Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.


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Morale - the elusive jackalope of managers, rumored to exist among the predatory snarks, the snarling sufferers, corrigible complainers and witless whiners in the wilds of corporate America.

/>Can't find it, can you? You're not alone.

/>Neitehr can the military, most times. Or the government. Or, for that matter, the Democratic party. They've all been struggling with this search for years - throwing parties, organizing committees, surveying employees, going on budgetary shopping sprees. It's always about fixing some problem, in some straightforward way. "Problem X needs solution Y!" the consultants cry (all the way to the bank), but that's not right at all.

/>There will always be problems as long as there are people. Clamp a lid on a behavior, and it'll simply surface in another way.

/>What correlates with morale is not the lack of problems - but how much members and employees feel they're being taken seriously, and have something to contribute to fix the problem.

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Illogical behavior isn't illogical.

It just means that you're using a different set of givens.

Finding out what other people's givens are - and how to change them to meet everyone else's - is the foundation of psychology.

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Race to the Middle

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Our labor supply has seen a massive "virtual" increase in supply with the technological developments making the "globalization" of industry possible. No longer are companies tied to the labor force in the country they're selling in - it's very feasible to pull your labor supply from elsewhere.

Globally, this increase in labor supply is driving the equilibrium wage down in manufacturing jobs. While this isn't the "race to the bottom" envisioned by anti-globalization activists, this market correction is essentially unstoppable at this point. Further, as we have found with some tech industry jobs, it's not just unskilled workers who are facing this sudden increase in labor supply - and decreased wages.

It's likely that the vast majority of sectors will experience this decrease in (real) wages save for those that require actual presence of workers onsite before long-run equilibrium is reached. While those who can command economic rent will still do well (it's better to hire 1 great programmer than 10 good ones, to quote a recent /. article), this doesn't bode well for the standard of living in the global North.

It's worth noting that an economics professor of mine pointed out that while there's been massive transformation before, it's almost always resulted in an increased standard of living overall (though individual groups may be bigger winners or losers). That doesn't contradict what I say above; I'm just stating that the global North may be on the "losing" end of the stick.

It's also worth noting that this analysis changes the frame of the problem: no longer is it "Can we stop wage equalization?" but "How can we make this as painless as possible for the most people?"

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Moral Capitalism

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According to your basic economic viewpoint, capitalism is amoral. It's simply a system that gives maximum benefit for minimal cost.

In reality, we know that's not the case. Capitalism tends to concentrate wealth, and frequently involves imperfect information (e.g. you getting screwed because you didn't know any better). Caveat emptor is doable for an online auctionhouse of non-essentials, but it's one hell of a way to run an economy.

Except that a capitalistic system can tend towards the "common good". In econo-speak, it's because externalities end up being counted. Pollution is seen as a cost of doing business for the companies doing the polluting. Screwing your workers over for cheap health insurance today is suddenly viewed as weakening your own workforce (and therefore, your own profits).

Organizations such as the EPA are an effort to make those externalities a literal "cost" of doing business, whether through regulations or fines. But wouldn't the same thing be achieved if we started looking at the long view, instead of just the next quarter? If you're looking at workforce health in ten years, you're going to want them taking care of themselves now (and will be more willing to give them the benefits to encourage that).

That long-range perspective is lost when we fire and hire based off of short-term gains. So the question is: How do we promote that kind of long-term strategic thinking in the already existing marketplace?

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USAian corporate culture: Inefficiency in toto

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I have difficulty at my workplace;  like so many others, they attempt to harness 100% of their worker's attention 100% of the time for 8.5 hours a day.  In theory, any - and I mean any amount of attention spent on "non-work tasks" is wasted efficiency.

Being in one of these situations has forced me to realize that this is simply pandering to the lowest common denominator.

What is the goal of the corporation vis a vis the worker?  (Sorry, I so rarely get to use "vis a vis".)  To get maximum output, or efficiency.  Sure, those workers whose efficiencies are sub-par need correction.  They're the lowest common denominator.

But consider your average and above-par workers (surely you have a few of those around).  Subjecting them to the rigors needed for your unmotivated workers will have an opposite effect than the one desired - it will unmotivate them.  Humans cannot completely divorce their work life from thier home life.  Kids, bills, parents, pets - there are a million other worries and distractions in our lives.

Those distractions will - repeat, will - affect our productivity.  It doesn't matter if management allows us time to deal with the problems.  That problem will simply be there occupying our brainspace, along with a good deal of frustration that we can't do anything about it.  Remember:  Multitasking is a myth.  Therefore, forcing employees to ignore thier personal lives lowers productivity and efficiency.

Once we take that as a given, this alters the decision making process considerably.  There is a certain degree of employee inattention that is simply a cost of doing business.  A manager's job, then, is to reduce the impact of that cost of doing business as much as possible.

Therefore, allowing employees to deal with thier problems can help them focus more effectively.  When they've made the phone call, finished thier homework, or whatever, the company not only has thier full attention but thier gratitude as well.

What was originally a demoralizing, intractable problem has now been transformed into a positive quality of life issue - and potentially a productivity boost - with no net cost to your business.

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Originally written to a poli-sci professor

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[Yes, I defended Marx in an intro poli-sci classroom.  I think there's some good insights in here, but again, I don't think I'll have the time to develop them...]

I would like to hear your thoughts and comments in reference to my thoughts below, if you have the time before next Monday.

As you stated, Marx saw things economically.  One of the major goals of economic systems is efficiency and maximizing production.  If all individuals in a society acted purely rationally, a sort of enlightened self-interest could be envisioned as the direct result.  That is, someone whose abilities were suited to intellectual labor would
naturally partake in such labor, someone who was not so skilled would choose manual labor rather than being inefficient.  Marx would, I think, state that choosing to get "stuff" is not true freedom, because it is an irrational desire created by another's influence.  In this, he predicted manufactured discontent many decades before its formulation in the automobile industry (and from there, to marketing as a whole).  As I
understand it, humans who were truly free would be aware of their own needs and abilities, and would reject desires as irrational impulses.

This would also lead to a rational altruism, which is seen piecemeal in our society today (good benefits mean healthy workers which mean increased efficiency and profits).

That, I think, would also be his major downfall - he expected people to act rationally, once they knew better.  A modern example would be the desire to be a NBA star.  Any rational analysis indicates that most with that dream will never make it to college basketball, let alone the NBA - but yet, many with sub-standard (by NBA standards, anyway) abilities ignore the opportunity cost and focus on that elusive goal.  It's
irrational, but commonplace [1].

What I said last night (that I disagreed with your reasons for Marx's failings) wasn't truly accurate;  it would be more accurate to say that I would put the emphasis differently - and that Marx's idea of freedom is different, even incompatible, with the lassez-faire capitalistic idea.

What also struck me as especially interesting was the emphasis on economics;  a frequent justification of capitalistic injustice [2] in recent years has been to appeal to the need to greater efficiency, something that was also a goal of Marx's system.  That emphasis on efficiency (in Marx) leads to unacceptable loss of freedom [3];  I'm
intrigued as to why it's right-sided counterpart is seen as acceptable.

[1] I'd attribute it to some specific memes.  I mention this because I
may need to resort to that model of cognation for my paper, and if
you're unfamiliar with the idea, I'd like to know ahead of time.
[2] Admittedly, *my* idea of injustice.
[3] From a generalized American point-of-view

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Bottom-Up Solutions

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You may have noticed that practically every ISP is rolling out thier own (branded) anti-virus solution. The same goes with spyware and even anti-spam measures. Even with all of this, there's still problems with all of the above.

These are prime examples of the failure of top-down solutions. To achieve a truly effective and near-universal solution, it must come from the bottom (users/consumers) upward. When the costs - in the economic sense, so that "costs" includes the "cost" of remembering to update your virii definitions - are passed onto someone else, there's no reason to bother taking care of it yourself.

Or - and this is the more troubling part - to bother to understand what's going on.

Keep this in mind when you're crafting your policy solution:  the people involved must be informed and they must have a reason to care.  If you fail to give them those things, don't be surprised when they don't succeed.

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Social Hierarchy is probably embedded in economics

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The social and economic hierarchy we keep seeing everywhere is probably going to persist.  We're going to keep seeing it because of this:  rank is biological.

My wife and I keep referring to "chimp politics" at our workplaces;  the similarities between the social hierarchies of chimpanzees and humans in a business environment are frightening.  They also make sense.

Biggest problem with anarchism?  Getting to consensus.  It's a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.  It's great;  definitely something to strive for when you've got the resources for it - but that's not the case in the jungle, whether you're referring to the green one with chimps or the steel one with MBAs... well, chimps.

So we've got this rank structure pretty well hardwired (whether it's literally biological or effectively inbuilt due to massive subconscious societal methods is immaterial for this point.  Trying to determine an experiment to determine which it is would be a WONDERFUL sociology/anthropology project) into us.  Trying to remove that rank structure is quixotic at best, and actively harmful (by removing huge amounts of efficiency) at worst.  But the rank structure constantly has injustice built into it.

So here's the third way:  Start actively undermining the link between status and "deserves more".  That link isn't necessarily required.  So we've got our "hierarchy" (Bob's my boss, Joe's my employee) that maintains the same chain-of-command efficiency... but without so much of the status symbols and massive pay inequality that plague USian business.

This kind of effect is hinted at (though I don't think it's an explicit plan) with Semco, as outlined by Ricardo Semler in <a href="">The Seven Day Weekend</A>.

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Housing prices and local government burdens

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When the bubble bursts, and housing values go down (much like they did in the UK and Australia), then property tax values are going to go down - along with other local revenue streams.  Problem is, that the local/state level has been asked to take on more and more of the services - while federal taxes have been lowered. 

This simply is a bad scene.  Many inner cities have problems with providing services as it is.  Creating new revenue streams (or changing the way we do services) simply must come to the fore. 

This kind of (relatively) rapid change may leave existing legislation and quite a few of the residents in the dust.  That's unfortunate, but right now many cities (including mine) are in an adapt-or-die situation.  We have to gamble and change - or we'll slowly die anyway.

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