“All agreements must be win-win or we don’t do them!”
Some people like to insist on deals being a win-win. That’s awfully nice of them isn’t it? Both sides have to get something out of it. Kind of like… every deal. Right?
There’s certain language that makes me cringe and put a protective hand over my wallet, and “win-win” is one of them. Its a phrase that sways ignorant socialists who believe every capitalist is out to cheat and pillage. “We’re different” claims the get rich quick scheme du jour. They then cheat and pillage the people they sell their system to and teach them to cheat and pillage other ignorant people (ideally family and friends through some sort of pyramid scheme).
ALL deals are win-win. Otherwise people wouldn’t agree to them. And if you’re forced to agree to them, its still a win-win (since you’re avoiding whatever fate they’re threatening you with if you don’t agree). I’m strongly opposed to forcing people into an agreement, but ultimately there has to be some incentive for people to agree or else they’d just say no. For example, I merged blogs with Mike, in part, because he told me he’d break my kneecaps if I didn’t. I’ve been delighted to continue through my life with unbroken kneecaps (walking rules!). I haven’t regretted the decision to merge for a second!
That being said, every agreement has mutually beneficial elements and zero-sum elements. Take the example of an employment contract. One side gets money (which the employee wants) and the other side gets labour (which the employer wants). The amount of money exchanged for a unit of labour becomes a zero sum game. The employee wants to be paid as much as possible, and the employer want to pay as little as possible. There’s no “win win” in this situation, since every dollar the amount shifts benefits one side to the detriment of the other. Of course, if the deal becomes too one sided, it will probably fall through and both sides will “lose”. The way agreements happen is there’s an overlap between what each side is willing to give in order to get what they want. We like to think of this as a fixed point (“this is the lowest I can go!”), but without fail I think its a range.
One of the few ideas that pretty well all economists agree on is that trade is good.
The troubling part of “win-win” deals is usually the person talking about how much they want to do right by you also wants to dictate how you’ll “win” from the deal. After fooling you into what a good guy they are, they’ll then tell you what an incredibly good deal they’re giving you. Often by setting up complicated legal arrangements that prey on people who are trusting the nice man who says he’s helping them out.
Beware the man who says “trust me”.