Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Ellen Ruppel Shell
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A myth-shattering investigation of the true cost of America's passion for finding a better bargain
From the shuttered factories of the Rust Belt to the strip malls of the Sun Belt-and almost everywhere in between-America has been transformed by its relentless fixation on low price. This pervasive yet little- examined obsession with bargains is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time, having fueled an excess of consumerism that blights our landscapes, escalates personal debt, lowers our standard of living, and even skews of our concept of time.
Spotlighting the peculiar forces that drove Americans away from quality, durability, and craftsmanship and towards quantity, quantity, and more quantity, Ellen Ruppel Shell traces the rise of the bargain through our current big-box profusion to expose the astronomically high cost of cheap.
of Business, said there is good reason for this confusion. Most of us, she said, have absolutely no idea of what goes into setting a price. “Consumers don’t think about the costs behind what they buy,” she said. “They link price to profit, and they grossly overestimate profit margins.” The skyrocketing cost of fuel and food in mid-2008 seemed to confirm our deepest fears that unchecked inflation would be our ruin. Now we really were paying too much! And how could we not worry given that in
for years. “Because sometimes greedy people cheat by using less material or changing products in other ways,” he said brightly. By “greedy people” he meant the company’s suppliers. Lindell glared. The technician winced and, in a weak attempt to recover, muttered strangely: “Thanks to our great suppliers, all our materials are flame retardant.” Lindell stiffened, clearly perturbed that the specter of toxic chemical flame retardants had been raised. The technician literally hung his head. “It’s
farms, warm water types dominate—notably Pacific white shrimp, P. vannamei., and black tiger shrimp, P. monodon. White shrimp tend to be small, but tigers are the largest shrimp on record, some behemoths weighing in at just under three ounces each. To grow them, coastal or other farmland is swamped or flooded with salt water, to create a brackish pond, and surrounded by a slippery blue plastic apron to prevent frisky shrimp from escaping. (Yes, shrimp can jump.) Some inland farmers truck salt
learned the retail trade as an apprentice at Moore and Smith’s, a dry goods store in Watertown, New York. At that time dry goods were stored behind the counter and pulled out for inspection at the customer’s request. Woolworth, who was only a passable salesclerk, found this process tiresome and inefficient. The story goes that one day during a slow spell his boss asked him to arrange a selection of five-cent items in full view on a self-service table display. The cheap stuff sold out in a single
looking for the lowest possible costs,” he said, “[regulations are] not going to have a long-term impact.” ROUGHLY 25 PERCENT of the global workforce is now Chinese. Given such enormous firepower, China inevitably sets the norm for wages and working standards in the global supply chain. American corporate interests have chipped away at those standards and wages in order to maximize profits and influence, and to serve their shareholders. The chronic disregard for workers’ rights in China’s