Stuff isn't built to last anymore, whether it's cruddy pressboard furniture from IKEA that will flake off into a pile of shavings within 10 to 20 years, or an iPhone whose speed has been crippled by an "upgrade" to the operating system that overwhelms it.
And yet, as the popularity of IKEA and Apple testify, people these days not only don't mind how disposable their purchases are — they are eager to feel another endorphin rush from throwing out the old and buying up the new, like a woman who changes her hairdo every three months.
Sadly, you see the same treadmill consumerism at Walmart and Sears, where everyone wants to step up their game, upgrade their rig, etc. It's not just the elites who are effete. Working-class people today are not the honest, making-do folks from a John Cougar Mellencamp song. They act just as entitled, discontent, and in-need of cheap junk from China as the rest of the social pyramid.
So, upper or lower class, Americans today don't give a shit if their stuff is unusable in five or ten years. Indeed, that's the way they like it.
Usually "planned obsolescence" is talked about as a supply-side thing, with the producers scheming to trick us into buying things that will be no good before long. But consumers notice that kind of thing, and by now that awareness is so widespread that all you have to do is say "not built to last," and everyone nods along. Notice: they do not stop buying all this shoddy crap, rather they grudgingly accept the nuisance as the small price they have to pay to enjoy the larger benefit of stepping up their game and upgrading their rig, feeling that heady rush more frequently.
This is a sorely under-appreciated source of how crappy things are today. You don't want to think of your fellow Americans as feeding it through their own self-absorbed consumer behavior, and would rather pin it all on the greedy stockholders, managers, marketers, and so on. But those guys can't sell an entire nation what it doesn't want to buy. Same with immigration — you can blame large-scale farm-owners, but what about the folks you know who use a housecleaning service, lawncare / landscaping service, or construction service that's almost certainly employing cheap illegal labor?
The Arts and Crafts movement took root in the late Victorian period, as status-striving and inequality were rising toward their peak of the WWI years. The standard story is similar to today's, where the shoddiness of stuff at the time was blamed on mass production techniques introduced by the Industrial Revolution — something on the supply side, at any rate. Given today's parallels, I'm more inclined to blame airheaded Victorian strivers for spreading the throwaway mindset. Only with such a docile consumer base could the industrialists flood the market with cheap junk.
At the other end, it's striking how sturdy and long-lasting stuff is from the nadir of status-striving and inequality during the 1960s and '70s. Especially for mature industries that can be fairly compared across long stretches of time — like furniture. Those Archie Bunker chairs, cherry dressers, and "granny squares" Afghan blankets are still in wide circulation at thrift stores, and have always been. The "thrift store look" from today is about the same as it was 20 years ago.
For some reason, IKEA futons and plastic rolling cabinets from the Container Store are not making their way in, and likely never will. Nobody has any use for that, and it's going straight in the trash.