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.

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