Though Stephen may read books simply because he wants to, I am still confined (or confine myself) to books for school. I know, I know, I’m a bum . . but at least I like what I’m studying so I’m okay with it. Currently I’m reading for my intro soc class I’m TAing Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. It’s a quick read (125 pages), but it does an excellent job of explaining why Americans consume. Frank argues that it isn’t so much out of envy or materialism, as much as individuals trying to get an edge, but by so doing they are setting a higher standard for the rest of society that is competing with them to meet. One quote within the book by Richard Layard said “In a poor country, a man proves to his wife that he loves her by giving her a rose, but in a rich country, he must give a dozen roses.” Another favorite of mine was that a wealthy man was defined as “one who earns a hundred dollars a year more than his wife’s sister’s husband.” Truly, our wealth is relative and so is our standard of living.
This last week Stephen and I finally broke down and bought a laptop. I tell you, for a moment my heart was full of glee and I felt a sort of “at last we have arrived” feeling. We ended up taking the Toshiba computer back to the store because it wouldn’t boot up. When they didn’t have any more in stock, we opted to simply not get another one. The burden of possession with all its responsibility had by then settled, and we were all too happy to be rid of the extra weight. (That’s not to say in a couple months when I’m trying to finish up my thesis from home that we won’t again venture to get a laptop again). Sigh.
Oh back to Frank’s book: Another important observation of Frank’s was that “It’s not that we’re dupes of the advertisers; it’s not that we’re manipulated by special interests; it’s not that we’re those frail, irrational creatures that social critics often make us out to be. Rather it’s that many of the decisions we confront are like those confronting participants in a military arms race. Countries don’t buy bombs because they’re stupid; they buy them because it’s bad not to have bombs when the other side has bombs. But although it is not stupid for individual nations in that situation to buy bombs, it can help extremely beneficial for them to forge agreements to limit the number of bombs they buy—provided each side can police the agreement and make sure that the other abides by it.”
He later suggest that increasing taxes for public services will be better off for everyone, because our standard of living will adjust and we’ll be just as happy if not more because we’ll not have to compete quite as much, and also have public services.
I’m a fan. Anyway, this is only a small portion of the book, and it is an excellent read. I suggest it to my fellow consumption fighting friends.