Just like in the spam debate, flawed analogies abound in the telemarketing industry's opposition to the list, which will go into effect in October. By then, an estimated 60 million Americans will have added their telephone numbers to the list.
The problem in Mr. Copilevitz's analogy is simple: If a Hare Krishna confronts you in the airport (and by the way, does this happen very often nowadays?), it's a face to face confrontation. Also, religious calls are presumably non-profit and are exempt from the do not call law, but we'll chalk that up to a poor example. In any case, our friendly Hare Krishna is accountable, and you have a recourse. You can ask him to stop, or simply walk away. If he follows you around, that's not an annoyance, it's harassment. Telemarketers, on the other hand, have shown again and again that they want as little accountability as possible. Why else would they block their number on caller ID boxes, a practice that virtually all telemarketers use? Ask them a tough question, like "what company do you really work for?" or "what is your supervisor's name?" and, seeing no sale in the future, they'll just hang up. Telemarketers routinely violate existing federal laws that require them to identify themselves, call within certain hours, and honor requests to be removed from their list.
It is correct that there is no such thing as a right to live free of annoyances. Telemarketing, however, is closer to harassment than annoyance. Even the Salon article points out how calls are indiscriminately made to the handicapped and the elderly. With no way to opt out of all calls, these recipients are forced to answer the phone each time for fear that they could miss an important call. Mobile phone users, who pay for each call they receive, will also answer their phone, especially with the universally employed telemarketer practice of blocking caller ID.
There is one point that we all agree on: When the national do not call list goes live in October, it will negatively affect the telemarketing industry. Jobs will be lost. The industry, however, is playing around with the statistics. They are quick to point out that there are 2-4 million people employed in the teleservices industry in the US (depending on who you ask). However according to the Direct Marketing Association's report titled The Faces and Places of Outbound Teleservices in the United States, around 500,000 of these employees are 'outbound' telemarketers, meaning the majority of teleservices employees are not in the business of making unsolicited sales calls. Outbound telemarketing generated $274.2 billion in sales in 2001.
Manjoo appears to believe that a cost/benefit analysis will show that losing the telemarketing industry is too harmful to the economy. This is a flawed belief to hold, of course, if the industry in question is considered harmful as well. Opponents of genetically modified food, for instance, also make this argument. It may help the economy by reducing the cost of food, but is it worth it if it impacts people's health? The telemarketing industry may help the economy by employing salespeople and selling goods, but is it worth it if the calls are a violation of your rights? Again and again, the industry has ignored existing federal laws because of a loophole: All the telemarketer has to do in court is show that they have "established and implemented, with due care, reasonable practices and procedures to effectively prevent telephone solicitations in violation of the regulations." At one point I had a telemarketer calling me almost every day with a recorded message, trying to sell me a trip to Orlando. When I tried to call the number in the recording, they claimed they were unable to remove me from the list.
The existing law is not a solution. It allows every company and every telemarketing outfit to maintain a separate do not call list, which gives each one of the countless sellers of discount long distance service and Florida timeshares a one-time ticket to call your home. There are over 8,000 outbound call centers in the US and over 100 million telemarketing calls every day.
Is the do not call list worth the economic price? I say, that question shouldn't even be asked. We are asking ourselves the wrong thing. My question is, how far are we willing to go to improve the economy? What are we willing to tolerate in the name of a couple more jobs? What will we tolerate so that a little more of our paycheck goes toward consumer sales? The message from the direct marketing industry is clear: The 20 million Americans who have signed up for the list so far are lying. They say they hate being interrupted during dinner, but clearly some of them have bought stuff from telemarketers before. I don't have any more faith in the consumers than the telemarketers do. The choice should still be in the hands of the fickle consumers, and not the telemarketers.
$274.2 billion in sales do not just vanish. 500,000 jobs do not just go away. The statistics don't lie, but I have a hard time believing that the average American buys over $900 of stuff from telemarketers in a year. I have a suspicion that most of these sales are the big ticket items, and they'll be bought through other channels. Today's advertising doesn't create markets, it moves consumers between competitors. It's a rare consumer who buys a time-share over the phone when he wasn't already considering the purchase. If you call me up and sweet-talk me, I might buy a boat from you instead of your competitor. You can be damn sure that I was thinking about buying the boat before you called, though. For this reason, the marketing industry's suggestion that almost 4% of consumer sales will simply vanish is not only irrelevant, it is also wrong.
I do oppose the law on one point: It is irresponsible and sleazy for the lawmakers to exempt themselves from the law by protecting political solicitations. This isn't a business issue, it is an issue about our right not to be disturbed in our homes. If you hate telemarketing, you'll be just as angry if you get a recorded call from George W. Bush pitching your local congressman as you will if you get a recorded call from George Foreman pitching a grilling machine.
If you disagree about the analogies, you'll probably disagree with the do not call list. Personally, I don't believe telephone marketing is being singled out in any way. As a usual fan of the free market, I reluctantly support the list, knowing that it will have some negative impact on the economy. Laws such as truth-in-advertising laws have shown us that sometimes commercial speech must be restricted for the benefit of all people. Telemarketers will quickly defend their rights, but your right to be free of calls you do not want is more important than their right to pitch their goods to you.