back to article CONSUMERISM IS PAST ITS SELL-BY DATE: Die now, pay later

John Watkinson, in his latest instalment for El Reg, argues that consumerism, as it is practised today, is an invention that now does more harm than good both to quality of life and the environment. We are on a driverless train to nowhere and we need to jump off. The economic crash exposed all that is wrong with how we conduct …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Higher Rate Tax

    A minor quibble with an otherwise excellent read:

    For many on the 40% higher rate (earning over around £42K/annum) they will be paying 2% NI on that extra £100 not 12%, meaning they can purchase goods worth around £48 not £40 (compared to the £57 the person on the standard rate pays).

    Doesn't change your point though.

  2. Peter2 Silver badge

    Like many other people reading this, I am not exactly a good consumer. I don't use credit and many of the things I own have outlasted the original owners and are now up for a second (or third?) innings ie. original "Sheffield Steel" Stanley tools, Avometer, IBM Model M keyboard etc.

    However I must confess that even I do still buy Petrol. If the author would care to suggest an alternative to Petrol, I would certainly be willing to consider it.*

    *Practical suggestions that work in the real world outside of London please, so don't even suggest public transport.

    1. bill 36

      Thats the point!

      Petrol has become the enabler that allows you to "commute" to work which you have to pay for.

      Its not so long ago that most workers either walked to work or used public transport.

      Great article.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Thats the point!

        "Its not so long ago that most workers either walked to work or used public transport."

        Petrol was quite cheap in the UK up to 1973. However most people couldn't afford to buy a car until the boom of the 1960s. Employment was usually a local affair - often with factories at the bottom of the workers' streets. Holidays were annual pilgrimages to nearby coastal resorts by train or coach.

        The 1960s saw the sudden rise in car ownership - and there was then a chicken and egg situation with the reduction in public transport. By the 1980s it became expected that people would use their car to commute longer distances to work - or to travel for holidays.

      2. Scroticus Canis Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Thats the point!

        Work is ±5 miles door to door from home. Too old and buggered to walk it - 1 hour & 45 minutes at 3 mph (without the rest breaks). Bus is £3.70 return but takes 45 minutes each way due to route - one bus just goes elsewhere on the way. Car is 10 minutes each way and take two litres of petrol - £2.70 say. Guess which one wins.

        In the 1980s I used to do the London commute run and even then the cost and convenience of the car (with parking rates) beat the trains & underground, plus the car seldom had strikes or wrong leaves/snow/corpse on the track delays or standing room only. Also got there warm and dry in the winter.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Thats the point!

          Work is ±5 miles door to door from home. Too old and buggered to walk it - 1 hour & 45 minutes at 3 mph (without the rest breaks).

          Walk it 300 times and a) you'll be walking significantly faster than 3mph and b) you'll no longer be too buggered to walk 5 miles. I used to be too buggered to walk 5 miles, I now regularly walk 6 miles home from work at ~4.5 mph (takes me 1:15-1:30, depending on how busy Bethnal Green Road is). Build up in small steps, it's easy.

          Car is 10 minutes each way and take two litres of petrol - £2.70 say.

          Since you are painting this as a straight economic decision, does purchasing the car, taxing the car, insuring the car and maintaining the car amortize down to less than £1 per trip?

          1. Carbon life unit 5,232,556

            Re: Thats the point!

            Not forgetting, pogo stick, dog sledge, moon shoes or just a good ol' 200 hundred quid bike. The 2 miles to my train station takes a little under 8 minutes and I'm no Chris Wiggins (or what ever his name is), bikes are tax subsidised too, 20p per mile (to/from work) and purchase is PAYE and VAT free if you're lucky enough to have access to a ride to work scheme, or like me, buy one on ebay for ~£30.

            1. Tom 38 Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: Thats the point!

              a good ol' 200 hundred quid bike

              Crikey, £20,000 for a bike?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Thats the point!

          Anywhere secure at work to park a bicycle? ~5 miles each way should be easy for even a relatively cheap electric bicycle.

    2. Bill M

      An alternative to buying petrol is not buying petrol.

      I work at home 2 days a week and on those 2 days I do not drive my car, do not use petrol and do not buy petrol.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      alternative to petrol

      there were those (evil-does), who, a few years ago, came across an evil idea of undermining the fabric of society and civilization, by using substitute (was it vegetable oil?) fuel to the gloriously overpriced, officially endorsed (eco-friendly, safe, etc) official type.

      My point? Remember how swift the arm of the law suddenly became by tracking those evil-doers and punishing them for their evil-doery? Remember the concern voiced in the media, about the dangers of what happens when you, the innocent and law-abiding citizen, with your wife and two kinds at the back come face-to-face with car powered with such evil concoction? About the criminal gangs running it as a multimillion operation, no doubt to fund terrorists and God-knows-what? Spot checks on the roads? I was truly impressed by the speed and thoroughness applied to weed out this menace. Fortunately, it worked. And it will work again, if you dare come up with any alternative to petrol. Or anything else that stands in the way of healthy profit heading the usual way.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        WTF?

        RE: AC Re: alternative to petrol

        "there were those (evil-does), who, a few years ago, came across an evil idea of undermining the fabric of society and civilization, by using substitute (was it vegetable oil?) fuel to the gloriously overpriced, officially endorsed (eco-friendly, safe, etc) official type....." Er, no. Please do supply some form of link or background to help the rest of us select the correct historial event.

        ".....My point? Remember how swift the arm of the law suddenly became by tracking those evil-doers and punishing them for their evil-doery?...." Again, no. Do you mean the use of corn or vegetable oil in older diesels in the UK? All perfectly legal as long as you declared your usage and paid the relevant tax. People did get charged with tax evasion for not paying tax on their oil, but for a while it was still cheaper to do so than buy diesel at the pump (though many cars needed quite a bit of modification to work with such oils). I helped a friend modify his old MG Montego with a diesel to do exactly that and it worked fine for quite a few years until rust killed the rest of the car. Anyway, the coppers chasing after people for not paying the relevant tax had nothing to do with stamping out the use of such oils, just the collection of taxes.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: RE: AC alternative to petrol

          > All perfectly legal as long as you declared your usage and paid the relevant tax.

          I think you're missing his point through the sarcasm.

          In order to escape the consumerist/tax cycle, you need to escape the government's means for extracting larger and larger sums of money. In this case, someone found one way and the government jumped on them quick sharp. The government and industry is invested in the status quo and anyone breaking ranks will be stomped on good and proper.

          Great article, but I think the real question is how, as members of the public, we can restrain the government from their legal enforcement of that status quo. If revenues fall because people are not buying into the consumerist cycle, then they will find other ways to extract money from us.

          Like many others here, I have an old smartphone which I bought second hand and will continue to use it until its dying breath. A regular trawler of the thrift shop and yard sale, I refuse to contribute to the driving of this madness. Regardless, the government will get its cut, mark my words.

        2. James Micallef Silver badge

          Re: RE: AC alternative to petrol

          "Do you mean the use of corn or vegetable oil in older diesels in the UK? All perfectly legal as long as you declared your usage and paid the relevant tax. People did get charged with tax evasion for not paying tax on their oil..."

          The point is that if vegetable oil is not taxed when used to fry chips in, why should the exact same product be taxed if you choose to run your car on it? I'm sure that there's a 'legally correct' answer somewhere, but again, the point is that there is no sensible rationale for such a law.

          1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: James Micallef Re: RE: AC alternative to petrol

            ".....The point is that if vegetable oil is not taxed when used to fry chips in, why should the exact same product be taxed if you choose to run your car on it?...." You are being taxed on the use you are putting the product to, not the oil itself. That use - automotive fuel - attracts the higher tax on the half-baked excuse that making fuel expensive reduces use and therefore pollutants.

  3. OzBob

    Dear Tyler Durden

    We all work (more or less) 40 hours a week, so there is little extra effort expended to gain labour saving devices. Rather, it is lost opportunity cost, specifically what else could the money have been spent on.

  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    never forget though

    you are up against the light bulb principle too.

    No manufacturer will ever make a light bulb that will last 50 years, even if they could, because they'd sell 1 once and that would be it.

    Nope much better to make a product with a limited lifespan, say 5 years, and be able to sell the same thing again and again and again.

    See Apple's phones for more.. also microsoft could do it by turning off the activation servers 2 years after each new OS is released(inflicted more like).. if they dared

    1. Dave, Portsmouth

      Re: never forget though

      Except the lightbulb idea only stands if there's a monopoly or collusion. Otherwise there is a very big incentive to be the one company that does sell the 50 year lightbulb, because you will take the market share from all of the other companies. Ok so it would shrink the market longer term, but not until after you've made your billions!

      Same with phones, or indeed any technology - I don't believe anyone deliberately makes things which fail or which *need* to be upgraded. Rather, three related things are at play.

      - Firstly, we (collectively) demand cheap, and often buy cheap, which means that companies will make what we want. We often refuse to pay the extra for the quality, long-lasting version.

      - Secondly, the "better upgrade" is obvious - technology moves on, things get smaller, things get faster, you can do more in a smaller space. I'd be frankly upset if Apple / Samsung / Microsoft weren't changing their designs every year. They don't do it to make our existing products look old, they do it because design moves on. Would you really be happy if your brand new car was styled like an 80's Rover?

      - Third thing is the oft-quoted inability to repair consumer products. I agree that's largely true, but again I think attributes the reason incorrectly. It reads like a conspiracy theory. Car's don't use ECU's to make them hard to repair - it just allows them to do more, more safely, and more cheaply. The fact it's harder to repair yourself is a side-effect. Same with phones and batteries - they're not glued in to make it hard to replace, but rather because we demand the biggest possible battery with the most features in the smallest possible space, the thing that has to be sacrified if the screws and clips and mechanisms which allow everything to be quickly taken apart. We asked for that, and we got it!

      I think people too often attribute companies' decisions to some reason that makes it sound like they're conspiring against us. More often, they're just giving us what we want, and somewhere burried within that is a trade-off which has had to be made to achieve it.

      Finally, remember - people do make long life bulbs, but the light quality isn't as good. People to make phones with replaceable batteries, but they're bigger or with less battery life so less popular. People do make old style "mechanical" cars still, but they find it hard to meet safety and environmental regulations so sell much less.

      1. david bates

        Re: never forget though

        Seeing as the '80s Rover' takes in the R8 at one end - probably the best car in its class at the time, and still handsome compared to the blobby, over styled messes we get these days, and the sleek SD1 at the other (the examples that are still on the road are sorted and often have V8s), and can be fixed by any backstreet garage then I have no problem with that.

        1. Naughtyhorse

          Re: Must be a different rover...

          Rotten as a pear within 5 years and about 15 miles to the gallon is how I remember them.

          now the P6 is an altogether different proposal (except for the rust and fuel economy)

          :-D

      2. Asylum Sam

        Re: never forget though

        'Except the lightbulb idea only stands if there's a monopoly or collusion'

        See the 'Phoebus Cartel'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: never forget though @Asylum Sam

          "See the 'Phoebus Cartel'."

          Beat me to it. The IEEE recently published an interesting article on this very subject.

          http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/history/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy

          1. DropBear Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: never forget though @Asylum Sam

            Sure, you can steal the market by selling a one-off...but then you starve yourself out of the market because once you sell it, you never hear from the customer again.

            Exactly. Regardless of how forcefully the article tries to bend things into the shape required to support its conclusion, planned obsolescence (as much as I hate it too) is not really optional anymore simply because producing, say, an appliance that will effectively last someone a lifetime will drive the manufacturer out of business quickish-like. There was a time when that approach might have worked for a medium-sized factory, but with today's globalisation and ubiquitous reliance on economies of scale, that would never work. That appliance can't be as cheap as it is now if you can't produce it by the millions, and you definitely can't produce it by the millions if you only get the occasional sale of replacing a terminally busted unit. But hey, what the heck, never let the facts get in the way of a good rant, huh...?

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: DropBear Re: never forget though @Asylum Sam

              ".....an appliance that will effectively last someone a lifetime will drive the manufacturer out of business quickish-like...." Please, can someone provide an example of 'an appliance' that actually can be made to last 'a lifetime' without serious amounts of investment in servicing and repair? TBH, you would need something like a paperweight, spoon or cup - no moving parts, with a role that is not likely to induce wear. For everything else, even with no moving parts, usage will eventually degrade the item to the point where it will no longer do the job and will have to be replaced. Think of the common saw or carving knife - without constant sharpening they will become useless, and the sharpening will eventually wear the teeth of the saw and the blade of the knife to the point where it is no longer an effective tool. And that is simple items, when we get to real and more complex appliances the wear factor becomes even more of a challenge. Even non-moving electrical components can suffer 'wear', even the most expensive chips or capacitors will eventually break down, so expecting them to last forever is simply a fallacy. And when you then get to really complex appliances, like automobiles, the idea you can ignore wear or aging if you simply pay enough up front is simply stupid, you will always have to pay for some form of maintenance and replacement of parts.

              I have no doubt that car manufacturers do calculate the likely life of a component and balance the production costs of said component against the minimum life the market will accept for the component, but that is because no-one can currently make a car that will last forever. Same goes for washing machines, vacuum cleaners, etc., etc.. It is not 'eeeeeevil capitalists' conning anyone, it is simply a fact of our current level of technical capability.

              1. Naughtyhorse

                Re: DropBear never forget though @Asylum Sam

                chairs by Chippendale come to mind.

                but he was an artless oaf when compared to the great ayn rand

                plates by Wedgewood

                spoons by Cellini

                'wall art' by Cezanne

                not appliance-ey enough. fair point

                shotgun by Purdey

                H5 timepiece by Harrison

                cooker by Aga

                not mass market, but who gives a fuck?

                Maybe you couldn't employ a million wage-slaves knocking them out in a factory, or a burgeoning layer of pointless middle management. But think of the pride in a job well done.

                Fuck Madison Avenue, when 1 bloke drives my silver cloud, he'll convince all his mates to go and get one. Not as a favour to me, but a favour to them. And he'll do it for free

                lol

              2. Naughtyhorse

                Re:current level of technical capability.

                What?

                you do understand that there is a difference between 'lifetime' and 'forever'?

                You are aware that in making a carving knife that by carefully controlling the carbon content of the steel, and the rate at which the steel is heated and allowed to cool you can make a knife that will hold an edge a hundred times longer than a 9.99 special from walmart. and THAT knife will not need 'constant sharpening'

                (really lame choice btw considering the existence of a) professional knives, and b) the now defunct tradition of gifting a quality carver to a newlywed couple - which would last a lifetime. til death us do part... geddit?)

                Have you noticed the only old cars you see are good quality ones. I mean really old? 70-80-90 years old still running! how many austin allegros? Why is that do you think?

                And what is wrong with maintenance? When I was a lad (cue soft focus & harp arpeggios) We had an electric kettle. A mass produced kettle, made of stainless steel with a big red on off switch in the handle. Made by Morphy Richards it was. And if you grew up in the UK in the 1970's you almost certainly had one too. There were millions of them made. And when they broke - inevitably the element - you know what we did? We put a new element in it. And it was good for a few thousand more cuppas.

                When was the last time you saw a kettle element for sale in an ironmongers......

                When was the last time you saw an ironmongers?

                We have been collectively fucked by the eeeeevil capitalists.

                I used to have a nice kettle that occasionally broke down, but the rest of the time was a nice kettle. My kettle. Now I have an endless procession of useless bits of plastic crap, the only saving grace of which is, they are so woefully shite at their job that they will die an a year or so, and I can get a different coloured piece of plastic crap to replace it. But it only cost 1/4 as much as the Morphy Richards I had for 20 years.

                How exactly is my interest being served here?

                1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                  FAIL

                  Re: Naughtyhorse Re: Re:current level of technical capability.

                  ".....You are aware that in making a carving knife that by carefully controlling the carbon content of the steel, and the rate at which the steel is heated and allowed to cool you can make a knife that will hold an edge a hundred times longer than a 9.99 special from walmart....." And how many of those knifes get sold, compared to the millions sold at shops like Walmart? Think had, now, why would that be...?

                  ".....and THAT knife will not need 'constant sharpening'....." Bullshit. Whilst it may not need constant sharpening, it will need sharpening at some point if used. Please do pretend there is such a thing as a knife with an edge that can be used as much as you like and never requires sharpening. Samurai swords, industrial chainsaws, even top-of-the-line medical knives and saws, all require sharpening at some point, and ALL will degrade over time.

                  ".....(really lame choice btw considering the existence of a) professional knives....." I can comfortably claim - going by your lack of knowledge displayed in your post - to have a far greater experience of using expensive cutting tools and knives. The plastic putty knife in your Playdough set seems to be the limit of your experience.

                  "..... and b) the now defunct tradition of gifting a quality carver to a newlywed couple - which would last a lifetime. til death us do part....." Yup, got one of those sets, a very expensive one, actually. It came with a sharpener.

                  "....Have you noticed the only old cars you see are good quality ones...." Really? As in 'such good quality they do not need massive amounts of cash and skills for maintenance to provide the same capabilities as a cheap vehicle today' quality? Bullshit. A cheap Ford Ka provides a more secure, safer, more economic and more reliable means of transport than a 1940s Rolls Royce, and with a far lower maintenance requirement.

                  ".....I mean really old? 70-80-90 years old.....how many austin allegros?....." WTF? You think an Allegro is a modern car? You do realise you can't get half the parts for an Allegro new nowadays. Obviously not. As for the '70-80-90 years old' cars, please tell me how many millions of them are in daily use outside of static museum displays and collections? And then try and find ones with 100% original parts that do more than a few miles a year. You are talking complete bollocks, and the reason I know that is because my father used to own an engineering company in the Seventies that made parts to order for those museums and collections for pre- and post-War cars. According to you his business shouldn't have existed.

                  ".....And what is wrong with maintenance?...." Nothing, except it costs. When that cost and the associated hassle become too much then an item will be replaced, even if it is still operational. That is a simple fact you seem blind to.

                  "......When was the last time you saw a kettle element for sale in an ironmongers....." The ironmonger went out of business because the cost and trouble of maintaining such appliances became higher than the cost of simply buying a new one. And, if you had bothered to look before ranting, you would have found plenty of companies that make elements online - most kettle manufacturers don't make their own, they buy them in from China or India and assemble them into their kettles.

                  "......We have been collectively fucked by the eeeeevil capitalists....." Fail. The Wall came down for a reason, and that reason is because democracy and capitalism beats communism. Just get over it and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Naughtyhorse Re:current level of technical capability.

                    ".....And what is wrong with maintenance?...." Nothing, except it costs. When that cost and the associated hassle become too much then an item will be replaced, even if it is still operational. That is a simple fact you seem blind to.

                    Balls!

                    Changing the element in a kettle is a 60sec job. That you/most can't be bothered doesn't change the fact. I recently changed the element in my oven. The oven cost me £200 ten years ago, it worked just fine until the element failed. Most people would just take it to the tip on their way to buy a new one! I spent two mins on eBay, two mins on YouTube and 10 mins to replace the element which hopefully means another 10 years use. It may not be a lifetime but I've halfed my landfill.

                    The other that springs to my is my Dyson DC04 vacuum cleaner. Now 15 years old. It's had it's filter washed 3 or 4 times a year (2 mins), the on/off switch replaced (£2 - eBay) 5 years ago, and the hose replaced a couple year (£25 from Dyson). It's still going strong, as it should for a £300 appliance. If it fails, it's simple to repair, but most people can't be bothered (despite YouTube), it's their loss. I've saved a fortune over the years with such simple repairs to quality bits of kit. Including the microwave oven, washing machine, electric toothbrushes, mobile phone screens, laptop screens, electric showers, gas boilers, TV antennas, etc.

                    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                      Facepalm

                      Re: AC Re: Naughtyhorse Re:current level of technical capability.

                      ".....Changing the element in a kettle is a 60sec job....." Stop talking rot. Changing the element on a modern kettle, the main problem is finding an exactly matching element, otherwise you will have to reseal the plughole the element passes through in the side of the kettle. The chances of you finding an exact match for a kettle element the manufacturer probably bought as a bulk order are going to be close to nil, and the problem of resealing the kettle is too much for most owners. Instead of messing around with mastic they will go down the shop and buy a cheap replacement instead.

                      "..... I recently changed the element in my oven....." A much simpler job because you didn't have to then seal The repair against boiling water.....

                      ".....The other that springs to my is my Dyson DC04 vacuum cleaner....." Duh - Dysons are designed to make servicing the filters easy.

              3. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: DropBear never forget though @Asylum Sam

                Refrigerators and Washing machines come to mind. Both have lasted over 25 years WITHOUT substantial maintenance. In one case a new charge of refrigerant and some solder and in the other a new washing cycle selector mechanism. Neither were expensive or complicated repairs. A gas clothes dryer my ex gf wanted to throw out that needed a 5 dollar belt and a 9 dollar high temp cutout switch. Don't even mention my 1999 Ford Taurus.

                What is the REAL issue? KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES!!!!!!!!!!

                ALL Marketing scum must die!

            2. James Micallef Silver badge

              Re: never forget though @Asylum Sam

              "Sure, you can steal the market by selling a one-off...but then you starve yourself out of the market because once you sell it, you never hear from the customer again."

              There's a couple things going on here... firstly, if you make something that lasts 20 years instead of 2 years, it's 10 times as good, but if you sell it at 10 times the price, consumers will always go for buying the cheaper one that lasts 2 years. One reason is inflation - buying at the 'same price' in 2 years is cheaper in real money than paying it all upfront. The second reason is that humans are wired for short-termism, it takes a conscious choice going against the 'wiring' to go for the more expensive option even if you know for sure it will be cheaper in the long-term. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is an issue of trust. A consumer does not know NOW that your goods will last 10 times as long as the competition's, and will be unlikely to take your word for it. Even if some consumers DO start taking your word for it and buy your stuff, no doubt your competitors making inferior stuff will flood the airwaves/intertubes with FUD ads and showing how their stuff is as good as yours.

              And then there is also the "Sam Vimes theory of economic injustice" to cope with, which is that many consumers will not have the immediate cash in hand to pay 10X or even 5X more for a product that lasts 10 times longer or more, so they are 'forced' to buy the cheaper inferior version, because they need one now and the inferior version is the only one they can afford

            3. Kiwi Silver badge
              Linux

              Re: never forget though @Asylum Sam

              That appliance can't be as cheap as it is now if you can't produce it by the millions, and you definitely can't produce it by the millions if you only get the occasional sale of replacing a terminally busted unit.

              How often do you replace the oven in your home?

              There are new homes, new families - new sales. There are few replacement ovens sold due to replacing a dead one or just for an upgrade. I often go into 20-30 year old homes and see that they have have the same unit that went in when the house was built. I even see places with re-done kitchens and the same old oven that went in a couple of decades back.

              Same for water heaters, window glass, the buildings themselves.. There's little repair work and even less outright replacement done (even speaking as someone in NZ), and yet the related trades survive and thrive (depending on your definition of "thrive"). Things intended as "one off" purchases can be done, and your company can do well.

      3. Naughtyhorse

        Re: never forget though

        Oddly, I sort of agree with your conclusion, but take issue with all 3 points you used to get there.

        1 I never buy the 'cheapest one in the range' - unlike many I have some choice in the matter. If (peer) pressure is put on consumers that they need to have the latest iTem but they cannot really afford it, then they will settle for the iTem-S.

        2 Maybe it's cos I'm a design luddite but if for eg apple made this years phone significantly technically better than last years, I might consider buying it. but they dont, it's just the same cowboy in a different shirt. In the early days of computing this argument held some water, the technology was advancing at a massive pace, so a 3 year old PC might not actually be capable of performing in the modern environment. but those days have long gone.

        3 Designed in obsolescence is the work of satan. gluing in batteries or using custom magic screws or requiring the use of special tools specifically to carry out maintenance is a prime example of "It’s not that designers are unethical, it’s just that ethics has been eliminated from the system in which they work." The ECU example you quote is entirely valid, but way more of this practice is about ensuring obsolescence (or locking out back street repairmen) than it is about improving the performance of the system in any measurable way.

        That said, I broadly agree with you that consumers (AKA the electorate) shoulder a fair proportion of the blame for the current state of affairs.

      4. Paul 135

        Re: never forget though

        "Same with phones and batteries - they're not glued in to make it hard to replace, but rather because we demand the biggest possible battery with the most features in the smallest possible space, the thing that has to be sacrified if the screws and clips and mechanisms which allow everything to be quickly taken apart. We asked for that, and we got it!"

        No, "we" did not ask for that. A few fruit-cult members prominent in the media, caring about form and "thinness" over function made excuses for that and sent out propaganda which the laymen masses simply accepted at face value. Many of us objected, for there is no reason why a design cannot be robust, elegant, refined and compact yet also allow removable batteries. The fact that some companies have been unable to do it says more about their lack of engineering talents.

        1. monkeyfish

          Re: never forget though

          So then why did the iphone, with it's glued in battery and no SD card, outsell the competition that made bulkier devices with those things? Why did the iphone 4, with it's glass back and don't-hold-me-wrong case sell better than the iphone 3? If people wanted the old design, they would have bought the old design. If and when Apple have a vista/8 moment, they will know about it when their sales drop off a cliff.

          1. DragonLord

            Re: never forget though

            Marketing, otherwise known as highlighting all the positives while minimising the negatives.

          2. Naughtyhorse

            Re: never forget though

            tried to buy an iphone3 today.

            they won't sell me one.

            okay i'll settle for a 4

            they threw me out

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: never forget though (Because of Cultists)

            The only reason why Apples sales have not plummeted is because their customers are Cultists.

            Even if they lose their job and can't pay the rent, they'll have the latest iPhone.

            They have ALL been brainwashed by marketing droids.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: never forget though

        >People to make phones with replaceable batteries, but they're bigger or with less battery life so less popular

        You could tell that to my Galaxy Note III. Same size as iThing 6s, removable battery, better processor, tons more features, won't bend too. There's no inherent need to make phones unserviceable, with glued-in batteries, or, indeed, without external memory cards.

    2. Al 18

      Re: never forget though

      Is it only me who has noticed that compact florescence bulbs last longer than incandescent and that LEDs last longer still; That TV repair men went out of business because TVs don't break down much. That my 12 year old car is not a patchwork of rust and is still on its first exhaust.

      The basic premise that the world is going to hell in a handcart is just not true.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Ex-TV repairman

        While it is probably true to say that TV's are a tad more reliable today (purely an unfortunate side effect of the changes in technology)

        The reason we all left the industry was due to the increasing use of large scale integration. when I was a lad a TV has typically over a thousand components in it, many of which ran hot (valves, I'm now very old and started very young), or close to the edge of their operational envelope and consequently failed fairly frequently. (a good engineer could make a living out of finding the 1 part that failed and replacing that for a few pence and charging a few quid. a less good one could swap out the offending panel, which got swapped with his more skilled colleagues, for a bit less than the few quid)

        your modern LCD tv as at most 100 components, surface mounted (hard to rework) on about 3 boards.

        for sure they are probably better machines (although i suspect no-one knows if they actually last longer. they are mostly disposed of while still working! because they are old)

        the result of this?

        they are cheaper to make

        therefore cheaper to buy

        the difficulty of service puts the cost of service up -increasing the likelihood of uneconomic repairs.

        this puts the service industry out of business - so you cant get it fixed even if you want to.

        so you HAVE to buy a new one.

      2. Kiwi Silver badge

        Re: never forget though

        Is it only me who has noticed that compact florescence bulbs last longer than incandescent and that LEDs last longer still; That TV repair men went out of business because TVs don't break down much. That my 12 year old car is not a patchwork of rust and is still on its first exhaust.

        I have a 40year old bike that needs a new piston - due to my screw up, and more parts than I have $ for right now because a "secure storage" turned out to be "very very wet and corrosive storage". I can do ALL the mechanical and electrical work on it. (The frame and other parts only need minor work, but things like the front forks and once really gorgeous chrome bits need re-doing). My 28yr old classic bike. OTOH, is a nightmare of electronic parts which are a pain to find replacements for, and which I am learning a fair bit about how to repair :)

        I work in computer repair and one thing is obvious - the ONLY thing of real value on a machine is the data. Photos, documents, and so on. A replacement (and newer/better machine) can often be had for around $500NZ - there's not a lot of hours or parts needed to get up to that price.

        A new and often bigger/better TV can be purchased starting around $250, 32" semi-smart full HD. Do a couple of hours diagnoses and repair, and a few parts, you're well above the cost of replacement. Don't forget that with surface mount components, much more skill and equipment is needed. I worked in the TV/Video etc repair trade in the early 90's and a couple of screw drivers, basic multimeter, $30 soldering iron was enough tools for most repairs. And TV's cost a fair bit more compared to today (unless you're looking at some $20K one that in 2-3 years will be less capable than a $1k model). It was worth spending a bit on it to keep it going, and even 20yr+ old TV's were quite repairable and worth repairing.

        (Yes, we've had a lot of "new" features since then, like.. er.. Well, can't really think of anything that really would justify a new TV)

        I'm surprised my current TV has lasted for 7 years.

    3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: never forget though

      My father told me about an advert from his youth (pre-WW2) - all our bulbs are tested to 1,000 hours! What was not stated was that the sampling and testing was to make sure that the product would not exceed 1,000 hours life too often. Apocryphal, who knows but it has a ring of truth.

      Today BulbCorp would be told by the ASA "not to repeat the advert in same form." I think we were in a better position when their dissembling was passed on by mouth.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: never forget though

        "What was not stated was that the sampling and testing was to make sure that the product would not exceed 1,000 hours life too often. "

        An old timer in the 1960s described the process of developing a new domestic valve radio. The prototype was built to the best radio engineering practices. Potentially unnecessary components were then removed until it stopped working. That component was then replaced - and the design was ready for production.

      2. RegGuy1

        Re: never forget though

        "What was not stated was that the sampling and testing was to make sure that the product would not exceed 1,000 hours life too often."

        Yep, just read that here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebus_cartel

        Love this site!

    4. toadwarrior

      Re: never forget though

      Led lights have lifespans anywhere from 15 to 30 years and it works fine because the of the bulb is adjusted.

      But as an added bonus the bulb you buy now will either get broken or won't go with a new light fixture so the consumer buys another expensive bulb 5 years later. The bulb company wins either way.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: never forget though

        "...or won't go with a new light fixture..."

        The 2 standard sizes of screw-in bulbs have been the same as long as I've ever been aware, and I doubt will change any time soon.

    5. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: never forget though

      "you are up against the light bulb principle too"

      Hmm, interesting way to put it. West of the Atlantic, it tends to be known as the Vacuum Cleaner Principle, as we're familiar with Kirby and Electrolux vacuum cleaners that have been around for three generations or so, yet you don't see them still being sold today. It's always Hoover or Oreck or whatever. That's the thing about one-offs. Sure, you can steal the market by selling a one-off...but then you starve yourself out of the market because once you sell it, you never hear from the customer again.

      Some things just don't work on a capitalistic incentive because the focus will always be on the short term: on repeat business. You need a different incentive to get long-term work done like permanent medical solutions (cures and permanent vaccines vs. treatment regimens).

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: never forget though

        > Sure, you can steal the market by selling a one-off...but then you starve yourself out of the market because once you sell it, you never hear from the customer again.

        The tech companies have now reached the point where they are having difficulty selling "better" because "better" isn't needed (speed) so there's no useful upgrade cycle that they had in the past. Now they sell stylish and worse (*cough*mac pro*cough*), even brazenly being less functional.

        As a lot of the tech companies are finding, they are large enough to saturate the market within a year or so - hence, the yearly new models and consumerism. Telstra contracts are structured so that buying your own phone isn't worthwhile - bring your own phone to a contract and you'll be subsidising those who don't.

        Personally, I'd love to start a business that goes the other way. Sell really good quality stuff that will last forever, make my millions in one-off sales and leave the industry sector. The problem with that is that the large corps respond to competition. If I made good kit, they would do the same, tie up the suppliers, throw vexatious sueballs and loss lead until I went bust. Then they would go back to doing what they do now.

        The problem is that the companies are too large and have to much cash in reserve (stifling potential competition I think is a large part of all that off-shore profit accumulation) for competition to flourish. Yes, Apple and Samsung compete and it improves the products, but the chance of a newcomer being profitable, let alone growing to a decent size is slim to none, so the kind of competition and the source of competition is severely limited.

        Consolidation in the supply chain makes matters worse. To quote from Pretty Woman, "Whose business is more valuable? Call the bank." Outsourcing production gives you leverage over the rest of the industry - if you are big enough. Foxconn's economies of scale are unlikely to be of much benefit to someone making a Mozilla phone.

        I like well-made stuff. My leather lounge suite is over 20 years old and still in good shape. I bought an oak dining / coffee table suite which is strong enough to dance on with friends and will last a lot longer than I will. I have an iphone 3 which has been dropped countless times without screen shatters, doesn't bend despite spending most of its life in front and rear trouser pockets. Sadly, Apple's software updates have done what years of abuse could not - render it almost useless - far worse than it was in its mid-life. My Dell 2711 will far outlast my wife's imac internals and using an "old-fashioned" desktop separates ensures that they can't invalidate my screen investment with software updates, as they did with the phone. Ditto, disks, RAM, graphics card.

        Politicians see any economic activity as being good. It just isn't true. Strangely they increasing loans (debt) as a measure of success. They go to war and tell us it is for peace. As far as I can tell, they don't represent the wishes of the population neither to they act in the population's best interest. Has democracy failed? If my history lessons are anything to go by, it is almost certainly about to.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The history of civilisation

    "If the money you have is real wealth, then no effort is required to keep it and you are in a static condition. "

    What is "real wealth"? If it is fiat money then its buying power is usually continuously reducing. Current fiscal policies not only result in poor interest rates that do not compensate for inflation - but the government will also tax any apparent gains.

    If you have a surplus of non-monetary things then they are only worth what someone else will exchange for them - whether it is concrete goods or merely labour. Even if that's a barter transaction then the government will want to tax it.

    The basis of money was always the use of an exchangeable token to solve the problem of bartering. The tokens are the agreed contract for things like a year's supply of bread in exchange for a new coat. They also have the advantage that the tokens can circulate round several people if you want to exchange the coat for some bread and some cups.

    Being a self-sufficient small-holder might keep you alive - as long as you limit your number of children to the level of replacement. Too many reproducing children leads to competition to expand - and the quest for living space eventually leads to conflict over resources. Small-holder farming tends to be a hard life - unless you live in an area of natural bounty like our hunter gatherer ancestors.

    Once you need more specialised skills or non-local resources - then you have to start dedicating people as shared resources like miners, teachers, and doctors. That involves paying them in kind to maintain them - which means you have to produce a surplus every year.

    The rise of the town, city, State, and international trade seem inevitable. Human nature will provide the consequent destructive exploitations of people and resources.

    My head hurts!

    1. tony2heads
      Unhappy

      Re: The history of civilisation

      'Real wealth' is having enough material resources to maintain health and comfort.

      That can be an estate, a marketable skill or POWER TO FORCE PEOPLE TO OBEY YOUR WILL;

      It isn't getting the latest 'shiny'.

      Problem is, very few are wealthy

    2. Blofeld's Cat

      Re: The history of civilisation

      'What is "real wealth"?'

      "There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others."

      John Ruskin, Unto This Last (1860)

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: The history of civilisation

        What is real wealth?

        When you come right down to it, each and every penny you spend and earn is a measure of your ability to command energy.

        Whether that energy is the energy contained in the petrol that gets you to work, or the energy that heats and lights your house, or the energy used to grow, harvest, process, package, and deliver your food you are always paying in energy.

        If you can afford first class across the Atlantic, you're commanding more energy than me in the seat at the back - though not in a necessarily linear manner; that's all part of the game!

        We're all in a Red Queen's race, running faster and faster to stay in the same place. When we buy 'newest' and 'fastest' and incidentally 'most expensive' we're doing nothing more or less than a potlatch of conspicious consumption: I have so much energy I can afford to throw it away.

        We should insist in being paid for our work, and paying for our needs, in gigajoules. Apart from anything else, energy falls on each and every one of us, out of the sky, every day. There would at least be an incentive to harvest it beyond pointless and unsustainable government subsidies.

        (Did the sums on an electric car the other day: my six year old diesel does my (horrendous) commute for twelve quid a day. If the electric car cost *nothing* to run, with an expected battery life of eight years, it would need to cost under twenty grand to leave me in the same position I already am... Currently the only electric car with the range I need - the Tesla S 60 - costs fifty grand. Once again, it's all very nice, but you're buying an electric to say 'I can afford to'.)

    3. RegGuy1

      Re: The history of civilisation

      You mentioned fiat money, but did not mention debt.

      It used to be, until Bretton Woods blew up, that our currency was convertible (ie you could go to the bank and demand it's equivalence in gold). But long before we moved to fiat money, where they make it up (you get a loan of £1000 and the bank is instantly £1000 richer!), the banks had another way to fleece us -- fractional reserve lending (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractional_reserve_banking). They noticed that not everyone wanted their gold back at once, and so started to take the risk, that became a habit, of lending against their gold more than once.

      That's also why we have inflation, as more money is created that needs to be repaid. You could argue this is a good thing, however, as our wealth has increased without having to increase the amount of gold to compensate.

      Now my head hurts too!

    4. anatak

      Re: The history of civilisation

      'real wealth' is land and the ability to defend it from being taken from you.

      At the end of the day land will be what feeds you and it will always have its value. Especially since our demented rulers keep believing that a growing population is a good thing.

      The more people there will be the more land will be worth.

      Or real wealth is experience and a set of skills, the ability and will to learn new skills, to analyze and draw your own conclusions.

  6. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    You had me at enslaving nuns...

    Seriously though, all it takes is refusing to be a materialistic git. Don't buy that UberShinyNewDingus just because all the ads, talking heads, & internet buzz demands it of you. If your old one still does the job, keep using it until it doesn't. You save money by not "upgrading" to something you don't really need, and you can better research your eventual *real* upgrade at your leisure.

    Don't buy that monster tv just because you want to preen over your e'peen. Buy one that's the right size for your needs, save the extra money, and put it towards a rainy day.

    Don't buy that new monster SUV with all the blithering idiotic doodads in the dash. Get something that fits your actual needs, save the extra cash, & put it away for a rainy day.

    Don't buy that new $2K (I'd use the Pound Sign but my schtoopid keyboard hates me) laptop if the $750 model will do everything you need it to do just as well. Save the cash, put the money away for a rainy day, and be satisfied with your new bit o' kit.

    You want a house? Fine. Just don't get one so far out of your ability to pay for it that there's no hope OF you ever paying for it. Get one in your range, pay it off, and be happy that you're not a zillion DollarPounds in the hole because you "just HAD" to have that extra 50K SquareMeters of gold encrusted marble fountains lining the servant's entrance in the South Wing.

    In other words, use your damned head instead of just doing what the media screams at you to do. Buy what you *need*, not what *they want*, and you'll be much happier for it.

    Anecdotal Case In Point: I just replaced my ~5 year old cell phone on the 1st of the month. Because I'm Blind & have specific requirements (namely that the bloody thing talks to me when I need to navigate it), I'm rather limited in my choices (at least here on the wrong side of the Pond). Had I listened to the sales droids of my Carrier, I would have ended up spending over $500 on a brand spanking new iPhone 6 with all the bells & whistles, "because it does everything!" Instead I'd done my research & found a Feature Phone that did the job, and it cost me $160 out the door (full price, no subsidy). Had I gotten the iPhone, it would have cost me "only" another two years of my contract, plus 24 monthly payments of ~$25 to pay off the phone. Instead I save the ~$350 in base price, plus the two years worth of $100/month contract charges, and get what I *need*. Will it do what I need? Yes. Will it satisfy the desire to have the latest & greatest? No. But if the first gets it done & costs less than a tenth of the second, the choice is a No Fekkin Brainer.

    Don't be a Chav. Buy what you can afford, that fits your actual needs (not wants), and keep a bit o' coin in the cookie jar for a rainy day. By the time it starts raining, you'll have enough to buy that umbrella that doubles as a LightSaber. =-)p

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

      In the marketing, media infested world we live in (thanks technology), it is getting harder and harder to separate needs from wants.

      I will probably end up getting a new iPhone 6, and I'm not even sure why.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

        Saw a video the other day of some guy with an iphone 6.

        Then a cyclist passed him by and he was without an iphone 6.

        The cyclist was a happy bunny.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

      "By the time it starts raining, you'll have enough to buy that umbrella that doubles as a LightSaber."

      With inflation and accompanying tax - your savings won't even buy you an umbrella. Human society has long been fuelled by inflation of money. The only way your money can keep abreast of inflation is by investing in the very companies whose products you are not buying. It is a strategy that works for a few - but once everyone adopts that frugal approach then the merry-go-round grinds to a halt.

    3. baseh

      Re: put the money away for a rainy day

      Where? In a bank which will siphon it and any gains into its own coffers and executives bonuses?

      And if something will remain, it will be taxed!

      So, sad as it seems, consuming now and enjoying it is better than feeding the sharks

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

      "Buy what you can afford"

      this principle, while noble, has never worked for the majority of the human race. It's just our nature that we love shiny toys, whether a a new battle axe, or a flying car. The salesman and the the banker know what buttons to push (humans are not terribly complicated in this) and they do their best (you bet!) to muffle common sense that tries to tell you the bleeding obvious: not enough funds, no need. But against your internal voice of reason you have your internal voice screaming "shiny! toy! me like!". And there's nothing better to disperse doubts then a suited expert in that field who will gravely nods his head that yes, you certainly NEED his product. And the banker makes the problem of insufficient funds disappear too, just because he likes to help. Everybody happy? Rinse and repeat.

      btw, it is interesting that a huge majority of el reg readers (this shows in comments over and over again), if they practice what they profess, appear to be the salesman's worst nightmare. Fortunately for the salesman and for our consumer society you are the tiny minority thus harmless (to the system). I just wander whether there's an IT angle ;)

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

        Yeah, well, I challenge you to define a more objective difference between "want" and "need" than "what I think I should have" vs. "what you think I should (not) have". On a very basic level, air, water, food and some warmth probably qualify without an argument - then what? Do you really "need" a knife, or a shoe? I mean, you could just try eating with your hands and/or use a rock of you intend to slay a chicken yourself - yet most people wouldn't classify those things as a "want but not need"... And once we're off the path of "there's practically nothing you actually need", we're right back at "I want it, therefore I need it, full stop".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

          Balls.

          Of course there is a difference, I need shoes but only one pair of shoes. When they wear out, I'll buy another pair. I need a backpack to carry my shiz around, but I only need one, when it's wreaked I'll buy another. I need a phone, when it busts, I'll buy another.

          What you want is eight pair of shoes that match eight different outfits, and oh a new pair of red shoes - I want those! Oh, 10 different handbags, in different sizes, to match different occasions. Oh, new iPhone, old one get tossed in the draw.

          See the difference? It's about £10K (possibly much more) a year... and a lot more landfill...

          And working until you're 80...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: You had me at enslaving nuns...

            One pair of shoes? Really? Are you a tramp? Your feet must stink. I feel sorry for your mum when she washes your one pair of socks.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The next stage is nicely exemplified by streaming. The consumer should longer own anything, and doesn't even rent it (as renting implies certain well known consumer rights), but pays continuously with very few rights to access something for a time they could own outright.

    You make this model palatable by ensuring that the goods are not worth really owning, by flooding the market with very similar offerings so attention spans are short, and the product is so unsatifyingly bland and generic that people want more and more. And look, if you like this, you'll surely like that... And that... And that... One tap and it's yours.

    If (say) Apple decided to make a yearly charge on the music we had in its cloud, how many of us now have the physical media available to tell (say) Apple where to get off? For my generation, a lot of us; two generations below? Zero. They are the perfect consumers.

    It's not going to end well...

  8. Tim Worstal

    I for one look forward to this

    "Secondly, in the long term, indefinite economic growth is not possible as it violates the Laws of Thermodynamics and would result in Earth becoming uninhabitable long before it otherwise would. I propose to expand on that in a future piece."

    I'll admit that I'm a bit hazy about the details of physics but don't those laws of thermodynamics refer to closed systems?

    Thus if someone did something entirely mad, like, say, sticking a giant nuclear furnace up into the sky then the Earth would not be a closed system in terms of energy? OK, agreed, we've then got to posit methods of harvesting that energy. And who is going to accept the idea that plants, just plants!, might spontaneously develop a green sorta chemical that does that?

    I agree, my scenario is really pretty way out there, most unlikely. But is it sufficiently likely to make the not possible possible?

    1. Peter Jacobs

      Re: I for one look forward to this

      The total energy flux from the sun, geothermal, and nuclear is still a finite number.

      There's a misconception here. Energy != currency. Economic growth, as measured by currency flow, is potentially infinite. The processing of quadrillion dollar transactions instead of mere billion dollar ones would consume less energy than in a baby's fart. Economic activity however, if measured by energy flow, is constrained. Each babies bottle represents an 'investment' equivalent to millions of baby farts.

      (In practice, currencies would be rebased, if only to prevent the construction of an infinitely large computer.)

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: I for one look forward to this

        "The total energy flux from the sun, geothermal, and nuclear is still a finite number."

        OK, sure, even I'm willing to agree that the economy might not expand all that far once the Sun stops shining. The argument though is rather more about whether there are actually any pressing limits to economic growth, other than, say, the heat death of the universe?

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: I for one look forward to this

      The suggestion that any of the Laws of Thermodynamics are a limiting factor is pseudoscientific blather. We're nowhere close to building a Dyson sphere - partly because we get so easily distracted by simpler toys.

      The reality is there are more obvious and pressing constraints, not least of which is the continued viability of the Earth as a system capable of supporting human culture at the level we're used to.

      The real problem isn't consumerism, it's short-term profit-seeking as opposed to long-term strategy.

      Economists actually believe - no really, they do - that if you allow people to be selfish then everything magically self-organises into the best of all possible economic worlds.

      This is clearly nonsense of the first order, and deserves to be cast into the same pit of philosophical hell as phlogiston, n-rays, faith in giant sky beings with beards, and live tiles.

      The ability to delay gratification is considered a mark of maturity and seems to correlate to long-term financial success. The lesson is that business, government and the coke-snorting 'markets' need to grow up and start planning for the medium-term, instead of trying to grab as much as possible right now in the hope the party isn't going to end and there's never going to have to be a cleanup.

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: I for one look forward to this

        "Economists actually believe - no really, they do - that if you allow people to be selfish then everything magically self-organises into the best of all possible economic worlds."

        Well, no, not really. In fact you'll very definitely find that all economists reject that idea. What you could get all economists to agree to is the following two precepts.

        1) Self-interested behaviour sometimes to often leads to the optimal outcome.

        2) Sometimes it doesn't.

        As examples of 2) every economist would agree that public goods and externalities can (please note, not will be, but can be) be sub-optimally provided by the interactions of purely self-interested behaviour.

        Most of the arguments in the subject are about which other things we should add to 2) and that Sorites Paradox of what is the definition of "sometimes to often".

        That's without even delving deeper into the difference between being selfish and enlightened self-interest, the coping mechanisms that social beings like us human have to others' selfishness and so on.

        Economists simply do not believe what you think they do.

      2. Naughtyhorse

        Re: I for one look forward to this

        The real problem isn't consumerism, it's short-term profit-seeking as opposed to long-term strategy.

        so the problem isn't consumerism.... it's consumerism

        oh dear

    3. Dr Stephen Jones

      Re: I for one look forward to this

      @TimWorstall

      Correct. This is a category error so fundamentally if a 16 year old used it a GSCE paper they would fail the exam.

      I suspect LSD has had a large influence on the author's thinking.

    4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: I for one look forward to this

      Thermodynamics for economists: the universe extracts rent from every transaction.

      Alternate formulation: if you think you're making a profit, you've not accounted for all the externalities.

  9. Chris G Silver badge

    No Solution

    I agree completely with your article but the bit at the end is missing; the solution to the woes that you have pointed out.

    What is the alternative economic model to the current disgusting consumerism?

    I am one of those that is generally unaffected by the media pressure to have the latest shiniest doodad but like everyone I have my weaknesses, in my case tools.

    They are increasingly made to start off with high quality and then over time after building a reputation become slowly poorer value for money until they reinvent themselves again or the manufacturer brings out a 'newer, better brand.

    Although the tone tone of the article is cynical, that is exactly what the marketing strategy of manufacturers is.

    Also you made the quote of the year in my opinion "Many think that the screen saver was invented by the IT industry, but television beat them to it. It’s what is broadcast between the commercials."

    Good article! I'm looking forward to the next one.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: No Solution

      "I agree completely with your article but the bit at the end is missing; the solution to the woes that you have pointed out."

      Perhaps the lack of a solution points to the real problem behind the problem: the average human seems to lack that critical ability to think beyond tomorrow, either due to stress or due to gross stupidity. Either way, the point becomes, "Why worry about five years when we won't see past tomorrow?"

      And that manifests in our growing inability to trust outsiders. It's rapidly becoming a race to full DTA mode. We can't trust private enterprise and the capitalistic model because there's disincentive to think long-term (as I noted earlier, no business can survive on a one-and-done). But the only other institute capable of a long-term solution, the state, isn't trusted either since its very existence (and the stability it provides) rapidly results in cronyism and corruption, undermining the very goals we seek from them. So if you can't trust others, you can't trust the state, and you lack the means to do it yourself, who's left?

      1. monkeyfish

        Re: No Solution

        Don't forget that the government itself is forced into short-term thinking because if they actually do something with long-term benefits, the other lot will likely reap the reward. I actually thought the idea of a coalition would solve that to some extent, but sadly not. Of course, what other option is there? A dictatorship? A 15 year gap between elections?

  10. xeroks

    I'm sold on this idea

    And aim to be an non-consumer.

    I don't suppose there's time to get a new iPad first?

  11. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Two strands, really

    Even if everything in the article is true, that doesn't mean any collusion between political impertives and business', Companies are set up to make profit. Shareholders want more, because that's simply human greed.

    So whatever the government wants, unless we have a command economy those built-in obsescences will exist.

    Yes politicians and the like do behave in those ways. But that's a different story.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two strands, really

      "Shareholders want more, because that's simply human greed."

      The shareholders are complaining that too often their potential dividends have taken second place to company jets and directors' perks and bonuses.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought that photo of zombies banging on the shop door was a photo of an iPhone launch day until I read the caption underneath.

  13. Fake Name

    Leave thermodynamics out of it

    Generally thought provoking article, but leave the Second Law out of it. It applies to closed systems, and so long as the Sun keeps burning, the Earth is not a closed system.

    There are plenty of reasons that limitless growth is a very foolish direction for humanity, but the second law of thermodynamics isn't one of them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Leave thermodynamics out of it

      "There are plenty of reasons that limitless growth is a very foolish direction for humanity"

      Like what? A foolish direction for humanity would be to abandon scientific innovation and investment in that diffuses that investment, when there are needless deaths and many diseases to be cured.

      Zero growth = middle class guilt and self-loathing.

      1. phil dude
        Boffin

        Re: Leave thermodynamics out of it

        "Equilibrium is death" - From one of my lecturers on the subject about what constitutes life...

        Often that statement makes most sense when linked to this.

        The reality is that capitalism is a blind system. It is simply a mechanism to exchange goods and services via a market. Regulation should limit it based upon the common good e.g. human organs are not legal, food has to be unadulterated, and <sarcasm>huge companies need to be able to make a profit no matter what. </sarcasm>

        But the market is not fair. Neither are the goods and services uniform. A measure of the economic fitness is the distribution of the goods/services available e.g. how many broadband providers? Mobile phone companies? Electricity? You get the idea.

        In principle if the market is fair, the shape of the "sales distribution" would match some combination of quality/cost. But the market isn't fair there is a range of "freedom". We have monopolies (these make things more expensive - take your pick) all the way to the freest market that comes to mind e.g. music (when you pay for it...).

        Consumerism is nit picking on the back of the elephant - it is what makes life livable. Very few of us could live without it.

        If there is one thing that IT has shown us, is that there is a limitless potential for the application of computational tools to solve problems.

        We have only just begun this journey...

        P.

    2. dogged

      Re: Leave thermodynamics out of it

      The first law of thermodynamics is you do not talk about thermodynamics.

  14. Dr Stephen Jones

    Satire?

    " Secondly, in the long term, indefinite economic growth is not possible as it violates the Laws of Thermodynamics"

    John Watkinson, you are Steve Bong and I claim my £5.

    Or maybe this is Bong's weird uncle?

  15. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Food

    All of this irrelevant. Until you solve the food problem by inventing the Star Trek replicator we all need to eat and that needs paying for by earning, which relies on the consumer economy. Until this is taken care of this is just a communists wet dream. Communism doesn't work so get over it.

    1. phil dude
      Thumb Up

      Re: Food

      You hit the nail on the head there - consumerism is the line between "need" and "want".

      For example,breweries in the UK bought up all the pubs. They recognised that "punters just need a drink" and so they took the diversity out of it. I might "want" a pint of real-ale, but I will need to look for it.

      Communism "a la soviet" is just stupid - it was perceived of less stupid in the past because the range of activities was narrow and changed so slowly. It makes *some* sense in an agrarian economy to give everyone a "bit of land" to grow on.

      But here's the harsh truth.

      I am sure I could be a competent farmer. But do you really want me to spend my time farming or using my education to design drugs and provide you with medicine?

      The thing about the modern implementation of capitalism, is that the "wealth acceleration" mechanisms are unevenly distributed and fundamentally in short supply.

      The best we can all hope for is to be healthy, fed, safe from violence and allowed to pursue happiness.

      I think I read that somewhere...

      P.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Food

        Are you saying they didn't have doctors in the USSR, cos I'm pretty sure they did. (and possibly dying of something curable because the cure is not available to anyone in the country is slightly preferable to dying of it because i cannot afford the treatment)

        So far as I can tell - and im in no way a communist, certainly left of center but no ones brother, comrade - the USSR collapsed due to corruption more than anything else, corruption of the founding ideas and global petty corruption on a day to day level. Possibly this will always be the case whenever anyone tries this experiment, but as I see it we can't say communism has failed until we have first seen it tried. and we simply haven't.

        In fact it's entirely entertain-able that the same analysis can be applied to capitalism and the road to nowhere on which we now find ourselves. capitalism broadly can work, but what we have now masquerading as capitalism will not.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Food

          "So far as I can tell - and im in no way a communist, certainly left of center but no ones brother, comrade - the USSR collapsed due to corruption more than anything else, corruption of the founding ideas and global petty corruption on a day to day level."

          But that corruption points to a fundamental human condition which makes the Utopia unachievable. Quite simply, humans are animals, and at our basest level, animals will seek to find a way to get a leg up on our fellow man. Why? The ones at the top get to spread the most genes; IOW, it's reproductive and survival instinct so ingrained as to be nigh impossible to root out. I think Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels underestimated our ability to control instinct. We'll band together against threat, as we should which is why you see tremendous organization in war, and threat is what led to the Bolshevik Revolution, not to mention the French and American Revolutions, but in peacetime, it's back to me vs. you at some level. And this conflict will reach across the spectrum, from sibling rivalry to neighborhood spats to community disagreements all the way up to backroom deals, backstabbing, wheeling and dealing at the highest levels of government.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Naughtyhorse Re: Food

          ".....as I see it we can't say communism has failed until we have first seen it tried. and we simply haven't." Yeah, all that was just 'bad communism', but 'real communism' will be better.

          /if you need sarc tags it's because you are willfully blind.

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Food

        "I am sure I could be a competent farmer. But do you really want me to spend my time farming or using my education to design drugs and provide you with medicine?" As quoted from Phil Dude

        This said just about three days after it was pointed out in the media that research showing that some anti-depressants could help with brain cancers was suffering from lack of development funds because the drug companies wouldn't make enough extra cash from finding a new use for existing drugs.

      3. dogged

        Re: Food

        I am sure I could be a competent farmer. But do you really want me to spend my time farming or using my education to design drugs and provide you with medicine?

        I was born and raised on a farm and worked it with my father for about ten years (before and after school, weekends, holidays). It was even a mixed holding of under 100 acres plus a little woodland so capable of providing everything "needed" and you know what?

        I'm not sure I could be a competent farmer immediately. If you've never done it at all and you're relying on your produce for your survival then I am sure you'll starve before you learn it.

        It's a mistake to think that jobs which are largely manual and low-paid are not skilled. A farmer is a craftsman.

        1. phil dude
          Boffin

          Re: Food

          I apologise for my crude generalisation. I'm in no way saying being a GOOD farmer is not skilled -my dad was one. But he also became an engineer in order to farm better (you know the big combine machines). There is craft in a great many things as I have learned as a grad student. Modern farming has become highly refined specifically because it has become specialised - I don't expect farmers to design molecules, and I'm glad they grow my food. Hence, we can feed a country with <1% farmers, but also make drugs with <1% biochemists.

          I picked farming because it is a great way of summarising why communism fails, since you (me!) can be a crap farmer and not starve. It takes a *good* farmer to feed others. Communism doesn't care about the difference.

          It is self-evident that everyone should pursue those skills they can best be used for. The analogy was that paying everyone the same because of arbitrary skill classification is the heart of communism - we are not all the same. It is what is rotten at the heart of the UK, and some parts of the US. Cronyism is baked into monarchies, because it makes it ok for everyone else to have their "jobs for boys".

          Can you see how corrosive an idea that non-meritocratic system is?

          Zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships? Why would ANYONE want an unpaid employee unless they thought the work was worthless? The reality is the corporate process of refinement DEMANDS that employees are interchangeable in order to offer the lowest market price. Unions try to offset this by imposing constraints on what work can be tendered to the market. The reality is somewhere in between, and it is not an easy situation to resolve.

          Even scientific jobs fall into this trap, as specialisation is both a necessity and negative. Especially in laboratory disciplines, where the professional kits make the skill level to do basic biology much more tolerant of amateurs.

          None of us have the choice of where or to whom we are born. Hence, it is self evident we are created with equal rights and opportunities, but not equal talents or access to resources.

          Consumerism is one part of this, but it cannot be the only solution. I would argue however, that is is a necessary part of the efficient division of labour, matching goods and services to the population.

          P.

  16. Dr Stephen Jones

    LSD-onomics

    "For a government in a fix, tax revenue could be increased by encouraging consumers to borrow,..."

    How exactly? Where would it be levied? If overall tax revenue were to increase, it would need to exceed the tax revenue lost from decreasing VAT, fuel duty, stamp duty etc as people buy fewer thigns, and the lower corporation tax as lots of companies (except banks) as businesses collapse. Presumably this would come from taxing savings. Well, this year VAT is £101bn, corporation tax £40bn, fuel duty £26bn. There isn't enough money to save to generate the interest to generate the tax to fill this shortfall.

    "...so it should come as no surprise that previous, and sensible, restrictions on borrowing were relaxed."

    Non-sequitur.

    "The symmetry that requires the debt-ridden government to create consumers goes beyond evolving from the static to the dynamic at both ends of the process..."

    More suicide-by-metaphor.

    "...It follows that in order to be a better consumer it is necessary to borrow, so the banks also win at both ends of the system."

    It doesn't follow at all, credit was relaxed so people spent more. We all know that..

    "... necessary to borrow, so the banks also win at both ends of the system."

    So the banks should have won. But these are the same banks that "won" by going bust, and are still indebted after central banks printed $1 trillion of money to wipe out their debts.

    "Whoever coined the term Homo sapiens was way off the mark."

    You said, it Mr Watkinson.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: LSD-onomics

      >How exactly? Where would it be levied? If overall tax revenue were to increase, it would need to exceed the tax revenue lost from decreasing VAT, fuel duty, stamp duty etc as people buy fewer thigns, and the lower corporation tax as lots of companies (except banks) as businesses collapse. Presumably this would come from taxing savings. Well, this year VAT is £101bn, corporation tax £40bn, fuel duty £26bn. There isn't enough money to save to generate the interest to generate the tax to fill this shortfall.

      The whole point is to accelerate the consumerist cycle. This is the growth that the government and economists keep telling us is so good for our countries.

      Worker's wages are not increasing at anywhere near enough a rate. The only way to feed the beast is with debt.

      > It doesn't follow at all, credit was relaxed so people spent more. We all know that..

      Credit was relaxed so that people *could* spend more. If you don't believe that then you're very naive.

      > So the banks should have won. But these are the same banks that "won" by going bust, and are still indebted after central banks printed $1 trillion of money to wipe out their debts.

      Yes, but they were bailed out with public money. They can't lose because the government would not allow it.

      Remember to differentiate between the bankers' own cash and the balance sheets of the banks. Those in charge did very well indeed thank you.

  17. itzman
    Paris Hilton

    Masterful analysis.

    However you have missed a key point.

    People also in addition to consuming, want to feel they have a right to consume. That means 'work' .

    Despite the fact that less than 1% of 'work' actually 'creates wealth'

    Arguing that actually the country would consume less and yet be just as wealthy if the default human state was sitting at home on benefits, won't win you any friends, or elections.

  18. bigtimehustler

    This is just a lot of soundbites backed up with stats chosen to back up your particular view of the world, ay stats can do that. Would have been more interesting is what your views are on what a better system would look like? It also has to be a system people actually want to partake in, given we live in a democracy, the will of the masses dictates what actually happens, not some theory cooked up in a researches office.

  19. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Excellent article

    Great article, reminded me of Douglas Adams and the 'Shoeshop financial collapse' We're probably heading there, only it'll be mobile phones.

    I seem to remember that we only got through two TVs in twetnty years when I was growing up. Of course, the upgrade to digital and higher resolution had a lot to do with higher turnover now. (That and 'Smart' TVs - yeughh).

    I also think the TV age is almost over and it's popularity will wain in the next decade or so.

    TV Repair places used to often also sell Tv's and the fact that most people get their Tvs from large stores now has a lot to do with the smaller shops with skilled staff dying out and being replaced with formal guarentees, return periods and mass-produced shoddy customer service.

    Once a way of producing cheap (relatively) safe energy is discovered, we really won't have any reasonable excuses for consumerism.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Excellent article

      "Once a way of producing cheap (relatively) safe energy is discovered, we really won't have any reasonable excuses for consumerism."

      Not quite. We'll also need better ways to harness that energy. Converting it to compact and portable petrochemical fuel is a start, but what's needed beyond ubiquitous energy is, as another commenter put it, something approaching the Star Trek replicator: a means of converting energy into arbitrary forms of matter. Or perhaps a lesser stretch, through the use of energy, transforming ubiquitous but not-so-useful matter into not-so-ubiquitous but more-useful matter.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: Excellent article

      The HD upgrade cycle is over. That's why manufacturers are desperately trying to find something, anything, to get people to replace their TVs again. Smart features no-one actually uses, 3D that no-one really wants, the promise of resolutions so high you'd have to be a bird to see any benefit, screens capable of reproducing colors beyond the range of human perception, frivolous colored backlights to shine on the wall behind. I wouldn't be surprised if next year someone tries to bring back the old smellovision idea.

      It's the Windows XP scenario: Once you've made a product that just about everyone finds satisfactory, and everyone who could use one has purchased it, your company is screwed: It's near-impossible to convince them to go and buy a new version, so the revenue stream dries up.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Excellent article

        What? Did anyone ever find XP satisfactory? If so, we really are doomed.

    3. Suricou Raven

      Re: Excellent article

      TV repair is no longer economically worthwhile. TVs these days are a lot harder to repair than TVs of old. The PSU is about the only servicable part in there - the rest is all secret, computery boards with mystery chips and locked-down firmware, impossible to even diagnose. If something goes wrong there, repair would be so time-consuming and expensive (You'd have to replace a whole board with a part the manufacturer doesn't sell) that it's just cheaper to buy a new TV.

      I've one local TV repair shop. I gather from conversations with the owner they have been in serious financial trouble for years for that reason, and are constantly on the verge of going bankrupt. They are one of the very few remaining.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        "TVs these days are a lot harder to repair than TVs of old"

        Whilst we have moved away from the failure rate of valve TVs, it is well known that a very significant number of modern TV failures are caused by capacitor break-down in the power supply. It's normally within the ability of anybody who can learn to wield a soldering iron and screwdriver to unplug the TV from the mains, ignore the "No user serviceable parts inside" label, take the back cover and shielding off, spot the bulging capacitor(s), and replace them (fortunately, the capacitors are unlikely to give a serious shock in a modern TV).

        Alternatively, there is a scrap industry that works like the car breakers. Companies break TVs up into their working component boards, and sell them at a fraction of the price of a new TV. Ebay and the Amazon Market place are great places to find such businesses.

        My 7 year old 32" cheap (for the time!) no-brand HD TV has now been repaired at least twice like this, and I have a 26" Acer that I bought over 10 years ago that it still going strong after several bouts of maintenance.

        There is still a place for someone who can fix TVs. Whether it is workable as a means of earning a living, I'm not so sure.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: "TVs these days are a lot harder to repair than TVs of old"

          As an aside, I have been told, and I think I believe a lot of it, that when you look at the lifetime claims of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), the lifetime quoted is actually the expected lifetime of the tube.

          Within the bulb, you also have an inverter to generate the voltages necessary to drive the tube (it's in the large white plastic blob between that screw/bayonet and the tube and makes the bulb difficult to fit in some light fittings). These invariably contain similar capacitors, such that when the CFL fails, the tube is often OK, but the inverter has stopped working. This is, I believe, why they do not appear to last as long as the claimed lifetimes.

          Unfortunately for LED bulbs, until we get low voltage lighting supplies in houses, they will have to have similar electronics to produce a low voltage DC source in the bulb, and will also suffer premature failures.

  20. Infernoz Bronze badge
    Devil

    It's TPTB fault, including the Banksters and the Vatican cult(s).

    The problem is basically insanely evil greed by The Powers that Be (TPTB) only tempered by productive innovation and some cunning and infighting in TPTB, with periodic wars (divide and conquer games) to cull the population and for moar profit and plunder.

    Starting in ancient world usury (when they were still sensible enough have debt write-off Jubilees), to the evil Venetian banksters, to the hijacking of London (City of London state), to the hijacking of the USA (The "United States" of Virgina state), to the hijacking of Rome (Vatican state), to the formation of the Federal Reserve, BIS and central banks fiat currency conspiracy, with a web of compartmentalised secret society layers linking them together, with plenty of Hegelian Dialectic to steer lower layer secret societies and the proles.

    BTW, all those stocks and shares are derivatives in most developed countries because the base debt is only owned by one holding company, owned by the banks which own the central banks, which sell derivative paper to the stockbrokers who sell their derivative paper to you; sound secure? LOL! That is only a fraction of about $1,000,000,000,000,000 of insanely leveraged derivatives debt /which can never ever be paid off/!!!

    The banks, the central banks, the publicly owed corporations (who do what they are told by the single debt holding corporation, /not public shareholders/), and the whore governments who get cheap credit so allow ever more of this shit, all of them are basically gangsters; the FUBAR is so bad now, that the rigged illusions of relative economy stability are becoming increasingly hard to maintain, so will fail again!

    This stinking vile mess needs to be demolish ASAP and replaced by something simpler without gangster middlemens' 'help', based on genuine value.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: It's TPTB fault, including the Banksters and the Vatican cult(s).

      "This stinking vile mess needs to be demolish ASAP and replaced by something simpler without gangster middlemens' 'help', based on genuine value."

      We once did, but the middlemen are like roaches: they keep coming back. No matter how much you try to remove or outlaw them, they'll weasel their way back in. It's part of the human condition; somewhere along the line, someone's gonna cheat...AND get away with it.

    2. roger stillick
      Stop

      Re: It's TPTB fault, Now what to do ??

      Nothing can be done at any level without emulating that guy in 'Atlas Shrugged' that destroyed civilisation by simply not caring anymore...the bitter ex-Russian Ayn Rand hated life so badly that she advotcated ending modern life as we know it.

      IMHO=the author of this piece has read a little to much A Rand...RS.

  21. DougS Silver badge

    Article is a load of crap

    First of all, no tablets are "welded together". You don't need to bin them if the battery goes dead, but unless you're pretty handy you'll need to have it serviced to have that done. What percentage of people do you reckon replace their car's tires themselves, versus going to a shop and having it done? Every car comes with the equipment necessary to change your own tires, so why do so few do it themselves?

    The reason why you have non user serviceable parts like the batteries in tablets, or can't replace a tiny part in your TV like you used to but have to replace the entire control board is not because of a vast conspiracy to force people to throw away stuff that is 99% working. It is because it is cheaper to make them that way, and this integration and design with "no user serviceable parts within" makes the product more reliable!

    You know why TV repairmen are a thing of the past? Because fifty years ago TVs broke down WAY more frequently than modern TVs do, and they were VASTLY more expensive. Go look at some ads for TVs in 1950s and 1960s, and compare those prices with the typical incomes of the day. Even a 70-80" TV is much cheaper now in real terms than a 20" color TV was in the 60s! When your TV effectively cost $5K or more and broke down on at least a yearly basis, of course you're going to fix it! Tossing it out would be like buying a used car for $5K and tossing it out when the brake pads wear out.

    The trend toward greater component integration has driven down costs, which isn't just in the manufacturer's interest, it is in the consumer's interest. Most people will not pay more for something based on a higher expected reliability, and almost no one will pay more for something based on it being user serviceable. People would rather have something for less now, and if worried they might fail too soon will purchase the extended warranties that most retailers offer.

    Fifty years ago it was common for car owners to change the oil themselves. It is quite uncommon now (at least in the US, I can't speak for the UK/EU) It isn't because it has become more difficult, the process is pretty much the same for modern cars as those from the 1950s and 1960s. One might try to argue that it is because they don't have to, as automakers have recently started including basic maintenance such as oil changes during the warranty term - but that ignores the fact that people no longer changing their own oil PRECEDED that change, so it could not have been caused by it.

    Why should companies put a premium on user repairability, or any repairability, if consumers do not put a premium on it, as evidenced by the fact that most are not willing to pay more to get it, and often don't take advantage of it even where they still have it?

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Article is a load of crap

      Some good points in that comment. When I was a kid (maybe 50 years back) in the UK a lot of people still rented their TVs, because it wasn't economical to buy and repair them, except as conspicuous consumption items for the better off. Come to think of it, how many had their own cars? Only those who had money to spare to buy and maintain them . The rest took the bus. Public transport is, in effect, renting vehicle space. And in the UK we didn't even own a phone. All was rented from the phone company.

  22. ecofeco Silver badge

    Biggest contributor to air pollution and gloabl warming?

    Cow farts.

    Got to love the irony.

    1. dogged
      Stop

      Re: Biggest contributor to air pollution and gloabl warming?

      BEEP BEEP URBAN MYTH WARNING

      Cows don't fart. It's the four-stomachs thing. If they could fart they wouldn't die from gas buildup in the third and fourth stomachs (which they do).

      They do belch methane. But they don't fart. Ever.

      You may now return to your scheduled urban ignorance.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is not just end consumer products that suffer from this, but also sub components consumers.

    We recently had to design a PCB using a number of 'Molex' connectors.

    So we contacted 'Molex' to get samples, they refused ( they will only supply samples if you tell them all the NDA details about the project , including the customer)

    So they referred us to 'agents' with stock, but admitted one part did not have stock. ( keeping in mind we only required samples, you have to see the irony of no agent having stock and the supplier refusing to supply samples)

    After a month of being absolutely unable to get the component because it was 'new and in high demand', we came across a very interesting 'restricted' document.

    The socket parts were actually from 2002 and the part number had been consistently changed and erased from the 'molex' data. ( yep since the OLD part numbers were not even recorded or searchable, the parts did not exist, nor did drawings/models or stock figures)

    The document allowed us to 'cross reference' the part-numbers and manually edit the HTTP at the molex site, abracadabra, we could magically access all the data on these non-existant parts.

    Then the horror emerged…. many of the agents were holding massive stocks ( nearly a million parts at >$3US each) of these 'redundant' parts, in one case 45,000 of a socket that we could easily of used as a drop in replacement, for the unobtainable part.

    So it looks not only do certain manufacturers make irrelevant changes but they also subvert cross reference information, meaning new customers don't have access to a massive backlog of a market already flooded with parts, instead they are sold a cow and become consumers for a 'new' part, which the agents then have to stock due to 'market demand'.

    All this could have be averted if Molex had just given us this information at the start.

    But then they would not have denied the old sockets were their products after we sent them photographs complete with the company logos……( I mean how STUPID is that!!!, especially as we now have access to their removed documents)

    1. roger stillick
      Happy

      Sub-Components consumer ?? try a REAL parts jobber...

      there are many Parts Jobbers out there... Mouser and L-Com has done it for me for a really long time and i still use perf kluge boards w/ fanstock inserts and 'they still make them'... ditto WW2 'cannon plugs'...

      IMHO= you just need to find a jobber and drive them nuts w/ needs... they will love you long time...RS.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Sub-Components consumer ?? try a REAL parts jobber...

        Well, yes... this is the basic lie about capitalism.

        We are told that 'market forces' will bring prices down to a minimum, that choice will remain since once a capitalist sees a gap in the market for an existiing product to be made cheaper or for a similar new product he will make it. This is not true; it never has been; it never will be.

        Capitalism acts to raise prices for *everything* as high as the market will bear.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Sub-Components consumer ?? try a REAL parts jobber...

          Capitalism acts to raise prices for *everything* as high as the market will bear.

          You say this like it is a bad thing. The definition of "price" is whatever you can persuade someone else to pay for an item - if you can't persuade someone else to buy it, its not worth what you are selling it at. If you can, well done.

          You say that this raises prices, but then with the caveat "as the market will bear". If you raise the price too high, your competitors can undercut you and people will not buy from you.

        2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

          Re: Sub-Components consumer ?? try a REAL parts jobber...

          "Capitalism acts to raise prices for *everything* as high as the market will bear."

          If you choose to see only that part. Actually there are many conflicting force vectors at work - some pushing prices up, some down, some sideways (well, not really sideways, but there may be some useful changes that will leave the price intact). So it's a system that tries to achieve an equilibrium.

          There are cases where one equilibrium is not optimal, and it makes sense to split the product into several price ranges - low end, high end, something in between.

  24. roger stillick
    Coat

    C is past it's sell date ?? how about stock markets ??

    The Great Ponzi sceme is constantly moving and growing... at about the same rate as the Gaming Casinos... and make about as much sense when you conseder HF trading and derivatives are designed to skim off as much customer wealth as is legally possible while giving good numbers to the rest of the world...been going on since the end of the American civil war and absolutely no one can stop it (or would want to start the end of modern civilisation).

    IIMHO= again the Hippies are right, however, no one really wants to live like that...until they do it and find rural back road Kentucky areas are actually great places to raise a family, grow peaches, bathe once a month, boil clothes in a tub of lye soap, dry on line, use no.4711 cologne, kill your TV, eat a lot of peaches...(there is a song out there about this stuff).

    caveiat= measuring wealth at this point makes the Hippies the wealthy ones, truly wealthy...RS.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: C is past it's sell date ?? how about stock markets ??

      Problem: USA contributors seem to think, for instance, "rural back road Kentucky areas" symbolise the simple, good life.

      But these exist only because the relentless drive for technical improvement and new wealth resulted in ships, compasses, knowledge, superior weapons and clothing (with which to conquer any current occupiers), communicaitions and so on, to enable the European settlers/invaders to move in, replenish themselves and take over.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: roger sillick Re: C is past it's sell date ?? how about stock markets ??

      "......caveiat= measuring wealth at this point makes the Hippies the wealthy ones, truly wealthy...RS." Right up until the point where they need one of those high-tech services that their drop-out lifestyle doesn't provide, such as real medicine, at which point the happy hair shirt hippy becomes a very sad and dying hippy. in countries like the UK, where the NHS still gives a good degree of cover to even the complete drop outs, they may get through the waiting lists in time, but in places like Kentucky they are stuffed.

  25. Suricou Raven

    Spotting the problem is easy.

    Finding a solution is hard.

    This consumer-driven economy has, so far, worked pretty well. It ensures that very few people in the developed world have to worry about starving to death, and most of them get a pretty comfortable standard of living. I agree, it's doomed - but what alternatives can you offer?

    People need certain essentials, like food, housing, clothing, access to utilities, medical care, etc. These things have a resource cost. The fundamental task of any economic system is to make sure that everyone has these things. We currently solve that by abstracting the resource costs into a currency and so allowing them to be traded: I can trade something I have (My time and skill) for money, and trade that money for food. But this requires that everyone has something to trade, which makes the whole system dependent upon the labor market. If you don't have a job, you freeze to death on the streets. Without the consumer-driven waste, there just wouldn't be enough jobs to go around. We'd end up with the nightmare scenario of farmers throwing away excess food while millions starve because they have no means of covering the transport costs.

    Industrial processing and automation has brought the cost down to the point that needless luxury and waste are the only way to generate enough jobs to keep (almost) everyone employed. If people stopped buying crap they don't really want, it would be a disaster, because then the people they currently buy that crap from would be unable to purchase the essentials of life.

    So what other solutions are there? Altruistic approaches don't scale beyond small communities as they violate the basics of human nature, communism is far too prone to mismanagement and corruption. Labor-driven free-market economics may be an ultimately self-destructive approach, and require the unhealthy habits of consumerism to function in an age of automation, but it seems to be the only one we have.

    We've seen the effect in recent years of a small reduction in consumer spending: A severe spike in unemployment rate, people losing their homes, lives ruined.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Spotting the problem is easy.

      "So what other solutions are there? Altruistic approaches don't scale beyond small communities as they violate the basics of human nature, communism is far too prone to mismanagement and corruption. Labor-driven free-market economics may be an ultimately self-destructive approach, and require the unhealthy habits of consumerism to function in an age of automation, but it seems to be the only one we have."

      What about the unspeakable admission that there are simply too many people for the system to maintain itself and that what's needed is some degree of population reduction?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some of the real problems

    1. the current idea is that competition is good, in all circumstances, for all problems. So, taking for instance the NHS (British state health system): for most people, for most of the time, it has worked rather well for over sixty years. It was one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest health system per head and enabled Britain to wipe out TB, Polio and lots more; it enabled the poorest to be cared for to the benefit of all (more working life, less disease in circulation to which even monied people are not immune, even now a longer life expectancy than, e.g. USA and lower infant mortality). But recent governments think that privatisation is the answer: costs shoot up as private companies need to make a profit to stay in business, must pay their own bureaucrats etc., while the NHS must pay even more managers to manage the contracts, fill the gaps and quality and reliability drop (e.g. recent mobile eye surgery infection problems). Or Railways: privatise: Britain now has the most expensive fares in Europe and, probably the world. It costs more to go by train from Manchester to Oxford than a flight from almost any major city in Europe to London.

    If competition is so good, how come governments do not outsource their armies to a variety of mercenary providers? Oh, we did that - tended to go wrong in too many ways to count. How come the USA has got the most expensive health system (with nearly half its inhabitants hardly covered) and Switzerland (some 60 competitors) the second most expensive?

    Some competition is valid and useful. But it is not a blanket answer to all aspects of running a country and it has to promote "consumerism" to guarantee continuing markets and, in an era of ridiculous disparities between the pay of the top cadres (who could spend a month or more playing golf or sailing and hardly be missed) and that of the people required to produce the products (unskilled, skilled, engineers, designers, production and project management management) the exaggerated remuneration of those top cadres (aided and abetted by a corrupt shareholder system in which the big shareholders support each other rather than the firms in which they are shareholders).

    We all need profit; there is some pleasure in being consumers. The problem is in the skewing of our societies to the support of these things at the expense of the inhabitants of the countries. Governments and academics talk of countries as if they are private firms, that can be "bankrupt". Tell me how that works: can one close down a country? Sack all its inhabitants? Flog the saleable bits to another buyer? Oops, that last bit is being done and then those responsible wonder why the country does not recover.

    2. the purpose of companies: to make a profit you say. Well, yes, in that without one there would be no company and no employees. But, surely, in societal terms, the use of companies is to provide a practical way to provice goods, services and a living to people. Without those people having a living (acorss all employers, employments and businesses) there would be no customers for the goods.

  27. mosaddique

    Ban interest and live within your means

    Kill inflation and unnecessary rapacious behaviour to continually keep running while standing still.

    Interest is the root of the problems. Interest is what drains ( or siphons) peoples real resources and wealth to fewer and fewer people who control the levers of wealth (bankers).

    However, it does mean you need to save before you can afford to buy.

    Savings will also not be eroded by inflation.

    It does however require the total banning of interest. Not sure how this can be achieved easily.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Ban interest and live within your means

      That brings it's own problems though. It seriously hampers growth by removing all responsiveness - if your small company suddenly gets an order for ten million widgets, you can't afford the new machinery to meet demand. It also hampers innovation because new companies can't get funding so easily.

      Lending is a double-edged sword. We need it, but not too much of it.

    2. Nigel 11

      Re: Ban interest and live within your means

      Unfortunately, hard currency doesn't work. REALLY doesn't work. If you think the modern economic system with soft currency and inflation and interest is bad, you need to find out about the economic history of Europe during the middle ages.

      In brief, all the currency disappeared into rich men's treasure chests. Gold to the aristocracy, silver to the merchants, copper to the slavedrivers. There's no incentive to spend money, when by not spending it you raise its value. The remaining 90% of the population were serfs who had nothing to spend -- free under the law, but slaves in every detail that mattered. It's not a joke that often, the only thing that they had of any value was their daughters' virginity. Sometimes this was indeed traded for money. Other times the local landowner thought this also was his right and just took what was his.

      The only way to kick the world out of this ghastly deflation-trap from inside was either a big war (pillage, ransom) or a big plague (when the dead outnumbered the living, labour became scarce and inheritance took unusual paths). Wars failed (the Crusades, the wars of the roses, the war against France, and that's just England). Maybe the black death succeeded.

      Money is one of those things where everything has been tried, and nothing works well, but what we have may be the least bad thing that's been tried so far.

      There's another even more depressing interpretation: that the human world, like the natural world, is a dynamic system optimised to the edge of chaos. Economists are just spotting false patterns in randomness. Such a system is good in the run-up to the next catastrophe. Is there any alternative? Only an enforced stasis, taking the form of the post-catastrophe trough, frozen forever.

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad
        Pint

        Re: Ban interest and live within your means

        Words of wisdom. This is one of the days when I regret not having a dozen of sockpuppet accounts to give more upvotes. Maybe a pint will do.

  28. Sporkinum

    As I get older

    As I get older, I find I spend less money and buy fewer "things". I am less driven by wants, and more by needs. That is allowing to me make up for lost time in putting funds away for retirement.

  29. Jorba

    We need a Worstall response

    Makes some points, but there are some serious economic flaws here.

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