly useless cable provider. How do I know it was sponsored by Cablevision? Because even neolithic man would have been able to suss out the subtle leading of the questioner. Over the new year, Cablevision caused me great personal distress by discontinuing HGTV. The company that owned HGTV wanted more money, Cablevision didn't want to pay for it, I ended up having free time and no Property Virgins. This matter has since been solved. To my satisfaction as now I have the channel back. Well, while I haven't been paying attention, apparently there's going to be trouble with Cablevision and ABC, who also wants more money for broadcasting rights. In an effort to shore up my support, Cablevision paid some company a lot of money to write and administer a survey guaranteed to raise my hackles and spur me into action against the evil empire of ABC.

Except for the itsy bitsy problem of my being smarter than, say, tree bark.

Question: "Don't you think it's unfair that ABC wants to charge 40 million more dollars for the right to broadcast it's channels on Cablevision?"

Well, that depends. How many Cablevision customers are there? Ok, a quick google tells me 5 million. So ABC wants 8 more dollars from me this year for ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel, and whatever other channels they own that I don't watch anyway. Or 66 cents a month. Hey, that doesn't sound outrageous. Did you think I'd be tripped up by that very large 40 million number?

And wait a second, what's fair? ABC has a product. Cablevision's customers presumably want it (not me, of course, I am merely a cable customer because, when bundled with my phone and internet, it's literally like 10 extra bucks a month to get cable so I can watch Jon Stewart and the Olympics). So if Cablevision wants to continue to purchase a product on behalf of customers who want it, Cablevision will have to pay the asking price. It'd kind of be like my going into the Manolo Blahnik store and asking the salespeople if they don't think it's unfair that a simple pair of leather pumps costs $500. Maybe it is, but that's the price and if I don't like it, I don't buy the product. I only took one econ class in college and cut many of the individual lessons, but I think there's probably a word for this phenomenon.

Question: "Don't you think it's unfair that ABC will use the increase to bailout its failing holdings like Walt Disney World?"

Well, holy poop, you used the loaded word bailout. Since I might be deeply frustrated with the government bailout of Wall Street (sitting here on good 'ol Main Street), I will naturally hate any company that wants to bailout anything. Right? Ooooh, except, again, if ABC wants to use its profits to shore up a failing holding, while I might not agree that it makes good fiscal sense, seeing as I'm not a stockholder, I don't give a pluck. ABC, as an independent company, is pretty well free to use its earnings for whatever it wants, including magic beans. Fair doesn't even enter into it. And even if I was a shareholder, if I didn't like the magic bean buying policy of ABC, I could sell my shares.

Question: "How upset would you be to no longer be able to watch Oprah."

Well, now we've reached the crux of the matter, haven't we? It's not a question of whether or not I'd be upset, it's how upset would I be. Sadly, this is where the survey hit a dead end. While I could talk at length about how I thought ABC had the right to charge whatever it wanted for its goods and services, when it came to wondering about my upset threat levels vis a vis lack of Oprah...well, I'm sure you can imagine. Note: I have never watched an episode of Oprah. When the nice survey-lady asked me how often I watched ABC, I had to remember the last time I DID watch ABC - it wasn't until she reminded me that the Academy Awards are on ABC that I could tell her, yeah, I tuned in last year.

I don't like intellectual laziness, which is what this survey was hoping to capitalize on. The bottom line is that ABC would like 66 cents a month more from each of Cablevision's customers. Cablevision has every right to pass that increase on to me or absorb it at the risk of seeing people switch companies. I then can choose to pay more or choose to make alternate cable arrangements. This is how our system works. I never thought it mattered to me much until I was asked, in no uncertain terms: don't you think it's unfair for companies to charge money for their goods and services and to increase the amount of money as they see fit and as the market will bear?

What the hell have we become? I think it's unfair that money doesn't fall from the sky! I think it's unfair that devoted partner and I have to work to pay for the things we want as opposed to just being given them. I think it's unfair that I PAY FOR CABLEVISION AND IT STILL CAN'T RECORD A SHOW WITHOUT THE DAMN BOX RESTARTING IN THE MIDDLE. ABC raising its prices this year doesn't show up on my top 1000 unfair things.

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