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January 27, 2012 > The Bookworm: "Against Thrift" by James Livingston

The Bookworm: "Against Thrift" by James Livingston

The bill for the holiday spending spree came the other day, delivered by an industrial-sized forklift.

Okay, not quite, but it sure seemed like it. That bill was thick, it had too many numbers to the left of the decimal point, and you're feeling somewhat ashamed. You should be saving money, not spending it. What if disaster struck?

Or, what if you learned that spending was actually good for our country? Would that make you open your wallet wider? Read "Against Thrift" by James Livingston, and it might...

Ever since the U.S. economy faltered, there's been lots of finger pointing and blame-laying. There's also been a mad scramble to reassemble our house of (credit) cards, but in order to know where to go next, we need to understand where we've been.

History, for instance, shows that cutting corporate taxes in the hopes that it might create growth doesn't work. It also doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to see how "the Great Depression and the recent economic crisis are comparable events," but James Livingston goes further by saying that both were "caused by an excess of profits and a shortage of wages, or too much saving and not enough spending."

And he's not only talking about corporations.

"Just to begin with," Livingston says, "a much larger dose of consumer spending is absolutely necessary to prevent the kind of economic catastrophe that still racks the domestic and international economies."

Spend-spend-spending is against what experts have touted for decades, but Livingston says that we need to disregard that old advice. We just need to spend judiciously and consciously. Also, we need to put less weight on our "Protestant work ethic" and "Puritan belief."

In short, we need to lighten up, both in mood and in our bank accounts.

"I'm saying that we need to... spend more, for our own good. If we don't, we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of productivity and meanwhile sentence our children to a future of pointless repression, denial, and delay."

Looking for a good excuse for holiday overspending? You might find it here, but not as easily as you might think - and the reason is that "Against Thrift" is a book that requires a lot of thinking.

Author James Livingston (who strongly avows that he's not an economist) looks at our economy from the perspective of a historian. But he also includes words from highly-regarded economists and philosophers, as well as a surprising amount of consumer-based psychology, vis-a-vis economics. You'll then find some unexpected conclusions with a bit of humanitarian flair.

See what I mean?

The heaviness of this book (in content, not weight) means that anyone without a relatively good knowledge of American politics and economic history will probably rue their purchase of it. That doesn't mean that this is a bad book, though - instead, I think it'll just take a special reader to be delighted with it. If you're up for some food-for-thought, in fact, you might find "Against Thrift" to be a pretty great buy.

c.2011, Basic Books
$27.50 / $32.00 Canada
257 pages

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