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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tyranny

United's New Club Class
In case you haven't heard (because you've been living under a rock, or on walkabout in the outback), Chicago police removed a paid passenger from an airliner yesterday, or the day before, I forget. Marcel has the story if you need it.

I suspect the problem is due to tyrannical management. Tyrannical management has two components. One is ordinary business tyranny. Businesses operate according to rules, and whenever you have rules, you need somebody to enforce those rules. The other part comes from the combative atmosphere of a unionized, marginally profitable business. Airlines are essentially unprofitable, I cannot understand why anyone would even be in the airline business, except, well, if you think about it for a minute, there is a huge amount of money involved, zillions of people spending zillions of dollars on tickets to go somewhere. People look at all that money and think, shoot, I know how to run a profitable airline, and so they start one up, and then reality comes along and wipes out all their schemes to shave a tenth of point here or a fraction of a cent there.

United is unionized. Management is always looking to cut costs, and one big ticket item is highly paid employees. You can't fire them, it's a union, so they look for ways to make the job so unpleasant that people will quit. One of the ways they make the job unpleasant is by making up a bunch of chickenshit rules that employees have to follow. So now instead of giving employees the latitude to use their brains to deal with problems, they have rules. Employees realize management doesn't care about them, in fact actually hates them, so they no longer care about what's right, just whether they are following the stupid rules, because breaking a stupid rule can get them fired, and since it's a union job, it pays better than any other job they are likely to find, so even though this job sucks and everyone hates them, customers and bosses alike, they keep on following the rules and not caring.



I've heard the word tyranny used a couple of times recently when circumstances didn't seem to warrant it, so I looked it up:
cruel and oppressive government or rule.
Dictators are often described as tyrants for making arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable decisions, but without intentional cruelty I wouldn't call them tyrants. Just so we are clear. But dictatorships, regardless of how beneficent they might be, suffer from a problem:
"Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy." - Jorge Luis Borges
And that's what's wrong at United Airlines and many other large American corporations: they foster idiocy. They don't all do it to the same extent. A lot of work is done on autopilot, rules help people get the job done quickly and efficiently. But at some companies the rule book is written by someone who likes to write rules, which isn't bad in and of itself, but couple that with someone who likes to enforce rules and you have the makings of hell on Earth.

Companies that are profitable don't need to be tyrannical, but they are still dictatorships. Smart people realize that giving people a little latitude in how they do their job can make for happier and more productive employees. Of course, when you give people latitude, occasionally a mistake will be made. If you have a going concern and the mistake is not big, you can absorb the loss and maybe learn a lesson. If you are in a highly competitive industry dominated by people with sharp pencils trying to shave ever smaller slivers off of every penny, you can't afford any mistakes. Some people think that the best way to avoid mistakes is to have lots of rules. And when you have a combative atmosphere, any lessons are likely to be disregarded as corporate propaganda designed to get people to change something about their job , not for any good reason, like making a better product or making the employee's job easier, but for the sole purpose of saving the company money. Since lessons won't work here, we have rules instead.

So that's what we have and the incident in Chicago is just the latest in the long line of bullshit we have had to learn to put up with in modern America.



I think the problem is that control freaks are getting the upper hand. The longer a successful system is in place, the larger and more entrenched the bureaucracy becomes, and we know bureaucracies are dominated by control freaks.

Now control freaks are not always a bad thing. Western Civilization succeeds by maintaining a balance between freedom and order. You need some order (provided by the control freaks) or you won't have a civilization at all, but if you don't have some freedom, what's the point? May as well go back to the stone age.

If we really had a growing economy, an economy that needed workers, we wouldn't have that problem (the control freaks getting the upper hand). Everyone who had a shitty job would quit and walk across the street to work for someone who appreciated them for what they could do and didn't treat them like an unnecessary expense.

Now there are a few disruptive technologies running around loose, and they are making our lives better, I think. But by and large what they are doing is eliminating people's jobs. Congratulations, you've made a better widget, so for every widget you sell, an old widget doesn't get sold. Sell enough of the new widgets and pretty soon the old widget company isn't selling any widgets. They fire all their workers and shut their doors. But! you say, the new widget company put a bunch of people to work. Well,yes it did, but do to modern manufacturing techniques we don't need half as many people to get the work done.

I don't know what we need to correct this imbalance. If nothing changes things might continue down the same road. Maybe that's why we change Presidential parties every 10 years or so. People realize the scale has tilted too far in one direction and we need to restore some balance. I'll leave it to you to figure out which party is which.

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