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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
The Low Quality Cartel 
13th-Sep-2010 09:49 am
An interesting article: On a Preference for Low Quality (PDF). Essentially, the article notes that in certain circumstances, people prefer to receive low quality work, knowing that they, in turn, do not have to deliver high-quality work. It becomes a socially sanctioned system of low expectations. Here is the abstract:

We investigate a phenomenon which we have experienced as common when dealing with an assortment of Italian public and private institutions: people promise to exchange high quality goods and services (H), but then something goes wrong and the quality delivered is lower than promised (L). While this is perceived as ‘cheating’ by outsiders, insiders seem not only to adapt but to rely on this outcome. They do not resent low quality exchanges, in fact they seem to resent high quality ones, and are inclined to ostracise and avoid dealing with agents who deliver high quality. This equilibrium violates the standard preference ranking associated to the prisoner’s dilemma and similar games, whereby self-interested rational agents prefer to dish out low quality in exchange for high quality. While equally ‘lazy’, agents in our L-worlds are nonetheless oddly ‘pro-social’: to the advantage of maximizing their raw self-interest, they prefer to receive low quality provided that they too can in exchange deliver low quality without embarrassment. They develop a set of oblique social norms to sustain their preferred equilibrium when threatened by intrusions of high quality. We argue that cooperation is not always for the better: high quality collective outcomes are not only endangered by self-interested individual defectors, but by ‘cartels’ of mutually satisfied mediocrities.

Do you have socially sanctioned "low quality circles" in your life?
13th-Sep-2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
I've more often noticed that people who do high quality work are both coveted and victimized by those with whom they do business, those who do low quality work. First, they *love* getting the "good stuff" from them, and then they complain, whine, make excuses, and otherwise guilt trip the high quality work people into a) accepting their low quality exchange and b) continuing to do business with them.

That's a very rough, general account, but it's accurate.

Of course, that's in the U.S. here and not Italy. The Italians are a bit strange.
14th-Sep-2010 04:23 am (UTC)
Wasn't there a joke in the USSR that went, "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us"?
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