The Implications of Owning Less
I've written here before about the Right to Repair movement, and my frustration with planned obsolescence. Friends can attest to the 6 (? 8?) months I tried to repair my 8 year old Samsung washing machine, until I finally tired of hand washing and purchased a new machine. The growing irritation at how little time things are designed to last, and our inability to repair them ourselves when they do break down, is butting up against another new chapter in commerce: the "renting" or cloud sharing of thing such as books and software.
In an intriguing opinion piece in Bloomberg on August 12, 2018, author Tyler Cowen wonders, "What happens when a nation built on the concept of individual property ownership starts to give that up?"
He calls it "the erosion of personal ownership" and questions its impact on "traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property."
He offers Kindle as an example - we don't own the books we are reading anymore. Amazon does. And they can delete them if they want to (I assume there must be cause). We don't own the tv, film, and music we stream. Increasingly we don't own the software we use - we have to rent it on a monthly subscription (no more hold outs for years until you finally cave for the update). Young Americans are buying significantly fewer cars. The ride share, walk, cycle, and even - egads - use public transportation.
Tyler argues that these behavior changes influence Americans connection to the idea of private ownership. Private ownership essentially creates the drive for entrepreneurship and gives people a stake in the system. The result is more communal, sharing - which is good. But the unintended side effect to all these large businesses essentially "renting" us property is that they are creating a class of junior socialists. The pointedness of this conclusion is my words, not his.
My point is, when you begin to understand that you only "sort of" own your dishwasher and your iPhone, because you do not own the right to open them and fix them, and you do not own many of the things your parents owned, your anger mixes up with your inability to afford other common signifiers of the American Dream - like a house - and you disengage from the capitalist network that our culture was founded upon,
So all these capitalist companies have strategized themselves into maximizing revenues, while facilitating what I see is as an unintended (?) side effect of creating an entire generation+ of socialists. If you can't or don't own things, you turn to sharing. The proliferation of shared ride services, neighborhood trading and donating sites for everything from baby clothes to second hand furniture, and a growing awareness that consumption itself is not sustainable is creating a raft of Americans comfortable with varying degrees of socialism. Essentially brought to them by the most successful capitalists the world has ever known.