Friday, May 13, 2005
Working Under A Microscope
When money or similar valuables are intermixed with poorly paid employees, the level of oversight reaches outsized and intrusive proportions. Diamond workers in South Africa submit to body cavity searches after every shift, a humiliation society normally limits to convicted felons or known drug traffickers.
In the United States, low level workers in finance and banking are closely observed for cash or figure discrepancies. Too many errors lead inevitably to termination. The larger the amounts of money involved, the more significant the mistakes become. A fast food register a few cents out of balance differs markedly from a bank cashier imbalance of several hundred dollars.
The more pure cash is involved, the more difficulty there is in tracing a paper trail of transactions to establish where a discrepancy occurred. I just returned from three days in Las Vegas, the American capital of cash. Surely nowhere else in the country handles the thousands of hundred dollar bills that change hands in that town, to the tune of several billion dollars annually.
For years, in the counting rooms it was one pile for the house, one pile for the government, and one pile for "the boys." Untold millions were siphoned off for the East Coast crime czars. The government hated being cheated of their fair share. The gamblers could care less where the money went as long as they had a fair chance of winning and their play rendered them free rooms, free shows, and free food. It was symbiotic - a mutually advantageous relationship. Any worker foolish enough to try to cheat the uniquely expert cheaters at the top, found their final reward in the unforgiving desert where flesh melts quickly and bone fragments blow quickly away in the beds of long-dry rivers.
Then the corporations moved in and "the boys" faded away into their old street rackets and the burgeoning drug trade. The corporate-owned casinos are no longer in the business of skimming: they can make legitimate returns for their shareholders through the huge returns guaranteed by the house advantage in every transaction. To add to the gaming cash, they moved to ensure a profit in related areas: rooms, food, and shows.
Even the owners and managers, with their accounting-oriented perspective on the world, recognize their vulnerability to greed, cheating, and theft in the huge cash side of their business.
Casino worker oversight, while not yet approaching the body-cavity-search level, is perhaps the most organized and intrusive in the western world. It ranges from dealers clapping and showing open, empty hands, to two or more floor walkers (depending on the size of the jackpot) co-signing on every hand-pay slot win. It involves floor men watching every table bet, box men watching every roll of the dice and its payoff stacks of chips. It requires supervisors to watch the floor men, managers to watch the supervisors, undercover security men to watch both workers and guests, and eye-in-the-sky overhead cameras that can observe and detect every one of a million transactions per day.
Does all this monitoring and second-guessing have an effect on employees? Personal trust is something we rate highly. Talk with someone whose spouse has cheated on them and you will find that the emotional pain has little to do with sex but everything to do with the loss of trust and the doubt that a relationship can ever really survive such a loss. Although secondary to intimate relationships, we would like our coworkers and supervisors to trust us also, as a mark of respect if nothing else.
On the other hand, we are aware that the world is full of cheaters, those who would break any moral, legal, or ethical code if it gave them an advantage in the race for success and financial independence. We want to be trusted to act responsibly and do the right thing but we are just a little reluctant to trust others to quite the same degree.
Close oversight of everyone gives us a certain sense of security - it levels the playing field for us all by rooting out those who would bend the rules to get what they want. We tell ourselves that we have nothing to fear because we are innocent and that will protect us.
Then we read about long-convicted prisoners whose innocence has been belatedly proved by newly developed scientific forensics. We miss a familiar face at our favorite casino and finally learn that the individual left town after an error-inspired accusation of misconduct resulted in termination and blacklisting from the industry.
Where there is cash floating around in generous amounts, there will always be temptations, overzealous suspiciousness, justice and injustice on all sides because the truth is not amenable to scientific analysis and every event has multiple explanations and perspectives.
So we keep on watching ourselves and each other. Those of us who loathe the concept of big brother and snitching on friends, draw back in disgust as we see the need for security invade our lives. We can stay out of the gaming world with its cameras and minutely regulated transactions but how do we avoid the monitoring threatened with every call for customer service or the cookies embedded in our computers to track our wanderings through the Internet?
The cheaters, the scam artists, the swindlers and the frauds have won. It is we, the innocent, who must dwell in prison cells of continuous third degree scrutiny.