Exactly and precisely the wrong solution

The most obvious way of cutting production is to make things to higher standards. If everything were made to last twice as long then we would only need to make half as much of it. This requires us to slow down the rate of technological progress so that goods (and humans) do not become functionally obsolescent so quickly.

Dear Lord Almighty.

How, but, Umm, what?

How can you argue with someone who has grasped the wrong end of the cluebat so firmly?

Technological progress allows us to create more value while using fewer resources. If you think we\’re running out of resources, which Mr. Fairlie seems to think we are, then you should be gung ho for technological progress, not wanting to hamper it.

Doesn\’t anyone actually bother to read the foundational documents of the whole climate change eco-disaster thing?

Energy and mineral resources are abundant in this scenario family because of rapid technical progress, which both reduces the resources needed to produce a given level of output and increases the economically recoverable reserves.

Is this whole discussion being driven by gibbering idiots?

18 thoughts on “Exactly and precisely the wrong solution”

  1. Because we all know that using a 1980’s mobile phone for 4 years then chucking it was far less resource intensive than buying a tiny modern phone and using it for 2 years then chucking it.

    The goal of the greens is to reduce your standard of living becuase they believe that is in harmony with nature. It starts with little things but cleverly targeted at our most valuable, and perishable resource – person time. That’s why you are made to spend time sorting rubbish into different bins even in places where it just gets thrown in the same incinerator. It’s why (here, Germany) you are required to pay a €0.25 deposit on all “disposable” plastic bottles. Then take them back to the store and feed them into a machine, from where they just go to the same recycling plant or incinerator they would end up if you put them in your own bin.

    Consumption is bad. Therefore the more time you are forced to spend in nonconsumption – indeed atoning for daring to consume, the less you can consume.

  2. Not gibbering idiots but [people who know, at least among the leadership, that their claim to “environmentalism” or belief in “peak this & that” or indeed “catastrophic warming” is simply a lie.

    They are Luddites pure and simple but openly saying they want to roll back technology (to the Middle Ages or earlier) will not fly whith the people so they pretend to believe in their scare stories. But the fact that their proposed “solutions” do not fit or are even counter-productive to the alleged problems show the real agenda.

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

  3. “Because we all know that using a 1980?s mobile phone for 4 years then chucking it was far less resource intensive than buying a tiny modern phone and using it for 2 years then chucking it.”

    But buying a tiny modern phone and using it for 10 years would be even less resource-intensive.

    I don’t think the point of the article is that we should stop the sort of progress which allows us “to create more value while using fewer resources”, but rather that, if we didn’t have to replace (say) our computers every five years or do because they become obsolete, then we wouldn’t have to buy and make as many, so we’d use fewer resources and end up living in a more environmentally-friendly way. Similarly, if washing machines were built to last for twenty years, instead of the seven which is (IIRC) the average now, we’d need fewer washing machines. And so on.

  4. I don’t know where to start.

    Can I have a job at the Guardian, please? Gibberish. Good grief, the man makes the moonbat look like a Nobel Prize winner for economics. I could write this for €100/an article.

    ‘If everything were made to last twice as long then we would only need to make half as much of it.’

    Yep! It’s simple maths from a simple mind.

    Build houses slower? That should make people anxious to move out of daddy’s house (or more politically correctly sub-standard accomodation, of which the UK has oodles) happy.

    I haven’t got time for this brainless pap. I have to earn a living.

  5. Delighted to be able to buy quality stuff.

    Generally try to.

    Like it to last.

    I compost too.

    Still gibberish, though

  6. This requires us to slow down the rate of technological progress so that goods (and humans) do not become functionally obsolescent so quickly.

    Jesus Facepalming Christ…

  7. Did anyone pick up on the Prince of Wales’ speech last week in the US on “Peak Water”?
    Coming next: Peak Air.

  8. What really does amaze me is that these people can be so openly reactionary, and yet still be widely held to be “progressive” and get to say that “the right” are the reactionaries. And people believe it. It’s really quite astonishing, isn’t it?

  9. I think most of you are missing the point: this is simply an example of widespread ignorance of economic reality, not of some wilful insistence on a favored antidote.

    I agree that it’s disconcerting because it’s as widespread as it is–but it’s nothing special, in my view. (It’s the same sort of fundamental misapprehension that causes Tim, over and over again, to feel the need to explain that the creation of jobs to accomplish a purpose is not a benefit of accomplishing the purpose but, rather, one of the costs of its accomplishment.)

    Depressing, actually.

  10. It’s a direct consequence of the triumph of a Calvinist view of the economy, in which labour is the end in itself, rather than production of goods. Rothbard realised this years ago, and it seems everybody ignored him; largely it seems because most of Rothbard’s “right wing” audience were just as wedded to that Calvinist economic view (the deification of Adam Smith for instance) as the Left were to the post-Smithian Marx.

  11. JamesV – you have it right and you stole my example.

    XXX – you’re missing the point.

    People upgrade their phones every couple of years on average because the new features, size, whatever, colour for fuck’s sake, appeal to them more than their current phone. They’ll do it anyway,whether the old phone still works or not. Given that, is it worth any company making a phone that will last ten years? It will cost more, and offers something that consumers manifestly don’t want. So they go out of business because their advantage is worthless.

    This attitude of “big corporations design obsolescence” into their products has always been bullshit. Can you see far enough ahead to buy a washing machine that will last 25 years? What if much better, more efficient products come along? You wasted the extra money you spent.

    You can still buy Dualit toasters, repairable and very high quality, last forever, if you want. Why don’t most people? Because buying a cheap toaster that dies before you ever have to clean it out is of more utility. And a few hundred pounds upfront is a lot more money than 20 pounds every few years after you discount the cost over time. You can make longer lasting products – but how do you make people buy them?

    And I say this as an engineer who routinely uses things way past their use-by date – 14 year old car, 5 year old phone, old 13″ analog TV – ok there’s a nice plasma in the living room. That’s not my day-to-day TV though.

  12. Similarly, if washing machines were built to last for twenty years, instead of the seven which is (IIRC) the average now, we’d need fewer washing machines.

    I’m not convinced. A washing machine built to last for 20 years* would need much more durable parts, and would probably need some redundancy built in. There is no guarantee this would require fewer resources, when design, materials, manufacture, testing, and transport are all factored in. Maybe it would, but it is not guaranteed.

    Consider which option uses the fewer resources: everyone sitting on cheapo Ikea furniture, or us all having an oak dining table and chairs which will one day become antiques.

    The 7 years for a washing machine is probably the age at which some vital component – probably the motor – hits its mean time before failure. Extending this life by a factor of 2 is probably not a case of upgrading everything by a factor of 2, these things are rarely linear.

  13. Progressivism is more of a tribal identity – EVERYTHING in the Guardian is progressive, even if the reality is that it is not. Subsistence agriculture is progressive if a Guardianista supports it.

    Whether it leads to ‘progress’ is irrelevant.

  14. Just to pile onto this economic illiterate, he’s also a technological illiterate as well, because on a price-comparable basis, virtually every engineered or manufactured product has been becoming more and more durable for ages already.

    Cars last far, far longer than they used to, with far-less maintenance or repair. The stereotypical cheap watch (a Timex or Seiko) will last for decades with no attention at all. Virtually every class of durable domestic goods (refrigerators, washers and dryers, etc, etc) are longer-lasting, for lower cost of ownership, than ever before.

    Even the discussion of cellphones as the typical disposable good that ‘ought’ to be made longer-lasting – doesn’t anyone remember what cellphones used to cost? And now they give them away?

    Higher standards always – always – always means higher consumption of resources and higher consumption of energy to manufacture. If you want it to be stronger and not wear out, it must be thicker, or use more-costly materials, or be more highly-processed. That’s why (for example) mil-spec kit costs so much.

    But this clown wants us all to live in ‘cob’ houses (old English term for ‘mud hut’), that demand constant maintenance and upkeep? As with ‘recycling’, these folks blithely ignore both the cost of labour (to maintain and repair) and the opportunity costs – because everyone is busy slapping handfuls of mud on the hole that washed out of the living room wall last night, they can’t be doing (any one of a thousand more-useful things).

    llater,

    llamas

  15. MikeinAppalachia

    I’m eternally grateful that I spent that extra 50% on my laser disc player so that it would last longer.

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