September 3, 2012
Forced Obsolescence and the Power of Positive Procrastination
Many of us may have heard some old timer complain that things do not last as long as they used to. Because they don't. Manufacturers engineer products we buy to last only as long as the warranty. The government has little incentive to change the system because it keeps the economy rolling and brings in more tax dollars. If it never broke, you would not have to buy a replacement. They would make less money.
Why is this a problem in Chautauqua County? Chautauqua is ranked 15th out of 62 of the poorest counties in New York.
Capitalists consider it a good thing even if they will never admit to it. Our economy runs on consumerism. The more people consume, the more companies have to produce. This keeps people working and makes more money.
Planned Obsolescence dates back to The Great Depression. Bernard London thought that by "Instilling the buyer with the desire for something newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary" would help rebound the economy.
Even simple light bulbs fail sooner than technology could allow for. Light bulbs lasted 2,500 hours in the 1920's. The Phoebus light bulb cartel forced manufacturers to reduce that time to 1,000 hours to simulate production. It was a big conspiracy theory known as "The Light Bulb Conspiracy".
Planned obsolescence wastes time and resources. Customers waste time by running around upgrading, fixing and replacing items that should last a lifetime. When I was growing up, my mother and my grandparents had the same model RCA television. I was too young to remember when they got the televisions, but both lasted until my twenties. My last television lasted only ten years.
Environmentalists should also be upset. Consumers waste millions by buying new stuff and the repair trucks moving around. We use un-renewable energy to make new products that should not need replacing. Vast amounts of non-renewable fuel resources are burned while polluting the atmosphere. Our carbon footprint is increased.
The constant need to replace or upgrade makes millions of tons of e-waste. Many of the parts are not reusable or just not reused and end up in landfills. The EPA states that 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in landfills in 2000. Logic would state that number is higher now. From there, the toxic chemicals in electronics leak out into the environment.
Many resources that are used to make the products we use are not infinite, we will run out. This practice decreases the time we have until we do run out.
I interviewed Gary Dolce from the local Sears store in Fredonia, N.Y. He stated that he was in sales for thirty years. When asked if his customers complained that products do not last as long as they used to and if he thought it affected customer satisfaction, he had this to say: "We get that all the time. (Planned Obsolesce) has a negative impact on customer satisfaction."
I asked him if he thought consumer brand loyalty was affected. He said, "Kenmore is a name related to Sears, is trusted and lasts longer than most brands. We have little problem of customer loyalty."
There is one way to sometimes beat this system. I call it the "Power of Positive Procrastination". With a little planning and luck, sometimes, just sometimes you and I can win out.
I will use my lawnmower for example. It is a green LT1000 Craftsman and the engine began to knock. (This is a warning of engine failure). The first thing I did was look at new lawn mowers. The Home Depot had a lawn mower that looked almost exactly like mine for $1,299.
I did not want to spend that much so I looked online for a replacement engine. Common sense would dictate that a part would be significantly less than the whole, right?
Wrong. Sears sells an engine for $1043.12. It is another factor in our throw away pay more taxes economy. Why buy an engine when for $250 more you can get a new mower?
Now is where Positive Procrastination comes to play. No way did I want to spend that much money to keep the grass short. So I made sure the engine oil level was good and drove it knocking and smoking. The good news was the smoke kept the mosquitoes at bay.
I searched for a used engine. Places like Freecycle and Craigslist are a good place to look. I eventually came across one on the side of the road for free. It was the same model as my mower and had a numbers matching engine.
In an hour I had the engines changed and my mower lives on. The added bonus is the $1000 or more that I did not pay out. In some cases, searching for a used item or part can make more self economic sense. That, my friends is the Power of Positive Procrastination.
Would giving away 1.6 billion dollars while getting nothing in return sound stupid to you? What if I said to waste it over a period of three months? That is what Consumer Reports says extended warranties do for the consumers that purchase them. On the money paid for a warranty, the store gets more than half in kickbacks. Extended warranties make them more money for doing nothing, not because they benefit the customer in the long run.
The best defense against forced obsolesces and extended warranties is to do your homework. Find out what products are the highest quality and longest life before you buy. Research what companies still stand behind their products and have warranties. If you purchase a product and are not happy with it, the world will blame you for not looking into it better instead of blaming themselves for making inferior products.