Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Founders Intended…

Can we all agree to stop using the phrase, “the founders intended”?  Regardless of what you think you know from reading any particular founder’s commentary about the documents that created our nation, you still don’t know that founder’s actual intent at the time the document was drafted and signed, and you don’t have a clue what was going on in the heads of the other thirty-plus signatories.

Not long ago I saw a link to an organization that wants to restructure the House of Representatives because the founders “never intended each Representative to represent hundreds of thousands of people.”  Of course they didn’t.  The guys most responsible for the House of Representatives and its structure wanted a House of Congress that would give heavily populated states the advantage.  If they’d had their way. the US legislature would look like Burning Man (but, one assumes, without the dirty hippies).

There were 56 signers of the Declaration and 39 signers of the Constitution, and both documents had to be ratified by the legislatures in the individual states.  I have safe money it was a giant headache to get all these people to agree on takeout at the end of a long session, much less any single all-encompassing Vision For The Country.  Let’s just look at some of the more notable and see what their history tells us of their motives.

George Washington was a land speculator who was leveraged up to his eyeballs on Ohio Valley properties at exactly the time that Parliament decided that colonial expansion west was off.  He was literally in a position where he would lose everything if the colonies didn’t rebel.

Similarly, John Hancock was a New York merchant who stood to eat a humongous loss when Parliament extended the ban on slavery to the colonies (only a healthy smuggling trade had allowed him to thrive after Parliament banned the slave trade).

Thomas Jefferson was a good man who never had the strength of his own convictions, speaking out regularly against slavery and the privileged classes while maintaining a huge plantation full of slaves and taking advantage of his position and connections from birth.

John Adams’ whole family had just come out on the losing side of an ass-kissing contest for the Governor of New England’s favor, and his cousin, Samuel, was such a failure as a brewer and a businessman that he ran his father’s successful brewery into the ground (remember that when you pop a Sam Adams Lager).

Thomas Paine wasn’t even a founder.  He was the PR-man of the Revolution, and, like all PR men, nobody liked or trusted him.

None of them were Christian, as that faith is practiced today.  The common concept of God at the time was a Deist belief in a God that had set things in motion with some solid rules and then backed off to see what would happen.  You may notice that in the preamble to the Declaration, “God” and “Nature” are used pretty interchangeably.  It wouldn’t be until the 1820’s that the idea of an active, judgmental god would become prevalent.

I could go on.  There is a story for every one of our founders, and each story gives you an insight into their actual motives and desires.  Hamilton (another douchebag New Yorker) wanted a strong central government so he wouldn’t have to eat losses on all the Confederation Script he was holding.  Madison wanted to transport his tobacco and cotton without paying a tax at every state border. And so on.

(I’m not saying that any of these men were bad men—except maybe Hamilton—they were all good men in their way and their time.  I’m saying they were men, and they were no more likely to design a society for the good of all on their own than you or I are.)

It expands from there.  Slave states wanted to count their slaves as people for the purposes of representation (but not for voting rights or human dignity).  Small states wanted equal representation for all states regardless of size.  Poor states wanted to blow off the Revolutionary War debt.  Merchants wanted a single, stable currency.  Nobody got what they wanted.  They negotiated and got what they could live with.

The Bill of Rights wasn’t even part of the original document.  It was tacked on during the ratification process because the framers realized they wouldn’t be able to pass the Constitution without some sort of assurances on paper that the country wouldn’t be subject to the sort of arbitrary authority that had started the whole kerfuffle.  Of twelve Amendments that passed out of the new Congress, only ten passed ratification.  One set an intricate scaling on the size of the House of Representatives, while the other, finally ratified in 1992, demanded that legislatures could not vote themselves a raise, only one for their successors.

Hamilton thought the rights enumerated in the Bill were self-evident.  Jefferson thought they allowed for Government to claim unenumerated rights as those of the Fed (despite the clear statements in the 9th and 10th Amendments that those rights were reserved for the States or the People–turns out he was right). Again, nobody got exactly what they wanted.

But they all got something that they—and we—could live with.  They got it through negotiation and not being married to a philosophy or a principle.  They got it by knowing that whatever they ended up with, it couldn’t be worse than life as a colony or under the Articles.  They got it by being reasonable.

How to Negotiate

If the current shutdown kerfuffle has highlighted anything for me, it’s the regrettable fact that Americans, on the whole, don’t know how to negotiate (also that a large part of our government is unclear on the actual definitions of the terms, “hostage” and “terrorist”).  So, purely as a public service, and not at all to show people how smart I am and they aren’t, here is my free class on how to negotiate.

Before you Start: Be prepared.  You can not walk into a negotiation without knowing three things:  What you want.  What the other side wants.  What you are willing to settle for.

Let’s say you have a cheap supply of bananas, and your neighbor has a cheap supply of cherries.  Now, what you want in this situation is to trade bananas for cherries; surprisingly enough, that’s also what your neighbor wants.  Of course, what you really want is to trade bananas for cherries at a rate that gives you an advantage (say 30 cherries per banana).  Your neighbor would like the same deal, in reverse (straight up 1:1 trade).  So let’s say that you’re willing to settle for a direct trade by weight (about 10 cherries/banana).

At the Beginning:  Ask for slightly more than you want.  If the negotiation goes correctly, you won’t get it.  You won’t get what you want, either, but, if you play it right, you’ll get more than you’re willing to settle for.  I don’t know who, but someone once said that in the ideal negotiation, both sides walk away feeling like they’ve played the other for a sap.  That’s what you’re aiming for.

Give the other guy a chance to make the first offer.  Opening offers set the boundaries of the negotiation, and knowing what he’s asking for gives you an idea of his limits.  If he is reticent, go ahead and give your own opening offer.  The advantage afforded by the knowledge he can glean from your opener is short-lived at best.

Trading Horses:  Be civil.  Counter to the beliefs of a variety of sociopathic self-help gurus, a negotiation is not a war.  It’s not any kind of contest at all.  A negotiation is an attempt to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.  You don’t have to win, you just have to avoid losing.

Be prepared to walk away.  That bottom limit for which you’re willing to settle?  That should be firm.  If the other guy isn’t willing to reach that.  You should calmly stand up, shake his hand, and thank him for his time while regretfully informing him that you can’t make a deal.  If you’re not prepared to walk away, you may as well not bother negotiating, because you will lose.

Be rational.  Don’t get angry; don’t get sad.  Don’t let his anger or tears affect your decision.  Remember, the soul of a negotiation is “I want A for B, but I’m willing to settle for C.”

Disregard irrelevancies.  The only thing that is important in a negotiation is the item of negotiation.  His lovely wife, ailing mother, and five beautiful children are not your problem.  Negotiation is a business matter, and allowing irrelevant concerns to enter into it clouds the water and makes rational bargaining impossible.

Closing the Deal:  When you have both reached a mutual agreement, understand that, no matter how it may look to you, you both got something out of the deal.  Even if he doesn’t know that you pay less for a pound of bananas than he does for a pound of cherries, you don’t know that he has a sweetheart deal trading apples for those bananas at a rate that more than makes up for his apparent loss.

Basically, don’t second-guess yourself or the other guy.  Both of you have hidden motives and knowledge, but as long as neither is dissatisfied with the final deal, then it’s a good deal.  If you later re-examine the deal and think you let it go too easily, remember that the deal fulfilled your requirements at the time it was made, and mark the issues you discovered after the fact as a learning experience.

And always remember:  Negotiation is how civil people resolve a conflict.

Casual Friday—Catching Up

So, narcolepsy runs in my family, and, while I’ve never been diagnosed with the condition, I have had my share of wacky waking up moments.  Once I fell asleep driving my car in 288 at Angleton and didn’t wake up until I reached Highway 6.  Luckily, I did not kill myself or anyone else.  But I did need a new pair of pants when my eyes opened and I had to hit the breaks to not run a light on one of the busiest (and longest) roads in Texas.

Scot doesn’t have narcolepsy.  He just had a very long night.  Sometimes your just better of calling in sick.