*I think this essay of Kate’s is very important because so many times people taking money from us by force (the IRS, say) and using it for things we would never buy, act like it’s for our own good, and we’re the customers who purchased the goods, after all.
Let us remember without the choice to be or not to be a customer there is no private property and no freedom of association. If someone can force you to buy “insurance” because they think it’s for your own good, you’re not free. If someone can prevent you from buying something, yes, even drugs, because they think it’s not for your own good, you’re not free.
There are several things I’d never buy or let friends/relatives buy without protest, but which their individual will still gives them a choice on. I can persuade but not forbid. I wouldn’t, anyway, it being that I’m not a government officer and I’ve realized I was wrong about something once or twice before, particularly about things that don’t pertain directly to me.
But when government legislators and agencies act like you’re the customer, just because you’re being forced to pay and receiving something in return, remember you’re not. If you have no choice, you’re not the customer. You’re the chattel. – SAH*
Who Is The Customer? – Kate Paulk
Facebook is a dangerous place. It inspires Kate-rants when truly impressive levels of stupid are on display, which is something like 200% of the time, and I happen to run across them – which happens rather less frequently or I’d burn my keyboards out much faster than is safe for me or them.
The latest example came from a sub-thread in a discussion inspired by one of those memes that’s basically saying teachers are whiners. The sub-thread meandered into the question of who is the customer of the education system, into which someone posted the definition of customer as listed by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer):
In sales, commerce and economics, a customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product or an idea – obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier via a financial transaction or exchange for money or some other valuable consideration.
When challenged, the person argued in circles for a while before falling back to a claim of being “buried in semantics” and “worn out on the topic” (they later apologized for the whole sub-thread, which leads me to suspect that in this case someone wasn’t thinking too clearly when they posted. It happens to the best of us. But the Wikipedia definition is still dreadful).
Starting with the Merriam-Webster definition of customer, you get “one who purchases a commodity or service”. Which covers everything needed – one who purchases implies both the exchange of currency (as opposed to barter which in its purest form is a two-way trade relationship in which both parties are suppliers and both are customers) and the ability to choose both whether to purchase and what to purchase. Since the commodity or service isn’t being pulled out of thin air, that implies that there is a supplier who receives the money the customer users to make the purchase.
The Wikipedia definition starts to fall apart before it gets halfway through: first, the customer does not have to receive whatever is purchased. When you buy a gift, you don’t receive the gift: it goes to whoever you’re giving it to. That gift might be physically in your hands in transit, but more often than not these days, you will never see it – but you are still the customer. For that matter, you could argue over whether insurance involves receiving something, since the actual purchase in this case is a promise of reimbursement – which need not be to the customer – if some bad thing happens, not the reimbursement itself.
That’s not the worst part of the definition, though. Consider “obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier via a financial transaction or exchange for money or some other valuable consideration.” Leaving aside the questionable grammar of this part of the sentence, it’s constructed in a way that makes a thief or mugger the customer of their victim. After all, they obtain goods or services from a supplier. A valuable consideration (the supplier’s life not being threatened) is exchanged. In the same way, being blackmailed into bending over for the nice landlord and having your rent excused after is in fact purchasing another month’s rental.
Okay, you could say these are barter exchanges, but neither are actually legal, and neither involves the free choice of both parties, something that’s implied to be present in the simpler definition.
This is why semantics do actually matter (also, incidentally, why it’s a good thing to think twice and post once or not at all. Getting hot on the enter key can lead to posting things that don’t mean what you think they mean). It’s a little like the semantics of “Let’s eat Grandma!” and “Let’s eat, Grandma!” – what’s in the gaps can mean as much or more than what’s actually present.
As to who is the customer in any situation – it’s whoever or whatever is paying for the thing. In the case of public schools, the customer is whichever entity funds the school. If you’re not paying tuition fees, you aren’t the customer. If you’re paying at one remove, the intermediary is the customer, not you. You are the intermediary’s customer – if you have a choice not to pay. If you don’t have a choice, you’re not a customer, you’re part of the production process.