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Unplanned Obsolescence

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Planned obsolescence is an concept most notoriously associated with American autos from the 1950s:

GM chief designer Harley Earl implemented his "planned obsolescence" scheme that changed car body styles every three to five years to induce the public to buy a new model.

Earl's marketing plan affected the design of rear tail fins on cars, which were modest in early 1950s Cadillacs, but grew larger and more flamboyant by the time 1959 Cadillacs debuted.

Wanting to keep up with the latest style, people would buy new cars before their current ones were worn out (or hardly worn at all). The way economic statistics are kept, this practice of replacing still-functional vehicles increases national output. Only the new production is considered. Any useful life melted down or left to rust is not subtracted from GDP figures. So, not only does planned obsolesence help sell cars, it helps paint a rosy picture of the economy.

Sometimes the obsolesence is not part of a strategy to increase sales:

As one of the most architectural productive country, China aggregates 2 billion m2 of new building area every year, consuming about 40% of the world’s concrete and steel. However, on the flip side of the new building fever, there lie the rubbles and remains of other “older” buildings: people tear down four-star hotels to build five-star ones and bulldoze newly developed construction sites before they are even finished. Lots of young strong buildings are down, fulfilling their unnatural destiny in the roaring noise of blasting.

The linked story has photos of 5-year-old buildings being imploded and bridges designed to last 100 years being jackhammered apart after just 10. This kind of waste is not unusual in China.

I am led to wonder if Chinese city planners are bad at their jobs, or if the Chinese government is supporting this pre-obsolesence reconstruction to boost their economic statistics. Or, perhaps it is a way to

keep all those construction workers from rioting, and all those USD reserves redirected into Brazilian and OZ commodities, now that China is not really buying US debt anymore.

Planned or not, destroying value is not the path to prosperity.

H/T: Division of Labour