Monday, March 25, 2013

Commission-only direct selling jobs are not an adequate (or fair) economic fallback

Are “commission” jobs predicated on door-to-door selling or cold-calling getting harder to get by on?  Yes, they are, for a variety of obvious reasons.  Many people buy on the Internet.  Many people live alone and do not participate in the social capital that makes “unsolicited” personal approaches more common and more acceptable.  Dealing with solicitations presents obvious security problems (at home, by phone and even Internet) for many people.

On the other hand, there used to be an “ethic” that hardscrabble selling was a way to start out in life from nothing. This may still be the perception in many communities.

Generally, local and state laws do allow a certain amount of cold solicitation.  There are legal limitations on what homeowners or tenants may do to prevent them.  (The risk of involvement of weapons is obvious.)   And the “do not call” mechanism does not stop all solicitations. 

A few religious groups – the LDS Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses – still goad their members into door-to-door proselytizing.
I recall, in early 2002 while still in Minnesota, an job ad suggesting earnings of up to $75000 a year selling cable systems.  This was after my December 2001 layoff, and I called and asked.  Yes, it was door-to-door.  Maybe it made sense then to sell systems this way in neighborhoods with new homes, especially in areas new to cable.  Now it would not. People generally know which vendor they want. 
In 2002-2003, I worked in telefunding, cold calling, for “blue money on credit”.   I couldn’t do that now,  I have my giving all set up, and I rarely will take a cold call visit or call.  Do unto others?   One problem, especially with the cold calls, is that there are just too many of them.  There isn’t time to talk to everyone, just like there isn’t time to read every email.  Or like an employer doesn’t have time to read every resume, if he isn’t hooked in the first three seconds.  Now I know why.  I’ve been on both ends.  Time (and sometimes security) management is a real problem.
In late 2003 I also worked briefly selling National Symphony Subscriptions by phone.  That used to be lucrative for some people.  But, really, I pick and choose the events I want to go to.  I never buy subscriptions to the same place; that would be like buying a time-share.  It makes no sense given my interests.   It’s easier to buy on the Internet – it really is – unless the Kennedy Center site crashes when it opens sales to “Book of Mormon”.  And then – lo – you learn about the cheesy world of third-party vendors. 
This puts a lot of people in the job market in a bad way.  Do we blame the marketing companies for not keeping up?  A lot of the stuff being hocked – coupons, phone cards, whatever, has to be suspicious, maybe fake.   Do we blame the economy,  because it’s gotten so hard for many people to make an honest living without getting into something cheesy?  Maybe – but remember we used to be a lot more welcoming and sociable to be sold to directly than we are now.  Culture has changed that much – in contradictory directions.
We can’t have a good economy for more people without making more things ourselves.  We can’t get by on commissions, door-to-door, cold-calling, or “always be closing”.   The economy is good for some people – those with certain advantages (genetic and environmental) that enable them to compete – mentally, socially and sometimes athletically.    Go to any suburban church in a high income area – there are always plenty of teenagers with the skills and ability to make it in our highly individualistic economy. You know that “these kids will be all right”.  But that can’t work for everybody.  Is this a call for a "pay your dues" social compact?  

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