Wild Capitalism in Action

My mother’s friend, let’s call her Arina, is from St. Petersburg. Arina is over sixty and is very interested in everything health-related. She kept noticing TV and radio commercials that advertised the services of a branch of an Israeli clinic in Russia. The commercials offered a free medical check-up to anybody interested in the clinic’s services.

Arina called the clinic and scheduled a phone interview. The next day she called my mother in Montreal.

“I have horrible news,” Arina said, crying. “I had a medical examination at this clinic and they say that I’m very sick. I have this huge blood clot located between the two hemispheres of my brain. It can burst at any moment and I will die instantly! The doctors say I need to get operated immediately because I’m on the brink of death!”

My mother was  horrified. She had no idea her friend was this sick.

“Just make sure you seek a second opinion, OK?” she told Arina.

Several days later, Arina told her friend that everything was good.

“I should have suspected that there was something fishy about this so-called Israeli clinic from the start!” she chirped happily.

“What do you mean?” my mother asked.

“Well, it’s the way they conducted the medical examination,” Arina explained. “They did it over the phone.”

“How did they discover a blood clot over the phone?”

“They called me, asked me to sit by the window and breathe in deep. Then they kept asking questions over the phone. After that, they told me I had a clot and needed to give them $4,000 to have it removed.”

Unfortunately for us and our curiosity and fortunately for her wallet, Arina realized this was a scam before she had a chance to find out whether the blood clot was going to be removed over the phone as well.

One of the hardest lessons for us to learn when the wild capitalism stage began in 1990 was that we now needed to think for ourselves, make choices, be responsible for our lives all the time. That was a harsh burden. In the Soviet Union, we pretty much had our lives charted out for us and the variations were minimal. Now we had all these choices coming at us from every direction. That seemed cool at first. But then we realized that every choice came with responsibility attached. Before, we could just sit there and blame the government for everything that went wrong. And now, if we messed up, we only had ourselves to blame.

I guess we could use this true story to define our political stances according to who we see as the guilty party here: the woman who believes that a blood clot can be diagnosed over the phone, the fake clinic that preys on the ignorance and fears of customers, or the government that doesn’t step in to manage their relationship.

P.S. Before you start condemning Arina as silly, you need to know that she used to be a Chair of a department at one of Russia’s prestigious universities.

20 thoughts on “Wild Capitalism in Action

  1. Is this clinic really Israeli? Does it work in Israel too? Would be interesting to check, had you given a name. I doubt one could “work” in the same fashion in Israel.

    There are laws against fraud, no? At least, on paper.

    I see all 3 as guilty parties, but searching for somebody to blame is often not super productive to solving the problem. Imo, the government should teach the population not to fall for those tricks: from lessons at high school (processing information in general is very important in our age & not wasting time on memorizing facts to be forgotten a month/year later) to TV programs and ads as are put against smoking, etc. In addition, there must be strong fraud laws. Not every fraud is that obvious and even if somebody is a fool, I don’t see why f.e. doing unnecessary head operations to earn $$ for the “company” should be legal.

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    1. No, of course there is no Israeli clinic. The reason why the scammers say it was an Israeli clinic is that medical care in Israel is famous for being of a very high quality. It’s like a seal of good quality: Swiss watches, Brazilian coffee, Israeli medicine.

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      1. Now I think how scammed Russian people will and probably already are telling everybody how Jews stole their money and want to strangle those “businessmen”. More exactly, want Russian government to strangle them for me. 🙂

        Like stories she tells in her lj under the tag “с натуры”. F.e. today was:
        http://l-eriksson.livejournal.com/509806.html
        Also about life stories of people she knew, her childhood, etc.

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        1. “Now I think how scammed Russian people will and probably already are telling everybody how Jews stole their money and want to strangle those “businessmen”. ”

          – Good point! When the scan becomes obvious, the stiffed customers will have an easy target to hate.

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  2. The chairs of academic departments may be especially silly when they are appointed under conditions of a socialist dictatorship! After all, those individuals have to defend the indefensible in terms of ‘creative’ scholarship!

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    1. You are absolutely right. The quality of Soviet education, especially in non-STEM disciplines, was abysmally poor. It was so bad that I was convinced that I hated education and was incapable of receiving formal schooling. Only when I moved to North America did I realize that I wasn’t the one with the problem.

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  3. I personally think it’s a bit easy to dismiss your mom’s friend as dumb or silly. I admit that this is an extreme case. But health is a very very sensitive subject and it’s also specialized. We are all, no matter how smart we believe ourselves to be, at the mercy of health care professionals. Even in the American health care system (which I believe to be deeply deeply flawed), the government regulates so that charlatanism can’t proliferate. Again, the case your provided was extreme but I know that I’ve had the experience of spending only about 2 minutes in the doctor’s office and I been diagnosed (rightfully) with bronchitis. The doctor did little more than listen to me take a few breaths before diagnosing me and I’m glad that I could trust that diagnosis. I’m a fairly capable individual, but I also know that if the doctor had told me that I had pulmonary tuberculosis, I would have believed him. I would have gotten a second opinion but I still would have believed that diagnosis and experienced distress. We also have to remember that some people in the world are not mentally capable (either because they are old or because they are slow) and don’t deserve to get bamboozled.

    It’s similar to the issue of beauty industry regulation you discussed earlier on the blog earlier. One always has the option of suing and of course everyone has to be sure to exercise basic common sense but we all need to be able to trust that our consumer choices won’t kill, harm, or bankrupt us. So anything involving the human body, whether it’s health, hair, or food, is particularly sensitive and needs government regulation.

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    1. “I personally think it’s a bit easy to dismiss your mom’s friend as dumb or silly. I admit that this is an extreme case. But health is a very very sensitive subject and it’s also specialized.”

      – Of course, it’s very hard to remain dispassionate when one’s health is involved. For Soviet people, especially, it is hard to resist the authority of anybody who claims to be a doctor.

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    2. I have had what I am sure was a scam tried on me in person at a reputable US clinic. Did not fall for it, but people who had family history of the disease they were diagnosing and were more vulnerable to their techniques (“Wouldn’t you rather just have the mastectomy than put your children through a cancer scare, or die suddenly while they are in high school as your mother did?”) did.

      The reason scams are scams is that they are credible…

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      1. ““Wouldn’t you rather just have the mastectomy than put your children through a cancer scare, or die suddenly while they are in high school as your mother did?”)”

        – Oh my God! This is horrible!!!

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        1. Yes, that was how they talked my colleague into it, as I found out at the end of the summer. Did not get that far with me because I had a different level of insurance, so they had to outsource me to an MD at a different clinic. Here, things were funny.

          Him — Hmm, I see you have a PhD. It is not in science, but still I want to assume it means you can be logical. Can you?
          Me — Yes.
          Him — Well, does the evidence here presented suggest you have cancer, in your view?
          Me — It does not.
          Him — I agree. But, are you comfortable to drop this matter, or have you been frightened into wanting to pursue it?
          Me — I would be very happy to drop it.

          So that was it (and this was about 10 years ago) but my colleague had this just in case surgery, surely making a great deal of $ for the hospital.

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  4. I see what you’re saying but, like Evelina said, this is a health matter, which makes it very different.

    Case in point. So I’m a diabetic, and before my first meeting with my doctor in the US I prepared a five page dossier explaining my entire history from the moment I got diagnosed, all my medications, how they changed, what I eat, excel charts of my blood sugar and blood pressure levels, etc. I asked her a ton of questions and always called her to give me a copy of every single lab test for my own records.

    She’s in love with me! She says none of her patients ever question anything she says or recommends. Ever. Whatever she says is the literal word of god for them. And this is the US, probably the most capitalist country on earth. I suspect this has to do more with people not wanting to confront reality (not being curious about how your body is doing is just one way to avoid confronting reality) rather than their political beliefs.

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    1. You must be a straight A student. 🙂

      “She says none of her patients ever question anything she says or recommends. Ever. Whatever she says is the literal word of god for them. ”

      – Sounds like a very childish attitude.

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      1. Yes, but many in US are raised to look upon doctors as gods, and many doctors do not like to be asked questions.

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  5. The fake clinic is the most responsible, since they are the ones intentionally scamming people. Of course, individuals should look out for themselves, but I also think a responsible government should do what it can within reason to keep these things from happening.

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    1. Yes — fraud is a crime. One should try not to become a crime victim, yes, but it’s the perpetrator who is responsible and the job of the courts and regulating agencies (government!) to curb and prosecute.

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