By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital
October 12, 2003
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances.
- First amendment to the U.S. Constitution
"Congress shall make no law ' abridging the freedom of speech'' Over the
years, courts have determined that a lot of wacky things qualify as "speech" and
are therefore protected from abridgement by the Congress. Nude
dancing. Vulgar acts and images offered as art. If a painting of
Jesus Christ splattered with urine qualifies as protected speech, I'm pretty
sure we ought to afford the same protection to telemarketers.
It is silly for Congress to pass a federal law limiting certain types of
When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, every problem looks like
a nail. We shouldn't fault lawmakers for trying to fix every problem with
a new law. That's their nature. But it's the wrong solution to an
admittedly annoying problem.
Even ignoring the terrible legal flaws in the language of the federal "do not
call" legislation, Congress' attempt to provide a bit of peacefulness at
dinnertime was more about making a point than making a difference.
(Political and charity solicitors were exempted from the legislation.) If
Congress really thinks legislation can cure all of our evening nuisances, let
them pass a law requiring three-year-olds to stay in their chairs during
dinner. How effective do you think that law would be? Passing a law
against telemarketing would be like strapping my son to his chair during a meal;
it may keep him in his chair for a while, but he will find a way to make dinner
miserable if duct taped to a heavy piece of furniture.
The solution to the telemarketing problem is already occurring, all without
congressional help. I know it's not available everywhere, but Caller ID
works wonders. More sophisticated automatic screening tools are on the
way, allowing your phone system to treat callers differently, based on a level
of familiarity you assign certain numbers, or the willingness of unknown caller
to fully identify herself. (Good email spam filters are quite effective at
this.) The possibilities are endless. You could choose to require
strange callers to identify themselves and their business before a call even
rings in your home. A call from your mother's phone number would get right
through, announcing itself with a special pleasant tone or song. Calls
from any business with the word "investment" or "benevolent" in its name could
be routed to a deep space black hole.
At our house, seldom do we receive a call from a stranger to whom I really
wish to speak. In fact, seldom do I receive any calls at home, so my
solution to this problem is simpler than Caller ID Deluxe; I turn down our
ringer volume and just don't answer the phone.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).