Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Barriers: Corporate Bullying
Where there is no law, the mighty prosper: the weak languish. Under rule of law, they who prosper are they for whose benefit the law was made. The law was made to protect the rich from the poor. Its justice has a price that only the rich can afford. Under the rule of law the rich prosper: the poor languish.
The Rule of Law
One can imagine human society in many forms. At its most basic, order is established by a minority, who are both strong and selfish, enforcing their will upon those who are not. The next stage is where dominance is held by a minority who are each skilled in the use of a particular weapon. So far, whether a marauding Viking or a wild west gun fighter, the ruler was also the enforcer of his rule. He was the quintessential bully.
Then came the idea of hiring muscle. One who had already gained dominance, and the wealth it had won him, switched to having others enforce his will for him in return for a wage. Perhaps he was getting old. He now restricted himself to deciding what the rules should be, leaving his hirelings to enforce them upon those over whom he ruled. Local populations grew and merged to form nations. This forced local rulers to coalesce into national governments. As a result, local rulers' hireling enforcers became restructured into police forces. These now enforced national law on behalf of national government.
But exactly who is the national government? It is the former local rulers come together to form a centralised ruling minority. How did they each gain their dominance? It was not through brute physical strength. It was not through skill with a weapon of combat. It was through their skill with the weapon or persuasion. It was their skill in the use of the spoken word. It was through their opportunities to build upon their inherited social connections. It was having the means to stand for election. Apart from a few notable exceptions, they are either rich, or lap dog hirelings sponsored by the rich.
He who pays the piper calls the tune. The laws which members of a legislature enact will inevitably benefit their sponsors. In other words they are formulated to preserve and protect the rich, their wealth and their interests from acquisition, erosion and theft by poor. To maximise its effect, the law is brought to bear upon each individually. To defend oneself when accused of violating it is costly. Only the rich can afford 'justice'. The poor man does not have the means to defend himself against the laws of the rich. Accusation is conviction.
The penalty of the rich man's law is then physically executed upon the poor by the rich man's hireling. He is the civil servant or the
policeman who, for a wage, prostitutes himself as its blind instrument of enforcement, leaving behind his conscience and his reason as he hurries off to work each day. But the enforcer cannot escape his guilt. He cannot hide it behind the bastion of official or corporate anonymity. His plea of "I am only doing my job" has no moral substance. Whether he be following prescribed rules or his own considered judgement; whether enforcing them with the gun or the pen, an executive of any kind is always personally responsible for the fruits of his deliberate actions upon another human being. Who is the murderer - the assassin or his hirer?
In the basic state of society where the rule-maker was his own enforcer, he witnessed first hand the reality of what he was doing. Conscience and consequence were forever before him. Not so now. Those who make the rules are distant from those on whom they are brought to bear. Out of sight out of mind. The conscience of the law maker is insulated from the reality of his actions. Since he does not make the law, the enforcer too is insulated from the reality of what he does. No matter how vile or reprehensible his task of enforcement may be, he appeases his conscience with the words, "Well, I'm only doing my job." The upshot is that the law maker and law enforcer together form a faceless monster which dispenses evil and injustice to many who have done no wrong.
The Power of Wealth
The rich are those who own the Earth. They alone have the power to decide if, when and how the natural resources of the planet's mantle and biosphere are deployed to transform human labour into the needs of life. At any given time, the world wide community of the rich can deploy as much or as little of the planet's resources as they see fit. Their sole motive for deploying any of the resources they possess is to provide for themselves - to fulfil their own needs and desires: nobody else's.
If the rich worked, they could apply their own labour directly to the land and resources they possess and thereby generate their own needs of life. In this case they could only ever deploy a very small fraction of the vast resources they possess. The rest would lie fallow. Nevertheless, they could produce and exchange their needs among themselves as an exclusive closed economy. It would not be a very advanced economy, but there is no reason why it should not work. By possessing the wealth-generating resources of the planet, and being free to deploy them to produce their own needs, the rich do not need the poor. They can survive (and indeed prosper) very well without them.
The poor are those who possess none of the planet's natural resources. They possess neither land nor (what is purportedly its equivalent in a modern economy) capital. The poor man thus has under his control no means of turning his labour into his needs of life. To survive, he must hope that the rich man will employ his labour in return for a wage. So the poor need the rich. They cannot possibly survive without them.
Thus whereas the rich do not need to trade with the poor, the poor desperately need to trade with the rich. When the rich wish to buy from the poor it is therefore a buyer's market. But when the poor need to buy from the rich it is a seller's market. Hereby the rich dominate - and therefore in effect possess - the free market. Hence they own both the wealth generating resources of the planet and the global free market through which the wealth those resources generate is exchanged.
To the rich, therefore, the vast dispossessed majority of the Earth's human inhabitants is merely a natural resource like the land. It is there to be used if, when and how they wish. Under a system of law which is shaped specifically to benefit the rich and protect them from the poor, the rich certainly have no legal obligation to provide for anybody else but themselves: certainly not for the poor. The rich are unmotivated to employ the poor in return for a wage unless they perceive it to be to their own advantage. But to survive at all, the poor must continually offer themselves to the rich in a way which is sufficiently enticing to gain and hold their employ or trading custom.
Under the morals of the capitalist free market, if I come across one dying of thirst in a desert, I can demand all that he has in return for a cup of water. This is the inflexible basis of every commercial relationship between the corporate and the individual. It is evinced by the fact that all such relationships are defined by agreements which are authored exclusively by the corporate and which the individual has no choice but to accept in full without alteration or not enter into at all. Since the individual (or more generally, the smaller party) is in the position of having to enter into an agreement with at least one corporate, he has no choice but to sign at least one such agreement.
Corporates invariably print their terms and conditions in a pale microscopic typeface on a shaded background of almost the same colour. What other purpose could this possibly have been designed to serve other than to discourage reading? Once upon a time I was about to enter into one such typical corporate 'standard' agreement after having read a leaflet. However, neither I nor my wife nor my daughter (even with our reading glasses) could read the terms and conditions on the back. We had no difficulty at all reading the rest of the leaflet. This was one typical example of the corporate ploy to get hapless individuals to sign agreements without reading what they are committing themselves to.
If I made the law would introduce the notion of 'omission by de-emphasis'. This would prevent the rich and corporate from burying stings in small print which they inductively discourage their hapless customers from reading prior to commitment. I would deem that the legal importance of a piece of print be in proportion to its size. I would give all small print a supplementary status such that if anybody could read the large print, but not the small print, it would not be legally significant. But alas I am not a law maker, and corporate interests would never allow their puppet parliamentarians to ruin one of their main instruments of deception.
It is so easy and so frequent for somebody's signature to end up at the bottom of a long and complicated agreement they have never read or agreed to, especially in the world of modern word processors and graphics imagers. Individuals are frequently placed into a pressured situation to sign on impulse with two minutes to scan through and understand a complicated legal agreement. I have been subjected to this by official instruments who should know better. In my opinion no legal agreement can ever be safe and fair unless written out in full and signed entirely in the signatory's own hand.
Notwithstanding, under the present system, it is always the larger stronger party which dictates the terms of any commercial 'agreement'. This results in their getting the lion's share of the proceeds and cast iron legal protection. The smaller or weaker party has only the choice to accept or reject the 'agreement'. And if he accepts it he will get little reward and be legally vulnerable.
A Means of Oppression
Sadly, computer projects often turn sour. When they do it is invariably the individual who is made the scape goat. He is branded as the obvious cowboy while all corporate contributors to the project use their power and influence to sustain their impeccable reputations. One particularly
painful example springs immediately to mind.
All too many of the projects I did during the 15 years in which I ran my own business followed the same inevitable course. I did a technically proficient good quality job. The immediate users of what I had produced were happy and satisfied. Yet I was for ever poised on the brink of ruination by legal proceedings threatened by inept and cowardly face-saving little shits hiding safely behind the power of their large corporate employer with its massive capital and its
The lone artisan cannot risk ruination through recourse to law. Whatever the law was intended to be, it is a weapon in the hands of the mighty with which they exploit and bully the weak.
The law of the land applies to each. No one is above the law. All are equal before the law. Nevertheless, the law of the land is not applied equally to each. This is because it is applied through an adversarial system. It is a battle between two adversaries. It is a form of armed combat in which the combatants' sole weapon is the law. The winner is he who has the greater skill in its use.
In the capitalist free market such skill can be bought. For a price. A high price. A price which the rich corporate can afford with ease. A price which would ruin the individual. The rich can afford to hire the best and most accomplished legal champions. The poor can afford nothing. In a legal battle between rich and poor, the rich hire a world class heavyweight champion. Against such the poor individual trying to defend himself is like a sick child entering the same boxing ring.
The rich and corporate therefore rest in the sure knowledge that an ordinary individual cannot harm them by means of the law. On the other hand, the ordinary individual has the Sword of Damocles forever poised above his head for the duration of any dealings he may enter into with the rich and corporate. He can of course take out some form of professional indemnity insurance against possible legal proceedings. But it is expensive. It has always been financially out of reach for me. Insurers, like all capitalists, are there to make a profit. To that end they cherry-pick the market for low risk high premium customers. And like most poor individuals I am not a cherry. I would certainly have to work for a long time without such protection in order to be able to afford it. As a result the lone artisan is very vulnerable before the law. He is the inevitable scape goat for any corporate executive seeking to hide a mistake or to satisfy his power-hungry ego.
During the 1980s I spent over 15,000 hours of my own unpaid time developing a computer software package. It ran on industry standard personal computers and networks. That is a tremendous amount of human effort. I set about trying to sell it. More correctly I was trying to sell licences to use it. Over the 10 years I managed - with the help of a few sympathetic people - to sell 15 licences. Notwithstanding, considerably more people seemed familiar with my package than I would have expected from the number of licences I had sold. The probable reasons for this soon became apparent.
As the personal computer population exploded I began to witness a most disturbing phenomenon. Whenever I had occasion to visit an organisation which used personal computers I would invariably - and I do mean invariably - see a couple of employees ensconced in front of a computer. Their conversation would typically go as follows.
"You mean all I have to do is enter my figures and it produces a balance sheet and profit & loss account automatically?"
"Yes, I can do the entire end-of-year stuff in an afternoon. It used to take me a week!"
"Wow, I could certainly use this. Where can I buy a copy?"
"Buy one? What do you want to do that for? I didn't pay for this! Bring in a couple of diskettes tomorrow and I'll run you off a copy. Mum's the word! I won't say anything if you won't."
"Great! Thanks. See you tomorrow."
Often, the person receiving the copy was not an employee of the company concerned. He was an employee of a service provider or even a self-employed service provider with his own little business. One such individual once boasted to me that he had over £4,000 worth (circa 1987) of software on his computer which he had acquired in this way. And he was exceedingly proud of this achievement.
Of course people like this take for granted the salaries they receive for the work they do. They take for granted that they should charge the same high fees for the same service when the software they have stolen enables them to do it in less than a tenth of the time. They give no thought about what the programmers of all this software they thieve are supposed to live on - especially those who, though
personal circumstances, are self-employed developers whose only income is from the sale of user licences. They simply assume unconditionally that ipso facto all software people are highly paid and rich. This could not be further from the truth.
Whenever I have expressed my disgust at what they are doing, such people look aghast. It appears that their code of ethics requires that I and my family should quite rightly live in deprivation and misery so that they can steal my software, and that if I report them I am thereby a nasty treacherous bounder. The average person, it seems, does not see this as stealing. After all, they reason, what was originally there on the developer's computer is still there. Therefore nothing has been stolen. But this is fallacious reasoning.
I started my career in software in the days when computers were large and expensive. At that time software was developed specifically for each individual user. It too was expensive. The total development cost produced one copy. This method of software production was not viable in the personal computer market. So along came the idea of the software package. The same programs would be installed and configured in many computers owned by many different owners. The price of a package would be spread over all the many people who would buy a licence to use it.
At the then going rate for programmers, the time I spent developing my package over 8 years during the 1980s came to about £¼ million. I sold each copy for £300 for a single user licence + £120 for each additional user on a network. An average sale was for a 5-user network. The average revenue was therefore £900. Ignoring the cost of selling, I had to gain at least 278 installations to break even. I expected to surpass this by far. In fact I never sold more than 15. The 'stolen' copies represented (at least part if not more than) the remaining 263 times £900 which in effect I had invested in the package. This loss compounded the stress of my already difficult family circumstances.
How is the software developer meant to survive if at all? Is he not worthy of his 'meat' for the effort he has put into developing his software? I think he is. But who is going to pay for what he can get just by copying straight from a willing user's computer? And who is to know? I do not have the means to police every company in the world to see who is illegally using my software. I therefore have no way of knowing who the illegal users are. Even if I did, I have no power to go into their offices to check or stop them.
As a lone individual with no capital I cannot afford to protect my software. I cannot afford to join any 'Federation Against Software Theft'. I cannot afford to copyright, patent or register my software, especially not in foreign countries such as the USA. Any individual or corporate is therefore quite free to copy or reverse-engineer all or part of it. I cannot of course afford recourse to law. That would be suicidal. Even if I manage to open up a small market niche then sooner or later a large corporate will spot an opportunity for profit and wipe me out of the market.
Software is so easy to copy. Get a box of diskettes and any employee of a licensed user company can copy many thousands of hours worth of software (and data) in a few minutes of his lunch hour without detection. He can then take it home to use on his own personal computer if he has one, or take it to a new employer when he changes his job or starts up on his own. He can even sell it.
None of the legal or technical attempts at solving this problem is effective. Software is something which simply does not lend itself to being sold on a commercial basis. I as a dedicated hard-working software developer could never gain a fair or viable income by selling my expertise or products in a capitalist free market. There has to be a better way - an alternative economic system. Personally, I would rather have been provided with my adequate needs of life during the 15,000 hours it took to develop my package and then let whoever wanted to use it do so freely.
I have left the absolute killer until last. It is the ultimate, and by far the most devastating and destructive form of corporate bullying. It is the delayed or non-payment of money owed. It leaves the lone artisan with absolutely no idea when - or indeed if - he will be paid for what he has provided. Bills keep coming in. The money keeps going out. The overdraft keeps getting bigger and bigger. It passes the credit limit he has agreed with the bank. A penalty interest rate kicks in. Interest and surcharges accrue. But still the proverbial cheque in the proverbial post has not arrived months after the proverbial 30 days have expired. Stress mounts. He can no longer concentrate properly on his work.
He must interrupt his work to make the daily uncomfortable phone calls to his clients' accounts departments. The reply is always one of a predictable set of stock lies.
- "You should have received it by now. I'll chase it up."
- "The cheque's in the post. / I posted it this morning. / It went off yesterday."
- "We haven't had the invoice yet."
- "The manager concerned hasn't cleared the invoice for payment yet."
- "The person dealing with your account is on holiday / off sick."
- "The manager went abroad on business without signing it off."
- "The financial director's put a hold on it for some reason."
The true answer is, "We haven't paid you yet because we want to keep your money so that we can gain interest from it and bolster our cash flow at your expense." Which, of course, the person on each end of the telephone knows full well but never mentions.
Once the above category of lies starts to wear thin, some accounts people move on to a second and more dastardly category of lies such as.
- "We never gave you the official go-ahead for this work."
- "It appears there was some query as to the quality of your work."
I have often been fobbed off by the latter. Each time, I would telephone the person for whom I actually did the work and say, "What's this your accounts department is telling me about my work not being up to standard? Why didn't you tell me?" Each time their surprised reply would be, "I don't know what they're on about. Your work is A-OK, second to none." I phone their accounts department again. They insist that 'somebody' placed a hold on payment because there was a query as to the quality of the work. So it goes round in a viscous circle. Of course, there was nothing wrong with my work. It was always merely yet another, particularly reprehensible, ploy for delaying payment.
At the end of the 1980s a deep recession started to bite. This tended to increase the lengths of payment delays and the incidences on non-payment. It rapidly reached the point at which the one-man business could no longer function - mine included. On the 2nd July 1989 I wrote to my MP on this matter. He sent my letter to the appropriate government minister. The essence of the reply which he forwarded to me from the minister was that small firms did not tend to take up their option of recourse to law.
This is the typical inane reply one expects from the average government minister. This one I think had personal assets at the time of £43 million. It is therefore unreasonable, I suppose, to expect such a person to understand the economic universe as perceived from the point of view of a self-employed artisan who has not been paid for 9 months or more and, as a result, is currently debt-ridden and penniless. The law regards the large amount of money owed to the hapless artisan as his. He is therefore not without means and so does not qualify for legal assistance. The fact that the money is not even in his possession and is therefore beyond his control seems to be immaterial. The lone artisan's corporate adversary - his debtor - on the other hand has unlimited means (including the money it owes him) with which to mount an unassailable legal defence.
To take legal action against non-payers is dangerous for another reason. I have taken such action only to find that the company to whom I had supplied thousands of pounds worth of goods and service was actually on paper worth about £10. That is all I could ever hope to get as a result of legal action. In return for this I would incur hundreds of pounds in legal costs. This is because, in the meantime, the directors of the company have dispersed its assets throughout a convenient string of other companies which they also own. Thus they keep their expensive houses. Their children continue to attend their expensive fee-paying private schools. For what purpose could the laws of limited liability (which allow this to happen) have been enacted other than to provide the idle rich with a devious mechanism for ripping off the industrious poor?
Many like me with whom I have discussed this subject agree with me that law is an option only available to the rich and corporate as a viable means of recovering debts. To the lone self-employed artisan, if he does not qualify for full legal aid, it is economic suicide. If the corporate rich decide that they don't want to pay, they don't have to.
The usual payment scenario for me went as follows. A client requests a product or service from me. I supply the product or service and invoice them for it. Time passes. The money never arrives. I chase it. The proverbial cheque in the proverbial post never actually materialises. Then months later they want another product or service from me, or some addition or modification to the product I have previously supplied to them. I refuse to do anything until I have been paid. Two weeks or a month pass. The cheque eventually arrives. I supply the new product, service or modification. I invoice them for it. Then I wait. And wait.
Once upon a time I refused to provide a software upgrade to a bad payer until I had received and cleared their cheque in advance. I got an impatient phone call from a woman in their accounts department asking my fax number. When I asked why she wanted it (I don't have a fax anyway) the woman replied that she wanted to fax me a copy of the cheque so that I could go ahead and implement the upgrade immediately. I jokingly asked her if she thought my bank would accept a faxed cheque. She said no, but it proved that she had written it out and was about to (proverbially?) 'post' it off to me. I said that I did not see the point and declined. The actual cheque arrived by post two weeks later. It always amazes me how the postal services seem to know when an envelope contains a cheque. They always seem to know which ones to 'delay'.
County Court rules (circa 1992) require a late payer against whom judgement is made to reimburse the creditor with interest at a maximum of 15%. I have to pay interest on my bank account at 26.4% plus fixed charges which works out at 43.2% APR on a £500 overdraft. Indeed, if the debtor has to pay interest at a similar rate it is cheaper for him to let it go to court than to pay. I think that the creditor should be able to claim at the rate he has to pay his bank so that he is not out of pocket.
I simply had to accept that I would not get paid for work I had done until the next time they wanted me to do some further work. This meant I would never actually get paid for the final piece of work. In the case of a one-off job or sale (such as the provision and installation of a piece of software) I would invariably have a very long wait before I got paid, and was highly likely never to be paid at all.
The sad fact is that where there is no self-enforcing legal Sword of Damocles poised above the heads of the rich to make them pay, then they won't. Their singular quest is to acquire wealth and then acquire more. And they can only acquire more by taking it from the poor. So contrary to what the Minister said, I still think that if it be the intent at all of the government to restore the decimated confidence of one in business on their own, then some pain-inflicting means will have to be put in place to motivate the rich and corporate to honour standardised payment terms and periods.
The rich corporate masters of UK industry do not seem to realise that by treating small suppliers this way they are hurting themselves. They're shooting themselves in the foot. Given a choice, the self-employed artisan like myself will always choose to work for a client who pays, and pays on time. Certain foreign countries have laws which require companies, irrespective of their size, to pay within a specified time after invoice. If they do not, they have to justify their reason to an arbitrator who carries overwhelming legal power. Consequently if one works for corporates operating within such jurisdictions, one is paid on time. The stress and worry is removed. One works well and efficiently.
The upshot is that these foreign fast payers, are the ones who will always attract and hold the services of the best professionals. Consequently they are the companies which end up with the best-developed and hence potentially the most competitive products. The fast payer is also the one I will naturally respond to first in an emergency without the delay caused by having to clear up-front payments. Why cannot British companies see that it makes sound business sense to pay on time?
Non-payment is theft. But so is late payment. Both deprive the lone artisan of the use of what is his money - his capital. Both also deprive him of the interest he has to pay on the overdraft which it creates by not being there on time. They further deprive him of the interest his money could earn by being in his account. Both are forms of theft. Nevertheless, when perpetrated by the rich and corporate, they seem in effect to be perfectly legal. At least, they incur no penalty. They don't even incur shame. In fact, getting away with late or non-payment is regarded among them as clever. It improves their cash flow. And this is a commendable end which, in their eyes, well justifies the suffering and misery it inflicts on others.
So even on the rare occasions when the market does condescend to buy from the lone artisan, he is faced with the foreboding spectre of never receiving payment for what he does. This can cause him, through no fault of his own, to become unable to pay others for what they have supplied or done for him. This earns him an undeserved bad trading reputation. It can ultimately force him out of business.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton