Monday, July 19, 2010

Consensus, trust and bad faith

Here's the most interesting quote from Alex Blumberg's piece on consensus and the economy in Jamaica and Barbados:
Alex: For Tony Wolcott, it all comes down to one simple thing. Which, when he said it, I couldn't believe what I was hearing:

Tony: Trust and that to me is a key factor in the whole cohesion of the social partnership that we've got here.

Alex: The reason that I'm laughing is that you represent the employers of Barbados, and again, I'm putting this into the American context. It's just sort of hard to imagine an American leader of a business association talking about how much they trust the labor union. It just doesn't seem possible, right?

Part of the problem is simply that so many of the actors are obviously acting in bad faith. Marty Golden sits by and watches as the MTA fails to get proper funding, votes for the budget that strips $143 million from the agency, and then attacks Janele Hyer-Spencer for voting for that same budget. The TWU leaders make a mockery of the overtime rules that earlier labor leaders worked so hard to establish. Real estate mogul Bruce Ratner milks the MTA for all it's worth, even as it's preparing to cut subway and bus service.

How do you build the kind of trust that Tony Wolcott talked about? Well, one difference between Barbados in 1991 and New York in 2010 is that the leaders in Barbados actually seemed to care what happened to the country. I honestly think that on some level Bloomberg cares what happens to the city and state, and Paterson cares, and so does Jay Walder. At the very least, I think they want to be seen to have done a good job.

I have no reason to think that John Sampson cares about the State or even his legacy, and the same with Lloyd Blankfein and John Samuelson. All three of them just seem to be trying to milk the system for as much as it's worth and then retire to Florida. How do you establish trust with someone like that?

Ultimately, the thing to do is to reform the system so that dishonest politicians like Sampson and Richard Brodsky can't get the kind of power that they currently have, and so that greedy unelected business owners like Ratner have limited influence. I'm guessing that if we had trustworthy politicians and trustworthy business leaders, then the TWU - which as far as I know is a fairly democratic institution - would drop its defensive postures and begin to work with the others.

To accomplish this long-term goal, we have to reform campaign finance, ethics and patronage. There are several promising proposals in these directions being floated by Andrew Cuomo, Ed Koch and others; let's hope that at least one of them has some success this year.

At this point, though, reestablishing trust is a long way off, and consensus is even further. In the meantime, we need to use methods that don't rely on consensus, but we can't lose sight of the fact that they're necessary evils, and we need to plan for the day when they're gone.

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