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Order And Chaos
     

Order And Chaos

by Angrist
 
Do you find yourself:

Saving less money and watching more TV?

Mentally downplaying your credit card debts?

Always wanting to buy something, no matter what you already have?

Spending more when you associate with people richer than you?

Buying your children more presents instead of spending more time with them?

Feeling you need all of your income to

Overview

Do you find yourself:

Saving less money and watching more TV?

Mentally downplaying your credit card debts?

Always wanting to buy something, no matter what you already have?

Spending more when you associate with people richer than you?

Buying your children more presents instead of spending more time with them?

Feeling you need all of your income to cover basic expenses, whatever your income happens to be?

Wanting more, the more educate and successful you become?

Fantasizing about getting out of an insidious cycle of "work and spend"?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, take heart--you're not alone. Millions of middle-class Americans want or need more from their lifestyles as they join the ranks of the new consumer, the "overspent American."

More than a quarter of all families making more than $100,000 a year say they cannot afford to buy everything they need. Overall, half the population of the richest country in the world claims not to be able to afford the basics. And it's not just the poorer half.

The Overspent American explores why so many of us feel materially dissatisfied, why we work staggeringly long hours and yet walk around with ever-present mental "wish lists" of things to buy or get, and why Americans save less than virtually anyone in the world. Unlike many experts, Harvard economist Juliet B. Schor does not blame consumers' lack of self-discipline. Nor does she blame advertisers. Instead she analyzes the crisis of the American consumer in a culture where spending has become the ultimate social art.

Juliet Schor presents original research showing how keeping up with the Joneses has evolved from keeping pace with one's neighbors and others in a similar social set to keeping up with a referent group tat may include co-workers who earn five times one's own salary or television "friends" whose lifestyle is unattainable for the average person. The book also describes the growing backlash of people who are "downshifting" by working less, earning less, and finding balance by getting their lifestyles in sync with their values.

Editorial Reviews

Peter T. Kilborn
Schor's message and her inviting command of the language will strike a chord among many debt-laden middle-class readers. Her notion of reference-group competition, rooted in impressive polling and rigorous analysis, is an original contribution to understanding why people are so readily seduced by the temptation to buy. -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Whereas Schor's 1992 bestseller, The Overworked American, touched a nerve among all classes of American society, her latest study is geared to middle- and upper-middle-class consumers who, in her diagnosis, are participating in a national orgy of overspending and living beyond their means. She traces this competitive, status-conscious consumption to the diverging income distribution and growing inequality beginning in the 1980s, as increasingly overworked, insecure, dissatisfied consumers, pressured by advertising and television imagery, sought to emulate the upscale lifestyle of the most affluent. An economist and director of women's studies at Harvard, Schor presents her arguable conclusion that the more TV a person watches, the more he or she is likely to spend. In counterbalance, she also reports on her nationwide survey of "downshifters," people who deliberately reduce their hours on the job in exchange for more leisure, time with family or other pursuits. In self-help fashion, she outlines nine steps individuals can take to break free of the cycle of compulsive spending. Although Schor's jeremiad lacks the impact of her earlier book, it offers trenchant commentary on Americans' overspending lifestyle and lack of savings. (May)
Library Journal
The dual purpose of this slim volume is to describe how spending, as a process, affects the quality of life for the middle and upper classes and to show how to develop a life that puts materialism and consumerism in proper perspective. Economist Schor states that in the 1950s "keeping up with the Joneses" held sway; today, however, purchases convey status and identity with our reference groups, e.g., co-workers, media stars on television, and those with similar values, not necessarily our neighbors. Schor argues that rampant advertising and consumerism is driving an unsatisfying materialist life. She also describes "downshifters," those who reduce their income and expenditures to get off the spiral of more work to acquire increasingly expensive stuff. Unfortunately, her book's strong academic foundation is undercut by weak conclusions. Schor's The Overworked American (LJ 1/92) covered much of the same ground, and libraries that found an audience for that title will be well served by this one. Otherwise, the subject matter, strong research, and clear writing make this an acceptable purchase for academic and larger public libraries.Patrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical Coll. Lib., LaCrosse
Booknews
Explores why so many of us feel materially dissatisfied and how "keeping up with the Jonses" has changed. The author traces America's spending problems to our class-based society and its inequalities and shows how the new consumerism hurts the public good, the environment, and the quality of life. She looks at the growing consumer backlash to escalating consumption and invites readers to examine their relationship to spending in order to break the insidious work- and-spend cycle. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465053001
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
01/28/1967
Pages:
272

Read an Excerpt

AMERICA'S SPENDING HABITS
A CONVERSATION WITH JULIET SCHOR,
AUTHOR OF THE OVERSPENT AMERICAN
How did your work on your previous book, THE OVERWORKED AMERICAN, lead
you to your current topic, the relentless expansion of consumerism in
America?
As I was speaking and touring for my earlier book, people kept asking
me, "So, how do you escape the cycle of work and spend?" I felt sure
there was a way, but I didn't yet understand what was happening . I
wanted to know what was keeping us locked in our consumerist lifestyle
and what was motivating Americans to spend the way they do. I decided
to look at the area where I thought change was possible --the social
pressures to spend and how to alleviate those pressures.
Tell us about your research for the book.
I surveyed 834 respondents from a large telecommunications company, and
conducted statistical analyzes on their spending behavior, saving
patterns, and attitudes. I conducted a 1996 poll on downshifters, the
first complete poll on that topic. I interviewed 26 downshifters and
solicited 25 written life stories by downshifters. I also developed a
new methodology to identify when people are purchasing status and
conducted a cosmetics purchasing survey to analyze status purchasing.
In addition, I collaborated on the 1994 Merck family fund poll,
"Yearning for Balance" about attitudinal aspects of spending.
What did you find most startling from your research?
Most startling was the finding that the more TV you watch the more you
spend and the less you save. TV has become an integral part of shaping
America's consumer desires, perhaps more so than what's going on down
the street. If you aren't up on the latest trends, you can always watch
them on such shows as "Beverly Hills 90210" or "Friends."
I found that the more educated someone is the more money he or she is
likely to spend and that who you compare yourself with affects how much
you save (if your reference group is above you in financial terms, you
save less and vice versa).
From the downshifter survey I learned that the vast majority of
downshifters are happy about their lifestyle change and 55% see it as
permanent.
For most of the 20th century Americans have tried to "keep up with the
Joneses." How has "keeping up with the Joneses" changed during the last
decade and what's the downside?
You know the saying, "If everyone stands up to get a better view then
nobody gets a better view." I would say that that is the biggest
problem with trying to "keep up with the Joneses" -- you never get any
better off. It's self-defeating. Whereas Americans used to compare
themselves with their neighbors, they are more likely to compare
themselves to the upper-middle or upper class, which is simply
out-of-reach for most people. There is a bigger gap than ever between
what we want and the income we have available to attain it.
Define the "new consumerism" and status consumption.
"New consumerism" is the growing link between who I am and what I have.
It is the upscaling of consumer products and the growing prominence of
the lifestyles of the top 20% of the income distribution in every aspect
of our society . Status consumption is the consumption of goods that
yield prestige and social approval. The competitive pressures to
acquire status items to be accepted or to show that they are a success
have intensified in the last 20 years.
Why aren't Americans saving money anymore? Is it possible to teach
Americans the importance of saving?
The new consumerism makes it hard to save because income hasn't kept up
with the upscaling of desire. Products are more and more upscaled
(bottled water and coffee are two everyday examples) and the pressure
to buy increasing numbers of products has grown. 80% of Americans don't
have an adequate financial cushion to provide economic security and
peace of mind, but they know they could -- and should -- save more.
Are advertisers and retailers to blame?
Yes and no. There's a structure of social competition that they help
fuel and, of course, retailers try to upscale whenever possible. But I
don't point my finger at them. Instead, I locate the source of the
problem in the basic structure of society -- in our class system and its
inequalities. Even though this is a deeply-rooted problem you can get
out of it, you don't have to play the game.
Your book also devotes a chapter to downshifters, those who have
voluntarily reduced their working hours, income and spending. Who are
downshifters and how have they successfully made this change? What can
we learn from downshifters?
Downshifting is a widespread trend. I found that downshifters are
mainstream people who've made some important decisions. Many are
careful planners who monitor every
bit of their spending. They've learned to resist the symbolic appeal of
upscale products and new and improved products and have disengaged
themselves from status consumption.
Downshifters are a great inspiration to those caught in the work and
spend cycle. They prove that you can bring your values in line with how
you spend your money and that you can control your desires as well as
your exposure to upscale products.
In THE OVERSPENT AMERICAN you say that the "new consumerism" poses a
problem for our society -- and our environment.
Money spent on private status goods pushes out the support for the
public good. If you take your child to "Discovery Zone" instead of the
local playground, you're less inclined to donate to the neighborhood
cause to replace the broken swings at the playground. The bigger
houses people are building use many more materials, often more land, and
require more furnishings and, of course, more energy to heat and cool
them. Plus, where are we going to put all the stuff we are buying?
Finally, I'm very concerned about new consumerism on our time -- the
more we buy, the more hours we must work, resulting in a time squeeze
that undermines quality of life.
Your book forces readers to examine their relationship with spending.
How can Americans free themselves from the vicious work-and-spend cycle?
Pay attention to what you spend -- scrutinize the motive behind every
purchase.
Avoid the "Diderot effect," which is when one upscale purchase is the
impetus for another (the purchase of a new home compels you to replace
old furniture).
Watch less television and shop less. Don't even tempt yourself by going
in stores.
Understand the symbolic meanings of the purchases you make.
Re-think major expenditures, such as housing, transportation, food, and
travel.
Get involved in a collective effort to spend less -- rally the mothers
in your child's class to simplify birthday parties and decrease their
exorbitant costs; urge your family to decommercialize the holidays;
suggest that the PTA ask parents to pledge to limit spending on athletic
shoes; say no to designer labels; think about low-cost ways to
socialize; trade possessions with friends.

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