Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Coming up roses ... or so they tell me."

A (metaphorical) prize to anybody who spots the reference. Here's one of the verses:
Make it plastic, make it pay,
Use it up and throw away,
Buy another just the same,
More or less.
It goes back a surprisingly long way - to the mid 80's. It was some years later - in about 1992 - that we bought our washer/dryer. It has done pretty well - we have had it repaired several times. The dryer went wrong again at the start of the summer, and as the prospect of rainy days increases, we thought we ought to get it sorted out.

The friendly local engineer who has come out to fix it for the last few years said that he hoped he might be able to get a new motor from a wholesale parts dealer - who is going out of business - though if the dealer goes out of business, he said, then the engineer would probably find himself stacking shelves in a supermarket. How come his business was so vulnerable?

Well, when we bought our washing machine, they were substantially more expensive. It was the cheapest washer/dryer we could find, and we paid (I think) about £370 for it - today, a cheap washer/dryer costs around £300; a cheap washing machine costs around £200. So they have come down in price. They aren't built to last, any more - a new one would have an expected life of around two to three years. Electronics are cheap, so they tend to be largely full of black boxes rather than real electrics, and motors are riveted into place, and so expensive to replace. Metal cases are thin, and sharp edges are left exposed. Net result: a repair to a washing machine now costs almost as much as a replacement washing machine - which of course is exactly what the manufacturers want. Washing machines have moved from being a consumer durable to a "small appliance" along the lines of a toaster or a kettle. In addition to which, insurance policies pick up the tab in lots of repair cases - so the amount of business available to the traditional "repair man" - and supporting traders - is diminished by that as well. The engineer said that he wouldn't even bother going to repair a new Indesit in most cases - once the cost of a callout and a replacement black box were counted, the owner might just as well buy a new machine.

People wonder why modern consumer electrical goods don't last as long as the old ones - after all, you'd intuitively think this was progress, wouldn't you? But in fact, from the manufacturers' point of view the opposite is the case. Things have to work indispensably well for two days longer than the warranty lasts, and then fall apart and be beyond the cost of economic repair.
Out of sight is out of mind,
for disposable mankind,
what a waste.