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I write in response to Ann Walcott’s article headlined Fed Up With Substandard Products From China, published in last Tuesday’s DAILY NATION.
It is true that few of us still own cars, stoves, irons, kettles and washing machines of a certain vintage which continue to defy expectations in terms of length of service and quality performance.
Instead, we have been duped by slick marketing campaigns by transnational corporations working in conjunction with weak regulatory frameworks to crave the latest iterations which boast new, exciting features that promise what they cannot deliver. This is due in large part to our obsessive consumption for cutting edge technology fuelled by instant gratification.
My mother and other economists of her calibre used to caution me that products from abroad are not built to last beyond a specific shelf life. Such is the deliberate ploy by the manufacturers to engineer a steady demand and supply. ‘Ma’ insisted that this built-in character flaw is particularly noticeable in items tailored for the Third World or, to be more politic, developing economies, which themselves do not have the infrastructure or skills to mass-produce these types of white and brown goods.
According to www.dictionary.com (2017), planned obsolescence is “a business strategy in which the obsolescence of a product is planned and built into it from its conception . . . so that in future, the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones”. In simple terms, the older versions tend to have more integrity than the newer models.
Furthermore, this type of production takes both an economic and social toll on our environment – depleting foreign reserves, diminishing natural resources as well as derailing pride and industry, for as average consumers we are left with little choice but to pay exorbitant prices and extended warranties for what is slightly more than gimmickry.
It is significant that our insatiable demand for these goods and services has been touted as a factor in poverty, climate change and armed incursions in underdeveloped territories that produce these raw materials. Perhaps, it is time we look at the Swedish initiative to introduce tax breaks on repairs of popular consumer items to diminish the effect of waste in our environment.
The Pinelands Creative Workshop bicycle project already addresses some aspects of this, but the venture’s reach could be extended further within other communities, becoming more structured if introduced in the classroom.
Certainly, the strategy would be a win-win for many: cutting down on imports, supporting a green culture, incentivising young people who are technical-minded, and leading to opportunities for enterprise creation and youth employment.
– CARLYON BLACKMAN (MS)