Sunday, August 11, 2013

Madness foisted

Does anybody remember when Kleenex boxes just had a hole in the top to get the tissue out, and didn't have a slotted piece of plastic film glued around the hole to hold the next sheet in position?  Why did they change this?  Did anybody have a real problem getting the next tissue out of the old boxes?  Seriously?  The old boxes were simple, and about as cheap as they could be.  The new boxes are probably cheap, too, but making a box and gluing a sheet of plastic in it MUST be at least a little more expensive than just making the box, and it is more harmful to the environment to use the extra material, especially a non-biodegradable, petroleum-based plastic. Why?

Another of my pet peeves is coffee cup lids.  I drank coffee on the go for many years when the cups had simple, tearably-thin plastic lids with no holes to drink through.  I never had a problem getting my coffee out (improvising a sipping hole if-and-when I needed one), nor did any of the other coffee drinkers I knew.  But over time, all the coffee shops started providing (and ONLY providing) much heavier lids (more material) that couldn't easily have custom holes torn in them - but had a PERMANENT sipper hole.  The main function of these sipper holes seems to have been to dribble coffee everywhere (usually all over your clothes) while you were walking to your destination with the cup.  After several decades of this madness, some coffee shops started realizing that this was a problem for their customers.  Their solution was to provide ANOTHER thick, heavy piece of plastic to temporarily plug the unnecessary hole in the unnecessarily thick plastic lid.

The theoretical justification of the capitalist marketplace is that it "puts the consumer first" because they have sovereignty over their purchasing decisions, and producers compete to satisfy the sovereign customer.  But the only feedback is the purchasing decision, which comes LONG after the production decision has been made (and after many prior purchasing/production decisions, such as deciding on expensive retooling of factories).  But I don't think consumers were ever clamoring for plastic tissue-holders in Kleenex boxes, or thicker coffee cup lids with permanent sipping holes, and I doubt that many consumers ever made the choices of buying or not buying tissue or coffee based on these features.  These were unnecessary and irrational choices made by producers and foisted on consumers due to the inefficiency of a feedback mechanism so feeble as to be virtually non-existent.

I dream of a more rational economic system in which production decisions could me made deliberatively and collectively in a broad-based social process, and not in isolation and secret by competing cabals of producers, to be "voted on" after the fact by individual consumers acting even more in isolation and faced with limited and complexly aggregated purchasing options.

But, hey, maybe its just me that's gone mad, and not the rest of the world.  Who knows?