Too much stuff

Last week’s edition of In Business was entitled “Too much stuff”. As the programme’s web site explained:

The old assumptions just aren't working. It's a deflationary age…prices of goods are falling. Profits are tough to make. There is, quite simply, too much stuff in the world. Too many burgers, too many personal computers, too many cars. Peter Day asks whether today’s manufacturers are making Too Much Stuff?

It reminded me of growing up in Canada, when every commercial break on television seemed full of advertisements for cars and trucks. I remember thinking that based on the proportion of ads devoted to automobiles, aliens from another planet would think that everyone in Canada was in the market for a new car every day. What did the car manufacturers think was going on? What would they do when everyone already owned three? I never did work out what they were thinking, and thirty years later expectations of continuous growth still don’t seem sensible to me.

However, the title “Too much stuff” also reminded me of a lecture I once heard by a photographer named Dewitt Jones. He tells an amusing anecdote about “too much stuff”. It seems he was once out taking photographs when a four year old boy once came up to him, and using a colourful, plastic juice container in the shape of a 35mm camera, started to imitate Jones’ every shot. The boy was fascinated by Jones’ extensive supply of photographic equipment, but as Jones was returning to his car for yet another lens the boy eventually said “You mean you need more stuff!?”

Late last year The Economist discussed the subject of changes in supply and demand in an article titled When growth is not an option. It concluded that businesses should go back to basics, back to the nineteenth century in fact, to learn how to cope with falling prices. Apparently the Victorians managed it all long ago.