Let’s Compare, Shall We?


Credit: fourever.eu

Looking at America today, we have repubs going nuts over porn; the active dismantling of ethics and ethical oversight in favour of open corruption; and Donny “Pendejo” Trump waging twitter war with Kim Jong Un, because nothing screams “Greatness!” like two sociopaths with all the maturity of a toddler in full meltdown. And nukes, can’t forget the nukes.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, there’s a move to break the consumer cycle of “buy, it breaks, toss it out, buy another.”

Sweden’s Minister of Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs Per Bolund says we need to change that mindset.

“Part of that is making it more affordable and economically rational to stop the buying and throwing away, instead repairing your goods and using them for a longer time,” says Bolund.

He’s trying to push people in that direction through tax breaks; he’s spearheading a 50-percent tax cut for Swedes to repair items like clothes, shoes and bicycles. The new rule takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017, with a goal of decreasing waste in the world’s landfills, which are filling up at an alarming rate.

This idea — not just discarding stuff — it’s not exactly revolutionary.

A 50% tax break. I just bet that wouldn’t get the attention of Americans, nooooo. [Serious, deadly sarcasm there.]

And in Finland, they are breaking out a guaranteed universal income pilot program.

Giving people money regardless of whether or not they’re working seems to defy common sense about personal responsibility and how to boost productivity. But supporters of UBI have argued that it just makes sense as public policy, for several reasons. First, in the long run, it might be simpler and cheaper for the state to give people money than to oversee a complicated welfare bureaucracy. And it looks as if technological advances might level industries that may have seemed impervious to automation, such as truck driving: driverless vehicles will soon be out of the experimental stage, journalist Gwynne Dyer has noted.

So, America: bowl full of rotten apples.


  1. says

    Uh-huh. So…are they going to ensure this policy by guaranteeing that repair won’t cost as much or more than a new item? How about guaranteeing that manufacturing and design standards will improve to the point that consumer items will last longer and require less repair? How will they offset the economic impact to manufacturing items in lesser quantity because of the reduced need for replacement, and the increased item cost due to higher manufacturing standards? Are they going to offer incentives for people to train in repair and open repair shops? In the U.S. there is no shortage of seamstresses and tailors, it seems, but I don’t know if this is true of other nations. I’m not criticizing necessarily, as my above questions demonstrate, a vigorously pursued and supported policy would offer abundant opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and local economy improvement. But it requires a significant shift in many areas.

  2. Kengi says

    With clothes and shoes, the problem in most of the developed world isn’t convincing people to repair them, but to continue to wear “outdated” or no longer “in-style” fashions.

  3. Kengi says

    Constance Reader has an excellent point. Manufacturing goods which are designed for repair is more expensive than manufacturing disposable items. Perhaps a direct subsidy for such goods would be needed to reduce the up-front purchase cost.

    Sites like ifixit do a good job rating items for repair-ability.

  4. says

    Responsibility also rests on the consumer. Can you delay gratification to buy a better product in the first place? One that is likely to last a long time, and is repairable? Or buy something cheap you know will not last long, and you’ll have to shell out money for another one in no time at all?

    Yes, it requires a great shift in attitude, people have become very accustomed to a throw away lifestyle. A shift has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? A major problem with the throwaway lifestyle is that it’s the evil spawn of the colonial mindset. It spurns mindfulness and respect. It’s not enough if some people recycle, or ride their bike to work. People all over the world buy, buy, buy, it’s all consumerism and zero responsibility. People rarely look at something and think “do I really need this thing?”

    Small repair businesses used to thrive, clothing, shoes, small appliance, bicycles, all that. Most all of those are a thing of the past now, and that has more to do with attitude shift than anything else.

  5. chigau (ever-elliptical) says

    Repair -- Reuse -- Recycle was standard human behaviour for most of our history.
    When did that change?

  6. Kengi says

    The history of human technology has always rested on resource availability. Many archaeological sites are littered with broken items that were cheap to make because of abundant resources (like pottery). At the same time you rarely find tools or weapons made from what were, at the time, rare metallic alloys.

    This is where Caine hit the core of the issue by bringing up colonialism, which was all about access to resources. Cut down all the trees in your country to make charcoal? No problem! Just grab the trees from somewhere else.

    Consumer electronics used to be designed for repair because a television set was labor-intensive to build and used some difficult to obtain components. The colonialist solution? Cheap labor and friendly governments where rare resources are readily available. Overthrow the current government or go to war if they aren’t cooperative enough.

    Of course, sometimes complexity of an item grants benefits that may outweigh repair-ability. My first car was easy to work on (I could stand next to the engine under the hood), but was notoriously unreliable, inefficient, and polluting. My dad could work on his first car using basic tools around the farm.

    In other situations new tech improves so rapidly old items quickly become useless. The first IBM PC’s were manufactured with a 15 year mean time to failure. Too few people could have used one of those for 15 years in a meaningful way. I used to suggest putting a chain in them, filling them with concrete, and using ’em as boat anchors.

    In the case of automobiles, repair is still a common option, but has become the domain of specialists in most cases. In the PC world, we’ve finally begun to stabilize the technology to the point where you can usefully operate a 5-10 year old computer, and components are beginning to be made with longer mean time to failures once again.

    Yeah, it’s complicated, but I’m glad to see some movement on such issues.

  7. says

    Trump is evidently even stupider than I feared, if he does not realize that president does not do diplomacy over twitter. He does not read books, but he thinks every idea that flashes between his ears is gold.

    I grew up used to reusing, recycling and repairing things. Not only on our side of the Ironc Curtain many things were difficult to obtain and our family was always relatively poor, but also my parents grew up shortly after the WW2 and were both brought up in this way too.

    Even now when I make enough money to simply buy new things when needed, I do so only when actually really needed. Like the new digital camera I bought- I could afford it for a long time, but I would never spend the money if the old one did not give up service after >10 years. And I still did not throw out the old one, maybe I can dismantle it, attach external power source and use it somehow. I still have my previous two cellphones in the drawer and……. you get the idea. This thinking is so ingrained into me that I found the american consumerism completely alien when confronted with it and I find the concept of throwing out perfectly functional item only because it is not fashionable anymore unfathomable.

    A fun somewhat related anecdote:
    During my work as a dishwasher in Smoky Mountain Pizza & Pasta a mixer fell from the table and broke. The manager became comletely panicky and started to try and call some emergency service or to get a new one on shor notice. While she ws at it, one mexican colleague took a pair of pliers and a screw driver, dismantled the thing, found the contact that disconnected due to the fall, clipped it back and voila -- it worked again. The manager was amazed and thanked him profusely. (Maybe he got even some money from it, she was actually reayll appreciative of accomplishments and she got me a payrise).

    Later I asked the man what was the manager so amazed about, and I said something to the effect of “Where I live everybody is used to first try and fixt things, and most people are capable of doing such trivial repairs for themselves.” his reply was along the lines “Mate, I am with you, we in Mexico are used to the same. But this is USA, you either have to call professional and overpriced repairmen for the most trivial things, or you have to buy a new one.”

  8. rq says

    I think it’s not as great a shift in thinking in Scandinavian countries as it might be in the US. Speaking from experience, people here (Baltics) are far more likely to have (a) random skills in fixing simple things and (b) a hoard of odds and ends to use in such repairs (or at least knowledge of a first-degree friend who has such odds and ends or skills). It might be that such skills are slowly dying out with older generations, but I know that my husband’s generation is still very much invested in the idea of fixing things. Some of it is a manufacturing thing -- our washing machine is quite aged, but we’ve been told several times that it’s old enough to be worth the repairs, as opposed to many younger models that are better to replace because they don’t hold up so well after repairs. I know very much of this attitude is a remnant of Soviet times, when new things just weren’t available. I wonder how that kind of post-War thinking has evolved in other parts of Europe, esp. in areas that weren’t under occupation or had different issues to deal with re: resource availability?

    (Also, I could have a few strong words with some people -- local media had an article about the Finns starting their subsistence model, with the headline “The beginning of the easy life”. Yes, that’s right -- less than 600 euros a month in Finland are a gateway amount direct to the easy life.)

  9. says

    I think there are many aspects to changing that culture.

    First is to force producers to make durable goods. I know the EU had to force companies to literally not break goods at a certain point. After so and so many pages, your printer would “break” with nothing being wrong apart from a chip telling the printer to stop working. Another less obvious way is to use plastic elements that will break within a pretty well estimated time.

    Second is, of course, the price of repairs. We recently had #1’s shoes repaired. That was not economically sensible, but we did it because it’s her favourite pair of ankle boots. When our first washing machine broke down we decided against repairing it, even though it was just 3 years old. It was only the electronic control that had broken down, but the repair cost was 70% of the price of a new one.

    Third one, and I’m thinking about this more and more as our conversations develop: time and skills. Many people don’t know how to do some basic repairs and have no time for it. I’m currently upcycling #1’s favourite summer dress. She really grew out of it and tore the seams, but the skirt is salvageable. It’s nothing fancy, just some basic sewing skills our grandparents learned in school.

  10. says

    Another major problem in the States is that the economy is consumer based. People are told to go out and buy, because it’s good for the economy. It’s a fragile and lousy basis for an economy.

  11. says

    Recycling and repairing is well nigh impossible when companies collaborate to force people to buy new.

    Want to buy a new battery or part for that old computer? Sorry, we don’t make them anymore.

    New software and operating system? Sorry, it won’t work (or barely work) on your old computer. Buy a new one.

    That device broke down a month after the warranty expired and can’t be repaired? Sorry, not our problem.

  12. Lofty says

    Reminds me of a couple in their 70s who are members of my cycling group. Their bikes are basic but suit them well. Recently they went overseas and hired the latest model bikes with superb quality hydraulic disc brakes, which are very kind to arthritic hands. On their return they asked me on the feasibility of upgrading their old bikes with new brakes. I ended up doing the job, re-spoked the wheels with new hubs and fitted up some new brakes. The owners are very pleased but none of our mutual friends can figure out why they didn’t just dump their old bikes and buy complete new ones.

    Oh and the only way I could do the job at a reasonable cost was to troll the internet for months and purchase the parts from all over the world. Some came from the US, some from Germany and some from Malaysia. A complete set of quality new hydraulics was $120 posted from Malaysia, yet if you want one single hose or even a set of brake pads, you’re going to spend over $40 locally for each item.

    TL:DR version, to make things worth fixing you first have to address the cost of spare parts.

  13. brucegee1962 says

    I recently had to get rid of an Electrolux vacuum cleaner that my parents purchased in the 1950s. It was as sturdy as a rock, and still worked perfectly. The only reason I couldn’t keep using it was that its electrical cord broke off where the plug attached to the machine, and couldn’t be repaired or replaced. If I’d been able to locate another cord that would have fit the connection, though, I might have been able to continue using it for another fifty years.

    While I admire that kind of craftsmanship, though, I wonder if Electrolux could have stayed in business if they’d kept making their vacuum cleaners indestructible. They certainly don’t anymore.

  14. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Constance, tailors are not easy to come by in many parts of the US.

    I try to fix things…I’m an engineer. I have a plastic welder that works great on just about any type of plastic, but it has to be a certain minimum size to work, really tiny parts…..not so much.

    I would like to get better at sewing. I have a lot of older pairs of slacks I use around the house as ‘work pants’ but the only thing wrong with them is that the hems are slightly tattered. Too much to wear to work most of the time, but 100% functional.

    The one specialty thing I have is leathers..for riding the motorcycle. My life depends on these, potentially, and it’s been all but impossible to find some one to repair them here. I may ship them to the tailor I used to use in Seattle and just pay for shipping. With shipping, it will be close to as much as just buying new, though.

  15. Onamission5 says


    Spouse and I are currently trying and failing to find a circuit board for our otherwise solid as hell 13 year old range. The rest of the stove works fine, steel and cast iron, but the board needs replacing for the main oven to work. Problem? The range, along with the board and all other parts were discontinued 3 years ago. There’s no back stock anywhere, and we’ve been looking. Local appliance shops have nothing used or new, won’t touch it. EBay’s got jack. Electronics repair person who offered to take a look if we’d disconnect the thing and bring it to him said if the part it needs is proprietary there’s nothing he can do. The best option, it’s looking like, is to mail the part off to an online company which says it will repair the board for us, maybe, along with a check for $$$. Otherwise we’re out one 40″ dual fuel range and there’s no way we can afford to replace it with anything of equal quality (came with the house) or size, and besides I don’t want to replace it, I love my stove, dammit.

    The circuit board that’s not being made any more? Was installed, my research tells me, on more than 40 other model appliances besides our range. That’s a lot of expensive, irreparable hunks of otherwise solidly made junk.

  16. says


    TL:DR version, to make things worth fixing you first have to address the cost of spare parts.

    The washing machine we didn’t fix? The fixing would have been a reasonable 70 bucks. The spare part more than 300, which is an artificially high price with the single purpose of making people buy new machines.
    Nobody can tell me that a washing machine needs an electronic system that costs way more than a decent phone, especially not when that machine didn’t have any fancy things but basically just a “clock” that told it “10 minutes in, heat to X degrees, 120 minutes in, spin…”

  17. says

    Crimson Clupeidae
    The easiest way to repair seams is if you can afford to lose half an inch in length: you carefully iron it to the inside and then you can use double sided iron on band to attach it to the inside. Or sew it using your sewing foot to tell you the seam allowance.
    If not, you’re in a bit of a fix because the repair requires new fabric. Here’s what my gran used to do: She kept the leftovers from altering trousers, which were often the entire original seam. When the new seam was frayed she’d cut it off an reattached the original seam stitching exactly along the old seam where the fabric is turned under.

  18. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Also, I want to briefly discuss the idea of UBI. Could it work in the US? I would think that the sheer economies of scale would make it work better here than in smaller countries, but maybe I’m wrong.

    I have tried running numbers in the past, and it can be difficult to get even to a UBI of around $30k/year. The combined income/business tax rate would have to operate like Sweden’s.


    I don’t think we could ever get there in the US, the people here are just too invested in the idea that taxes are bad. Good bit of propagandizing that. Convince people that taxes are the worst thing ever, and then they vote against their own interest for perpetuity….

  19. Ice Swimmer says

    $30k/year? I must say I’ve never earned that much in any year of my life and Finland isn’t all that cheap except for health care, education (which are almost for free), water and electricity.

  20. Greta Samsa says

    I would hope that UBI would be accepted, ultimately. It seems necessary.
    When automation allows an economy to operate with under 10% employment, what good would it do to pay only the workers? It’s hardly as though competition will increase efficiency at that point.
    Of course, I’d thought that increasing efficiency with competition wasn’t worth the cost in lives and unhappiness in the first place.

  21. rq says

    Ice Swimmer
    Husband and I are lucky if we break $25000 between the two of us. That would be a good year. We feel it mostly in not being able to have any decent amount of savings, but we’re actually well above average locally…

  22. says

    Greta Samsa

    When automation allows an economy to operate with under 10% employment, what good would it do to pay only the workers? It’s hardly as though competition will increase efficiency at that point.

    Some decades ago Unions had the great idea to tax machines instead of work. I think that idea needs a revival.

    re: money
    I think the sums depend a lot on where you live (and are we talking about before or after paying taxes etc.) What may be a good above average in Latvia isn’t lasting long in Germany.

  23. rq says

    Believe me, I know. :) Every time we want to go visit my family, we realize we just can’t do it.

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