Lego Politics and Last-Stage Capitalism

Updated on April 30, 2020
thorstenjpattberg profile image

I am a founder and entrepreneur who specializes in consulting, education, and media.

LEGO, the family-owned Danish manufacturer with an unfair former monopoly on toy bricks, faces tough choices in 2020: Pesky little competitors have emerged.

It is not a matter of quality, yet. The LEGO company has superior products and more than 60 years of experience. However, it also got greedy and complacent. Today, LEGO is known for its overprized products, its sly business practices, and its army of lawyers.

The Battle for Bricks in East Asia

Meanwhile, brick brands such as Mega Bloks, Xingbao, Wange, Sluban, Sembo, Cobi, Qihui, Oxford Bricks, Global Bricks, Qman and many more pose a threat to the LEGO empire. They sell similar brick sets (some are bad, others are plagiarized, but most are awesome) with often more than twice the parts for half the price than LEGO. In addition, they create brick sets that are highly original, such as Oxford Bricks’ Ocean World or Xingbao’s Whorehouse or Mega Bloks’ Castle Grayskull or Qihui’s Storm of the Desert.

LEGO became successful largely due to European patent laws. The company secured a patent on toy bricks in the 60s that lasted until 1986. When it expired, LEGO engaged in a fierce legal battle over its renewal. Finally, in 2010, the European Court ruled against LEGO. The idea of a toy brick was, according to the judges, too universal.

LEGO Capitalism at Its Finest

But the damage was done: Europe practically invented the concepts of intellectual copyrights, patents, and exploitation, while the USA later perfected it. Capitalism. A small group of people, mostly those who came there first or who had the most resources, can legally claim ownership—be that over cars, computers, news, or toy bricks—and from then on control entire industries. The rest of humanity, 7.7 billion people today, are legally excluded.

LEGO is a text book example of last-stage capitalism because it revolves around a silly toy brick. The company produced European-styled sets, not at all diverse. The Christiansen family, who founded LEGO, grew up in post-war Europe. It refused to create war-themes, adult themes, and cultural diversity. There were no blacks or persons of color in LEGO sets. There were no guns or tanks. There were no Chinese or Russian or Indian themes.

The company was not market-orientated because it owned the market. No other company was allowed to produce toy bricks. Full stop.

Then came the revolution.

During the last ten years, lovers of toy bricks started a revolt. The price of LEGO bricks had gone through the roof, while LEGO sets—another fire brigade, another police station—became repetitive and boring.

You Must Not Sell Any Other Bricks Than LEGO

Mostly Asian entrepreneurs started to challenge the Danish imperialists. LEGO produced its toy bricks in the cheapest way possible, in Eastern Europe and in China, to make maximum profits in Europe and America. Locals could see the scam, and the words spread about the true cost of plastic bricks. Anyone could produce toy bricks for a tiny fraction of what LEGO charges, and on top of that could be free and more innovative. In addition, LEGO created artificial scarcity to obtain maximum profits and engaged in investment scams (collectors edition, limited runs, etc. when in reality the bricks were ever reused).

LEGO responded with what came to be known as LEGO politics. Hundreds of millions of bricks – because they were so cheap to produce – were shipped to political dissidents, artists, art galleries, theme parks, conventions, special events, schools, hospitals and kindergartens. Everyone who built with bricks necessarily built with LEGO. And if anyone pointed out the review scam, LEGO flared the gaslight: LEGO is unpolitical.

LEGO lawyers sued anyone in Europe who advertised or sold non-LEGO bricks. The company suddenly tried to be more diverse. African mini-figures were included in the sets. Chinese themes were thought of. A series for girls was designed. A Hollywood movie – no, two! – was made. Nothing helped. Non-LEGO bricks appeared in France, Poland, Canada, China, Japan, and South Korea. LEGO even hired “diverse” employees to posture as company that represents the world.

The Attack on Renegade Brick Sellers

Huge media campaigns took place against “fake LEGO” and “cheap Chinese imitations.” Toy distributors such as Toys R Us were coerced: Do not sell “fake” bricks. Shops were threatened: Do not showcase “illegal” bricks. Toy brick reviewers such as Held der Steine or BlueBrixx were intimidated: Do not use toy bricks in your logos, do not promote non-LEGO mini-figures. In November 2019, the LEGO Group aquired BrickLink, the world's largest second-hand online marketplace with over 10,000 shops, apparently in a bid to control all private brick businesses.

Those companies who resist LEGO supremacy deserve our respect. I would love to see the end of the LEGO tyranny for the sake of a more pluralistic world for brick toys. Sadly, LEGO in 2019 became the richest toy maker on the planet.

© 2019 Thorsten J Pattberg

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)