Controlling Interdependence: Rationalization of Political Choice

There are, of course, some important differences between politically constructed environments and those which emerge from other methods of managing interdependence. In political decision contexts, a third party is involved in the situation, with discretion to act in ways which affect the interdependent organization but with no direct stake in the outcome. The decision maker, establishing a negotiated environment, directly experiences the consequences of the actions taken; political decision makers most often do not directly experience the consequences of their actions. Considering the decision maker in the political arena, the relevant interdependence is not the one which is affected by the decision, but rather the interdependence between those affected by the decision and those making the decisions. Access to the political decision makers and the possession of convincing arguments become more important determinants of outcomes.

A second major feature of third-party intervention is that decisions are most frequently applied across the board to entire classes of individuals and organizations, going well beyond the time and place of the original problem. When a cartel fixes a price, its impact is restricted to those organizations who consider it in their interests to be in the cartel, and the cartel can reset the price as changing economic conditions demand. When government regulation fixes a price, no one is free to charge any other price, and changes in the price must await the interminable delays of the administrative process. Thus, political decision making is much less adaptive, with considerably less flexibility and with a greater chance of spreading the effects of disasters (or benefits) among a greater number of individuals and organizations.

The fact that political solutions to organizational problems involve working through individuals and organizations who are themselves not party to the situation has important implications for organizational strategies. When two competitors have problems because of their interdependence, it is enough for them to know that each would be served by lessening competition. However, the benefit of a few actors is generally not sufficient grounds on which to base political action. The political decision maker may need to know that the reduced competition would benefit the general social welfare before he or she will take action. Thus, for the organizational strategist attempting to achieve organizational interests through a political mechanism, it may be more important to know about the pressures and interests of the decision maker and how they align with his or her own ends.

By operating in the political arena, the organization is forced to consider a much broader social reality than just its own interests. The political system expands the number of persons who must view as acceptable the organization’s activities. The ability of the organization to link its interests or activities to the current social norms may be the most important aspect of ensuring its interests are served. Some limits are placed on the appeals which organizations may make upon political figures. Some implicit assessment of social worth of the desired action is made, and the concept of national need or national priority must be mustered to justify the action.

In one sense, the political process can be described as the search for rationalizations upon which to base actions and decisions. Recent United States aid to the shipbuilding industry and the unions of crew members presents an illustration of this point. The ship industry is served by a variety of special legislation. There are subsidies provided to construct ships in American shipyards. These subsidies make it possible for American shipbuilders to compete on the world market against foreign shipbuilders who can build a less expensive product. Legislation restricts the use of foreign registry vessels (with foreign, less expensive crews). For instance, foreign ships are restricted from carrying goods between two American cities, a provision which hurts Hawaii and Puerto Rico but few other localities. And, in the recent grain sales to Russia, one of the provisions specifies a certain amount of the purchased grain must be carried on American vessels. These laws are not justified in terms of the benefits they provide to the shipbuilding industry, which has received billions of dollars of direct cash subsidies, or to the unions who benefit. Rather, justification is always couched in terms of maintaining national security through having a strong merchant marine and a viable ship construction industry. Most, if not all, special interest legislation is justified in terms of some national policy benefiting the common good. Organizational strategists seeking to use political solutions to problems of dependence must develop arguments in such terms, or risk failure. Occasionally, as in the case of the removal of market protection for sugar, the situation is so absurd that the effort ultimately fails. It is easier to justify the need to have a strong merchant marine or to protect the domestic oil industry by import quotas than it is to claim that national security rests on protecting the domestic sugar industry.

Source: Pfeffer Jeffrey, Salancik Gerald (2003), The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective, Stanford Business Books; 1st edition

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