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Eden Celeste

Paypal, Occupy, and the Little Guy

posted by marrael 2011-12-08 22:41:13

I had a happier post lined up, but thought I'd talk about businesses and ethics for this one. There was a little tea-cup storm on the Internet over the last few days that you may have heard about: The Regretsy vs Paypal Debacle that had many Paypal users (businesses and buyers alike) up in arms; the story even made it to CNN. Regretsy, a site I know I've linked to on here, was taking Paypal donations for a toy drive, and long story short, had its accounts frozen for a made-up reason, before public pressure and petitions made Paypal back down and admit (inamumblemumblefashion) that they had made an error.

When I first ran into the story, I'll admit this, I was trying to quell a mindless rising panic when Paypal's exchange with Regretsy included an insistence that the "Donate" button was only for the use of non-profits and "worthy causes". The Paypal Donate button is the button you'll see on blogs, artist sites and webcomic sites. Sometimes it's called the tip jar. The Paypal Donate button lets the person who uses it decide how much to give, and if the money is going to the artist--well, here was my conundrum: Was I a nonprofit? Did I have to register as a non-profit? Was I worthy cause? Was feeding an artist a worthy cause, or did I now have to give up painting and get a "real job"? What about the thousands of other little people and businesses out there offering services and tutorials and e-books with a "pay what you like" model?

Turns out of course anyone could and can continue to use the Donate button for any reason (and Paypal always takes a little cut from each donation). But April Winchell, when this was still playing out, said something really cogent about Paypal's (and indeed, a lot of corporations') actions: 

We are all working very hard in a bad economic climate, and every cent we spend really matters. And corporations continue to treat us like they’re the only ones who are hurting.

We see the erosion of customer care in every sector. No one knows your name. No one makes eye contact. No one thanks you. Even doctors are practicing a completely different kind of medicine now. They have to see so many people to make the same money they used to that they’ve become more like mechanics. They forget your cancer is attached to a person. And Paypal forgets your fees are attached to people who are trying to make a living, or facilitate something good for other people. 

Wading into politics and social responsibility is not something I planned for the Fantastic Portfolios' blog, but I do believe we seem to be living in a climate where it is accepted (nay, expected) that corporations put money before people. (It's capitalism, right?) Corporations don't say they put money before people, of course, but their actions scream it: they report profits even as they announce "downsizing" measures; workers' productivity keeps going on up (ie. they work longer hours and bear more responsibilities) but salaries don't (unless you're a CEO). When you buy products that say "made in China", think about the companies that have moved their productions there so that they save costs--were those savings really passed straight on to you, or are you (and your society) paying now in other ways? Corporations, as part of their legal definition, are "people" and thus they're quick to scream this in defence when anyone want to take them to task for their socially irresponsible actions. Add to the mess that politicians and corporate donations (and CEOs for that matter) are so deeply and inextricably entangled in some industries (healthcare, agriculture) that it truly makes all ignorance look like bliss.

By the way, if you've been foggy about what those Occupy Wall Street "bums and hippies" have been railing about, that's it. Corporations and government being in cahoots, forgetting their responsibilities to PEOPLE. Real people. Not corporations pretending to be people in the laws.

Paypal is a terrific example of a corporation that has almost life-and-death power over thousands of small businesses and craftspeople and freelancers that depend on it to make a living. It's got the monopoly on online transactions. No other online payment processing service comes close to having Paypal's international reach and relative ease of use. (I have looked.) Regretsy was essentially bullied by Paypal, and Regretsy was lucky to have gotten their accounts unfrozen--the site had clout and media attention, and it was CHRISTMAS. No corporation wants to be seen as a grinch. It's bad for profit.

There's no answers I can provide in this little blog post, but just some awareness I think is good to raise for artists and all small businesses--educate your customers as much as you can, and just as you'd like to be supported, support "the little guy" (family businesses, other artists, farmers) as much as you can afford to as well. (In cash or barter, if possible.) 

Have a happy holiday season.

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