Consuming for a better life

I am not an economist, but I don’t believe one needs to be in order to spew what I shall.

In my early days of pursing the craft of audio, I experienced a non-insignificant dose of cognitive dissonance regarding my position in the world. I felt stuck between my ideal of a minimalist lifestyle, and the reality that the career I was pursuing depends on the excesses that provide for entertainment. Put another way: I felt bad for my personal contribution toward depleting the natural world, while depending on that same depletion for my profession and income.

But I’m not here to discuss that point.

This post is about our freedom to make decisions inside of a capitalist and consumer-based world view. Or perhaps only a perceived freedom. It’s about our quality of life, and our blindness. It might even be about our capitalist integrity being undermined by communist free-market competition.

A pink sprinkled donut spare-tire cover

She thought it would be a great idea to cover the spare tire with a pink donut with sprinkles, you know, the one from The Simpsons. So as any good Millennial consumer would, I opened The Google to do a search. Your personalized results will vary, but click the link to see what happens. My first five paid ads starting with “Covers And All”, which advertises no tax on a $17 product. Then for $19, Amazon, Amazon, and Wish again, at $12, $9, and $19 again respectively.

So what?

Skip to the next section if you’re bored already.
This is not to lambast Covers And All, but they will make a good middle-ground example, before we take it to the extreme against Amazon and Wish.

California collects tax from any company that sells more than $500k online, regardless of where that company is located. Source. So that means Covers And All either doesn’t sell as much product as their fancy corporate website purports, or they’re not obeying my state’s tax laws. (Granted, we don’t know anything about their sales in California. But with a #1 spot Google Ad, boasting 33k+ custom orders [not to mention stock orders] and 200+ employees, it’s curious that they would sell under that $500k threshold to the state with arguably the most demand [most people, most cars]). Their products are designed in and sold out of Georgia, but made in India. Oh, and Covers And All is a trademark of  Bayport International LLC, which means they truly serve its shareholders, not its “valued” customers.

The website works well and instills confidence, with its “pander to the consumer using these 10 proven techniques” startup-company style. But it gives no real information about who the company are: the people behind it, their motivations, why they exist. I will venture to say it’s because their employees are subservients of the investment firm, and nothing more.

Not to mention that when I actually tried ordering the tire cover, it ended up being nearly $50, after selecting the correct donut feature and the $10 shipping: so much for being enticed by the $17 ad. Moving on to Amazon!

Amazon’s offerings ¬‿¬

From the provided pictures I can tell that the first listing is exactly the same spare tire cover I received when buying this car from the sketchy used car lot – albeit too small for this tire at the advertised price, and still missing the pink sprinkled donut. That original cover was absolute crap quality. Though that one was the correct size for the tire, it just didn’t fit properly. The material was trash and fell apart after a couple years of UV. I threw it away, and that’s why it now needs a pink sprinkled donut. No thanks, $12 cover. Oh, but I did check the seller information:

  • Business Name: zhouyinfang
  • Business Address:
    • Room 401 Building 19 Longzhu garden
    • jingan town
    • zhuhai
    • guangdong
    • 51900
    • CN

Looks a little familiar.

The $9 Amazon cover looked more promising with a magical universal fit between a 13-19 inch tire! But still no pink sprinkles, and no donut. Though, they do offer a bulk discount of two covers for $12! I suppose I’d need two, given the expected quality. In Stock! Arrives between 24-47 days. Ships from yueyangxu6.

  • Business Name:guangzhoushiyueyangxundianzimaoyiyouxiangongsi
  • Business Address:
    • tianhequdongpudamalu87haozhiyidiyiceng(buwei:144fang)
    • guangzhoushi
    • guangdongsheng
    • 510000
    • CN

Guess we’d better give Wish a try.

Make a wish, and all your dreams come true

except when they don’t.

$21.10 Black Spare Tire Covers Potable Corrosion Wheel Covers Sun-Proof for Jeep Trailer RV SUV Truck Camper Travel Trailer Accessories 14 15 16 17 Inch
$5 Standard Shipping 12-32 days
Items are sold and shipped by xiaoyangjiaocai
High Quality: This Item Was Made By Durable,thick Aluminum Waterproof Material,you Don’t Worry About The Quality Of It. Easy To Install: Convenient To Remove And Clean;no Tools Required.Saving Your Time To Do Any Other Things You Want. Application: Fit For Jeep,Trailer, RV, SUV And Many Vehicle. You Can Choose The Best One To Fit Your Car.Size 14 Inch For Diameter 23″-27″. Size 15inch For Diameter 27″-29″.Size 16inch For Diameter 29″-31″. Size 17inch For Diameter 31″-33″. You Can Choose The Best Size For Your Spare Tire. Function: Protect The Tires And Wheels From Sun Damage, Dirt,rust, Corrosion And All Types Of Weather When Your Vehicle Is Parked. Design: Hook Design Is Not Easy To Be Blown Away By The Wind Ensures More Secure Fit.

Looks totally legit. Except not at all.

If you missed it from this block of useless and rambling description… “,you Don’t Worry About The Quality Of It.”
The second $19 offering is the exact same, from a different seller.

Why this is bad.

The most prominent offerings on the internet, in many cases, are the equivalent of a shady dude trying to sell you a Rolex watch from his dirty trench coat for only $35. Two for $12.

I hope that we’re all aware that Amazon market value has done swimmingly during the Corona virus pandemic. Here’s the Google Finance report. Make sure to smash that Max button on the chart. Starting in 2018 through March 2020, the price reached and hovered between $1,700-$2,100. It starts shooting up in April 2020, and healthily maintains over $3,000 through the present day [err, I suppose whenever it was that I wrote this post]. Again, I’m not an economist. But I challenge you to rifle through your own pandemic Amazon purchases to see which products were produced locally vs overseas – to discover which entities have benefited from your convenient acquisitions. Have you sent your stimulus check to China via Jeff Bezos?

China isn’t bad. Amazon isn’t inherently bad. But a lower quality of product often relates to a lower quality of experience with that product (despite the psychological marketing techniques to convince us otherwise). The lowest price is often not the best option. A $1.69 screwdriver that copies the design of a $30 screwdriver might actually not be worth having at all – things to consider: quality of materials, of craftmanship, warranty, reliability/longevity, balance, grip in hand, strength of metal, grip on screw, weight in toolkit, weight in use, maneuverability, tactile response. What of these properties isn’t observed until the screwdriver is purchased and put through its paces? I’m sure there’s plenty of terrible $30 screwdrivers, and I myself own a few $1.69 screwdrivers – price doesn’t determine quality of experience; but the integrity of a product does matter.

The point is to invest where it counts, AND to “vote” with your money. Trader Joe’s, according to my subjective experience, is a much better company than with Safeway/Vons: the employees are much happier, the products are overall very generally less-unhealthy and more-natural, there appears to be integrity with managing environmental impacts, it’s faster to checkout, and they have maintained pandemic protocols. TJ’s was owned by an apparently strange German man named Theo, and is now owned by his family. Safeway is owned by the Albertons chain of stores, which is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that “analyzes and monitors portfolio investments”. Investments… i.e. Safeway. This doesn’t really mean anything concrete, but I’d trust a German family with happy employees before trusting an investment firm that buys “distressed securities” [insolvent companies] which makes me regret asking the checker, “how’s your day going?” when their response is typically, *dead eyes* “Well, I’m here.”

Communists invading?

Not to be contentious, but what if the inevitable downfall of U.S. Capitalism to Communism isn’t in the form of a war? What if it’s communism besting capitalism on capitalism’s own territory? There are many aspects of worth in considering how to spend one’s purchasing power. The most visible aspect is cost per utility. Do you buy 1 gallon of milk for $2.50, or $5? Well, if the $2.50 milk came from Cowshit Central in California, using rBST while cramming thousands of cows into small pens with no other signs of life within miles, and the $5 gallon was produced on a family farm and squeezed from a very happy cow named Bertha who loves her private meadow between two hills and a country road – is it worth paying double? I’d pay quadruple.

But there’s far more to Capitalism than cost per [perceived] utility.

When I started in audio, I bought the cheapest gear available. I only considered lowest price, because I didn’t have any money. Each dollar had to count. All of the equipment I invested in under that pretense, has since been discarded. Yes, there was a utility to it – I had access to “tools” that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. But ultimately, they were cheaply produced imitations that didn’t allow me to do professional-quality work, and they ended up being a waste of raw materials. Had I spent my money with integrity, I would still have and use those tools today, or I could have sold them for a non-zero sum. But instead, they never worked well, made me think I was just bad at audio, broke, and were discarded without being able to recoup any money from my investment (I could have sold out to Cerberus).

Chinese manufacturing has demonstrated that they have no moral qualms about reverse-engineering products, and selling them for much cheaper. For those who have don’t have much buying power, alleged utility for a cheaper price is VERY attractive, but it can end up being an anti-capitalist decision.

What’s my alternative?

In this particular tire-cover scenario, I scrolled down the page of Google results, past all of the paid advertisements, and opened new tabs to the first 3 organic results, and went to each “about us” page. I have a moderate BS detector, and liked this page the best:

It’s not that “All American” is better than something else. Per my own argument, it is probably even be better to spend my money in California rather than to send it over to Michigan. But this company at least appears to make the effort of transparency, that they are trying to make quality products, and employ people living in their community; that The [older] American Dream and domestic manufacturing are values they hold. The website isn’t overblown which makes it very functional, even if it isn’t as fancy as other ones. It appears that they’re focused on making a good product, rather than selling a product. My BS detector, moderate though it may be, isn’t sounding any alarms.

Typically, I’m not buying products that I’m not familiar with in some way. But like most people, a pink sprinkled donut spare-tire cover is not something that I buy every day. There are manufacturers that I have grown to trust for a number of reasons, primarily through direct experience. Online reviews are sometimes great, but they are reactionary-based on individual’s experiences; most people aren’t able to test or compare the performance and resilience of what they got against what alternative they might’ve gotten. It’s a better bet to buy from a company that has something to lose if they fail to fulfill what they promise. I highly recommend reading Skin in the Game by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. I am not exaggerating when I say that his approach to… well, everything… has changed my life. If a product’s manufacturer has no face to be smeared, then they have nothing to lose when you find out that they lied to you.

*note, this post is a little dated because I didn’t share it when I originally wrote it, sometime in early 2021 I think, or whenever milk was last $2.50 a gallon*

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