(This one’s a little loopy. I’ve had the flu.)
Greetings, Comrades! The capitalists are now so entangled in their own greed that the end of the corporatist, globalist world order can be clearly seen. The means of production will be freed from theownership classes and their running-dog lackeys, and given to the people. They will be equitably used by all, and for the good of all. And soon!
How do I know this? Because today’s capitalists, most of them, won’t make a microwave oven that lasts five years. Not can’t do it — won’t do it. At least that’s what it looks like from where I sit. We got our first microwave in the mid-80s: an Amana of moderate size and feature set. Even in those days microwaves had a million modes — of which we used maybe three or four, as most do today. Fast-forward 25 years.
The Amana finally died. It didn’t really have to — we had a decent appliance repair shop back then, and the techs found the problem. But the (inexpensive) part that we needed was no longer available. The faithful Amana went to recycling.
And in the seven years since, we’ve bought three more microwaves. They die in two to four years. We just got our latest. They all look like the Amana; they all have the same feature set. Their magnetron tubes are a little more powerful,
But they don’t last.
They all cost about $140; pay more, and you get power and features and size that we don’t need. The Amana cost about $260 back in the ‘80s — I remember this, because I was and am cheap. Inflation-adjusted, in 2018 dollars, it cost us around $550. So you get what you pay for,right? In 1986, sure. But not now.
If you spread that $550 across 25 years, the distributed capital cost is about $22 bucks per year. If you spread the $280 we’ve spent for two ‘waves that died in the seven years since, the distributed cost is $40 annually. We’re paying more for microwaves now — not less.
It wouldn’t cost much to make microwaves last longer; somewhat better parts, slightly better engineering. If they’d lasted even seven years each at $140 a unit, the cost per year would match the old Amana’s. But then the corporations wouldn’t sell as many microwaves. They wouldn’t keep the factories humming — factories sited in the cheapest possible labor markets. And people who buy microwaves would hang onto money that they could be giving to the stockholders of the world.
So: thirty years of technological advancement have NOT been applied to make microwaves cheaper and better. In fact, they are now expensive and worse. And more waste is produced: the endless stream of shoddy microwaves has to be recycled.
Intentionally inferior goods, waste of resources, regulation flight, the decline of first-world manufacturing, and higher prices: this is what globalism has brought us. While it has created and fattened a surfeit of billionaires who want to buy the governments of the world, and are doing a good job at least at that.
So I’ve got this new, really cool-looking stainless-steel Panasonic microwave that will probably be dead in just over four years. I know this because the retailer offered to sell us a “free return” insurance policy on the oven — for up to four years. Everybody knows.
Your mileage may vary, but if a modestl microwave can’t last last at least seven years, after decades of microwave production, somebody’s doing it wrong. On purpose.
And the world can’t take it forever. It can’t waste the resources. The people can’t continue to be paid less for their labor but pay more for the goods that they must buy. The swelling billionaires cannot hoard the wealth of the world at a time when we’ll need that wealth to save the world.
Left to itself, it will all collapse. But people are starting to catch on. This past Year of Trump has mobilized progressives and Democrats (there is some overlap, he said with a bit of sarcasm). And it has caused honest conservatives to consider the difference between true conservatism and a shameless, honorless kleptocracy which has stolen conservatism’s name.
Let’s hope this year’s elections at least kill the momentum of the kleptocrats and rock them back on their heels. It’s for their own good, after all. Because if the people aren’t taken care of by the system, they will eventually take down the system itself.
All it would take is for Americans to start asking themselves: “If somebody works hard all their life, or as hard as they can, isn’t that enough? Should their worthiness to survive depend on knowing how to invest?” Americans believe in “fair;” if things get bad enough, we have the mindset to act on that.
And the Glorious People’s Revolution will come at last! I remember a quote attributed to hero socialist Eugene Debbs: essentially, that the United States will be the last advanced country to go socialist, but the first to go communist.
We do tend to get overenthusiastic when we buy into something new. I see a wondrous wave of all-American communists spilling across America in red electric SUVs with gun racks, wearing t-shirts of Karl Marx hoisting a beer glass and shouting, “To each according to his needs!”
It’s so American. And the capitalists and their lackeys will be issued blue uniforms and s be put to work building low-income housing or teaching underprivileged children to read.
Believe me: it’s much, much better than the tumbrils.
Planned obsolescence – haven’t heard that discussed so much lately. Used to be a big deal back in the ’70s. I think our culture has gotten used to replacing appliances and devices every couple of years. A contractor that I use regularly to fix my house told me much the same thing about dishwashers. He claims that most of them are made by one company and that the superficial exterior features are the only real difference between brands. Usually the water pump fails and is expensive enough to replace that most folks simply replace the whole dishwasher.
Considering all the uncertainty of the next few decades, global climate change being only one of the factors, I would not trust on the long-term existence of an endless line of shoddy appliances produced in one plant in the cheapest possible area.
«And it has caused honest conservatives to consider the difference between true conservatism and a shameless, honorless kleptocracy which has stolen conservatism’s name.»
David Frum, a semi-sensible Republican, wrote already in 2011:
“It’s fine to be unconcerned that the rich are getting richer, but blind to deny that middle-class wages have stagnated or worse over the past dozen years. In the aftershock of 2008, large numbers of Americans feel exploited and abused. Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares. This isn’t conservatism; it’s a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.”
The number one concern of the great usian (or english) middle classes is real estate prices, as long as they balloon up, “F*CK YOU! I am fully vested” is their political position.
I was going to say that he was almost a Clinton Democrat, and then noted that he voted for her in 2016. But that doesn’t say as much about Frum as about how the political goal posts have shifted and how the old labels don’t matter so munch any more. As for the obsession with real estate prices among the middle class it is certainly there, but the millenials don’t share it, and a fairly large proportion of the boomers (some estimate as many as half) are about to hit retirement age with minimal resources. From where I sit we are becoming more and more a nation of speculators and renters, and we’ll see how it plays out. I do imagine that if all the boomers tried to dump their houses in a 3-10 years period so they could retire, that would indeed put a drag on the market in expensive areas unless buyers could hunt up a great many out-of-country speculators.
At any rate, I never underestimate the ability of Americans to overdose on their own cognitive dissonance, start screaming, and turn on a dime.
“From where I sit we are becoming more and more a nation of speculators and renters, ” this is so very true where I live, in an area w/a “tourist industry”. Several years ago, even though finding affordable rentals was already becoming difficult for many people/residents, the local gov’t decided it’d be a great idea to ok VRDs (vacation rental dwellings) in EVERY zone. Or if you lived in a single family residential zone, you might find yourself living in a neighborhood of short term vacation rentals with few real controls on the behavior of the “visitors.” The hazards of a lack of effective controls has been very effectively demonstrated in the town 25 miles north, where there’s a long running dispute about VRDs.
Naturally, that didn’t stop the city manager or city council members in this town. So now, there’s an even greater shortage of affordable housing, and more & more the town is on the road to becoming a real property investment vehicle, rather then a place people live. More people are homeless, in inadequate housing or paying 50% or more of their income for housing, while other people who often, but not always live elsewhere, own 2 or 5 or 5 houses and pay the property taxes on those houses in 2 months of rentals.
7 years ago, the mayor of the city to the north said that over 50% of the property tax statements were mailed to out of town addresses. Yet all the hotels, tourist businesses, other businesses, the vacation rental businesses, all need quite a few low wage workers to make their businesses function and particularly to be profitable.
I’m waiting for employer provided housing to make a comeback–already seen a little in the (then middle/working class) town I grew up in. Nearby private school built 4 or 5 housing units for teachers in the 1990’s because the eachers could no longer find “affordable” housing in the area. Dorms for workers. Along with employer-tied health care and the S.Ct’s approval of employers requiring employees to sign away their right to sue for violation of labor practices (wage claims, et al), it seems as thought the US is working its way towards a kind of feudalism, not communism, without of course, the wealthy having any of the duties and responsibilities the landed aristocracy once had in the UK & elsewhere.
«Because if the people aren’t taken care of by the system, they will eventually take down the system itself.»
The system is being simply rewound to the pre-new-deal state, and in that state it had endured for over 150 years. In part because much increased oil consumption funded a lot of improved living conditions. The USA elites are resetting the system to be pre-new-deal without the facilitation of rising oil consumption though, and that may be not so nice. But most USA elites consider most of the USA as an exhausted rustbelt, and are been vigorously asset stripping it, to invest in higher growth opportunities elsewhere, applying the Bain Consulting Group matrix to countries, or at least their regions. They are globalized and can move to somewhere else better without any difficulty, leaving behind a dilapidated legacy.
Let’s hope not. Because before the New Deal the majority of Americans still lived in rural areas. If they weren’t on the farm, likely some friend or relative had one. There was a place to crash, enough food to live. My father’s family came out from Oklahoma to the coast in the late ’20s and they had enough to buy a (very) few acres of decent land on which they raised chickens, rabbits, crops, whatever they could sell. And the many relatives from both sides (including children from their previous marriages) used it as base camp when they needed to crash, needed a place to stay while on a job, whatever. Very few people today have that, as we are mostly now in urban areas. “Rewinding to pre-new deal” would be much worse than the first time.
As for the dilapidated legacy, it’s here now: publicly and privately (I have a friend who works for a PE-owned company, and I’ve been getting a three-year running account about how modern elite investment works). But it’s never too late to build on that. And the globalized power/investment system is very fragile; its very efficiency is built on fragility. The game is not over, and it is too complex with too many moving parts (some huge) to ever decree anything inevitable.
«They all look like the Amana; they all have the same feature set. Their magnetron tubes are a little more powerful, But they don’t last.»
Well, I still have a cheap south korean microwave bought 30 years ago, and I haven’t used it much, but it is still going. probably because 30 years ago south korean products contained mostly high-quality japanese made components.
«But then the corporations wouldn’t sell as many microwaves. »
Well, you are thinking a deliberate “planned obsolescence” strategy but some manufacturers (german, south korean, japanese) still build quality, long lasting products, and perhaps if you spent $550 2018 dollars on a microwave to get a “quality” model it would last long.
But I think that there are other factors than “planned obsolescence”:
* Chinese contractor factories have a “quality fade” strategy, where they offer a low sell price and then cut the quality to still make a profit, often over time to increase the margin. A book about it is every clear: “Poorly made in China”, by P Midler. Also even if contractor factories try to do their best, a lot of their management simply steal everything they can, for example it used to be common for warehouse and production managers to steal any good quality components they company bought, and replace them with similar-looking fakes, selling the good quality components for export.
* Accordingly many consumers since they have learned that so many products are of poor quality, buy on price alone, assuming that they cannot assess quality, and then they just want to pay as little as possible for stuff that probably is not very good. This is called by political economists the “market for lemons” dynamic illustrated by G Akerlof.
* Regardless of the above, because many USA workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck they prioritize saving cashflow, that is they go for the lowest price anyhow, even if price/quality is worse than that of products with higher initial price. Being poor is very expensive because of that, being short of cash means paying over the odds in many ways. B Ehrenreich wrote the book “Nickel and Dimed” documenting how expensive it is to have a low wage.
* Given that so many buyers go for the cheapest option even if price/quality ratio is poor, manufacturers tend to produce mostly those products, which makes better quality products have lower production volumes and thus more expensive than otherwise. T Slee has written the book “No one makes you shop at Wal-Mart” about how the pressure of the most popular choice crowds out minority choices.
My point was that over 30 years the technology to make a cheap microwave that was at least as durable according to cost-per-year as the old models should have happened by now — if anybody in the business wanted it to happen. They don’t. You can blame in on Chinese manufacturing, but really it’s in the business model.
Agree with you in part, Jim, but autos not so much. My Chrysler and the smaller one you saw several years ago have a combined age of 23 years. I’ve replaced engine fluids including oil, tires and brakes. Nothing else. During my youth I was fortunate to keep a car for three years before it started to come unglued.
Forrest, I lost track of your comment entirely. Great to hear from you. Yes, autos are the great exception: This is in part, by my personal opinion, because the Japanese raised expectations back in the ’70s and US companies had to compete; and frankly, because if the US hadn’t started making quality cars again after the crap from the ’70s and early ’80s, too many people couldn’t afford cars. They need them to last a long time. I look at the cars my office-mates drive, and most of them are over ten years old, even 15. That wouldn’t have been the case 40 years ago for mature office-workers.
Hope you’re doing okay in retirement. My wife Rhumba retired yesterday, and is looking forward to it. People ask her, what will you do with your time, and I know for a fact she has a stack of projects a foot tall she’s already working on. She’ll simply have more time to work on them. Me, I’m probably in harness for a few more years but now she’s fussing at me to get out early. I’d love to, but it may take a few more years for the numbers to line up the way I’d like. I’ll keep an open mind, though.