Hey, it’s the first Pickabar tune of 2011! Just when I had started to worry that maybe the well was running dry, I finally got something done.
I’ve wanted to write a song called “Cheap” since I finished Ellen Ruppel Shell’s great book, “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.” If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It really opened my eyes to the true cost of our obsession with low prices. The question we never ask ourselves is, “how do they keep the prices so low?” The answer is as simple as it is depressing.
They do so by defraying the up front cost of the things we purchase by selling us low quality goods made by people who are paid substandard wages. The things we buy don’t last as long and you end up spending more money replacing them, but all we care about is the price on the sticker.
They keep the prices low by homogenizing goods and replacing fairly paid craftsman with unfair labor practices. Imagine if the Wal-Mart listed, “loss of decent jobs in the future” on their price stickers. Imagine if their slogan, “Save money and live better” was truthful: “Save Money by offshoring jobs and replacing entrepreneurship with the chance for your children to be poorly paid employees without benefits.” The companies we work for no longer value us as employees, so we don’t have any great attachment to them or the products that we produce for them.
They keep prices low by manipulating corrupt politicians into giving them sweetheart deals where they can rip-off our shared resources with impunity. The politicians they own make sure that public policy never takes them to task for making huge profits by spoiling things that belong to all of us.
They keep prices down by convincing us that quality is something that only the rich deserve. What heirlooms will the average person be able to pass along to future generations? The things we buy today are shiny, functional and completely ephemeral.
I’ll give you an example from my personal life. I bought the original Motorola Droid about a year ago. It was a wonderful device. I carried it with me everywhere and it became an indispensable tool. A few months ago, the touchscreen started to wonky as if it were possessed. I searched around the web and it became clear that this was a design flaw that a lot of people were running into. I soldiered on for a while, but it’s become practically unusable in the last few weeks.
I contacted Verizon, assuming that their repair department would be able to fix the offending part. No dice. They were aware of the problem and I got the impression that they had dealt with a lot of customers facing the same issue. The only assistance they could offer me was a deal on a new phone. A new phone which will probably last a year before needing to be replaced.
I did some more research and the part that needs replacing only costs $35. Unfortunately, the phone wasn’t designed with repairs in mind. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they designed it to be harder to repair. In the end, getting the phone repaired would cost as much as it would cost me to just get a new phone. So, I’m going to get a new one. That’s right, after all of my preaching, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. The old phone will find its way into a landfill somewhere, where it will rot for ten thousand years while wasting gold and other precious materials.
Why design a phone that will only last as long as its warranty? Because quarterly growth matters a lot more to the decision makers at these companies than building long term relationships with customers by making great and reliable products. Why shouldn’t they focus on short term growth? They days of company lifers are almost gone. Today’s executives are already planning to move to their next position before they ink has dried on their business cards.
New gadgets are reviewed by reviewers who use the items for a day or two and then never see them again. If the new whiz bang gadget is impressive in a few days usage, who cares that it will fall apart in a year? By that point, the reviewer will have seen two hundred newer and better devices.
Do you remember when I fixed my Samsung monitor? If I hadn’t done the extra leg work, I would have ended up throwing away a perfectly good monitor for $12 in blown capacitors. Instead, I’m reading this blog post off it as we speak.
This way of life isn’t sustainable. I don’t have any answers, I’m as guilty as anyone. But things have to change.
Anyway, I tried as best as I could to write a song about this issue. Unfortunately, I had lots and lots of ideas to write about and not a lot of music to squeeze those ideas into. I finally gave up and just got the song down as quickly as possible. It’s a pop tune, so you aren’t going to learn much. I admit that up front. If you are interested in the subject, I highly recommend the aforementioned book.
Cheap is disposable
quality is made to last
we’re filling up the landfills
emptying our bank accounts twice as fast
but it won’t last
it won’t last
it’s already almost in the past
maybe you hate math
I’ll make it simple for you
one is cheap
but you always end up buying two
So what’s cheap? What’s cheap?
What use is cheap if you’ve got no job?
Cheap? what’s cheap?
It’s just another way for the rich to rob us
Cheap? what’s cheap?
Discount shopping is just a scam
Cheap, it’s cheap
it’s corporate profits at our expense
Our pride used to come
from making things with our hands
now it comes from buying
as many useless gadgets as we can
but it won’t stand
it won’t stand
we’ve thrown our future in the garbage can
no one ever asks
no one wants to know
we’re mortgaging our future
just to keep the prices low