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Market Aesthetics and the Institutionalization of Waste. Happy Earth Day!

We throw away a lot of stuff. In my near decade of manufacturing work, I'd say I've seen millions of dollars worth of products thrown out. Surely some of this was because of defects affecting performance. This is to be expected. But there's also a much more troubling side to the full dumpster at the end of the shift. Many of the items thrown out were perfectly functional. Because of any number of hundreds of small defects, they were simply tossed. Why? While their use value remained fine, their exchange value had dropped to the point of them being unprofitable to sell.

At first thought, this isn't too controversial. It's just sort of the way things are. When someone asks why we're throwing away so many usable products, as I have many times, the typical answer given is something along the lines of "a customer judges what's on the inside of a product by its appearance on the outside." This is no doubt true. As Fabio's once great career can attest, we often do judge a book by its cover.

However, if we step out of the context of our current society for a second and at least pretend to be the "rational" humans economics supposedly assumes we are, things aren't so clear. While standing outside market logic, I'm tempted to ask, why? Why should we not be willing to use a product that works fine simply because it might not look like our idea of what it should look like? Really, is it even our idea of what that product should look like? Sure, there are many products whose images are directly tied to their performance, but there are also a whole bunch whose images aren't.We know the difference, but we've been convinced to forget by billions and billions of marketing dollars.

It makes me wonder how these marketing campaigns affect our interpersonal relations. If we're too shallow to look past a meaningless imperfection on an everyday commodity, is it any wonder we separate ourselves into social groups like "cool" and "nerdy"? It isn't out of the ordinary for friendships, particularly while trying to climb the "corporate ladder," to be seen as investments.

But I digress.

On "Earth Day," or any other for that matter, the market reminds us to "go green." We should buy new light bulbs, buy a new shiny car, buy new "earth friendly" appliances (as opposed to your old stuff that were total dicks to the earth), etc. The logic here is clearly muddled. Buy an "energy smart" appliance from a market driven profit junkie corporate citizen who pollutes the world more in a day than you will in your life, all in the name of "saving the earth." Capitalism is so historically rotten it provides such a small amount of actual innovation companies end up fighting aesthetically for market share and rationalizing completely preventable waste by blaming the customer's shallowness they themselves developed and nurtured through propaganda campaigns that would make Leni Riefenstahl ask "have you no decency?"

Really, unlike the boring gibberish we were taught in school, the concept behind economics is simple. There's resources and there's people. People both want and need resources. Economics is the middleman who hooks us up, so to speak. The problem is, some people have crafted a middleman that best suits them, then told us the game's over. There's no changing it; history is done. It used to be popular to claim a god, or gods, decided these folks should have more resources than everyone else. (I find it interesting how God has always had such strong opinions on the as worldly as you can get topic of property relations.) Now it's much more popular, and civilized, for them to claim a piece of paper means they "own" the profit others work to produce. This has allowed them to accumulate more resources than at anytime in history. And they're hardly bashful about it. Quite the contrary, they've actually got the chutzpah to hold their head high and announce to the rest of us that they "deserve" more! They went ahead and built courthouses, schools, churches, an entire superstructure encompassed in a cute little Leviathan they call their State, to make damn sure we give them their props.

But based on such relations, only so many props can be given. Only so much stuff can be thrown away before the shit starts piling up in front of not only my doorstep, but yours as well. I can guarantee there will be no invisible hand to clean up the mess.


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