Economic Psychology

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Economic Psychology

How and why markets aren't rational. Navigational tips for charting the Bermuda Triangle of human economic behavior.

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Labor Day
Labor Day is a very important day, for a whole variety of reasons unrelated to the end of summer (sigh....).

1. Although some labor unions have morphed into caricatures of themselves, unions were originally formed because people were being exploited, horribly, by their employers. Individually, they couldn't make a dent. Together, they had a chance--although many laid down their lives in the fight for dignity and a living wage.

2. Exploitation, particularly economic exploitation, is the evil here. Note to employers: it never works. It will always come back to bite you. (I say this as someone who has always held management and professional positions. One might suggest I am arguing against my own interests here, but I don't think so). Setting aside its ineffectiveness, there is no acceptable justification for exploiting anyone.

3. People in any position can be exploited. I suppose even a CEO could, in theory, be exploited--although I have never witnessed it. I know I have been exploited several times before, even at companies that claimed to put people first. In fact, it seems to me that companies that blather on about their incredible humanity are frequently among the worst offenders.

4. I've noticed that in the current economy, many professionals--especially senior technology professionals--who worked at places like Bell Labs, etc.--have found that they have a choice between self-employment (which requires a type of business saavy that does not play to their strengths) or working in an organization that under-values, patronizes, and even exploits them.

5. Others, who are experts in their fields--whether these relate to technology or to not--are faced with a similar dilemma. They can either opt for self-employment, which can be a hand-to-mouth existence for people who are experts in their disciplines but not great self-promoters or businesspeople. Alternatively, they can work for consulting firms--many run by MBA's using the 'leverage model,' which also plays against their strengths-- where they are under-valued, patronized, or even exploited.

6. My thought on this Labor Day is that these individuals constitute Disorganized Labor. Not only are we not organized economically to protect our own interests--but we are innately prone to feel like fish out of water in most organizations.* Indeed, among our great strengths is our willingness to buck conventional wisdom, to hew to our professional values and knowledge rather than to an organization's 'party line'. In the long term, this supports the collective good. In the short term, it can be quite detrimental to one's career in any type of organization--for-profit, non-profit, educational, etc. (....Detrimental as in "the kiss of death.")

7. My question is not rhetorical: is there a model, or can we develop a model, that would allow us to affiliate/organize for our own collective good? I am not talking about a union, but about something that would allow us to maintain our autonomy while providing a means for protecting us from exploitation and for furthering our interests as a group? Something akin to a guild, perhaps, but not an association? Is the notion of the networked organization an option (I somehow doubt this, knowing how difficult it is to maintain human networks....but who knows)?

8. I've asked enough questions for today. I am very interested to hear what others think. (Note: others are also asking these questions, too)

* (To be truthful, I am not that organized, period. Fortunately, my brain is well organized, otherwise I'd be sunk!)