Are you Overpaying for Power?

A recent run-in with my utility company raised an interesting metaphorical question.

The utility company has a basic “Customer Charge” everyone pays. That charge is $14/month. I did not know this, because the statement simply said

“Customer Charge — $70.”

I had to call in and simply ask what that was for. That’s $14 x 5, for the five residential units in your building, I was told. But. There are not, nor have there ever been, five residential units in the building. Before we purchased it, there were three apartments. In 2008 we reconverted it to a single-family dwelling. And we never noticed the over-charge, because it wasn’t detailed on the bill. Until this month.

For nine years, I’ve been overpaying for my power. Now I come to a decision: will I be able to make an acceptable bargain? What do I want? Can I negotiate (with a huge company) for a repayment (they are currently resisting pretty hard) or will I need to request intervention? If so, the possibilities are 1) File a Consumer Complaint with the State Attorney General’s office and request mediation 2) Small Claims Court 3) Let it go. That perfect girl is gone… Uh. No. Number 3 is out.

Now to extrapolate principles for the metaphorical/philosophical question… how do you know if you are overpaying for power?

We all wield some sort of power. Related words include “influence” and “authority” and “control”. Even self-control is a certain sort of power. The lack of it subjects us to being ruled by other things: our own fleshly desires in the form of addiction, for example. I think it’s fair to say that the weakest human being still possesses some sort of power, as long as they are breathing. Even people we might consider dispossessed of power have a little. You can throw yourself in front of a line of tanks. You can willingly and peacefully resist oppression. You can take violence to the street (not recommended.) Your power in that case lies simply in your own willingness to die rather than to accept another day of relative powerlessness. You’re saying “I won’t overpay anymore. Give me liberty or give me death!” Over-payment — that’s when we’re giving more than we’re getting.

Some questions have to be addressed before we can get to over-payment, though. First, how much power do we need? Are we managing a building with five residential units, or one? Second, is what we’re giving up equal to what we’re getting? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis that we may not be doing. For example, I have a certain amount of power over my children. As they grow towards adulthood, I begin to lend them some of my own power, so they can get a feel for using it. The longer I attempt to hold all the power in my hands over their lives, the closer I’m going to get to having them throw their bodies in front of the line of tanks I’m driving. The longer they over-pay, the closer they’ll come to revolt.

Some politicians still want to use Machiavellian power tactics: Sly and cunning, two-faced, deceitful tactics to get what they want and give nothing in return: an example would be getting a wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it. This is an old-school approach to power. I heard someone on the radio comment the other day that the new broadly held assumption in the field economics is that the best principle is to seek a win-win. Seeking a win-win means everyone’s paying a fair rate for the power they get in a relationship. Nobody’s tricking anyone. Everybody is empowered, and therefore happy.

Look at where you have power, and where you don’t. We need to ask ourselves, am I paying too much? (Or too little, not taking responsibility?)  Am I getting tricked? Am I tricking someone else, no matter how subtly? Healthy life balance includes getting the power equation to equal up like a proper algebraic statement. Where Pw = power and Pm = Payment, we want to come up with Pw=Pm.

If you are over-paying, it’s time to respect yourself enough to ask for some restitution and equalization.