Don't thank me for my patience

Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: If you traveled over the holiday season, I'm guessing your patience was tested at least once. And that someone thanked you for being patient, even if you were hanging by a thread. Commentator Robert Reich says he never wants to be thanked for that again.


Robert Reich: After what seemed like an interminable wait on the phone the other day for a service representative to help me fix a holiday gift that wouldn't work, I heard the dreaded words: "Thank you for your patience."

I heard them again after sitting on a plane that was stuck on a runway for over an hour. "Thank you for your patience." Again, at a hotel that had misplaced my luggage. "Thank you for your patience." A few days ago, at a restaurant where I thought I had made a reservation but somehow didn't have a table, "Thank you for your patience."

Again and again -- it seems more this past holiday season than ever before -- I'm being thanked for giving something I did not give and I don't have, especially at that particular moment, and that's patience.

What's galling is that the thankers know I have no choice in the matter. Whether it's on the phone or on a runway or in a lobby or in a restaurant, I'm stuck, because I've already committed myself to their service, flight, hotel room, or table for two. What I'm really being thanked for is not going ballistic.

The old saw says time is money. But now that most of us are working and commuting longer hours than ever, our time is worth more than money. Time is the most precious thing we have.

And if the market worked like it does in textbooks, we'd penalize companies. We'd pay them for their product and we'd bill them for our time. That way, they'd have an incentive to staff up when they need to, or devise backup systems for when something goes, or give customers better notice of delays -- even though these steps might cost them more.

But the market isn't working, because we rarely connect the price we pay for something with the time we lose waiting for it. Maybe there should be a truth in labeling law requiring companies to disclose not just prices, but also average waiting times.

Of course, given how backed-up Congress is, we'll be waiting for years. In the meantime, I'd settle for a law banning the use of the phrase, "Thank you for your patience."

Jagow: Robert Reich was Labor Secretary under President Clinton. His new book is called "Supercapitalism."

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