Monday, December 10, 2007

Not Consuming isn't just about Being Cheap

Our first VW van lasted 24+ years. We still have the TV my mom gave us when our son was a year old. And you may have read my post about replacing our Maytag washer this year, which we got when he was born. (Now he's older than I was when his little sister was born.) My mother was certainly an influence on this sort of behavior. She grew up in Germany where, even today in many places, you have to turn on the lights in the stairwell and they go off in two minutes. I was raised with a no wasting household, lights out when you leave the room, don't leave the water running while you're brushing your teeth, etc. - well at least that was the dominant mantra if not always practiced.

Living for two years in rural Thailand added to that earlier training. I lived in a house up on stilts. There was electricity and I could fill my large earthen jug with water with a hose from a tap outside. But basically I saw that life without all the things I took for granted was quite possible, even enjoyable. No telephone, no tv, no car. (This was the late 60s, everyone with a decent job has a cell phone in Thailand now.) I learned that most of the stuff just isn't necessary. That doesn't mean I don't use technology today, but I use the stuff that I need to do what I want to do. So I have my macbook and my Canon digital camera, but no cell phone.

The whole logic of capitalism has seemed to me to be a giant ponzi scheme. It works as long as you keep people buying and using up stuff. So you have to develop planned obsolescence, products that will break down so you have to keep buying new ones. So when I saw this video, I realized it voiced my reasoning pretty well. The whole video is at

I know there are people who will scream and yell things like socialism, communism, radical freak, etc. But their ancestors were the last to give up the flat earth theory, argued Hitler was Germany's future, and still think global warming is an environmentalist plot.

Here's a quote from the film attributed to Victor Lebow, The Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955, p. 7, as quoted in Michael Jacobson Marketing Madness,1995, pg."191. I can't find the article right now to confirm it because the UAA library on line data bases don't go back that far. But they do have copies - probably microfiche (awful stuff) - going back to 1955. And just because he wrote it, did anyone read it before this Michael Jacobson found it? Was it an important influence on American business? I just don't know. But it sure sounds like the philosophy that has been followed.

Maybe this quote sounded too good to be true. And the only people quoting it on the internet were anti-consumption people. Well, it was a 1955 reference, but something wasn't right. I looked up Vicor Lebow again. He wrote a book in 1972 called "Free Enterprise: The Opium of the American People." Did this man go through some great conversion between 1955 and 1972? Or was the original quote a critique rather than a prescription? I'll try to read the original article tomorrow. It doesn't change the point being made, but if this was a critique, it is hard to argue as they do in the film that this was the blueprint for planned obsolescence.

[follow up post with the complete original 1955 article posted here.]


  1. My husband and I were just discussing this the other day. We've been through five toasters and we've been married for eleven years. The kids can't be THAT rough with stuff. Not everything was something cheap from Wal~Mart, either. But even the cheap stuff from the 1970's used to last for a long time. Vacuums also go fast. I find myself buying warranties from sears and I can't believe that I am ensuring that the product works like it should.

  2. Just in time for Xmas!

    I run a vehicle hospice down here in Seldovia. I don't want to pay for cars. I don't really like them. I believe that things have to get used up.
    I love me the dump. I totally believe in trickle-down economics. All the summer people show up through out last years stuff. The wife wrote about it in her blog.
    Now if they wold just start throwing away healthcare.

  3. I have been trying to track down the Lebow quote as well, so far with no luck. I too would like to see the Journal of Advertising article. Please post this if you find it.
    thanks much,
    Chicago Peak Oil


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.