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Thursday, October 09, 2014

'The Light Bulb Cartel and Planned Obsolescence'

Busy day today -- a couple of quick ones for now. This is Tim Taylor:

The Light Bulb Cartel and Planned Obsolescence: The old 1951 movie "The Man in the White Suit," starring Alec Guinness, is both an entertaining adventure/comedy and a meditation on technology and planned obsolescence. The Alec Guinness character invents a wonderful new fabric that will never get dirty and never wear out. He sees a future where ordinary people will save money on clothes and cleaning expenses. People marvel at the invention at first, but soon everyone is against him: the textile and clothing companies fear his cloth will put them out of business, the workers in those companies fear losing their jobs, and those who do the washing fear losing work, too. Near the end of the movie, one character notes wryly that markets won't function if the products work too well. He says: “What do you think happened to all the other things? The razor blade that doesn’t get blunt? The car that runs on water with a pinch of something else?”
It's harder to come up with clear-cut real-world example of where companies sought to reduce the quality of a product in order to boost sales. After all, in real-world markets there should usually be a mixture of lower-quality, lower-price products and higher-quality, higher-price products, and what people want to buy will have a substantial effect on what gets produced. But in the October 2014 issue of IEEE Spectrum, Markus Krajewski tells the story of "The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy: The Phoebus cartel engineered a shorter-lived lightbulb and gave birth to planned obsolescence." ...

    Posted by on Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 07:25 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (82)


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