Friday, October 2, 2009

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 115

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 115th of our weekly bulletins to keep you informed of changes at Socialist Party of Great Britain @ MySpace.

We now have 1524 friends!

Recent blogs:

  • A Post-Conflict World
  • Japan : the road to Pearl Harbor
  • Nazism – the ultimate evil?
  • Quote for the week:

    " ..the principles are not the starting-point of the investigation, but its final result; they are not applied to nature and human history, but abstracted from them, it is not nature and the realm of man which conform to these principles, but the principles are only valid in so far as they are in conformity with nature and history. That is the only materialist conception of the matter... " Engels, Anti-Dühring(1877)

    Continuing luck with your MySpace adventures!

    Robert and Piers

    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    Made to Waste

    Book Review from the October 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Made to Break. Technology and Obsolescence in America. By Giles Slade. Harvard University Press. 2006.

    In 1960 the American investigative journalist, Vance Packard, brought out a book The Waste Makers. Subtitled “A startling revelation of planned wastefulness and obsolescence in industry today”, it exposed how capitalist firms making consumer goods were deliberately designing them to break down after a calculated period of time so as to encourage repeat sales.

    This new book covers the same ground and is a history of ‘obsolescence’ in America. Slade identifies three kinds: a product can become obsolete because something new, and genuinely better, has been invented (as happened, for instance, to cut throat razors and gas lighting); or because of advertising; or because it had been deliberately built-in to the product (also known as ‘death dating’).

    The manufacturers and their advertisers were quite open about what they were doing. Thus a Justus George in 1928:

    “We must induce people . . . to buy a greater variety of goods on the same principle that they now buy automobiles, radios and clothes, namely: buying goods not to wear out, but to trade in or to discard after a short time . . . the progressive obsolescence principle . . . means buying for up-to-dateness, efficiency, buying for . . . the sense of modernness rather than simply for the last ounce of use” (quoted p. 58).

    And a Brooks Stevens in 1958:

    “Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money” (quoted p. 153).

    This provoked a conflict with engineers, who knew they could make solid products that could last for years, but in the end their reluctance was overcome (they, too, are in the end only hired employees who have to do their employer’s bidding). It is also enormously wasteful as still useable products, and the material resources that went into making them, are simply thrown away.

    Things have got worse since Packard’s day, with the use of soldered circuits in electronic devices that are now part of everyday life. These are easy and cheap to produce but their chipboards can’t be repaired. According to Slade, there is a growing problem of where to dispose of abandoned (but still useable) cell phones (as mobile phones are called in America) which, together with other ‘e-waste’, contain materials that are harmful to the environment.

    Like Packard Slade blames consumers, if not so much as manufacturers. If, he argues, people take account of the effect on the environment of what they buy manufacturers will begin “to adopt design strategies that include not just planned obsolescence but planned disassembly and reuse as part of the product life cycle”. This assumes that the capitalist economy is driven by consumers. It isn’t. It’s driven by the drive of capitalist firms to make as much profit as they can.

    Adam Buick