For Whom Capitalism?

This page written circa 15 December, 1999.

We recently received the new dishwasher. This gadget is a triumph of "efficient" design and marketing. Just unpacking it was enough to tell you that appliance makers have been refining the design of dishwashers for a lot of years. The outside dimensions of dishwashers (at least here in the USA) is a fixed quantity. This makes sense, they all fit the hole in anyone's kitchen cabinets. Given this, the designers have had 25 years of continuous sales to enable them to put the most features and the least material in a fixed volume. They have done frighteningly well.

The device I just installed is "skeleton and skin" compared to the last few machines I have owned. It weighs almost nothing; the engine is small and plastic-cased, allowing it to be quiet, and cheap to make. It is almost entirely comprised of the plastic box that contains the things to be washed --- the tub. It has no outside cabinet at all, just 1cm-thick bubble-wrap on the sides to provide thermal insulation. Why pay for an outside cabinet that will not be seen from installation on? The washer is supplied with no power cord, just bare wires, as it is now standard practice to wire the machines in, not plug them in. Why pay for a power point or a plug? Likewise it has no inlet hose, just a plumbing fitting. That fitting points directly at the floor, so you must use a threaded elbow-bend (not supplied, a fact carefully noted on the outside of the box in which the beast came). Why supply a pressure hose when house plumbing is just that? The motor is long and skinny, to fit in the very small space that is left over after the tub itself. Having a small engine but needing to operate two rotor arms, it has the engine pressurise them alternately! Why pay extra to run both (and wash both sides of your plates) at once?

I must report that we positively stole this machine. It has all the features of a $425 Maytag machine, but has an initial asking price of $289. We waited a few months to catch a 10%-off weekend at Best Buy; we also bought a machine that attracted the maximum $50 rebate from the California State Economy Incentive Scheme because of its electrical efficiency, so we ended up paying $206.

How was the marketing "efficient"? The model - a Frigidaire Quiet II, made in Canada - raves at length in the brochure about how you should not be startled if you cannot hear the engine. They are right, the engine is quiet, but you might not notice this as it is easily drowned out by the sound of sloshing water, since there is nothing by way of material between you and the tub to dampen the sound. It is not an unpleasant sound, but is is "louder" than my Bosch in Sydney or indeed the 20-year-old Hobart it replaces.

"Slick" might have been a better word than "efficient" above. I would have liked it to be heavier so it does not positively jiggle if you open the door too vigorously... perhaps it needs a small concrete block as found in some appliances. I would have liked it to have a power plug to make installation easier and temporary disconnection from the live mains easier. I would have liked a decent flexible inlet hose, again to make installation easier... working with copper pipe in the teeny-weeny crack where the engine and guts are huddled is murder. I would like the tub a bit thicker so that it does not sound like someone is hosing your windows.

This machine is the consequence of intense competition and leading emphasis on price as the most important concern. It has been made so that anyine who can afford a house can afford this dishwasher. It should be called a VolksVasher, made with genius but to a price, as Hitler intended for the Volkswagen. To continue the analogy, I appreciate its design, but I rather think I'd prefer a PorschenPolisher.

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