On the alleged ‘efficiency’ of capitalism

I guess I might as well tell the story of my experience with AT&T yesterday (March 3, 2021). It’s an object lesson on the alleged “efficiency” of a capitalist so-called “free” market, the same so-called “free” market that reliably fucks over workers.

Bear with me. This is a regrettably complicated post because my situation is complicated. All of these pieces relate to each other. And I should emphasize that this is not a situation I chose but the one I am left with in this so-called “free market,” because capitalists do not value my Ph.D. and I’m stuck driving for Uber and Lyft.[1] A lot of this is how I have adapted to this situation that I utterly despise.

I had begun to experience problems with my Google Pixel 4 XL, especially with the sound from music players—this after spending $1,800 upgrading the sound in my car—and when driving for Uber and Lyft, a working cell phone—this includes sound, even if not music—is every bit as important as a working car.

Because mobile data is so important, I’ve been using two carriers, AT&T and Verizon, that seem to complement each other well in geographic coverage, to ensure I have mobile data most everywhere I go. Combining this on a single phone means doing something called dual subscriber identity module (SIM), dual standby (DSDS). I don’t get to talk on both carriers at once, but I can pretty quickly switch between them for mobile data coverage and, when I’m not on a conversation, both numbers are ready to receive calls. The alternative to DSDS is to carry two phones, which is basically begging to lose one of them, and which also means fussing with turning on and off the mobile hotspot, another cell phone failure point, to share mobile data with the other phone—not my idea of efficiency, especially when I’m having to fuss with all this while driving in Pittsburgh traffic.

And because I seem to be wearing out cell phones at a ridiculous pace, I had, just the day before (March 2, 2021), acquired a 5G MiFi unit from T-Mobile, because T-Mobile seems to be doing 5G right, while AT&T and Verizon seem to have been dropping the ball,[2] so the cell phone wouldn’t continuously have to do all the work of dealing with cellular towers to hook up with data. I’ll also be experimenting with a dongle substitute for Android Auto—Android Auto is superb in working with the Uber and Lyft apps; this really is the way to do it—when it arrives. The theory really is that if I’m not working the phone so hard, perhaps it will last a bit longer.

In addition, with 5G’s increased throughput, I can now offer WiFi to my passengers, some of whom I’ve seen really do have issues with connectivity. I’m hoping the fact of the offer, even if they don’t take advantage of it, will incline them to greater tolerance for my music. Because I can’t tell you how sick I am of listening to their fucking (c)Rap and Hip Hop (this, by the way, is about the same level of tolerance I have for country music, which is to say, none at all). Even when they listen to it on their earbuds, I still hear a particular percussion riff way, way, way too often.

So I had also ordered a new Pixel 5; it arrived and I put Verizon’s physical SIM from the Pixel 4 XL in it. I went ahead and activated Google Fi because the initialization process bugged me to do it and I do have that account. Then I tried adding the AT&T electronic SIM (e-SIM) from the Pixel 4 XL with the Pixel 5. This failed with an instruction to call AT&T customer service and to offer information that the phone made easy to offer.

So I called AT&T customer service. Their machine estimated the wait at 16-19 minutes and offered to call me back. I accepted the offer and, indeed, it called me back. But instead of being connected to a customer service agent, I was put on hold, listening to their god damned promotional messages over and over again. I don’t know for how long, but it was over a half hour. Their system eventually hung up on me with a busy signal.

So I drove to an AT&T store. Where the staff were idiots, didn’t know anything about DSDS, and the person they kept calling on the phone was every bit as clueless. After enduring that for, probably 10-15 minutes, I grabbed my phone and got the fuck out of there.

Now Google Fi is basically a front-end for the Sprint (now merged with T-Mobile), T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular networks. I had been seeing that T-Mobile has come a long way since my last serious experiment with Google Fi. But it looked like porting the AT&T number to Google Fi was going to require information I didn’t readily have at hand, sitting in the AT&T store parking lot.

Understand, I’m tired. I haven’t been sleeping well for days because I’m upset about having to spend all this money at a time of year when business is lousiest and just as taxes are coming due. I had hoped to wait for the Pixel 6, but well, the Pixel 4 XL had other plans. And I’ve already lost patience with AT&T. I just want it all fixed. Now.

So I drove to the T-Mobile store and offered to let them port the AT&T number to their network. This would really be about the same effect as Google Fi, because since T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, the difference is U.S. Cellular, which hasn’t been a factor anywhere I’ve tried. (It turns out that U.S. Cellular is strongest in parts of the midwest and in some other scattered areas around the country.[3] So Google Fi might prove better on cross-country trips that I still worry about making.)

But as I was in the T-Mobile store, they made me pull up the very information I would need for Google Fi, which was horrendous because AT&T’s website kept bouncing me to their chat, which at that point was not something I was even remotely interested in. And then the T-Mobile people informed me that they could no longer do e-SIMs in the store. So now I sat in that parking lot and put the information in to port the number to Google Fi. I’ve now lost my old Google Fi number, that I’d barely used, so really won’t miss, and it was all done in five minutes. (See here for revised contact information.)

I thought that capitalism was supposed to weed out inefficient actors. But while, for example, Google, some players seem to be reasonably efficient, clearly, the outrageously inefficient AT&T is still in operation, even as, from my perspective, they seem desperately to be trying to go out of business.

This isn’t really that different from Uber, whose potential for profitability has been in question for years.[4] Capitalist libertarians would likely explain this as “crony capitalism,” which they claim to despise. But “crony capitalism” flourishes in a political system that either fails to restrain anti-competitive behavior (perhaps, as with anarchocapitalism, because it doesn’t exist) or actually favors certain actors; neoliberals and capitalist libertarians fail to explain how such corruption is not inevitable in a deregulated, let alone an unregulated, so-called “free” market system.

And all this while I’m barely making any money at all because apparently, in this so-called “free” market, I’m not worth what it costs to live. So um, capitalists, you know what? Y’all need to get your fucking story straight.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  2. [2]This turns out to be somewhat true. Chris Holmes, “T-Mobile Coverage Map: How It Compares,” WhistleOut, September 9, 2020, https://www.whistleout.com/CellPhones/Guides/t-mobile-coverage-map
  3. [3]This according to a map, which readily enables comparisons, in Chris Holmes, “T-Mobile Coverage Map: How It Compares,” WhistleOut, September 9, 2020, https://www.whistleout.com/CellPhones/Guides/t-mobile-coverage-map
  4. [4]Rich Alton, “Basic economics means Uber and Lyft can’t rely on driverless cars to become profitable,” MarketWatch, August 12, 2019, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/basic-economics-means-uber-and-lyft-cant-rely-on-driverless-cars-to-become-profitable-2019-08-12; Matthew Beedham, “Uber: Is this the beginning of the end for the ride-hailing Goliath?” Next Web, March 2, 2021, https://thenextweb.com/shift/2021/03/02/uber-is-this-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-the-ride-hailing-goliath/; Eliot Brown, “Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit?” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-wants-to-be-the-uber-of-everything-11556909866; Eliot Brown, “Uber Posts Its Largest Quarterly Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-posts-its-largest-ever-quarterly-loss-11565295373; Megan Rose Dickey, “Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams,” TechCrunch, September 10, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/09/10/uber-lays-off-435-people-across-engineering-and-product-teams/; Richard Durant, “Uber’s Profitability Problem Is Structural,” Seeking Alpha, August 21, 2019, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4287055-ubers-profitability-problem-structural; Ryan Felton, “Uber Is Doomed,” Jalopnik, February 24, 2017, https://jalopnik.com/uber-is-doomed-1792634203; Laura Forman, “Uber, Lyft Face a No-Sharing Economy,” Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-lyft-face-a-no-sharing-economy-11603710180; Edward Helmore, “Will Uber ever make money? Day of reckoning looms for ride-sharing firm,” Guardian, August 4, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/04/uber-ride-share-lyft-ipo-earnings; Kirsten Korosec, “Uber in talks to sell ATG self-driving unit to Aurora,” TechCrunch, November 13, 2020, https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/13/uber-in-talks-to-sell-atg-self-driving-unit-to-aurora/; Timothy B. Lee, “Uber, losing billions, freezes engineering hires,” Ars Technica, August 9, 2019, https://arstechnica.com/cars/2019/08/uber-freezes-engineering-hires-amid-mounting-losses/; Megan McArdle, “Uber can’t keep bleeding money, can it? It apparently thinks it can,” Washington Post, November 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/uber-cant-keep-bleeding-money-can-it-it-apparently-thinks-it-can/2019/11/05/4aa4fec0-000b-11ea-8501-2a7123a38c58_story.html; Tom McKay, “Surprising No One, Uber Continues to Hemorrhage Cash,” Gizmodo, November 4, 2019, https://gizmodo.com/surprising-no-one-uber-continues-to-hemorrhage-cash-1839625062; Christopher Mims, “In a Tight Labor Market, Gig Workers Get Harder to Please,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-a-tight-labor-market-gig-workers-get-harder-to-please-11556942404; Patrick Howell O’Neill, “Just In Time For Its Big IPO, Uber Loses $1 Billion,” Gizmodo, April 26, 2019, https://gizmodo.com/just-in-time-for-its-big-ipo-uber-loses-1-billion-1834331980; Annie Palmer, “Uber falls to all-time low as investors grow more skeptical,” CNBC, August 12, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/12/uber-stock-falls-to-all-time-low-as-investors-grow-more-skeptical.html; Preetika Rana, “Uber Ridership Fails to Recover as Pandemic Drives Another Big Loss,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-ridership-fails-to-recover-as-pandemic-drives-another-big-loss-11596744389; Heather Somerville, “Uber Shedding About 350 Jobs to Shore Up Business,” Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-shedding-about-350-jobs-to-shore-up-business-11571092680; Heather Somerville, “Uber Booked Another Quarterly Loss as Revenue Climbed,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-booked-another-quarterly-loss-as-revenue-climbed-11572901549; Heather Somerville, “Uber Sells Self-Driving-Car Unit to Autonomous-Driving Startup,” Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-lyft-face-a-no-sharing-economy-11603710180; Heather Somerville and Mark Maurer, “Uber Cuts More Than 400 Technical Jobs,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-cuts-more-than-400-technical-jobs-11568144111; Georgia Wells, “Uber Cites Tight Competition After Posting $1 Billion Loss,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubers-first-quarter-loss-tops-1-billion-11559246846; Stephen Wilmot, “Uber’s Long Road to Profits,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ubers-long-road-to-profits-11566471068; Julia Carrie Wong, “Disgruntled drivers and ‘cultural challenges’: Uber admits to its biggest risk factors,” Guardian, April 12, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/apr/11/uber-ipo-risk-factors; Michael Wursthorn, “Lyft Shares Rally on Hopes Price Increases Will Drive Profit,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lyft-shares-rally-on-hopes-price-increases-will-drive-profits-11566845457

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