Susan Hill

Who is this Susan Hill character?

The novelist Susan Hill wrote passionately about this in a recent blog. "A recession," she writes, "will sort out the kids who have been brought up to think you not only have to have a new pair of trainers, you have to have the designer brand costing £200, and next month their upgrade."

She goes on to say: "We will be made to learn all over again that not only do we not need 5,000 models of mobile phone with bells and whistles, we do not need 5,000 brands of shampoo, toothpaste, washing powder, dog food. This is where the real waste of the world\’s resources starts to bite."

On the trainers, sure, recessions tend to reduce conspicuous (even Veblenesque) consumption.

But what\’s this about 5,000 types of toothpaste? In terms of the use of the Earth\’s resources it really doesn\’t matter whether 60 million people all use one brand of toothpaste or whether 5,000 brands are used by 120,000 people each.

So what\’s she on about?

17 thoughts on “Susan Hill”

  1. Tim has posed a difficult question, about toothpaste (and perhaps even more-so with shampoo). I’m not sure, but I am wondering whether the answer has something to do with the proportion of the sale price that is actually represented by the cost of the raw materials in the basic product?

    And, of course, the fluctuating value of all the things on which much of the difference is spent.

    Best regards

  2. “Who is this Susan Hill character?”

    I rather think there will be more people who’ve heard of and read Susan Hill than you, Mr Worstall.

  3. Couldn’t say for sure: I’ve never heard of her and I have heard of Tim Worstall (initially through one of his pieces in that obscure bulletin “The Times”). But then, because I’m writing this here and now, I’m a self-selecting sample.

  4. She’s a fine author.

    But presumably she wouldn’t argue that we don’t need all those authors publishing all those books, and that these should be cut to save resources?

  5. come on folks, just because you like economics and politics doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pretend to have no interest in culture.

    It seems fairly obvious to me that she is talking about the culture of instant obsolescence – eg the way that certain people feel impelled to be up-to-the-mark and buy e very new replica Man U football shirt that comes out or very new computer game. However, rather than deriding her for writing books and a very long-running West end play rather than being content with being nerds like you, perhaps you should educate her in the strange knock-on effects that this culture of instant gratification has on the developing world. Yes, it does seem wasteful to buy a new replica football shirt every 3 weeks ot to have to package identical toothpaste in thousands of different ways – but I imagine it makes a hell of lot of difference to the f0lks who have to make them.

  6. “…presumably she wouldn’t argue that we don’t need all those authors publishing all those books, and that these should be cut to save resources?”

    She obviously doesn’t view that as a waste of the worlds resources….

  7. I’ve heard of her. Unfortunately

    If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Abolish private education so that the most motivated and powerful parents and the brightest children and the best teachers would be forced to enter the comprehensive system and improve it out of all recognition. And I speak as one who was privately educated and sent her daughters to private schools. But I would not have done if the local state system had been as good as the private sector in which they were so well educated.

    Such a sad tale isn’t it! FFS.

    Alas that was before the old comments system went for a Burton as James Hamilton made some good ones about having to read her stuff at school: reluctantly.

  8. Dunno, but to the extent that the variety of toothpaste/shampoo products on offer indicates competition in the market for these goods, isn’t that a good thing (since competition drives the prices down)? Though granted, to the if the variety on offer was false (different brands owned by the same company) it’s grounds for concern.

    Presumably her criticism should be conditional on some awareness of these market conditions, though I suspect it’s not, and she really *doesn’t* know what she’s on about.

  9. I recall reading a biography of Ayn Rand and the story of how she managed to hook up with one of her sisters, who came visiting from the Soviet Union. The sister could not understand why US superstores had all these different varieties of toothpaste.

    Choice is “waste”; freedom is “waste”.


  10. At a fundamental level, there’s nothing unusual
    nor particularly threatening about the views of Ms. Hill. Actually, she’s quite a normal, microcosmic view of one of the standard tropes of the left.

    Every last living human can (and does) imagine many ways in which reality is somewhat unsatisfactory and, many times, may see one or more ways to render a reality more in line with one’s preferences. That’s the boiled-down essence of the process of human life: an endless succession of choices and actions aimed always at substituting a more desirable state of affairs for a lesser.

    If the individuals of whom we speak are free to try to attain such better state of affairs, they learn (some more quickly than others) they must participate in a giant cooperative project aimed at providing the continuous maximum satisfaction of all, in which each individual’s own satisfaction is conditioned upon the degree to which his own contribution to the effort is valued by his fellows.

    We call this cooperative effort “competition”; the activity takes place in the “market.” The effect of the activity, both in intention and actuality, is efficiency: the use of the least amount of both resources and effort possible without the employment of coercive violence.

    There have always been two avenues obvious to people seeking to better their conditions: the way of people free to compete on the market to attain the best satisfaction possible of their own wants by providing their own best efforts toward the satisfaction of the wants of others and, on the other hand, the system of coercive control by some of the satisfaction for which those others are permitted to strive.

    Ms. Hill is simply one of those (who, in sum, still constitute majorities in almost all places in the world) who believes that more satisfaction–true happiness–requires that coercive violence be exercised against those peacefully engeaged in trying to maximize their neighbors’ satisfaction (and, thus, their own).

    Ms. Hill is not dangerous–but her views and their propagation are, as they are the views which, in achieving and maintaining political power, empower the very coercive control which, when weak, merely deprive many of a better and fuller material life but (as Economic theory has developed), when grown stronger, lead to one or more of several forms of destruction.

    The arguments, weapons, and tactics of the (whether frank or unwitting) collectivists are many and varied. Against them, all we may deploy is truth.

  11. Lets hope the government’s new economc stimulus plan helps the poor from this economc problems we face. We need a windfall tax now!. :

  12. Why can’t we have a single brand of eco toothpaste for the whole world and thus reap the rewards of enormous economies of scale. Of course, the production would be locally based as a cottage industry thus reducing wasteful transport, packaging and marketing. Tax would be increased but in return each citizen would receive a ration of said tooth paste. As sugary and other tooth decaying foods were phased out by government decree (in order to protect our health) the need for this organic toothpaste would cease and we would eventually have no need for this wasteful and decadent substance. Anyway, what’s wrong with rotting, brown stumps? If they were good enough for cavemen…

  13. The comment about efficiency is spot on. There is wastage in having too much choice both cognitively and in capital terms as all those products might not make a return. The difference is we don’t have to put our money behind the failures whereas we do have to bail out failing state owned industries and suffe shortages when they occur.

    She doesn’t like free markets because of the abundance she sees but she doesn’t see the absence of products in the alternative system, central planning.

    The built in obsolescence is something that bugs me however I see that if firms find new needs that people want to spend on then value has been created. Might as well complain about people buying new clothes when the old ones are not worn out as fashion has changed yet that never seems to be the target.

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