TBR: Elsewhere, USA

Today's book (and possibly this year's winner for longest subtitle) is Elsewhere, USA: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety,  by Dalton Conley.

This book looks at such modern phenomena as the blurring of work and leisure, savings and consumption.  To take the growth of "weisure" (Conley loves making up compound words like that) for example, he remarks on the generally recognized growth of people working from home (and the history of the tax deduction for home offices was one of the few bits of the book that surprised me) and shopping at work, but also argues that "networking" forces people to turn their social interactions into an extension of work.

I picked up the book mostly because I was interested in hearing what he had to say about parental anxiety (he twice cites the same study that found that higher income mothers reported more time pressure than low-income mothers, even when they worked the exact same hours).  He argues that women's higher earning potential is the main source of stress, as women who aren't working feel the opportunity cost.  I think that's part of the story, but misses out on the degree to which working mothers also feel a high opportunity cost to their time.

Conley is a "real" sociologist, in the sense that he's a professor at NYU, but this isn't an academic book.  The only original research is what Conley conducted by looking at the dual-income families around him.  And Conley challenges the reader to evaluate the book by looking around him or herself and seeing if it resonates.

By that measure, I think this book would have done a lot better if it had come out a year or two ago.  The argument that granite countertops are a form of investment, not consumption, seems very 2006, as does the claim that no one resents the rich because we all depend on them for our jobs.  Conley's an interesting thinker, although not as profound as he thinks he is, but if there's ever a book that should have been a blog, it's this one.

One Response to “TBR: Elsewhere, USA”

  1. dave.s. Says:

    Thanks for this recommendation, I will likely go out and try to find the book. In Ought Six, though, I think granite countertops WERE a form of investment – just one which now looks perfectly lousy. You had families with one or two kids buying five bedroom, 5 1/2 bath houses because this was a leveraged way to get a big asset which they expected would appreciate, despite the fact that it left them with rooms they didn’t go into from one month to the next. People tend to try to follow the strategies which have recently been successful for those around them. Loan officers make the loans most like the ones approved five years ago by the guy who just made vice president, etc. Presidents (GWB, I’m lookin at you…) try to emulate presidents who have been successful (GWB picked Reagan, Obama seems to have picked FDR and Lincoln). If we are lucky, current conditions will reward their choices.

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