Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Built (Not) to Last

Tools are the absolute cornerstone for a life of self-sufficiency.  Good tools. Dependable tools. 

Thomas's comment yesterday morning on my post (How Much Is Enough?) made me think
 about the piece I put together last weekend for the blog, to publish sometime this week.  I had planned to post it on Thursday, but I just can't hold my blogger-tongue that long.  So, I'll post my back-to-the-land piece after this one.

It's not news, is it, that it's hard to buy "quality" these days.  Hard to find it.  No matter what price you're willing to pay for things, they fall apart prematurely.  They don't work like they're supposed to.  Around the house and outside, I see literally hundreds of small examples that all add up.  It used to be that when you paid a "good" price--a "fair" one--you got "what you paid for." 

Not anymore.

From clothing to tools, to small appliances to furniture, Made in China is emblematic of poor quality and shoddy workmanship.  Here are some examples:

The lining material in the rain suits we purchased from Columbia Sportswear --supposedly a good brand--(Made in China) separated from the rain shell material; the suspenders MM decided to buy (Made in China) had only one snap; the socks I bought--6 pair at a time--(Made in China) disintegrated within about three months; the boots I bought from Southern States (Made in China) have cracked where my foot bends and now leak (so in order to extend their use, I am using plastic grocery bags on my feet inside the boot to keep them dry through the rest of this winter, after which time I will be glad to discard them, but my defiance is manifest in those plastic bags!); I could fill this entire blog with similar failures; everywhere I look, things Made in China are simply junk (and I don't mean sailing ships).  The discard pile of should-have-worked stuff, grows, out here on the one-lane road, in the landfill, and on Main Street.

And don't you just love seeing "Made in China" stamped on everything you buy?  It's difficult to find ANYTHING ANYMORE that is Made in the USA.  It used to be a point of pride!  US quality.  Did you know that the Chinese SAVE 50% of their income?  Americans recently hiked their savings rate to 5%!

Thomas mentioned the real cost, the carbon footprint, of this kind of  "planned obsolescence."  The size of the carbon footprint balloons when we consider shipment from China to here.  We used to have a sewing factory here, about 6 miles away in Thomas's neck of the woods.  Many women (and they were mainly women, with families) in this region worked there for modest wages that supplemented family income.  Sears had a drapery-making facility not far from here that employed a good compliment of people. 

Not anymore.   

Companies save paying taxes by going overseas.  OSHA doesn't exist in China.  EPA doesn't exist in China. 

Did you know--when last I checked-- that 100% of the Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) sold in this country comes from China?  Anybody check China's health inspection process recently? How about honey from China?  Check out the labels in the grocery store on honey.  Where does it come from?  You'll be surprised.  I remember a few months back, (and this could be apochryphal, of course) it was learned that some enterprising merchant over in the Far East was using the exhaust from motor vehicles to dry tea, blowing it across the tea as it lay on a concrete floor!

Aren't you tired of this?  I know I am.  The following suggestion will do nothing to reduce that carbon footprint, but I am desperate.  I've decided to ALWAYS RETURN UNSATISFACTORY PRODUCTS to the point of purchase.  I want to be a problem to that retailer who sold it to me, and I want to be a problem to the Chinese (because it's bound to be Made in China).  If we don't take the time to return these items to the point of purchase, retailers "get away" with dumping shoddy merchandise on us, fully expecting us NOT to BOTHER returning it, and to accept it because we shrug our shoulders, hunker down, declare we don't have time to "fool with it" and continue to be abused with poor quality stuff.  Nope. 

Not anymore.

When a tool breaks out here JOTOLR, we're up a creek without a paddle.  It's absolutely vital to have dependable tools that hold together and perform as promised. And I respect your inquiry into what our ancestors might have done, Thomas; (It's valid and a good way to measure worth.) But I also shudder at the prospect of not having a dependable chain saw! (Our dear old Stihl 064 has been running since 1979!  German engineering!

The promise of quality and continuing service used to be implied. It was a contract of trust between the merchant and the buyer.  For a reasonable length of time, the tool would not fail.  Yes, I do recall my father jokingly referring to Sears, Roebuck (as it was then known) as Swear and Sendback, but by and large Sears and most other merchants then stood behind their labels and even felt BAD about selling something shoddy!  They had a conscience.

Not anymore.

Caveat emptore. That's "buyer beware," but what can you do? There are few choices so being aware doesn't get you anything! 

What I suggest is a lot of trouble.  In fact it's a huge nuisance.  You need to return things.  It's a nuisance largely because others are doing the same thing and the return lines are growing longer!  It's time-consuming, so bring along a good book and a folding chair.  I think you'll be noticed.  It's our only recourse as far as I know. When you don't bother, you're allowing yourself, and others, to be a victim.  If you simply throw the item out and buy a replacement without returning the defective one, you're doubling China's take.

There is no consumer protection agency. 

Not anymore. 

So, what do we have left? 


                                              Let me know what you think!


  1. Nice job Elora expanding on my planned obsolescence rant. I am tired of it too, which is why I spend what seems like too much time researching and comparing alternatives. But as you and I both know, there is still no guarantee.

    I have also turned into an avid label reader because I want to know where something came from, who made it, or what it contains in order to make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase it. That is really surprising about the honey. I’m glad we’re able to get ours locally.

    Good advice on returning products to the point of sale despite the aggravation. I need to get better about that, but it kills me to ruin the better part of a Saturday or Sunday returning something when I need to be doing real work on the farm. Time seems to be my most important resource.

    Interesting you should mention “The promise of quality and continuing service used to be implied.” I recently replaced my washing machine after 22 years of service (with a few repairs over the years). All we wanted was a very basic machine (two or three manual dials at most) that was energy and water efficient. Turns out most washing machines today are going the way of the automobile where they rely on computer chips to operate. That’s way to fancy for us and surely more prone to failure. Anyway, we found a washer that met our needs and quickly learned that it was only covered for one year in case something went wrong, and that we could extend our coverage for up to five years by purchasing additional insurance at a cost approaching 40% of the total cost of the washer. Needless to say we declined. These are a sign of the times. Do you think my new machine will last for 22 years?

  2. I appreciate the rant - the points you made about quality and safety are definitely more important than our Big Brother cares to acknowledge, but are at the point that I hardly trust anything I buy anymore.
    I would think that American people would flock to a 9-5 40 hour a week job just doing inspections on what is coming in... Americans looking out for the welfare of our own! Ok, since that won't happen, I like that you included the suggestion to return the faulty or crappy items we purchase. It SURE is a hassle, but your point makes me feel a lot more like doing it and I'm going to spread that message around.
    Thanks for your detailed writing.