Landing that small, specific task by networking

This is a reply to a comment reply, but due to chronic writer’s block, and to the advantages in being regular and frequent in one’s blogging, I’m milking a post out of it. The reply in question is a reply to a comment by David Gendron, who tells us (I’m pretty sure) “how networking [wouldn’t] be sustainable in an anti-capitalist setting, where jobs [wouldn’t be] scarce.” To which Ricketson replies:

Well, I think that’s a loaded question (albeit, unintentionally).

First, I only see two “anti-capitalist” situtations where networking would be irrelevant: abundance, and centralized planning where a job is guaranteed to everyone and every job is essentially identical. The first I think is unlikely to occur (at least in the near future), and the second I think is undesirable.

I think that’s a loaded answer, but I’ll get to that farther down the page. A few sentences farther down Ricketson’s page we read:

…the “non-capitalist” economy that I focus on is one where individuals and small groups have control over all the materials that they need to make a living — housing, land, and tools. In this situation, the employer/employee power relationship doesn’t exist, and so neither does the conventional idea of a “job” being something that you have or don’t have (or something that could be abundant). All we would have is time and tools and the need to decide how to use our time and our tools most effectively to satisfy our desires. “Jobs” would be small, specific tasks.

I recognize some very real advantages in this version of a non-capitalist economy. If a worker doubles as a vendor or contractor or whatever you want to call it (I call it a capitalist FWIW) then the employer/employee relationship is replaced by vendor/customer relationships. The beauty in this is that the former is singular while the latter are plural. If all (or most) of one’s livelihood is earned working for one entity, that entity is a monopsonist, monopsonist being to buyers as monopolist is to sellers; the common term for both being “market power.” I believe that market power really is power; specifically political power. I’m actually agnostic on the question of whether it can exist independently of the state. It is in the spirit of Devil’s advocacy that I assert that it can. I also see a very real downside, in that one successful act of selling oneself doesn’t go as far as “landing a J.O.B.” so one is more on the defensive more of the time. For people like me who really hate selling, there’s also a quality of life angle. As a member of Generation X, I entered the workforce during the Reagan era, so J.O.B.’s within my reach (since I wasn’t a proverbial straight-A student, or ex-military) were either part-time or temporary, or both. At first I signed on with the pitemp agencies. Finding the effective (pro-rated, if you will) income insufficient to the (IMHO) humble goal of being self supporting, at some point I pondered whether moonlighting two or more permanent part time J.O.B.’s might be a less ineffective strategy than floating from one full-time temp gig to another. While I didn’t find this to be “the ticket,” I did manage to hobble together a “portfolio” of J.O.B.’s that at least got me out of the nest in a not-quite-solvent fashion. There really is a difference between being two layoffs away from having nothing, and one, but the difference only goes so far. On the one hand, half a loaf is better than no loaf, but half a livelihood is a form of non-survival, or at least non-independence. Now I know that a certain subset of Generations X, Y, Z and beyond see the trend from J.O.B.’s to gigs as an unalloyed positive. For the most part, I think the ones who feel that way are the ones who have demonstrated (most importantly to themselves) the ability to get gigs that actually require some intelligence, while I was more secretarial pool. I know I have capabilities beyond that, but communicating that fact to others has never been my strong suit. Call it a character defect if you must, but I remain convinced that a trend toward a more market-driven or entreprenoorship-driven economy, even if the trend is away from stifling bureaucracy, while probably a net positive, has at least the side effect of amplifying extrovert privilege. Yeah, I scratched a privilege. So sue me. Anyway, in my own experience, the disadvantages of precarity seem to outweigh the “freedom” of the “free” lance life. But compared to what? Being too young to have experienced the Golden Age of J.O.B. Security and Bennies from within the workforce, I may be underestimating the magnitude of such monstrosities as the Organization Man, the near absence of the Organization Woman, the witch hunts, the plain vanilla culture and even Inflation. I’d like to think I’d have gotten farther in life when the gatekeepers tended to include more civil service exams and periodic reviews and not as much the elevator pitches, “networking” and the necessity of utterly shameless self-promotion, but it’s not like extrovert privilege is a recent invention.

Now as to the loaded answer. It’s not obvious to me that everyone being guaranteed a J.O.B. somehow implies every J.O.B. being identical. It sounds suspiciously like the right wing talking poing of equating egalitarianism to a belief in or wish for all persons being identical. What I envision is the application of extreme transparency to the buying and selling of labor. I do prefer the “agorist” vision of small, specific tasks over the “capitalist” reality of winner-take-all pursuit of employed-status (and the noticeably more exclusive gainfully-employed-status, and solvent-status, non-homeless-status and all those other status goods that both capitalism and agorism seem to treat as, in the final analysis, non-entitlements.) The realization of extreme transparency would add some things to the otherwise agorist mix that would make it more palatable to me. One would be a level of detail in feedback that literally strips away any mystery as to why I might fail to be chosen for any particular “small, specific task” (S.S.T., if you will). The more vulgar type of (alleged?) market advocate will say, “oh, the lack of that type of feedback is just lawsuit protection.” I hope agorists don’t see the situation as quite that simple, and can at least imagine other contributing factors in the status quo economy, such as the use of asymmetric information as a strategic asset. Another side effect of extreme transparency would be knowing the identity of the people who do win each S.S.T., and at what price. Of course the identity of every “unemployed” person would also be public knowledge, which sounds dangerous, but I would feel more than compensated for it by seeing made objectively testable the question of whether underutilized talent has more basis in fact than do unicorns. If there are demographic patterns in who’s getting the S.S.T.’s (i.e., discrimination), that too should come out in the wash sooner rather than later under conditions of extreme transparency. No guarantees implied, BTW. But I think it would invite the surrounding culture to adopt full empS.S.T. participation as a social norm, which of course it already has, but this time in a “trust but verify” way.

Taking it back a step further to the question of whether a shift away from capitalism can potentially obviate the burden ofneed for networking—a particular S.S.T., like a J.O.B. is something one either has or does not have. Each one is a lower-stakes game, so one can afford to lose S.S.T.’s—to a point. Perhaps it’s the best of all possible worlds, abundance being unlikely, and all. Perhaps information doesn’t really want to be free, and extreme transparency is also a pipe dream (or cloud cuckoo land, as the right wingers like to say). But consider this:  If it’s unsafe (or even just inefficient) to consult a mechanic without knowing a mechanic, or being a friend of a friend of one, what we have, most of all, is a failure of transparency. Networking, in addition to being a form of nepotism, is a form of insider trading. If knowing who to hire for an S.S.T., where the S.S.T.’s are, or who is competent, or how to get value for one’s money (or whatever one uses in the agora) is guesswork, then we must question the claims that prices contain all information, or even much information. If finding out the answers to these questions is a social exercise, then socializing is part of everyone’s J.O.B. description: no social connectivity=no S.S.T.’s=don’t buy groceries. Even absent the state I have no problem referring to that as an aristocracy of pull.

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6 Responses to Landing that small, specific task by networking

  1. I’m glad to have contributed somewhat to that very interesting post! 🙂

  2. ricketson says:

    Well, this is turning into an interesting discussion.

    Before making a substantial response, I know of a couple of webpages that you might find interesting.

    1) Extreme transparency: UC Berkeley recently decided to contract with Google (rather than Microsoft) to provide email services. They even went to the bother of making an point-by-point list the criteria upon which they compared the two providers.

    2) Biologists are debating how important “high impact” journals are to one’s career advancement. This is closely linked to transparency in publishing and hiring:

    Okay, now for substance… on the issue of transparency, I agree that more transparency is desirable. I think that most economists would agree (more information makes markets work more efficiently). I also agree that some people use information asymmetry as a strategy, but also I suspect that it is only a feasible strategy in a monopsony situation. Even leaving aside the strategic impulse to keep others in the dark, I think it would be hard to attain anything close to perfect transparency (though we can definitely have more transparency than today). Primarily, this is simply because it takes effort to convey information, and we (as individuals or a community) will only dedicate limited effort to conveying information. There is also the issue of “lawsuit protection” — at least in the more subtle form of not wanting to aggravate anyone.

    For instance, I was recently recruiting some college students to help me with my research. While I’m not paying them anything, it will take a substantial amount of my time to train them, so I can’t just accept everyone who wants to work with me. I was looking to fill two positions, and I interviewed a few students for each. I gave each student a brief description of why I was unable to work with them. For one position it was easy… I went with the student that had the most experience and the most background knowledge. Interestingly, I decided to work with two students even though I had originally only sought one. For the other position, an explanation would be harder. The student I took had less experience and knowledge than the others I spoke with, but she was damn smart. This was clear from the interview. Maybe the other students were just as smart and well prepared as this student, but I have no way to know that because they didn’t have the personality that showed it in the interview. I doubt that any standardized test could substitute what can be learned from a conversation. I needed to make a decision and get on with the project… not spend forever evaluating candidates.

    So what was I supposed to tell the students I rejected? That the younger student was just smarter? If I did that, would they try to convince me to reconsider? Would they be offended? A vague answer (“it just wouldn’t work out”) is often the quickest and least risky way to turn someone down.

    Last two things briefly…

    “identical jobs”: I only listed that criteria as part of the condition under which networking would be irrelevant. If jobs are not identical, then there would still be the drive to get a better (subjective) job .

    The closing line to this essay seems to bemoan the fact that to have the benefits of society we have to be sociable — that to benefit from economic cooperation, we have to convince others that we are worth cooperating with. I don’t understand what plausible alternative there is. We are social organisms — we exist in a specific location with specific social connections. The idea that we can interact with “society” as a whole is bizarre, but unfortunately common. It’s a common delusion that I’ve had to dismiss from my own thinking over the years. People like to think that they are omniscient and objective, when they have VERY limited information and necessarily process it in a subjective manner. Frankly, I think that it’s a statist myth that is reinforced by the statist news media (with their obsession on elections and state policy), but it probably also arises from our training to think objectively.

    • n8chz says:

      It seems networking, like the poor, we will always have with us. Perhaps the necessity of networking is one of those “intractable problems” like entropy. Hopefully there are ways to make it less intimidating to some of us. Maybe a remedial program in networking, or ev
      en in subjective thought. 🙂

      Granted there is cost or effort involved in sharing information. Ironically sometimes there is more cost or effort involved in not sharing information. Perhaps this is due to the oligopolistic nature of the “point of sale” with Master Card and Visa. Bitcoin as a point of sale system seems to emphasize strong privacy over open information sharing opportunities. I must admit I haven’t tried it yet. In pubwan (see blogroll to right) I’m trying to come up with strategies for implementing a consumer controlled and information rich point of sale.

      • ricketson says:

        Re: a program in networking…

        There are a lot of practical life skills (e.g. professional networking, financial planning) that get ignored by schools, leaving kids to learn from their parents (many of whom are absent or clueless about these topics). It can be hard to work build awareness of these issues in the school, with so many topics competing for classroom time. I’d be happy to transform high-school “civics” into the study of how people actually can make a living in our society, rather than the current BS about Congress and the President. The sad thing about history classes (in my experience) is that they work forwards “from the beginning” and tend to stop about one generation prior to the lives of the students … these classes rarely address the institutions and practices that define contemporary society; instead, they dwell on issues that are the most distantly removed from the lives of the students.

        I figure that these issues are ignored both because textbooks are unavailable, and because there are ongoing controversies surrounding those events. Another reason is that powerful interest groups want to keep the rif-raff ignorant — take for example how various clubs of capitalists have attacked “labor studies” programs around the country.

        As for studying subjective thought…

        I think it’s actually “objectivity” that we need to study. People need to understand that it is something that we create, not the intrinsic way that we live/think. It’s just an issue of understanding that it is an ideal that we will never reach, and not something that we can take for granted.

        (p.s. I though you had a good comment over on my blog [it was emailed to me], but I don’t see it now. Did you delete it?)

  3. n8chz says:

    (p.s. I though you had a good comment over on my blog [it was emailed to me], but I don’t see it now. Did you delete it?)

    Nope. Unfortunately it seems I didn’t save a copy, either. I’ll have to break the habit of treating the Web like a hard drive… If you still have your email copy, consider it copyleft.

  4. n8chz says:

    I’m largely with you on curriculum changes. I also meant it when I said ‘remedial,’ in spite of the unfortunate stigma attached to that term. Schools single out various kids as ‘at risk,’ which in most cases seems to have to do with family life, economic hardship, or signs of getting in trouble with the law. But I think the proverbial kid who has zero friends should be considered very much at risk, and perhaps some interventions are in order. Ditto for kids who find themselves on the receiving end of bullying…

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