by Richard North
Note: There may be something in what Richard says. The car part scam is certainly true. A bulb went in my front light a few weeks ago, and I am facing a bill for hundreds to replace the whole light unit when I finally get the service done. It is almost impossible to buy third party spares for cars or gas boilers; and, once you have paid a fortune for something, you are locked into an increasingly expensive cycle of repairs. However, planned obsolescence claims for appliances as a whole have been around for a long time, and are mostly based on a misunderstanding of market forces and technological progress. Consider:
1. There doesn’t need to be anything like perfect competition for manufacturers to compete on price and quality. If one manufacturer sells products that are designed to die within a year, people will tend to switch to better products. For example, I bought a Toshiba notebook computer in 2004. Just outside the warranty period, something called the fl inverter died, and I had to choose between an expensive repair and replacement. In fact, one of my clients gave me a new Toshiba notebook. Eighteen months later, I had the same problem. Since then, I have avoided anything made by Toshiba. If this was a ploy to increase sales for Toshiba, it didn’t work in my case.
2. In many cases, it is sensible for products not to be made with durability in mind. I bought my first notebook computer in 1992. It had 1Mb of RAM and a 20Mb hard drive, and a 286 processor. Would I really want it still to be in working order? How about the Kodak digital camera I bought in 2001, with its c250Kp resolution? No. Let such products be made to work well until they become useless to do what people want of them. The same is true of the music system I bought in 1988. I might add that things like digital cameras and mobile telephones easily outlast their usable lives. Every year, I give things away that are still in perfect working order, but that I regard as obsolete. Also, many people are highly conscious of fashion. They want to replace appliances for purely aesthetic reasons. When such people comprise enough of the customer base, there is no good reason for those appliances to be made to last forever.
3. Over the past twenty years, the prices of most electrical products have fallen sharply in both real and nominal terms. This is partly due to improvements in manufacturing and distribution technology, and partly to cost cutting. If you want a pair of headphones to last as well as they did in the 1980s, you only need to pay roughly what you did in the 1980s. Mrs Gabb and I spent £1,000 on a Sony widescreen television in 2000. It is still working as well as on the day I took it from the box.
4. When even electronic products are mature, and there is no reason to keep upgrading, durability does seem here to be a standard feature. For example, I bought an HP Laserjet 1100 in 1999. It had a design fault that made it malfunction in 2000. HP sent me a piece of cardboard to shove into the paper feed. That sorted the problem, and the printer is still working today. It still does exactly what I bought it to do, which was to produce high quality black and white text on one side of the paper. Oh, and the toner cartridges have come down in price from £c60 to £c6.
I suppose the summarised case is that, if you want it to last longer than three years, you should consider paying more than £250 for a fridge-freezer. SIG Continue reading