Sorry, Wrong Number: For Whom Ma Bell Tolls

Friday August 15, 2003

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Hello. Welcome to Elite Information. My name is Emgfdn. How may I help you? 

Well, -- beg pardon, but I didn't catch your name. 

I'm sorry sir but we're not allowed to give our names over the phone. It's company policy. Is there anything else I can help you with today? 

Yes. I'm looking for the number of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The number I have doesn't seem to work. 

I show no listing for that name, sir. 

I've been out of the country for some years, but I'm sure it's still there—is there some other way to look? 

I can ask my supervisor, sir. I'll have to put you on hold. 


You have your choice of “Sail Away” or “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” as performed by Andover Accordion Orchestra. 


[two minutes pass] 

Sir. Are you still there? 

Yes, yes, 

I'm afraid the center no longer exists, sir. 


As my supervisor explained, there are no democratic institutions left to study. 

Nonsense! There are elections and initiatives and... 

Almost all won by the highest bidder-- market forces at work. It's really the best way, sir. That's why we're the only superpower. 

Are you suggesting that legislators, that laws, can be bought and sold? 

Even invented. An enormous mailing list of like-minded people is worthless if there's no cause in view, so guess who's been writing ballot propositions? 

This is all a little disturbing. 

Oh, it's nothing new. We used to look forward to election day because one of my dad's buddies would slip him a marked ballot wrapped around a $5 bill—to help him get to the voting booth. 

But he didn't have to vote the way they said—it is a secret ballot. 

Yes, but it's an open market, you know, where demand and supply act under the guidance of an invisible hand to ensure that everybody gets their fair share. 

Do you really believe that? 

I'm sorry, sir, but we're not allowed to give our opinions. It's company policy. Is there anything else I can help you with today? 

You're saying that money... 

It's all history now anyway. Private firms running elections have developed software that makes it possible to steal a statewide race for only pennies a voter. 

But l... 

Sorry. Time's up. That will be $30. Visa or Mastercharge?