“Isn’t it funny how day by day, nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” – C. S. Lewis
“Nothing ever changes for the better.” – Unknown
It’s hard to pinpoint, exactly, when things began to change so drastically in this country. Many pundits set the beginning of our current debacle at Reagan’s inauguration, and I can’t argue that the downhill run dates at least that far back. One could justifiably assert that rock bottom, or the culmination of the corporatization of America, came with the Citizens United Supreme Court victory. The case itself concerned campaign finance rules, but the decision by the justices effectively gave corporations the same rights as persons for various purposes, one of them being the purchase of elections.
That high-level case is merely the visible symbol of an underlying metamorphosis, however. As my husband asked the other day, “Why is it that in the last 25 years, everything has gotten so hard?” I submit that it’s because corporations now rule everything. Simple actions are bound up in endless layers of protocol and red tape, and it gets worse all the time. I don’t believe that technology is what complicates everything; rather, it’s a means to do so. And I would guess that at least part of the time, making things unnecessarily convoluted isn’t intentional (although distressingly often, it is). It’s just that the relentless quest for profit drives companies to rabidly seek cost-cutting ways to do business, while at the same time create ever more layers to blunt PR and legal exposure.
Remember when, to get a job, one filled out an application, turned it in, got called for an interview, talked to one or two people, and got hired? Now, merely completing an application electronically (no paper!) can take 90 minutes or more, including having to compose a cover letter that has the right word combinations to pass through software algorithms created to reject most submissions; tweaking a resume to closely reflect the 25-bullet-point job description; and taking an online personality test. Then there’s the phone screen, which takes several e-mails to set up. After that, if one is lucky, there will be an in-person interview. Maybe two. Maybe eight — it’s not unheard-of. Actual tribunals sit in judgment on candidates. The entire process can take a couple months. Why? To guarantee the “right fit.” This, when job tenure is quite frequently no more than two years these days. Companies are terrified of making a costly hiring mistake, yet they consistently do so, despite the complicated hoops everyone has to jump through.
How about disputing a charge on a credit card or a utility bill? In their infinite wisdom, corporations have determined that it’s easier and cheaper not to locate customer service centers in the United States. And these centers always seem to be pitifully understaffed, leading to 45-minute hold times, after which one must deal with someone who speaks fractured, almost unintelligible English, is reading from a script, obviously knows very little about the business in question, and has no authority to do anything to help. Sometimes it takes ten or twelve phone calls, plus the threat to pull in an attorney, to get one simple problem straightened out. We’ve all been there. But….companies are saving money with dollar-a-day labor, and besides, they base their model on the assumption that a certain percentage of people are going to become frustrated enough to let the issue drop, thereby putting more money in the companies’ pockets.
As corporations gain more power, they become less and less susceptible to customer dissatisfaction. As any cable or satellite subscriber knows, providers absolutely don’t care what you think of them, particularly when a given company has a near-monopoly in a certain area. They have the service, you want it, so you’re going to pay whatever they ask. If it takes a full eight-hour day of waiting for a repairman who doesn’t show up until the next day, well, that’s too bad.
The biggest, most powerful corporations answer to no one, especially not the government. They just buy their way into or out of any situation they please. Walmart employees frequently need food stamps to supplement their wages, but the Walton family has zero worry or shame about that, because in many areas, Walmart is almost the sole employer. Their stores have driven all the local mom-and-pops out of business. Then there’s Amazon: the reality is that it has been very late and very lax about providing its warehouse people with protective gear, but Jeff Bezos merely commissions TV ads extolling the company’s commitment to safety. Problem solved; pay no attention to those people behind the curtain.
How much clout does big business have? So much that the GOP won’t consider another COVID19 relief package unless corporations are indemnified against lawsuits filed by employees who contract the virus from going to work. That demand says it all. Gone are the days when employers cared one whit about those who worked for them. Gone are straightforward, one-on-one interactions, to be replaced by legions of functionaries spouting legalese. Gone is the assurance that one could start a job, and, if it proved to be tolerable, remain with the organization for 30 or 40 years.
Corporations run this country. It’s in their best interests to keep people wanting, get their money but not provide quality goods and services. Institute limitless protocols and processes merely to keep hold of all the revenue they can scrape in. Cloak the cash-grubbing in protestations of patriotism and concern for their valued customers. And that, Virginia, is why everything is so hard in the 21st century.
ADDENDUM: It was brought to my attention that my views here seem extreme and are gross generalizations. To that comment, I would answer that I was trying to convey that corporatization has increased the degree of difficulty in everyday affairs by orders of magnitude. I wanted to express that technology is the means to the corporate end; that is, corporations peopled by corrupt humans all too often pervert well-intentioned tech advances for their own greed-inspired objectives. Not to say that all corporations are evil, but an alarming number of them are, especially the large ones whose only goal is increasing profit by X% a year to satisfy owners and shareholders.