Wednesday, September 9, 2009

no way out

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.


hosander said...

I like the sound of this book, who is the author? I think I missed the full name.

Astromom said...

Very interesting. I do think you need a laptop, balance is important and in your situation, I think it is something that will greatly increase your standard of living as a graduate student. However, I do feel the burden of possessions, even my children do as there is that much more to maintain, clean up and take care of. I feel motivated to swoop through the house and take another load to D.I.

Ruth said...


Sondra said...

Sounds like a good read. Who are you TA'ing for? And I was so delighted to see you in the grad lab! I love your little belly! You look absolutely adorable!

Anonymous said...

Yet another book to add to my list...I need to stop reading your blog because I've got the "Elegant Universe" on my desk et al. :)

I certainly consider myself an eschewer of consumption and someone who judges others for it--I admit it! :) But it is interesting to think of what one person considers a luxury item versus another. When I read that you don't have a laptop, I was kind of surprised. My life just doesn't work without one...not because I'm on the run but precisely because I need to spend a lot of time in bed. It made me realize that maybe I need to stop giving someone-not-to-be-named grief about an extravagant cell phone plan because maybe they feel like I do about my laptop--that their life just doesn't work without it. (Will I stop judging internally? Probably not till I'm perfected in the next life.)

Rachel Leslie said...

In response to questions (I've decided I should respond to people's questions instead of avoiding them)

The author's name is Robert H. Frank. Yes, the lucky guy got two first names.


I'm TAing for Ralph. sigh, too much fun. I can't believe I'm paid to do it.