Book Review: Consumed

Consumed – How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, Benjamin R. Barber, W.W. Norton, 2007, 406 pg
Consumed by Benjamin BarberBenjamin Barber’s sortie against consumerism is sure to reverberate from the glass tower offices of big box USA to the indolent consumer buying pre-peeled oranges (a real example of infantilization of society).

As way of general review, Barber’s main avenue of assault is by drive by shooting.  Barber has a lengthy list of target and what he does is drive up, unloads his quick assault and then drives off to the next target, in other words, Barber’s pages are packed dense with many ideas and examples, but often he only spends a few sentences discussing them.  His writing sometimes feels like being in a swamp, a humid, slow trotting affair, that takes time to get through.  Other times Barber writing is lucid and reads like a car drives over fresh highway.   In other words: Barber writes like a political theorist, fitting because he is a political scientist by trade.  Barber divided his book into three sections: The Birth of consumers, the eclipse of citizens and the fate of citizens.

Barber’s main theme is fighting against the hyper-consumption in our contemporary era .  Consumerism, according to Barber is the latest stage of capitalism, one where needs are no longer met by producers but our needs are being produced by producers.  Advertising and marketing serve to enhance our wants, thus, producers can produce more.  The greatest threat to producers, is not over-producing, but people not buying enough. An ad in 1926 from Life magazine had the header “GO AHEAD AND MAKE US WANT” (pg.291), which shows us the early recognition of advertising in society.  This is the spine of his argument, to which Barber navigates various aspects of the rise of consumerism, the pass-over of the Protestant ethos to an infantilized ethos, the ascent of markets and the supremacy of the private, then Barber closes with some words on what can be done about this consumer melancholy.

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Book Review: Predictably Irrational

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions 
Revised and Expanded Edition, Dan Ariely, Harper Collins 2009, 322 pages

Predictably IrrationalIn short, this book was an enjoyable read. It offers a stinging retort to the bedrock wisdom that underlies markets and economic thinking today and it offers tremendous value for anyone who wants to know about rationality  .  This book is a good base level retort to the idea that we are all biological calculators, rational and cold. Ariley quotes Shakespeare who is speaking highly of the rationality of mankind:


What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving from express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world,  the paragon of animals. – From act II, scene 2, of Hamlet. (pg.xviii)

I think on one level we all know that’s not true, folk psychology informs of us that sometimes emotions influence our decisions in an irrational manner.  Ariely takes it a step up, it’s not just dust storms of emotion that cloud us from the rational prize, it’s more that the way we think, our biological circuits are made in a way that preclude us from making rational decisions.  It’s not that we are occasionally irrational, but we are in many ways systemically irrational.

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Book Review: Buyology

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy and the New Science of Desire

Martin Lindstrom,Broadway Books 2010, 255 pgs

This book has a lot of hype, no surprise because the author is a brand expert in the marketing industry.  This book itself was subject to a little controversy, Lindstrom gamed the book rankings by using a bulk buying service.  This service artificially bumped his sale ratings. After reading that, I was even more happy that I bought this book used.

This book is premised on a large neuro study that Lindstrom had a part in: scanning, victims, err, participants brains for activity when exposed to different types of advertisements and marketing.  This book explains the results of this, the implications and looks at standard marketing cliches; product placement, sex-sells, etc.

Lindstrom does a decent job. I found it telling that throughout the book Lindstrom has to constantly remind us that he is on our side.    But Lindstrom is a ‘brand marketer’, and his business depends on our willingness to part with money to buy things.

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Book Review: The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff 
Annie Leonard, Free Press, 2010

The Story of StuffAnnie Leonard would probably be happy to hear that I bought her book at a thrift shop for a couple dollars. This book takes us through the killing floor of our modern economy, by looking at extraction, distribution, our consumerist tendencies that make this revolving door of extraction and production possible, then she ends off by looking at disposal and giving us a few ideas for alternative modes of living.

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Book Review: The Wal-Mart Effect

The Wal-Mart Effect
Charles Fishman, Penguin Books 2006

This book will 41W4ZPD3LjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_stand as a testament to the past glory of Wal-Mart’s hegemonic retail power.  While Wal-mart hasn’t been relegated to the dust bin of retail history, the spectre of Sam Walton’s mega business still haunts sleepy towns and recessed villages with the looming threat of roll-back prices.
But even if the headlines heralding the decline of Wal-Mart are to be trusted, the impact that Wal-Mart has had on the retail scene have been many, these impacts are the Wal-Mart effect.


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Book Review: The Financial Matrix by Orrin Woodward

This book review is part of a mini-series on multi-level marketing businesses.

The Financial Matrix is 51TqD95jmLLmarketed as a financial book, one that seemingly elucidates the issues of modern financial systems. Here is my review, as it appears on Amazon:

I came across this book as I met an enterprising young man hawking Life Leadership, seemingly a new multi-level marketing business. when I first laid eyes upon this book I was confronted with mixed emotions, ostensibly it sounded like a conspiracy book, after all most conspiracy theories or literature couch their arguments in language belonging to the Matrix franchise, concepts like the red pill, the matrix (i.e., systemic deception), adherents of these conspiracy theories often feel they are liberated or otherwise free from what everyone else is trapped in. It was no surprise that a book that has its front cover decorated with floating currency signs draped in sci-fi green coat would heavily use and abuse the Matrix narrative. My initial thought that it would be a conspiracy book was mostly untrue, but the book does definitely stray into conspiracy territory, especially with the dubious explanation regarding fractional reserve banking (explained more below).

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