Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

The Best Damn Sock Story You’ll Ever Read – Tom Rossi

There are many reasons that the economists trusted by both Democratic and Republican administrations in our country (over the last several decades) have built a kind of dream world where numbers on calculators and the super-rich thrive while the rest of us slide, in starts and fits, into the poor house. One fun example is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and what’s known as the “quality bias.”

I’m sure everyone realizes that the CPI has risen steadily over the last 60 years. The CPI is an indication of what consumers have to spend to obtain what the government considers sort of a representative basket of necessities such as food, clothing and several other commodities. Increases in the CPI show how much more it costs to live in the present time versus some time in the past.

But economists often argue that the CPI does not pay enough attention to changes in the quality of the items in that “basket.” In some cases, they are right. Take cars, for example: even the cheapest new car will almost certainly outlast a comparable car from the 1970’s, and it will most likely require a lot less maintenance and upkeep.

But economists and many policy makers assume that this applies to everything, and that simply is not the case. Take socks, for example. I have, over the past few years, bought two sets of Champion and one set of Adidas ankle length socks from Costco. The Champion socks changed, between my two purchases, and then were ditched by Costco in favor of the Adidas.

Costco usually has pretty good stuff. And while I’m always embarrassed for buying anything there instead of a local, “mom and pop” type store, I sometimes give in when a relative with a membership wants me to tag along.

The sock progression went like this: I bought the first set of Champion socks about 6 years ago. They sort of gradually deteriorated, much as I would expect socks to do. The last pair out of this set is still in rotation in my sock drawer. Since the first of them did get holes in the bottom of the heel after about 1 1/2 years, I bought some more, even though they had changed in style just a little. This second batch started to get holes within six months, but I still have one good pair left.

So, to make up for the new deficiency, I bought what Costco had to offer, the Adidas socks. These lasted a few months and then all formed holes, almost simultaneously, in much less than a year. However, one or two of them is still hanging on, with a really thin layer of material on the heel where a hole is trying to form.

This provides some evidence as to what has happened to the quality of socks over the past few years as manufacturing has evacuated the United States more and more and landed in China and other faraway nations, all while companies have searched high and low for ways to cut corners in materials and labor costs.

The socks I bought six years ago, the socks I bought three years ago, and the socks I bought one year ago have all basically, finally died in the last six months. That means that the first ones lasted over 5 years and the newer socks suck in comparison.

And socks aren’t the only things. Gradually, almost all metal has been replaced by plastic. Almost all nuts and bolts have been replaces by plastic fasteners that get brittle and break and are impossible to replace. These days, you feel lucky if a small appliance like a toaster or a vacuum cleaner or a microwave last three years.

If you look at the ratings of various products on Amazon.com, you get the idea that 5 to 10 percent of new products are DOA – Dead On Arrival, and have to be sent back. And even though I’ve said that cars are the exception, there are still plenty of lemons that come off the lot and go right back into the shop.

The corporate model predictably leads to this. The automotive industry is one of the few where things still work the way they are supposed to work – if you make an inferior product, word spreads and you are punished. With so many other products, a brand enters an elite, dominant group, and then it hardly matters. You can put whatever crap out there you want to and people still buy it because there are so few choices and they all follow the same philosophies.

I recently bought some Hanes socks. We’ll see.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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7 thoughts on “The Best Damn Sock Story You’ll Ever Read – Tom Rossi

  1. As a big fan of the old Costco Champion Elite socks, inquiring minds want to know. Now that it’s nearly October, what’s the verdict on the Hanes socks and which kind did you actually get?

    • Sorry Neil! I just now saw your question! I have hanes “dry” ankle socks that seem to be holding up well, so far, and also hanes “fit” ankle or quarter or whatever, and they’re doing fine, also. When you asked this, I have to say, it was too soon to say how they were holding up, anyway.

  2. William K. on said:

    I found this article after just returning a package of the head cushion socks from Costco. I opened them, noticed the poor quality and returned them! While I was there I noticed Puma branded socks again quality looked very very poor so I passed them up! The box stores basically tell manufacturers they want a product at X price. They get their cheap product to sell and consumers get stuck with terrible quality goods. Costco, Walmart & home depot are three of the biggest offenders in the consumer goods area. American consumers must be very dumb indeed, their understanding of value is just not there. Rather they understand brand names & price… that’s it!

  3. William, I agree. Costco is often the exception to this, but they sometimes blow it, too. We live in a plastic society, anymore. Stop complaining and buy! Buy! BUY!!! That’s your job. Well, that and working for less (real) money with fewer benefits, year after year. Now excuse me while I throw away this computer as it is obsolete, after 6 months.

  4. Head socks at Costco. “Best D… sock story you ever heard!”. I am not a big proponent of box stores, but I agree with Tom. Costco & Sam’s tend to have better goods. Case in point & direct to these postings, is my experience with Head Socks. I am 64 now and don’t run much anymore. I used to run upwards of 30-50 miles per week in the 1980’s & 1990″s. Finding comfortable, long lasting socks was a real challenge. I tried Thor-lo which were pretty good. But expensive! Sometime in the early ’90’s I think, I joined Costco (for the cheap baseball cards! smile). It was called Price Club then. I stumbled on Head Socks while aisle browsing and decided to try them.
    Long story short, I still wear them today, Sept 28, 2013, over 20 years later. They are cushiony, incredibly so, and hold up extremely well for a VERY, VERY long time. I have 2 drawers, 1 of Head socks that are still cushiony and have not worn through the soles, and a drawer for those Head socks that have begun frazzling around the top where it holds to your ankle, or if holes have developed in the back of the ankle. Rarely do they wear out on the bottom. Admittedly, I do not run anywhere as much as I did 20 years ago, but I still ride bikes, walk 1-2 miles a few times a week, hit the tread at the gym, etc. My socks get a lot of wear and take a lot of abuse. I wear Head socks exclusively. Period. Only exception is for church on Sunday. I will wear a pair of black dress socks then.
    When the head socks have developed the holes in the back of the ankle, they are still perfectly good with the cushioning on the bottom. I wear them for yard-work, running around to yard sales or a jaunt to the store for milk. I do not wear the worn ones when I go shopping or to a restaurant, but that is for esthetic reasons (I’m usually with my wife and I’d rather not hear the “Why do you insist on wearing socks with holes in them” comments (smile).
    Here is the point to me: They are AMERICAN MADE! And they hold up forever. I haven’t belong to Price Club since they WERE Price Club, but I have periodically over the years managed to find friends with memberships who have graciously picked me up another pack or 2. I last bought 2 packs 4 years ago. I have just today opened the 6th pair and put them on…….FROM THE FIRST OF THOSE TWO PACKS! I still have an untouched pack of 6 pairs, which should last me another 4 years!
    These are really good socks, and AMERICAN MADE, which I think puts a dent in any comment that American made isn’t any good. They are GREAT! I did notice the comment above by the person who said they returned Head Socks because he “noticed the poor quality”. I assert STRONGLY that he should rebuy a pack and begin wearing them. If a 250lb, 5’4″ short fat guy can state with such firmness as I have today about how good they are, anyone thinner should really enjoy them. And to those who might think “what makes this guy such an expert” (referring to me), I was ex- Spec. Forces in my younger incarnation (40+ years ago) and I have always liked items in my life to be functional, long-wearing and durable. These AMERICAN MADE Head Socks fit that bill to a “t”.
    Thanks for listening to my thoughts.

  5. Wow Andy! I wish I’d bought some of those back then. But I doubt they’re still made in America – please correct me if you know I’m wrong.

    Note: I got my first hole in the heel of my Hanes socks about a month ago. The rest are still holding up, so far.

    TomR

  6. They look like the Champion white socks, same color markings. Maybe softer and not quite as thick. Hard to tell. But they are back now as Costco Kirkland brand. Kirkland Signature™ Men’s Athletic Sock 6-Pack
    Item # 989084

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