Friday, October 04, 2013

The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now

TL?DR?--Shorter: Republicans are the dissatisfied and angry diners at the table of life.

We've seen a lot of weird reactions on the right wing to the Government Shut down. These range from "it doesn't matter" to "its terrible" but one thing that really strikes me is the rage and antipathy that has been displayed towards Federal Workers themselves.  It doesn't strike me as unusual, but it does strike me as significant.  Yesterday's on air rant by Stuart Varney makes it pretty explicit: Federal Workers and, indeed, the entire Government are failing Stuart Varney. They cost too much and they do too little.  In fact: they are so awful they don't even deserve to be paid for the work they have already done. Contracts, agreements, and labor be damned. If Stuart Varney isn't happy then they deserve to be fired. Here's the quote if you haven't seen it:

HOWELL: Do you think that federal workers, when this ends, are deserving of their back pay or not?
VARNEY: That is a loaded question isn't it? You want my opinion? This is President Obama's shutdown. He is responsible for shutting this thing down; he's taken an entirely political decision here. No, I don't think they should get their back pay, frankly, I really don't. I'm sick and tired of a massive, bloated federal bureaucracy living on our backs, and taking money out of us, a lot more money than most of us earn in the private sector, then getting a furlough, and then getting their money back at the end of it. Sorry, I'm not for that. I want to punish these people. Sorry to say that, but that's what I want to do.
JACOBSON: But it's not their fault. It's not the federal employees' fault. I mean, that's what I'm sick of, I hate and it makes me anxious, to see people who are victimized because of a political fight.
VARNEY: I take your point Amy, it is not directly their fault, but I'm looking at the big picture here. I'm getting screwed. Here I am, a private citizen, paying an inordinate amount of money in tax. I've got a slow economy because it's all government, all the time. And these people are living on our backs, regulating us, telling us what to do, taxing us, taking our money, and living large. This is my chance to say "hey, I'm fed up with this and I don't miss you when you're on furlough." Sorry if that's a harsh tone, but that's the way I feel.

So, Nu? I hear you saying? Well, I think there is something new here or at least worth discussing. Varney's attitude towards the Federal Work force is the same attitude as (some) diners take when they are eating out in a fine restaurant and they fear that they don't have enough money or status to get good service--and they suspect that someone else is getting better service. They want to tip, and they want to use the tip to punish the worker for failing to give exceptional service to the important people (the diner himself).

 The diner comparison isn't because I think this is trivial, but because people take the issues surrounding service in restaurants very, very, seriously and become nearly as unhinged as Varney when they don't feel they can control the experience they are having.  And I think (and others are arguing this right now) that a huge part of the Republican experience of governance in the US right now is about disapointment and lack of control. They are emotionally in the position of people who used to be offered the best seat in the house and could order a la carte without worrying about the bill, and now they think they are being relegated to the back of the restaurant and they imagine that they are paying the bills for other people for meals they won't enjoy.  But the comparison isn't based only on this metaphor--I also think that Varney's attitude, which is the Republican attitude encapsulated, is based on another and deeper cultural reality: that for Republicans the government itself is understood as an employee and the individual Republican fancies himself an employer--and he wants the power of that relationship to be vindicated in every instance. Where it is not expressed and understood as oppressive then its not working for Varney.

Let me unpack this for you as an Anthropolgist, because I think it says something about the enormous gap that lies between these people (Republicans and Punishers) and the rest of us.   There are several things at issue here: the status of workers, the status of employers, and the status anxiety Republicans feel when they don't believe that they are treated as an employer should be treated by their employees. In this case everyone in the Federal Government, from the President down to the lowliest Federal Street Sweeper, is not giving Varney the satisfaction that he thinks is his due. And he is damned if they will be paid when they don't do their job to his satisfaction.  In this way his attitude is like that of the angry customers, the "Punishers" described in Jay Porter's series of essays about what happened when he moved an entire restaurant from tipped wait staff to non tipped.

Porter was running what he wanted to be a great restaurant and in pursuit of this he eliminated tipping--he felt that tipping overvalued the work the waiter was doing and undervalued the work the back of the house staff did, and he knew that it resulted in waiters making separate deals and occasionally sabotaging each other and the house in pursuit of a better tip from one set of customers.  What he did not expect was to discover that tipping, rather than a burden on his customers, was one of the chief sources of pleasure for them in the meal. Not because they enjoyed the extra 20 percent on top of the bill but because he found they enjoyed the power they thought it gave them over the waiter and over the nature of the experience. They believed (erroneously in his view) that they were given better service because the waiter anticipated the tip. More importantly, they actively enjoyed imagining using the threat of the withheld tip to punish bad service--they enjoyed this imagined power so much that people became frantic and angry when they couldn't tip.  They experienced themselves as having lost their voice and lost control over the situation.

Porter argues that his customers see the restaurant experience as a special subset of other kinds of service experiences in which one person is superior and the other inferior, one person commands and the other serves, and that in the midst of a professional setting in which all persons might have the right to expect equal and equally good service the tip-oriented customer sees a setting in which preferential treatment should be meted out to the good tipper and bad/non preferential treatment should be punished.

The Restaurant customer, and I'd argue many Americans,  don't respect work or workers and see situations in which they are served by a worker as a kind of passion play in which the served get to experience the power of the purse, the power of the john vis a vis the prostitute, the power to coerce service and specifically the power to punish one person for disappointment or bad service or really anything the tipper wants to punish that person for.  More than that: Americans see tipping as an occasion to right the wrongs of a situation and to restore a balance--a balance that is upset when one person (the client) expects something good and gets something they didn't want.

Porter's entire series of posts should be read but I want to focus on just one part of the last section: what is lost for the patron when they can't tip? Something vital, something that they didn't even know they wanted: the ability to communicate with the worker non verbally and punitively. Porter describes many such situations but this one is quite poignant.   After the restaurant had gone to a "No Tip" policy a restaurant reviewer chose to publicly humiliate a server, by name, in a bad review.  The reviewer did not correct the server to his face, nor did she report him to management and try to get the service issues handled at the time.

I responded, I agree that the bad service is my fault. I’m saying you should have ripped on me and not him. I’ve apologized to him for putting him in that position, but it is still not right of you, writing under a pseudonym, to publicly embarrass him using his actual name.And she came back with the clincher: Well, with your fixed service charge you didn’t give my any choice. I couldn’t give him a lower tip. How else could I punish him for his mistakes?
That made it all clear. She, like some other patrons, felt the burden of having to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Obviously, some people like that role, and some people don’t, but at the very least our culture has trained diners that it is their job. When you go to restaurants, you are responsible for rewarding and punishing your server.

Porter goes on to argue, on the basis of his experience, that sometimes it seems like the entire point of the tip is to punish the server and rebalance a relationship of hierarchy which has been violated by the server not being attentive enough or the meal not being perfect enough.
This explained another bizarre phenomenon we had seen with our service charge — a small number of guests who got angry when we removed the charge from their bill.
We had a policy that if a guest brought a notable service problem to a manager’s attention, we removed the service charge from the bill. Our position was that we were professionals charging for service, and if we failed to meet our service goals, then we refused to take payment.

It would happen that a guest would bring a problem to our attention, often as a way to show that the lack of tipping had somehow “caused” the service mistake. Our floor manager would apologize, thank the guest for bringing the problem to our attention, and remove the service charge from the bill. And that, sometimes, would make the guest furious...
This is where I really started to lose patience with the whole thing.It had been demonstrated by research and our experience that this punishment message doesn’t get through to the offender — servers correctly don’t view their tips as reflecting the quality of their work. So the right to punish the server is solely for the benefit of the punisher, and no larger benefit is created.
We were trying to run a good restaurant. If a guest pointed out a mistake we made, the guest was doing us a favor. Our first reaction wasn’t going to be to punish the workers who made the mistake; it was going to be to make sure the server had the tools they needed to do the job right. No business in any industry builds a great team by looking for mistakes to punish. It just doesn’t work that way. 

What does this have to do with the Republican Party? The Republican Party at this point in time is entirely made up of Punishers who think they are entitled to treat the government--and especially the government of Barack Obama--as waiters who need to be shown their place.  This should surprise no one.  At heart the entire Republican Party is made up of winners and losers and they are united in just one thing: they think that money is the only way to tell who is who. If you have money, you use that to distinguish yourself from the losers and to demonstrate your superiority by punishing them further.  If you are a loser--a worker, for example, or have no health insurance (say) your job as a Republican is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line.

 Apparently Federal Workers and the Tax money that pays them have come to symbolize a fracture in the right order of things.  As Mary Douglas argued about the laws of Leviticus things that are in between categories can be seen as impure and dangerous. Things that live in the water but don't have fins. Things that have cloven hooves but don't chew their cud.  From an anthropological standpoint we say "Dirt is matter that is out of place."  That which crosses categories creates tremendous problems because it can't be assigned to one status or another and thus can't be handled properly. You don't have to have a reason why these things are bad so long as you can point towards their ambiguous status. In fact: there may be no reason why these things are bad at all, but their ambiguous status can raise a host of unspoken and unspeakable anxieties.

Why are Federal Workers a special case and a problem for Republicans?  In the case of Federal Workers I'd argue that its not merely that  they are workers (who are always despised) its because they are workers who for the most part don't conform to Republican ideas of the right boundaries for workers. The right boundaries for workers are that they know their place, that they can be fired capriciously, and that they exist primarily to make the employer feel good about himself  and, further, that like waiters in a restaurant and prostitutes with their johns their job is also to make the employer believe that he is receiving an extra good form of treatment not accorded to others diners or johns.*

 Federal workers violate those central principles because they can't be fired directly by "the employer" because the individual Republican tax payer isn't the direct employer.  They also can't be humiliated and made to feel vulnerable because of civil service protections and unionization.  And in the matter of interactions, one on one, the taxpayer can't command good treatment by offering money (bribes) and thus often feels vulnerable and weak because there is no way to play the "do you know who I am" card which (like tipping) is an attempt to force a generic servant to give non generic attention and service to one class of people.  So Federal Employees create an extra level of status anxiety for Republicans when they come in contact with these "employees" who can't be fired or rewarded and therefore are not obligated to be extra nice to the individual Republican.

Of course there are lots of kinds of Federal Employees, some more obvious than others, and many of whom don't come into contact with ordinary citizens very often (Scientists at the CDC vs. Park Rangers, for example). I'd argue that the antipathy I've described goes for both the kinds of Federal Employees that ordinary citizens encounter--and this is at the root of the really quite bizarre attacks by Republican Congressmen on individual Federal Employees like the now infamous attack on the the Park Ranger by the Texas Congressman.  He explicitly challenges her and accuses her of failing to give special consideration to (some) clients (tourists/vets) when she is, of course, contractually obligated to treat all persons identically and has been ordered to shut down the monument.  We've also seen this hostility directed by individual Republican Congressmen at high level Federal Employees during committee hearings. These attempts to create a hierarchical relationship which puts the "employee" below the "employer" even when the employee has specialized knowledge and skills that the employer does not are too numerous to mention.

I'd even argue that Reince Priebus's absurd "offer" to pay for a few employees to keep the military site open for the honor flight vets was an example of a perfectly logical extension of the tipping principle: that people with money should get better treatment than ordinary customers. That the government's attempt to treat everyone uniformly in both the Sequester and the Shut Down is, to the Republican way of thinking, a greater affront than almost anything else. It flies in the face of the "do you know who I am?" principle which underlies Republican thinking about the nature of the world.

So what can we do about this? Nothing, alas. Republicans will continue to see the Government, and experiences of Government work and workers, as a drama in which the employer must punish the employed in order to enjoy his superior status, and the rest of us will have to suffer as they choose to act out their petty desires by shutting down the government and refusing to "tip" our Federal Workers by, you know, actually paying them for work performed.  We can't hope to have the same good fortune as Jay Porter who, after he ended tipping at his restaurant, found that the Punishers stopped turning up at all:

These people who were fighting to keep their punishment rights, were keeping us from getting better.We came to the conclusion, though, that the fixed service charge — and our removing it when a problem was noticed — would drive these negative customers away. They would go to other restaurants where they could resume their role as arbiter of consequences. One of our managers emailed me around this time: “It would seem we’re on the right track. We’ll eventually weed out all the punishers…and then we can do our jobs.”I think this is pretty much happened, within a few months of that review. People who come to restaurants to punish other people came to our place, discovered we didn’t offer that service, and moved on. It’s an open question whether we would have made more revenue if we had not lost these customers. I tend to think not, because their absence really did let us focus on doing our jobs better. But maybe there are just so many people like this, that they make up a huge market for restaurants, that we lost out on. I can’t say I know. I know we didn’t miss them.
We liked our jobs a lot better with the punishers gone, and having a job you like is a great joy in life. Our service charge policy, even though we adopted it for technical financial reasons, proved to be a gift in many surprising ways.I think we were making guests’s lives better, too. Sitting in judgement of your neighbor, and punishing him, is the highway to unhappiness. Plus, as we’ve established, whatever message you’re sending isn’t getting through. Which means the guest who is asked to serve as a judge, is being made miserable for nothing.

*This is a somewhat complicated point which can only be fleshed out with reference to the entire thread on tipping. Basically it seems to really bother diners when they can't tip even though they know that others in the restaurant also can't tip.  Believing (against all research) that the tip is what causes the waiter to give good service seems to go along with the fantasy that something extra, something that is denied to other clients, might be forthcoming if the waiter fears a bad tip or expects an extra good tip.  Porter argues that diners behave as though the tip forces the waiter to give extra good service and they enjoy imagining that the waiter does this against his own lazy, indifferent, nature since they believe that without the tip the waiter will ignore them.  He explicitly makes the link between tipping behavior and the hiring of a prostitute arguing that some patrons are more comfortable hiring a prostitute--using the power of the purse to coerce a sexual encounter--than they are using seduction or allowing the woman to seduce them. Why? Because using seduction (charm) or permitting the woman to choose to set the pace of the interaction gives the woman too much agency and is too much work for the patron. Similarly tipping, in the clients eye, takes agency away from the waiter and gives it to the owner of the money.

 Interestingly enough just yesterday Echidne of the Snakes had a good piece up about PUAs and Roosh which makes basically the same point about the preference some men have for purchased or coerced sex over mutually chosen sex. Despite a general cultural assumption that what is "free" is preferable to what is costly there are many social interactions, or perhaps I mean types of people, for whom money is the preferred medium since it is seen as creating no social obligation and/or it functions as a form of coercion where no social or emotional tie exists.


Knight of Nothing said...

Insightful and engaging analysis - thank you. I read those pieces on tipping a while back, and found them fascinating. Those essays completely changed my understanding of tipping.

One aspect you might explore further in your parallel analysis: the traditional dynamic in food service is female wait staff and (white) male patron. Lots (a majority?) of state and local government employees are women. If that holds true at the federal level, it could also inform the power dynamic between government and (Republican) citizen.

aimai said...

Thank you very much Knight of Nothing. I agree with you about those tipping pieces. They were transformative for me on a lot of issues.

There are so many different ways to take this connection I couldn't begin to explore them all but I actually think the female waitress/male patron thing might be a bit of a red herring. The impression I got from the tipping article is that, of course, the sex and the sexuality of the interaction between older, white, male tippers and female waitstaff was signficant, but that the same dynamic really held for female to male interactions--albeit more covertely. Porter specifically alludes to angry male customers as being willing to make a scene in public but also says that there were angry female customers (thwarted tippers like the food reviewer) who were just as upset but chose private or hidden methods of showing their discomfort.

On the state and federal level I think the gender dynamic plays out this way: that white males are used to a lot of deference from people they consider below them in the hierarchy, whether male or female, and are disconcerted and angered at an overall switch of the workforce to female and non white because they don't feel that those people are properly subservient or able to give a high enough standard of service.

There's also the generic attack on people in public service for being ugly, or older, or fat, or disabled (a large part of the antipathy of republicans for the post office is because the post office has always employed minorities and has given preferential treatment to employing veterans and the disabled. As we all know veterans are ok as props but always suspect when they are moochers and potentially anti war.

White Hat said...

Fascinating stuff. Thank you.

However, in light of today's political situation I think it's worth noting that the analysis fits only some factions of the GOP. For example, the Tea Party is essentially a social-class-independent movement that "works" for people from across the whole social spectrum.

As another example, most followers of the religious right really are not aboard the GOP train for privilege. Most are sincerely, religiously committed to ending unlicensed sex among all people, of all classes.

The distinction is important. At the moment we're watching the GOP's privileged class engaging in political theater designed to neuter their Tea Party colleagues. Expose 'em, disavow 'em, forget 'em.

After knocking off the TP, the GOP will conform to this analysis more consistently.

aimai said...

While I agree with you about some evangelicals--that is: that their opposition to gay marriage or abortion is pretty class independent--I don't agree with you that the Tea Party is "essentially a social class independent movement" that "works" for peopel from across the whole social spectrum.

For one thing: studies have shown that people who identify with and support the Tea Party are, in fact, whiter and older and wealthier and more educated than the Republican party itself, as a whole. Second of all, I see the Tea Party, like the Republican Party itself, as composed of winners and losers economically and these align themselves, more or less comfortably, because of a shared ideology of self reliance/self contempt and racism. This enables "loser" Tea Partiers to accept their low economic status as bad luck or the result of individual bad choices and to slough off despair by comparing themselves favorably to Obama's black hordes of moochers and looters. Upper class Tea Partiers, meanwhile, find their success legitimized the old fashioned way, with reference to a faux calvinist notion of predestination and capitalist success.

Both groups look upon public servants as an occasion to be served by someone and resent the experience of not being able to dominate that person within the context of a face to face interaction.

Victor said...

Very interesting piece aimai!!!

First, Stuart Varney is an asshole and sociopath - and a perfect example of how even a nasty moron with an English accent, can sound smart to stupid, ignorant, nasty, angry, fearful, and hateful, Americans.

He's what stupid Real 'Murkins think a smart Englishman would sound like.

Second, I love that the restaurant got rid of assholes!
What a BRILLIANT plan!!!

On top of all of the other benefits, it gives the bar and wait staff a break from thinking of creative ways to 'get back' at assholes and bad tippers - which is only human nature.

As a former bartender in NYC and Upstate NY in bars, pubs, and fancy restaurants, I'll spare everyone the various things I've seen done to assholes and bad tippers who were stupid enough to return.
Some of them, were AMAZINGLY sick!

And you know, if you met the assholes and bad tippers, you really couldn't blame the poor bartenders and wait staff.

I never did it, but I did tell some people who were about to, to stop something which could actually make someone extremely sick, or kill them.

White Hat said...

Aimai, the TP is not the GOP, and doesn't conform to the same demographics. While it trends older/whiter/more affluent like the GOP as a whole, the TP is not a philosophy of government, it's a philosophy of non-government. That's not the give-me-service philosophy that, say Financial Services lobbies for.

Financial Services and corporate interests promote favorable (to them) legislation, and the rest of the greater GOP platform is a yawn. Financial traders operate in markets established and managed by the government. They NEED an operating government for markets to exist, and to bail them out sometimes.

Lockheed doesn't lobby for a lower fed budget either. If the TP was successful, Lockheed would get hurt.

Unlike the mainstream GOP, the TP doesn't aim for favorable treatment or scratch-my-back legislation, their only consistent agenda is less government. Its goals overlaps general corporate interests in some ways (lower taxes, less oversight), but for most Tea Partiers that's not the point.

The mainstream GOP is funded differently, operates differently, has different legislative goals than the Tea Party - and its membership maps differently.

elktownship pennsylvania said...

What an amazingly insightful analysis of our present predicament by comparing that fascinating study on tipping and perceived experience with what's happening in DC.

I hate to display how shallow I am but it's like the Matrix a little now for me. When the esposa and I go out to eat tomorrow or Sunday, here in Lancaster, PA, I know that I will be thinking about the idea that using a tip forms behavior among some diners. There are a lot of red-state types who come into the fairly liberal city to dine. I'm getting older so now I'm like your dad's age and all. I'd rather be thought of as your interesting uncle, but that's another matter for another time.

I sure hope I haven't ever felt like that. I've had lousy experiences in restaurants where I'll leave 15 to 20 percent. I never thought of it as punishment. Just that I felt like I had a lousy experience and wasn't going to pay retail-plus for it. Like if I buy something at Nordstroms and it breaks, I'm going to take it back for sure. Since something I buy at Target I expect to last for far less time. But I've wandered about into a generic retail theory when we were discussing a specific segment of lower-class jobs, in this case, the food service industry.

Me? I usually leave between 20 and 25. The esposa waited tables for about two years. I was brought up to tip because it was sort of built into the unwritten contract I entered into when I went to a place and didn't have to order at the counter and bus my own table. (Hell, I bus my own table and order at a counter at a local place called Roburritos, and I still leave like a five percent tip for some reason. And I tip at Starbucks.) The esposa is like me: she just leaves a pretty fat tip. I doubt we ever gave it more than a few minutes worth of conversation.

Nevertheless, during the worst experience I left ten percent. The waiter brought me chicken for my very-announced vegetarian entree, after bringing me beef just before. I was like, Hello! Hello! Hello!" But, orf course, I just smiled and asked the waiter to remove it from the bill and I would get something to eat somewhere else, after the esposa finished her meal, which she was enjoying. It was a place that knew about the distinctions, as they were announced in the menu plainly, and it wasn't crowded. I felt bad only leaving ten percent, but it was a situation where the waiter never acted overly troubled by the problem. So I figured the waiter didn't really care about getting my order correct, and that, given the proliferation of other eating issues, it probably wasn't going to work out for that person in that line of work. I mean, there are lots of people like me now, with their precious little issues around gluten, carbs, peanuts, tree nuts, organic, low-sodium, lactose-free, and so on. To say nothing of religious issues, right? It's like they have appropriated my own cultural identification affectation. They're the ones I really scrutinize: the late-comers to what I should have trademarked as a distinct marketable personality trait, which some might say hovers nearer to a disorder. But I digress.

When we're at a restaurant, I never consider looking around and thinking, "These lazy bums would be mooching around out back on their Blackberries or fancy-shmancy Apple flip-phones with their Facebook and AOL if it wasn't for me being here with a fat juicy tip to keep them lazy damned kids hopping my order out to my table. And don't forget my AARP discount!"

The only thing really like that I've ever heard was Steve Buscemi saying, "Learn to type."

Maybe having cleaned people's homes (and once or twice bathrooms in front of them), I look at work and labor as dignified. There are two types of people in the world: Some people are Wall Street bankers; some are people who actually do something for their pay. But, again, I see that I have digressed.

elktownship pennsylvania said...

So, damn, doesn't that make me, a non-GOP voting observer to their lunacy, feel pretty good. I knew there was something wrong with them. Seriously seriously wrong.

It's the deranged way they see their entitlement as a result of their being blessed with more money than the rest of us. It's always been a little hard for me to get my head around what was making them do and say such wildly hostile rhetoric.

Prior to this, I had figured it was a case of the baby boomers at it again, but this time like in a bio-genetic sense. That they are, speaking plainly, defective human beings. Like my own old flip-phone, which doesn't work right anymore and should be thrown out but is too toxic to dispose in a landfill. They went bad, like fruit goes bad. Except this time it was like plastic fruit going bad because they are such pigs. Not like metaphoric swine, but like pigs who've bathed in PCBs or salmon that swims in too much mercury. It just isn't right any longer. Who knows what did it and why it took three or four decades to show itself. Something in the water. Too much lead ingestion as children. Carbon Monoxide poisoning as kids. What are you rebelling against? What have you got. Take your pick. The boomers, which is the demo we're essentially talking about, have always been the US's biggest joke generation.

It's ironic that their parents, the greatest generation (which, by the way, actually fought and won against an existential threat, fascism) probably poisoned them to such pathology.

But this is better.

I knew there was something wrong with about 80 of these right-wing-nut congress-critters. I was always like, "Hey, the John Birch Society is coming back into vogue among the deranged ex-hippies." I mean, who could argue with me? Want more evidence? Look at Nugent. Prime example of a kook veering inexorably to the right.

I don't believe in single causalities. So let's say it was bad blood intersected with some sort of environmental poisoning. Bad ideologies from the past meet some sort of "Resident Evil"-like toxicosis.

Nugent not enough for you? Same thing for the guy who played Trapper John. You know, what's his name?

I knew something really wrong was motivating the people who applaud their cruelty and arrogance and boorishness. I just couldn't put my finger on it. Now I can see what motivates part of their entitled sense of moral outrage.

Gracias, Amai!

Ten Bears said...

Mighty fine job, White Hat, of obfuscating a Toilet Paper affiliation(?). The folks that visit here can read, and cognitively reason, a trait I have yet to see in the TP regardless their social or economic status. They are across the board, "Christian" or no, blind drunk on the Ambien, Prozac, Viagra and crotch-shots on Fox/CNN Kool-Aid regardless the couch they're sprawled across drowling Pavlovianly is a thousand dollar Ethan Allen or the back seat out of a nineteen sixty-nine Chevy Suburban.

The only thing I'm waiting on is the revolution.

You're either us, or against us.

My compliments both aimai and commentors for the most thoroughly enjoying post of my day.

No fear.

White Hat said...

Gosh, TB, I despise the TP. I want a government. A good one.

I guess I didn't make my point very well. More simply, it's this: GOP operatives and the Tea Party are not the same people. They're different people working for different objectives.

The two groups have been mostly aligned so far, but watch Boehner pants his Tea Party Caucus next week. He's about to humiliate them. Afterward, the mainstream GOP will have one less election threat to worry about.

The shutdown can't end any other way. Watch and see.

aimai said...

White Hat,
Despite your insistence on this point the facts are against you. The TP likes to talk as if it is bipartisan but its not. Its just a branch or boutique of the GOP that prefers to style itself as "about" fiscal responsibility and prudence. The TP originated as a fully funded niche marketing tool of the Koch brothers and Dick Armey and although it may have devolved somewhat to the local level there is no signifcant Democratic or Green presence in the TP. There is no real black or hispanic component to the TP. All TP representatives in Congress are, of course, Republicans.

White Hat said...

Amai, forgive me for saying so, but you haven't refuted anything I've said. The TP's origins were indisputably Republican, and yes, they serve in Congress as "Republicans."

But do you think Christine O'Donnell is a Republican? Her ticket said so, but she ran as a TPer, a small-government anti-establishment candidate. Ditto Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and every other TPer who bumped off a mainstream Republican to get in Congress.

Do you think Lockheed donates Republican? Of course! Do you think they donate to the Tea Party? Uh, no. Actually, Lockheed laid off 3,000 workers today because of the TP Caucus in Congress.

I can certainly understand how it looks like there's no difference, but the difference is there, and it fully explains Boehner's Shutdown Show.

Next week Boehner blows away the Tea Partiers in Congress. Just as soon as their poll numbers drop to unrecoverable levels, he'll step in and end the shutdown. With one stroke, the GOP will eliminate electoral threats from the right fringe.

You didn't buy Boehner's helpless act, did you? C'mon now.

Ten Bears said...

Mayhap I lept to conclusion. I'm wondering if, like the atheist well schooled we have become conditioned by their story that it... I don't know, leaks out in how we responde to it. You look at something and you're just not sure if it is an incredibly well disguised turn of phrase, of set talking points.

I have struggled fruitlessly to find a way to turn it back into their faces, a boondoggle I think. G'ma was right about not stooping to their level. We can rage against the machine but it is, a machine.

Batocchio said...

Absolutely first-rate, aimai.

They really do think the world (well, their world) will crumble if the "right" people aren't punished. And they see the world in a highly distorted way (the 47% BS, etcetera).

I've been kicking around some similar ideas for a while now, and will definitely be citing this piece at some point in the future.

Examinator said...

A truly fascinating article. lots of food for thought.
Having lived in several different countries I have my reservations about the universality of the conclusions.
I can see that it is certainly a way to explain the US cultural 'class' mentality.
I would counter to suggest that it doesn't entirely hold true in *all* western countries.
Tips in say Australia, are more the Award for excellence in service then again the wages generally higher. e.g. I remember in one bar in the southern US states the girls (?) were working for less than minimum (jobs were scarce) worked long shifts and in effect relied on tips to survive. Granted the booze and the food was cheap by comparison (clearly the business model). The owner encouraged the almost exclusively wait staff to be friendlier (flirty). THEY argued that if the employee was good enough they'd make more than minimum and if not their orders wouldn't be up to expectation (quota) and they'd get fired........... next. Ask yourself in your model what is 'Hooters' type *really * selling? What is their Unique Selling Proposition (?)
IMHO This was unconscionable (sexual) exploitation (I persuaded my eldest daughter from working there while she was in college).

By comparison in Aust the minimum wait staff wage is almost 2+ times the US minimum and over 8 hrs means a loading.
(The major exceptions to this rule are...wait for it.... the US dominated sector of Junk food where under age employees are the norm.), ( PS tips are virtually unheard of there [why?] except for delivery where the relationship is belly to belly)

Generally Tips are smaller if at all and generally for better better than average performance. In many cases there is a tip jar and at the end of the shift the tips are divided amongst all front and rear staff.

The key discernible differences here is the *expectation* to give and receive tips. In the bigger (the toxic arches) the relationship is with a faceless entity not a personal (number XXXXX $$$ not a person) experience.

I would argue that the problem with the US model and your conclusions is that Management are abrogating their responsibility to properly train /manage/motivate *their* staff to the clients. In fact the silent suffers resent having one on one confrontations with wait staff. I consider it the general's failure in a battle not the poor PFC. Kicking an arse is in it's self a failure. The key is to teach the employee clearly what their job is and its expectations. I would argue I go to a restaurant to eat what I can't do myself and/or to BE pampered.
If I don't get the one that matters at the time, I don't go back which case the owner and the other staff lose too not just the wait staff member.
In my pet shops I had a sign ….CUSTOMERS if you're not happy with us tell ME …. If you are happy tell everyone....PLEASE.

Examinator said...

As a sort of insider executive, to manufacturing the notion of "you get what you pay for" is well not as relevant as it was.
Many top 'designer' glasses are made in the same factory with the same material as the 'cheapies.' i.e. my dumb and dumber Tee (pictures of Bush 1 and 2 you would be amazed the agreement it still gets around the world) has lasted longer than the real Designer ones (my daughter bought for me) despite their lessor wear/ and therefore washing.)

My point is that while there are some interesting points and more than a little truth in your excellent argument I wonder if there isn't something cultural and more *fundamental * (as yet not fully understood.. due to the complexity of combinations) in evidence here.

How do you explain the non heirarchal structured communities (cultures) of which there are/were quite a few.

I do agree with the notion that the southerners/ Westerners/ religious extremists are grieving their loss of importance this has embedded feelings of impotence (threatened).
I would suggest the aforementioned feeling are tending to manifest themselves in not so distant emotional outcomes as the black Americans.
But while I accept its uncomfortable as a white American to accept the facts but despite the glorious words The US was established on *differences * and exploitation . The same can be said for most colonial based nations.
And again the root cause is more fundamental

Anyway an extremely interesting and worth reading.

aimai said...

White Hat, you continue to be extremely confused about the words you are using. Boehner will, of course, in the end (probably) be forced to do the clean CR and the Debt Ceiling Vote but this does not mean that there is some kind of bright line between "the republicans" and "the tea party." Far, far, from it. By the way your point about corporations not supporting the Tea Party and its reps is, of course, also wrong. The club with which the tea party threatened the rest of the Senate and the House, the Conservative PAC that Ted Cruz controls, was blogged about on this site. Both Exxon and Credit Suisse are contributors. The largest contributors are all businesses and corporations, not individuals.

This is because there are many, many, kinds of corporate interests in this country and although the current Tea Party fixation on the credit limit and the budget may be somewhat harmful to banking and weapons industries that is only because their tools have run wild and can't be controlled, not because they did not know that the Tea Party was going to try to use whatever leverage they had to defund Obamacare. If you knew anything about the issue you would know, from reading Weigel and Costa, that the tea party has been running a well funded campaign to defund obamacare and thus, in effect, bust the budget and raise medical costs, all summer. This was not under the radar for the relevant corporate interests.

Way2fargone said...

I am an Australian. Here in Australia we do not tip. It is not part of our culture. We expect employees to be paid livable wages and to provide good service as part of their job. There is sometimes a tipping jar for change and sometimes people will say, 'Keep the change' from a cash transaction, but no tip is added to the bill. If a tip is given, it is an act of generosity. Waitstaff do not expect it and are therefore not punished not receiving a tip. Waitstaff are paid generous overtime wages for working on a weekend and at night. (Although our conservative gov;t is trying to get rid of this, as employers hate it.)

We have to remember to tip when we travel.

aimai said...

Correct, Way2fargone--the tipping posts I referenced were specifically about US tipping behavior which very much relates to overall (and regional) ideas about service jobs and about servitude.

Australia is a really special case of cultural development given its settlement/colonial history. Although it, like the US, is a cultural spin off of the UK it is really quite different from the "four folkways" identified in Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer.

The peculiar constellation of incoherent beliefs about waiting tables and tipping that are described in the Porter essays are also not to be found in Europe, with its very different history of waiting/serving.

White Hat said...

"...only because their tools have run wild and can't be controlled..."

My point exactly. The history and origins of the TP are not relevant at this time. The only relevant issue is this: Today the TP is causing problems for the mainstream GOP.

In the "Summer of Crazy," funding random noisemakers seemed like a good idea to the GOP. Now the TP is creating expensive primary challenges nationwide, even though most of their original funding has dried up.

Mitch McConnell himself is going to be forced to spend half his campaign cash merely for the opportunity to face a Democrat in his upcoming election.

Mainstream Republicans have been floating anti-TP messages for a year now. Karl Rove is at outright war with them - and despite his abject failure in the last presidential election he's still a kingmaker with personal control over hundreds of millions in cash.

Even Grover Norquist, one of the leading voices cited by the Tea Party, disowned them this week. There are two sides to the party, and he's positioning himself onto the winning side.

Notice what happened to Ted Cruz this week. Count the number of GOP good ol' boys who have publicly come out against him, and have criticized the "crazies in the House."

So, Aimai, even if you can't perceive a difference between the GOP and the TP, inside the GOP they absolutely do perceive a difference. And it's worth paying attention to because it explains what's going on right this minute in Washington.

The shutdown was planned and implemented by mainstream Republicans, to ruin the TP. Boehner intentionally pushed his TP Caucus to the forefront, knowing full well that they would be ruined by public opinion. He's solving his party's Tea Party problem.

Or maybe you think Boehner is a stupid helpless wimp. Yeah, right, that's how your fellow sharks know you're the one to be Speaker of the House, fersure.

aimai said...

Boehner was just this incompetent prior to the rise of the Tea Party and has always acted in just this way--the Democrats have had to save his bacon several times already. He and his Republican cohort are together being branded as failures--what is happening publicly is that they are simultaneously trying to slough this off on the Tea Party and failing to do so. You might try to imagine that this is 11th dimensional chess on Boehner's part, but its not. The shut down is a massive failure of his leadership and is a hugely expensive way of defenestrating a Tea Party which, if you are right, was never anything to worry about at all.

Unknown said...

"...your job as a Republican is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line."

Yikes, that's chilling stuff, although true. Psychologist Alice Miller, in "For Your Own Good," talks about this very thing as the basis of the authoritarian society. You get the crap kicked out of you as a child and are taught to submit to authority no matter how absurd its demands. But you don't rebel because you can vent your anger on the next lower rung. A society so structured is capable of monstrous deeds.

White Hat said...

"Boehner was just this incompetent prior to the rise of the Tea Party..."

Huh? Despite being the minority party, Boehner and the GOP have managed to preserve the elite's tax breaks, force cuts in safety net programs, indefinitely delay effective regulation of financial services, firmly emplace the sequester cuts, prevent action on climate change, prevent gun control despite nationwide support for it - and the list goes on and on. On balance Boehner's team has been far more effective against Obama than Minority Leader Pelosi ever was against Bush. Totally disagree with Boehner's cruel, mindless, greedy agenda, of course, but can't say he's been ineffective at carrying it off. Far from it.

I wonder what could possibly make you believe in his clown act? Ignore the sleepy look, the tears and the stupid words. Check his results. This is a hardheaded, ruthless - and extremely competent - politician.

"The shut down is... a hugely expensive way of defenestrating a Tea Party..."

Pricy for the country, but not the GOP. Exposing the TP as foolish in this way costs the GOP zero campaign dollars, and will save them millions in future campaigns.

"...11th dimensional chess..."

I never said Boehner's shutdown game was a fancy plan. It's not complicated at all. Manipulate public opinion, get what you want. That's business as usual, not some cosmically complicated new thing.

Note also that there have been many indications that the GOP's shutdown plans have been in the works for a solid year, and the current congressional calendar provided the perfect opportunity for it. The GOP has had plenty of time to stage (or prevent, if they had chosen to) this simple maneuver.

Soooo... assuming Boehner isn't as stupid as he looks (and he isn't), he intentionally created our current national crisis. So he must have had a reason to do so. He knows it's too late to stop Obamacare, he's said so, publicly, many times. So no, that's not what this hardheaded, realistic man is trying to accomplish. So what is it, Aimai? Did Boehner suddenly become a wimp? Did he suddenly become unrealistic about politics?

When Boehner's shutdown has achieved its purpose, Boehner will end it. He's free to drop his so-called "Hastert Rule" at any time. I'm guessing he submits a clean CR on October 15.

In general, Aimai, it is a mistake to underestimate your opposition. You're doing that, based solely on the nearsightedness and stupidity of the bad guys' agenda. But while the GOP's agenda is stupid, it's dumb for us to assume its agents are. They're not. Check the record.

Dark Avenger said...

I once talked to a Chinese restaurant owner who had to educated his FOB employees about how to serve the patrons, since in China the waiter is only there to get the food to you as fast as possible. Also, if they're from the Mainland where tipping is frowned upon by the government, they're not used to the idea of being tipped in the first place.

Chinese don't have to be fawned over by wait staff, that's what families are for.

aimai said...

Jewish Waiters, too, famously, were pretty efficient and rude. Different classes and ethnic communities definitely have different ideas about food in public places and service..

To get to Edward Brown's point upthread I couldn't agree more. I think you could do a lot with a Bob Altemeyer style study of tipping behavior or in merging The Authoritarians (his book) with Alice Miller's insights.

Examinator said...

Clearly you have taken exception to me. For that I'm sorry.

Notwithstanding, I can assure you that Australia isn't the only country where tipping isn't an expectation ("Special case") or as I said part of the Business model.

However, my concern was also that when I said universality I meant that the link between wait staff and views towards public servants is some what tenuous and very inconsistent even in the States.
Key factors are:
WHO is defined as Public SERVANT;
The circumstances of the critic (e.g their poverty, education, general understanding of how services are delivered;
Again I make the point that it tends to be culturally influenced.

I would suggest it has a lot to do with expectation/ self image(sense of vulnerability in or of that image). In the US money /image is equated with power and strength of that image.
e.g. I had strong resistance against from peers in that I refused the class of corporate vehicle that my level permitted. I.e. I refused the BMW/Mercedes entitlement for a Ford Multi seat Van. (My choice was viewed as a threat to *their* status and options.).

BTW there is a demographic in Australia that looks down on federal workers(public servants). Like in the US they tend to be conservative, lower income and those who's perspectives are egocentric.

Ergo the reasons for the hostilities is more fundamentally selfish and emotionally based. Some one else to blame comes to mind.

Diana said...

This was a great article! Awesome!

And it explains two things I've wondered about ... one is why the private clubs in NYC forbid tipping (instead members are asked to contribute one big extra payment towards the end of the year) and why I've been instructed by friends who have been waiters always to tip 20% regardless (which I do).

Re White Hat: I sincerely hope what you are saying is true. I wait for confirmation of what you predict here.

sharon said...

This really is a load of bunk. I give bigger tips for better service or if my party was particularly difficult to handle. I only leave marginal tips if the service was particularly bad. It's not about "punishing" anyone. It's about satisfaction with what one has *bought*. Or do you not consider yourself a consumer when you go to a restaurant?

As for the stuff about Republicans wanting to punish federal workers for not being punished enough (or something), as a Republican, I have to say that the liberal dissection of Republican motivations as always malevolent is, in a word, hooey. If one thinks government should be smaller because it will then be less intrusive in individual lives, it doesn't mean a person is interested in "punishing" federal workers. It means that they are performing functions that shouldn't be done by the government.

And I wouldn't be too sure about that "Boehner's going to pass a clean CR" stuff.

aimai said...

Dear Sharon,
If you get a chance, click the link and read the entire thread about tipping. The writer, the owner of two restaurants one in which tipping is necessary and one in which tipping is not allowed and replaced by a service charge, gives a very detailed analysis of why he believes that Americans (nice and not nice, generous and punisher) think they "need" to be able to tip and also why they are mistaken. He explicitly says that lots of people become very upset--like you do--when the topic even comes up and to a man/woman insist that they are "very good tippers" and that they need to be able to tip in order to express their satisfaction. This is just what you do--you seem to feel you "need" to be able to express your satisfaction with what you have bought because you are a "consumer." Well, do you feel the need to tip in other situations where you are a consumer? If not, why not? At any rate I urge you to read the original essays on tipping. They are eye opening.

As for the rest: suit yourself. The Republicans don't actually want "smaller and less intrusive government" because they consistently vote for a larger military weapons the army doesn't even want, boondoggles like crop subsidies, and of course anti gay and anti abortion laws which require massive government intrusions into people's bodies and lives. Can't have laws against sodomy and abortion without being right in people's bedrooms.

sharon said...

I don't get upset about tipping. That's your interpretation of my explanation of my tipping habits. Do I express satisfaction or dissatisfaction in other transactions? Of course I do. But you don't want to accept that someone would see tipping in a non-punishing light.

As for your interpretation of the Republican's desire for smaller government, you mix a whole lot of things together to come to the conclusion that Republicans are hypocrites when they claim to want smaller government but vote for certain expenditures and various social restrictions. The defense of the country is something required by the Constitution. We can argue about the proper size of that defense and there are, believe me, plenty of Republicans who believe the DoD is too big and needs to be pared down (at least until the next conflict requires us to ramp back up). And there are plenty, like me, who think crop subsidies should end, including the ridiculous ethanol subsidy. These are market-distorting regulations that create perverse incentives.

As for this: "gay and anti abortion laws which require massive government intrusions into people's bodies and lives," wow, that's a big mess of weird assumptions. So, it's not intrusive to require people to buy health insurance but it is intrusive to ensure that their abortions are done in medically safe facilities? We can tell bakers and florists they must accommodate gay weddings regardless of their First Amendment rights, but it's not intrusive to do so? Or are you just saying that a Republican who believes in traditional marriage ipso facto cannot be for smaller government?

aimai said...

Look, I'm not arguing with you. I don't waste my time talking to table furniture. You prove my points every time you post. Yes--it is more intrusive to demand that a pregnant woman suffer the painful indignity of a transvaginal ultrasound in order to demonstrate to her that she has a fetus inside of her than to offer everyone in the country a chance to purchase health insurance. No: such laws have nothing to do with safe abortion procedures. That is a transparent lie. Also: laws against gay people such as laws against "sodomy" routinely involved the police investigating people's private behavior in their bedrooms until they were found unconstitutional. The Republican running for governor right now in Virginia tried to re-instate such laws and make oral sex illegal. Can you explain to me how such a law would work without intruding into people's private lives?

You either don't know what your own party is doing, or you don't care to know. I have nothing but contempt for people like you and you aren't changing my mind.

Unknown said...

Wonderful piece aimai. Your talk of "punishers" made me think of this film about the Indian caste system, which I have watched several times lately. I highly recommend this film to anyone. I can't stop thinking about it.

I fought the lawn. And the lawn won. said...

the liberal dissection of Republican motivations as always malevolent is, in a word, hooey

Indeed! Iis just sheer coincidence that racists, homophobes, gun nuts, abortion fetishists, war lovers, evolution deniers, global warming deniers, fluoridation opponents, etc etc tend to be Republicans.

Unknown said...

Your description of the Republican attitude toward waiters and government is probably also applicable to teachers, especially lower-paid teachers.

Unknown said...

Great essay, and it can also be applied to antipathy to unions. Workers, in cooperating to increase their leverage, are violating that social hierarchy.

Ralph said...

A painfully good post. Thanks.

Part of why it's painful, aside from the whole these-shriveled-souls-are-trying-to-wreck-the-nation thing, is that I eat out a great deal, and I've never liked tipping. I dislike the master-and-servant vibe; I have no interest in having or being a servant. I'd much rather the waiters were paid like the other staff, and at a living wage, please. So when I read, "[T]hey actively enjoyed imagining using the threat of the withheld tip to punish bad service - they enjoyed this imagined power so much that people became frantic and angry when they couldn't tip," it's difficult to express how alien and repulsive I find it. Besides the hideousness of imagining you're entitled to a servant, the notion that waiters are spoiling for a chance to abuse you, their malevolence held in check only by the threat of no tip, strikes me as nearly clinical paranoia. I've eaten out thousands of times, and on only a handful of occasions has the service been bad enough that I've even so much as considered complaining to a manager. Then again, I guess that kind of paranoia goes well with the kind of paranoia that construes Barack Obama, a timid centrist, as the reincarnation of Vladimir Lenin or some such figure.

All this is horribly congruent with Corey Robin's analysis of conservatism: "[T]he priority of conservative political argument has been the maintenance of private regimes of power - even at the cost of the strength and integrity of the state." ( They fancy themselves Persons Of Quality, and the rest of us should shut up and do what we're told ("know their place" is how my appalling bigot of a mother used to put it). It's high time their daydreams of superiority got a very rude awakening.

Marcellina said...

As a former waitress at several restaurants as well as a lifelong restaurant patron, my own view of tips and power aligns with what you have written. I will go further, however, to say that the tip, for a man of a certain age, is used by him to demand not only good service but also the waitress' attention, in the form of laughing at his jokes and vaguely flirting back at him. Of course, this too is power. If she fails to do this, she loses that tip for being unfriendly, when really what she's doing is not playing along with the little charade of "you are the most charming and handsome man I've served today! If only you were single!"
My father, not the most self-aware person, would try this when visiting me in Europe and not understand why it wasn't working.

Unknown said...

The results of the last couple election cycle belies your belief that we can "do nothing" about the crass and repugnant do-nothing Republicans. Now that Miley Cyrus has posted her SNL video for use as a campaign video, the Republicans are going to be getting hammered HARD the next couple election cycles. Will they learn anything from it? Doubtful. They don't watch SNL. Enjoy.

aimai said...

I'd like to second your point--not everyone sees tipping as a chance to punish people, not everyone sees the dining table as a place to one up or control people. In fact the essays on tipping make that very clear--there are a lot of people who worry about tipping or who don't enjoy it or (in addition) enjoy feeling like they are rewarding excellent service and who tip well or who eat in restaurants where they know (or believe) that the 20 percent they tip puts the WAiter in a well remunerated class.

What I found fascinating is the number of people Porter describes, and I have encountered since writing this, who become incredibly defensive about tips and their own tipping practice, as soon as it comes up. They become, as he put it, agitated in defense of the practice event though no one is criticizing them, personally. There has to be something there for this practice, so seemingly peripheral, to create such strong emotions.

Never Ben Better said...

"There has to be something there for this practice, so seemingly peripheral, to create such strong emotions."

And what immediately leapt to mind is the fury with which the right reacts to having bigotry even hinted at, let alone plainly called out.

Anonymous said...

I would add another to your list of MOTU control tools: the corporate employee rating practice widely known as "the GE Model." In it, groups of employees are pitted against each other and the bottom 10% are fired. This was pointed out by many that this was the single practice that destroyed innovation and collaboration at Microsoft (google (heh) steve ballmer and vanity fair), but when this was widely identified as a key problem at Microsoft in the last two years, Ballmer literally doubled down on this, instituting a bottom 20% firing pool. Why? These are, by revenue per employee, the most valuable engineers in the world. So the MOTUs must have some way to control them, to keep them insecure and manipulable. And of course, Ballmer is a diehard Republican.

Lucy Montrose said...

I wonder how much of this sublimated-master-and-servant relationship is encouraged by our whole business model. The American model of customer service--aggressive friendliness and "the customer is always right"-- probably requires more emotional labor than service in every other part of the world. I have long wondered to what extent our customer service philosophy causes conservatism, a willingness to punish, of at the very least a greater acceptance of hierarchy and inequality.

@Marcellina, what you said made me think of "breastaurants", where the sexual attractiveness of the waitstaff is the main draw. Probably the most unequal and emotional-labor intensive jobs in the restaurant industry. And I'm not the least bit surprised, almost all of them started in the South; and remain the most popular there. I call breastaurants "Rick Perry style job creation" because while technically they are quite lucrative and abundant jobs, they are off-limits to 95% off the population.

aimai said...

I posted this on a related thread at balloon juice but it bears repeating here. My father went into business from academia late in life and discovered that he couldn't understand what was going on around him without reference to an entire, gendered, world of competition and agression that he hadn't been prepared for. So he read "Games Mother Never Taught Me" which was written for women going into business. Among other things he learned--though I think this was from the businessmen who he worked with--businesses are very focused on controlling and inducing employees to work without actually rewarding them with real autonomy or pay. So a tremendous--TREMENDOUS amount of thought goes into creating status perks and seeming hierarchies of rewards that are cheap but which give each employee the feeling that the people below them, at least, are not enjoying them. A chair with arms vs. one without. A chair that has a color choice vs. straight black. A window vs. a cubicle. A key to the executive washroom. All of these are in lieu of pay and quite a bit cheaper, but are thought to have a powerful effect on the employee.

Dolley said...

Oh Please. You could also say that liberal want to punish the hard working by taking their "-ll-gotten gain" (and all gains are ill-gotten unless received via a third party like government) and giving it to the unwilling, unable or unlucky. Take the ACA - now NOONE is goign to have affordable helatcare because a small portion did not. Instead of helping just those who did not have it, we had to f#ck over everyone. Who is really the "punishers"?

aimai said...


In my post I'm trying to answer the question "why does Stuart Varney say what he says about Federal Workers." What is your explanation? Why does he want to "punish" people who are working for the entire country?

As for the ACA: since you don't understand how it works, your criticisms are not particularly useful. It was designed to help everyone in the country (44 million) who were either too poor to afford it (by expanding medicaid) or who had a pre-existing condition which enabled insurance companies to refuse to sell to them (a large percentage), or whose employers did not offer it (a large percentage and growing) or who were self employed and could not get into a group policy (another large incentive.)

The ACA is a midpoint, already a compromise, between a comprehensive public plan such as they have in Canada and other developed nations and an unregulated private plan in which many people simply can't buy in. It preserves private insurance companies but forces them to compete for clients and keep prices low. If you already have health insurance at the pleasure of your employer you can keep that, but if your employer decides to fuck you over and dump you (which they can do under the current system) you can now buy into the marketplaces.
This is completely unexceptionable. We've had it in MAssachuesetts for 7 years and have a 98 percent insurance rate, rates have not gone up, and everyone gets in to see a primary care physician and is protected against catastrophic health debacles. Clear your mind of ridiculous fear mongering propaganda and just take a look at MA situation. You will find that the system works pretty damned well and people are really satisfied with it.

I fought the lawn. And the lawn won. said...

Oh Please. You could also say that liberal want to punish the hard working by taking their "-ll-gotten gain" (and all gains are ill-gotten unless received via a third party like government) and giving it to the unwilling, unable or unlucky.

Yup, Dolley, that's exactly what liberal want.

And just wait until Obama's negro army show up at your house to take away your guns and force you to have a gay abortion!

I fought the lawn. And the lawn won. said...

Hey, Dolley, Michelle Bachmann is even crazier than you!

“President Obama waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition. Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda...This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

Unknown said...

As an American who spends a great deal of time in Australia. When I first arrived it was a big surprise to discover that nobody tips here. It's like a national version of Porter's experiment, where the social norm has inculcated a sense of egalitarian fairness between customer and staff. This is true not just in restaurants, but taxicabs and just about every other customer-staff interaction. I'd guess this goes back to the founding of Australia, where the land had been originally set up as a continent wide prison for the banished of England.

And yet, like in Great Britain, social class is still explicit. One sees this in differences of accent, dress, and a certain condescension among the upper class to all who live beneath them. But they don't publicaly punish. They might privately express disdain for one another but the thought of making a public scene of it is socially unacceptable.

And there are certainly social conservatives here who expound views similar to Republicans in the United States. There were overtly sexist attacks against former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The current Liberal Party (this is the conservative neoliberal party in opposition to Labor) expresses overt anti-science disbelief in global warming and evolution, mirroring social conservatives in the US. And the focus on procedural tactics to force legislative wins here is also common among conservatives.

Based on this I think one could fairly say that 'punishment' may not be common to conservative values cross culturally, but perhaps limited to the United States (if your thesis holds true.

rawl747 said...

Interesting take on the Republican point of view that I had not considered before. I like the tie-in to the whole tipping debate. I must say however that the more basic and to me absurd point of view of the folks leading the charge from that quarter seems to be a fundamental rejection of the need for or value in ANY federal government here is the US.

rawl747 said...

Reminds me of the old Bill Cosby comedy sketch from the 1960's "Why is there air"? to which Cosby replies "To fill basketballs, and footballs, and volleyballs..." A humorously absurd answer to what is supposed to be an (on the face of it silly) existential question purely for debate somewhat typical of that era. Only now we have so called Tea Party folks (a complete misrepresented ripoff of that name BTW) who seem to be asking "Why is there government" or at least federal government and they aren't posing this as an existential question for us to ponder and debate philosophically either.

rawl747 said...

It seems pretty clear that their position is that there is no value and therefore no need for the federal government other than perhaps to fund and operate a military. And even then, I am just waiting for one of them to float the concept of a totally contractor based military with free market principles being the best mechanism to insure the most qualified contractors get the contracts.

Of course these same guys want us to elect them to Congress to run this same federal government that they so despise... or is it run it into the ground. I guess once they are finished destroying what has taken over 200 years to create, they can retire on their Congressional Pensions like all the rest. Oops, wait a minute, perhaps they haven't thought this completely through.

Alas, I'm afraid that our federal government does still fill a few real needs. Maybe we should keep it going a little while longer.

rawl747 said...

The real discussion should be about how to improve the quality of our government not how to destroy it by electing obstructionists to Congress whose stated goals are to thwart any and all goals, programs, and laws put forth by the opposition party's duly elected President. Whose stated goal in 2008 was to do whatever it took to prevent his re-election in 2012. And, now to hold the country ransom in an effort to further sabotage the federal government and stymie the President regardless of the damage to the economy of the US or the rest of the world in the process.

The original Tea Parties (yes there was more than the famous one in Boston) were in protest about TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION (I put that in caps because so many seem to have forgotten it). They were NOT against government in general or a strong federal government versus state's rights or against government regulations or any of the other rants that have been substituted for the original reason (see the CAPS above) for protest by the current so called Tea Party folks.

rawl747 said...

In fact the single greatest impediment to fair representation in Congress in recent tines has been the extreme degree of gerrymandering of Congressional districts favoring incumbent Republicans by Republican controlled state houses. This the result of a concerted and well coordinated attack on the freedom of choice in Congressional elections by the "Tea Party" and other factions of the Republican establishment over the past 10 years that even conservative commentator George Will has commented upon. This is also the main reason why there is still a Republican majority in the House. Without this very effective gerrymandering strategy by Republicans effecting the last several elections, the House might very well be still in control of the Democrats. And interesting enough, most of the Congressional "red" states are the same ones that historically seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War (or the war for state's rights as some would have it). The modern day "Tea Party" faction of the Replican Party has more in common with the Confederacy that it does with any of the loosely organized tea party activists of the Revolutionary War era in both political philosophy and I'm afraid perhaps even goals.

Some of the same anthropological arguments used to explain the motivations and behaviors of tippers (and angry Republicans) might just apply equally well to the secessionists and landholders of the south during the Civil War.

Yes I've got it! The Tea Party should rename itself the New Secession Party or something like that. Not as sexy but a heck of a lot more accurate. I just wonder how long it would take them to form their own federal gov'ment once they seceded, LOL.

rawl747 said...

Always great to see you in print brother!

neroden@gmail said...

You know, at restaurants, I generally leave a fixed percentage tip computed down to the penny. If I get defective service, I don't leave any tip and I complain loudly. If I get truly exceptional service, I say so and I leave a tip (this doesn't happen often) -- even if it's the sort of business which does not normally allow tipping.

This is what I think of as the behavior of a rather martinet-like boss. It's definitely a hierarchical relationship, it's definitely a matter of reward and punishment, it's definitely a matter of throwing around my money, and yet... it's not what Porter is talking about.

Porter explains that there's a difference between sane complaints and, well, the crazy stuff....
"I began to notice that his hostility was not the frustration of a consumer who’d paid for a faulty product — we would occasionally encounter that kind of frustration, and this was different."

Yep, when I'm frustrated and want to punish the workers, it's that sort of frustration -- the frustration of paying for a faulty product.

Whatever was going on in the "punishers" Porter describes was something entirely different. I don't actually understand it, because *it's not rational*. It's a matter of punishing people *not* for failure to do their jobs, not for being unhelpful, but for... something else. Something they can't change or shouldn't change. Being the wrong sort of person? "Not knowing their place?" What?

I guess it's the difference between punishing people for *doing bad work* or *being jerks*, which I think many of us can sympathize with, and punishing people for being who they are, which I think most of us sane people can't sympathize with.

This connects to Stuart Varney's open craziness. Sure he wants to "punish" federal workers -- he wants to "punish" all of them! Even though he hasn't actually investigated what any of them do! He doesn't know what they do, he doesn't know how well they're doing it. He doesn't even know why he's complaining -- he can't name what services the government is failing to provide him, you will notice! But he wants to issue this blanket punishment of people who have nothing to do with his complaints, which aren't even coherent!

This is quite different from someone who is angry at the Minerals Management Service for requiring their forms to be typewritten (not computer-printed, not handwritten) on triplicate originals on legal-size paper. (This is a real example.) Wanting to punish the particular government employees who made the decision to require this... that has sense to it.

Stuart Varney is just complaining because he isn't being given some form of vague, ill-defined, unearned deference -- because he's being denied *autocratic* and *arbitrary* power. This is not sane.

neroden@gmail said...

"I posted this on a related thread at balloon juice but it bears repeating here. My father went into business from academia late in life and discovered that he couldn't understand what was going on around him without reference to an entire, gendered, world of competition and agression that he hadn't been prepared for. So he read "Games Mother Never Taught Me" which was written for women going into business. Among other things he learned--though I think this was from the businessmen who he worked with--businesses are very focused on controlling and inducing employees to work without actually rewarding them with real autonomy or pay. So a tremendous--TREMENDOUS amount of thought goes into creating status perks and seeming hierarchies of rewards that are cheap but which give each employee the feeling that the people below them, at least, are not enjoying them."

There's an important aspect to this which you may have missed. The businessmen hate, hate, HATE people who don't respond to this nonsense -- people who don't care about the stupid status perks and are all about autonomy, authority, and material goods. Even though such people (I'll call them "practical") are often the best workers.

Such practical people are called "not team players", and punished repeatedly for refusing to care about the status hierarchy bullshit, which eventually just makes them quit. (The practical people who have access to capital often then end up founding competing businesses and wiping the floor with the old status-game businesses, but that's another matter.)

The hierarchy stuff is *weird*.

neroden@gmail said...

"The Restaurant customer, and I'd argue many Americans, don't respect work or workers "

Maybe this is the key here?

You can respect someone and respect their work and still be furious and want to punish them when they screw up terribly, or simply fail.

That's not the sort of situation we're talking about here, though.

The *disrespect* which the "punishers" have for work and workers means that the "punishers" feel that they have the right to mete out *arbitrary* punishment for any crazy reason whatsoever.

And if you respect someone *or* respect their work, you can't do that. You can't be arbitrary or capricious towards them.

Stevie Z said...

The teatards are a natural evolution of the GOP going back to Anita Bryant and her little brand of bible-thumping homophobes who were pandered to by President Bonzo, who convinced people that the very government he headed was the cause of all their problems and that just like one of his cheese-dick westerns, he was there to protect the American Way from all the queers, darkies, and commies

Look at the votes in Congress. We keep hearing of this secret cabal of Republicans who gosh darn it want to vote to end this mess but refuse to be identified (with the exception of Pete King/NY) and when things come up to a vote, suddenly disappear.

To anyone with a brain, the end-game is clear. They want to push the punitive Ryan Budget through as a "compromise" and if they're able to kill off ObamaCare in the process, that's gravy on the mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak. The billion or so dollars spent by Adelson and the Koch Brothers went to fund this plot, which will cut their costs and increase their profits. They've fantasized for years of a castrated work force with no rights or leverage and a toothless EPA and the GOP/TP is delivering this.

Unknown said...

This piece really articulates a problem I have noticed in general with attitudes towards all government workers; from the federal level all the way to the county level. I used to work directly for a county government and I was always amazed at the vehemence directed at us by the taxpayers during public meetings. There was an overriding meme that I was a direct employee of every tax paying citizen in the county, and therefore subject the same sort of social contract that exists between an employee and employer. However, as you pointed out in this piece, the dynamic is not that simple and citizens who demanded that sort of accountability could be likened to the "punishers" from Porter's piece. Although,these punishers were only a small minority of citizens, they were the one's who consistently showed up to public meeting to vent their frustration.
After reflecting on your piece, I believe the reason for this frustration came directly from the same anxiety experienced by patrons who lose their right to tip. These citizens felt a lack of control over how their taxes were being spent, and they wanted to punish the workers by some kind of punitive means,and in my county's case, this means took the form of massive layoffs and pay freezes. In this way, the punishers were able to recoup some of their lost control and in way they could exert that same 'tipping force' seen in restaurants. Even though the individual tax payer most likely contributes only pennies a year towards salaries, the prevailing sentiment overwhelms any rational argument. In other words, if this punisher class could opt out of paying taxes completely, the system would exist just fine, the revenue they add to the local government is miniscule compared to the entire system. It is irrational to believe that as an individual you have any real leveraging power with the taxes that you contribute to the system. In the real world, the tax system only works when taken on a macro level; government workers are not employees of the tax payer anymore than Wal-mart employees are the employees of the customers.
The difference, and this is key, is that in a wal-mart the citizen can choose not to pay for services, whereas taxes are mandatory, and this lack of control is pivotal in creating this change in perception, but that is all it really is, a change in perception, there is no real correlation in a micro sense between your decision to pay taxes and the quality of services you receive and likewise with wal-mart.
Perhaps the best way to sum up my ideas is to say this message to the punishers:
-As an individual you and your 'hard-earned' money just don't matter as much as you would like to think. You are not that important. You don't matter. The system would get along just fine without you. You need to stop trying to exert control over people because you feel some sense of entitlement due to your race or socio-economic status. So shut-up and stop screwing with peoples lives because you feel left out.-

Ann Edwards said...

I suggest that Romney is the epitome of this type of "I demand Service!" attitude. Romney knows he will never get satisfactory service from The 47%.

Romney also 'loves to fire people'.

After I read this article tying the tipping and punishing concept into the political disaster that is today's Republican party -- and recalled Romney's famous quotes, I'd like to nominate him as poster child for this mental disorder.

Anonymous said...

To the author: I'm a liberal who thinks the GOP is wrong and messed up. However, your blog post contained a useful insight - but I think you missed it.

There are now behavioral economics and game theory studies that show that altruistic cooperation among participants breaks down unless the group has a way to punish "free-riders." This has been tested and measured over and over now. It isn't something that only SOME people (ie Republicans) feel - everyone feels it (but you are correct - the Republicans are reacting badly to the feeling).

So one way to handle this is to do as the restaurant owner did, and largely eliminate the "feedback mechanism" for customers to "complain" about service that failed to meet this or that expectation. The behavioral economics studies could have predicted the outcome of that change.

A better way to change the system is to facilitate TARGETED feedback. Imagine if diners at the restaurant could assign %'s of the flat "service-charge" to different service functions: server friendliness, timeliness, attentiveness; food quality; restaurant cleanliness, etc. Tell the customer that their feedback will be used to re-train deficient staff and even identify staff to replace or reward. You don't have to use the exact %'s the customer provides - its a ruse to give the customer the sense of being "heard" - but also a tool to get the feedback the business needs to know identify problems - but only in the aggregate, from the results of hundreds of "surveys."

If you did something like that, the research indicates more of the customers would be more happy. I think we need something similar in government - such as the ability for tax-payers to indicate their "complaint" about this or that tax expenditure. You could put it right on the 1040 form or setup a website to get taxpayer feedback, etc. In the aggregate, most of this feedback would probably be "noise" - with as many positive indicators as negative indicators for any particular agency. However, occasionally they would indicate a real dissatisfaction with some part of government. That feedback should be used to identify what the common complaint is and look for fixes. Usually the complaint - once the complainer knows they are being listened to - is not simply that "medicare is bad" but rather a dissatisfaction with certain details. And we could definitely improve all of our govt agencies. Accepting "customer feedback" really does make ALL customers feel more satisfied, and it isn't a bad idea to put to use in govt and tax-paying, either.

Unknown said...

The social psychology of tipping aside, I simply thought the Texas Congressman's behavior towards the park ranger was bizarre. She should be "ashamed" of herself? Why? Because she was doing her job? She had obviously been ordered by competent authority to close the site to visitors, period. She should have told the Congressman, "Here's Ken Salazar's phone number. Take it up with him. Meanwhile, I'm busy." And then walked away.

"You're not the boss of me," indeed. Sometimes these people gotta be schooled.

Anonymous said...

To Aimai:

Again, I am a liberal and am absolutely not the type of person "for whom money is the preferred medium." Aimai, really, you need to realize that even though your analysis really does apply to SOME people (greedy, wealthy people that really have learned to just enjoy seeing people leap for their scraps), the more general Republican mindset is simply being driven by effects that arise when ANYONE feels their opinion is not being heard - when there is no meaningful feedback mechanism.

Just compare what the Republicans are doing now and how they feel to, say, the race issues of the 50's. Back then, many people in minority groups wanted to "break the system" because they felt their vote barely mattered (if at all), they felt powerless to change the system, and they largely felt like no one would even listen to them. Others were willing to try to "change the system from within," rather than break it all down.

We still have a lot of problems, but you should be able to see the similar views. I'm not saying the GOP is 100% like minorities in the 50's - I'm just trying to show that the FEELING is the same - and show where it comes from.

Again, the GOP is 100% wrong to shut down the govt as they have. However, as liberals, we are capable of recognizing a systemic issue that is the crux of conservative concern - it is the entire basis of the Reaganite allegation that "govt," (not the private sector, "is the problem." Why do they think that? What is different about government as opposed to the private sector, to a conservative?


Conservative's like private enterprise because it is crystal clear to them that the feedback mechanism at least exists (though as liberals we know it is 50%-90% ineffective, depending on where you look and when).

Your post suffers from a kind of Utopian view of human behavior that imagines that (in the case of the restaurant) all the workers are doing their job 100% (equally) well - including the manager, in remediating issues. However, this is a utopia. No organization ANYWHERE is perfect - or will stay perfect. Continual improvement is always necessary. But presuming the manager always knows best where the improvement is needed is another utopian flaw (the myth of the righteous king - in micro). Also, "comment cards" and many rudimentary feedback mechanisms are ineffective because they are too granular - seen as taking too much time, only used to report extreme cases, or haphazardly "read" if at all.

The information age is solving the problem of effective feedback. "Money" (ie "the price signal") was, for a long time, "the best" anyone could come up with. But now we can do better - and there is no reason at all why we shouldn't encourage better feedback in government. No, just like you will never make the perfect pasta that everyone in the world loves, there is no "perfect" way to operate govt (or businesses). However, by at least recognizing that the fundamental issue, we can cut the legs out from under the last bastion of Republican voter support.

We can make our government programs more effective. We can reward good teachers - and teach (or encourage) moderate teachers to become good teachers. But everyone has had a bad teacher - or server - or govt clerk. Some people simply need to be "booted out" of a job - or at least suffer a lower pay - to "PUSH" them to either "elevate their game" or find a profession where they feel motivated to excel. This is what it means to "punish free-riders." It is a necessary feature of human communities - it is the basis of much of our "criminal justice" system (which also needs to be improved).

Anonymous said...

...continued from previous comment...

The fundamental issue in all of these systems is how effective is the feedback mechanism - how effective to we punish free-riders - and how effective does the community let other members KNOW that free-riders are being punished when they do what they do: take advantage of the good-will of others, taking more than they can give back to the community?

As a society we have been unclear on this concept and far too many of our institutions were designed either on the presumption that "most people are 'good' - ie NOT prone to free-riding," or, at the polar opposite, "most people are 'bad' - prone to free-riding - unless poked and prodded endlessly, with a dollar bill held in front of their nose every step."

Both of those views are wrong. The truth is that most people will not free-ride *IF* they feel their feedback is accepted, if free-riders are punished, and if they feel engaged in their work within the community (appreciated).

It is up to educated liberals to reshape our institutions to reflect this new understanding, not continue to call back to the old utopian liberalism that is not self-aware - incapable of understanding how or why even stridently liberal leaders have succumbed to corruption - both monetary and non-monetary. It isn't a "type of person" issue. It is a human issue. We're all this way - but some of us feel more or less "heard," "empowered," "appreciated," and "engaged" than others from moment to moment across all the many acivities and sub-communities we find ourselves within.

This is the "change [I] believe in," and its the change I hoped we were going to get with the Obama presidency. This is the "change" that rises above partisanship. We (members of each party) don't actually disagree that much, as Obama used to say in every speech. No one wants the elderly to suffer - not even Republican, anti-Medicare "punishers." But those Republicans are afraid that if the portion of the elderly that "failed" to provide for their old-age are not forced to suffer, it will encourage younger people to "slack-off" - "free-ride." Yes, this logic is deeply flawed, especially in our modern, unequal, unfair, ruled-by-randomness economy. However, they do have a point. It isn't "fair" to treat two people the same when one toiled for years while another didn't - or toiled to a significantly less degree. Money is one way this inequity is resolved (imperfectly). But liberals know that the "money system" doesn't actually work anywhere near as well as Republicans believe.

Great. But at least we have a foundation of agreement. We can find ways to revise Medicare and other programs that accommodate this concept of fairness BETTER (not perfectly - but BETTER) - and we can keep refining it, too. And to do that, we need better feedback.

I AM NOT SAYING WE SHOULD SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT until we figure out an agreement. Also, let's be honest - the Republicans aren't even trying to have a reasonable debate - they are not trying to fix Medicare or Obamacare - they are trying to get re-elected.

But let's at least analyze the situation accurately - show the Republican VOTERS that, once again, liberals are the smarter ones.

To anyone that wants to learn more, here's sources that are highly relevant to these topics that I personally feel every liberal should read (I think all of these books were written by liberals, so don't turn your nose up). Learn! And let's hope for a day when we have history classes that teach about the bizarre positions of the "old republican party":

Ariely - Predictably Irrational; The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Graeber - Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Pinker - The Better Angels; Blank Slate; How The Mind Works
Mlodinow - The Drunkards Walk
Kahneman - Thinking Fast and Slow

Oscar A said...


October 14, 2013, 11:29 am 104 Comments
Do You Know Who I Am?

There is a link in this post to an old Tom Wolff that makes this point in a very nice way.

Thank you for reenforcing the point.

Mike Ballard said...

Sounds like the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments being repeated to me. Which is all good because they were just repeating the research already done by Eric Fromm back during the Weimar Republic era.

Here's Fromm describing the dominance and submission dynamic back in the 50s:

What do we mean by “authoritarian personality”? We usually see a clear difference between the individual who wants to rule, control, or restrain others and the individual who tends to submit, obey, or to be humiliated. To use a somewhat friendlier term, we might talk of the leader and his followers. As natural as the difference between the ruling and the ruled might — in many ways — be, we also have to admit that these two types, or as we can also say, these two forms of authoritarian personality are actually tightly bound together.