The Worker / Employer Relationship

Lyle Burkhead (
Wed, 13 Nov 1996 10:39:32 -0500 (EST)

In reply to my statement,

* Coming back to the original point: You were saying that there is a
* causal relationship between (a) the fact that government agencies don't
* need to create happy customers, and (b) the level of rudeness in those
* agencies. If people were rational, this causal relationship would exist,
* but in fact (in my experience at least) it doesn't exist. I have found
* just as much rudeness, if not more, in department stores, drug stores,
* restaurants, and other businesses, even though they can't afford to lose
* customers. It is a mistake to assume that people are more rational than
* they are.

Mike Lorrey writes,

> But you ignored my third and most important point:
> c) because government has a heavily enforced monopoly,
> one cannot take ones need for services elsewhere,
> while with private business, one can go next door
> if one feels like they are not getting the level of service they deserve.

That's not a different point, that's just a fuller statement of (a).

Let's also give a fuller statement of (b), as follows:

(b) Government employees NEVER treat the public like human beings,
but private businesses generally do.

As I understand it, your argument is: (c), therefore (b).

I'm saying that even though (c) is true, the predicted effect (b) has not
been observed, at least not in my experience. People in businesses,
including small shops, are insulting and spiteful whenever they feel like
it, even though they know perfectly well that offended customers will
go elsewhere.

In my experience, rudeness has been a random phenomenon:
I have been treated well by people who could have treated me like shit
and gotten away with it, and I have been treated like shit by people
who were only hurting themselves by doing so.

The constraint of the marketplace must have *some* effect, but
it sure isn't apparent to me.

Max More writes:

> Lyle, if we separate state agencies like IRS, INS, and the rest,
> from government services, would you say state agencies were ruder
> than private businesses?

Maybe so. I have heard (can it be true?) that IRS agents are generally
not as nice as teachers and librarians. But I couldn't say from my own
experience. I've never had any contact with INS, and my only contact
with IRS has been through the mail. My policy about taxes has always
been: they can have my money, but they can't have my time. I have
never been audited, because my tax returns are so simple there is really
nothing to audit.

Some people on the list, such as Davin Enigl and James Rogers,
seem to have had extensive experience with federal agencies. Maybe
we should get some input from them.

If you are going to make a distinction between agencies like IRS and
agencies which provide services, then you are going to have to make a
corresponding distinction between different kinds of private businesses.
Compare IRS with collection agencies, slumlords, used-car salesmen in
blue-collar neighborhoods, doormen and deejays at certain nightclubs,
paparazzi, crack dealers, pimps... Not all private businesses have the
same standards of gentility that one finds in a Barnes & Noble bookstore.