On shopping

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What this article does not go into is a major problem of the 20th century: how to sell the massive overproduction of industrial capitalism. One answer was advertising, and all the marketing strategies listed here. There is also planned obsolescence and a constant increase in essential trivial ‘improvements.’ Once consumers have bought a handful of durable goods — a car, a fridge, a washer and dryer — how can you get them to buy more? You sell them on improvements. You sell them by having the durable goods break down. You sell them on buying as a solution to life’s problems.

There was a genuine fear at the end of WWII that the US would go back into a depression without a war to dispose of factory outputs. (The good thing about war is it destroys a lot of capital goods.) The answer was government spending, especially on more war goods, the so-called permanent war economy, and on the interstate highway system, and on help for white workers, especially the returning vets: government loans for education and housing.

Women were kicked out of the factories, so the returning guys had jobs. Unions, many formed during the Depression, made sure workers — not all, but many — had a living wage, with enough left over to shop for cars, made necessary by the new suburbs. (We are talking about white workers here, though many Black people ended in the factories of the north.)

Then, around 1980, the people in charge decided the system ran itself and didn’t need government help. Anyway, the system broke down, and here we are, with lots of pissed off consumers.

I forgot the new information technology. It was supposed to save the US economy. The trouble with it is, it uses less stuff. You used to be able to look at new car orders and know how the economy was going to do: car orders determined production of steel, glass, and rubber, production at all the companies that made auto parts, and production at the car plants themselves. That was a lot of jobs. You can tell by prices: a new car costs $40,000. (I just looked it up, and it’s hard to believe.) A new computer costs $400 to $4,000. That’s the cost of the materials and labor and profit for the bosses. The computer is a lot less. In addition, the materials are produced in the third world, and the assembly is done there. The only thing that remains American is the profit for the bosses.