Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Parable of The Satellite Dish

 The Parable of the Satellite Dish

Imagine a large condominium complex is meeting to consider a package deal with a cable TV company. Over eighty percent of the condo owners have their own satellite dishes, and are quite happy with the service. Some of them don’t bother to watch television at all, preferring to rent movies from Blockbuster or Netflix for entertainment. However, the condominium Board of Directors says they’re getting a lot of complaints from the residents who don’t have satellite dishes, demanding the condo association purchase a cable TV package, and fold its cost into the monthly homeowner dues.

The homeowners already pay extremely high dues, and they’re not happy with the quality of service they receive. They also notice that most of the people clamoring for cable television aren’t even homeowners – they’re renters, so they don’t pay the association fees directly. The condo owners already host regular movie nights at the clubhouse, which also has a well-stocked library, so no one is truly starved for entertainment. Still, the owners feel guilty that anyone has to make do without TV service in their home, so they invite a cable company to give them a sales pitch.

The cable company, BFD Communications, produces an incredibly complicated plan for providing cable television service to the community. The plan is thousands of pages long, and no one even claims to have read the whole thing. They spend the weeks leading up to the big board meeting pestering all of the residents with relentless advertising for their services, covering doorknobs and windshields with brochures. Their presentation at the board meeting is several hours long.

BFD Communications explains that purchasing their service will require a lifetime contract, which can never be broken. The condo residents will be required to deal exclusively with BFD for their entertainment needs – all satellite dishes must go, and even the library will fall under their control. The contract will include funding for a large corporate security force, which will ensure compliance by issuing fines for illegal satellite dishes, or attempts to smuggle rented movies into the development. As this feature of the contract is being explained to the homeowners, a large screen behind the BFD representatives is flashing slogans like “BFD Enhances Competition!” and “BFD Saves You Money!”

The cable TV contract will be fantastically expensive. Curiously, while it is a lifetime contract, the company refuses to discuss the fee schedule beyond the first ten years. An intrepid homeowner studies the contract and discovers the costs double after ten years… and this assessment was prepared by CBO Auditing, a firm which has underestimated the cost of every contract it has ever reviewed. The condo Board rules that only the ten-year projections matter, and the intrepid homeowner is asked to leave the meeting.

Other homeowners announce they’ve been researching BFD Communications, and discovered it has never been able to deliver promised services at the contracted price. Every single project the company has undertaken experienced enormous cost overruns, and delivered poor quality to its customers. Every time a smaller competitor has been allowed to bid against them, the competitor’s price and performance were superior – that’s why BFD demands exclusive lifetime contracts. The people who make this announcement are told their input is not welcome, and asked to leave the meeting.

A resident asks what different packages BFD will offer. She has small children, so she would like educational programming, but she has no interest in premium movie channels, shopping networks, or morally offensive shows. The cable company explains that only one package will be offered. Its purchase will be mandatory, and the high price of its many channels will be charged to all residents.  A senile old man in the audience claims the BFD executives promised him there would never be any morally offensive programming.
This prompts an angry homeowner to leap from his seat, waving a portion of the gigantic cable TV contract… which says the members of the condo Board of Directors are exempt from the restrictions, along with some of their friends! They can rent movies, purchase high quality satellite service, and avoid having the exorbitant fees for BFD tacked onto their monthly dues.

A loud argument breaks out in the meeting area, with angry residents howling that they want no part of this terrible deal. These people are told their anger disqualifies them from further participation in the meeting, and they are asked to leave.

The remaining critics of the deal suggest that other alternatives should be explored. There are less expensive entertainment options to consider, and since none of them require lifetime commitments, wouldn’t it make sense to try them first?

The Board of Directors insists that the BFD contract must be signed immediately. It’s simply appalling that anyone in the development should endure a single day without entertainment. Why, all of the surrounding condo developments have already signed up with BFD! They all have appalling service and frequent TV blackouts, they’re all broke, and they borrow security officers from our development to keep their streets safe… but their Boards of Directors all laugh at us for refusing to provide BFD cable service to our residents, and our Board is tired of their mockery. The BFD executives mention that no one will actually receive any cable services for five years, but their fees will begin right away.

The meeting ends with the Board of Directors ignoring the demands of homeowners and voting for that lifetime contract with BFD. The residents leave the meeting hall wondering how they reached the point where a small group of Board members, up for re-election over the next couple of years, were able to ignore the
clear wishes of the residents and saddle them with a lifetime contract.

Here are some lessons to ponder from the Parable of the Satellite Dish:

  • Never accept permanent solutions that are nearly impossible to change, when simpler and more easily modified plans are available.  It’s foolish to let the advocates of permanent programs dismiss flexible alternatives before they have been tried.
  • A proposal that requires you to ignore both the past and the future is a swindle, not a solution.
  • Free people do not accept restrictions from which their government is exempt. This is one of the differences between leaders and rulers.
  • A demand for commitment without a guarantee of performance is domination, not service.
  • When free people are told something is “inevitable,” their response should be an immediate and overwhelming refusal to accept it. Inevitability is a self-fulfilling prophecy in the absence of resistance. Freedom is the never-ending quest for alternatives.
  • The people who loudly celebrate “diversity” keep coming up with universal plans. Their State is a giant who trims citizens to fit its bed, using rusty implements. The giant, the bed, and the implements were all equal sins in the eyes of our Founders. They come as a set.
  • When the State refuses to let you debate the terms of its plans individually, you can rest assured the whole is worse than the sum of its parts.
  • Freedom requires the courage to avoid being stampeded. You should ask more questions about something you are told is an “essential right.” Sober reflection is a hallmark of maturity. A wise State would not require its citizens to act like children.
  • The State cannot give you anything worth having. You’ll eventually find yourself guilty of the crime of wanting more. As the State fails to live up to its promises, it will be increasingly tempted to convict you of that crime… in advance.

(From Doc Zero)


1 comment:

Bug said...

Wow, that is an exceptional way of describing the situation!

I especially like the description of leaders vs rulers. This ties into a Constitutional amendment I'd like to get passed that would prevent all members of our goverment from exempting themselves from any rules they pass.