From DAVID SIROTA
In These Times
First, it was the new $200 printer — within hours of being extracted from its bubble-wrap womb, the contraption started making an awful wheezing sound.
Then it was the $10 stopwatch we bought to time my wife’s labor contractions — the moment it was torn out of its blister package, its digital screen flamed out.
Then it was our 3-year-old $500 television — the fuzzy lines started during late-night “Seinfeld” reruns and haven’t stopped.
And finally, it was the $25 lamp for my e-book reader — the light looked so useful … until it started emitting a hideous blue tint.
Welcome to my most recent teeth-clenching weekend spent in return lines at discount electronics stores — a weekend no doubt typical in what journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell calls the current age of “Cheap.” In her new book by that name, she argues that our economy has been reorganized around goods that sacrifice craftsmanship on the altar of low price.
Weekends like mine prove her point — and they represent a relatively new economic phenomenon. Whereas Great Depression America valued well-made utilitarian products and understood the inherent danger of bargain culture, Great Recession America prioritizes discounts at the expense of everything else.
This shift from heirloom sensibilities to today’s throwaway mindset has brought us a full-fledged ethos of Cheap — one that offers both a self-reinforcing logic and an illusory promise of social status. We can see this most clearly in the ubiquitous realm of electronics.
At the level of logic — i.e., the level of Best Buy showroom decisions — Cheap seems to make financial sense. The printer may quickly die, but why worry if printer prices keep dropping? New televisions may last only half as long as they once did, but what’s the big deal if those televisions now cost a third of what they used to? And why spend more on higher-priced electronics that pledge reliability when Cheap is now so pervasive you feel like your extra cash would end up buying a brand logo rather than a genuinely better product?
Then again, many purchases aren’t made with such calculated logic. We know this because in tough times, logic would warrant a focus on low-priced necessities. Instead, The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are now “spending more on electronics like iPads and flat-screen televisions