Occupy the mailbox

Poet Artie Moffa has devised a way to shake his fist at the big banks. It is painful that this is thought to be "brilliant" (as one commenter opined).

There are many reasons why this is a silly notion. As many of these types of activities go, they are often an impassioned orgy of virulence, but little else. Such a tactic is likely to do nothing more than make those who do it feel clever and self-satisfied.

The current number of YouTube views for this video is 109,168. If everybody who watched the video actually sent in their envelope and it cost the big bank they are targeting $0.25 each, the total cost of postage to the bank would be $27,292. Not exactly a sum that will take down a corporation. And this assumes all 109,168 viewers will send in an envelope. To the same bank.

Although we all share the dislike of bulk mail items arriving in our mail box, and even though many of us have been tempted to mail the materials back to the sender in a moment of protest, the reality is that most people just aren't going to go through the bother of sending the stuff back.

Since everyone who watched will not likely send an envelope and since they are not likely targeting the same bank, the impact to any one organization will be even less. But if the tricky wood shim tactic is used, the price per parcel will rise and the pain to the bank will be greater. Even if it cost the bank a dollar per letter, the cost is not that great when spread across millions of customers. And that is exactly what would happen.

The bank isn't going to dock the pay of the CEO to cover the cost of this. It will pass the costs on to the consumer. Just as would be the case if this YouTuber ran a business and the local ne'er do wells filled his garbage dumpster with their garbage. He wouldn't just pay that amount out of his paycheck. He would add it to the price of his product as a cost of doing business. And that cost would not be significant enough to raise the price of his product so drastically that it would drive him out of business.

And if you think that since you are not a customer and therefore it won't affect you personally, what about all those who are? Isn't one of the points of OWS to speak up for those who are suffering because of the predatory practices of the large Wall Street banks? Isn't this just the sort of selfish, greedy, narcissistic behavior that the OWS crowd eschews? And besides, the merchant from whom you purchase your next car, house, gas, food, utility, clothing, medical care, TV, laptop, or iPhone may use this financial institution and you'll pay the fee as it is passed on to the consumer.

Moffa asks us to "Think of the scene in a mail room at a big bank." Well, it is likely that this type of mail is not handled in the mail room at 111 Wall Street. In fact, this probably takes place in some drearily familiar industrial park mail facility that employs people much like Artie, his mom or dad or other working stiffs who are not part of the 1%. They would like nothing more than to be able to do their jobs without the harassment of wood shims and notes from wise-acres who want them to join a union. They may already be a union member, which only makes the "really heavy, dense and crumbly" interruptions in their work day all the more tedious. Why not add baby powder to the mix? That would really show those greedy bankers. Do you suppose Moffa is appreciative of hecklers when he is on stage doing his job? One wonders whether Moffa would recommend spitting on the server at the local buffet if we disagree with the corporate business practices.

If we use Moffa's estimate of "a few roofing shingles, a few hundred wood shims and a few thousand empty envelopes," we might be verging on a couple thousand bucks of financial punishment to an institution while causing untold headaches for the rank and file who will have to deal with the real world implications of his proposed stunt.

And then Moffa gets to what he thinks is the point of such a protest. He admits that sending shingles to bankers "isn't really about running up the postage bill at the big banks, although that's a nice side effect." It is about creating meetings. Meetings to discuss the hundreds and thousands of weird credit card applications received by their fulfillment agent. He doesn't reason that these meetings will probably be held at the time clock in a noisy mail sorting facility and not range much beyond the topic of how to properly dispose of the debris sent in by disgruntled housewives, elderly retirees, and now, OWS protesters, and the fear induced in these times by opening envelopes containing foreign substances.

Moffa has much higher visions of grandeur.
Every hour the banks spend reacting to us is an hour they won't spend lobbying Congress on how to screw us.
Really? The banks will call the lobbyists back from DC to help sort mail? Does the SEIU stop lobbying just because a letter-writing campaign is waged against them?
Its an hour banks don't spend foreclosing on our houses.
Really? The bank will be so jolted that they will forget that Joe Blow hasn't made a payment in six months?

In large part, this is a masturbatory exercise. Maybe banking practices do need a thoroughgoing examination. Maybe government shouldn't have pressured banks to do Congress's social engineering so that we didn't find ourselves in this current situation. But this tactic gets us no closer to these ends.

What at first glance seems like a nifty idea, upon reflection devolves into an emotional fit. And the smugness dripping from such statements as "being immoral doesn't mean you're infertile," speaks only to fellow devotees who probably also had a Hans Landa "Ooooh, that's a bingo" response to shoving construction debris into an envelope.

Moffa would do well to understand that one's ideological opponents do not have to be evil or immoral simply because they have different thoughts and ideas. But this concept has yet to be learned by some of good will and is of little interest to those who would rather attack and destroy the messenger than engage in thoughtful conversation about competing ideas. This sort of dismissive rich/poor, black/white, young/old, red/blue, on/off mentality lacks nuance and is only helpful to those who are not confident in their own ideas. It is much easier to dismiss your opponents as evil, immoral, stupid, ignorant, mean spirited, war-mongering, selfish, greedy, hateful, nativist, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted, intolerant, fascist, misogynistic and hypocritical than to converse about the intricacies of different ideas.

And what about the environmental waste caused by such a protest? All the added driving and decreased fuel economy because of hauling roofing materials around. And does it create or save jobs for postal handlers? Well, yes. In the same way that splitting supertankers over coral reefs create jobs for the cleanup industry.

So as is often the case, protestations such as these may make the protester feel good, but won't do much beyond that. But who doesn't want a little self-induced pleasure? And Moffa seems to feel good about his self-stimulatory feel good exercise. So thanks to him for turning the camera on while preening in his digital masterbatorium.


From a poster at reddit:
The communications part is pointless; fill the envelope and send it back, but don't waste your time with the communications bit: the only people who will ever see it are minimum-wage (or near-minimum-wage) mail handlers who simply discard this sort of response.

I have (unfortunately) worked for institutions like this in the actual mail room, and this sort of thing is pretty standard (where I worked, we received 15000-20000 pieces of mail a day, and we had 6 people sorting all of it; each of us got several dozen of these trash-filled envelopes daily). We had boxes specifically for these sorts of envelopes, and the only thing we had to do was add a single comment to the person's file (if we could determine who it was from). That comment? ERE, which stands for Envelope Returned Empty.

Most of the time, we didn't even bother adding the comment (which is actually a good thing for the intended recipient, as it kept the address in an unknown state of use; sending the mail back like this shows it is a legit address; additional contact, including phone contact, was often then tried with these accounts). The envelope and its trash contents would simply be tossed in that bin, and we'd move along to the next piece of mail.

So don't bother wasting time (or money) creating fliers or inviting communication: the people who see it will toss it in the trash and, truth be told, are probably already on our side (but unable to do anything from their "expendable" position). Just send back the envelope with its original contents and move on.

Edit :: For what it's worth, this is also the reason why sending threats, powders or other sort of "illusion to cause harm" items is not only pointless, but is counter-productive: most company mail rooms are isolated to reduce the damage caused by an actual attack, and the only people who are going to be affected by it are the ones who the company considers to be some of the most expendable people in the company (where I worked, only the [Mexican-born] janitorial staff were considered more expendable).
Comment by davidwbrown66:
No!!! DO NOT PUT THE SHIMS IN THERE!!! I fix the fucking machines those envelopes go through and you fuck up all the machines if you stick shims in there. Those kinds of letters get sent through machines that require the letters to be slightly flexible as they get carried by belts around bullwheels.

Just stuff them with the paper like he originally said.

Don't fuck up the machines, that just messes with a postal machine operator and, worse, some poor technician.
Comment by b0blee:
If you make the envelope rigid with wood, it's a hazard to the postal machinery. It won't go through as Business Reply Mail (because it obviously isn't), and all you've done is annoy some poor postal workers.
Comment by moclips1:
your ideas have been tried before, and they don't work.  mass mailings from big companies are cheap to produce, cost only a few cents to mail per piece, and make money even if a lot of blank envelopes are returned. . those return envelopes are bar-coded, and any mailing that is too heavy gets thrown out, which costs the USPS money and not the company, good ideals, though. my sources: USPS employees, who hate mass mailings, and my 20+ years in marketing at a big heartless corporation.
Comment by Kelliwilliams2:
I can try to answer this helpfully. I used to work at a bank in my youth. Any rigid object that breaks machinery used for sorting material ill result in people staying late and sorting it by hand. Any mysterious object like rubble or dirt or an angry letter in mail will be considered a possible terrorist threat and result in a trip to loss prevention and the employee being questioned about their involvement and knowledge.

If you feel like doing this use clean paper not the stuff he suggests at the end or the crazy stuff people are suggesting like dog poop and cat litter. Any inconvenience experienced by the person opening these letters will not matter at all to anyone higher up and neither will any messages. Anything you put in these envelopes is going to end up on the hands,clothes and unfinished work of the employee. You break their machines? They work wo them.


Anonymous said...

Prices are set by supply and demand.

Your first argument is that this won't be a significant cost to companies, your second argument is the costs will increases prices for everyone else. Your economic argument are self defeating.

Moreover, if the banks have to hire more people to handle the increase in mail, that would mean more jobs. It wouldn't mean higher prices. That is a classic right wing economic fallacy. More hires would only impact profits.

RB said...

@Anonymous You have correctly observed two points made. Just as Moffa himself acknowledges, there is little financial impact here. So if the point is to stick it to the man, this ain't the way to do it.

Second, dealing with an influx of trash mail from Moffa and those who would follow in his footsteps will incur some minor additional labor and overhead costs. This and the additional postage that Moffa hopes to straddle the banks with will come from somewhere. And since businesses don't have a leprechaun tending a limitless pot of gold nor do they have the ability to print money, they will pass those costs on to the consumer.

So I have concluded two things: that the costs are inconsequential, and no matter what those costs are, they will be passed on in the form of higher prices. It is possible for the two thoughts to exist simultaneously and without mutual exclusion. How is this fallacious?

All of the costs of providing a product, including: direct material; direct labor; equipment; depreciation on the equipment and building; supplies; personnel (other than direct labor); occupancy expenses for facilities (rent/mortgage, light, heat, property taxes, maintenance, etc.); interest expenses; theft; and any other incurred cost, including Moffa's additional postage and labor demands, is covered by what? By the price paid by the consumer. There is no other place to find money to pay for these things. And whatever is left over is profit.

How can you say that "if the banks have to hire more people to handle the increase in mail" that "more hires would only impact profits?" This is the broken window fallacy. You seem to be arguing that the money spent to recover from destruction, actually is a net-benefit to society. If this were true, why not hire infinite employees since that would only add to profit? Profit is what is left over when all those other items are paid.

If the consumer sees sufficient self-benefit in the exchange, he will pay an additional minor sum that is profit for the business because he acknowledges that the business is able to provide the good or service in a more efficient manner than the consumer could. This is the tacit acknowledgement of comparative advantage. The cost of a good or service can be lowered because of specialization, economy of scale, division of labor and other factors that lower production costs and increase productivity. Profit is not necessarily bad. It can be an indicator that the consumer is willing to pay for efficiently produced, low-cost goods and services. And barring corruption, large profits are likely the result of someone, or some group, finding a way to increase production in a way that reduces production costs thereby increasing the profit margin. It is quite simplistic and utterly lacking nuance to think that profit equals theft.

So even though you might be able to build your own house by doing the framing, plumbing, electrical, roofing, concrete, heating and air conditioning, window installation, insulation, cabinetry, sheet rock, texturing, flooring, landscaping, etc, etc, etc, by yourself, you also might be willing to pay each of these specialty trades a bit of profit to do the work because you may not posses the skill, tools, time, knowledge, experience and expertise to perform the tasks. And even when paying them the profit you may still conclude that it is advantageous because they do it so much more efficiently than you could. And when larger companies do this on a larger scale they make larger profits.

But the house builder cannot just add employees without limit. In spite of your assertion that this would "only impact profits", one suspects that the business would soon close or prices would soar to cover those labor costs.

But this may just be classic right wing economic fallacy.