Would capitalism survive if the majority of manufacturers turned away from planned obsolescence and focused on making only the highest-quality, longest-lasting products possible?

Cartwright-There was a day when manufacturers here in the United States made high quality, long lasting products, and it wasn’t that long ago. About three years ago, I renovated a property that was originally built in the early 1970s. When I acquired this property, it still had the original appliances, all of which were in working order and were of good quality. It would be unthinkable that current stoves, ovens, or refrigerators would last over forty years. You’re lucky to get a quarter of that time out of them and that’s if you give it little use. Capitalism seemed to do just fine back in the days when manufacturers made products that would last for forty years in a time when I’m not sure that manufacturers were thinking of planned obsolescence. They were more expensive products, yes, but they were built to last.

Would capitalism survive if manufacturers turned away from planned obsolescence? I would think so. These same manufacturers did ok before they started manufacturing lower quality products aimed at increasing profit margins. From a business perspective, I would think that promoting yourself as having a product that will last longer than the cheaper imported products might give you a competitive advantage and enable you to charge a slightly higher price than the import. Consumers can then have a choice between the cheaper imported product which may have a much shorter lifespan and the more expensive American made product that may last twice as long.

Unfortunately, I don’t foresee manufacturers moving away from planned obsolescence anytime soon. Our domestic manufacturers will continue competing with cheap Chinese and Mexican imports unless there’s a change in trade policy, and as a result domestic producers will be competing on price as opposed to quality.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Planned obsolescence has long been a hallmark of the American brand of capitalism, and we’ve exported it worldwide. Selling widgets of all types with planned lifespans is simply how things have been done. However, oddly enough, the biggest challenge to that practice has begun in the American car industry. Our vehicles are lasting longer, performing better and being engineered better than ever before. And yet auto sales continue to thrive, and the Big Three are still turning out healthy dividends.

Why? It’s very simple: Americans consistently want the newest, best, most updated models of everything. Look at Apple! The iPhone is one of the most dependable, durable pieces of hardware around, and yet every time a new one comes out the faithful queue up for days to get their hands on one. Apple may have pushed the envelope a bit too far with the four-digit price tag on the iPhone X, but sales have so far been good…if not as mindbendingly amazing as in previous iterations. There’s a thriving market for older models of iPhones, but it hasn’t seemed to affect the sales of new models. Other smartphone makers see similar market activity.

Online ratings sites hold manufacturers of shoddy products accountable, and a four- or five-star rating on Amazon doesn’t happen when you market garbage.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Like I said, man is motivated by greed. Every fiber of their being thinks about what they can get against how it’ll benefit the society.

Money is the problem. Actually, the love of money is. Big corporations are ensuring that we dip into our pockets ever so often after buying a product for a few months. Planned obsolescence is definitely killing us. Before even going in for production, these companies have already determined how long they want the finish good to last.

Companies will never focus on making the highest quality and longest-lasting products simply because it will kill their profits to do so. That would definitely kill capitalism.

To demonstrate. I buy umbrellas very often. That’s a need in my country (for me, at least) because of my interests and lifestyle. If companies were to focus on producing an umbrella that lasts, there would be no need for me to purchase an umbrella at least 4 times in any given year.

The same would apply to other consumers who use umbrellas. That’s a major monetary loss for private owners and corporations.

If companies, especially those producing gadgets and tech focused on building devices that didn’t have a lifespan, the economy would have dipped and people would pocket more cash. One popular tech corporation I know actually slows down their old model phones, forcing people to upgrade. With each released model, the one before becomes obsolete.

That puts a burden on consumers because they’ll always try to keep up with the latest when their current device begins to lag.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Readers of a certain age may remember a time referred to in the saying “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” That was a vague reference to a time during the first part of the Industrial Revolution before mass production became ubiquitous. Plastics hadn’t been invented, and most durable goods were bought with the presumption they would “last a lifetime.”

Society today is at the opposite end of that spectrum with most items being built and sold with the idea that a newer, better, cheaper model will come along in a year or two. This suits producers just fine because repeat customers are the cornerstone of a successful business. But would capitalism survive if mass producers turned away from planned obsolescence and refocused on making products that would last a lifetime?

The switch should be easy for electronic products. Take cell phones for instance. Since smartphones came along some ten years ago, little has changed with their physical appearance. What’s new are the latest bells and whistles like improved cameras, more power, Bluetooth capability, etc. Physical phones could be made of titanium or another durable metal instead of plastic. Screens could be tempered glass instead of plastic. Improvements could be sold to consumers via software instead of a brand-new phone, or at least some replaceable module that fits inside the phone shell. Other electronic devices could follow similar paths.

Clothing, furniture, appliances, and other products could also revert to a high-quality, low-quantity formula. Yes, higher quality means a higher initial price. But if a $50 sweater lasts for decades and a $20 sweater needs to be replaced in three to five years, the consumer saves money in the long run. The producer makes more profit up front, which partially offsets the reduction in repeat purchases.

Spread across the world to all consumer cultures, spending less on things and replacing those things less often means most of us could survive just as well on reduced incomes. Businesses would scale back production facilities, shipping costs, raw material purchases, and marketing personnel. A company may contract in size, but as long as they sold their goods for a profit, they’d stay in business.

Scaling back implies workers losing jobs, but if we turn away from consuming and focus those human and capital resources on preserving, reusing, recycling, and cleaning up our messes, those industries will absorb many of the displaced production workers. It will be an evolutionary process, taking generations, but there must be a natural leveling off of the world’s parabolic rise in consuming. Sooner or later, we’ll use up all the world’s natural resources, and there won’t be any truly “new” things to buy anyway. Capitalism will survive whatever happens because people will still need to purchase goods and services to survive. Successful capitalists will be those who adapt to whatever society needs and wants.

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