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  • Mary MacLeod Jones

Shouldn’t Planned Obsolescence be Obsolete?

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

rusty old cars last

In 2007, it seemed all good. Then "it" happened in December of 2007. The Great Recession officially hit "home." With previously easy credit as our rocket fuel, many of us were instantly propelled headlong into an orbit of debt. For me, it was that mortgage. Just a babe in ARMS, my interest rate was scheduled to adjust to 24% in months, threatening to suck me into a fiscal black hole for years. Miraculously in 2009, I was able to refinance with only days to spare. I counted myself as one of the lucky few.

A few months later, however, as if by design, my new washer, drier, lawn mower, mini rototiller, three printers, fax machine, and copier all stopped working. Was this some cosmic joke? Was there some secret plan to make sure I would stay in debt? And the environmental burden of those "durable goods" being thrown in a landfill…it all made me sick. And then, one evening, while fumbling through my junk drawer for string, wire, tape, and glue to hold these appliances together, I got angry. That's when I heard a resounding, malevolent voice echo from the past, from the bottom of an abandoned well, whisper, "it's called Planned Obsolescence."

"Who's there?" I stammered.

"I'm the ghost of Bernard London, the author of Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence. Google it," he commanded.

That's when things got creepy. In the book, London outlined a plan to "put the entire country on the road to recovery."

"Briefly stated, the essence of my plan for accomplishing these much-to-be-desired-ends is to chart the obsolesce of capital and consumption goods at the time of their production." -- Bernard London, Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence

He suggests, for example, that "the Government assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture, mining, and agriculture, when they are first created, and they would be sold and used within the term of their existence known by the consumer. Then, after the allotted time had expired, these things would be legally "dead." They would be controlled by the duly appointed governmental agency and destroyed… and the wheels of industry would be kept going and employment regularized and assured for the masses."

Come on! An economy where people lease their shoes from the Government and where your refrigerator will be declared legally dead is crazy. That would be like living in a continuously looping Habitrail of debt as we do. Of course, the real-world execution is slightly different, e.g., shoes are bought with revolving credit, and refrigerators designed to die within five years never actually get issued a death certificate, but we are close enough, right?

I want a new crazy idea to help us move beyond this disposable culture we currently 'enjoy' to create a joyful and sustainable future where quality, craftsmanship, and durability are measured and valued. Why, for example, can't we have a consumer durability index and own things for life? Ok, maybe that wouldn't work, but some new idea has to emerge at some point that frees us from Mr. London's rat trap. Please share your thoughts here.

Broken phones

When I return home from buying a new smartphone, I'll check out your new ideas. I dropped the one I bought last year in the snow this morning, and it both shattered and melted simultaneously. Now, that's smart!

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