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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Confiscatory service

I’ve been busy doing normal life for the last couple of days. On Sunday I gave a Christmas party to as many of my friends as I could remember the names of and had the phone numbers of, and could round up. Sorry if you reckon you’re a friend and you weren’t invited. You probably are still, that’s if you still want to be. Anyway, first I had to get it ready, then I had to have it, then I had to recover from it, and while doing that latter thing I had also to sort out a Christmas present for my goddaughter in time for her mother to take it with her tomorrow morning to France, me having forgotten about it until now. Lucky escape there.

So this is a very quicky posting, really just to make sure that, what with Perry still being techno-blighted, David Carr knows he’s not being totally relied upon, like the mug who does all the washing up in a shared student lodging because he has the most team spirit and responsibility.

The posting consists, basically, of the most remarkable single sentence I have read on the web during the last few days of trying to find something quick to comment on here, but mostly failing, until I realised that this thing had really stuck in my head and wouldn’t go away. It first surfaced towards the end of a piece in Scotland on Sunday by Richard Northedge as long ago as Sunday 15th of this month, and it was immediately noticed and reproduced by David Farrer. Here it is:

“The Inland Revenue deals with the widest customer base in the UK. This makes us to all intends and purposes the UK’s number-one service brand.”

Customer base? Service brand? Who and what the hell do these people think they are?

What this most reminds me of is the firing squad sent to execute Captain Blackadder in the First World War manifestation of that great comedy personage enacted on British TV in recent years by Rowan Atkinson. (Blackadder Goes Forth is the generic title, and the episode is called “Private Plane”. Blackadder has been sentenced to death for killing a army message-delivering pigeon.) The firing squad are played nice. They drop by the night before to introduce themselves and to pay their respects. Their leader speaks ingratiatingly of the “terminatory service” which they supply to their “customers”.

But that was a comedy show. This creep really seems to believe that the people of Britain are “customers” for the “service” he and his pals are oh-so-sportingly providing for them. No doubt he imagines that we are all oozing with “brand loyalty” towards him and his partners in state administered robbery.

This quote captures an awful (and I do mean awful) lot about the atmosphere in Britain now, where all manner of institutions boom forth with the language of business, that is to say the language of freedom, while not in fact doing business, that is to say while actually buggering us around in ways we would never consent to if we had any choice about it.

Does this kind of crap get talked in the USA?

12 comments to Confiscatory service

  • It sure does get talked that way; so far MommaBear has encountered only one governmental agency that actually treats its customers nicely, even though they are extracting Funds For The State.

  • Curt Wilson

    “Does this kind of crap get talked in the USA?”

    I haven’t heard anything quite that bad on this side of the pond, but there is an annoying tendency to “run the government like a business”. To which my reaction is that if it should be run like a business, it should be run by a business.

    One example that I have to deal with is the US Patent Office, which has gotten big on “customer satisfaction”, but with a warped sense of who its “customers” are — just the applicants. Patent examiners are reviewed based on how well they satisfy the applicants and on speedy “resolution” of patent applications (of course, the fastest resolution is the rubber stamp).

    The predictable result is that all sorts of ridiculous patents are getting through. Once the patent is approved, the burden of proof in a patent case is on the challenger, and such a challenge is seldom worth it, so we have to dodge around these things. But since we weren’t the “customers”, we didn’t have to be “satisfied”.

  • qsi

    Here in the Netherlands, the tax service has the slogan “We can’t make it any more fun, but we can make it easier.” I suppose that makes some kind of sense (in terms of the slogan). The actual service is very much what you’d expect from a giant government bureaucracy. The rest of the state-provided “services” are not much better. I know, hardly shocking news…

  • Philip Chaston

    There was an article from one of the Demos researchers a few years ago that proposed the post-Thatcherite British state with its myriad decentralised agencies (as the “New Steps” programme introduced) was now an audit state. Each agency viewed those that it provided a service to as its customers and this culture was imported to increase productivity and service.

    However, the relationship between these agencies and the central civil service, often set out in contracts, charters and targets has been offset by Nulab’s overkill in micromanagement and setting a target for how many Inland Revenue officers can dance on the head of a pin.

    Answer: None. They have to get through the eye of a needle whilst seated on a camel.

  • I began to hear this sort of thing here in the US at least ten years ago. I first noticed it in the Post Office. You could go here for a 1995 Cato critique of Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government”, which went to extreme lengths of euphemasia over “customers” of government.

    This stuff is not new new here.

  • Tim Haas

    I’m displeased by how large and impersonal the IRS has become, so like any rational economic man I’ve tried many times to take my custom elsewhere, but they just don’t seem to want to let me go …

  • Joebwan

    Oh, are you in luck! Business jargon is not only endemic in the IRS; you, too, can participate in its customer service mission! Go (note: a pdf link). Meet beautiful girls and boys too, no doubt.

  • Joebwan

    My apologies; prior comment link doesn’t open in a new window. To learn how you, too, can participate in the IRS’s customer service mission, go here.

  • Paul Michaels

    About two years after moving to the Isle of Man (18% top rate income tax, falling to 15% next year!) I received a letter from the UK Inland Revenue.

    On the brown envelope –
    Ken Dodd says they use brown paper because the Revenue know what you’ll do with it 🙂
    – was a little slogan in italics
    “Making it easier for us to do business with you”

    Inside was a notification that I was to be fined £100 for late filing of my tax form.

    I rang them to inform them I didn’t belong to their club any more, not quite as polite as that I recall.

    Do they really think people are so easily beguiled into believing that stealing money is a “business”?

    Happy Holidays all

  • Dale Amon

    Around 1980 I was working just out DC on a joint project between my company and Computer Sciences Corporation. I never forgot the comment of one of the senior engineers there, an old southern gentleman, about the Internal Revenue Service.

    “Where I came from, Servicing was what bulls did to cows.”

    Yes, there is a reason for calling it the IRS. It is *indeed* servicing you all. In the original sense.

  • And of course what these dickheads forget when they talk the language of business, and treat you as a ‘customer,’ is that if you don’t like their service you can’t simply go to the ‘other’ Inland Revenue just around the corner. If I don’t like the service my ISP provides, I cancel it and move to another. If I don’t like the waste disposal service offered by Oxford City Council I have to wait until election day and then hope a sufficient number of fellow voters feel the same way.

    We are not customers.

  • Brian

    Also reminiscent of the unforgettable Miles Malleson’s hangman in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Discussing his trade with the prison warden, he laments that “A difficult client can make things most distressing; some of them tend to get very hysterical. So inconsiderate.”

    And yes, it does happen in the States. They think that the application of business-like rhetoric will, by some talismanic process, result in business-like efficiency. They also think they’re doing you a favor.