S4L Book Club – Cheap

What would you say is the one thing that bugs you most about our Cheap culture?

For me, it’s the disposable nature of stuff and thus the waste of resources and accumulation of garbage. Sure, that’s all one thing.

Do you recall the story of the Ikea lamp commercial? I don’t have access to TV, so I never saw the commercial, but it’s described well in the book: An old lamp is set out on the curb with the garbage, having been replaced by a new Ikea lamp. The old lamp is made to look mournful, and viewers are expected to feel sad for it. Then a spokesperson comes on and ridicules anyone feeling sad for the lamp, claiming it’s just a lamp and has no feelings. New is better.

That ticks me off in a couple of ways. First, objects can inspire feelings of nostalgia in people, so being moved by an object does not automatically deserve ridicule. Second, is new really better when we’re living on a huge pile of garbage?

I live the reduce/reuse/recycle life. I would rather re-wire that lamp if it doesn’t function, re-decorate it if the look doesn’t please me, or give it to someone who needs and can use it if I no longer have use of it myself. Replacing it and throwing it away is a last resort, the least desirable option in my book.

Renew is better than new. So there, Ikea.

Then there’s just the sheer volume of useless stuff we humans are creating. Parents, you probably know this better than anyone: How many cheap five-minutes-of-interest toys have collected in or passed through your house? Think of all the little prizes in an arcade, gumball machines, cereal boxes, Happy Meals. How many plush animals does a kid need? Does a child with twenty stuffed animals value them more than a child with just one?

I suppose we can say, “Hey, it’s someone’s job to make and transport those things.” But what about the fuel that’s being used for this? What about the landfill that’s already too full? I’m not on the fence about this: I vote to cut the job and eliminate the garbage.

There was a time when families did very well on a single income. I want that to be true now: have one income be sufficient to sustain a whole family. Can we stop producing so much garbage, reduce the number of jobs available, and raise the salaries of those remaining jobs? What would this look like to consumers? Fewer stores? Less stuff on store shelves? Do we really need a gazillions kinds of cereal anyway?

This is something I notice when I travel in other countries: there aren’t as many product choices on store shelves. Is this really such a hardship? I’m Miss Make-Do-or-Do-Without, so you know what I think. What do you think?

One thing this book teaches me is that I need a better understanding of economics. It seems our economics are dependent on perpetual growth. I don’t know what that means, exactly, but my gut says perpetual growth is an impossibility. It conjures visions of balloons bursting and giant blobs growing, growing, growing until they consume the planet.

Why does an economy need to grow? Can’t an economy become full size and just maintain that size? What would that look like to consumers? Anyone know?

And, finally, is there any way for a culture to come back from Cheap to Reasonable?

Categories: Reading

2 replies »

  1. You’ve raised some good points and given me lots to think about! And I realize that I remember very little from economics in high school. I’m adding this book to my ever-growing TBR list.

    Just started Olive Kitteridge today!

  2. Great, Amy! I’m not finished with Olive yet either, but I’ll finish it this weekend and start posting questions about it next Tuesday.

    I had economics in college and don’t feel I learned a thing. I’ve just started an economics book that I’m really enjoying. More on that in the next post.

    I’m so excited you’re reading Olive! For your sake, I wish I had picked one that I could personally recommend. I knew very little about this one when I chose it for our February book.