Friday, 1 June 2012

The true “cheap and nasty” land

One of my childhood recollections is of an aunt of mine saying of Japanese cars (whose advertisements I then assumed to be truly representative of how good they were) calling them “cheap and nasty” and “mitsi-bitsies”, which is of course a bastardisation of the correct Japanese-language pronunciation mi-tsu-bi-shi.

My brother, when I discuss the issue in the knowledge that Japanese cars were actually manufactured to a much higher standard of workmanship than British cars of whom this aunt said “did not need to be advertised because they were good and people will buy them without advertising”. The PIGs of course say this was because of excessive union power in Britain, which my brother doubts but does not deny.

However, for all the talk of “cheap and nasty”, there is no doubt at all what country really is “cheap and nasty” to live in: my homeland of Australia. Owing to the surfeit of land and minerals, Australia’s working class has always been much richer adjusted for the low cost of living than those of Eurasia or New Zealand or most of the Americas. The result has been:
  1. it has been willing to accept low quality because migrants to Australia have sought low living costs rather than an easy life of total libertine freedom like those moving to New Zealand
  2. its high real wages have meant it has been much less politically active and support for radical socialism as has been dominant ever since industrialisation in Eurasian and now South American working classes is absent
The results of this, whilst pleasant for ordinary people, can be awful for those with any sort of discrimination or specialised interest. The fact that Australian workers are much less self-interested than those of Eurasia or the Americas means that demand for high quality products is extremely low in proportion to Australia’s population. Thus, if you as I do want specialised, rare or old products they must be imported from Eurasia or the Americas where demand among ordinary people is so much higher.

What is worse is that the apolitical nature of Australia’s working class means there is no pressure on businesses to not produce the cheapest good or service - and this applies to government or historically government-owned businesses equally as much as to private businesses, such as critically the mail service from which I can get specialised goods like old Wisdens.

A shoddy mail service can be disastrous because of the possibility of parcels failing to be properly checked and consequently being lost in the mail. Over the time I have received parcels from and eBay, this possibility has always lurked in my mind. I have come to accept that a good mail service would deliver a parcel from Europe or North America to my post office box in a single straight week - some parcels I have receive have come more quickly than that so one week seems a reasonable standard of service. However, Australia’s poor mail service can not only delay this but also simply leave parcels behind never to be found: although I always fear this and have bad temper tantrums when I feel that the people responsible should be punished as hard as possible for negligent behaviour, I have lost only around a dozen parcels in the mail. Nonetheless, the number seems to be increasing: since October 2011 I have lost three parcels in the mail:
  • a WALS copy intended as a present for me in October
  • some old Famous Five Adventure Games this January
  • a bargain 1907 Wisden this May
The rate of parcel loss since February is equivalent to one parcel in ten! Since I  have some other parcels waiting the figure may be even higher, too, and I am being told to wait through my mother’s masectomy for a refund that may be frustratingly late for something lost two weeks ago or more as I write.

My imagination tells me that a one-in-ten rate of parcel loss must be orders of magnitude above anything reported from any OECD nation other than Australia. When I told my brother of the WALS loss, I said that there is no way such a loss would ever occur in Singapore because the high living costs would mean tolerance for low quality is much reduced. Although my brother denies the truth of this, he has never refuted my argument with real-world examples of lost parcels to any other location, and it is not easy for me to imagine that lost parcels do occur everywhere.

People who want to migrate to Australia because of the continent’s surfeit of resources and relaxed lifestyle need more warnings than the fragile environment which low living costs do not pay for: quality of services is “cheap and nasty” in the truest sense. If that is what you want, so be it but do be warned for you may experience things not found elsewhere!

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