Seattle Times reviews “Impulse Society.”
By David Takami
America in the 21st century is much like a spoiled child who wants everything right now — quick profits, the latest smartphone, entertainment on demand — with no consideration of long-term costs or consequences. This is the withering appraisal of Paul Roberts’ brilliant and thought-provoking new work, which is sure to become one of the most talked about books of the year. Continue reading
Seattle Times August 30, 2014
Thoughtful consumerism isn’t so easy these days — in many ways, it’s getting harder as the marketplace gets better at targeting what shoppers want, writes guest columnist Paul Roberts.
I TRY to be a conscientious consumer. Buy local when I can. Avoid multinationals that blatantly exploit their workers. Help my kids understand why newer and faster aren’t always better. But thoughtful consumerism isn’t so easy these days — in many ways, it’s getting harder as the consumer marketplace gets better at getting under my skin.
Take Amazon.com. The mega-retailer makes buying so quick and effortless — with personalized recommendations, free two-day shipping — that each purchase doesn’t really feel like an act with social implications I need to think through. Continue reading
“Roberts builds a deeply troubling case. Our political culture demands rapid, visceral responses. Roberts challenges us to reverse course, to re-engage with complicated, enduring problems. He asks us to question just how fulfilled and evolved we truly are, and what we have lost along the way.”
WHY HAVE U.S. COMPANIES BECOME SUCH SKINFLINTS?
Here’s a depressing statistic: Last year, U.S. companies spent a whopping $598 billion — not to develop new technologies, open new markets or to hire new workers but to buy up their own shares. By removing shares from circulation, companies made remaining shares pricier, thus creating the impression of a healthier business without the risks of actual business activity.
Share buybacks aren’t illegal, and, to be fair, they make sense when companies truly don’t have something better to reinvest their profits in. But U.S. companies do have something better: They could be reinvesting in the U.S. economy in ways that spur growth and generate jobs. The fact that they’re not explains a lot about the weakness of the job market and the sliding prospects of the American middle class.
‘The nation that built an interstate highway system, and cleaned up its filthiest rivers and most gasp-inducing air, has become openly hostile to long-term investment or problem-solving, says Paul Roberts in “The Impulse Society — America in the Age of Instant Gratification,” a cautionary tale to be published next month.
“We can make great plasma screens and seat warmers and teeth whiteners and apps that will guide you, turn by turn, to the nearest edgy martini bar,” writes Roberts. “But when it comes to, say, dealing with climate change, or reforming the financial system, or fixing health care, or some other large-scale problem out in the real world, we have little idea where to start.”’
From “Fools at the Fire,” NYT Aug 7, 2014
Veteran journalist Roberts (The End of Oil) cogently analyzes the nation’s self-gratifying socioeconomic system in which individuals, politicians, and CEOs ignore society’s needs in favor of short-term fixes and profits. Whereas a century ago, most economic activity focused on producing necessities, today 70% of the economy centers on consumption, much of it discretionary, driven by our “aspirations and hopes, our identities… anxieties and our boredom.” As Roberts explains, an economy reoriented to giving us what we want “isn’t the best for delivering what we need.” Adept at synthesizing disparate data, Roberts traces the country’s economic history to contextualize what led to our increasingly market-driven behavior. He illustrates how signs of the “impulse society” are everywhere: in the toxic housing bubble and access to easy credit that led to our financial meltdown; corporate profits that go to buying back company stock to preserve share prices and executive compensation; a political system that functions more like a business; the role of the media in sorting us into marketing fragments, leading to our politically polarized culture; and the increase in the number of people being diagnosed with symptoms of clinical narcissism, among other issues. Not all doom and gloom, Roberts highlights promising developments such as the Affordable Care Act and growing bipartisan support for campaign finance reform, and offers plausible suggestions for a way forward. Agent: Heather Schroder, ICM. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/26/2014
Release date: 09/02/2014