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SmashTheState's avatar

Are scissors which can't cut a sign of the failure of capitalism?

Asked by SmashTheState (12814points) May 30th, 2010

My parents owned two sets of Singer scissors, which they had bought when they got married, and still possess (and use) 42 years later. They’ve been sharpened a few times and the bolts need to be tightened, but otherwise they’re still good as new after uncountable numbers of haircuts and newspaper clippings.

A few years ago, I wanted to buy scissors. I couldn’t find anywhere that still sold Singer scissors, so I figured I’d buy a cheap pair of scissors at the dollar store. And thus began my quest. For something on the order of two years I bought pair after pair of scissors, none of which worked properly. They’d fall apart after a few uses, or the plastic handles would break, or they were too dull (or the blades too poorly aligned) to actually cut anything. Every time I went to a department store or a dollar store or a bargain store, I’d buy a pair of scissors. I probably went through 25 to 30 pairs of scissors, trying to find ONE which would actually cut stuff.

One set of scissors in particular were astounding. I paid $1 for them at a dollar store. I got them home and discovered that they had the consistency of tin foil. I could bend them like pipe cleaners with two fingers. In fact, the force of trying to cut something caused them to warp. There is absolutely no way a person could ever cut anything with them. It’s as if they set out to make something which looked like scissors while they were under plastic, but were otherwise intended just for display. I began thinking about them, and the more thinking I did, the more astounded I became. Somewhere in China, there is a factory which makes these scissors. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people labour long, hard hours to take metal for which miners have broken their backs shoveling megatonnes of rock and transform it into something which is utterly and totally useless. I then realized that in this scissor factory, they must have an office. And in this office, they must have scissors. Which means someone had to go somewhere else to buy scissors for the scissor factory.

Leaving entirely aside the issue of morality and the theft of other people’s labour, does this not seem to indicate that capitalism has failed even on its own terms? That capitalism has proven itself utterly incapable of doing even what little good it was supposedly created to do?

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35 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

As long as people are willing to buy crap that doesn’t work it’s a failure of both capitalism and the consumer not demanding or being willing to pay for things that actually do what they are supposed to do. I think consumers share some of the blame. They are big part of the equation. People would, for some reason rather spend 20 dollars on 5 pairs of 4 dollar scissors that, all tolled might keep them in scissors for a couple of years than spend 20 dollars on a single pair of scissors that might last them 20 years, but then again, try finding a pair of scissors that will last you that long. You probably have to order them from Germany. And, I have things, like you have a couple of things, like one fine pair of scissors, that belonged to my parents that I will never let go of. Anyway, don’t get me started on how everything made now is just crap. I used to write complaint letters to companies when I bought things that didn’t work. Now I find it more efficient, less time consuming, to write companies to praise them when I buy a product that is well make and actually works as advertised.

jerv's avatar

Modern Capitalism is not about providing quality goods/services at a fair price, but rather about charging as much as the market will bear for the cheapest goods or minimal service possible.

Of course, that is how things work in America. Elsewhere in the world, things are still the same as they were years ago, or at least have declined considerably less.

bob_'s avatar

Capitalism is not perfect, when you consider the alternatives… You might find this interesing.

I really like the way you write.

Nullo's avatar

There are still good scissors out there; you just need to stay sharp and not buy dollar store crap. Fiskars are excellent (I got a pair of thair kiddie scissors in elementary school and I still use them) and the chunky scissors that you can sometimes find at office supply stores are also good.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

Capitalism would soon put those factories out of business. It is a failure of observation. It is also where you shop. Try a hardware store. Lows has good scissors. I did buy a weed whip at Tractor Supply recently. They have been making such tools for over 6 thousand years. I had to totally retool it so that it would cut grass. It was sharpened so that the fronts of the blades were flat and not sharp at all. It took me a little while to figure out that it took a three cornered file to sharpen it.
It think that the people who make these objects are incapable of examining their products and can’t even use them. They are brain dead. It should not take more than five minutes to go to the boss and have him change how they are made.
No it is not capitalism. It is a failure of bureaucracy.

perspicacious's avatar

There are still good scissors available. Most people rather buy disposable products. This says more about society than capitalism. I own several pair of good scissors. When I was a kid we actually took knives and scissors in to be sharpened. People will not be bothered with that anymore. There again, capitalism is not responsible.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door. Build a mousetrap that doesn’t catch mice, and you’ll soon be standing in the unemployment line. The Law of Supply and Demand will eventuallly catch up with inefficient manufacturers… unless the government gives them a “bailout” and props them up so they can continue to manufacture shoddy products.

ragingloli's avatar

That is just how capitalism works. Sell as much of a product of the lowest possible salable quality with the highest salable price possible. That is the standard approach for most companies, like oil companies, Microsoft, Ford, GM, Chrysler. Approaches vary though. Some are willing to go above the salable price level but try to compensate it with high quality as selling point, Japanese and European carmakers and like Mercedes Benz before their unholy union with Chrysler. Others focus less on big profit margins and high prices and try to sell products at the lowest price possible while still mainatining a very high quality level so that both are a selling point. Supermarkets like Aldi are an example of that approach. And then you have those who try to have an ultra low price as a selling point but give a rats arse about quality to save costs. Like these scissor makers, most chinese car brands with their deadly, dreary little shitboxes or Walmart with its chinese imports. And apparently all of those approaches work, including the last one.
Supply and demand. The company making these aluminium foil scissors offers the supply, and the demand comes from a consumer base that is conditioned by the market to expect the lowest possible prices and wants their stuff dirt cheap. Capitalism, in conjunction with such a consumer base, actually encourages such business strategies to succeed.

arpinum's avatar

Go to a craft store such as AC Moore or Michaels.

Capitalism at work.

aprilsimnel's avatar

People like to buy cheap things, and for whatever reason convince themselves that a cheap, badly made thing will do what they want it to for as long as they want it to. Manufacturers take advantage of this.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I obviously can’t speak for others, but I would far rather buy something that is a quality product than buy a cheap knock-off and have to buy something later to replace it.

arpinum's avatar

My cheapo pair of scissors has lasted 6 years now. I’ve used them less than 10 times. Assuming I replace them every 5 years, and I paid around $3, buying a $40 pair of scissors would never pay off.
Now, some people actually use scissors far more than I do. If so, don’t shop at the dollar store.
I’m not very sympathetic to the deceit argument. If people are repeatedly fooled there is little to be done to help them. Fools will find a way to part with their money no matter the system.

gailcalled's avatar

Traditionally, decent scissors and knives were made with carbon steel. They could be sharpened by the guy who came round in his cart or with a whetstone. Today even decent blades have a lot of stainless steel in them; much harder to replace the edges.

I have three carbon steel chef’s knives from the 1960’s. They are wonderful (and sharp). You have to dry them in order to prevent rust but that’s easy.

Recently I found a retired man who sharpened garden tools; I brought him all the old tools my father used. The man said that they were extraordinary, rare, beautiful, and, if I felt like it, I could now score the skin of a tomato with my shovel.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Your parents never acquired Singer scissors from a “dollar store”. Why would you think that you should be able to get that kind of quality and durability for next to nothing?

If anything, your rant seems to indicate that you have an over-developed sense of how successful capitalism ought to be. (And it is. To use even your example, my mother had her own pairs of Singer scissors, and they were very good, as you say. The Fiskars that I now own are just as durable, lighter, and have handles that fit my hand better. I’m not sure that they’re cheaper in absolute terms; the 1950’s Singer scissors may have cost $10 or so, and the Fiskars are probably twice that. But adjusted for inflation, the Fiskars are cheaper in today’s dollars than the Singers were then. Capitalism win.)

But capitalism isn’t perfect, because there are still bad products around for people who don’t care about quality. That’s not a failure of capitalism or “the market”; obviously, those products fulfill a need of people, such as yourself, who want “something that looks like scissors” and don’t particularly care whether they actually work or last or not.

Ltryptophan's avatar

How about this. Post “I need a pair of good quality working singer scissors, willing to pay up to $1,” on craigslist. Someone will donate them to you for the sheer audacity of the asking!

Attacking capitalism makes sense, but not inherently for the reason you mentioned. We depend on capitalism, and choice is what makes it work. It seems you are saying you shouldn’t have the choice to buy scissors that are garbage. You shouldn’t have to even face a product that would be a waste of someone else’s labor. However, all products could have this problem in capitalism, not just awful ones.

If an innovation occurs many products that are already produced can become paperweights overnight. It doesn’t matter that they were the best things money can buy only minutes before. That is the beauty of it. The value of the obsolete product then becomes whatever its component parts are.

Say you have a beautiful house with all the modern amenities. When you come home you feel like you never want to leave. Now there is a company who is willing to pay for your land because they are buying up all the land in your area for there project. They offer you much more than your perfect house is worth and you sell, because you are a smart capitalist. The company doesn’t want your house. They want your land. So now they have something they just paid good money for that is perfectly functional, and completely useless to them. They tear it down, and scrap what they can to recoup as much as possible.

Capitalism is fiskarly responsible.

HungryGuy's avatar

You get what you pay for. Go buy good stainless steel scissors at Staples or Office Max…

CaptainHarley's avatar

I often wonder what those who rant about “the evils of capitalism” would do if it were outlawed tomorrw. Gone would be things we take for granted now, and some things we desperately need. I, for one, would already be dead, since the CT Scanner wouldn’t have been invented if no one would be able to invest in it when it was just an idea. Then again, I’m sure there are those who think it might not be such a bad idea to be rid of the likes of me. : D

HungryGuy's avatar

@CaptainHarley – Right! It it wasn’t for capitalism, high quality scissors wouldn’t exist at any price.

SmashTheState's avatar

I would like to remind people that capitalism does not mean “free enterprise.” Capitalism is an economic system characterized by the private ownership of the means of production, thereby creating an owning class and a working class, the latter of which has no choice except to labour for the former in order to survive, under whatever terms the owning class offers.

There are many possible systems of economic exchange which do not involve such oppressive theft of others’ labour, such as parecon for example.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@SmashTheState I gave you a GA for furthering the discussion. You are wrong though. Maybe someone else will tell you why. I suggest the wikipedia article on capitalism.

arpinum's avatar

@Ltryptophan I’m not really in the mood today to correct him. Some topics for others
Labor theory of value is laughably weak.
competition from employers.
People can belong to both classes. And move between them.
What about human capital?
Oppression would imply force or aggression, employment is voluntary.
Wouldn’t taking the shovel i made (means of production) be theft? How does this jibe with parecon being supposedly non violent?
Is land ownership a means of production? An iPad? What if I promise to only use my iPad for leisure?

bob_'s avatar

@arpinum I told you this would happen, didn’t I? Now go make me a sandwich, for I own the sandwich maker thing, and you can provide the labor.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@SmashTheState

And here I was thinking that Marxism was such a quaintly antiquated philosophy! Tisk! LMAO!

arpinum's avatar

@bob_ Sorry sir. Coming right up, ust don’t steal too much of my labor with your profits.

Ltryptophan's avatar

If arpinum sues bob for the labor how much of the sandwich does arpinums lawyer get?

arpinum's avatar

The lawyer would have to use his human capital to sue bob, so he would be stealing from me. So i’d have to sue my lawyer as well. The only way to resolve this is to divide the sandwich into equal pieces and divide it among the proletariat. Of course, the sandwich is a bourgeoisie invention and the central committee shouldn’t allow it creation in the first place. The ingrediants must go into the communal gruel pot.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Oh, jolly good…jolly good…arpinum

SmashTheState's avatar

You folks do realize that there is more than just Marxism and capitalism in the world, yes? I, for example, am an anarchosyndicalist and a mutualist in favour of parecon and voluntary socialism. None of which has anything to do with Marxism.

YARNLADY's avatar

Not at all, it’s simply a sign that most people have no idea what good quality is or simply don’t care. That is the reason that many economic systems don’t work – people don’t know or care.

Nullo's avatar

@SmashTheState Cory Doctorow worked out a reputation-based economic system for his book, ”Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.” Much more entertaining, IMO, than parecon.

Doctorow being who he is, the novel is freely readable and downloadable.

HungryGuy's avatar

Well, I’m a left-Libertarian. I say left because I believe in national heath care and other social safety nets that mainstream Libertarians and Tea Baggers oppose.

mammal's avatar

actually i think China is one of the best contemporary contenders for an Anarchic alternative to the intolerable Capitalist/Communist monstrosity.

ItsAHabit's avatar

What did yoiu expect for one dollar?!

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