Politics of Personal Efficacy and the Social Safety Net

While I was neither surprised by my quiz results nor did I personally struggle with the dichotomous questions, I can certainly understand the frustration of my peers who did feel conflicted. Something that did frustrate me, however, was seeing the term “Social Safety Net” as a key issue. I don’t like the term because the social safety net that the United States currently has isn’t exactly saving people. I think that the term “Social Febreze” makes more sense. Consider the Febreze commercials, where supposedly random people are brought blindfolded into settings like a disgusting basement full of trash is, but don’t know that it’s so gross because Febreze covered the bad scents. Much like Febreze can make college students feel like their dorm rooms are less messy than they typically are, the Social Febreze system we have now is enough for people to assume that “poor people are receiving adequate help”.

This blog prompt begins with, “we dance around sensitive political issues in our class discussions to prevent student biases and promote open communication, but how can we avoid the conversation about politics when it is so strongly connected to the topics we study?”. This is very interesting to me because even when we try to skirt around these issues, they aren’t, in fact, avoided as much as we think. Because I feel that this topic as a subset of politics isn’t as much avoided as we first think, I have chosen to take a stance on Personal Efficacy in terms of managerial decisions. While we may not immediately associate the terms “personal efficacy” and “managerial decisions”, it is much more clearly intertwined when presented as a question of “does hard work really pay off?”  I think back to United States history, and the first thing that comes to mind is Horatio Alger’s myriad “rags to riches” short stories from the Gilden Age that narrate how young men from humble beginnings are able to work up to middle-class security through hard work and dedication. While this “gilded” outlook on social structure may have been true in the 19th century, I don’t think that it necessarily stands today–something that is clear in the present managerial world. Consider a class that we have all taken: Management 101. Remember your contribution grade? I remember being frustrated because I worked in reports and put in so many hours of work but only got a B as my contribution grade, whereas people in other business divisions who put in less time than I received better grades. While MGMT 101 companies are pretty much fictitious, it holds true among real companies that it doesn’t necessarily matter how much effort you put in as much as the quality of your effort. When managers make decisions, say, on employee salaries, an employee’s salary is not going to be based on how hard they worked, rather the quality of what was actually done.



9 responses to “Politics of Personal Efficacy and the Social Safety Net

  1. I love your term “Social Febreze,” as it perfectly captures the idea that we satisfy ourselves by addressing the surface of the issue without really solving it. In terms of your last paragraph, though, I would argue that there really is a balance between considerations of personal efficacy and objective performance. I think in a situation where a manager had to promote one of two equally-performing people, but one who tries hard and one who does not, they would choose the hard worker every time. Maybe this is my own naiveté talking, but I am optimistic that hard work is valued more than we think and that personal efficacy, at least within corporations, is a strong force. What are your views within the broader societal realm? Correct me if I’m wrong, but your views on personal efficacy lead me to believe that would say that the poor really cannot elevate themselves socioeconomically, regardless of how hard they work. Is that accurate? And if so, what changes would you suggest in order to enable their economic mobility? Government intervention?


    • Government intervention is the typical answer to your question. But if the government were to intervene to better the socioeconomic situation of the poor, where would they receive these funds? Historically, the government raises taxes to acquire this money. Is it then fair for the government to take away money from people who are working hard – for the students in MGMT 101 who are working in reports are putting in so many hours? While government intervention could help the poor, it could also take away from others who are working equally as hard. This dichotomy has seemingly existed forever. I wonder if a true solution will ever be discovered.


      • This makes me think about the article we read about, “using out sociological imagination.” I think the notion that anyone, with hard work, can lift themselves out of poverty is severely flawed. People are born with vastly different abilities and opportunities. We need to walk the fine line of providing the necessities of life to the marginalized in society, while maintaining incentives and rewards for having a work ethic.


      • There are clear periods when redistribution worked better in the USA. For example, from the 1930s-60s, middle incomes rose, the economy grew, and poverty shrank. Does inequality ever go away? THat is an existential question, and a fair one. But if we measure success in this area in more modest, but real terms,yes, at times, government intervention helps.

        The biggest poverty reduction program in US history? Social security. Before social security, being old was almost synonymous with being poor,


  2. I also really liked your use of “social febreeze”, commenting that we attempt to hide problems in society by acting like we are really trying to help, yet doing the minimum. Many people in the US who have not worked hard at all are very wealthy and avoid using their money to help others. It has bred a very selfish society because every person needs to look out for their own success first, and help others after instead of working as a team to build success for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I too liked your Febreeze analogy. I think that Febreeze is appropriate for most issues in politics, as many often assume that much more is being done to solve an issue than there really is. Do you think businesses contribute to this “Social Febreeze” or is it mainly political?


  4. Although it may attempt to address certain organizational or political concerns, “social febreze” is transparent… How long can this cover-up really go on?


  5. We can dig up the statistics, but the amount of upward mobility in the US, that is in one lifetime, going from working class or poor (or middle class) to something higher is less likely then it used to be. At the same time, Horatio ALger stories were ALWAYS part fiction and part reality. The US did and does afford people opportunities to rise; however, as Carolina points out, it is not enough to work hard.

    Some snapshot statistics are here.

    In 1994, 61 percent of families with incomes below about $28,000 would remain in that position 10 years later, while 16 percent would reach the middle-income position of $50,000. Less than 1 percent would reach the top-fifth income threshold of about $117,000 (2011 dollars).
    Conversely, more than half of those who started in the top fifth in 1994 remained there in 2004, and 92 percent were in the middle fifth of the income distribution or higher


  6. This debate always strikes a chord with me. When my great-grandfather immigrated to the country from Italy, no one helped him. The fact that there was no safety net is what incentivized him to work his a** off to succeed. He worked a factory job by day and made paper flowers at night to sell to department stores on the weekends. He was able to build this into the artificial flower company my dad still runs today. The profits of which have been used to grow the existing business and to start other businesses. Ultimately employing over 5,000 people through the years! The government should be empowering this type of entrepreneur that will create jobs and create value for society. Ultimately, these jobs, not exclusively government aid, will pull them from poverty.

    Forced redistribution of wealth creates a downward spiral. It takes from the producers to give to non-producers. This disincentives the producers and only momentarily assists the non-producers. It is not sustainable. While I understand some forms of government aid are necessary, the government should focus more heavily on economic development. It is not a coincidence that the Small Business Development Center of PA is prohibited from working with non-profits. The government is making an investment in the economy through the SBDC and expects a return. This return is tangible. It is measured in jobs created and money in the economy.

    Perhaps my story is an anomaly. Perhaps I am naïve for continuing to believe in the “American Dream” and the founding principles of our country. However, I will continue to be proud of my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father for creating value and providing jobs. They are the unsung heroes and I can only hope for the opportunity to provide such immense value to society in the same way.


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