Consumerism, and Political History

Two items today.

First, as follow-up to the House Speakership scandal:

Slate, 7 Jan 2023: Oh God, Kevin—What Did You Promise Them?

As we write this on Friday afternoon, Kevin McCarthy—after a long, long week—is on the brink of the speakership, only a couple of votes away. He may be speaker by the time you read this! So how did he arrive at this position? By putting himself in a straitjacket. He’s made it so any one person could call for a vote on his job if he hurts the Freedom Caucus’ feelings. He’s giving hard-liners seats—perhaps a consequential number of seats—on the Rules Committee, which determines which bills go to a floor vote and under what conditions. He’s promising steep spending cuts and a debt ceiling increase only in the event those spending cuts are in place. Who knows what other side deals for committee positions are in there! If McCarthy can close this out, Republicans will celebrate like they’ve just won the Revolutionary War. But they’ll be celebrating the installation of a Voltron-like Freedom Caucus composite character as speaker.

He won the vote, after many concessions, very late Friday evening.


Vox, Izzie Ramirez, 4 Jan 2023: Your stuff is actually worse now, subtitled “How the cult of consumerism ushered in an era of badly made products.”

This is an aspect of the cult of consumerism I had not realized. The article doesn’t exactly address the bigger more fundamental problems with endless consumerism.

The article begins with the writer’s attempt to buy a new duplicate of a bra she’d had for 10 years, only to find the new one, supposedly a duplicate, was more poorly made.

All manner of things we wear, plus kitchen appliances, personal tech devices, and construction tools, are among the objects that have been stunted by a concerted effort to simultaneously expedite the rate of production while making it more difficult to easily repair what we already own, experts say.

The article them summarizes the essence of the design process, and its shifts through the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, “consumer engineering,” and “planned obsolescence.”

[[ Especially when I was growing up in the 1960s, less so now, car makers redesigned their leading models *every year,* in part to make last year’s model instantly obsolete and give motivation to buyers who could afford to keep up with the latest model every year. The 1958 Chevy did not look like the 1957; the ’59 not like the ’58; the ’60 and ’61 and ’62 not like the ’59 or ’60 or ’61, and so on for quite a few years. Summarized in too much detail here. ]]

And how things are simply more expensive to produce now than a decade or more ago. For various reason. And how online shopping makes consumers unaware of the actual quality of goods. And on and on.

While pinching pennies can sometimes lead to interesting solutions to old problems, a whole new suite of issues tends to unfurl. For the fashion industry, it’s easy to look at the rise of synthetic materials, which offer utility for exercise clothing as well as a way to avoid using animal products. Synthetic fabrics, however, are made from petroleum and have propelled the industry to become one of the top carbon polluters in the world. Synthetics also have a paradox problem: They fall apart easier, but they don’t entirely decompose as well as natural material.

And parallel stories of how improvements in tech made devices more difficult to repair.

“One of the problems being a designer is that you solve some problems and in the process of solving them, you invent all these new problems,” Bird says. “That’s just an inherent part of design. There’s no way to not do that. If you’re creating innovation, you’re also creating future problems.”

So the cycle continues.

And the impact on right-to-repair laws. And now we’re in the era of iPhones, which people replace every year or two. Where do all the old ones go? (That’s another issue.)

Everything is more complex than people think. The world is complex. Pass a right-to-repair law, and there are bound to be unexpected consequences.

This article focuses on clothing, but its ideas apply across the spectrum. It ends:

I hate to say that the onus is on us, but in many ways it is. Corporations aren’t going to do this work for us, or without us. Consumers need to be able to identify quality, learn to take care of what they own, and advocate for regulations and legislation wherever right-to-repair doesn’t yet exist. Buy less or secondhand, and when you do buy something new — it happens! — make sure to do your research.

But the article doesn’t address the bigger picture, on two points. One, that people don’t really need to buy so much *stuff* — they’re driven to by the cult of consumption.  (When I grew up, my mother darned my socks and my father repaired things rather than automatically going out to buy a new one. As people like my partner do now.) Two, that the cult of consumerism is unsustainable. That the expanding economy should not be a measure of progress, but rather as a measure of the destruction of the world. There are better ways to judge the health of a society than by economic growth, as discussed many times here.


More from Heather Cox Richardson on Facebook, 4 Jan 2023, giving perspective into how the Republican party got to where it is today.

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on an old Reconstruction era trope, arguing that social welfare programs and regulation were a form of socialism because they cost tax dollars that were paid primarily by white men while their benefits went to poor Americans, primarily Black people or people of color. In that formula, first articulated by former Confederates after the Civil War, minority voting was a form of socialism that would destroy America.

When Reagan used this argument, he emphasized its idea of economic individualism over its racism, but that racism was definitely there, and many of his supporters heard it. When he stood about seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Ku Klux Klan members had murdered civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner just 16 years before as they tried to register Black people to vote, and said “I believe in states’ rights,” the racist wing of the old Democratic Party knew what he meant and voted for him.

In the years since, party leaders cut taxes and deregulated business while rallying voters with warnings that government policies that regulated business, provided a social safety net, or protected civil rights were socialism that redistributed white tax dollars to minorities. In the 1990s, under the leadership of House speaker Newt Gingrich, Chamber of Commerce lawyer Grover Norquist, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, the party purged from its ranks traditional Republicans, replacing them with ideological fellow travelers.

As their policies threatened to lose voters by concentrating wealth upward and hollowing out the middle class, Republicans increasingly warned that minority voters wanted socialism and were destroying the nation to get it. Trump rode that narrative to power, and now tearing down the current government is the idea that drives the Republican base.

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