Voting With Your Wallet: 2019 Review of Capitalism
Recently my friend posited that, in practice, capitalism often takes the form of entities taking advantage of inadequacies and flaws in the system to their own benefit and the detriment of the greater society. I counterclaimed that nevertheless, it is important that the system incentivize entities addressing inefficiencies benefiting all of the society. Our conversation partially sublimated when my friend proposed that a clear case of the former would be if a company netted significant profits for its shareholders yet its employees remained unacceptably dependent on public services. I would propose that consumer capitalism offers a potential solution to this conundrum, since consumers can vote for and against businesses with their wallets.
In any case, here is how my wallet voted this past year:
1. Cox Cable – In the 2015 edition of this post, I was forced to place Cox Cable in the Push category (see below). I wrote the following:
“Cox Cable has been providing crappy service to my apartment for the past four months. I have come to expect daily to weekly service outages, since Cox Cable is legally protected from competitors via the We Got In There First Now Government Protect Our Money-Leeching Act of 1996. There is nothing I can do about this, and I need the Internet, so Cox Cable will continue to receive my monthly fee…”
Lo! I continued paying Cox Cable extortion money every month for the next 3 and a half years! Nevertheless, my family heroically decided this past August to experiment with replacing the in-home utility services offered by Cox with an unlimited mobile data 4G/5G plan with hotspotting from our mobile carrier AT&T! 4G/5G with hotspotting has since proven sufficient for all regular internet uses up to 2 devices streaming simultaneously! My AT&T bill is also, actually, somehow, significantly less than what I was paying them a year ago! I no longer have to deal with the frequent outages, devious monopolists scheming to steal my money, and insidious customer disservice that was once so integral a part of my life with Cox Cable! I shall never return to Cox! Nor any analogous service provider ever again! And I hope that every other consumer of forced in-home utilities might experience the same liberation that I have! I exhort you all to join the cellular internet revolution! All it takes for the cable companies to go away is for you to believe they are not needed!
2. Ticketmaster – I purchased tickets to see Anderson .Paak at Champions Square in New Orleans for my wife’s birthday last year. The day of the concert, we waited for an hour in a long line of stoned college kids stretching down Poydras Street before being accused by a security guard of trying to smuggle in recording equipment. The conversation went something like this:
“We need to search your bag… oh, here is some contraband.”
“That is a cell phone.” I said. “Are cell phones not allowed in?”
“Indeed, cell phones are allowed into the concert, but that one is somewhat big and looks like a tablet. Tablets are not allowed into the concert.”
“It is not a tablet. It is a cell phone. It is called a “phablet”. We need it to stay in touch with the babysitter.”
“If you do not leave now, I am going to arrest you for trespassing.”
“This is a public street in New Orleans called Poydras Street. Are we trespassing?”
“Yes, this public street called Poydras Street belongs to the Superdome. You are blocking the line. Leave and say no more, before you are arrested.”
Seeing no way out of the situation that would not entail me or my wife being tased or shot, we left and went and got delicious Angelo Brocato ice cream instead. (I would later purchase tickets to see Tuxedo in Boston to make up for the botched birthday present. It turns out this was a very good concert.)
I called the venue to complain immediately upon returning home. “I’m sorry that happened, but we cannot issue you a refund, since you purchased the tickets through Ticketmaster. You’ll have to call Ticketmaster for a refund.”
I then called Ticketmaster: “That sounds terrible. I’m sorry you had that experience. We will refund your tickets.” In the 7 months since that conversation took place, Ticketmaster has not refunded my tickets. As of my most recent correspondence with them, I am told it is the venue’s responsibility to make restitution.
The venue did subsequently attempt to make amends by offering us tickets to a future event, but we no longer live in New Orleans. In any case, I have filed a Better Business Bureau complaint against Ticketmaster and will be forever seeking alternative means for procuring tickets for future events. I intend to cost Ticketmaster considerably more than they would have paid by simply refunding my tickets as they said they would.
3. Equifax – First they put false information on my credit report, then they leaked that false information as part of a massive data breach which is now a decided class action lawsuit. Now, Equifax and their impenetrable customer service are trying to con me into signing up for their own identity protection plan in lieu of a cash payout, while simultaneously delaying the court-ordered payout for said class action settlement as much as possible, engaging in general sneak thievery, and wasting taxpayer dollars. I take solace that new entities such as Credit Karma are continuing their bold quest to dauntlessly turn the Old Guard of consumer reporting agencies into fossils.
1. Amazon – Again, Amazon was the major source of our Christmas purchases this year. Although I think fake reviews are becoming more and more a problem with the flood of products now available, and I am somewhat perturbed by some of Amazon’s business practices in the face of Jeff Bezos’ billions, for the most part there is nothing that yet approximates the convenience, quality, and speed of shopping on Amazon. Specific beneficiaries this year included Alex DIY toys, Orion telescopes, and Dr. J projectors.
2. AT&T – Cox Cable’s loss was AT&T’s gain in 2019. See above for more details. I know AT&T haters abound, and I’ve heard many horrific stories, but I’ve had nothing but good experiences with this company over the past 8 years. Signing up for their Unlimited &More Premium plan has freed me from Cox Cable, actually reduced my monthly bill, and netted me a free Pandora Premium account.
3. Netflix – With Trailer Park Boys, American Vandal, Parks and Recreation, Black Mirror, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Master of None, Dave Chappelle’s myriad comedy specials, the Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, Stranger Things, Conan without Borders, WWII in Color, Peaky Blinders, Our Planet, Outlander, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Orange is the New Black, Twin Peaks, the Irishman, The Witcher, Boss Baby, Lost in Space, and few issues with login, loading, streaming, billing, etc., Netflix is the clear winner of the 2018 Stream War in the Carr household. There are still myriad items in our queue, including El Camino, Uncut Gems, Flying Circus, Civilization, A Year in Space, Godless, Messiah, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. The same cannot be said of HBO anymore, and Netflix keeps me entertained enough to not even really consider Amazon (despite being a Prime member) or Hulu for my viewing entertainment.
4. Pandora – I like discovering new music and find Pandora’s AI for that superior to Spotify’s. I signed up for a Pandora Premium account this past year as a benefit of my AT&T plan and have not regretted the decision.
5. American Express – The American Express Blue Cash Preferred card offers benefits including 6% cash back at supermarkets and 3% cash back at gas stations. As these two categories encompass the large majority of our household’s consumption, this is almost the only credit card we use now. The few times I’ve had to call them, American Express’ customer service has been exceptional.
6. Chase – Our household does all its commercial banking through Chase. When I traveled to Spain for a conference this past year, I used the Chase Sapphire Preferred card exclusively. I had no issues using this card abroad, nor did I incur any secret fees, and I actually earned a ton of travel rewards. This experience contrasts notably from the last time I used a credit card abroad, when Bank of America took advantage of my youth and naivety and tried to charge me 5000 dollars in double secret fees. I ultimately withdrew all my business from Bank of America and had to waste my time and the taxpayers’ dollars to completely defeat those sleaze buckets in a court of law.
7. Secondhand furniture – This year, instead of ordering book shelves, tables, etc. off Amazon and dealing with weird chemical smells and tiny pieces of mystery packing material scattered throughout my apartment and alveoli, I decided to get into refurbishing found old furniture. This has proven to be less expensive and less wasteful than purchasing mass-produced items online. It results in a far superior product, allows me to be creative with paint, stains, hinges, and knobs, and it’s fun. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I’ve contemplated starting a side hustle in my free time hunting old gems and restoring and reselling them.
8. BN Labs whey protein powder – For years, I searched for a flavorless, simple whey protein powder for enhancing my anabolism without random chemicals and artificial sweeteners. Finally, I found BN labs whey protein powder on Amazon. It’s made in Wisconsin and California of simple ingredients; it’s highly-rated, reasonably-priced, and good-tasting. Since incorporating this product into my diet a few months ago, along with other lifestyle changes – namely exercising 2 to 3 hours a day 6 days a week, consuming nearly 200 grams of lean protein a day, no more hot pockets on call at 2 AM, and actually sleeping (It’s amazing how important proper sleep is for your overall health.) – I have lost 20 pounds, 5 inches off my waist, and 10% body fat, even while the majority of my exercise program consists of weightlifting. I like to mix the whey protein into a glass of skim milk for a quick 40-gram “fortified milk” an hour or so after coming back from the gym and then again before bed to amplify the restorative and anabolic effects of sleep.
9. Crescent City Classic road races – I ran 2 Crescent City Classic races this past year and am registered for their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day 2-miler. I really have a blast at these. The races in New Orleans are usually sponsored by Michelob Ultra (their watery beer is the perfect way to rehydrate after a race) along with Jimmy Johns, Blue Runner, and Raising Cane’s, all of which offer free or heavily-discounted fare to race participants. Entry to the post-race party is usually free for family members and well-wishers. There is live music, along with impetigo/moon bounces for the kids, all with a very low ticket price.
1. Kentwood Springs bottled water service – When I was subscribing to Kentwood Springs bottled water delivery service, I loved it. This was perfect for a New Orleans with weekly boil water advisories and monthly news reports of brain-eating amoebas contracted from substandard public water sources. Nevertheless, we were planning on traveling for a while before relocating this past July, and we weren’t sure what the water situation would be at our new home. We accordingly cancelled our Kentwood Springs subscription.
Nevertheless, I have continued receiving calls from old neighbors about water deliveries to our old apartment (along with the corresponding bills from Kentwood Springs). I have had to call 3 times to remind them that I am no longer their customer, yet the Sorcerer’s Apprentice-esque onslaught of water deliveries (and bills) has continued unabated.
2. InterContinental Hotels Group – I have been fairly loyal to IHG over the past several years whenever traveling. The rewards have been excellent: free upgrades, free meals, free drinks, multiple free hotel nights at premium locations, special rates, special services, etc.. This past August, they even gave us a free anniversary night in a 400-dollar suite at their Ocean City property.
Nevertheless, there were 2 instances this past year where I was disappointed. Once, all the hotels in a certain city we were visiting inexplicably and instantaneously raised their prices almost 3-fold without any explanation – i.e. it wasn’t the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals or anything. This was almost certainly cartel behavior, which is illegal. We chose to stay in a different area with a different company, which was inconvenient for us. Another time this past year, an IHG hotel told me since I have more than 2 children, my wife and I would have to book 2 separate rooms, even if we were all obviously planning on staying in the same room. Again, we chose to stay in a different area with a different company, which was inconvenient for us. I still look at IHG facilities first when planning travel, but I will peruse other options going forward.
3. Urban Outfitters – My wife purchased an Urban Outfitters gift card for me several years ago. Every so often thereafter I would check their website for totally sweet Led Zeppelin t-shirts or awesome psychedelic tapestries. Nevertheless, I did not find anything I really wanted, other than a 60-dollar pair of NASA space boot slippers. Believing that 60 dollars was far too much to pay for slippers no matter how space awesome they might be, I restrained myself from making said purchase. Nevertheless, the slippers were thereafter placed on sale for 34 dollars. I attempted to purchase them with the gift card I had received and found that it was somehow defective.
I called customer service. After an hour-long conversation, multiple times being placed on hold, and my providing the gift card number, pin, date of purchase, email address associated with purchase, purchase number, and confirming that the balance was intact, I was told that the only thing they could do was reissue the same gift card to me, with the same defective number. I did not find this solution satisfactory and asked to speak to a supervisor, who said that issuing a new gift card to me would need to clear their audit division and that this would take several days, but that I was in luck: she was a supervisor in the gift card department and actually uniquely understood how gift cards worked.
Sure enough, I was sent a new gift card by email two days later. Nevertheless, I remain displeased about how the situation was handled. I don’t blame the initial customer service representative. She was extremely friendly and patient, yet her hands were tied by what is quite obviously a stupid company policy that restricts her ability to resolve customer complaints. Likewise, the supervisor was friendly, professional, and effectively addressed my problem.
If you overcook someone’s steak in a restaurant, you apologize and get them a new steak, as quickly as possible – you don’t need 48 hours to clear their new steak with the restaurant’s steak audit division. It seems to me a defective gift card is a much less equivocal item than an overcooked steak.
4. Cryptocurrency – I purchased some bitcoin and additional cryptocurrencies in the spring of 2017, right after the price hit 4 figures. This was a good decision. I was able to subsidize much of my subsequent travel for residency interviews using the appreciated value of my initial cryptocurrency investment. (At the time, there were considerably more businesses accepting payment in cryptocurrency, including Expedia.) Without this additional source of funds, I do not think I would have been able to afford the travel costs for many residency interviews.
The bitcoin price peaked in December 2017, rose again this past July, and has steadily declined in value throughout the second half of this calendar year. I believe the fundamental model of cryptocurrency is sound and well suited to accumulate value over the long run, and bitcoin has an advantage as the prime mover in the cryptocurrency world. Nevertheless, I expect the current bear market to continue in the short to medium term. I see no reason why it should be otherwise.
So, how did your wallet vote this year?