Thursday, September 24, 2009

Confusopoly


Scott Adams, who draws the cartoon Dilbert, said on his blog:
"A confusopoly - a term I concocted several years ago - is any industry that intentionally makes its products and services too complicated for comparison shopping. The best examples of confusopolies are cell phone carriers and insurance companies. And health insurance companies might be the most confusing confusopoly of all. I suspect that no individual has the knowledge, time, and information necessary to effectively compare two health insurance plans. And in that environment the free market doesn't operate efficiently."

This got me thinking. I posit that "having a job" is the biggest confusopoly of all! You rarely get a contract stating exact duties in detail. Simple rules or algorithms fail: "Do what you are told" won't really stand up for very long - there are illegal orders, sexual improprieties, etc. Likewise, what it takes to be fired is often not explained very well, either. Often, employers attempt to be mind-readers, and will fire an employee for what they think the employee is thinking! And even more astounding, fired for realizing the job is a confusopoly!

One of the things lost with declining Union membership is a certain attitude antithetical to confusopoly. I just now realized this. Old-time Union guys must know quite well how deliberate confusopoly has been employed to screw over the workers.

I had a job as private construction inspector very similar to this! First I noticed that, we had no clear mission statement, unlike some jobs I had had, and contrary to the recent faddishness of the very concept of "mission statements." We were told our job was two contradictory things: "Your job is to ensure that the men doing this work (not my employees) do it right" and "your job is to simply observe and report." So I would report the men had not done the work right. My bosses got upset: "your job is to make them do it right!" "How?" I responded. "I can't shoot them and I can't fire them because they don't work for me." (I won't even get into the fact that they could often not speak my language.)

My job was a deliberate confusopoly.

Often in a corporation, the rules of confusopoly prevent the bureaucrat from getting a solid idea of whose interests are covered by "company loyalty." Is it loyalty to the stockholders? This sounds good until you think of the day-trader who bought stock in your company this morning and, sure as day becomes night, is going to dump it either this afternoon, or at most wait until the end of this week. What is the employee's loyalty to this stockholder to be?

There is no real answer to this. This case then also shows the job itself is the confusopoly.

Incidentally, confusion over this confusopoly is why Enormously Overpaid Executives are allowed to totally game the system and enrich themselves with no consequence by deliberately crashing their companies and along with them, the economy. They know "loyalty to the stockholders" has no real bottom to it.

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