The End of Buying Things

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 2 2013 2:16 PM

When Every Day Is Buy Nothing Day

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Now where are my shoes?

Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images

Trying to think through the implications of something like ubiquitous fast-responding delivery drones (or, equivalently, driverless cars), I think what you get is a world in which every day is Buy Nothing Day, and the amount of things people actually own radically falls. Not because people will lose their taste for consumer goods, but because it makes sense to repackage more and more things "as a service."

Think of Netflix. Why buy DVDs and build your own video library when cheap, ubiquitous streaming means you can rent access to your library?

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So imagine the same principle for everyday goods. I own a nice 3½-quart cast iron Dutch oven. Some days I use it even though a smaller vessel would be ideal. Other days I need something larger, so I need to work with a less nice piece of cookware. Many days neither my wife nor I cooks at all. And our kitchen is full of stuff like that—things we only sometimes use, and things that aren't always perfect for the job. What if we could subscribe to Netpots and have the drones bring us exactly the tools we need? Different priced subscriptions would entitle you to have different numbers of items "checked out" simultaneously (like the Netflix DVD-by-mail product), and then you'll return what you don't need any more when you don't need it anymore.

The same principle would apply to all kinds of apparel. Instead of a closet full of clothing and a lot of tedious laundry chores, you'll select an outfit online and send the stuff back by drone when it's dirty. Upscale clothing subscription services will have a wide range of rapidly changing styles, while the less affluent (or less fashion-conscious) will stick with a more limited palate.

Of course fancy people will stick with the closet concept because they'll be wearing unique bespoke clothing.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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