Sunday, July 09, 2006

France Will Win (Sob)

I theorize that the trust scores of nations significantly affect the way they play international soccer and that in consequence France will win today.

The amount of social capital – trust - varies between nations, and is measured by their position in the
world corruption scale published each year by Transparency International. Frances Fukuyama wrote a good book on the topic before he disgraced himself by being for the war in Iraq before he was against it.

In low trust nations people only trust family, regard the state as the enemy (which it often is since all dictatorships are low trust), and consider successful lawbreaking a matter of pride, not shame. Good indicators of low trust nations are suicidal driving and masses of family owned business with a few big state owned conglomerates. Very low trust nations in the news today are Saudi Arabia, Syria, China, and Iran (North Korea fell off the scale).

High trust nations show much higher levels of cooperation outside of the family, much more community involvement (e.g. people collaborating to pick up their neighborhood’s trash), and a wary acceptance of the state. They’re all democracies, and the top 20 are the Anglosphere, a few other Brit ex-colonies, all Scandinavian nations, and some Northern Europeans – Luxembourg, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, France, and Germany.

We live part of the year in the Southern Med, where most nations are middle to low trust – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. The rest of the time we’re in high trust nations – the UK and US.

Which brings us to international soccer.

In high trust nations, it’s assumed you obey the law and keep your promises. Of course not everybody does that, but they don’t boast about it because that would cause them to be stigmatized. Also the cops are trustworthy.

Our experience in mid and low trust societies is the other way round. If they think they can get away with it, people break the law & don’t keep promises to non-family members. They boast about it too – successful tricks played on non-family boost social stature. And the cops are definitely not trustworthy.

(Incidentally, people from high trust nations find it very hard to believe that other nations are low trust – as countless Brits find out every year when they foolishly seek help from crooked Southern Med cops).

So when soccer teams from nations with different trust levels play each other, you’re watching social systems compete, as well of course as physical skill, energy, tactics, etc.

I played soccer as a kid and haven’t followed it subsequently. But during our recent visit to Germany was obliged to watch World Cup games on TV. I was astonished by the very high level of “foul” play – deliberate tripping, diving, arm locks, head smashes and so on. Only about half of these infractions were detected, and my German friend assured me that this was quite normal.

A 50% detection rate is so low that, absent other constraints, rational players (pun intended) will use foul play as a deliberate tactic. And that’s where culture comes in – low trust nations will be happy to foul, because they’re used to breaking rules, whereas high trust nations will tend not to.

To compensate for this, high trust nations work better as teams – that’s why they’re much richer than the low trust crowd.

So, all other things being equal (skill, referee etc) a team from a low trust nation will beat one from a high trust nation if it can successfully use foul play to either disable its opponents and/or blunt their attacks. And a team from a high trust nation will beat one from a low trust nation if its superior teamwork compensates for its loss of players and/or blunted attacks.

When low trust teams play other low trust teams, expect less foul play since the tactic has little value against an opponent prepared to use the same tactics.

Obviously, high trust teams will play each other with low levels of fouling.

Finally, with only 50% detection of infractions, expect nations at the bottom of the high trust league to have a permanent advantage – they’d combine a certain level of foul play with good teamwork.

This analysis suggests the Portuguese squad (26th most trustworthy) planned their tactics for the match against England around taking out the top 2 English players – which they did, very skillfully. The English (11th most trustworthy in the world & England probably higher since UK includes dodgy Scotland & IRA ruled NI) would have focused on tactics. The result is history.

So I predict France will win today. It’s right at the bottom of the high trust 20 - not so high trust that it won’t happily deliver a good foul, but high enough to play well as a team. Italy is low trust (40th most trustworthy in the world) and will depend on taking out the best French players.

Right, this should have annoyed virtually every nationality reading this blog.

Since we like the Italians much more than the French, we hope this theory proves to be wrong and have laid in have a substantial stock of Nastro Azzurro to drown our sorrows/celebrate with.

UPDATE: 10:05 Another theory bites the dust, and London's Italians and their many supporters are celebrating with industrial-strength fireworks (I hope that's what they are). Their beer is very good too.