In the room at the entry of my parents’ house sits an antique desk dating to the turn of the last century. On this desk sits a brass lamp, not quite so old. On the base of this lamp is a brass plate congratulating its original owner for some achievement or other in the year 1922. What is of interest? After more than 90 years, the original bulb yet burns. That is what I thought of when I read a posting at David Frum’s blog from his friend John Gardner entitled A Snowball’s Chance of Economic Recovery. The author says he has an epiphany while looking at still functioning decorations from Christmases long past:
Christmas lights that are over half a century old and still working. A couple of Snowballs and their successors, the GE Lighted Ice (small pieces of plastic on top of a colored bulb giving an overall impression of ice) give out every year, but the vast majority go on. Cool to the touch and providing a soft light, they are close to the ideal light for a natural tree. Of course, they were made in the United States.
An economy based on planned obsolescence or rapid turnover of items of poor quality may generate more sales, at least in the short run; an economy based on quality will endure. Some companies in a variety of industries are (re)discovering this, but their range is too often limited, either by region or by cost. The true genius of postwar General Electric and so many other icons of American industry was that real quality at a reasonable cost was available for the masses – and made here at home.
Light bulbs that last decades are hardly an innovation. But how would our societal philosophy change if we made cars to last essentially forever? This would require serious systems engineering from the drawing board on, but it already done with aircraft. Aircraft are engineered with ease-of-maintenance as a key design factor. Items that are destined to wear out are replaced at specified times. Why is this not done with cars? I suppose some idiots want the “freedom” to get cheap shit from China and replace it all time and again. For those with no foresight, the enormous downstream cost is worth it in “right now” dollars.