We were talking in my Brit Lit II class today about how capitalism differs from socialism, the end goal being a review of Heart of Darkness. We didn’t even get to the book, in part because I, and a lot of other people, like to talk about these things. Anyway, I had said that capitalism leads to better quality of goods and lower prices, which a girl responded to with “well then why do we have such cheap mass produced stuff coming out of capitalism?” This was at the end of class, so I didn’t get a chance to respond.
Mass production is generally opposed by artisanship. If something isn’t mass produced in a factory, then it’s probably made in batches by someone in a shop somewhere, or for some things made individually. Note that all of these systems of production happen within a capitalist context – goods are being produced which are going to be bought on the free market. So it isn’t that capitalism is producing this cheap junk. What’s happening is that the market demands are such that a lot of cheap junk gets sold – people would rather have it be cheap than well-made. And since the cheap (in terms of quality) option is there, it makes the higher quality option more expensive (because economies of scale can’t be employed as well).
And this is without me even challengeing the assumption that mass-produced goods are crappy. I’ve seen huge amounts of things that are high quality, but produced in a factory in the same way that pretty much any other thing is. The factories are certainly capable of producing goods which are indistinguishable from those crafted by an artisan, but the demand simply isn’t there. In other words, this isn’t a failing of capitalism, but a failing of human incentives.