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June 18, 2010

Two Theories of Political Negotiation

Recently I was having yet another argument with some readers and someone advanced the idea that the GOP had to stake out maximalist positions (I use this word instead of "hard right," but you know what I mean: Highballing one's first demand, or lowballing one's first offer).

The argument made was that the further right you began as your first negotiating position, the further right the actual final agreed policy would be.

It was urged that even moderates, who want a center-right final policy, should support the maximalist first offer, because the maximalist first offer has the greatest chance of getting the center-right position desired.

I don't believe this is correct. I think it assumes that politics is like a lawsuit in which there are two fixed parties, two parties who remain constant, and thus any compromise which is to be forged will be forged between these parties. And each of these parties has a veto over the final agreement -- thus, each party has a strong negotiating position, and the only real question of where the final compromise will be is which party has the greatest will and zeal and determination and willingness to walk away from the table.

Again, the key assumption is that both parties will be at the negotiating table. If that assumption is true, then this theory holds.

But what if both parties will not necessarily be at the negotiating table? What if the judge has the power to rule that one party is being too unreasonable and substitutes in a more compliant party for the original party?

If Party A and Party B are negotiating, and are guaranteed to remain at the table, the demand-everything position makes sense.

But what if, in fact, the Judge has the power to decide that Party A is making in unrealistic demands, and stands in the way of compromise, and may decide, further, to replace Party A with more-compromising Party C?

What if the Judge actually replaces Party A with another member of Party B, so that the ensuing negotiations take place between Party B and Party B?

I submit this is precisely the position we are in now. This was how health care was passed: We were spectators to the negotiations, which occurred completely with Party B/Pelsoi wing and Party B/Stupak block.

We could do nothing. We were reduced to cheerleading for Bart Freaking Stupak.

Well, we could do almost nothing: We did show up for Party B's press conferences to jeer them, and it had an effect. But that effect was mostly due to the fear instilled that in 2010, we would have our term to ask the Judge -- the public, of course -- to re-instate us in the negotiations.

These claims that maximalist outcomes are best secured by maximalist demands before an election fail to take into account that the public gets to decide who will be sitting at that negotiating table. And if we're not at that table, our continuing demands are futile in and of themselves.

There is a type of mediated dispute resolution which I think is more analogous. In this type of resolution, each party writes down its demand/offer. The third-party mediator also writes down his opinion of a fair resolution. Let's say it's a money demand of some kind, for simplicity's sake, so both parties write down their demand/offer, and the mediator writes down what he believes is a fair number.

Crucially, in this type of resolution, the mediator's number will not, under any circumstances, be the number imposed on both parties. His number -- somewhere in between the two, a compromise -- will not form the basis of the settlement.

In this type of mediation, one or the other party's number will be used. The mediator will choose one of the two party's numbers, the one that is closest to his own.

The point of this sort of mediation is to force the negotiating parties into making more reasonable demands, to start the process much closer to what each figures the final resolution will be.

Because in this sort of mediation, if Party A offers $10,000 in compensation, and the mediator thinks that $500,000 is fair, but Party B decides to demand thirty million dollars, guess what? Party A's offer is closer to the mediator's number and Party B walks out not with thirty million, nor with $200,000, but with a paltry $10,000. He has walked in with a demand so far from the mark that the other party gets to make all decisions about the resolution.

I really think that to save offshore drilling -- and most energy production -- we need to come in a little closer to the mediator's -- the public's -- best estimate right now of what seems "fairest."

And I think to do that Republicans have to get out in front in investigating the MMS and themselves proposing enhanced safety regulations and a better-funded, better-staffed inspection corps, with the corrupt and incompetent rooted out.

And, to tie this in to Barton's point, I think we have to come into the negotiations a little more mindful of the public's beliefs about corporations and less fulsomely apologizing to a corporate malefactor (who, it must be pointed out, has seriously jeopardized if not outright killed any plans for a push for domestic American energy production).

That means you don't come in yammering about a roughed-up corporation being a "tragedy of the first order." You come in demanding to know if the public's interest has been well-represented here, or merely the Administration's and BP's, and introduce the idea of a "shakedown" as a secondary question to the primary one.

You get that question in there -- but you couch it in terms that show you're not just in the pocket of BP.


Their Fight Is Your Fight: Any time a union is in a squabble with the government or business they attempt to claim that giving them a raise is in the public's own self-interest.

This sort of works, for reasons that are unfathomable to me.

Certainly every time the millionaires of professional sports are in a labor negotiation they try to convince me to care about their plight. The owners, of course, do likewise, and tell me that it's because of those greedy athletes that it costs $150 to see a baseball game.

But the basic point is that in a negotiation, you tie your concerns to something tangible that is likely to catch the interest, intellectual or emotional, of the public.

And you do this especially when you're representing, or advocating for, an unpopular, unsympathetic party.

By the Way: My "yet another argument with some readers" was supposed to be self-deprecating, but it doesn't read that way.

It has been brought to my attention that I am being a real bitch lately. I was trying to confess that in an offhand way. I am super-bitchy lately.


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posted by Ace at 01:01 PM

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