In the last fourteen months, I’ve moved to Thailand, Myanmar, Dubai and Paraguay. One thing all these “emerging democracies” have in common is that important and expensive services are all delivered by the state. And there is no tradition or enduring concept of individual rights apart from those granted by the state. There is precious little private enterprise and competition for the customer. When you apply for Internet service in one of these countries, you find yourself standing in line at a state agency, where the employees know they have job security whether you enjoy their ministrations or not. So whether it’s Paraguay or Dubai, the employees of this thinly-disguised state agency (thanks to a snazzy business name and logo pretending to be private enterprise) take their time, joking, making small talk, playing with their phones, ignoring the customers, suggesting they stand in the wrong line, then laughing at the error and sending them to stand in another and laughing some more. I’m sure this is what it was like in the former Soviet Union. And, if all else fails, the rulers of your little socialist backwater can always blame the United States or NAFTA, or like North Korea, blame the United States for everything bad that has or could ever happen to your people.
Lousy customer service comes in different flavors, of course, and this version is merely the communist/socialist way of avoiding the accountability inherent in real capitalism. But the feeling of free enterprise´s lack is unmistakable. It’s the way it used to feel going to the post office in the States, before the Internet, FedEx and UPS roused themm from their stupor and made thehungry for business. It’s the way it still feels to get your driver’s license renewed. Whenever a monopoly exists, the vibe is the same. They’ve got a job and you’ve got a problem.