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Do Americans Shop Too Much? (New Democracy Forum) Paperback – 1 May 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 102 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; First Printing edition (1 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080700443X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807004432
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 0.8 x 20.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,886,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Keeping up with 90210, and other inequalities 2 Oct. 2000
By R. Kelly Wagner - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was afraid, when I was ordering this book, that even though the topic interests me, the book would be dry and academic. However, it isn't - it's well written, and easy to follow, not overladen with academic studies. Schor's basic thesis is that Americans used to be satisfied with keeping up with the Joneses down the street, in their own neighborhood, but now we feel we must keep up with the rich and famous we see on TV.
In the introduction, Ralph Nader mentions another book, _Fat and Mean : The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Managerial 'Downsizing'_, which is also worth reading. Add to that another book, _Why We Buy : The Science of Shopping_, which I've also read. It's about how marketers induce people to shop and buy. Taken together, the three books will make you think, and definitely give you a basis for rejecting overt commercialism. You'll think twice about your next purchase in a store! (Except for books, of course; buying books is GOOD!) _
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended for non-specialist general readers. 7 Sept. 2000
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Paperback
In Do Americans Shop Too Much?, Harvard economist Juliet Schor (with the assistance of Robert Frank, Michele Lamont, Lawrence Mishel and others) traces the current over consumption trends of American consumers influenced by media presentations of affluence. Calling for Americans to see private consumption in the light of public costs and consequences (including debt burdens, interest rate erosions on disposable income, etc.) Schor suggests a consumer movement in which people re-evaluate their basic needs versus media and advertising induced desires, placing instead, new, more financially conservative and budget-friendly values on family, leisure and community time. Enhanced with an informative Foreword by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Do Americans Shop Too Much? is clearly written and highly accessible reading recommended for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in financial management, the impact of culture on spending habits, and the influence of media on personal and family financial behavior.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Massive Disappointment 16 July 2003
By L. Cunningham - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you're like me, you loved Schor's previous work, The Overworked American and The Overspent American. I found them to be well written as well as thought provoking. This work, however, does follow in this pattern.
First of all, contrary to the clever marketing, the vast majority of it is not written by Schor at all. It's basically a Schor tribune book. A bunch of far lesser known scholars put forth their theories on consumption in a sort of reply to what Schor has said in her previous research.
Further, what these other scholars have to say is just not that interesting. It doesn't fill a void in our collective knowledge the way that Schor's original work did.
Overall, I think this book is a pretty shameless attempt to cash in on Schor's popularity. However, there are a few interesting points and for those most interested in consumption research, it may be worth a read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
What every environmentalist knows, what ever economist fears 9 July 2001
By Warren Fritze - Published on
Format: Paperback
Something is happening here, in the United $tates. We're experiencing a great slow-down of our economy, the once vibrant job-market is slowing in job openings, recent grades from our public school systems are near or at a decline, the youth of the United $tates are quickly taking a lead in debt, and yet, people continue to spend. GW Bush recently let loose some of our tax dollars, to try and stir up the economy. More money in our pockets, the economist figure, the more money we'll spend. The more money we spend, the greater the economy will be.
But, something just isn't working. As the Feds reduce the prime interest rate by small increments, unemployeement still rises. What is it that we're doing wrong? Maybe we're buying too much junk?
A retooling of our economy, and the good produced, and how these goods affect our nation, our families, and our selves, is needed. Juliet Schor's book is an incredible tool for this purpose.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Yes They Do 3 Oct. 2004
By Adam Schumaker - Published on
Format: Paperback
After finishing Schor's Do Americans Shop Too Much, I came to have a great appreciation for the democracy forum that the book is structured in. Although Schor's writing dominates the book, I found the contributing authors to be just as important. Not only did they give different perspectives to the debate, but I thought that some, especially Robert Frank, had better ideas on how to curb the ridiculous amount of consumption in America. This is why I enjoyed the book; it allowed me to be critical of the author's ideas and enabled me to choose the theories I agree with.

The first concept that struck me in Schor's "New Politics of Consumption," was that well before I was born many people already believed America had a consumption problem. Schor states, " the 1960s and early 1970s, a far reaching critique of consumer culture was a part of our political discourse." (p. 3) This makes me unable to compare today's culture with an America that did not over consume. Coming from this viewpoint, it was a challenging and interesting process to step back and analyze the culture I am a part of. Schor refers to the current culture of consumption as "The New Consumerism."(p. 7)

An integral part of "The New Consumerism" is the idea of "...competitive consumption..." (p. 8) Schor's idea is that people are consuming materialistic products at a high rate because they want to have what the " group with which they identify..." has. (p.8) Schor says that although in the 50's people identified with their neighbors down the street, they now identify with the people they see on TV who have much higher standards of living. This in turn takes consumption to a much higher level, where people are spending more than they have to compete with those in higher classes. (p. 9)

Schor supports her theory with three strong points. The first is that in a study by Fournier and Guiry, only 15% of the participants said they would be "...satisfied with...being middle class." (p. 10) The next is that the savings rate dropped from 8% in 1980 to zero when the book was published. Along with this comes increased credit card debt in the average American home. (p. 10) The last and strongest point is that Americans' "...quality-of-life measures...began to diverge from GDP in the mid-1970s after moving in tandem for decades." (p. 12)

Although Schor's theory and support are persuasive, I had to question the reality of her theory. To do this I took a look at my family's consumption practices. I analyzed three products recently purchased my parents to determine why we bought them. The first is a DVD player. By no means is the DVD player a necessity, but it is much more convenient and higher quality than VHS. I think this purchase was not to compete with others, but to keep up with technology. If my parents wanted, they could still use a reel projector, but they would have a very hard time renting movies on a Saturday night.

The next is the purchase of a home in northern Wisconsin where we moved this summer. They had to take a large loan to afford the place, which fits right in line with Schor's idea of people spending more than they have. However, housing prices have increased dramatically all over the country in the past 20 years, and especially in northern Wisconsin. Although my parents had to take out a loan, they moved into a house that is noticeably smaller than their previous home. At the same time, the new house is almost twice as expensive. Again, I do not think this purchase and loan was to compete, but rather to maintain their same quality-of-life amidst high real estate prices.

The last product is an SUV. Even though my parents are environmentally conscious, my Dad felt he had to buy an SUV to handle our long driveway in the middle of a northern Wisconsin winter. I will give my parents the benefit of the doubt on this purchase and call the four wheel drive a necessity for the winter. However, I wholly agree with Schor that the purchase of an SUV in a setting where it isn't necessary is merely for the status.

My thoughts on the concept of "competitive consumerism" coincide with both Schor's and Twitchell's views. Twitchell stated that, "More often than not what we once condemned as luxury has become necessity for a reason..." (p. 47) I agree with Twitchell in that the purchase of expensive houses and technology products are not competitive, as long as the house is not ridiculously more than what someone needs. However, I agree with Schor in that purchases of unneeded mansions and SUV's are to compete socially.

One area where I completely disagree with Schor is within her solutions for the over consuming America, what she calls "A Politics of Consumption." (p. 28) Her fourth element, "Democratization of consumption practices," is highly unrealistic. (p.30) She states, "Why not tax high-end `status' versions of products while allowing the low-end models to be sold tax free?" (p. 31) I do not believe this idea would ever be accepted in America; partly because it would require an overhaul of our current economic system and because people would not want higher taxes on products they like to buy.

A much more plausible solution comes from Robert Frank in his essay "Market Failures." (p. 37) His solution comes in the form of a consumption tax. (p. 41) Although this theory would also be difficult to implement, it would be easier to administer and more likely to go over well with the American public. His idea is to tax people not on income, but rather the difference between peoples' income and how much they save. This would discourage people from all income levels to spend needlessly and encourage them to save more. When people stop spending needlessly they stop over consuming.

Overall, Do Americans Shop Too Much has valuable insights. Schor did an excellent job of bringing the problems of over consumption to the surface. However, I believe her solutions for these problems were sometimes naïve and unrealistic. The addition of more realistic opposing arguments gives the book a high value.
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