Shelters From Planned Obsolescence

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:

Exhibit 1
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.

Exhibit 2
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.

Exhibit 3
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.


The Future of Money – Does Money Have A Future?

Builds Upon: Why Unrest Will Continue To Grow In Industrialized Nations

As production becomes increasingly efficient and requires ever less labor, civilization is faced with a horrible dilemma—abundance.

Without scarcity, there can be no market.
Money deprived of a market is a goldfish flopping about after its bowl has been shattered.

For those who enjoy the benefits of money, unfettered abundance can only bring on a fate worse than death—to become perfectly ordinary with nothing to justify a sense of superiority or to distinguish oneself from the faceless crowd.

It takes a lifetime, even generations to accumulate money. A decrease in the importance of money would destroy gains won through years of labor and sacrifice. Many would lose their life’s work.
The incentives bring the wealthy to the obvious conclusion.
Efficiency in production cannot be allowed to result in indiscriminate abundance.
Scarcity must be maintained at all costs.

For most human beings, money is the shackles of slavery. It is always scarce and without it one cannot be considered a member of society or even a human being.
Ironically for this majority, as the production of goods becomes more efficient, money must become more scarce. If less people are needed to produce, less people are paid.

Thus wealthy people’s goal of maintaining the integrity of markets and the value of money is inimical to the interests of most people.
Abundance has resulted in zero sum conditions that pit the wealthy against everyone else as never before.

This is why we see a different sort of conflict developing. This time it is not about getting a slightly better deal under the existing system. It’s not even about unseating the wealthy and taking over the top of the pyramid.
The scope of what is happening here is far wider than most people yet understand.
The system itself is at stake.

Let us look at some possible new worlds:

1- The Powerful Stay In Power

There are only as many cattle as demand supports.

This same principle applies to the human herd.

As less people are needed, the population of workers must shrink down to the level of equilibrium.
-Perhaps some people would perish of privation
-Fertility in the herd drops because of scarce resources.
-Social strife spurred by scarcity causes millions of deaths.
-Direct and indirect means used by the powerful to reduce the population to a more manageable level.

A critical precedent is established once and for all: societies exist to serve the rulers. Anyone else is livestock.

The rulers want each generation of cattle to be more useful and pleasing than the last.
Predictably, genetic engineering and selective breeding become the norm.
The process of human domestication that began 10,000 years ago is finally taken to its logical conclusion.
In the underclass, at least, humans as we know them cease to exist.

2- Abundance Destroys Money As The Means to Power

The powerful are unable to maintain artificial scarcity. Like a high tide, the influence of money over the world begins to recede.

Basic human needs such as food and shelter are massively devalued or even become free.
In a world where people aren’t just desperate to eat and keep a roof over their head, pointless tasks that no one wants to do(most of the economy) are abandoned.

The money system likely continues, but only where there is sufficient scarcity.

A new period in human history begins but it isn’t a utopia. Indeed, without scarcity to keep people in line, such a world would be one of disorder. All the impulses that people must suppress in order to eat for another day would be unleashed on the world.

Is this world better or worse? As in outcome 1, it depends on who you are.

For followers who instinctively love predictability, the world is a much darker place.

For those who thrive on creativity, critical thinking, and chaos it is a great age of opportunity.

3-A Middle Road?

The length of the working week is reduced from 40 to 35 to 30 and so on. The job is gradually and peacefully phased out.

Unfortunately, the moderate path comes with certain problems.

Already, the 40 hour workweek is a myth.
People in salaried jobs commonly put in 12-16 hours a day.
A monthly salary is a blank check for an employer: the employee ends up working as many hours as they possibly can. The employer then gets to hire less people.
Furthermore, no one creating a job wants to have their best worker work only 30 hours in order to share time with someone less competent. Equal distributions of jobs or hours can’t work in an unequal marketplace.

What really happens then is that only the most desirable people end up with real work to do while most of the rest of the population is underemployed or idle. The elite employers and employed won’t support an unskilled, unneeded, disruptive underclass forever.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 1.

As most people find they can rely less and less on traditional jobs for their livelihood they inevitably start looking for alternatives.
Abundant leisure time and urgency results in millions people stopping to think about the world they live in.
The artificial nature of scarcity becomes obvious.
Social unrest in favor of abundant resources ensues.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 2.

To say the least, this middle passage seems precarious.