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106

Beggar’s Opera

Monitoring the decline of democracy from the telemarketing trenches

(missing author)

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terms
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notes

by Matt Hanson

? (2019). Beggar’s Opera. The Baffler, 44, pp. 106-115

110

[...] It’s a wonder that anybody manages to raise any money at all in the whole mad profession, let alone eke out a living.

Of course, management knows all this perfectly well. Gig economy jobs like this—designed to be temporary, ad hoc, offering little in the way of advancement, security, overtime pay, or health insurance—make up about 10 percent of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some places make you sign a contract informing you that you are an “at will” employee—meaning that you could be fired at any time, for any reason, at management’s sole discretion. Working at a job like this felt like a glimpse of the future; the gleaming gears of neoliberalism are grinding us further toward a working situation infinitely more precarious than the sturdy, family-supporting jobs of yesteryear.

In some cases, I’ve heard how new callers are recruited at addiction recovery groups. That can represent a welcome chance at a better life for the addicts in recovery or otherwise traumatized populations. But the strategic decision to target down-and-out souls as entry-level employees has a darker side: not unlike the recruitment of a workforce of undocumented immigrants, it likely ensures that your chosen stream of new workers will be extra pliable in any workplace disputes over their rights. This is far from an abstract problem. I’ve seen plenty of people abruptly booted off the shift because their numbers weren’t up to snuff. Getting the bum’s rush could come for a number of reasons: because they just weren’t great talkers that day, or they were reeling from a couple hours of bad luck, or were dealing with a family or health emergency, which was not at all a rare occurrence, especially given how broke everyone was.

And this is where the ruthless free-market logistics of the place collide with the façade of liberal idealism. At the end of the day, for all the uplifting rhetoric in the scripts about fighting the good fight against the fat cats and the bully Republicans, the motives of our own managers were scarcely any less avaricious. The call centers need to maintain an average of money-raised-per-person-called, under the terms of their contracts with client campaigns. The race-to-the-bottom logic of most campaign deals also means that, in order to be competitive, companies tend to undersell the competition. That means, among other things, they receive the least promising donor lists and call and recall them mercilessly [...]

an interesting example of competition provoking a race to the bottom, where the people who come up with the terms (who make the offer) are not the same people who will have to bear the consequences

—p.110 missing author 1 year, 2 months ago

[...] It’s a wonder that anybody manages to raise any money at all in the whole mad profession, let alone eke out a living.

Of course, management knows all this perfectly well. Gig economy jobs like this—designed to be temporary, ad hoc, offering little in the way of advancement, security, overtime pay, or health insurance—make up about 10 percent of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some places make you sign a contract informing you that you are an “at will” employee—meaning that you could be fired at any time, for any reason, at management’s sole discretion. Working at a job like this felt like a glimpse of the future; the gleaming gears of neoliberalism are grinding us further toward a working situation infinitely more precarious than the sturdy, family-supporting jobs of yesteryear.

In some cases, I’ve heard how new callers are recruited at addiction recovery groups. That can represent a welcome chance at a better life for the addicts in recovery or otherwise traumatized populations. But the strategic decision to target down-and-out souls as entry-level employees has a darker side: not unlike the recruitment of a workforce of undocumented immigrants, it likely ensures that your chosen stream of new workers will be extra pliable in any workplace disputes over their rights. This is far from an abstract problem. I’ve seen plenty of people abruptly booted off the shift because their numbers weren’t up to snuff. Getting the bum’s rush could come for a number of reasons: because they just weren’t great talkers that day, or they were reeling from a couple hours of bad luck, or were dealing with a family or health emergency, which was not at all a rare occurrence, especially given how broke everyone was.

And this is where the ruthless free-market logistics of the place collide with the façade of liberal idealism. At the end of the day, for all the uplifting rhetoric in the scripts about fighting the good fight against the fat cats and the bully Republicans, the motives of our own managers were scarcely any less avaricious. The call centers need to maintain an average of money-raised-per-person-called, under the terms of their contracts with client campaigns. The race-to-the-bottom logic of most campaign deals also means that, in order to be competitive, companies tend to undersell the competition. That means, among other things, they receive the least promising donor lists and call and recall them mercilessly [...]

an interesting example of competition provoking a race to the bottom, where the people who come up with the terms (who make the offer) are not the same people who will have to bear the consequences

—p.110 missing author 1 year, 2 months ago