The Not-So-Market System

For my first Theories in Action post, I want to talk about methods of motivation and power. Intrinsically, they are linked, as organizations seek to motivate their employees to perform actions that create a product of some sort using mostly reward power, as employees get paid to perform a task that furthers the aims of the organization. Furthermore, that aim is usually a product or service of some sort that organizations offer to consumers at a price that will entice consumers to buy their product while consumers offer to purchase a product at a price that will ensure organizations produce. Thus, the entire market system is entirely built on a string of power relationships that are motivated by reward power: employees are paid, organizations get revenue, and consumers get goods and services. But what happens when the organization is not a corporation, seeking revenue in excess of costs that can then be returned to shareholders as profits, but instead is a non-profit think-tank? This is a questioned I have grappled with since my first few days at my internship this summer.

In the think-tank model, all revenue comes from donations. Individuals, companies, sometimes foreign governments, but always donations. The product is…influence? Yes, white papers are the typical form that these influence-attempts take, but it does come in other forms as well. No matter how it gets packaged, however, the entity attempting to be influenced is the United States government or state governments, entities that are certainly not paying for your “service.” Therefore arguably the most important power dynamic in the structure laid out above does not exist: the one between organization and consumer. Without a payment for a service, I have a hard time understanding how there are so many, and some very large and powerful, think-tanks in the United States and around the world. Without the payment for a service, I found myself significantly less motivated than I felt I would be at a corporation where I knew that what I was producing was actually in demand and my current and future well-being was tied to how well I was doing my job providing that good or service. Instead, there must be other forces of power and motivation behind why people chose to form, work for, and donate to think-tanks, but all the immediate ones that come to mind, like reference or expert power, seem to be taken by the government itself. Why, if you are not motivated by the paycheck, would you work for a think-tank hoping to influence the State Department when you could just work for the State Department? These are questions I hope to be able to answer over the remaining few weeks of my internship.

One thought on “The Not-So-Market System

  • July 17, 2019 at 3:19 pm
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    Interesting rumination regarding motivation and power. As the paper you’ll write this fall will ask you to take a deep dive into a particular theory, I encourage you to reflect on this more as you continue – particularly if this might be the direction you want to take with the fall paper. The deep dive in the fall paper asks you discuss all elements of a theory and provide examples (from your site) that illustrate (or do not illustrate) the different elements. In regards to non-profits in general, one might imagine that the motivation of employees has to do with the cause; what the organization is serving to do at the end of the day. Perhaps think tanks versus other branches of government allow individuals to favor their political leanings more (and work on issues that they are passionate about); perhaps these organizations allow individuals to be less bi-partisan (depending on the think tank)? Definitely something you should continue to explore.

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