The Overspent American

We, the people, like to shop. We’re born to shop. We shop till we drop. We shop, says professor Juliet B. Schor, too much. We are The Overspent American, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Thick with survey data, less taxing than a saunter through Saks, Schor’s study is a scornful indictment of consumerism — which, she argues, has created a nation of debtors but failed to fill a gaping cultural maw. With clipped, unforgiving disdain, she ticks off the contents of an upwardly mobile middle-class household (this is not a book about poor people), a ”stock of stuff” that spills, shamefully, over a page. Multiple TVs. Second and third cars. Closetfuls of clothes. Possessions we think we need but often don’t even use (Schor’s research associates, dispatched to a dump, found a staggering number of usable goods).

Contemplating this inventory is certainly disheartening (and guilt provoking). But wait till you see the fun Schor sucks out of buying designer duds. Has someone told you an item ”is you” lately? This author’s afraid your subconscious really believes it. Keeping up with the Joneses, it seems, is no longer the only game in town. Now we have to keep up with QVC, Martha Stewart, and the entire cast of Friends. No wonder we’re exhausted.

Acquiring minds should know that Schor teaches at Harvard, probably the most aggressively branded university in the country, and she acts snotty about Roseanne. But there’s something endearing about an economist who admits to giving up an expensive makeup habit and who assures us the world won’t end if — in the name of buying fewer things — we cut back our working hours a bit. This is the stuff from which revolutions are made.

Borrow this book. A-

The Overspent American
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