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The Telephone
Paul Craig Roberts

I remember when the telephone was a useful and appreciated device.  The digital revolution, one of humanity’s most unfortunate developments, has turned the telephone into a nuisance and a threat.  

The telephone is such a nuisance that most people no longer answer when it rings or even bother to set up the feature to record phone messages.  The telephone is such a nuisance that many people do not even use it for calls.  Instead, they text, and they only answer texts.

Ninety-five percent of the calls I get are scams, tele-marketing and robo-marketing calls. The telephone is a constant disruption.  I don’t answer and rely on the answering machine.  

No one I call answers either.  Not even businesses.  Recently I telephoned the diagnostic center, where tests are done as part of my annual checkup, to confirm the appointment.  A long recording in two languages explained everything I had no need to know, but it was impossible to communicate with any live person at the diagnostic center.  I could go online, get an apt, create a portal and establish a communication connection.  In other words, what the telephone formerly dealt with in 30 seconds now took an hour or two just to set up a method of asking the question.  The robot on the other end didn’t say how long I would wait for a reply.  

Everyone must have noticed by now that whether you call your bank, credit card company or utility company, reaching a live person is the most difficult and most frustrating task of your day.  Everyone has noticed that the recorded message tells you that “we are experiencing an unusual call volume at this time.  Your wait time is one hour and 45 minutes.  Stay on the line or leave a callback number and we will call you in approximately one hour 45 minutes.”

I can remember when if you called bank, utility, or credit card company, the call was answered by the third ring and the person you reached could resolve whatever problem or question you had.  

The digital revolution made it possible for companies to impose costs of doing business on their customers.  It is your time that is used up listening to recorded messages of no value to you and awaiting a callback. Often the callback person isn’t trained to handle your question, and you go through the process again.

The digital revolution has turned the telephone into a device that governments and corporations use to spy on you.  Privacy is a thing of the past.  It is unknown today, and the word itself will probably disappear from the vocabulary. Telephones today are used as computers to constantly surf the Internet. Your visits are recorded and your revealed interests are sold to marketers and, if suspicious, authorities are alerted.  Whatever people are doing, walking on the beach, sitting in a bar, eating in a restaurant, driving a car, working on a job, or attending a meeting, the telephone is ubiquitous as the thumb scrolls the page.  But its original use–to communicate with another human–is passé.

Hon. Paul Craig Roberts is the John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. A former editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service, he is a nationally syndicated columnist for Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles and a columnist for Investor's Business Daily. In 1992 he received the Warren Brookes Award for Excellence in Journalism. In 1993 the Forbes Media Guide ranked him as one of the top seven journalists.

He was Distinguished Fellow at the Cato Institute from 1993 to 1996. From 1982 through 1993, he held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During 1981-82 he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy. President Reagan and Treasury Secretary Regan credited him with a major role in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, and he was awarded the Treasury Department's Meritorious Service Award for "his outstanding contributions to the formulation of United States economic policy." From 1975 to 1978, Dr. Roberts served on the congressional staff where he drafted the Kemp-Roth bill and played a leading role in developing bipartisan support for a supply-side economic policy.

In 1987 the French government recognized him as "the artisan of a renewal in economic science and policy after half a century of state interventionism" and inducted him into the Legion of Honor.

Dr. Roberts' latest books are The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with IPE Fellow Lawrence Stratton, and published by Prima Publishing in May 2000, and Chile: Two Visions - The Allende-Pinochet Era, co-authored with IPE Fellow Karen Araujo, and published in Spanish by Universidad Nacional Andres Bello in Santiago, Chile, in November 2000. The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America, co-authored with IPE Fellow Karen LaFollette Araujo, was published by Oxford University Press in 1997. A Spanish language edition was published by Oxford in 1999. The New Colorline: How Quotas and Privilege Destroy Democracy, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, was published by Regnery in 1995. A paperback edition was published in 1997. Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, co-authored with Karen LaFollette, was published by the Cato Institute in 1990. Harvard University Press published his book, The Supply-Side Revolution, in 1984. Widely reviewed and favorably received, the book was praised by Forbes as "a timely masterpiece that will have real impact on economic thinking in the years ahead." Dr. Roberts is the author of Alienation and the Soviet Economy, published in 1971 and republished in 1990. He is the author of Marx's Theory of Exchange, Alienation and Crisis, published in 1973 and republished in 1983. A Spanish language edition was published in 1974.

Dr. Roberts has held numerous academic appointments. He has contributed chapters to numerous books and has published many articles in journals of scholarship, including the Journal of Political Economy, Oxford Economic Papers, Journal of Law and Economics, Studies in Banking and Finance, Journal of Monetary Economics, Public Finance Quarterly, Public Choice, Classica et Mediaevalia, Ethics, Slavic Review, Soviet Studies, Rivista de Political Economica, and Zeitschrift fur Wirtschafspolitik. He has entries in the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Economics and the New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance. He has contributed to Commentary, The Public Interest, The National Interest, Harper's, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Fortune, London Times, The Financial Times, TLS, The Spectator, Il Sole 24 Ore, Le Figaro, Liberation, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. He has testified before committees of Congress on 30 occasions.

Dr. Roberts was educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology (B.S.), the University of Virginia (Ph.D.), the University of California at Berkeley and Oxford University where he was a member of Merton College.

He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, The Dictionary of International Biography, Outstanding People of the Twentieth Century, and 1000 Leaders of World Influence. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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