Kakonomics in the Translation Industry
Thread poster: Mikhail Kropotov

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 20:32
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Dec 1, 2011

I just came across an interesting article introducing the concept of Kakonomics:

Kakonomics. Or, the strange preference for Low quality outcomes
http://gloriaoriggi.blogspot.com/2011/01/kakonomics-or-strange-preference-for.html

It seems this trend is quite evident in our industry.

What do you think?


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The Misha
Local time: 12:32
Russian to English
+ ...
And what a befitting name too, if you know what I mean Dec 1, 2011

There is no surprise here though. This is what inevitably happens in any society where people learn to rely disproportionately on entitlements rather than on their own efforts.

That said, I don't agree that this is what we are seeing in our industry which is increasingly governed by the concept of sufficiency. All these emotionally charged recent discussions of who is supposed to translate which way, who is entitled to what and who those loathsome non-native impostors are in our midst only show that most of our fellow translators have a fairly poor command of basic economics. Sometimes there is simply no need for better quality. Is Mercedes a better car than, say, Honda? Presumably. Does the Honda get you to where you need to be? You bet (I should know, I have one). Is Mercedes necessarily a good deal for the money? I doubt it.

If cheap junk is enough under the circumstances, who needs quality stuff? Imagine what would happen to Chinese economy if things were different (no offense to the Chinese intended, power to them). Of course, if you push it too far, we all know what is going to happen, especially those of us that have been brought up dialectical materialists. He he.

Aside from relatively few cases of obvious bad-faith business dealing, what our industry is seeing is nothing more than an inevitable trend to avail itself of the global supplier pool and spend exactly as much as the particular job warrants - and not a penny more. This has long been the norm in manufacturing and most other areas.

On the other hand, what the lady is talking about in her article (very well written, but you can still tell a non-native. Ah, those little things!) is the kind of bad work ethics some of us here have come to associate with ... oops. I better shut up before they censor me out again.


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Britaly  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:32
French to English
It won't last Dec 2, 2011

I was actually looking for an entirely different forum but the title of this one intrigued me and I read the article. Imho, you get what you pay for and everyone knows that. I have a friend who has proved that it is cheaper over time to buy 3 or four cordless screwdrivers which will only work for around 6-12 months each than to stump up for a reliable, top quality brand which comes with a 2 year warranty! I would rather swan around in designer labels but have to make do with high street offerings since what I actually need is clothes on my back and shoes on my feet that keep out the weather and spare my blushes … I could go on. However, when you apply this principle to our particular profession then the water gets a little muddy. There is an enormous difference between someone who needs to know which end of a watering can to grab and an electrician who needs to safely and efficiently install a complicated piece of kit. The results go from comic to tragic. There is also a huge difference between a business which needs a summary translation of a memo from an overseas customer or sales rep and one which has already invested money in an international expansion project that requires an effective, accurate and well targeted marketing campaign. There was a recent case over here in France, where I live and work, where one of the national tourist boards published a site with the fabulous bloomer "the smell of iodine" as a translation of the French word "Iode" (should have been sea air obviously). I have nothing against non-native translations (and automatic translation has come a long way lately) if they are indeed adequate - not everyone has the budget and some clue is probably better than mist. But I suspect many of the clients who are paying low prices for these translations are not aware of how “kakonomic” they are; the proof is starting to emerge with the appearance of job postings for “post editors” (cake and eat it or what?). Sooner or later, the cat (no pun intended) will be out of the bag and those who are in a position to pay for a properly worded (accurate) translation will have to bite the bullet and start recruiting people who can actually produce the stuff they need! (Hopefully).

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 01:32
Chinese to English
Completely agree Dec 3, 2011

With Misha and Britaly.

Good translators should not be offended by the existence of cheap (or free) but adequate translation (or transcoding, as GT should be called). It's just a different market/market segment. We should be concerned when very major market players (such as, in my pair, the Chinese government) are incapable of understanding the difference between cheap/adequate and good translation.

I can't resist just making a note on China: I know it's become a byword for cheap and nasty manufacturing, but do remember that a lot of top-end goods are now made in China as well. Iphones are an obvious example, but also quality fashion brand clothes and shoes, books, industrial equipment, etc. China makes a lot of bad, but it makes much more good than you realise, too.


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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:32
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
OT: Products vs. working conditions Dec 3, 2011

Phil Hand wrote:

With Misha and Britaly.

Good translators should not be offended by the existence of cheap (or free) but adequate translation (or transcoding, as GT should be called). It's just a different market/market segment. We should be concerned when very major market players (such as, in my pair, the Chinese government) are incapable of understanding the difference between cheap/adequate and good translation.

I can't resist just making a note on China: I know it's become a byword for cheap and nasty manufacturing, but do remember that a lot of top-end goods are now made in China as well. Iphones are an obvious example, but also quality fashion brand clothes and shoes, books, industrial equipment, etc. China makes a lot of bad, but it makes much more good than you realise, too.


Hi Phil,

You are right as far as the products are concerned, which are top-end indeed in many cases. The people working in the factories, however, are mostly subjected to conditions that are tantamount to (21st century) slavery.

[Edited at 2011-12-03 09:34 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 01:32
Chinese to English
There's a contentious point Dec 3, 2011

I've got to tell you, slavery is not a word to be used lightly. Certainly not in this country (I'm in China) where it occasionally still happens.

Workers in those dark satanic Chinese mills are free to leave whenever they want. They are given food and board. They get wages which are higher than they would get working the fields, which is their other option.

I don't want to idealise this choice - the pay they get is pitiful by our standards (1500 RMB in poor areas, 2500 RMB is rich areas, for insane hours). And the work is hard and HSE protections are insufficient. All this is true.

But you should be aware of this. China's industrialisation is not like Britain's (and presumable Germany's). In the UK, the industrial revolution saw life expectancy drop, saw living conditions that were just hellish, and involved slums and crime and great suffering. Hence the satanic mills.

In China the process has been much more controlled, and much better supported (by American/European money). It helps that China at the beginning of its industrialisation was dirt dirt poor, stone age, but urbanisation and industrialisation in China has been a pretty much entirely positive process. Health is improving, living conditions are improving, wages are rising. There are very few slums in China, not like Indian cities.

I feel like a propagandist now, but it's important to get this stuff right. Whatever is wrong with this country - and there's plenty - it's not sweatshops and slavery. Not for the most part.


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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:32
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
OT: I do see your point, Phil, but... Dec 3, 2011

Phil Hand wrote:

I've got to tell you, slavery is not a word to be used lightly. Certainly not in this country (I'm in China) where it occasionally still happens.

Workers in those dark satanic Chinese mills are free to leave whenever they want. They are given food and board. They get wages which are higher than they would get working the fields, which is their other option.

I don't want to idealise this choice - the pay they get is pitiful by our standards (1500 RMB in poor areas, 2500 RMB is rich areas, for insane hours). And the work is hard and HSE protections are insufficient. All this is true.

But you should be aware of this. China's industrialisation is not like Britain's (and presumable Germany's). In the UK, the industrial revolution saw life expectancy drop, saw living conditions that were just hellish, and involved slums and crime and great suffering. Hence the satanic mills.

In China the process has been much more controlled, and much better supported (by American/European money). It helps that China at the beginning of its industrialisation was dirt dirt poor, stone age, but urbanisation and industrialisation in China has been a pretty much entirely positive process. Health is improving, living conditions are improving, wages are rising. There are very few slums in China, not like Indian cities.

I feel like a propagandist now, but it's important to get this stuff right. Whatever is wrong with this country - and there's plenty - it's not sweatshops and slavery. Not for the most part.


... there are a lot of genuine "sweatshop" examples - for instance in the textile industry - frequently revealed by NGOs such as the "Clean Clothes Campaign". Suffice it to cite but one example: http://www.cleanclothes.org/resources/national-ccc/aldis-special-bargains-from-china (this goes to show that, on the other hand, it's also all down to the behaviour/shopping patterns of consumers in the so-called "western world"). I admit, though, that there is a fine line to be drawn between slavery in the true sense of the word and appalling working conditions of those getting "food and board", and a "pitiful pay" (not only by our standards but to make their own living).

But I'm straying way off-topic here...


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