Ernest Elmo Calkins, Obsolescence and The Path to Hell, Paved With Good Intentions

If you’re an American who wants the latest and greatest, even when what you already have is perfectly adequate, you’re not alone. We have been trained as a society to not be ok with what we already have.

Consumer capitalism came about in response to the Great Depression. What you’re about to read (the attached pages) is going to sound like it was written by a villain with a curly mustache. But if you had been alive during that time, you’d be among the many great minds questioning western capitalism and wondering what could possibly fix a system that had broken, seemingly overnight.

It’s written by an advertiser in 1932, Ernest Elmo Calkins, and is a scheme to reinvigorate the national economy in the wake of the Great Depression. It was meant to help.

Keynsian countercyclical economics and consumer capitalism were meant to reinvigorate an economy in downfall by injecting capital into consumer markets. Government spending in infrastructure meant more people were employed, highways were built, giant swaths of the country were electrified, and people could buy goods again. The goods they would buy would be made by American labor, meaning more jobs and a stable economic cycle of earn, spend, earn, spend, earn.

It worked and, in fact, positioned the United States to become the war factory that built ships and planes and tanks to defeat Germany and Japan in WWII.

But then the unexpected happened, as it usually does.

Technological innovation meant less employment as machines took the place of workers. And then it meant overseas employment as multinational companies arose so consumers and labor were no longer one and the same, in a closed loop. Technological innovation also led to environmental degradation. And to the invention of widely available credit, which led to consumer debt spending.

At the same time, the “spread of communism” meant that Americans had to be fiercely loyal to capitalism. There was no room for dissent because the stakes were thermonuclear warfare and the end of democracy itself!!!

Not really, but the military industrial complex needed us to think that so we’d sign off on deficit spending and redistribution of wealth to private sectors, which led to even more credit availability and indebted consumers.

What we have now is an untenable situation. We have a massive trade deficit with China, which hasn’t been helped by Trump’s and Biden’s foreign policy. We are a country of Pavlovian dogs who have been trained to want fast food, fast fashion, and bargain basement prices. And we have yet to come to terms with “artificial obsolescence.”

The American economy is fundamentally based on flawed, outdated principles. And we are, for the most part, junkies who are addicted to buying things we don’t need. In the meantime, consumer prices are rising with inflation, wages can’t keep up, people are overextending themselves trying to buy houses because they’ve been told that owning a home means financial stability.

The dam cannot hold. The solution is above my pay grade. I’m just here to tell you that there’s a reason we’re here.

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