Reading Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell

If anyone in the world should understand what ‘cheap‘ means, it’s the cheapo Indian SOBs.

In their relentless pursuit of cheap, Indian cheapos (both in India and even in America) have mastered not merely the art of bargain hunting but the lower arts of thieving and ripping off too.

Folks, no, we are not confused (in our lexicon, thieving and ripping off are merely extreme forms of cheap).

Indians shop for cheap pirated DVDs, scramble for cheap street-eats like Samosas and Chaat, scout for cheap satellite TV and hunt for cheap buffets in NYC.

Heck, desperate Indian housewives in NJ on H4 Visas scrounge around for cheap H1B Visas from desi IT shops.

Our Bollywood film makers get plots on the cheap by stealing from successful Hollywood films and Indian-American writers wing their way to cheap success by plagiarizing passages from other books (anyone remember Kaavya Viswanathan?).

And who amongst us from the semi-urban areas of Tamil Nadu has not patronized the weekly santhais (markets) in pursuit of cheap vegetables and an assortment of other cheap stuff.

But the allure of cheap is no respecter of geographical boundaries.

Americans are no less obsessed by cheap stuff (to cite but a few examples, the popularity of Vizio LCD TVs, Old Country Buffet and Acer PCs rest on their high bang to the low buck).

Yes, Yankees are merely cheapos of a different color.

But is cheap good for us?

For most members of the homo sapiens, the answer would be an unequivocal yes and the questioner, more than likely, considered a bit weak in the head.

Then there are others like Ellen Ruppel Shell who think differently.

In her new book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ruppel Shell examines America’s fixation with low prices.

Cheap, to Ruppel Shell, has a costly price:

[Fixation on low price] is arguably the most powerful and devastating force of our time – an engine of instability in an increasingly unsettled world. Our fixation on low price has also fueled a surfeit of consumption that threatens our health, imperils our environment, lowers our standard of living, and even skews our concept of time.

Here’s the cautionary lesson that Ruppel Shell hopes to bring to our attention.

Cheap fuel, cheap loans, cheap consumer goods do not pave the road to salvation. On the contrary, our Faustian pact with bargains contributed to the worst recession of two generations. The economics of Cheap cramps innovation, contributes to the decline of once flourishing industries and threatens our proud heritage of craftsmanship. The ennoblement of Cheap marks a radical departure in American culture and a titanic shift in our national priorities.

We’ve just started reading this $25.95 book that we got on the cheap from our local library.

You may expect us to update this post once we finish the 296-page book.

Just in case you are curious, Ellen Ruppel Shell is a writer with the Atlantic magazine and a Professor of Journalism at Boston University.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login