Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer
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Consuming more now and enjoying it less? In this heavily researched but accessible work, Schor (Women’s Studies/Harvard; The Overworked American, 1992) tells us how and why this is so and what we might do about it. “See-want-borrow-and-buy” is Schor’s succinct summation of American spending habits. As status and identity become increasingly indistinguishable, our very sense of worth becomes invested in what we buy. We spend billions for status. Given identical pairs of jeans, identical tubes of lipstick, we will more than likely buy, at a much higher price, the item with the designer label. Yet, such spending is self-defeating and never-ending. We no longer wish simply to keep up with our neighbors, but to emulate the spending habits of the richest 20 percent of Americans (television is the main vehicle through which we know what they buy). As their consumption increases, then, so does ours. The result of this endless game of catch-up is Americans working more, going increasingly into debt, but finding themselves no more happy or contented, in fact often a great deal less so. Further, as we spend privately our support for collective consumption—on education, social services, public safety—diminishes, further eroding our sense of well-being. It’s possible, but not easy given how natural it seems, to get out of this cycle of self-defeating consumption. Millions of Americans, whom Schor terms “downshifters,” have opted to work, earn, and consume less and in the process created richer, more meaningful lives. Schor supports all of these findings with abundant, perhaps overabundant, survey data. Missing, though, is a consideration of why consumption is so deeply ingrained in us, what’s lacking in our collective lives that leads to such compensatory consumption. She discusses fears of downward mobility but never really develops this theme. Despite some shortcomings, this is an important analysis of who, or perhaps what, we are. It deserves and will surely gain a wide audience. ($100,000 ad/promo; author tour; radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-465-06056-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


NonfictionABSOLUTE VALUE by Itamar Simonson
by Itamar Simonson