Customer Disservice

Here’s the text of a message I sent to ASDA (owned by Wal-Mart, bringing their aesthetic but sticking with UK ideas of low prices, not the US version):

I’ve just returned from a visit to your Fareham store. As I was checking out a transvestite walked past, presumably having finished his own shopping. The person serving me, her colleagues, and assorted passing staff members then spent the next five minutes laughing at the man in make-up and a dress who “walks like a navy”.

I was raised not to publicly question the behaviour of people older than me, so said nothing at the time. I’m deeply disappointed that the same standards of civility aren’t held by your employees. They remain entirely free to think whatever they want of someone who doesn’t conform to their expectations, but if I wanted to hear such opinions I’d hang out with a bunch of 13 year olds. I certainly wouldn’t expect it from a group of adults who are supposed to be thinking about their customers.

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Land Value Tax

Here’s an interesting post about the feasibility of a Land Value Tax in the UK. It’s a pretty obvious idea, though not one I’d happened upon before. This snippet gets to the heart of it, I think:

10. The cost of local services should be paid for by user charges, i.e. a Poll Tax.

Wrong. It is more important to look at the value of what the landowner gets (as reflected in land values) than the cost of local services. Having more policeman on the beat reduces crime, cuts a household’s home and car insurance bills and makes an area more attractive, thus boosting selling prices. Having lots of five-a-day advisors and environmental-awareness-officers costs just as much but adds no value whatsoever.

The argument is that any benefit you derive from local services will be reflected in the value of your land; if you get free massages from the local authority, and that’s something that people want, then the value of your land will rise (as will the land tax, thereby paying for those massages). The counter-argument is also in there; ‘five-a-day advisors’ (I assume the author is referring to healthy eating campaigns) may be the single best thing a local authority could do for its residents, but if it’s not seen to be a desirable benefit then there will be no corresponding increase in land values to help pay for it.

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Retail, then Therapy

The noted shoulder-shrugger (by birth and profession) Jean-Paul Sartre, famously said “Hell is other people”. The phrase was first published in the 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’. I respectfully submit that if he’d been to the Croydon Ikea he’d have said it much earlier.

Fewer Helicopters

Yesterday I talked about the strange system we have for converting large quantities of natural resources into small quantities of amusement. Today, a solution!

OK, not really. I don’t think anyone has a solution, or rather I don’t think anyone knows they have a solution (using ‘know’ to indicate fact, rather than internal certainty). But as this is partially a result of the free market, it only seems fair to let the market have a crack at solving it. A good start would be a tax on pollution, which would affect extractive industries among others. Now I’d support this on general environmental grounds, but putting that argument aside there are real costs involved in pollution that are currently paid by society rather than by the people causing those costs.

So how does that solve the problem? Well it doesn’t, it just changes the problem. Assuming that China levies this tax directly, but lowers other taxes to compensate, it pushes manufacturers to save a little on raw materials, perhaps by employing more people to control waste. If China doesn’t enact the tax but the importing countries do (which I’d guess is less likely) then we have a direct incentive not to consume so much, and China is still pushed to use fewer resources. Either way the stupidity of the current system is tempered, without forcing a negative impact on the average worker.

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Chinese Helicopters

In an earlier post I discussed the trade in trivialities that fills containers between China and the rest of the world. I noted that the natural reflex might be to stop buying such things, but to do so would abandon those people who depend on that trade for their living (indeed, their lives). Marty further pointed out that it’s an amazing ‘system’ that lets someone live from a trade that means almost nothing to us (Marty is, it should be noted, something of a fan of free markets).

And so to my final point, that it’s a depressingly inefficient system based on hidden costs. For the crappy helicopter I mentioned, the sequence goes like this, based on the world’s biggest producers for raw materials:

Iron ore for the body of the helicopter) retrieved from Australia (or, if we’re lucky, China).
Oil (for plastic rotor and paint) retrieved from Saudi Arabia.
Both shipped to China.
Toy produced in China.
Toy shipped to the West for sale.

That’s a total of 12,000 miles of shipping to China, and another 6,000 to the US or 12,000 to Europe. And that doesn’t include transport within countries, which could easily reach another 3,000 miles in the US. That’s a lot of miles, with a lot of pollution, just so that my son can have a cheap helicopter and a labourer can earn a fraction of a dollar.

Tomorrow: I try to think of an alternative.

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