I am currently finishing up a book called “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture” by Ellen Ruppel Shell, and wanted to let you know about it. For anyone concerned about the invasion of the big box stores in our country, the decline of mom & pop stores, and of real craftspeople, this book is for you. Shell is a a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and professor of science journalism at Boston University, and her credentials are definitely seen in this book – it is well researched and full of eye-opening information… all without being judgmental. The costs of our desire for “cheap” are high and are slowly creeping into every aspect of our lives – blighted landscapes, high unemployment, the demise of small, personal stores, a huge trade deficit, and mountains of disposable goods.
While most books about our discount culture focus on Walmart, Shell actually tends to focus more on the household giant IKEA, purveyor of incredibly inexpensive “disposable” furniture. Walmart is an easy target, as there is plenty of information out there about just how much damage they inflict on our communities. (You know how I love to talk smack about Walmart!) But IKEA is one that is rarely discussed, and Shell does a good job of explaining how they fly under the radar while selling us on cheap design. In regards to a table that is being sold at IKEA for $69, she has this to say:
I asked a master furniture maker what he thought of this, and he responded with awe. “It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “I couldn’t buy the wood for that price, let alone build the thing.”
That pretty much sums up the IKEA story – cheaply made goods meant to be replaced every few years. Inexpensive design for the masses at questionable environmental costs. But before you think I am above falling for it, I will fully admit that I’m not innocent myself – I have shopped and probably will shop again in an IKEA store (albeit not for furniture anymore). I love reading their catalog and walking through their showroom, as most people do. However, I will give some extra thought to buying anything there from now on, after reading this book. I recently bought a desk made from wood and steel, handmade by a craftsman in Minnesota, who even signed his name on the underside of the unit. It weighs a ton, is solid as a rock, and will last seemingly forever. I paid a good deal for this desk, but I know he was paid well and I received a well-built piece of furniture that will never need fixing or disposing of – both things I can feel good about.
Just so you know, the book is not all about IKEA – far from it. It’s about the culture of discount, or bargain, that we are creating for ourselves. At the end of the day, our need for lower costs/cheaper goods leads to lower wages for our neighbors and a lower quality of goods – and this is not a trade-off we should be willing to make. Check out this book if you get a chance and are concerned about the high cost of discount goods. Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
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