Inequality at Work: How Misperceptions of Power Influence Our Work-Lives

Negotiating… The back and forth between two seemingly equal participants… The interchange of wills struggling for supremacy, at last arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement: that is the popular conception of the art of negotiation, and as with the popular notion of the self-made man, it’s nothing more than a crock of shit. Negotiating is tied in with our collective, individualistic ideal, one which says that it’s up to the employee or the shopper to decide for themselves, assuming that all is fair and equal in the worlds of labor and product consumption. In the world capitalist’s environment, opportunity is spread fairly among all people; they simply have to fight for what they want. In this magical world of opportunity, any one of you, even you, can become a self-made millionaire.

Life, as most of us accept, is much more complex, and nuanced; opportunity exists for some, while limited for most others. To consider people as being self-determined, and unconstrained by limitations, we give ourselves an out for unethical behavior, placing the impetus on others to negotiate fair wages and to preclude themselves from being scammed; it is in this sense that the scammer can sustain his self-esteem while easily abdicating responsibility for his crimes. Protecting one another is a sin, and to the capitalist, it’s costly. For in a society of great wealth, the means of amassing it constitutes exploitation and stealth, convincing the public that they too can become rich and that it’s their moral duty to care for themselves. They exploit male pride and our pervasive sense of individualism, needing to do little to convince the man who won’t dare ask for directions that he ought to be the caretaker for his family.

As we go down the rabbit hole of “entitlements” and “big government,” rather than finding a nefarious plot to conquer the minuscule details of our daily lives, we discover security and safety, regulations which protect us from trusts (and their subsequent over-pricing, as with the cable companies), the poverty of unemployment, absurd medical bills in cases of health crises, and scams. We erroneously believe that we’re capable of handling ourselves in a wild west type scenario, but sometimes, it’s okay to ask for directions, and more often than not, we need to. I am not an expert on banking and loans, and I’m certainly not immune to scam artists, so I’d prefer it if there were a set of guidelines preventing predatory lending and being ripped off by common thieves. In our uncritical assessment of the marketplace, we tend to forget that we aren’t experts in most subjects, not even when it pertains to simple directions. Therefore, we need a government which protects us, and if that means less free enterprise, then so be it. What is it that we would actually be losing?

Free enterprise is conversion therapy; free enterprise is alternative energy companies knocking on your door and selling you a lie; free enterprise is reiki energy therapy, homeopathy, and EMDR; free enterprise is predatory lending, where loans with increasing interest rates are given to the poorest and least educated; and, free enterprise is the invisible hand of capitalism discovering ways to underpay its labor force. You see, the art of negotiation, in a labor market which includes unpaid interns, contracted workers, and low-salaried, entry-level employees, is less of an art and more of a scam: the illusion of choice, and the illusion of power. The game has always been rigged and the power lies with those who affect its rules. Negotiation becomes murkier when we acknowledge how stacked the other side’s deck is. In business, as in life, you’ll find that the people who have will do whatever they can to maintain their lot. Free enterprise, upon closer inspection, is farther away from the ideals of the great myths on which America was founded. Free enterprise is costly.

For those of us who struggle with social anxiety, negotiating can be torment, as we try to explore our value relative to the current state of the market. If we were to be honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we struggle with assertiveness, especially when first entering the labor force; our salaries, and our livelihoods, shouldn’t depend on our psychologies, nor be hindered by them. If we wish to create a just society, if we really want to be fair, we should rid ourselves of negotiation, creating, alternatively, a set of guidelines for fair compensation all across the labor spectrum. I hope that you’ll forgive me if I choose to focus on treating my patients instead of creating arguments for a raise. Fairness is paying someone what they’re owed, without the burden of negotiation.

Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?…

 

15 Comments

  1. I’ve read this twice and I’m still not totally sure what you’re asking; if I have understood correctly, you feel that payrises should be arbitrary and not based on an analysis of performance by the employer followed by negotiation with the employee? Is that it?

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      1. Surely collective bargaining is just negotiation by another name? Transparency is all very well if all the employees are satisfied with their earnings but what people think they’re worth and the value they actually bring to a company are sometimes two completely different things so full disclosure of salaries can breed dissatisfaction which helps neither employer nor employees

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      2. That’s a false equivalent, as collective bargaining implies more leverage than any one person can have in negotiating.

        To your second point, that’s exactly why transparency is necessary; if there’s an objective system, with set guidelines on pay based on value produced, there would be a smaller chance of resentment. You can’t eliminate all dissatisfaction, as some people have inflated views of themselves.

        As stated in a New York Times article this morning, “The average person in the US has essentially zero power in society.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Personally I think an individual has more power over their own situation than a collective had over theirs but that’s a matter of opinion I suppose
        Ok, but if you’re right, who determines the threshold? What are the figures based on?
        I think it depends what you mean by ‘power’ and over whom or what

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      4. Collective bargaining does. I mean power to influence one’s wages. The individual has a very limited amount of it, especially if they struggle with assertiveness, which most people do.

        I can give you instances of my workplaces, which were run as dictatorships, where the workers had 0 say in their wages; they received take it or leave it deals, which has become too common.

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      5. But a business is not a cooperative (unless it’s been designed to run that way in which case the employees have the opportunity to invest in the business). The employees also have the choice whether to work for someone or not and many businesses have failed due to poor leadership. It’s only my opinion but I believe that unions are often damaging for employees and businesses alike; sometimes wage increases aren’t given because it’s not financially viable yet the unions run works to rule or they strike and run the business into the ground. When all is said and done we can only base our opinions on our own experiences so we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one 😊

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      6. We can base our beliefs on data, and it overwhelming shows the vast benefits of unionization, which include higher wages and better work-environments. The notion that someone can “choose” whether or not to work for someone is myopic when we consider that employers have a great incentive to hire contracted workers, interns, and low-wage, entry level applicants. There isn’t much choice when you have limited options.

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      7. You know what they say about lies, damn lies and statistics……
        As for choice, there is alway the choice to retrain, to gain extra qualifications but we all also have to start somewhere

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      8. Yes it takes time and money but you’re investing in your own future so surely you’re worth it? As a psychologist you could set up in private practice in the future yes? (I don’t know your situation but I’m assuming). That can be extremely lucrative and you’d be your own boss so any investment you make now would pay off in the future 😊

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      9. Ah ok I understand. I remember the collapse of several industries in the uk in the 70’s and 80’s that were directly attributable to the action taken by Unions. They can be a good thing if they are genuinely democratic but in many linstances they are highly politicized and militant which, in my opinion, does far more harm than good.

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