Author Topic: What would happen if everyone suddenly stopped buying new goods at once?  (Read 1757 times)

shelivesthedream

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1479
  • Location: UK
We all know how much there is available on the second-hand market. I often wonder what would happen if we (either a single country or wider world society) decided it would just stop making new goods until we had used up everything in existence already. I know this won't happen, but let's imagine an alternative universe in which it did.

What would we run out of first? How would people's jobs and lifestyles change? Would the relative prices of goods stay the same? How long could we last before we had to manufacture again? What about if you don't count spare parts/other repair items (like sewing thread)? What do you reckon?

Edit: Changed thread title from "What would happen if we (country/society/world) stopped manufacturing new goods?" to better reflect the question I'm asking. Not advocating for central state control!!! Just wondering how the economy would cope if everyone suddenly stopped buying new goods until they absolutely had to, much like the endless "What if everyone became Mustachian at once and stopped working?" discussions.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2017, 02:49:02 AM by shelivesthedream »

Ocinfo

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 100
Assuming we're in an alternate universe, I won't harp on the issues with this. I will say that commodities are generally priced at the highest rate that someone is willing to pay for the last item. If you stopped manufacturing then you have a big commodities market for everything. The highest bid sets a floor price for the whole market, just like oil or gold now. I could go further but the end result is ever increasing prices or transition to a post money society (maybe Star Trek like or Mad Max like depending on how optimistic you are).


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

lost_in_the_endless_aisle

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 216
For a wide variety of products, global inventories tend towards several months of supply at current rates of consumption. If manufacturing was cut off, prices would rise dramatically for products perceived to be essential, while frivolous luxuries would much appreciate less in price or even fall in price (more money chasing fewer products would drive inflation generally though--since it would be in every individual's interest to hoard, the price levels would adjust very quickly assuming everyone understood the sittuation). The higher price on essentials would lead to greater economy in their use, meaning they would last somewhat longer than the several months at current rates of consumption--so perhaps sever shortages emerging on the order of a year, though with large variances depending on specific product.

If we also include food in the thought experiment, I expect the price of guns and bullets would increase the most.

SwordGuy

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2575
  • Location: Fayetteville, NC
Lots more people would be killed, starve, or be displaced by war if new products (other than food or medicine, I presume) were no longer manufactured.

Papa bear

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 407
  • Location: Ohio
Toilet paper. That wouldn't be fun


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Tasty Pinecones

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 482
Just use your Sears and Roebuck catalog for paper. Oh wait...

I imagine the rural areas to run out of manufactured stuff to trade first but in the end cope the best b/c people there can feed themselves eventually and people are likely better equipped to deal with life's challenges there (farm equipment, tools, crafts, animals).

Stashu

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 6
It wouldn't take too long before we "used everything up" since things are designed to break rather quickly these days.

It's called planned obsolescence and while ridiculously wasteful, it's part of the reason why a 16mb video card cost over $1000 when it first came out. Today, it's junk.

I suspect that before we as a country/society would ever decide to get the maximum use out of something (as the OP suggested), I think we'd have to re-examine our manufacturing and economic philosophies...particularly how the amount of waste is directly proportional to size of profit. 

All I'm going to say is the most profitable business to be in is a subscription-based business where you have guaranteed recurring customers. It's why all the big software companies are going in that direction. And just like a monthly prescription of pills (instead of proper diet and exercise), sadly it's far more profitable to make things that break and have a very short shelf life.

You can watch a documentary about planned obsolescence here....

https://www.o3p.com/threads/the-conspiracy-of-planned-obsolescence.1522/

The whole thing is pretty sick and twisted, but welcome to our modern economy.

shelivesthedream

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1479
  • Location: UK
But I honestly think it would take a reasonable amount of time before we used stuff up. Obviously I'm not talking about genuine consumables like food, soap or toilet paper.

But imagine how many cars there are in the UK or USA right now. Imagine how many used cars are in people's drives, or in car shops, waiting to be driven again. Imagine how many new cars there are waiting to be bought. Mustachians are well-known for driving cars into the ground. People on here talk about getting ten years out of a car as a matter of course, and twenty years is no great achievement. So why couldn't we go ten or twenty years without making any new cars? Or longer? There are enough cars floating around that people could surely all drive their current car into the ground and then get a replacement from somewhere for a decade at least.

Or clothes. How many clothes do people just throw away? Clothes don't wear out the second you put them on. I'm approaching the ten year anniversary for some of my clothes and they're perfectly respectable. I can go into any one of the six charity shops in my area and buy up the equivalent of my wardrobe several times over. Tons of wearable clothing goes into landfill every year. People have unworn clothing at the back of their wardrobes. The shops are bursting with clothes that already exist. If we shut down the factories for a decade, no one would need to go naked.

I am wondering what would happen if we DID reexamine our economic philosophies. No jobs in clothing factories but suddenly seamstresses would be hugely in demand for repairs and remaking. No jobs in car factories, but routine maintenance on cars would be essential. Thinking even wider, maybe people would drop down to part-time work because they wouldn't be spending money on buying things they were only going to throw away. Or maybe thy couldn't because the price of second-hand goods would rocket. But then becoming a reseller would be lucrative because everything would hold its value.

It's like when people ask "Why do you buy new baby clothes when there are so many used ones out there?" but applying that question to everyone across the whole of society and wondering where that might take us. You can think about it as "What if everyone refused to buy new things?" rather than "What if we refused to manufacture new things?" if you want. It's a bit like asking "What if everyone suddenly became Mustachian?" but only for second-hand goods.

cerat0n1a

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 546
  • Location: Cambridge, UK
It's called planned obsolescence and while ridiculously wasteful, it's part of the reason why a 16mb video card cost over $1000 when it first came out. Today, it's junk.

That particular example is not really planned obsolescence. It's the result of hundreds of billions of dollars of investment by semiconductor companies and the work of hundreds of thousands of smart people around the world. Our ability to make silicon chips gets better year on year and things that were not possible to do a few years ago, or were at the limits of technology (and therefore difficult/expensive) can now be done cheaply & routinely.

Same thing applies in many other areas. Today's cars are hugely more fuel efficient (well outside the US anyway...) than those of 15-20 years ago, to the point where many people would get a fairly rapid payback by switching to a new one. That's not because evil car manufacturers deliberately made vehicles that would be out of date soon - it's because they are now able to put computers into the engine management systems.

I think the accumulated knowledge, skills, organisation etc. required to make most manufactured goods would be extremely difficult to re-acquire after
a long gap. E.g. think about Leonard Read's famous piece from 1958 about Pencils.
 
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/I,_Pencil

For densely populated places (like Britain), the reality is that our food production & distribution infrastructure is such that a couple of weeks without oil is likely to see nearly all of us starve. Something like a dozen diesel engines are involved in getting the average food product to us.  While there might be plenty of unnecessary cars, there aren't huge amounts of spare trucks, refrigerated warehouses, mechanized farm equipment etc etc sitting idle.

It's an interesting thought experiment and it's something that's relatively easy to do on a personal level, much more difficult for society as a whole.

Papa bear

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 407
  • Location: Ohio
Cuba may be an interesting case study for you.  There was some really ingenious tinkering going on there since they really didn't manufacture much themselves.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Ocinfo

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 100
Cuba may be an interesting case study for you.  There was some really ingenious tinkering going on there since they really didn't manufacture much themselves.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

I was about to say the same thing! That being said, it wasn't allowed to unfold as expected because the Cuban government regulated (maybe a better word?) the economy, in part by preventing people from leaving...it is certainly an interesting case study and North Korea is another one. Definitely gets you thinking about what type of government response would happen?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

GuitarStv

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8157
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A lot of swiffers (and related products designed to be disposable) would finally be re-purposed to serve a useful function.

Stashu

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 6
It's called planned obsolescence and while ridiculously wasteful, it's part of the reason why a 16mb video card cost over $1000 when it first came out. Today, it's junk.

That particular example is not really planned obsolescence. It's the result of hundreds of billions of dollars of investment by semiconductor companies and the work of hundreds of thousands of smart people around the world. Our ability to make silicon chips gets better year on year and things that were not possible to do a few years ago, or were at the limits of technology (and therefore difficult/expensive) can now be done cheaply & routinely.

Same thing applies in many other areas. Today's cars are hugely more fuel efficient (well outside the US anyway...) than those of 15-20 years ago, to the point where many people would get a fairly rapid payback by switching to a new one. That's not because evil car manufacturers deliberately made vehicles that would be out of date soon - it's because they are now able to put computers into the engine management systems.

True. Maybe computers/electronics isn't the best example. On the other hand, when you take a look at the hard drives that NASA had developed for the Voyager space program in the 1970s and you realize we're just now catching up in the commercial markets...it's pretty clear that the plan was to release technology slowly to maximize profits and make things obsolete (or less relevant) fairly quickly.

I don't want to get off topic...but you also brought up cars. If you've never seen that documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car" I'd definitely recommend checking it out. In it, they talk about how even cars are made to continually break down to support the service industry, which would basically be rendered pointless if electric cars were to become mainstream.

But...back to the original question. If you take away mass production, I would see us going back to a simpler time where people would learn skills like carpentry. But I don't think it would take us back to the 1800s. Today we have 3d printers (which I feel will ultimately change everything in our society very soon) and if our society becomes extremely well-versed in electronics (to the point where 2nd and 3rd grade school kids are designing circuit boards and things like that)...I feel like mass production would certainly become more localized and less reliant on the outside world.

Could you imagine each house being its own micro economy where certain necessities are built literally "in house"? I'm not saying we're on the way to building cars, computers and refrigerators with 3d printers, but who knows where things are moving in the future?

cerat0n1a

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 546
  • Location: Cambridge, UK
True. Maybe computers/electronics isn't the best example. On the other hand, when you take a look at the hard drives that NASA had developed for the Voyager space program in the 1970s and you realize we're just now catching up in the commercial markets...it's pretty clear that the plan was to release technology slowly to maximize profits and make things obsolete (or less relevant) fairly quickly.

Voyager has some impressive technology, because it needed to last decades in a very demanding environment. Not sure what you mean about hard drives though. Voyager records its data onto 8-track tapes and has total storage of less than 70kB. AFAIK hard drives didn't go into space until around 2000 - for one thing they need air to work because the head needs an air cushion to float on.

Near to where I live, people were mass producing stone tools from around 3000BC and trade networks were exchanging goods across europe even during the Neolithic. Manufacturing new goods has been with us for a long time. I'm a big fan of being as self sufficient as possible. I recently made a chair out of coppiced hazel, using traditional techniques to join the parts and it's a lovely thing to have done and I'm delighted with the result, but the reality is that I needed a mass produced metal saw, clamps and sandpaper to do it. If I'd had to construct an axe and saw myself from flints, well....

JLee

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3354
Toilet paper. That wouldn't be fun


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Bidets would instantly appreciate 1000% overnight.

GuitarStv

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8157
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Most bathrooms already have a shower in them.  A bidet is just a fancy floor shower.

shelivesthedream

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1479
  • Location: UK
Reminds me of the man who tried to build a toaster from actual scratch.

Tasty Pinecones

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 482
I am wondering what would happen if we DID reexamine our economic philosophies. No jobs in clothing factories but suddenly seamstresses would be hugely in demand for repairs and remaking. No jobs in car factories, but routine maintenance on cars would be essential. Thinking even wider, maybe people would drop down to part-time work because they wouldn't be spending money on buying things they were only going to throw away. Or maybe thy couldn't because the price of second-hand goods would rocket. But then becoming a reseller would be lucrative because everything would hold its value.

Which begins to sound alot like Cuba and the American embargo.

I don't think we'd wind up in the 1800s but I do see things slipping back to 1900 or so after a few years, and I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. For example: kids would be back outside playing. People would be repairing things again. We'd be doing things beside watching TV and we'd certainly appreciate an idle moment more than we do after a long boring day of building documents and spreadsheets on a computer.

Would be preferable to continue to have modern medical science though. I know DW's life would be quite different without it.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2017, 06:18:37 AM by Tasty Pinecones »

KBecks

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 771
The great thing is that you can choose to do this on a personal level, right now, without forcing it on everyone else via the State.   Show us how it's done.  Blog about it -- if it's a great idea people will follow you.

KBecks

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 771
Maybe you'd like to live like one of the Time Warp Wives.  I think women in California were doing this too -- it may have been a thing a few years back -- wonder if it's still a thing?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1042702/Time-Warp-Wives-Meet-women-really-live-past.html

Here you go, Wives with Beehives from TLC

http://www.rockinsocialite.com/2012/12/follow-up-to-wives-with-beehives.html

http://jezebel.com/5971904/tlcs-wives-with-beehives-is-kind-of-really-depressing

LOL.

shelivesthedream

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1479
  • Location: UK
Which begins to sound alot like Cuba and the American embargo.

Would be preferable to continue to have modern medical science though. I know DW's life would be quite different without it.
The great thing is that you can choose to do this on a personal level, right now, without forcing it on everyone else via the State.   Show us how it's done.  Blog about it -- if it's a great idea people will follow you.

Yeah, I did admit upthread that I didn't phrase the first post very well - my bad. I meant it more as a corollary to the "What if everyone became Mustachian all at once and no one worked? Wouldn't the economy be destroyed?" discussions - "What if everyone only bought second-hand things all at once and never bought anything new until they really had to? Would the economy really be destroyed?" Not "Hey, let's centrally ban manufacturing for reasons!" People are doing it already (and are blogging about it!), but I'm wondering what would happen if everyone took it up at once. I've changed the thread title to reflect a better phrasing of my question.

Maybe you'd like to live like one of the Time Warp Wives.  I think women in California were doing this too -- it may have been a thing a few years back -- wonder if it's still a thing?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1042702/Time-Warp-Wives-Meet-women-really-live-past.html

Here you go, Wives with Beehives from TLC

http://www.rockinsocialite.com/2012/12/follow-up-to-wives-with-beehives.html

http://jezebel.com/5971904/tlcs-wives-with-beehives-is-kind-of-really-depressing

LOL.


Hah, yeah, I've seen all those articles (and the programme in the first link) before. I find "time warp" vintage living really interesting (here's another one! http://www.today.com/news/time-warp-woman-lives-victorian-corset-all-2D11599299) but weird when it tips over from "fun aesthetic" to "authenticity at all costs" (which the women in the first programme all admit isn't possible or even that desirable. I remember the delicious horror when one of them opened a cupboard to reveal her microwave!) I do love my vintage styling in real life, but it is just an aesthetic for inspiration. I've read enough inter-war history to know that the "good old days" were actually just the "old days".

Tasty Pinecones

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 482
This was an interesting movie: Yank Tanks.

https://www.fandor.com/films/yank_tanks

I saw it via Netflix. Prob elsewhere too.

The parts that stuck with me the most was the guy making new brakes in his backyard using raw asbestos. No safety gear. Also the guy that cut the roof of a derelict car and hammered a new fender out of it for another car using the street curb.

I see waste as being the worst aspect of the modern consumer lifestyle. I wonder if automation won't exacerbate this. Fixing something rather than throwing it away is to me the better path.

tyort1

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 963
  • Age: 45
  • Location: Denver, Colorado
If nothing new was ever made, everything would be sold on the black market.  And that would be very, very bad. 
Frugalite in training.

electriceagle

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 387
The money not chasing manufactured goods would chase land and other investable assets. Their prices would skyrocket... kind of like what has happened over the last 30 years of (first outsourcing, then) automation-driven manufacturing efficiency.

Prairie Stash

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 883

The parts that stuck with me the most was the guy making new brakes in his backyard using raw asbestos. No safety gear. Also the guy that cut the roof of a derelict car and hammered a new fender out of it for another car using the street curb.

I see waste as being the worst aspect of the modern consumer lifestyle. I wonder if automation won't exacerbate this. Fixing something rather than throwing it away is to me the better path.
An interesting problem, where do the new parts come from? In the hypothetical no new goods I would struggle building complicated spare parts. Something as simple as an o-ring for my faucet tap, a $0.50 piece. I'd be cannibalizing lots of stuff, just to keep my house going.

In 5-10 years I'll be needing new shingles for my roof, I'm not sure how I would seal my roof without purchasing new ones? I like this question, its a fun game to challenge myself with alternative ways f getting things done.

Tasty Pinecones

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 482
We'd prob see alot of bailing wire and twine fixes. Earlier in my life I watched a few people struggle with these kinds of repairs.

It was a struggle to invent a fix with materials on hand and then the repair was seldom durable so it would need another repair and then another.

The people I was close to didn't want to learn the skills necessary to create a new part that would last. With access to a proper shop (wood and/or machine shop) alot can be made correctly or the repair might even be an improvement over the original.

Trades people would be in very high demand.

JLee

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3354
We'd prob see alot of bailing wire and twine fixes. Earlier in my life I watched a few people struggle with these kinds of repairs.

It was a struggle to invent a fix with materials on hand and then the repair was seldom durable so it would need another repair and then another.

The people I was close to didn't want to learn the skills necessary to create a new part that would last. With access to a proper shop (wood and/or machine shop) alot can be made correctly or the repair might even be an improvement over the original.

Trades people would be in very high demand.

3D printers would skyrocket in value, too.

shelivesthedream

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1479
  • Location: UK
Well, part of the original question was what we would need to start re-making first. Like, if one factory making washers or sewing thread reopened after a few years, that could keep current clothes and plumbing going for quite a bit longer with quite a small thing!

Tasty Pinecones

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 482
I could imagine the salvage business getting really busy. Old toaster oven going into the scrap pile is stripped for all its parts first.

I real life I just scrapped one that was pretty nice b/c the heating element went bad and no spares... I feel bad about it. Won't happen again if possible. (face punches self)