Where are Special Interests When You Need Them? The Problem of Unwanted Phone Calls

One problem with the political decisions, including those in a democracy, is the importance of special interests. Special or politically concentrated interests have an advantage in the political process and therefore are able to obtain special privileges and advantages that impose inefficient costs on the society. This is, of course, an old story.

But the world seems to be more complicated than this. Sometimes one wonders why special interests do not seem to be pursuing their interests. And as a result, other special interests prevail when it seems they should not.

I thought of this the other day when I picked up another phone call from some kind of telemarketer – either a business or a survey company. In our house, my wife and I both have cell phones and we also have a home land line. For the last 5 to 10 years, I would say that an increasing number of phone calls on the land line come from telemarketers or other organizations (these days it is over 90 percent). It has come to the point where my wife and I simply do not answer the land line – we always let it go to the answering machine. At some point, I imagine that we will get rid of the land line, but it seems like a bit step, especially for people of my generation.

I find this arrangement absurd. There is (or perhaps was) a no call list, but it had exemptions for people conducting surveys or venders with which one has an existing arrangement. But I don’t want those exemptions. I want a complete no call list, but cannot get one. It seems absurd that I cannot control who has the right to ring a bell in my house and disturb my peace.

These exceptions are explained in part by special interests, including politicians who wants polls to be conducted and businesses who want to contact potential customers. I understand that; my question is why other special interests don’t fight these rules. The land line phone companies should oppose these exemptions, because over time it will cause people to cancel their land lines.

Perhaps there are too few people canceling their land lines. Perhaps the cell phone and land line companies are the same people and so they don’t lose much.

In the long run, there may be a technological fix for these matters. Technological advances generally solve problems much better than governments do. And in that future world, my phones might function like my e mails accounts do – where I have one e mail for venders who send me all kinds of advertisements and another for work and friends.

Reader Discussion

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on July 22, 2014 at 23:24:38 pm

What a fascinating question! I do the same thing -- almost never answering my home landline phone, although I answer my cellphone promptly.

And yes, landline phone companies have been shedding customers at a rapid pace -- although I suspect this is mostly due to the rise of cell phones rather than the rise of telemarketers. Nevertheless, the problem remains.

One possible rationale: Traditionally landline phone companies made a lot of money by completing long-distance calls on behalf of long-distance carriers. Perhaps telemarketers place a disproportionate number of calls via long-distance carriers? In any event, I think the FCC has changed this compensation regime.

So here's another possible rationale: You can't stop these calls. Firms that have a relationship with you, or firms that seek to communicate an other-than-commercial message, have a First Amendment right to call. In short, no, you cannot control who has the right to ring a bell in your house and disturb your peace. The Jehovah's Witnesses have a right to ring your doorbell or call your phone. The extent of your rights is to refrain from answering.

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on July 23, 2014 at 10:47:42 am

Good to know that I am not the only one that has to contend with these boors.
One advantage I may have is that with an internet phone line from Comcast (no I am not recommending these overpriced near monopolists) if I have the TV on, the number of the caller appears. I usually don't answer calls from Botswana, etc. offering me the promise of untold riches from a recently deceased unknown Uncle.

Nobody does raise an interesting point about a "right" to call you. It is troubling to think this may be correct (or affirmed by the courts). I suspect that this can be so only if one accepts that the 1st Amendment was intended to protect obnoxious commercial entities rather than primarily intended to afford protection for "conscience" rights. Heck, I no longer know what to think.
How long before they start on your cell phone - I have heard of instances where this is happening?

In a sense this get us back to the post / comments by Stephen Smith on the "Griswold Dream" - where some argue that there is a need for "honor" laws - laws that while on the books are never enforced and are really intended to "prescribe" honorable behavior. Does the no-call list law amount to this? Maybe.
It is in some ways similar to posting a "No-Solicitation" sign on your house. Honorable thing to do is to not solicit. What happens if I call the Police regarding a violation.
Seems I am stuck with the Witnesses, Cable TV salesmen and the like!!!!!!!

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