Pericles at Daily Kos has an amusing and enlightening history of shaving and capitalism.
So instead, the market has gone two ways. The mass market has kept research labs busy churning out phony “improvements” that generate market-protecting patents and give advertisers something to work with. And vast amounts of money have been spent persuading men (successfully!) that there’s something new worth paying up for and something primitive about the double-edged safety razor.
For men who have caught on to that game, a connoisseur market sells expensive shaving paraphernalia to bolster an overclass identity. So whether you’re a mass-market Gillette-Fusion-type guy or a connoisseur wielding a buffalo-horn-handle Damascus-steel-blade straight razor, you support a market with high profit margins.
What worries me is that I see exactly the same dynamic in the pharmaceutical industry. It takes a huge investment in time, money and expertise– with big risk– to patent a new drug that actually cures something, or even is measurably better than older, cheaper drugs. That’s why you see existing drugs marketed in new forms– gel caps, dissolvable tabs– or new drugs that are almost the same as older ones in the same class.
Letting the free market lead is harmless enough when it produces a ten-blade disposable razor. When it comes to things that really matter, novelty does not reign supreme.