SUBORDINATE POWER is a fact of organizational life that I don't believe I've ever seen discussed. Yet in my own experience it is a powerful force in the lives of most organizations. The man in charge wants to be liked by the people who work for him. And he wants them -- at least those who are good -- to continue working for him. Both of these factors mean that, just as the employe tries to please the boss, the boss will try to please his employe. I can think of many times I have been saved from folly by employes who talked me into a more sensible course.
I can also think of times when I've made mistakes because of a desire to please the people who worked with me. When I was working in the government, the director of my agency doubled my modest bureaucratic empire by adding a new division, and I was anxious to win the respect and affection of its employes. So I immediately endorsed their budget request for $1 million and worked hard to get it through Congress. The congressmen gave us $500,000. And it turned out, even by using every end-of-the-fiscal-year spending technique known to the bureaucratic world, we were able to get rid of only $385,000.
So subordinate power can be harmful. You see its worst effects in the new cabinet secretary who brings to the job a determination to reform his department and quickly becomes the prisoner of his minions. But it also has its good side -- a side that more employes should be aware of. If you are talented, and if you have skills your boss needs or thinks he needs, you have real power to influence him to do what is right, what is in the best interest of your organization and your country.
OF ALL the things that went down the drain with the demise of the counterculture, zen pong is the loss I most regret. In case it escaped your notice, it was a version of ping pong in which the object was for two players working together to see how long they could keep the ball going back and forth, playing well but not trying to defeat each other. To me, the worst aspect of American culture is its vicious competitiveness. Why on earth can't we gain our satisfaction from doing what we do as well as we possibly can? Why do we also have to beat the hell out of the other guy?
THE PEOPLE who work for regulated public utilities are compelled to play a shell game. To potential investors they must say, "Look at our profits, we're a good investment." But when the regulators come along, they have to hurriedly shove the cash into the closet and say, "What profit?"
Of course, in terms of ability to absorb embarrassing surplus funds, the regulated utilities may still be lagging behind the nonprofit organizations. The latest example is the American Enterprise Institute, which recently honored Gerald Ford at a Washington meeting. According to a sentence buried deep in a local paper, "The Fords arrived Monday evening from Palm Springs in a Falcon jet chartered by the Institute." Chartering jets is one of the things nonprofit organizations do with money the rest of us would call profit.
The sad part is that when AEI was first established, it promised to be different. You might not have agreed with its political stance, but you had to admit the institution had a lot more creative drive and fresh energy than its dowdy liberal think-tank competitors, like the Brookings Institution. Now, AEI has made it, and its members can receive fat honoraria for sipping martinis at colloquia and staring out the windows at the plush, modern building across the street -- which belongs, incidentally, to another great example of nonprofit asceticism, the National Geographic Society.
Our other favorite nonprofit is the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Somehow I got on their mailing list and received a brochure for their Executive Seminar Program. In this remarkable offering, you get 13 days of big thinking, reading Plato and Locke and Marx and Freud and Irving Kristol. Your moderators are people like Mortimer J. Adler and Brian Urquhart (God knows who he is, but doesn't he sound just right?). It costs only $3,500. We should admire the discipline of those executives in Aspen, spending night and day reading Thomas Hobbes, while ignoring the beautiful wilderness, sun and spectacular sking nearby.
But if you still suspect that the Aspen Institute is about something other than Great Thinkers and their Thoughts, let me reassure you further. The institute's honorary trustees include John J. McCloy, Barbara Ward (who is further identified as Lady Jackson, baroness of Lodesworth), and H.I.M. Farah Pahlavi, the Shahbanou of Iran.
THOSE WHO worry about the elitist nature of the CIA will not find their anxieties soothed by the recent obituary of its director of personnel. Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, Princeton and Yale. He died playing squash at the Metropolitan Club.
ASK ANY economist why we don't use price and wage controls to stop inflation and he'll tell you they don't work. But, you protest, didn't they work during World War II and again during 1972? "Perhaps they seemed to work," he'll reply with a look of withering condescension, "but what happened after they were removed?c
At this point, most of us remember that prices rose when controls were taken off, and we abandon the argument. We shouldn't give up so easily. Take another look at what really caused prices to go up after the controls were removed. Prices rose in the 1973-75 period not because there had been controls in 1972 -- which, by the way, held the price index to a 3.3 percent increase that year -- but for three other reasons. First and foremost was the dramatic rise in the price of oil, which came because of OPEC decree. Second, the rise in food prices was strongly influenced by the Russian wheat deal of 1972, which caused temporary shortages here. Third, Nixon, who blamed his loss in 1960 on Eisenhower's failure to juice up the economy, gave the economy a massive infusion of money in the months before the 1972 election, which in turn helped stimulate inflation the following year.
The late '40s were even more interesting. Did prices really rise simply because lids were taken off? The answer is again, no. They rose primarily because of shortages caused by necessary wartime policies that cut back the production of civilian goods. Autos, for example, were unavailable to civilians from 1942 to 1945. It wasn't that manufacturers couldn't profitably sell the cars within the price controls -- it was that the car factories were converted to make vehicles for the war. So there was tremendous demand when cars came back on the market in 1946 and 1947, which caused a temporary shortage and a rise in prices.
But as soon as those shortages were taken care of, prices stopped rising. In 1945, under price controls, the price index rose only 2.3 per cent. Because of shortages, in 1946 and 1947 they shot up by 8.5 per cent and 14.3 per cent, respectively, but by the middle of 1948 there were plenty of cars and other consumer items to supply the demand. The result was that for the five years after price controls were removed, 1946-50, prices rose an average of only 6 per cent a year. Wouldn't you love to be hit with that rate of increase today instead of the double-digit inflation we're enduring? Put yourself in the shoes of a union leader and imagine how much easier price control would make it for him to persuade his men to go along with moderate wage increases.He could tell his members, "Look, you're not being screwed. The companies aren't getting rich from your sacrifices."
Finally, it is worth observing that price control is something the government can handle. When you're wasting billions of dollars on something called HUD -- quick, now, describe for me exactly what it does for you and your fellow man -- it's good to remember that during World War II the Office of Price Administration worked. It not only administered prices and wages but also wartime rationing. Rationing, by the way, is how to handle shortages, as in the case of gasoline.We could have broken OPEC in 1973-74 if we had used rationing to hold consumption to what we and our friends could produce.