I have this memory of reading a short story of a dystopian future where the main character was compelled (by law?) to purchase "consumer goods". Upon arriving home he packed the purchased goods into a recycling slot.

  • Can you remember anything else about this? Or if it was a short story is that all there was to it? Roughly when did you read this? How old would it have been? Can you remember anything else about it at all? If so please edit those details into your question.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 10:15
  • If someone posts the correct answer, you can accept by clicking on the checkmark by the voting buttons as per the tour.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 11:09
  • I have a vague memory of a story like this that I cannot pin down. If it's the story I'm thinking of then it starts with the protagonist buying a pack of cigarettes and open the glove compartment of his car to find several unopened packs already there. There are roads with deliberately roughened surfaces that reduce car life due to the vibration and cause people to buy more cars. The story involved the government creating signs with subliminal messages to buy more. I think it was by a well known author. Commented May 21, 2021 at 16:40
  • 1
    government creating signs with subliminal messages to buy more -- this rings a STRONG bell for me. Throughout the story there were mentions of the giant blank-looking billboards that were assumed to have something to do with the airport. At the end of the story someone breaks the system and the subliminal billboards suddenly show their text: BUY BUY BUY was one of them. Maybe ~~Thomas Disch~~ Got it, it's J.G. Ballard. Writing answer. Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:19
  • Argh, how can you do strikethrough in comment markdown? <s>with bracket-s?</s> Nope. Is it impossible? Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


As per Story about a future of over-production, could this be Frederik Pohl's "The Midas Plague"?

In a world of cheap energy, robots are overproducing the commodities enjoyed by mankind. The lower-class "poor" must spend their lives in frantic consumption, trying to keep up with the robots' extravagant production, while the upper-class "rich" can live lives of simplicity. Property crime is nonexistent, and the government Ration Board enforces the use of ration stamps to ensure that everyone consumes their quotas. The story deals with Morey Fry, who marries a woman from a higher-class family. Raised in a home with only five rooms she is unused to a life of forced consumption in their mansion of 26 rooms, nine automobiles, and five robots, causing arguments. Trained as an engineer, Morey modifies his robots to enjoy helping to consume his family's quota. He fears punishment when his idea is discovered, but the Ration Board—which has been looking for a way to abolish itself—quickly implements Morey's idea across the world.

You can read the full story online here

  • 2
    Possibly, but in those stories you weren't allowed to throw the consumer goods out, you had to use them up. Commented May 21, 2021 at 11:39
  • 7
    A board that wants to abolish itself? Even for SciFi, that's going a bit far! Commented May 21, 2021 at 12:01
  • 1
    I'm not certain if this one is a match, since as has been noted, there doesn't seem to be a case of the main character trying to stuff the excess into the recycling slot (although he does try to find other ways to waste it). I do find it funny that this story has been suggested as the answer at least a dozen times... and none accepted.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 14:03
  • 3
    @DavidTonhofer The Campaign for Lead Free Air in the UK eventually abolished itself by achieving all of its objectives. It does happen.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 17:28
  • 1
    @DavidTonhofer The Libertarian Party candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner (which deals with oil & gas, not railroads) have previously run on a campaign statement of "if elected, I will abolish this position."
    – shoover
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 4:27

This is "The Subliminal Man" by J. G. Ballard, from 1963. It appeared in New Worlds Science Fiction, in January 1963. (Unfortunately archive.org is missing this issue.) It has been collected in lots of places.

The first line of the story is

"The signs, Doctor! Have you seen the signs?"

The first two pages are all about the signs themselves, and what their purpose might be.

In a comment, @john-rennie wrote "There are roads with deliberately roughened surfaces that reduce car life due to the vibration and cause people to buy more cars."

Ostensibly an aid to lane discipline, the surface of the road was covered with a mesh of small rubber studs, spaced progressively further apart in each of the lanes so that the tire hum resonated exactly on 40, 50, 60, and 70 mph. Driving at an inter- mediate speed for more than a few seconds became physiologically painful, and soon resulted in damage to the car and tires.

When the studs wore out they were replaced by slightly different patterns, matching those on the latest tires, so that regular tire changes were necessary, increasing the safety and efficiency of the expressway. It also increased the revenues of the car and tire manu- facturers, for most cars over six months old soon fell to pieces under the steady battering, but this was regarded as a desirable end, the greater turnover reducing the unit price and making necessary more frequent model changes, as well as ridding the roads of dangerous vehicles.

More about the planned obsolescence:

"Look, I don't want a new infrared barbecue spit; we've only had this one for two months. Damn it, it's not even a different model."

"But, darling, don't you see, it makes it cheaper if you keep buying new ones. We'll have to trade ours in at the end of the year anyway, we signed the contract, and this way we save at least twenty dollars. ...."

About deliberately discarding goods:

Carefully he poured his whiskey into the sink.

  • 1
    :) It wasn't the OP who posted the comment about roughened roads, but otherwise, good catch!
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:46
  • OMG, twice in one day! On the other answer I posted today I also assumed a clarifying comment was from the OP. Sorry! Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:47
  • 2
    Hey, no worries... I've made the mistake many times myself. It does make things tricky when you start supplying matching details and have to double-check who said what, particularly when you have a commenter who may have "lost their password" (not the case here) and start adding details that may or may not be for the OP's work.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:53
  • 2
    This very well matches the comment by @John Rennie , but does NOT, I think match the original question. I think "The Midas Plague" is a much better match for that. Commented May 21, 2021 at 23:05
  • 1
    Yes! I just could not put my finger on it. However I've reread the story and it doesn't match the description in the question. I'm sure I remember a story in which the protagonist comes home and almost absent mindedly chucks everything into the recycler, but I must be thinking of a different story. Commented May 22, 2021 at 16:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.