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Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul
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Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  50 ratings  ·  14 reviews
Since the financial meltdown of 2008, economists, journalists, and politicians have uniformly insisted that to restore the American Dream and renew economic growth, we need to save more and spend less. In his provocative new book, historian James Livingston—author of the classic Origins of the Federal Reserve System—breaks from the consensus to argue that underconsumption ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 22nd 2011 by Basic Books (first published November 1st 2011)
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Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dismal-science
For me, the whole pathos of economics lies in the fact that it’s a science with the soul of an artist. It can never quite keep its emotions under control, its politics in check or its shit together. It may flaunt the trappings of science—bar graphs, Nobel prizes, bow ties—but its conclusions are almost as subjective and contestable as those of literary criticism. There’s the same interpretive leeway in both disciplines, the same margin for rhetoric and ideology. The difference, of course, is tha ...more
Oct 27, 2011 rated it liked it
This book turned out to be completely different from what I expected. I thought this would be an easy book by someone from a business school telling us to go to the mall and shop because it’s good for the economy. Instead, this book is dense with highbrow and scholarly discussions and is written by an intellectual historian – and I don’t really intend these as compliments here.

I don’t want to mirror the sort of anti-intellectual sentiments that the Republican rabble have been voicing in recent
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great. I think this meshes well with my assertion that the success of the American socialist-ish revolution will be measured by how much music, movies, entertainments stuffs will be available to us in convenience and abundance. Restraint and repression, I've surely known for so long, are bad things, and shame has one brief function but to make sure you won't do "that" again. Sorry, not sorry. This is quite the socialist twist on the "They Live" motifs we see on t-shirts and memes and what not. P ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought "Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution" was a great book and was expecting to think the same of this one. But the economics, as far as I could tell, is just straight-up Keynesianism; I couldn't see what was new in his argument. (Other than the empirical claim that investment has been declining over the course of the 20th century, while economic growth was rapid). His account of the intellectual history of anti-consumerism was interesting, but even to a person who ...more
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A few good ideas cloaked in a lot of waffle. Can't tell if the author is being deliberately provocative, or if he's just spent too much time in academia. (I'm not knocking academia so much as expecting the author to write for his intended audience- I don't think he's writing this book for the academy.) It doesn't help his case that the publisher has chosen cover art and possibly a subtitle that lead one to the idea that the author's position 'against thrift' is about consumer level decisions, wh ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, economics
I think I understand the strictly economic argument, but some of the rationales for why consumption is great were a bit woolly to me. I also have reservations about any author who relies on Herbert Marcuse, Karl Marx and (to me worst of all) Sigmund Freud for support.

With respect to the economics, Livingston appears to argue that 1) increased consumption is quite sustainable economically and 2) economically necessary. In the appendix he presents evidence that in the United States (I believe he s
Brad Fonseca
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a bad book. The main premise is easy to follow as are the main arguments. However, everything is couched a relatively inaccessible amount of philosophy which forms the roots of all the assertions of mainstream economic theory and of the author. It's a fascinating book but be prepared to have to work at reading it. As a side note, the Appendix will be very interesting to those looking for the data backing up the author's assertions in the book.
Apr 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Livingstone has put together in one book two concepts that should have been kept apart. The first section of his book is part economic history and part public policy. To simplify, he finds corporate investment doing little to increase productivity since the 1920s. Instead, he makes the claim that corporate profits are generally reinvested in assets that create bubbles. His conclusion, redistribute those profits to where growth has come since the 1920s - into the consumer economy, into the hands ...more
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Livingston is a historian, who shows that too much money put into investment, surplus capital, leads to the kind of speculation and economic collapse that we experienced in 2007, and also during the Great Depression in the 1930's. The way to improve the economy is to put all the excess capital into raising wages, so there will be demand for the products our super-efficient technological economy produces. His chapter on advertising is a gem; it creates a utopia where hardly anyone is shown workin ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The subtitle is unfortunate -- Livingston is a progressive, and ultimately his argument is that too much capital is concentrated at the top. To create an economy that works for all, we should redistribute wealth and we should embrace our culture and spend money. Livingston shows that both left and right place pious notions of thrift on a pedestal, while our economy suffers from a narrow concentration of wealth and, as a consequence, a lack of demand.
Maria (Ri)
Far too much history and too little practical "how does this apply to my everyday living" for my taste. I thought, given the title, that there would be more about actual consumer culture. Instead, I found this book to be an overly heady (often reading like a dry textbook) historical look at economics.
Dec 09, 2012 added it
A font of annoying straw man arguments. Livingston presents inaccurate, partial, context free straw-man versions of what non-Keynesian economists have said, then "rebuts" them with either single, questionable examples, or a single quote from someone who disagrees, then says "See!Everyone is wrong but ME!". Childish and misleading.
Dave Peticolas
An entertaining and spirited defense of consumer culture. I'm not sure it completely makes its case, but it's well worth reading for the novel perspective. Warning: may induce moral panic in certain personality types!
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