David Sirota has an excellent piece up on the direct mail guru Richard Viguerle’s book “America’s Right Turn” on how the conservative movement (not the Republican party) turned the country right over the last thirty years. It’s an excellent review and teases apart a couple different strands, but it’s this part I want to bounce off of:
Put another way, Democratic politicians couldn’t muster the intelligence (guts?) to appreciate the value of having an outside progressive movement setting the boundaries of the debate at $8 so that, when it comes time to compromise, the final number can be set at $7.25. Instead, the cry like little infants over potentially hurt feelings, and idiotically suggest that it is more advantageous to start negotiating at $7.25 ”“ thus creating the very real possibility that the ”œcompromise” will be much lower.
It’s not just politicians who don’t understand the value of a vigorous movement, it’s a lot of movement types who seem to think that they should pre-compromise. When NARAL compromises on abortion rights it undercuts the politicians. When bloggers play politician, and pre-compromise on policy, it helps make the outer boundaries of the position weaker, and thus requires a deeper compromise from the politicians. This is just basic bargaining – when you’re bargaining in a hostile environment (this doesn’t necessarily apply in all bargaining situations, but definitely does in the current House and Senate) you start with the very far end of possible positions so you have room to bargain. The job of movement types is to set those boundaries as far to the left as possible.
I learned that as a kid in third world bazaars.
When I bargain for a belt in Bangladesh, I offer 80 taka, hoping to get 150. The vendor starts at 500. I am, however, willing to walk away and he knows that and since I’m a westerner and he’s going to wind up at least double charging me what he’d charge a Bengali he’s desperate for me not to walk away.
I don’t expect to cut health insurance companies completely out of insurance – in fact, what I want is to allow them to do top up insurance or some variation depending on plan specifics. But to get there we start by talking about cutting them out utterly, so that when they are allowed in – we’re at the place we wanted to end up. I am, however, if push comes to shove, willing to, if we can, cut them out entirely if they won’t deal – or damage them in other ways (passive agressiveness is not a flaw in multi-issue bargaining relationships. Punishing people for screwing with you is necessary.) If insurance companies think you’ll do the equivalent of walking away (take away all the money) they’ll be desperate to make some sort of bargain.
But unlike with my Bengali merchant, if they think (or know) you won’t or can’t, then they’ll never cut a deal – the status quo already favors them so much that they have no incentive to do so.