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"Pay-to-Play" for the Rest of Us

"Pay-to-Play" for the Rest of UsThe more kafkaesque quagmires you’ve slogged through, the more you hope “pay-to-play for the rest of us” beomes ubiquitous.

You know how “pay-to-play” works: contribute a couple of million dollars to key political players, and then get your tax break, subsidy, no-bid contract, etc., slipped into some nook or cranny of the legislative process that few (if any) will notice because the legislation is hundreds of pages long or a “gut and replace” magic wand was wielded at the last minute.

As the essential systems of everyday life break down and become increasingly dysfunctional, I predict the rise of what I’m calling “pay-to-play” for the rest of us: if you pay for expedited service, concierge service, etc., you will get the kind of service everyone used to get, i.e. functional, prompt and efficient.

As I detailed in Who’s Going to Fix What’s Broken?, systems such as vehicle registration and tax collection are becoming kafkaesque quagmires where the expected (or promised) services are not provided or are botched.

Waiting for services at the DMV, IRS, et al. and the county welfare office are identical experiences. Poor people have no choice but to put up with long waits and bureaucratic quagmires, but the top 10% who earn almost half of all income and are responsible for roughly half the consumer spending are not amused by services that are equivalent to what the bottom 10% must tolerate out of necessity.

Since nobody in power is truly interested in fixing these large-scale, complex systems, then it’s easy to predict the rise of “pay-to-play” for the rest of us: pay an extra fee, get much better service.

There are already examples of this trend. For example, if you want expedited processing of your U.S. passport renewal, that will cost you $60. Given my previous experience with passport renewals, I was happy to pay the extra $60 just to have some additional assurance I was actually going to receive the new passport in a timely manner.

Would I have paid an extra $100 for “expedited processing” of my DMV registration to avoid a 7-month descent into bureaucratic Heck? Yes, with no hesitation whatsoever. Would I have paid $200 for “expedited processing” of my federal tax return to bypass that 7-month kafkaesque quagmire? Gladly, without hesitation.

How about a $500 “expedited processing” of your building permit? Given that those long months of slogging through the quagmire cost real money, a $500 “concierge service” fee to get your permit in 8 weeks rather than 8 months would be a bargain.

“Pay-to-play” is inherently unfair: the wealthy get their interests served, the rest of us tax donkeys and debt-serfs slog through kafkaesque quagmires. “Pay-to-play” for the rest of us will also be inherently unfair, but at least it will democratize “pay-to-play” to the degree that a couple hundred bucks will actually buy better service, and that’s within reach of many more households than the million dollars required to access political “pay-to-play.”

If systems can’t or won’t be fixed, then having access to the 10% which still functions is worth a great deal.The more kafkaesque quagmires you’ve slogged through, the more you hope “pay-to-play” for the rest of us becomes ubiquitous.

How much would you pay for expedited emergency services?


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Charles Hugh Smith
At readers' request, I've prepared a biography. I am not confident this is the right length or has the desired information; the whole project veers uncomfortably close to PR. On the other hand, who wants to read a boring bio? I am reminded of the "Peanuts" comic character Lucy, who once issued this terse biographical summary: "A man was born, he lived, he died." All undoubtedly true, but somewhat lacking in narrative.
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