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My Advice? Join a Gang

My Advice? Join a Gang

Posted on by Jon Colgan

If you think about it, joining a gang makes a lot of sense. People become gangsters for various reasons, but the reason I’m interested in is the power in numbers. The economics of why people join gangs is relevant to winning a dispute with a cell phone carrier. I’ll explain how, and I’ll explain how knowing this can help you win a dispute with your cell phone carrier.


If it is the case that every individual in the neighborhood has similar power (i.e. wealth, access to weapons, etc.) then every solitary man and woman is equally vulnerable and equally dangerous. Thus, to guard against physical harm, joining a gang is actually a smart choice, the rational choice, especially in a seedy neighborhood where other individuals have already joined gangs. It’s one thing to join a gang to gain an advantage over unaffiliated loners, but it’s another to join in order to avoid the disadvantage of remaining a loner when other loners gang up.

A thorough cost-benefit analysis of whether to join a gang must consider not just the power in numbers of people but also power in numbers of resources. This raises the question of how many people actually join gangs for purposes of criminal intent. If we simplify our analysis, we might reasonably grant that only those who join in order to gain an advantage deserve our suspicion. Perhaps those who join simply to avoid disadvantage have no other rational option.

This point becomes even more compelling when we consider that advantage can also be gained by a loner who is able to amass disproportionately more resources than everyone else. Even without a gang beside him, his resources give him more power than any other loner. Hence he is a threat that must be neutralized. Then for all other loners so threatened, if amassing comparable numbers of resources is not viable, joining a gang becomes the only option.

In short, carriers are like loners with disproportionately more resources than everyone in the neighborhood. The only way to protect yourself against carriers, then, is to join a gang. That’s the first step to winning a dispute with a carrier. But that alone is not enough.

Resources > People

Because amassing resources does not require buy-in from others, it can be more powerful than people in assembly. Every person is self-interested, but solidarity has the effect of leveling out competing self-interests. Amassing resources requires no such leveling effect. A wealthy villain, for example, can buy the brawn of mercenaries (i.e. highly paid attorneys) without having to convince them that his cause is virtuous. A wealthy villain can also force hired hands (i.e. customer service reps) to choose between meeting their basic needs and adhering to their own sense of virtue, particularly if the kind of resources (i.e. money) the villain offers are both scarce and needed by the hired hands. This explains, I think, how cell phone carriers induce so many hired hands to mistreat consumers, as though the hired hands themselves were not also consumers. Upton Sinclair said it best: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

People have recognized the necessity of gangs and other strategies to neutralize concentrated resources for thousands of years. Here’s a brief history lesson.

Societies > Loners

Seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote about the necessity of finding power in numbers. His book Leviathan is a lengthy argument for why societal governance is both legitimate and necessary. Hobbes says that, before the the advent of society, men were in a “state of nature” in which every man had both the power to kill and the vulnerability to be killed. Solitary men feared each other in this “poor, nasty, brutish” world. The only protection was in numbers–alliances, societies, and gangs. So we formed societies and gained an advantage over loners.

Strong Societies > Weak Societies

Then certain societies grew powerful enough to gain advantage over other societies. In History of the Peloponnesian War, Greek historian Thucydides tells how Athens, a powerful Greek city-state embroiled in a war with fellow powerful city-state Sparta, demanded that the small island nation of Melos, essentially, join Athens’s gang. Melos preferred to stay neutral. So in 431 BC, Athens destroyed Melos and justified it by arguing that “might makes right;” the powerful decide right from wrong. Athens was powerful both in resources and people; it commanded a large alliance of other city-states and nations and it grew wealthy from the the tribute payments it exacted from these weaker allies. This episode illustrates why it’s imprudent to assume that powerful groups will not exploit weaker groups (i.e. that carriers will not exploit consumers), to not pursue new alliances when threatened and outnumbered, by either people or resources.

But the mere act of joining a gang amounts only to defense, a way to deter wrongdoing. But some wrongdoers are too powerful to be deterred. So defense alone is not adequate.

Collective Action > Individual Action

Gangs also need a plan for offense, to go after wrongdoers and hold them accountable.

Long ago, lawmakers realized that individual victims are denied redress when the cost of pursuing a claim is beyond their means. But they realized that power in numbers of resources could be met with power in numbers of people through collective action. Lawmakers decided that justice should not be accessible only to those who could afford it. So they devised collective action as the strategy for overcoming the prohibitive cost of many individuals pursuing similar claims against the same deep-pocketed offender. According to attorneys Jonathan Gertler and Christian Schreiber, people have been banding together in collective actions for almost a millennium.

Written records dating back to 1125 reflect procedures by which a few villagers could act as representatives for an entire English village in order to file a single complaint in court. It is remarkable; 900 years ago, a time when life was starkly less complicated, long before society became so interconnected, long before there was an endless variety of products and services available to “consumers,” there were disputes that presented facts common to a sufficient many that justice demanded representative or collective action. And so it was allowed.

Let’s put ourselves in an English village nine hundred years ago. Imagine that a wheat dealer who holds a monopoly decides to cut off supply of wheat to an entire region in order to drive up wheat prices. While his decision affects the availability of bread–and therefore the region’s nutritional options–the region has food options other than bread. So the real harm is financial, and it’s felt first by bread makers. How can a bread makers stay in business if they can’t afford to buy their trade’s primary raw ingredient? Since the wheat dealer is far wealthier than any one bread maker, collective action is their only option. So the bread makers band together and bring legal action against the wheat dealer. Each bread maker pitches in what little he can afford, and with their combined resources, the bread makers are able to pursue their action against the wheat dealer.


The Takeaway?


In the context of consumer-carrier tensions, sharing information with consumers who have suffered in common ways at the hands of common wrongdoers is akin to joining a gang. If you find people who hate your carrier as much as you do and want to do something about it, you may consider yourself a gangster. Defense? Check.

On the offense front, you should realize that merely pursuing a class-action lawsuit against your carrier will probably fail. So your problem is, how do you go on offense to redress grievances? One word: CellBreaker. It’s the preferred of consumer gangs everywhere.