Douwe Osinga's Blog: The Need for Crap

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Switzerland is one of the more expensive countries, even if Ikeas Billies are relatively cheap, or at least that is what most foreigners living here would tell you. Ask the Swiss and they tend to relativate it: Switzerland is more expensive may be than other countries but the sutff you get is of higher quality, so it all evens out. Of course they're wrong.

Not so much about the quality of things, quality is probably higher for most things (though not for the falafel, which is worse than usual and way more expensive) but sometimes you don't need higher quality stuff, in some situations crappy stuff will just do the trick and more importantly cheap and crappy things keep the prices of quality in check.

There are a couple of Swiss ADSL providers who are all very reliable, I'm sure, but they are also all a lot more expensive than at home where prices start under 10 euro's a month (here it's more like 40). So the cheap service at home is a lot worse and probably lacks almost all support, if that's all I need, I should be able to order it. And it keeps the better guys on their toes; they realize they have to keep up quality or else people will just settle for the cheaper stuff.

In Hong-Kong and the US (and belately some European countries too), there is a huge variety of suppliers for most things; you can get very cheap food on the street or spend a fortune on haute cuisine (yes, even in the US). Some of my Swiss friends say that it just makes life more complicated and the Swiss system where decisions are made for you is much easier; you pay what's asked and can expect reasonable quality.

Of course it only makes life easier for you if you have the money. If you don't you might have chosen for something of less quality. Europeans sometimes talk about Walmart of a place where only the American poor go and where the poor have to put up with all the cheap crap the huge corporation imports from China. The other side is of course that without Walmart (and say only the Migros, Switzerlands largest supermarket) the poor don't have as much buying power.

Forced quality is yet another tax on the poor. Economist sometimes compensate the income of countries for their price levels; poor countries are often cheaper so their (lower) income buys them relatively more. It makes the poor countries seem less poor. It'd be interesting to do the same exercise with the buying power not of the average person, but of the average poor person; the poor in the US might suddenly appear to be less poor compared to the European poor.