Over on CapX, Tim Worstall elaborates on Matt Ridley’s recent Times column regarding free markets and fairness.
Ridley observes that free trade, contrary to common socialist rhetoric, actually makes people behave more fairly and generously:
The more integrated into the commercial world people are, the more generous they are. As one of the authors, the economist Herb Gintis, summarises the results: “Societies that use markets extensively develop a culture of co-operation, fairness and respect for the individual.”
Worstall elaborates that, as a result, a free market of repeated interactions is self-regulating:
Buying bread is, for example, a fairly common activity. Anyone trying to cheat us will quickly find their market disappearing. We might tell on them. We might just reject their offering. But bad bread does quickly disappear.
Buying pensions on the other hand is different – we only really do it once in a lifetime. And it takes perhaps 50 years to find out we made the wrong decision. We can rely a great deal less upon that trained-to-operate-in-markets set of reflexes that multiple iterations allow.
Which is rather a long-winded way of explaining what must be regulated and why.
Worstall’s assertion that fairness is a learned response reminds me of this recently reported experiment which found that wolves and domestic dogs have a similar sense of fairness (i.e. that it pre-dates the domestication of dogs). As reported on the BBC:
Two animals of each species were placed in adjacent cages, equipped with a buzzer apparatus. When the dog or wolf pressed it with their paw, both animals got a reward on some occasions. Other times, the dog or wolf doing the task got nothing while the partner did.
The key finding was that when the partner got a high value treat, the animal doing the task refused to continue with it.
“When the inequity was greatest they stopped working,” said Jennifer Essler, from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.
“For some of them it was a really really quick and strong response. One of the wolves stopped working after the third trial of not receiving anything while his partner received something. I think he was so frustrated he even broke the apparatus.”
Do you struggle to tell a dive watch from a driving watch? A field from a tank watch? Or even a dress watch from more casual models?
The importance and role of watches has changed. In these smartphone days, many don’t bother with a watch at all.
A watch to tell quality rather than time
However, with a little attention, a man’s watch can be an elegant indicator of success and a valuable signal of competence.
Remember, when you studied marketing? The reason that City law firms and accountants have plush offices hung with expensive art is that they are selling a service. You can’t try before you buy, therefore you rely on signals to decide whether you are buying real expertise.
We all do it, all the time. In a study a few years ago, researchers found that volunteers wearing Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste polo shirts were deemed more successful than those wearing unbranded or Slazenger tops:
In summary, the researchers found that volunteers who wore a polo shirt with a Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste logo (i.e. recognised premium brands) were rated as wealthier and of higher status than those wearing no logo or a Slazenger logo (i.e. a recognised non-luxury brand). Similarly, they were more likely to persuade passers-by to partake in surveys, more likely to be offered a job and raised more money when collecting for charity.
The sovereign professional has a unique challenge: how to fit in with the client’s team, while also signalling that you are the premium product the client is paying for.
Some big consulting firms take the view that consultants on-site should be indistinguishable from the client’s own team. That might work if you have a heavyweight consulting logo behind you, I’m not sure. But, the independent, sovereign professional needs some signals subtle enough to avoid alienating temporary team-mates.
The watch as credibility signal
An elegant, understated watch can signal credibility. However, the world of watches becomes esoteric quite quickly. Here are five useful resources:
Dezeen – The fantastic Dezeen.com used to have an online store of design-led watches. Sadly, the store is no more, but they do have a list of the (mostly small) brands that they used to stock.
Grey Fox – the Grey Fox blog (“A mature search for style.”) has regular features on watches for men.
Omologato – “The world of motorsport inspired timepieces”. This one’s a bit different. I came across the brand a few months ago and was just struck by the owner’s passion both for motorsport and for watch design.
Throw off the corporate comfort blanket? Why would you?
Your cosy company role gives you pension, healthcare, (usually) decent equipment when your working and paid holidays when you’re not. And, if you’re a creative, you don’t worry about all that tawdry sales stuff. If you’re in sales, you can dodge the tedious admin.
But, we do. The ranks of the sovereign professional continue to swell.
The thinking sovereign plans and deals with all of the above. But, uncertainty is unavoidable. Being independent is enormously thrilling, but it’s scary too. All the things you never worried about – like regular money – are no longer a given.