“They don’t build them like they used to.”
The idea that materials used to be expensive and labor cheap (or free/enslaved) tries to explain this, but it’s much better explained by the fact that maximization of profit has no interest in building something that lasts.
The past few years of my collecting creative tools has been focused on those things that just “can’t” be built anymore, not because there aren’t the people with the skills and desire to build excellent tools, but because the economic system won’t support those who build them.
Let’s take the example of mechanical film cameras. Because no one will build them anymore, there’s a limited supply. These tools last forever, until you break them (and even then you can fix them, more on that later).
This means that prices will just go up and up.
My assumption has been validated. Since I started collecting film cameras a few years ago, most of the cameras I’ve bought have doubled in street value. I didn’t buy them as investments, but can you imagine if digital cameras increased in, or even held, their value?
Funny enough, my fascination with this subject started with a 1971 Seiko watch. Once I learned about how it worked (no one had ever taught me about mechanical watches with no power or battery), the fact it was still working (and cool) ~50 years later got me thinking about a lot.
Our profit-maximizing culture (fully codified in publicly-traded markets) is designed to eliminate as many expenses as possible and then try to hide all the cheap plasticky bits under the hood. Not only does this devalue everything we buy, but it destroys pride in craftsmanship.
Not only does profit maximization make it so we can’t have nice things, it writes off all damage to the natural human creative spirit and to the environment. The saddest part of all is that it doesn’t even accomplish the one benefit it claims to provide (cheaper goods).
The only reason a modern tool seems cheaper is because of the price on the label, which doesn’t account for all the hidden costs and the fact that it’ll be thrown away in 3 years or sold at an 80% loss.
Let’s take an extreme example from the film camera world. I believe that Leica is the only company still producing a mechanical film camera (they and Nikon are the only companies producing a film stills camera at all).
A Leica MP costs ~$5,000 and will still work exactly as well 200 years later (maybe much longer). It can be left to great-great-grandchildren or sold at a high price at any point in its lifetime.
A Canon DSLR costs ~$3,000 and will be in a landfill in fewer than 10 years.
What’s counterintuitive is that more expensive things are usually ultimately less expensive to the owner, not to mention to the environment and to human happiness.
We have this idea about companies selling things—that “how they getcha” is by charging more. That’s an antiquated concept of how they getcha. How they getcha is by giving you less, exploiting labor, and destroying the world.
The lower the price, the more suspicious we should be.