[Marxism] built-in obsolescence and the Cold War

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Wed Jul 12 19:24:53 MDT 2006


Throwaway culture

John Emsley

BOOK REVIEWED-Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

by Giles Slade

Harvard University Press: 2006. 336 pp. $27.95/£18.95/euro dollar25.80

The subtitle of Giles Slade's Made to Break suggests that the book is an
update of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders (Longmans, 1957), which
I remember reading as a student in the 1960s. At the time I was
surprised and shocked to discover that US industry was deliberately
producing products with a short lifespan. Planned obsolescence it was
called, but little did I realize that this was to be the secret weapon
that won the Cold War for the United States. That little-known story is
one of the intriguing Made to Break's hidden gems.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet Union was falling behind the United
States in the manufacture of microchips and computers, yet it needed
them if it was to exploit and export its vast reserves of oil and gas to
earn desperately needed foreign currency. A US embargo was denying them
the necessary technology, so Soviet agents resorted to covert methods to
obtain it, while the CIA did all it could to thwart them. Then Gus
Weiss, an economist and government security adviser, made an ingenious
suggestion: allow the Soviet agents to succeed, but make sure they
bought specially doctored microchips that looked like the real thing but
had inbuilt obsolescence.

This inbuilt obsolescence included sudden catastrophic malfunctioning,
such as suddenly instructing a pump to work at a pressure far higher
than a pipeline could withstand. The result was a series of spectacular
explosions, some so large that they were observed by satellites. One
failure burst an oil pipeline, creating a lake more than 10 kilometres
long and 2 metres deep before it was brought under control. This
industrial sabotage ensured that the Soviet Union lost the cold war says
Slade, and he makes it almost believable.

The phrase 'planned obsolescence' was first used by Bernard London in
1932. He proposed it as a possible solution to the Depression, which was
being made worse because people had stopped buying. Planned obsolescence
looked like the solution to economic stagnation in a world with abundant
natural resources and unemployed labour. London's suggestion was at
variance with the idea of the father of mass production, Henry Ford, who
assumed that people would obviously want cars to last — and a 15 million
Model Ts had shown that the idea had its appeal.

[snip]

full at:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v442/n7099/full/442139a.html (write
if you want and can't get)

les schaffer





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