Contributed by Joe Montero
Choice published a national survey on 20 August, which shows a clear majority of Australians want stronger rights over the quality and how long the household products they buy will last. They want a guarantee of more certainty and better protection when it comes to the repair of faults.
Although the Federal Government passed laws to crack down on car repair monopolies, his was limited, and protection should extend to other products.
Some of the survey results are represented in the image below.
This not only a matter for manufacturers and retailers to provide better information. The big problem is that products are made not to last as a way of expanding the market. Mobile phones are a classical case. They are designed to go faulty around the time the new model is out. Then the big players spend a fortune on advertising to get people addicted to the brand.
Without paying attention to the deliberate manipulation of the market by monopolies, little is going to change.
It is not only that people are out of pocket from being made to buy what they don’t need. Over consumption creates a major environmental problem and misallocates resources that could be put to other uses. There are both personal and social costs to what is sometimes called planned obsolescence.
The Choice survey doesn’t deal with this problem and concentrates on legislation to improve the repair of products. Choice calls for penalties for companies that mislead customers about their rights and remedies under the law. There is no argument with this. But it doesn’t cover the whole problem.
The usual defences for short life spans of products are that constant change creates innovation and choice. Maybe. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other and less costly ways to achieve both.
Shifting would mean a transformation of the economy through a transition period. Suddenly cutting off a large part of the market would send the economy into a tailspin. It must be weaned off planned obsolescence through proper economic planning, using resources more efficiently and better meeting the real needs of the population, rather than those advertising campaigns. Attention could be put to encouraging the creation new products.
A move in this direction fits in well with an economic plan to transfer to a carbon neutral economy. Few doubt that the future of the planet, the economy, and human civilisation depend on it and that this is the time to act. Living in harmony with nature means taking care of how we use resources and avoiding causing damage.
One thing that must be understood about such a transition, is that it involves much more than ending the extraction of fossil fuels. Energy generating and distribution systems must be changed over.
An event bigger task is to rebuild the structure and technology of the economy to very low carbon use. This means shifting to an economy for people, delivering a better quality of life and giving everyone a voice.
It means shifting from the illusion that happiness is found through gadgets, instead of living life and being part of a bigger community.