Book Review: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell


Author: Ellen Ruppel Shell, Lorna Raver (narrator)
Title: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2009)
ASIN: B002HIT0SG
Summary/Review:

Cheap is an intriguing expose on the modern American desire for bargains fed by discount stores and discount ideology in more areas of commerce than one would realize.  Ruppel Shell offers a fascinating history of discount stores from the late 19th-century to present.  Interestingly, many of the originators went under by the 1980s to be absorbed by the more ruthless corporations of today.  The hidden costs of inexpensive purchases are then detailed from environmental destruction, human rights violations of the employees who manufacture, distribute, and sell the products, the dangers of poor quality goods to the consumer, the erosion of the middle class, and the fact that a lot of this cheap stuff isn’t even worth what we pay for it.  Ruppel Shell makes the interesting point that we now live in a world where there are high-end goods and discount goods, but no reliable in-between.  IKEA, Wal-Mart, and outlet malls are singled out as some actors in the discount culture, but the closing “hope-for-the-future” chapter also details companies like Wegmans and Costco that are thriving despite adopting strategies that go against the grain of discount culture.  While the essence of this book is not likely to be surprising to most readers, it is still eye-opening in its details.


Recommended books:Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan,
Rating:****

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