The Waste Makers, Vance Packard, David McKay Company Inc, 1960, 327 pp
This is the third volume in Vance Packard's series of books about American life and sociology. In it he makes the case for calling America a society of waste makers by documenting the wanton discarding of automobiles, appliances, and gadgets due to the desire for the newest and the latest. That desire was created by advertizing.
During the 1950s, manufacturers began building obsolescence into their products both by lowering quality so that stuff wore out faster and by focusing on yearly style changes. American shoppers were made to want the newest, the latest, and even homes bought from previous owners were called "used homes."
Behind this was a carefully planned emphasis on consumerism perpetuated by the belief that to maintain a healthy economy more and more goods must be manufactured and bought whether people needed them or not. Even having more babies and encouraging population growth was a good thing because it created more customers!
He captures the materialistic mood of the 1950s and goes on to expose the inevitable consequences: depletion of natural resources, pollution, the decline of cities as suburbia grew, the failure to predict the costs of educating all those extra kids, as well as the moral and spiritual effects on a population whose main goal was to acquire things.
As in his other two books, Packard pretty much predicted the mess we are in today. In fact, reading this one was an eerie experience because most of what he warned about in 1960 is right here all around me in my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren.
Packard was brutally attacked by big business in his day for exposing their strategies. He was also mocked for writing "popular" sociology. But I know my dad read his books and now I know why we had a Rambler as the family car. I bet Ralph Nader read him and Betty Friedan was inspired to write The Feminine Mystique by reading The Waste Makers.
In fact, many of his suggestions for resolving the issues created by such rampant consumerism are now also part of life as people who can see beyond their cars and restaurant level kitchen appliances and computers and phones, attempt to bring our world into balance.
I recommend these books, The Hidden Persuaders, The Status Seekers, and The Waste Makers, to anyone who cares about life for our descendents, because he explains clearly and fairly concisely how we got to where we are. Happily in each book he is a better writer. This one was not boring at any time.
(The Waste Makers is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)