Friday, March 27, 2009

The economics of discipline

Perhaps it’s easy to be disciplined and orderly when you know that you will definitely get whatever it is you’re waiting for; when you know for certain that you won’t lose out by giving way to someone, or waiting till those ahead of you are done. Maybe that’s why there’s such a mad scramble for everything in poorer countries – because people know that supply (of anything) is much, much less than the constant demand, and it’s always a case of first-come-first-served, every man for himself and the others be damned.

If you want to see Third World-style discourtesy and selfishness in the hallowed West, try shopping at Next just after Christmas. Or at Ikea, when there’s a sale on. Or heck, for some really vicious “me first even if I have to trample over you” behaviour, head for Harrods during their traditional New Year sale, where the Haves exhibit the sort of aggressive grabbiness that the Have-Nots couldn't even begin to match.

Discipline only exists where supply exceeds demand. That’s a law of human nature, whether you’re White and First World, or Brown and Third World.


Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

Very interesting point! But then, it also becomes a habit for some folks regardless of abundant supply.

Kamini said...

I agree, human beings are the same everywhere - things appear to be more civilized here (in the West) partly because of abundant and organized supply. However, I have to say, I was in Madras a few months back when there was a severe petrol shortage for a few days (a truckers' strike being one of the main reasons for this); there were ridiculously long lines at whatever petrol bunks had some petrol remaining. I had to wait in line for a very long time at one of these - no one cut the line, it was quite civilized - I think there was a sense of everyone being in the same boat, of having to suffer this together. On the other hand, I read that someone was actually killed in a stampede that occurred during a Thanksgiving weekend sale last November, in a relatively prosperous suburb of New York.

Kamini said...

Where have you been?! I'm missing your writing! Hope all is well with you.

hari said...

What an awesome title to this post. Never really realised the interface between discipline and economics.

Always thought that developed countries have discipline instilled in their culture. Wat you said is indeed an eye-opener, atleast for me.

fortyfiveminutes said...

This is something I have thought about for a long time and you've hit the nail bang on the head. It is so true. It's easy to be organised and "civilised" when you know you will be provided for, and even easier to call it a Third World problem. Very well said, indeed.