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Early signs of moral collapse?

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By Gregory K. Tanaka and Tongalag Liu |
chinadaily.com.cn |
Updated: 2021-12-28 13:00

People wait to enter a COVID-19 test and vaccination site near Times Square in New York, the United States, Dec 7, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

There is an alarming trend in the lives of Americans and we believe this trend offers a glimpse into what may be the early signs of moral decline of an exceptional country.

Greg: As a writer born and raised in America, I have noticed a shocking, widespread, undeniable decline in service that US companies are giving their consumers. In my lifetime I have never seen anything like this.

Tongalag: I can state that in the three months that I have been doing business as a consultant in the US I have encountered huge delays when trying to purchase products online, order services, get refunds or even change a reservation. As a person who grew up in northern China, I do not remember encountering delays like this in China very often, if at all.

In the past two months, for example, I have routinely encountered delays when attempting to reach someone by phone to discuss what should be a simple consumer situation. This occurred when attempting to place an order for electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric. This also occurred when ordering new internet and television service from Xfinity, when arranging for new phone service with Mint Mobile, and when changing travel reservations with American Airlines. Using the internet to reach these US companies online does not work any better. In fact, the app-based sites the companies have set up to help consumers seem way too generalized and never seem to accommodate the specific question I have.

Greg: I think what is happening here is that once they get your money—and the company locks you into a monthly payment plan or there is no competition for their services—these companies simply don’t feel any “duty” to provide service to their customers. When I recently called the customer service department of an American company, I kept getting passed around from one department to another—and was ultimately returned to the very department that took my call in the first place. What’s most off-putting to me is that this happened when I called the supposedly “preferred customer” service line of American Airlines Advantage: I was put on hold for seven hours before a real live person came on the line to listen to a request that I could not explain on the internet. Seven hours! And this actually happened twice.

Tongalag: This is not the first time the problem of disloyalty to consumers has been raised in the US. Several years ago, I happened to watch the popular US television show Saturday Night Live when they performed a satire specifically addressing this very point. The subject of US companies making it difficult for consumers to get answers to their questions or resolve a complaint was portrayed clearly during the show. But even with this criticism presented on such a well-known national TV show as SNL, American companies did not change their practices or even seem to care after the airing of this show.

Greg: Yes, and given that this is the “era of consumerism,” the desire of American companies to only make money off their consumers—and refuse to care about their needs or questions—reflects in my mind a decline in basic values stating how people should treat each other. Anthropologists have commented in the past about what happens when a people, or their institutions, begin to violate the basic human values delineating how to treat each other. Vincent Crapanzano (2000: 2, 24) wrote that a “loss of values” can lead to a “breakdown in the moral order of a society.”

I also think this problem of loss of values is further exacerbated by today’s harsh economic times. In challenging economic times like today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933) specifically urged an American public beleaguered by the onset of the Great Depression to take the moral high ground: “(R)estoration” he noted, “lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit”—including “interdependence on each other,” a sense of “duty,” “honor,” “courage,” and “honesty.”

Tongalag: After hearing what your President Roosevelt had to say, I have to agree that American companies are clearly seeking profit while refusing to honor any sense of “duty” to care for the consumers once their transaction is completed. When American companies elect not even to spend money or take the time to train employees how to “honor” and be courteous toward consumers, they are performing the exact opposite of “being in interdependence” with them.

Greg: So, where does this leave us today? Once these companies lose the loyalty and faith of their customers, I fear that that previous sense of consumer loyalty won’t be won back so easily. And since we are living in a consumer-based economy, we may also be witnessing the first step in the decline of the moral fabric of society itself.

Tongalag: But if this is the case, I wonder if the US as a nation will address its moral decline in time to recover, or will this moral decline lead to full-scale economic collapse before the US can ever come to its senses?

Greg: Only time will tell.

Gregory K. Tanaka is the author of Systemic Collapse and Renewal: How Race and Capital Came to Destroy Meaning and Civility in America and Foreshadow the Coming Economic Depression (2018).

Tongalag Liu is an international consultant facilitating venture capital-funded transactions between the US and China.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

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