Juliet Schor, Tackling Turbo Consumption


1.      Schor’s books

         a.      The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (1992)

         b.      The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need (1998).

         c.      Do Americans Shop Too Much? (2000)

         d.      Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the 21st Century (2002)

         e.      Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (Scribner 2004).

         f.       Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010)



         a.      General summary of Schor’s ideas is a critique of the “work and spend” culture

3.      Rising productivity has led to rising consumption instead of increased leisure time

         a.      “Growth in work productivity gets channeled not into shorter hours of work but into (higher) incomes and they get spent”

                   i.       Productivity: output per unit labor

         b.      When productivity increases (can produce the same amount of something in less time), it seems natural that one could use that time for other things

                   i.       Instead we keep working as much, produce more, make more, and then consume more

4.      People work harder--and they must--to keep increasing level of consumption

         a.      Long hours associated with rising incomes

         b.      People get habituated to this

         c.      Get locked into lifestyles that creep up in terms of financial requirements

         d.      People in this cycle get burned out/stressed out (especially when requirements of job increased)

         e.      Business combats global competition by pushing workers to work harder (both hourly and high-paid, salaried workers)

         f.       Jobs get scarcer and scarcer and harder and harder to do

                   i.       Because productivity increased (fewer people needed to produce same output) and the new technology used to increase productivity makes the jobs harder

5.      Worsening distribution of income

         a.      Higher incomes due to productivity are being shared less and less and most going to the top income levels

                   i.       Is there an explanation of this phenomenon in terms of ownership of the technology that increases worker productivity?

         b.      Distribution of income becoming more unequal

6.      Declining vitality of social life

         a.      Voting, volunteering, community, neighborliness

7.      Increasing prominence of market culture in people’s lives

         a.      E.g., Religion is being “colonized by consumerism”

                   i.       Comining religiosity with a “boosterist love of the market”

8.      Gone from keeping up with the Jones to keeping up with the Gateses

         a.      People used to aspire to live like others in their economic bracket

         b.      Now aspire to high-end, affluent, media-driven norms of consumption

         c.      Leads to a growing sense of dissatisfaction as this goal is unattainable for most people

9.      Younger generations growing up in a more consumer saturated world

         a.      Market is more and more important to their identities and social relationships

         b.      Market/consumer culture expanding to fill more and more of our social life (i.e., hanging out at the mall instead of the play ground)

         c.      Drake, Successful

10.    Americans consuming many more imported products

         a.      Globalization

         b.      Increasing ecological impacts (env standards less high overseas)

         c.      Sweat shops: Cheapening of prices made possible by global economy of “sweated labor”

         d.      Big increase in units

                   i.       2003 average American consumer bought 57 pieces of apparel (more than one a week)

                   ii.      1992, it was 34

11.    No U.S. politician (nor many environmentalists) dealing with question of consumption/growth

         a.      No politician discussing problem of endless growth; subject remains incredibly taboo

                   i.       President Jimmy Carter tried....

         b.      Barely talking about whether we should use so much oil, much less if we should consume so much overall

         c.      Can talk about environmentalism, but no connection made to growth and consumption



13.    Need a critique of how we consume and consumerism as a way of life/ideology

         a.      Needs to be part of any successful social/political movement in U.S.

         b.      Particularly true of young people, too hard to organize them w/o dealing with consuming as it structures their lives so much  

14.    Anti-consumerism, not anti-consumption

         a.      Consumerism: an harmful ideology and set of values that is not conducive to promoting human well being, destroys the planet and enables a rapacious (predatory, plundering) capitalist system

15.    **Opposes “simplistic” critiques of consumption

         a.      “Oh consumer culture is bad”

         b.      “People are duped by consumerism”

         c.      A stance that says, “Consuming is bad, don’t consume,” is a non-starter

         d.      People have to consume

         e.      Consuming is a very legitimate/important activity

16.    Problem not (so much) “over-consumption” but unsustainable and unjust consumption

         a.      “Over-consumption” suggests problem is out of control individuals who eat too much or drive too much

                   i.       Part of this is valid

         b.      But most fundamental problem with consumption is its ecological and social impact

         c.      “Yes there is too much of it, but its also the wrong kind of consumption”

17.    **Possible to have more consumption in value terms and more sustainable ecological (and social) impact if we think long term and have a really profound shift in technologies of production and consumption.

         a.      This would be a really good thing

18.    Question is what kind of consumers do we want to be?

         a.      Need to be consumers who worry about where our clothes are coming from

         b.      Who care about symbolic meaning of our clothes

         c.      Not: “You’re a bad girl for buying clothes”

19.    Importance of symbolic meaning and aesthetics of consumption

         a.      Rejects critics who say if it is not practical/useful, it’s not worth anything

         b.      A lot of what people want from their goods is symbolic value

                   i.       Much consumption is motivated by symbolism

                   ii.      Explains why people care about their Nikes

                   iii.     Why people have intense emotional connection to brands

20.    Given that people buying/discarding things very rapid rate

         a.      Need to determine why the symbolic value of these things is disappearing so rapidly when their practical/useful value is still very high

21.    Need to create an authentic consuming culture where symbolism comes from good places

         a.      From good, egalitarian processes

         b.      Give people deep and indirect meaning

         c.      So don’t throw away products when still practically useful

22.    Put aesthetics at the core of alternative consumer vision

         a.      That is what they are craving

         b.      People want beautiful things

         c.      Want to be creative in their consumption

23.    Schor is for consumption that really values aesthetic, creative and symbolic aspects



         a.      Schor least happy with this part of her work: The positive part of spelling out the alternative

25.    Small scale and local production

         a.      Assets need to be small-scale and owned locally

         b.      Profound shift in distribution of productive assets; in how property is distributed

26.    No sustainable ecological alternative that is not small scale

         a.      Note: Anti-globalization

27.    Emphasis on small scale is opposed to ownership by large collective (public?) units

         a.      Such as ownership by large corporations or big governments

         b.      Note this is against corporate capitalism as well as large bureaucratic socialism

28.    Argues we should move from world where productive assets becoming more and more concentrated and unequally distributed to one where we have a roughly egalitarian distribution of assets

         a.      Schor a capitalist? A Marxist? Note e. above

29.    Local and small scale means revalue artisanal and craft skills

30.    Apparel example

         a.      Now we have very small number of highly-paid designers whose designs are mass-produced in factories, under sweatshop conditions than then send them back to the consuming countries

         b.      Some sold, large numbers dumped on market, especially if design is wrong

31.    Need much more local, small-scale production with much closer links between consumers and producers

32.    Policies to encourage this?

         a.      Shift tax incentives and subsidies

         b.      Turn abandoned factories into little workshops

         c.      Currently spend hundreds of billions to enforce international economic regime, needs a giant military/political apparatus to keep it going

                   i.       So have sweat-shop labor and exploitative extractive industries all over the world

                   ii.      So we can avoid paying farmers reasonable prices for goods

                   iii.     Spend lots of $ putting down rest of the world, that we wouldn’t need to spend if had more equitable production system

         d.      So we have the money and can afford this shift

         e.      Need policies to prevent transnational corporations souring the globe to employ sweatshop labor and weak env laws  

                   i.       Multinational corporations not ecologically sustainable or democratically feasible

Questions on Schor, Tackling Turbo Consumption

1.         Describe the work and spend culture.

2.         What is productivity? What have increases in productivity led to? What might they have led to?

3.         Explain and give examples of the decline in vitality of social life?

4.         How does Schor think the desire to “keep up with the Jones” has changed?

5.         What is problematic about consuming more imported products, according to Schor?

6.         Describe the “simplistic” critiques of consumption that Schor opposes.

7.         If “overconsumption” is not the problem, what is the problem according to Schor?

8.         What does Schor say about the “symbolic” meaning of consumption.

9.         Describe the alternative economic vision that Schor promotes. Relate it to the capitalism/socialism debate.

10.       What does Schor think of trans/multi-national corporations? Explain here views.