Thanks to MC for letting me know about this. From Sunday's Winnipeg Free Press:
A different take on consumer power
Sunday, July 30th, 2006. Reviewed by Lindsey Wiebe
'WE make choices every day," writes Ontario author Tom Slee. "We choose the clothes we wear, the way we travel, the movies we watch, and the places we shop."
But even with all this choice, Slee says, the rich are getting richer, while the middle class and poor are losing ground.
"What has gone wrong?" he asks in this thought-provoking mix of academic and social critique.
"Why is it that with more choices than any in society in history, we do not get what we want?"
These basic questions form the underpinnings of this first book by the Waterloo software professional and researcher.
In it, Slee explores the pitfalls of a free-market economy; in particular, what he refers to as "MarketThink," the idea that consumers control the market, and can hold corporations accountable.
Slee does his best to debunk this mindset, arguing that even the most reasonable of individual decisions can produce negative results for the general public.
Much of the book revolves around the fictional foibles of Jack and Jill, who live in the made-up town of Whimsley.
Slee uses the characters to illustrate the routine conflicts between personal and public gain.
Should Jack support a downtown department store, or visit a newly opened big-box development? And does it really matter if Jill leaves litter in a public park, when surely others will be more environmentally conscious?
No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart also draws on real-world examples of difficult choices, tackling everything from the issue of herd mentality to the problem of "free-riders," those who act in their own best interests while assuming, often mistakenly, that others will work for the public good.
Slee's reasoning is persuasive, and his examples numerous and far-reaching: the contentious subject of international pollution credits, for one, or the perennial public vs. private school debate.
But although No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart is more accessible than the average academic text, it still falls short of mass-market appeal, and those unfamiliar with game theory might find some sections slower than others.
Slee's pacing is often sluggish, and the overall arrangement of material feels unfocused. The sheer number of examples to deconstruct is also a little daunting, an ironic flaw in a book about the dilemmas of choice.
Slee may have been better off focusing on fewer but more detailed examples to plead his case.
On the positive side, Slee's in-text citations are clear and easy to follow, and readers hoping to learn more about the complexities of decision-making will come out with a solid list of followup books.
No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart doesn't qualify as light summer reading. However, the book does offer an intriguing critique of dominant ideas on consumer power, and puts forward a valid argument for the benefits of collective decision-making and regulation.
Lindsey Wiebe is a Free Press reporter.