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September 2017 Economy and Policy

Published on: 2017-09-08 13:32:06     386 times read    0  Comments
Quality Matters
The morality to govern needs to be retrieved by our leaders who have lost it by choosing to be a part of the crowd.
 
--BY JAGDISH PRASAD AGRAWAL
 
What satisfies the perception of an end-consumer constitutes quality. This is not only true for all products and services that commercial enterprises provide but also for the public goods and services that a nation offers to its citizens, society to its members including family which serves its intimates. What constitutes the basic tenets of quality? Is quality absolute or relative? How can quality be managed? Is there a common thread among qualities that are spread over different categories of products and services? These are a few basic questions that come to mind when we talk about the qualitative aspect of our living. 
 
Goethe had said “wood burns because it has proper stuff in it and man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him”. The beneficiary of any quality is a human being and hence an individual determines what constitutes good quality for him/her. Such perceptions of good quality have evolved over a period of time. Technology has played a pivotal role in changing and creating new perceptions. The velocity of change in quality perceptions have been speedier during the last one decade compared to four decades earlier. Former chairman of Caterpillar Inc William Newman has said that a product of the company no matter where it is built would be equal in quality or performance no matter where it was manufactured in the world. Another company that led the redefinition of quality is McDonald’s. Its theme has always been “quality, service, cleanliness and value” anywhere in the world.
 
One common thread in this quality revolution has been that they are universal. The demand for change in quality perception has spread to all other aspects of life whether family relationships, social causes or national good governance. This universalism and predictability in basic values remain unaltered and these values are putting pressure on mankind to raise their own bar of quality. Quality is slowly and steadily becoming part of the mindset of human beings, it is percolating into one’s lifestyle. 
 
This slowly emerging universalism for quality has triggered a need to meet local cultural and functional diversities as well. The quality of a product or a service in any form cannot be said to be absolute. It evolves as per the needs, technological and social innovations. What is amazing and satisfying is that along with products and services the quality of an average human, despite aberrations, has scaled up in terms of not only human development indices but also in their intrinsic values which manifests itself in a universal desire to abolish all sorts of social exploitations whether class, creed, colour, labour, child, gender and any other form of social suppressions.
 
The most sensitive and variable element at the centre of quality transformation is the human being whose qualities determine all. His/her tastes, lifestyles, food habits and outlook on family relations, social behaviour and good governance collectively determine the quality of products or services that will be produced in a country alongside the type of society and governance the country deserves. A person is a ruler as well as ruled. Over the years, the quality of a human being as an individual has graduated from a superstitious, conservative being into a logical, analytical and matter-of-fact type of a person who is vocal, loyal, conscientious and more responsive. 
 
But simultaneously, the person has become more individualistic, mechanical and rebellious who does not take things for granted, questions traditional practices and values. It is the individual who builds new institutions while distancing from the old ones. Experience is no more the cutting edge. Technology is their tool. Personal happiness is their goal. For them their happiness lies in their individualism, free of all encumbrances, physically fit and socially inclusive.
 
Though older generations sometimes do not approve the changes taking place, as an individual today’s young people are more perceptive and socially more sensitive towards their environment. These characteristic changes definitely give them a better standing in today’s society. Self-employment, education and adventurism have taken them to distant lands and exposed them to multi-cultural environments which make them liberal and gregarious in attitude. All these new quality acquisitions fetch them appreciation. However, a section of society predicts that the evolving qualities of today’s youth as evidenced by changes will turn the next generation into totally materialistic, emotionally-bankrupt human beings whose existence will be defined by their economic productivity only. Is this quality change desirable? If such is the case, is society disintegrating?
 
The indicative characteristics of any dynamic society are neither static not absolute. In a transitional phase changes may look chaotic, to some, the glass looks half empty and to others it is half full but it is neither good nor bad. There is a space to fill it up. Restructuring is not disintegrating. Today’s youth and the future generation will be more akin to each other as the present generation had been closer to their fore-fathers. The changes that shock us will be normal to them. The society that has been inherited by today’s youth is not fully compatible with their aspirations. Speed and equality are missing. They abhor protection and love competition. They aspire to be part of a society that is globalised and modern physically and socially. They are the trend setters. They want to be the catalyst of change and not mute spectators. 
 
All these cannot be the sign of disintegration. It is not decadence but rejuvenation of society in a new mould which will retain traditional values like love and compassion but will also usher in speed, competition, technology in their lives so that the society to which they belong is more contemporary and at the same time more humane. This positive transformation in the quality of society is the result of positive changes in the quality of its members brought about by spread of education and the pressure of globalisation. Incidents of violence and many other aberrations that keep on popping up from time to time are manifestations of the malaise in international relations and deliberate tension mongering of vested interests for power.
 
These changes in the quality of the members of society not only dictate the changes in the quality of products and services but also demand a restructuring of social and national institutions which can serve them better.
 
The question is how do we manage them? The various tools of quality control at production levels have been practiced the world over with varied degrees of success. The Japanese style of quality management consisting of quality circles, kaizen, re-engineering etc have been in vogue as a bible for quality managers in most of the production units. Standardisation of quality parameters in terms of NSI, ISO, HAPPS and many other such certifications are formidable tools to ensure that the consumers receive goods and services with proper stuff. In USA Dening led the quality revolution there which not only established a quality culture in American manufacturing but also paved the way universally for others to follow suit.
 
Even then the quality is at peril at many places. Consumers still are served shoddy goods and services, society is in turbulence over relationships and the states are totally disconnected with the people. The distribution of quality to each and every end consumer at every level of the developmental pyramid is missing. Quality control is no more a production management issue as the technological advances have made it more controllable and serviceable. Rather it is an issue about the fair distribution of income, it is an issue of good governance and for a public delivery system and it is an issue of quality available at an affordable price. An article titled “The elements of value” in HBR said “what customers value in a product or services can be hard to pin down. Often an emotional benefit such as reducing anxiety is as important a function as saving time. How can managers determine the best way to add value to their offering.” This is true for any social worker and public servant. The above article suggested and identified 30 elements of values that meet four kind of needs. 
a. Functional  
b. Emotional
c. Life-style
d. Social Impact
 
For any quality to be acceptable in society and/or the market an optimal combination of these values will have to be offered which only can enhance broader loyalty to the product and services of the end-consumers. The commercial success of a product and a service entirely depends upon its outreach to as many consumers as there are in the market to gain their trust. This conflict between quality and quantity needs resolution at every level of economic and social effort. Technology helps but the quality of the leaders, their vision, integrity and skill also matters. It also matters who we choose to rule over us and in reverse it also matters how we who are ruled have shaped ourselves. Quality has become a function of balancing demand and supply and also the fair distribution of income.
 
The quality of a nation consists in the qualities of its institutions which uphold the values enshrined in its constitution. In the book Why Nations Fail the authors write that inclusive economic and political institutions “would have profound implications not only for economic incentives and prosperity but also for who would reap the benefits of such prosperity”. Francis Fukuyama in his book Political Orders and Political Decay emphasised the necessity of the state to “generate the power to actually do things. States in other words have to be able to govern”. Both the above comments have been made in the context of the likelihood of the states failing to deliver the economic and political prosperity to its citizens. 
 
If the quality of an individual is improving, if the society to which he belongs is more dynamic and fair why is it that the quality of a state, its governance is on the wane. Six presidents of Peru are facing corruption-charges in different courts, many of the Asian, African and Latin American countries have their past heads of states accused of involvement in corruption and abuse of power. Though GDP growth rates are high in many of the underdeveloped countries the income-disparity is so wide that it impacts adversely the delivery of quality public goods and services to the door steps of those who are at the lower wrung of economic development. 
Who is to blame? A person who as an individual has a very high quality of integrity and skills becomes meek, helpless once he becomes a part of a system. Bureaucrats, despite all their qualifications and training, are not able to govern. People feel disconnected with their political leaders. Though political governance has universally switched to a parliamentary democratic system which has empowered people, the paradox is that with empowerment, the delivery of quality public goods and services to the masses has deteriorated. Is the market driven economy to be blamed or is it that because of the opening up of politics and the economy, the requirement for quality goods and services has become so enormous that it is becoming difficult for the states to cope with such demand? 
 
The malady lies in the culture of numbers which prevails in the governance of states. Even the bureaucrats who are supposed to govern qualitatively succumb to pressures from their political masters who tend to be more populist than just. He does not work in a team and finds ways to abuse power. This happens because of the pressure of the masses wielded onto them through their elected representatives. Merit takes the back seat.
 
It is the great challenge of the twenty first century that despite improvements in the quality of an average human being, universal and consequent cohesive social orders and the democratic institutions in the emerging developing countries, their quality of governance is decaying which needs immediate attention and correction. The culture of numbers in a democratic political setup is generating a set of qualities of their own. These qualities override merits and dictate populist solutions at the peril of quality. Democracy has to revisit itself to explore how, along with the inclusiveness of the people and voices of the masses, the element of quality can also be brought in order to provide better public goods and services even to the downtrodden. The morality to govern needs to be retrieved by our leaders who have lost it by choosing to be a part of the crowd. After all, it is the quality of our political leaders which will matter. Why not elect them wisely? 
 
The writer is the Chairman of Nimbus Group.

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