N and I just had a disturbing “Back in USSR” moment at the local Best Buy. We wanted to buy a refrigerator, a washer and a dryer, which – and correct me if I’m wrong – has always seemed like a fairly big, expensive purchase to me.
We selected our appliances and proceeded to pay for them. And that’s when problems started. The washer I selected was nowhere to be found. The warehouse and the other stores in the region didn’t have it.
“Just give me the one you have right here in the store, then,” I suggested.
“No, we can’t do this,” the manager said. “We can’t remove items from display.”
“Why not?” I persisted. “It’s right here, I want it, what’s the problem?”
But the idea of selling me the washer “from display” seemed to be too disturbing.
So we decided just to buy the refrigerator. For an hour we walked around the store while the manager struggled with the computer.
“I’m sorry, what seems to be the problem?” I finally asked.
“The system is down. I can’t get the purchase to go through.”
“Can we just pay and you will put the purchase into the computer later?”
“No!” the manager exclaimed. “We have a system and we have to follow the system.”
I always thought that “the system” was called capitalism and was quite simple: I give you money and you give me goods in return. Supply and demand, I demand, you supply. But no, it seems like bureaucracy has penetrated into the most sacred redoubts of the capitalist society. Now people who want to get rid of a significant amount of cash can’t do that until mountains of correct paperwork get filled out.
So we just left having purchased nothing.
“In the USSR we also couldn’t purchase any appliances,” N commented. “But there at least they didn’t torture us by showing us this enormous selection of goods and then refusing to sell them.”