Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quality versus Quantity

In the shift of profits towards Capital or the struggle to be competitive not only Labor lost. Throughout the world and various industries the quality of goods and services has diminished. A culture of efficiency has been installed that wants to increase production at a lesser cost. This affects the production of yogurts, hamburgers, sausages but also medical centers, police departments and court systems as well.

Efficiency supposes measurement: How many grams of this per unit? How many seconds to accomplish this process? What’s the cost of this or that from step A to step B? The problem with this is that measurements measure only things that can be measured. What cannot be measured is killed. MBAs and engineers are taught to be objective and for them all the elements of a process should be quantified, dissected, benchmarked, or whatever: what cannot be measured does not exist.

That extra gram of this or these extra seconds used traditionally are taken away. At first sight the product is essentially the same, the price has been reduced, the consumer can’t tell it is a lesser product, he pays less and everybody is happy. Little by little over several decades they became so efficient that we started to eat garbage and never realized it. We were getting more in quantity at a lesser price and started to eat more also. No surprise we are getting fatter.

It is an interesting exercise to watch American movies of the fifties and sixties, especially the ones in color. Looking at the clothes, the houses and everything else (including the Chevys and T-birds of the 50s) one gets an amazing impression of wealth. The material of the actors suits, the quality of the cuts did not compare with anything today. Something has been lost.

By himself, man is naturally inclined to like the things he does or fabricate. Some are better than other of course but there is a little bit of his soul in his products. The artisans that makes boots or wood cabinets, jewelry or other crafts put love to it. In services it is the same thing. Men and women generally want to do the right thing and do a good job. When they are not proud of the things they make or the service they render instead of doing things with love they do them with something else: boredom, anger or contempt. At the end of the day we assimilate everything. Physically or subconsciously, we digest things. That delicious meal in a restaurant we take it in along with the love it was made with. It works the same way with the greasy pizza that was made with anger or contempt. It all gets inside us.

This thing about efficiency and cutting cost has been well translated into public service. When you start judging a court system on the basis of the number of cases processed, justice is not necessarily served. Same with cops: Judging a police officer on the number of traffic violations he writes may not be conducive to better law enforcement in general. Your friendly family doctor used to have you sit in his office, he would talk to you, look at you in the eyes and give you 15 minutes of his time. Nowadays if you get 38 seconds face time with a nurse practitioner, just say thank you to efficiency.

Another way to look at it is the way, during the Reagan years, how businesses were “cutting the fat”. In many instances they not only cut the fat of, they also took some muscle as well.

We got to go back to plain old traditional values in consuming. We must buy good quality products, maybe in lesser quantities, and get them from local sources when possible.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ideas in disorder about corruption and “thou shall not” stuff

These are rather interesting subjects that are generally looked at with both hypocrisy and an AWOL sense of reality.

One always look at Africa and South America as the pits when it comes to corruption and no one talks about what’s going on in so called “more civilized” countries. There are official organizations that rate nations and it confirms what everybody thinks: that Brazil… but that Switzerland….

In many countries, to try to make corruption totally disappear from one day to the next is not possible. What is different in 3d world rot and western rot is a matter of common sense. Not all corrupt practices are the same. Let’s say that a buyer negotiates the best quality product or services, gets the best price and after all that squeezes something for himself. That’s one thing. It is rotten, that lady should be fired but the consequences are not that grave. The job is done and can even be done well. We could call that “intelligent” corruption. That’s the kind of things one could find in countries like Switzerland or the US.
When somebody starts by the “under the table” and uses whatever is left to buy the goods or services, there is less money to do the job and therefore quality is diminished. This can create serious problems: the plane crashes because maintenance was sloppy, the building burns because the wiring was substandard, or whatever.

It would seem more reasonable to FIRST try to educate 3d world politicians or business peoples to become more sophisticated in there rotten behavior rather than tell them :”Don’t do it”. I am not sure how it could be done since saying it condones corruption..

Second subject:

Christian education makes people want to take absolute stands that have never worked. Prostitution is a “nono” but only in the books. It has existed for thousands of years and will still exist in the future. Alcool was a “nono” in the US and mostly because of that, the Mafias came into existence in the US. When it became legal to drink it was too late and the Mafia had already been created. Same with drugs: The fact of making Marihuana and Cocaine illegal has created Columbian and Mexican drug cartels who have now unbelievable cash resources. At the end of the day there are more drug consumers now than ever. The system does not work. Prisons are overcrowded with drug offenders at a cost of 25K$ per head per year. If there are 2 millions people in jail in the US, at least 80% are there for drug offenses. The cost of jailing these folks is then in the neighborhood of 40 billions USD per year! Let’s compare this cost with the meager 3’000USD per head spent by some States like Arizona on children’s education…
We must add to this the cost of the various law enforcement agencies and their losing battles: City polices, County Sheriffs, State polices and various federal agencies. A few more billions dollars. Why can’t we legalize all this, control it and tax the hell out of it. Besides that, there is absolutely no control on the quality of the products bought from the friendly local pushers. Kids (and adults) buy things in total darkness. There is no quality control department here. A few years back a journalist from the French magazine Actuel made purchases of cocaine in various parts of Paris and had them tested by a laboratory. The results showed that none of the sample had more than 19% of cocaine and that in most cases no “high” could really be obtained because there was not enough of the drug. From a parent or medical point of view that would be good. However the fillers that constituted the 80 % of the purchase were as varied as dangerous in some cases. There was: flour, rice powder, talcum powder, sugar but also ground glass, detergent and other nasty things. The results would probably be the same in any big city in the US.

Back to forbidding things. The pope telling Catholics that they are not allowed to use condoms is in the same vein: telling people not to do things that they will do anyway is not realistic. The worst is still the fact of pastors or congressmen that are violently opposed to homosexuality in their speech but are in fact gay themselves: Pastor Ted Haggard, Pastor Paul Barnes, Congressman Mark Foley and others, not caught yet.

I think the reason folks like forbidding things is that they first want to forbid what they are afraid of. The most frightening being “temptation” .