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on 24 December 1998
Juliet Schor's "The Overspent American", a sequel to her earlier work, "The Overworked American", assails our state religion of consumerism. While it is easy to laugh off the "downshifters" she praises, or make snide remarks about her well-paid position at Harvard or her residence in Newton, Massachussets, it is difficult to argue with Ms. Schor's basic thesis that much of our consumption is a joyless attempt to establish our social status in the eyes of others.
Ms. Schor is not the first commentator to decry "keeping up with the Joneses". This work is original in that she understands that the "Joneses" are no longer our next door neighbors, but a caricature of the upper-middle class presented in mass culture. The 90s version of keeping up is more pernicious than ever because the upper middle class standard is used as a reference by people who must spend everything they earn, and sometimes more, to even approach that way of life.
Her analysis of liptick purchase patterns illustrates her critique of mindless consumption; it is impossible to differentiate lipstick in terms of quality, yet women purchase large quantities of designer lipstick just to impress people by unveiling a case with a Chanel logo. Furthermore, Ms. Schor notes that more educated women are more likely to make "status" purchase, even when adjustments are made for income.
In fact, Ms. Schor is at her best when puncturing the pretentions of the educated, professional classes. She is funny and right about Ikea; it was the darling of yuppies when it represented a quirky, Scandinavian do-it-yourself sensibility. As Ikea became "McCouch", the affluent customers disappeared. If we are to call Ms.Schor a radical, it is for her understanding of the complex operations of class identity in the consumer culture.
Maybe her proposals for government intervention to put the brakes on the mindless cycle of work-and-spend are farfetched. Ultimately she does offer common sense advice that anyone can understand. Spend on what you genuinely enjo and forget about the futile, and pathetic, pursuit of impressing the rest of the world.
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on 22 August 1998
Juliet Schor seems to have excessive consumerism and just plain consumerism mixed up. As a visitor to her home in Newton, MA, I know for a fact she can't be starving. The downshifting concept is the Utopia that Schor makes it out to be. The respondents were no longer able to vacation and seemed more depressed that excited by their new lives. Consumers are the backbone of our economy and have provided much of this year's growth. I am proud to have returned from a two week trip to France and Belgium, a trip downshifters would not be able to take. My sallary is the national average and I am proud of my consumer items, including the laptop I am typing on. The downshifting lifestyle seems to be a depressing one. My philosophy has always been, do something you love and you will go far. And for those who don't, find a job to meet your responsibilities. Don't make your kid an outcast in Kmart clothes or deny yourself the finer things in life. Schor fails to realize the joy of buying what you always wanted or a dream vacation. Before considering downshifting ask yourself what you're willing to give up.
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on 20 September 1998
Although sometimes dry, the material in Schor's book is very thought provoking, and has in part helped me get a new perspective on life. You have to wonder why so many "sucessfull" people in the world's richest nation are so unhappy. Trying to find inner peace and happiness on the hyperconsuming treadmill is an impossible task, and the material in Schor's book helps to illustrate this.
Downsizing isn't for everyone, nor does Schor suggest that it is. However, for whatever economical niche you are in, if you are unhappy, you need to take a step back and evaluate what you want and how best to get there.
If you have to spend all of your money on "necessities," are forever worrying about what happens if you lose your job because you don't have any accumulated wealth to cover the lease on your BMW, your $2000 mortgage payment and your country club memebership -- are you really happy?
If not, read this book and others like it and realize there is more to life than what you buy.
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on 11 May 1998
This book is a great read, and has changed my attitudes towards money, career and consumerism. I had long felt that no matter how much money I made, I'd still be mildly dissatisfied with my lifestyle. Armed with the knowledge that this book provides about how our culture and TV fuels my dissatisfaction, I feel that I can smoothly change my habits and lifestyle so that I can live happier without working harder or spending more.
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on 12 August 1999
The book caught my attention when I heard about it on the radio and read about it in a newspaper. I truly enjoyed the book.
A part of the reason I liked it so much is because the author describes American consumers with scientific approach. The figures are convincing. As some other readers commented, there are quite subjective portion which makes this book a human-written book rather than pure science book. We do not need to agree with the author although I happen to share many beliefs with her.
Over all, it is a good leisure reading book with deep insight. For overspent consumers everywhere (I know it is even worse in some other countries than in America), it won't hurt to read this book. For economically-suffering consumers like myself, it may make you feel slightly better than maybe we are just fine!
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on 22 September 1998
This is exactly the type of book you want to check out of the library and read over a weekend when you are struggling to understand why even though you make a very decent salary, you are living from paycheck to paycheck. While alternately overly-academic or anecdotal in parts, Schor does lay out some very real and fundamental facts about American spending habits. She gives broad strokes of what one can do to combat excessive consumerism (e.g. downshift, comparison shop, neighborhood pools on large items such as power mowers) and does a good job of not being finger-pointing or perjorative about Americans' lack of financial capability. Schor wants to help solve a pervasive problem in our society. Making people aware of why they spend the way they do is a big step in the right direction.
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on 28 April 1999
While thought provoking and insightful overall, Juliet B. Schor writes from a perspective that many of us will never peer from. Many of her examples consider "cutting back" to mean maintaining a household with an income of $100k plus. However, one does realize that earning a lot of money does not equal happiness, or financial security, as many of those very same people are no better off, in terms of wealth or security, than those of us who make markedly less.
There is much insightful talk about why we want the things we want, and the book pointed out many simple but overlooked concepts that helped me to evaluate my relationship to material goods, and to the concept of "more is better."
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on 9 August 1999
I could not believe how accurate Schor was when describing the typical spending habits of the middle class beast. I am one! It made me look at the reasons that I have to have name brand all the time. Reminds me of the classifications of economic personalities by Ruby Payne in her book "Poverty". If the shoe fits then kick yourself in the a** with it and take inventory of your feelings concerning spending. This book has changed my idea of success and that owning a SUV and shopping at Eddie Bauer is not what has made me a well respected and successful person.
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on 8 March 2010
Well worth reading. I also recommend another one of her's Born to Buy: The Commercialised Child and the New Consumer Culture
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on 6 July 1998
This was an excellent sequel to Schor's book, "The Overworked American". Her original and referred research made it clear that her thesis was valid (bolstering the missions of groups such as the Center for the New American Dream and the New Road Map Foundation). I wish she had continued more lengthily, however, with some non-acedemic suggestions on how to prepare your own plan of change.
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