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Ellen Shell in "Cheap" sets out to make sense of the discount culture that characterizes our economy. She accomplishes this with hardly a mention of WalMart! She relates how the discount economy has allowed us to eat shrimp in abundance (Red Lobster) and to purchase poorly built furniture from IKEA. She argues that we are trading low price for quality and that those low prices are not without "costs" to the environment and poor workers elsewhere. Her history of discount shopping is most informative and brings back names such as Woolworths and others long gone.
Some of the material will be familiar to those who follow economics and business. However, there are surprises at every turn and disturbing issues that she raises. She hits the reader early and often with the understanding that we are quickly replacing quality goods with shoddy merchandise and our lives are less for the trade.
I would suggest that this book be preceded or followed by Chris Anderson's "Free" which deals with technology driving the costs of some services to zero. Both Free and Cheap are well written and read. They are both disturbing and informative.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
Cheap is the perfect companion to Free. Or maybe the antidote to Free. Where Anderson sees a bright future for free, Ruppel Shell reminds us of the high cost of cheap. These costs range from the loss of decent paying jobs for producers to the environmental damage that allows cheap furniture, food, and manufacturing goods to come to market. We probably didn't need one more book on the dangers of the cheap industrial food complex, but Ruppel Shell puts trends in food in the larger context of the migration away from quality across the consumer basket. The chapter on Ikea alone is worth the price of admission.
My only quibble is that perhaps the author over-sold her case.
We have realized some benefits from the cost of some things dropping, from computers to bandwidth (see Anderson), her case would have been strengthened by an exploration of cheap done right. Still, this Free and Cheap should be read together, the first book getting us drunk on the limitless future and the second book sobering us up on the high costs that we are all paying.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful