The danger of Cheap and Plentiful

July 12, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

At, Stephanie Zacharek explains that cheap and plentiful goods are not a good idea.    Her article is a review of a new book, “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” by Ellen Ruppel Shell.

Here’s how Zacharek’s bottom line regarding Shell’s book:

The wealth of cheap goods available to us doesn’t make our lives better; instead, it fosters an environment that endangers not just the jobs of American workers but the idea of human labor, period.

It turns out that Shell is not only picking on Wal-Mart.  She’s talking about those mass-farmed shrimp, as well as trendy stores like IKEA.  “We no longer expect craftsmanship in everyday objects; maybe we don’t feel we even deserve it.”


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Category: Consumerism, Environment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    The extreme commercialization in America teaches us from an early age to define ourselves not by who we are or by what we do, but by what we own.

    This hyper-materialism becomes an obsession for many who place property ownership above all else and rationalize criminal activities by laws which impede them from getting all they want are bad laws and should be ignored.

    In this aspect, there is no difference between Bernie Madoff and your friendly neighborhood drug dealer. The dividing line between the criminally super rich and the is a sense of accountability. The majority are held accountable, through fear, or a sense of responsibility, while the super rich can expect to buy their way out via the corruption of the system.

    In this atmosphere, the masses turn to the cheap and plenty as a substitute for the opulence they have been trained to believe in.

    Several years ago, when portable cd players were over $200, I bought a non working Sony Discman at a salvage store for $20 and repaired it ( knew what was wrong with it when I got it an knew how to fix it)

    I found that I could walk into the record shop at the mall with the cd player which normally sold for $400 and the sales people would treat me like royalty, but if I went in sans player, they would ignore me.

  2. Tony Coyle says:

    Hyper materialism (founded upon cheap 'stuff') is a behavior that is becoming more prevalent in the UK and elsewhere in Europe

    When I was a kid in Scotland, almost no-one had cars. You lived in the town where you also worked and spent your leisure time. You walked everywhere or took a bus. You stayed in an apartment, as did almost everyone else, owned by the town itself. Rents were affordable, so no-one was destitute although many were poor.

    I remember my first pair of jeans — I was 14.

    None of this was at all unusual. There were more affluent places and more affluent people – but most people lived very similar lives. And affluent did not mean earning hundreds or thousands of times more than the poorest (unlike the retiring CEO of WalMart earned more in each biweekly paycheck than one of his greeters could earn in a lifetime with the chain)

    When even the wealthy are not so wealthy, the rules are different. they may get a TV before you — or they may have a slightly bigger apartment, or nicer furniture. But they don't have designer clothes, expensive jewelery, or flash cars.

    The American culture today (which has been seeping into the UK and Europe) is rife with even the most disadvantaged demanding 'designer brands', with kids of all stripes demanding playstations and xboxes, and everyone wanting flat screen high def TVs and 7.1 surround sound. But people did not want 'quality' — they simply wanted the 'look' of quality. Ersatz quality. And they also wanted lots of it.

    Welcome to Wally World.

    How is this financed? Predatory credit. Anyone could get credit cards – making it easy to start the habit, and maintain it. You could always 'get a new card' and simply transfer the balance.

    Not any more.

    The credit crunch has highlighted the depth of this problem.

    Most people, even those who can still afford to do so, are refraining from purchasing anything 'optional', and are 'making do' with what they have.

    Retail sales are down. Even with heavily discounted sales, same store sales have plummeted. Even 'discount' stores, which one would expect to pick up trade moving down-market from full price department stores, are suffering. No-one is buying unless they must.

    Hopefully this correction won't be longer than necessary – it's good for no-one if the wider economy really crashes. But hopefully, too, it's long enough to retrain some of the insidious behaviors that have crept into American life.

  3. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    Very observant Tony.

    The East German Tanzmetal rock bad Rammstein made an excellent point in their song "Amerika". "Amerika" was about how the American mindset of conspicuous consumption is spreading throughout the world.

    It is also one of the few of their songs where the video matches the message of the song.

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