All negotiations are defined by something called the ZOPA: the Zone of Possible Agreement. The boundaries of that zone are defined by another buzzword, the BATNA: the best alternative to negotiated agreement.
The ultimate deal has to be better for both sides than their BATNA. Anything that either side considers worse than no deal at all is outside of the ZOPA, and no amount of strategery is going to get you there. Getting rid of Social Security and Medicare: outside of the ZOPA. Raising tax rates to Danish levels: outside of the ZOPA. Single-payer health care: outside of the ZOPA. Defunding Planned Parenthood: outside of the current ZOPA.
Is the ZOPA fixed? Nope. If a Republican president were in the White House, and a few more Republicans were in the Senate, defunding Planned Parenthood might well be feasible. The massacre at Newtown moved the ZOPA on gun control leftward. The financial crisis made all sorts of previously unthinkable things — like TARP and a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill — eminently feasible. The ZOPA moves all the time, which is why we’re no longer debating the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1.
But note that these movements didn’t come from some sort of deft negotiation strategy. They came from external events that changed the BATNA of one side or the other. Note too that even though the ZOPA had shifted in his favor, President Obama lost on gun control because he included an assault weapons ban in his list of demands as a bargaining chip, and the other side decided to walk away instead of negotiating a deal.
How did this happen? Because the bargaining chips you include send signals about your intent, and how serious you are about negotiating — and they can therefore change the facts on the ground in ways that hurt you rather than help you.
Imagine that you tried negotiating for a car by announcing that you intended to pay no more than $2,400 for a fully-loaded new truck. Would this improve your bargaining position? Of course not; the salesman would decide that you were wasting his time, and go find another customer. Similarly, if the car salesman announced that he wanted $100,000 for a well-used Camry, that wouldn’t make you more willing to pay $30,000 for it; it would make you go seek a dealer who wasn’t obviously crazy.
Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.
April 14, 2017
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