(Illustration by Eric Shansby)

Just got off the phone with a man named Andrew Valiente. Andrew had read a recent column in which I complained about waiting 85 minutes on hold to talk to the IRS. He said he is the CEO of a new start-up that can be of help. Would I write about it?

I am ordinarily suspicious of such pitches, because they’re generally desperately reaching for relevancy, such as this one I actually got: “I saw you recently wrote about potatoes. I think you might be interested in my new product, which can help fisheries produce plumper tilapia.” But it turns out Andrew’s new business offers only one service: Cutting hold time on calls to the IRS. He had my attention.

EnQ (callenq.com), he said, has robots constantly waiting on hold for the IRS. For a small fee, you get to take their place just as they are approaching the front of the line. Fees are on a sliding scale from $1 to $7 per call, depending on how much time they save you.

My first thought was, Wow. This thought lasted about five seconds. Then my inner Bernie Sanders kicked in.

Me: Okay, wait a minute. Every time you do this, it makes the wait time longer for everyone else already on hold. People like me, who are not paying you extortion. You are jumping someone else ahead of me.

Andrew: Okay, it can be viewed that way. ...

Me: Because it’s true!

Andrew: If you take it into other areas of life, though, it’s true with everything. People pay extra for front-row seats at concerts, or for first class on airlines.

Me: But those are commercial products. These are U.S. citizens pathetically merely trying to connect with their own government.

Andrew: If you want to connect to government more efficiently, you hire lobbyists.

Me: Everyone hates lobbyists!

Andrew: Yes, but it’s how things work.

Me: This is a broken system. I want to fix it, but you want to take advantage of it. You know what you are? You are someone who buys tickets in bulk to limit supply and then resells them at a profit. You are a scalper. A time scalper.

Andrew: You can look at it that way.

Me: Because it’s true! Everyone hates scalpers.

Andrew: All innovation is disruptive, and there will always be some people unhappy initially. But what I do is leverage technology to bring efficiency to an inefficient system. It’s the American dream to reward that!

Me: You are adding to the gross economic and social inequality in America. You are setting up a telephone wait-time aristocracy — a society of viscounts and serfs. Your clients are the Medici and everyone else is the peasant class. Is it even legal?

Andrew: Yes. Robo-dial laws protect businesses and consumers. There isn’t a provision for government.

Me: Loophole Larry. How’s the start-up going?

Andrew: A little slow, but we’re only three days old and I am just now starting the marketing. We are going to be targeting professionals at first. CPAs and tax advisers, who are always having to reach the IRS.

Me: Rats, that might work. My tax adviser just spent 45 minutes on hold to resolve something for me. I bet he’d be interested.

Andrew: You should be more interested. Who do you think is paying $100 an hour for that time he spent on hold, instead of $5 to me?


Andrew: You there?

Me: I have to get off the phone now.


Me: I want to tell you about this new start-up.

Joe the Tax Adviser: I’m listening. ...

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