My White Shirt: an Economic Trailblazer

I have not been an economic team-player.  Until now.  I am still wearing some of the same wide-collar white shirts that I used to wear when I went to school; I have socks, which saw in the Millennium with me; my preference is ‘make-do and mend’––actually just ‘make-do’––rather than replace something that is broken or obsolete.  It took me 9 months to replace my fridge when it stopped working.

Since the Depression––1929, not 2007––the most influential driver of economic growth in capitalist societies has been one of ‘bin and replace’.  I know I am boiling down many great economist thinkers’ lifeworks to a single soundbite but, nevertheless, I think the generalisation holds true: ‘bin and replace’.  Until now.

For ninety years, ‘bin and replace’ has developed as a consumer habit driven by manufacturers’ strategies of planned obsolescence, but thinking is slowly changing.  The driver for this change is coming from more environmentally-conscious consumers forcing manufacturers to adopt new policies surrounding sustainable products.  Design for disassembly is a step in this direction.  It is a trend to design products, which can be easily dismantled at the end of a product’s life, so the component parts can be reused or recycled.  Design for disassembly still acknowledges the economic necessity of planned obsolescence––the ‘replace’––but it takes steps to reduce the environmental impact of the ‘bin’.

Planned obsolescence has a two-pronged attack––physical and psychological.  Physical obsolescence means that a product will fail in its construction after a pre-determined period of time and so will require replacement––like my fridge.  Psychological obsolescence plays on people’s fears that their current product is no longer the most hip, the most cool on the market and so needs updating––like my shirt.

Even language is vulnerable to becoming psychologically obsolescent.  Hip?  Cool?  Psychologically obsolescent?  Or visionary reversionist?

Like my shirt.

© Simon Turner-Tree


Simon Turner-Tree wonders if he still looks cool in his school white shirt.

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