Homo Economicus and Planned Obsolescence


One of the main problems with consumption and waste in industrialized economies today is the idea of planned obsolescence. Products since the earliest Ford models have been designed specifically not to last for extended periods of time, but rather to become inoperable or obsolescent in a timely manner so as to encourage re-consumption of the product. It is the reason why auto manufacturers put out new models yearly and why smart-phone manufacturers constantly remake and update their phones. The idea of planned obsolescence goes hand-in-hand with a large market for disposable goods and with the constant search and longing for something new and better. Another aspect is that once the new product is released, the old, obsolete one can be tossed in the trash can and forgotten. Not only is consumption encouraged but so is excessive waste.

A solution to at least this aspect of the problematic consumption-driven economy would be to encourage companies which manufacture long-lasting goods. OEP Electronics manufactures light bulbs which aim to last for 25 years. Adopting their philosophy of “without planned obsolescence” with other products and markets would reduce waste and consumption, but also open up a new economic market for second-hand goods and repairs. This, in turn, would do much to change the notion of bigger and newer as better in consumers’ minds, as well as reduce waste and overall consumption toward sustainable levels.


2 responses »

  1. I agree with you that planned obsolescence only exacerbates the problem of consumerism and further increases waste that would otherwise be avoidable. These big corporations need to adopt an environmental ethic wherein they consider such issues as waste before choosing to intentionally limit the lifespan of the product for the sake of profit. However, in our capitalist society, I’m not sure how exactly we can motivate corporations to do this. There would likely have to be some kind of financial penalty involved for those who purposefully contributed to unnecessary waste by creating obsolescent products.

  2. The problem is the consumerist culture and marketing that make it fashionable to buy or lease a new car every two to three years even though it’s completely unnecessary. Even the crappiest of cars made by GM and Chrysler in the 1990s and early 2000s can get to well over 100,000 miles without need of major repair. Car companies now are making higher quality cars that should last a lot longer than the crapboxes of yesteryear.

    Would consumption be more sustainable if people maintained their cars and drove them into the ground instead of leasing a new car every three years? Or do we also need to drive less and buy fewer cars per household?

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