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Curbing our insatiable appetite for this stuff is not going to be easy.

  • Sep 23, 2011
Frankly, I could never quite understand the mentality.  When I was growing up it was every parents dream that their children would simply have a bit better life than the one that they experienced.  For those of us who grew up in double-deckers in working-class neighborhoods that step up might be a small single family home in a suburban neighborhood.  But for many baby boomers and those in subsequent generations this was simply not good enough.  Good economic times spawn inflated expectations and all of a sudden people were demanding much bigger houses, larger vehicles and well, super-sized everything.  Author Sarah Z. Wexler grew up in a household where many of the values touted by the hippies of the 1960's were espoused.  But soon enough her parents changed their tune and so did she.  She still can't believe she "sold out".  In her new book "Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds, Why Going Bigger Isn't Going Better" Sarah Wexler explores why Americans became so fascinated with gigantic homes, big-box retailers, and ever-larger and incredibly inefficient vehicles.  It seems that the demand for "bigger and better" infiltrated all facets of our lives and today our nation is reaping the consequences of so many foolish decisions.

In "Living Large" Sarah Wexler devotes a chapter each to 11 different subjects.  In the chapter entitled "The McMansion Expansion" she points out that "the average American home ballooned from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2349 square feet in 2004, a 140 percent increase in size."  What makes this so disturbing is that due to our declining birth rate there is on average one fewer person residing in these houses than there were 50 years ago.  Furthermore, many of these homes are poorly built and the cost to heat and cool them is astronomical.  It just makes no economic sense and today at least 1/3 of these properties have been foreclosed.  Another chapter that I enjoyed concerned the rise of what we call the "big box" stores. Here Wexler quotes quite liberally from Stacy Mitchell's fine book "Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses" which I read some years ago.  Sarah correctly points out that in exchange for the lower prices offered by the Walmarts and Home Depots of the world there are enormous social costs that are associated with these humongous outlets.  If you are not familiar with these important issues I urge you to get yourself a copy of this book.

Among the other varied topics covered in "Living Large" are the popularity of megachurches,  the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, breast enlargements, the Mall of America, Hummers and super-sized engagement rings.  Now as the title of the book suggests Sarah Wexler attempts to understand the psychology behind all of these troubling trends but for the most part she remains very skeptical about the wisdom of virtually all of these things.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed "Living Large: From SUVs to Double Ds, Why Going Bigger Isn't Going Better". Perhaps that is because I am on board with most of her conclusions.  This is an entertaining and well-written book that I can highly recommend.
Curbing our insatiable appetite for this stuff is not going to be easy. Curbing our insatiable appetite for this stuff is not going to be easy. Curbing our insatiable appetite for this stuff is not going to be easy.

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September 23, 2011
I did not know these stats, very interesting and eye-opening information here. Thanks for sharing this book! I'm afraid of the direction we're headed in... Can things possibly get any bigger?
September 23, 2011
We would benefit from excess consumption taxes in this country. Consumption must be redirected so that less waste is in the society at large. Even our food contributes to many maladies like childhood diabetes, high blood pressure and medical conditions that don't exist in many societies. The difference between entry level salaries and the CEO has ballooned from 40 times to over 400 times. A disciplined effort to align salaries alone could lead to thousands of new jobs at the entry and mid-level. Waste and excess is the new albatross which slows the economy and makes rewards harder to bestow on the lower and middle class. President Roosevelt realized this after the Great Depression and asked that the wealthy be taxed at much higher rates after $25,000 in income or about $250,000. equivalently today.
September 24, 2011
Right now, the human resources functions throughout the USA could attempt to align CEO salaries with the reality of the minimum/maximum salary grades within the company without the involvement of the government.

Min/Max salary ranges are a difficult aspect to control for many reasons. When a person is with the company for many years, the salary begins to approach the max. At that point, senior management considers hiring newer workers at the starting salary and older workers are phased out. This process happens less at the senior management level.

Organizations used to be pyramidal in structure. Now the structures are more like an inverse pyramid with bigger tops and smaller/more efficient bottoms. Curbing salaries at the senior level would place more resources at the lower levels where hiring of entry level employees happens (like college students) and where resources are needed for training/development of entry level staff, quality assurance and many other review functions which help organizations to stay competitive.

President Roosevelt lead the effort to tax higher salaries because World War II was expensive and the USA was left with a mound of debt. Taxes for salaries well over the middle class level were very high to pay off the enormous government debt which was even larger (proportionately) than what the USA faces right now.

Executive level staff get paid higher salaries in many cases where the organization is not profitable or thousands of workers are surplused to enhance competitiveness. The human resource function and the Board of Directors singly or both acting in concert have the power to establish a rational salary structure internally even without the government getting involved.

In cases where companies lay off workers in the USA to outsource work overseas- the picture is even murkier. Overseas venues can confiscate through unilateral action or high taxes the profits made by multi-nationals. Worse yet, these overseas venues can be subject to horrendous Acts of G-d like tsunamis, huge floods and earthquakes.

Legally, contracts may be interpreted more favorably to host countries which are out of the USA Court jurisdiction because foreign contract law legalese can determine the venue where a case is tried. That's why contract formulation is so important for foreign venues where contracts may be interpreted. Human resource planning and implementation is even more difficult when the reach of a multinational goes beyond the borders of the United States.

Sometimes, language translation accuracy can be as low
as 70% due to factors like idioms, colloquialisms, the non-existence of foreign vocabulary to articulate words in professions domiciled in the USA and many other factors too numerous to exist. This downside puts somewhat of a damper on outsourcing to foreign countries where there are
a multitude of dialects and colloquial expressions to
try to equate to the English language.
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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


Wexler, a staff writer for Allure magazine, spent three years on the road, investigating America's worship at "the Church of Stuff." Wexler dives into America's new normal where bigger is better and our landscape is dominated by starter castles, Barbie boobs, megachurches and megamalls, jumbo engagement rings, mammoth cars, and landfills visible from space. By turns horrified, tempted, incredulous, guilt-ridden, mystified, and captivated by these excesses, Wexler approaches her subject with a compassion born of her own complicity (she's an SUV driver and enjoys her shopping). Though the book covers increasingly familiar postrecession "the party's over" territory with the depth of an extended magazine piece, Wexler brings a friendly first-person perspective to her study of surfeit and of the psychology behind our compulsion to consume and squander, why "living large" is defended by some as our "God-given right as Americans" and in other cases, might be downright unavoidable.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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ISBN-10: 0312540256
ISBN-13: 978-0312540258
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Date Published: October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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