You Aren’t the Only One Who Objects to Unfair Pay

This trip (I’ve been on the road, at a conference and then in meetings in a different city) has been more challenging than I anticipated, so forgive a short but hopefully at least entertaining submission in lieu of the usual fare.

I’ve become fond of this little video. One thing that readers comment on from time to time is how, while most social animal species exhibit cheating, at the same time, they also have ways to punish cheaters. This seems to be the result of trying to strike a balance between competition and collaboration. Although I haven’t seen the underlying research (hint, links or citations welcome) my understanding is that there is research that supports this idea. Societies that spend too much effort on enforcing internal compliance divert energy away from food-gathering and defense against external threats. And societies that allow too much cheating are similarly vulnerable to external threats and dissolution due to strife and animosity.

Here we are reminded how deeply ingrained the idea of fairness is (hat tip TM):

But in that study, the unfairness was made apparent. Most people like to believe that society and/or their workplace is fair. As we wrote in 2007:

OK, so diversity programs may not serve the people they are designed to help. One of the reasons is that these initiatives are assumed to undermine merit-based hiring and promotion. Indeed, as [transgendered scientist] Barres points out, citing research, “When it comes to bias, it seems that the desire to believe in a meritocracy is so powerful that until a person has experienced suf- ficient career-harming bias themselves they simply do not believe it exists.” But the idea that an organization can be truly meritocratic is, alas, a fiction.

On a practical level, the best a company can hope for is that, taken as a whole, the people it hires and promotes are “better”—as defined by the company—than the people it rejects. On an individual level, the role of luck, com- bined with inherent shortcomings of performance-appraisal systems, make it impossible to have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of any particular staffing decision…..

Now, for most people, it’s well nigh impossible to pick apart the importance of ability versus good fortune. Yet early career decisions and moves often have an arbitrary element (a young person takes a rotation into a new area that takes off, or has a bad run of assignments and gets discouraged) that can influence later career success.

Other factors can thwart an organization’s meritocratic efforts (many of these observations derive from a 1992 paper by Patrick D. Larkey and Jonathan P. Caulkin, “All Above Average and Other Unintended Consequences of Performance Appraisal Systems”). Many people, for instance, run up against conflicts between individual and organizational interests. Implicitly, any employee’s job is to serve his boss, when his check is actually being cut by the company. If the employee views his role as being different than his boss sees it, the boss’s view prevails, whether or not it is correct. In an extreme case, if the boss wants the employee to run personal errands, and the employee refuses, he runs the risk of getting a negative review.

There’s the Peter Principle conundrum that the skill requirements at one level may bear little relationship to the de- mands of the next. You’ve heard the old chestnut, “Promote your best salesman, and you lose a good salesman and gain a lousy manager.” But this situation puts bosses in a real bind. If you promote the person who is best in a department, his skills may fall woefully short of the requirements of his new role. But if you promote the person you deem best suited for that job, and not the top performer at his current role, you will demoralize hisformer peers, create resentment against him (undermining his authority and effectiveness), and raise questions about your judgment.

And then there are difficulties in ranking employees across organizational units. Even though organizations want consistent ratings firmwide, it’s a practical impossibility. There are considerable barriers to a manager giving his staff member honest and useful feedback that lead to inflated ratings. They have an ongoing relationship; and thus both sides do not want the review process to create friction. Yet most employees have an inflated view of their achievements, which predisposes them to doubt, perhaps even resent, a truthful appraisal. And since the assessment of a job of any complexity is largely subjective, it’s difficult for the boss to defend a rating that is at odds with the employee’s self-assessment. In addition, managers consider themselves at least partly responsible for their subordinate’s performance. Thus a low rating reflects badly on them.

The consequences are profound. It means that the typical defense against the failure to achieve diversity, that the company was in fact hiring and promoting based on achievement, is hollow. These systems not only are subjective (inherent to most ratings) but also often lead to capricious, even unfair results.

None of the foregoing is news to people who have spent much time in large organizations. Yet my gut instinct is that until recently (sometime in the 2000s) most people believed that society on the whole produced pretty fair outcomes, that although some people who got ahead were schemers, cheats, or just very lucky, for the most part, the people who did well were more talented (or at least “more talented” relative to what their job required) and harder working than the people who didn’t get ahead. I’m not sure what has punctured that myth (lack of economic mobility? too many people with graduate degrees or undergraduate degrees in supposedly employable majors working in coffee shops? too many people at all levels working frantically just to get by, eviscerating the belief that sincere effort eventually pays off?). It might be revealing if any readers either have seen their own views change or have seen how friends and colleagues attitudes have shifted and can identify the triggers or experiences that produced their change in outlook.

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  1. J Sterling

    “this situation puts bosses in a real bind […] if you promote the person you deem best suited for that job, and not the top performer at his current role, you will demoralize his former peers”

    The source of the bind in this case is usually a career structure that gives no pay or rank to anyone but a manager. Many companies have no non-managerial career track that does not terminate at a low level, forcing the choice of “become a manager, or stay low paid and low ranked”. I’ve seen companies that had such career structures for e.g. salesmen, or scientists, and then eliminated them.

    1. evodevo

      See Military, US. In order to advance beyond the rank of captain (in the AF, anyway), you have to get a masters degree, and basically become a manager, not a pilot. The monetary advancement is also tied to higher ranks. If you are a good pilot/field commander, you may or may not make a good manager, but that is the only way to advance.

      1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

        Along with that “up or out” policy that used to be (and may still be) in place.

    2. reason

      I often ask – who is the manager, and who is the technical expert in a doctor’s office? And who is paid the most?

  2. vlade

    I believe it’s rather simple.

    If, for extended period of time, it looks like economy’s ok and everyone’s doing ok, people will believe all’s for the best and be much more willing to overlook bad stuff (as, overall, they are feeling better off, so care less).

    If it’s opposite, their perception of bad stuff is hightened, and everyone cares.

    It’s more or less the same JKG senior’s bezzle theory – there’s the same amount of (em)bezzlement, but in bad economic situation more is unearthed as everything gets closer look (and as more is unearthed, people who wouldn’t look do look and find – because there’s always something to be found).

  3. Andrew

    Thanks for this post. This is Frans de Waal’s research that shows that qualities like empathy, morality, and fairness exist in lots of species, and suggests that contrary to the dominant beliefs about cut throat competition etc, that cooperation etc are natural and influential, and are hard wired in our biology. Loooks like Kropotkin had it more right than the social darwinists re what’s called ‘the law of the jungle’.

    1. Fred Pollack

      De Waal’s book is “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates”. A review, and thus overview, can be found here:

      Here is an applicable excerpt:
      “He does not believe in any inner dualism, in the need to choose to be moral or to accept moral instruction from above (gods, philosophers or authority figures) because altruism, empathy and morality are innate in us. What’s more, they also exist in other social animals. They are part of an evolved package of behaviours that make it possible for us to be social animals.”

      “Social animals show gratitude and revenge, remembering the behaviour of others and paying them back. They target their helping, which requires being able to see a situation from another’s point of view. They are able to delay gratification, which shows self-control – a characteristic thought to be only human.”

      Over the last year, De Waal, has done several interviews, and you can find these as podcasts with a simple google search, if interested.

    2. BITFU

      The research of Frans de Waal is an absolute joke. I cannot overstate how hard Frans tries to get picked up by media outlets. His entire lab is predicated on doing bullsh*t studies in the hopes of viral coverage from Yahoo or AOL.

      What Frans doesn’t tell you is that his monkeys and apes are held in deplorable conditions. I’ve been to his lab several times and its one of the most depressing sites I’ve ever seen.

      He keeps his “subjects” on verge of starvation because he says “it keeps them on their toes”. And they are housed in little cages. You walk in and see these magnificent animals sitting on their asses and staring at the floor–bored out of their F*ing minds. It’s pathetic.

      And see that monkey going ape sh*t over the “unfair distribution of the cucumber”, it’s not “inequity”, it’s frustration.

      What Frans doesn’t show is what happens when take that same monkey that’s pissed about the unfairness of it all and instead of giving grapes to another monkey, you simply leave a bowl of grapes just out of reach.

      The monkey is still pissed.

      This isn’t “unfairness”, it’s frustration.

      See the work from a real scientist: Dorothy Fragaszy

      And one more thing:

      Why did Frans and Sarah do the study on capuchin monkeys instead of chimps?

      In social-science-primatology, apes are the gold standard; yet they chose capuchins even though their facility (Yerkes Lab) actually had more chimps than capuchins. Capuchins, in fact, made for a paltry sample size in their studies. Nevertheless, they chose capuchins.

      Trust me, Frans wanted chimps, but for one niggling problem: The study doesn’t work for chimps unless there is a painful contortion of the parameters. [Sarah tried in 2010. FAIL]

      A classic example of social-science silliness being used to further an agenda.

      1. Nathanael

        Um, this really doesn’t change the conclusions, oddly enough.

        At the moment, we don’t just have a problem with inequality in our society. We have the problem that people are *frustrated* because their needs aren’t being met, problems aren’t being solved, etc. etc.

        1. hunkerdown

          Indeed. The conditions BITFU (the political search engine?!) deplores as confounding, in fact more accurately resemble the actual life conditions of the bottom quintile and many above; conclusions drawn about them and those similary situated are strengthened by the extra diligence.

  4. s spade

    This opens up a marvelous subject and shows an unusually sensible perspective. The truth about large organizations is they are designed to run despite personnel policies which virtually guarantee incompetent leadership and management. The objective is not to secure the best talent, but rather to attract and promote people of average talent who will remain hostage to the company through an entire working lifetime, will go along in order to get along, will not make waves or scruple at unethical or illegal demands, rather will exhibit the same kind of sheep like behavior cultivated in consumers by advertising.

    Anyone who believes otherwise has never worked in one of these companies. It is inevitable that scum rises to the top, and the only sensible solution is to bust them up and restore competition, which of course isn’t going to happen.

    There is nothing fair about corporate life. Sane people get away from it as quickly as possible. I quit after three years and have not once regretted doing it in the past thirty-seven.

    1. dutch

      This pretty well sums it up. It’s the same in any corporate body. The larger the organization the worse the managerial rot becomes. Government, being the largest of all organizations, suffers from the worst management.

    2. Ed S.

      Agree 99% — one minor quibble:

      …remain hostage to the company through an entire working lifetime

      I’d change that to say

      …remain hostage to the company until the company decides it no longer needs them

      They want you until they don’t.

  5. Paul Tioxon

    Anyone ever play the simulation/game STAR POWER?

    It’s been around since 1969. It has been used in organizational development circles for corporate training, among others. Millions upon millions of people have played this game with similar results. If you want to see more studies, you know what to do. Here is a sample of how this role playing game brings out the worst in people rather quickly. It you set people with certain rules and get everyone to buy into the system, it isn’t long before this games shows how quickly people can change, even in a simple simulation, with no real world consequences. Other than consciousness raising. It is startling how quickly people will fight over status and power, even in a game.

    Typical results

    One commentator writing for the Sustainability Institute claimed that square players typically rigged the game to benefit squares, circles strove to become squares at which point they began to act like squares, and that triangles became angry and then apathetic, only becoming interested at the possibility of cheating or revolution. At the end of the game, the squares seldom see the oppression they engaged in while the circles are viewed as sell-outs by the triangles and as incompetent by the squares.[7]
    Another commentator notes similar results. The squares create oppressive rules that make it difficult for lower groups to advance.[8] Lower groups turn to cheating.[9] The commentator also noted the lower groups becoming apathetic.[10]
    The official site for the game lists eight lessons that StarPower teaches, mostly focused on the results of inequal distribution of power. [3]


    Starpower helps participants to:

    See and feel the effect of disempowerment.
    Understand that power must have a legitimate basis to be effective.

    Realise that sharing power can increase it while hoarding or abusing power can diminish it.

    Understanding the effect that systems can have on power.
    Be aware of how tempting it is for well-intentioned people to abuse power.

    Understanding that there are different kinds of power.
    Personally experience and discuss the excitement of power and the despair of powerlessness.

    Understand that what seems fair to those in power, is not likely to seem fair to those who are out of power.
    Consider that people who are promoted rarely seem to remember those they leave behind.

    1. Banger

      People who stay in large organizations like to play dominance/submission games so those rigid structures often remain despite management seminars. This is one reason that large corporations have become so negative in their policies. They are populated by people who are primarily motivated by fear–either they feel it or they inspire it or both.

      1. Nathanael

        Dominance and submission games should be done on people’s free time for fun. They should be kept well away from anything which is actually important for running society (government, industry, military, police, commerce).

  6. tongorad

    This is all a bit too TED-talk, Malcom Gladwell for me, as in “let’s do a lightweight academic study about organizational behavior without challenging deeply held assumptions about capitalism and wage labor.”

  7. ambrit

    We came to America from England at the tail end of the Fifties. Both my parents had experienced WW2 as children in London. My Dad was in their house when it got fire bombed, and wouldn’t talk about it much. My Mom remembers the train yard behind where they lived being bombed repeatedly. Both tell of being taught in school how to recognize and avoid German terror weapons aimed at kids; the infamous Butterfly Bombs.
    England didn’t completely rebuild from the War until well into the Sixties. Thus, America, who had won the War, no one really mentioned Russia then, was the Land of Opportunity. People could own their own house, even working folks! True or not, that was the image America projected.
    That image, I posit, was a direct result of New Deal policies loudly proclaimed. Fairness and a redistribution of wealth and opportunity were the new social order. The American Government guaranteed it. With the successful end to WW2, this “New World Order” seemed assured. Using those stated goals as guides to the development of the nation, America had prevailed. Is it any wonder the “best and brightest” had flocked to the New World?
    I remember the Sixties as a time when everything was going to be just great, for the entire globe. The West was going to help the rest of the world to rise to our standards of living and social organization. This was almost religious in nature. It partook of the essence of divine revelation. Most people had hope. Even the oppressed took heart and strove even harder. Could the American Civil Rights Movement have come anywhere close to succeeding without the grudging acceptance and support of a Liberal American Government? What if LBJ hadn’t interceeded, and instead let the Bilbos and Thurmonds of the South unleash their attack dogs on the marchers, every single time they wanted? People may cite the example of Ghandi here, but I must disagree. Ghandi was a master propagandist and politician. He knew how to manipulate public opinion, both in India and in the West. How would his movement have fared if it had come up against real barbarians? The Kahns proved in Medieval China that mountains of corpses can guarantee control. But I digress.
    Then came the Regan Counter Revolution. With the crushing of the Air Traffic Controllers Union, the reactionaries also began destroying the hopes and aspirations of the population. The message was clear; We are now in control. The Ancien Regeime started returning to power, a power they were earlier forced to relinquish after their recklessness had almost destroyed Modern Western Civilization. This is another type of religion. The religion of concentrated and capricious power. A major component of this religion is exclusivity. Only a certain select few get to live decently. The rest are consigned to the flames. That is why Obamas original campaign theme resonated so strongly with the public. People knew something was wrong, and yearned for someone in power to right the wrongs and redress the balance. Obama promised that; “Change You Can Believe In.” Sadly, it turned out to be a brazen lie.
    One last example to try and make my point. In the Sixties, one of the beloved shows was the original “Star Trek.” In it, slightly better versions of ourselves, and significantly enough, versions of all the races and cultures of our earth, escaped from the bounds of terrestrial existence to go about the cosmos. Later on, also significantly, in the middle Eighties to the Nineties, just when the Counter Revolution was gaining traction, one of the most watched shows was something called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It was, purely and simply, elitist porn. It celebrated excess, indeed, mined that strata of greed and envy in all of us to legitimize inequality. Only now are the results of that cultural shift showing their true influence. The Rich are richer, and the poor are poorer. Average people know this, even if they don’t want to admit it, even to themselves. The loss of hope is the true tragedy of the Counter Revolution.
    My two cents. Thanks for letting me rant.

    1. Banger

      I enjoyed your post because it kind of rambled, was personal and came from the heart.

      As time goes on the old Star Trek stories represented an ethic and attitude that was, in my view, the pinnacle of American civilization. The values that show embodied represented a picture of a possible America–we are, at best, explorers willing to courageously face new worlds and civilizations and taken them as they come and use our wits, our science and our hearts (compassion) to navigate the new. At the time the program was created we had begun experimenting with consciousness including psychedelics but not only in that direction. The new worlds that we needed to explore existed in the exploration of consciousness not inter-planetary space.

      Collectively we opened up the door to consciousness to the “final frontier” and we lost our nerve. The very things that would have prepared us to meet the challenges we were to face were not pursued or were pursued on the margins of culture. Without the exploration of inner-space and the articulation of a new ethics we have no chance to deal with the issues we are facing.

      The 60s are a very deep period and the implications of the events of that time reverberate to this day. I suggest that one key to those events and the current power-relations in society lie in the assassinations but the intellectual class has, largely, forbidden itself to peek into those events.

      1. ambrit

        I get the asasinations’ effect, but think the more weighty development was the conscious campaign by the “Kitchen Cabinet,” Regans name for the rich folks who informed and financed his political career, to roll back the New Deal consensus. This appears to have been no ‘organic’ development, but calculated. It substituted the welfare of a small group for the welfare of the entire society.
        The Sixties were a pivotal time. I remember when the men walked on the Moon. Our teachers at school bought television sets from home and played the live coverage all day in our classrooms! It was fascinating, as Spock would say. No one complained, students nor administration. This was History in the making. We all were part of it. It was manifestly the result of the entire societies efforts. Those men bouncing around on our satellite sphere were stand ins for all of us back on the Earth. It was an analogous situation to the Psychedelic Revolution. Consciousness was being expanded. Consider, who could ever view the world the same after seeing that photograph of the Earthrise from the Moons’ surface? If nothing else, that act of exploration cemented in the minds of any and all who would take the time to look and reflect the knowledge of our interconnectedness, our mutual responsibilities. No man is an island, but we reside on Island Earth.
        I was marginally exposed to the Psychedelic Revolution. I met a chastened and muted Timothy Leary years after his run in with The Law. (He being one of the Prophets I suspect.) Not a very long exposure, but enough to get a feel for the far ranging mind and sense of possibility he represented. As the joke puts it; He was the Prophet who stoned himself. The main shortcoming of the Psychedelic Age I suspect was its’ lack of proper shamans to guide the initiates through the experience, and an experience it truly was.
        As for the intellectual classes shortcomings; I fear they are still wrestling with the implications of the Industrial Revolution! Previous vegetative based culture had a natural fall back position. Natural in every sense. With a little luck, most people could feed themselves off of the land. Since the industrialization of the West, that possibility has past. Populations have risen too far and too fast to be sustainable by small scale agriculture. The different organizational scheme necessitated by this is fundamental to our world today. Either we adapt the system towards more ‘fairness’ or suffer a massive die off. Takes yer pick.
        One glaring fact is highlighted by the Sixties assassination campaign. Our present ruling elites are in no way ‘Legitimate.’ They do not have the best interests of the society nor its’ people in mind, and they exercise that suzerainty due to violent subversion of the previous pro-social leadership.
        Thanks for your thoughts on the Sixties. I’d almost forgotten the Psychedelica, so much more than mere drugs taking.
        Live long and prosper.

        1. Banger

          Thanks for you very kind wishes and I echo them for you. Just one note on psychedelics they are one way of exploring inner space there are other ways some of which have been explored through excellent work on neuro-science that has been done in recent years. I believe the authorities viciously cracked down on psychedelics because they knew consciously or unconsciously that their tactics of fear and their own handmade hallucinations and consciousness constricting drugs would keep the population quiet.

      2. Jim

        Banger said:

        “Collectively we opened the door to consciousness to the “final frontier” and we lost our nerve.

        “Without the exploration of inner space and the articulation of a new ethics we have no chance to deal with the issues we are facing.”

        A theorist who attempted to deal with these same issues (i.e. reinventing oneself so as to go beyond modes of modern individuality) in the final period of his life, was Foucault (see for example his essay “What is Enlightenment” and an interview “Truth, Power, Self”

        Given the panoptical gaze which is reaching its completion under NSA guidance, the concerns of Foucault about trying to play the game of modernity differently—but so differently and at the same time so effectively that, in the process, the rules of control for what presently exist could, hopefully, also be modified—seems quite prescient.

        Foucault choose to examine, in detail, the ancient Greek care of self.

        The issue he was struggling with near the time of his death was–How can the growth of individual capabilities be disconnected from the intensification of modern power relations?

        Foucault’s response was to seek out pre-modern ethical practices—but certainly there are many other options (such as some of the attempts made in the 1960s).

    2. dWayne

      I appreciate your post and follow up comments. I’m old enough to remember the events of the 1960s in America but was not old enough to have participated in them. I also watched in dismay at the events the morning of 9/11, thinking I wanted revenge on the perpetrators, but by that afternoon my heart sank when I learned said perpetrators were operating out of Afghanistan and I knew with certainty how that adventure would end up. Thus, I paid close attention to the aftermath of 9/11, watching and waiting for a repeat of the 60s protests and all. Apparently others were anticipating same (read Karl Rove) and it never materialized. I chalk it up to the censorship of US incursions for the last 12 years. I say all that to make the comment: I appreciate the viewpoint of out British extended family. I realize how cloistered (read “in the dark”) Americans are kept about the realities of the world. The Brits lived through the brunt of WWII having experienced it directly. The Americans witnessed the devastation from afar – my father served on a naval vessel and witnessed the A-bombs dropping on Japan from a safe distance in the Pacific. I think this is the reason we Americans are slowly waking up to the realities of the vaunted new world order we’ve been hearing (fearing) about for so long. It’s all taken place largely without our notice and participation, instituted and organized from the highest reaches of, the masters of the universe, and we suddenly notice hey! things aren’t fair, aren’t fair at all. Meanwhile, we keep waiting for someone to do something about it. Sadly, no Captain Kirk is hovering in orbit to beam down and point out the obvious to us.

      Go figure….

      1. ambrit

        Dear dWayne;
        I too remember the 911 events, being working out of town that week. I do not remember the revenge urge though. Perhaps that’s an artifact of our surroundings at the time. I do remember several people that day wondering just who could be so stupid as to attack the country with the biggest military in the world. As for the lack of demonstrations against the Empire, well, there were demonstrations, lots of them, and some quite large ones. The difference being, the power holders had learned their lessons from Vietnam, and subverted the media. Not much if any reporting about demonstrations is done any more. If it is, in the MSM at least, it’s of the belittling and minimizing variety. I remember reading somewhere that when Walter Cronkite voiced rejection of the war, LBJ remarked, “We’ve lost Cronkite, we’ve lost America.” Or something to that effect. After Vietnam, the military began ’embedding’ journalists within the army mas, thus almost guaranteeing control of the message. It’s been all downhill on the Independence Front since then. That’s why the independence and freedom of the Internet is so vital. It’s the only truly free source of news and opinion left. Somehow, through all that, you’ve learned to think for yourself. Hold on to that with all your strength, for it is your strength.
        Time to get ready for work. Be of good cheer.

        1. Banger

          The difference today is that the press in those days was only partially controlled and it had a cadre of journalists who were journalists and there was a vigorous dissident press particularly on the left. Today the mainstream media is completely controlled there very few real journalists and the alternative press is largely controlled by foundations and are only partially dissident. The internet is not as much of a benefit because the information is overwhelming and very few people understand how the whole thing works. Here let me put it to you very simply. There are PR firms that I know of that have huge numbers of people blogging form their cubes–I’ve been there and I’ve seen them. They have their own blogs but they also post to the more popular blogs, for example, if they are from the Democratic Party or the Administration they may well post on Daily Kos or somewhere like that. There are also sites run by intel services that are there to misdirect and discredit movements they consider dangerous that are filled with misinformation. Don’t take what you read at face value–I think we can assume that there are people who post here who are paid to post.

          So picking up information today and evaluating requires skill and scholarship. There are people you can count on who are good sources and have been accurate over the years–you just have to find them.

    3. Susan the other

      Ambrit, I remember it that way too. There was a long forgetting from the end of WW2 until the “neo liberals” completed a social coup. We forgot the fight of the 1900s to achieve equality. And in that forgetting we allowed ourselves to believe in the future. Which we now know betrayed us all. I wasn’t unfairness here and there by the power structure – it was a coordinated take over. And I will always believe it was because capitalism could not survive in a world of equality – it needed to be given big handouts.

      1. ambrit

        Dear sto;
        I like Gore Vidals’ assertion that Free America, or something like Republican America, (that time before the rise of the Empire proper) only lasted until 1950. Then the Game of Empire began in earnest! (How dare those d—-d Orientals want to guide their own destiny!) Still, that guiding zeitgeist was a reality back then. Sadly no longer. The people here and at a few, very few, other sites now have the burden of being not, ‘Keepers of the Flame,’ but ‘Pointers of the Way.’ I’ve often wondered about all those ‘True Histories’ that have disappeared after the last eye witness to them has passed away. (Something like the late Fritz Leibers idea that Gods only survive and thrive relative to the number of people who believe in them. See his Fafnir and the Grey Mouser stories.)
        Anyway, yes, remembrance is one key to good stewardship. The other is constant repetition and proclamation. If the reactionaries can do so well with the Big Lie strategy, why can’t the progressives do so with a Big Truth strategy?

    4. Doug Terpstra

      Powerful thoughtstream there, ambrit. Obama is indeed a brazen lie, an abomination. Following your stream on the machinations of power in manufacturing consent, Obama is the closest phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed to the holy grail of total mind control. Nothing the man does can shake the faith of his true disciples. It’s like living in Jonestown.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Mr. Terpstra;
        Well put, to observe the cult like nature of our present politics. Numerous of my and my wifes’ more conventionally Christian acquaintances have remarked how the man fulfills the mission of the Anti-Christ. Abomination does fit the bill. That said, I wonder if those of us on the New Left are missing the mark in not making common cause with the middle of the road and leftist religious? Many now accepted reforms to Western society started out as religious reform movements. Mr. Beard and his ethical money formation mantra comes to mind. He is but one of many. Should we explicitly aim at making Progress, warts and all a Cultural Religion? Shades of an earlier Revolution!
        Enjoy the Day!

      2. Bunk McNulty

        I was a true believer when Obama became a candidate. I voted for him in the primary, donated money, voted for him in 2008, and watched with hopeful wonderment as the tears rolled down Jesse Jackson’s face on TV. Within a year–less than that!–it became apparent that either the man had not just lied through his teeth but completely misrepresented himself. Or, who knows, maybe Keith Alexander came in to see him on Day One with a printout and said “We own you.” Either way, I know I’m not alone in my anger at his wholesale betrayal of the people who voted him into office.

    5. J Bookly

      A wonderful summary, Ambrit. From the vantage point of age, I observed the slow change from optimism to a variety of attempts to cope with what you insightfully call the return of the Ancient Regime (but with no noblesse oblige, no Mozart — not much, in fact, to mitigate their awfulness.)

      If we didn’t have an impending environmental catastrophe, we’d have to invent one to help restore our sense of belonging to a positive enterprise and to grant some dignity to our survival strategies.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Bookly;
        A quick reply since I work the evening shift at the Boxxstore for the next week. Good observation. I remember one of the Star Trek movies, the one with the whales, showing the future San Francisco as being half flooded out, due to polar melting I assume.
        Survival strategies have to be co-operative and trans national. Perhaps syndicalist? Who knows. I sort of fear for our descendants.

    6. Waking Up


      Thanks for your comment. Would just like to add my two cents. The highest rated television shows in the 1960’s were Westerns…”Gunsmoke”, “Bonanza”, and “Wagon Train”. I wouldn’t be surprised if watching the rugged individualism of the Western genre influenced a generation of people to accept the future President Ronald Reagan and his ideas as an “American Ideal”. President Reagan was frequently shown on horseback at a ranch and previously acted in Western movies. Just a thought in the whole evolution.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Waking Up;
        Right on about that, but consider the function of all those Westerns: Morality Tales. Sometimes the Rugged Individualist, a real Western Myth that, or a Posse, more realistic. The underlying theme was the redress of wrongs and the ‘righting of the balance.’ Regan and his handlers essentially stole that Myth and perverted it.
        By the way, what about the fact that Regan was a legitimate actor while Obama seems to be a frustrated one?

        1. Waking Up

          Yes, the “Western” stories usually were morality tales. Especially in the show Bonanza, the best outcome was achieved through consideration of others. Perhaps that message in part accounted for those demanding an end to wars and equality for others in the 60’s/early 70’s. This much I am pretty sure of…the “entertainment” we watch on television and the movies has a definite long term impact on how those watching view the world.

          In the 80’s there were also popular entertainment shows such as “Family Ties” which mocked those who believed in equality or the common good. Alex (played by Michael J. Fox) and Mallory were young Republicans which the show portrayed as superior due to their conservative and materialistic ideals. Much of our “entertainment” had that same message.

          As for Barack Obama, everything he has done leads me to believe he is a well functioning sociopath (without conscience).

    7. Jeremy Grimm

      What you said! And what the others on this thread said! This thread more than many other excellent threads on this blogsite speaks to my sense of great loss of optimism and hope as we left the sixties and finally left the Vietnam war and my feeling that we could make this world better than we left it.

      I remember the time BEFORE “morning in America” as a time of great hope. We were finally out of Vietnam; we successfully put man on the moon; the gas ‘crisis’ had subsided; — we were ready to face another challenge like the race to the moon … cure cancer … get population under control and help the rest of the world feed, house, and provide fresh water for themselves … continue to Mars or a base on the moon … advance chemistry, biochemistry … cure malaria … science stood and remains standing at the brink of multiple breakthroughs and great discoveries. Instead we broke unions; we sold our Universities and their research capability to Corporate control, research grants became research contracts; we increased military spending; we began dismantling our schools and colleges; we cut services; we started dismantling the ‘New Deal’. The country changed direction from hope to dispair of the future, even before climate change and peak oil became concerns.

      Obama offered a brief moment when we might feel a respite, though with the background portend of climate change and peak oil. He policies have proven nearly as dangerous to the body politic as policies of the worst demagogue we might have chosen.

      It’s too easy to suggest that the 60’s and 70’s were a time of youth and youth’s natural optimism and hope as the baby boom generation started into the workforce. I believe the hope and promise were real.

  8. Moneta

    I entered the workforce in 1991 in Canada in a recession.

    Every position I have held revolved around a restructuring, none of them improved the business and all of them benefitted a specific few. Did I mention that I can’t stand them anymore, unless it is structured especially for me so I can get some equity? LOL!

    I got to analyze every bubble… oil intermediates and gold in early 90s, high tech in late 90s, financials in early 00s. I can spot a bubble like nobody else. Too bad they don’t exist.

    I remember doing a NAV model in the early 90s and telling my boss that valuations did not make mathematical sense. He got impatient and told me to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. So the jading for me came early in my career. I had to fake optimism for s decade if I wanted to stay employed.

  9. craazyboy

    I don’t think this experiment is very realistic.

    Sure, there’s a cage, but of course the female monkey throws a hissy fit when her co-worker gets a grape for doing the same job. They always complain over almost anything.

    In the real world there would be a big alpha male ape, or something that looked like one, getting all the grapes and cucumbers, then handing out the cucumbers equally. That’s called management!

    1. ambrit

      Hey craazyboy;
      Check out the Bonobos. They have Alpha Females! Now, that’s Miss Management!!?? (Ducks to avoid objects being thrown at him by spouse.)

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You haven’t worked on Wall Street!

      There are tons of alpha males on the top. Nevertheless, the lower level alphas (the “producers” who run profit and loss centers) throw hissy fits all the time over what they are paid. They always think they are being cheated and make no bones about it.

        1. craazyman

          Isn’t that Ben Bernanke — if you put him in gorilla suit?

          he’s where all the money comes from the apes fight over. without him, there wouldn’t be any bananas for anybody, even the Big Gorillas. haha. What would those guys do if they had to work for a living? It’s hard to imagine. I bet either drive a cab or work security with a baton and a badge at some construction site.

          I went to Chipotle a while back and some dude from Pakistan was working security with a mustache like Saddam Hussein and a heavy duty hand gun in a holster — like a Smith & Wesson 44. I asked him why he had a gun, I said it kind of freaked me out. He just smiled and said sometimes it’s a tough crowd.

          It’s getting that way more and more. Gorillas and guns everywhere.

          1. craazyboy

            I said “big boatload of bananas”, not trillions of bananas.

            I wouldn’t trust any of ’em to work in a job where they get to wear a badge or a gun. Like you say, we can get ME immigrants to do jobs like that. Maybe being a private Bigfoot Investigator might be safe. You don’t need a gun license for that. whew.

          2. hunkerdown

            Dmitry Orlov once wrote that having someone strong, imposing and a little psycho firmly onside is an invaluable resource when TSHTF. I suspect a Disturbance in the Force, as our host(s) put it a few weeks back.

  10. just_kate

    I used to buy into the move-up / get-ahead way of thinking, I was raised in that class structure. But after being in management level positions for three different companies I came to the realization that I didn’t like that kind of work regardless of the pay. The ethical compromises I faced and dealing with personnel management were not for me and boy have I witnessed a lot of good people get screwed over at work! But since I’ve never really cared about having a fanciful lifestyle I wasn’t tied to a certain pay level so it was an easiy choice to opt-out.

    Now I work for a large organization and make a decent living and don’t expect to get-ahead career wise but who cares? I’m still not interested in management so won’t advance in that respect but it is possible to find challenging work to stay engaged and then focus on other fullfilling areas of life.

  11. craazyman

    in most places I’ve seen nearly everybody is incompetent,

    some are brutally incompetent and oppress themselves upon anyone willing to endure their an unctuous malision (that’s word I just made up because it seems right for the context)

    Often these individuals are paid well because they’ve managed to locate themselves in a proximity to where the money flows. Often this is simply a random outcome. They could have done something else, like drive a cab or work in a beauty salon or just implode in a form of breakdown and self destrucction.

    For some reason, society forms a hierarchy out of this random pile of bodies and arranges the direction of money flows in relation to the supposed logic with which the bodies are ordered, perceiving it less as a formation of chance than as an inevitable construct of a natural process that goes unnamed and undefined.

    This is where the everything completely falls apart for the diligent analyst. There is no coherence behind the supposed order in its relation to financial phenomenon — except in the most visceral extremes.

    Most jobs can be done by just about anybody who can fog a mirror. Some can’t, like NFL quarterbacks and aeronautical engineers or somebody like the singer/lyricist Robert Plant from Led Zepplin, very few people can do these jobs. But most of the others, you’d never know the difference and the money, it just lands on them like rain. Sometimes it pours and sometimes it sprinkles and sometimes it just drips. But why it does is because it has a mind of its own,

  12. Steve in Flyover

    My former employer in the aerospace industry figured out how to avoid some of these problems. Make taking “promotions” such a crappy proposition, that all of your best performers would rather take a pass, than deal with all of the additional BS.

    Then tie it to a defacto “pay cut”, in that the position is “salaried-exempt” (meaning no O/T pay), then require the managers to be on duty any time their employees are on “mandatory overtime”……leading to the unique problem of new hires on overtime making more money than the managers in charge of the facility.

    Think government is screwed up? Try taking a look at how things are done in the private sector.

  13. sleepy

    Funny video.

    Not much difference in the appreciation of fairness between the two monkeys and my 18 month old and 3 1/2 yr old grandkids. They all got a keen eye for injustice.

  14. dutch

    “Yet my gut instinct is that until recently (sometime in the 2000s) most people believed that society on the whole produced pretty fair outcomes, that although some people who got ahead were schemers, cheats, or just very lucky, for the most part, the people who did well were more talented (or at least “more talented” relative to what their job required) and harder working than the people who didn’t get ahead.”

    Actually, African-Americans have been wise to the inherent unfairness in this society for generations. Being talented, smart or hard working didn’t amount to sh*t for them. They weren’t going to get ahead no matter what. Like Jesse Jackson’s famous line: “Poor people work hard everyday.” (A totally mind-boggling idea for most of the GOP, by the way.) – But they stay poor anyway.

    Nowadays so many white Americans are working 2 jobs just to get by, that it is dawning on them that something’s wrong with the system. Eventually something is going to have to give. When a plurality of Americans finally recognize that working hard within the current economic structure isn’t going to get them anywhere, they are going to withdraw their allegiance from the current system and evolve another or several other structures or sub-cultures with different economic incentives.

    The elites will either get the message and support real economic reform, or they will find themselves alone in their mansions without any servants to tend to their needs.

    1. hunkerdown

      Or, they’ll have to revert to what worked in the British Imperial past: make them believe their lives are more than they deserve, and demonstrate it frequently. No need for the finesse of such things as allegiance when you can just have dorms where you warehouse workers and lift them from their bunks with a hi-lo any time you need them. Slavery being involuntary servitude, it’s only necessary for TPTB to redefine “voluntary”, perhaps to treat any lapse of resistance as irrevocable consent.

  15. Nathanael

    “Yet my gut instinct is that until recently (sometime in the 2000s) most people believed that society on the whole produced pretty fair outcomes, that although some people who got ahead were schemers, cheats, or just very lucky, for the most part, the people who did well were more talented (or at least “more talented” relative to what their job required) and harder working than the people who didn’t get ahead. I’m not sure what has punctured that myth (lack of economic mobility? too many people with graduate degrees or undergraduate degrees in supposedly employable majors working in coffee shops? too many people at all levels working frantically just to get by, eviscerating the belief that sincere effort eventually pays off?).”

    Another part of it: George W. Bush and 5 Republican unindicted co-conspirators on the Supreme Court stole the US Presidency.

    I think that was part of what punctured the myth. Nobody could fail to notice that. And it’s a spectacular example of getting ahead by fraud and theft with no merit whatsoever.

    All the other things add up, but that is a giant looming example in everyone’s memory.

    1. Bunk McNulty

      “Another part of it: George W. Bush and 5 Republican unindicted co-conspirators on the Supreme Court stole the US Presidency.

      I think that was part of what punctured the myth. Nobody could fail to notice that. And it’s a spectacular example of getting ahead by fraud and theft with no merit whatsoever.”

      And yet…another piece of history down the memory hole. We (me included) forget how angry people were. Anybody remember the Inaugural Parade?

  16. clarence swinney

    We polled 70% ,consistently, for decades to Reform Expensive Health Care as is done by all other industrialized nations. Had Hillary a Democratic Congress in 1995 We would be talking Hilcare not Obamacare.
    We are not giving the AHC a fair chance to work. It is not Health Care it is Powerfare.
    The Tea Party was and is financed by Koch to cut taxes, cut spending, do less policing of the environment.
    Give it a chance. Stop charging $500 for a $32 hand held Breathalyzer, $600 for $10 worth of cloth gauze, $6000 for a night in a bed hooked to a blood pressure monitor, $4400 for 5 hours on a sleep monitor.
    Those are personal examples that show why we spend 20% of our Individual Income on Health Care
    And rank 37th in World Health Forum for effectiveness.
    Where do we get out health insurance? 78% via employer, Medicare, and Medicaid.
    48% via employer—15% by Medicare and 15% by Medicaid.

    Give AHC a Fair Chance. It will not be fully operational for another year.

  17. impermanence

    “Yet my gut instinct is that until recently (sometime in the 2000s) most people believed that society on the whole produced pretty fair outcomes,…”

    Yeah, espeically the Native and African Americans.

    1. Waking Up

      While I completely agree that the majority of Native and African Americans have most likely never felt this country had “fair outcomes” (history has shown it hasn’t for minorities), the fact is that up until the year 2000, over 75% of the population was white. Technically, that means “most people” were white. Since most whites never had the “minority experience” other than vicariously through television, an event while protesting injustice, something they experienced simply by proximity to an event, or a discussion, “most” did feel society provided fair outcomes on the whole.

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