Monday, July 20, 2015

What's good for the consumer is not good for business

Does that sound like a strange thing to say? It’s true and there is a reason for it. If you’re old enough to remember there was a time that American consumers could expect appliances, vehicles and other items that they purchased to last for many years. It didn’t matter whether you purchased a washing machine, television or even a car; chances were good that you could pass it along to your children or even grandchildren in the future. In those days the emphasis of manufacturers was on quality, not planned obsolescence.

Believe it or not, products were made to last and America was known for outstanding quality in all products that were manufactured in this country. If you’ve been around long enough you can remember the old Maytag appliance commercials. The basic theme was that the Maytag repairman was terribly bored. His problem was that he never had to make a service call because nothing ever stopped working. There’s more truth to those old commercials than you might think. I remember my grandmother had an old Maytag washer in her basement. It was around 50 years old and it still worked. Do you have anything in your house today that you expect to be working in 50 years?

The same can be said for automobiles as well. By the time you make your last car payment it’s just about time to buy a new car, right? My dad always says that “things were built to last” back in the day and he is right. So why is everything that’s made today “built to break”? The answer is quite simple actually; manufacturers refer to it as “planned obsolescence”. In other words just about everything you buy today from your new mobile phone to that SUV was designed to fail in a specific period of time. To consumers such as ourselves that may sound strange but to manufacturers it is money in their pocket.

The bottom line is that car companies want to sell you a car every 5 years, not every 30. That’s the same reason that computer technology keeps changing and supposedly “improving”. We always want to have the latest and greatest when it comes to electronics and technology but what does your computer do so much better today that it didn’t do 10 years ago? It may be a bit faster but for all the hype I can find in the latest reviews of the so called “hottest” machines I haven’t seen any major differences. In the end, a computer is just a computer and nothing more.

If you want to see the best in the world when it comes to planned obsolescence of consumer goods you must stand in awe at China. Yes, China is the undisputed KING of cheap products. There was a time that Americans scoffed at any product made in China and wouldn’t even think of buying it. Today the shelves of all of the major retailers throughout the U.S are chock full of imported products and sometimes you can’t find an American made version of what you are trying to buy, even if you are willing to pay the difference. That is one of the reasons that so many manufacturing jobs have disappeared in this country over the years.

There is a hidden price to pay when we look for the “cheapest” new refrigerator or vehicle. Not only will we need to repurchase that same item many times in the future but we are not creating jobs in this country and if a person is not working they can’t afford to buy that shiny new $5 toaster can they?

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