Builds Upon: Living On A Keynesian Playground
Many an old aphorism tells us that human desire is limitless.
Yet not so many tell us that human imagination is quite limited.
Humans can desire only what they already know of or are capable of imagining.
Thus kings in ancient times never had any desire for personal computers or i-pads.
Markets are like a genie that grants the wishes of a collective—anything that people want tends to manifest—but like a typical Arabian Nights style narrative, the moral of the story is the banality and short-sightedness of the wish-maker.
Somehow, we never see the ‘experts’ factor in shortcomings in human knowledge and imagination when they discuss the workings of capitalism. The theoretical customer seems almost like a Laplace’s demon with perfect knowledge of the universe.
In real life, imperfect consumer knowledge and foresight plus the influence of emotion makes planned obsolescence a more lucrative strategy than making high quality merchandise.
Furthermore, planned obsolescence is in part merchants’ response to increasing abundance. It is just one of many mechanisms that reinforce artificial scarcity.
Consumers, especially the millions living from paycheck to paycheck, buy the cheapest products available only to have them break in a short while. Over years, they actually end up paying more than if they had invested in a single high quality item.
This tactic works brilliantly for the sellers because most people do not have the critical thinking ability, requisite curiosity, or knowledge outside their narrow specialty to understand how they are actually being ripped off in the long term.
Ironically, quality merchandise that won’t break has become a rarity. Most products we find at major retailers have devolved into junk as consumer expectations have steadily eroded over the decades.
If the parents could be sold a toaster that broke after 8 years, perhaps their kids could be induced to buy a cheap toaster that breaks in 4 years…and so on. Now after several generations have grown up in our modern capitalism we see the market in its present state with the process of decay actually accelerating.
If we know the nature of the wish-maker we can predict the nature of the product. Thus we can predict that we will get ripped off if we shop in the same venues frequented by ignorant and apathetic consumers.
How do we shelter ourselves, then, from the nightmare market wished into existence by the tyrannical masses?
Why not find and follow those wish-makers who have a stake in getting the highest quality merchandise possible?
For instance, businesses that are very much motivated to look out for their bottom line:
Any more, a pair of jeans wears out very quickly. In particular, I notice that it’s usually the knees that give out, often within just a few months. Even sooner if there’s any actual physical work or rough handling.
Yet we still buy them just because we have a cultural memory of jeans as durable work clothing and all purpose casual wear. We keep coming back to get ripped off because we’re unthinkingly following the crowd.
Meanwhile, work clothing stores sell high quality pairs of pants that can absorb years of constant abuse. The knees are actually reinforced with an entire extra layer of thick fabric.
I think someday, I may well choose Dickies over Dockers and although unfashionable, it will be my fashion statement.
Most kitchen appliances any more break like cheap toys, even if the consumer buys a shiny tin-plated version of the same garbage that costs 25-50% more.
The only real solution: Find out what blenders, toasters, and mixers restaurants are using.
For in our present world, if it’s not ‘industrial grade’ it’s probably not worth buying.
Or, one might plug leaks by only keeping the most useful appliances. After all, couldn’t one toast a piece of bread on a stove or in an oven? In your average home how often does one actually need an electric mixer?
To be worthwhile each additional appliance must not add to the hundreds of financial thumbtacks of Damocles hanging over one’s head.
As if by royal decree, schools and instructors create a monopoly for text book companies. Not only are prices exorbitant, the publishers keep their cash cow alive by frequently ‘revising’ their books. ‘Revision’ of course mostly consists of changing the page numbers, the order of the chapters, and the assignable homework problems. Thus, everyone has to buy each new edition and discard the previous one.
Given absolute power, these companies create as much artificial obsolescence as they can. So advanced is the decay of this market, that all pretence has been dropped and the vendors overtly, ruthlessly, and arbitrarily milk their precious captive consumers.
As quality merchandise becomes less available in the wider market, we can expect an increasing resemblance to the monopolistic text book industry.
For those who sing praise unto capitalism, the principle of planned obsolescence invites us to reflect on one of the most glaring paradoxes of free markets.
The perfect product that never breaks puts its manufacturer out of business.
This conundrum shows us that capitalism alone cannot be a foundation for a society that works in the best common interest.
A better society clearly must be animated by some kind of higher legitimacy and intrinsic defining purpose that encourages every item to be made in the best possible way.
We’re often told that modern production is very efficient. Yet needless waste on a mass scale is a defining trait of our system.
Surely the enlightened society is one that makes every single effort, whether by worker or machine count for as much as possible—not to perpetuate slavery of the masses but to open up increasing amounts of leisure time and emancipate the human mind.
Final Note: I would invite readers to contribute their ideas for Obsolescence Shelters in the comments section.