Title: "Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way we Buy, Sell and Live"
Authors: John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio
Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2010; 288 pages; $25.95
Is there such a thing as a "triple entendre"? If so, the word "consumption" would pose one. An outdated definition of consumption is truly a disease, the colloquialism for tuberculosis around the time my great-grandmother succumbed to it in the early 1950s.
On the other hand, the two other meanings that come to mind for me are quite "au courant" (French for "up-to-date"): one implying the intake of food, the other implying purchasing behaviors and patterns.
It is the latter of these three meanings which serves as the subject of "Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way we Buy, Sell and Live," by consumerism expert John Gerzema and Pulitzer-Prize winner Michael D’Antonio.
More precisely, "Spend Shift" focuses on insights into how all sorts of American people and businesses have radically revised their values, their spending behavior and their companies’ practices and offerings in the wake of the recession. The authors gleaned these insights two ways: via an extensive, longitudinal study into Americans’ buying behavior which Gerzema runs, and on a post-bubble, coast-to-coast road trip.
The Introduction, Numbers and Their Meaning, drills down into a number of metrics quantifying the damage "The Great Recession" has wreaked on the American economy, and how many Americans qualify as Spend Shifters, defined by Gerzema and D’Antonio as "people who, in reacting to crisis, have subtly adjusted their lives to seek greater balance and a more fulfilling existence."
The authors go on to explore the values shared by these Spend Shifters — who do make up the majority of Americans — and how they break down generationally and in terms of their post-recession behavioral shifts. The authors end the chapter acknowledging that these numbers can only do so much in terms of illuminating this Spend Shift, and launch from there into a retelling of their road trip and real-world stories of real-life Spend Shifters.
Chapter One, The New American Frontier: Detroit, Mich., introduces readers to a few amazing small business owners who are pioneering a new economy and community in the otherwise "apocalyptic," economically destitute landscape of Detroit.
These pioneers are drawn together by an express "Detroit Declaration," a written credo of values that represent many of the values of Spend Shifters across the nation, including diversity, creativity, sustainability.
Down South, in Chapter Two, Don’t Fence Me In: Dallas, Texas, the authors spend time with Texans whose response to the recession has been a return to the value of community institutions like churches and libraries, and "retooling" — learning do-it-yourself skills and repairing things, rather than simply replacing them.
Chapter Three, The Badge of Awesomeness: Boston, Mass., tells the story of two men — 35 years apart in age — whose embracing of the Spend Shift value of "liquid living" — approaching and solving problems and generally living in a "flexible, free-flowing way" — not only allowed their own households and careers to thrive, but also their community, which saved well into the six figures annually with the recycling program the men engineered.
In Chapter Four, An Army of Davids: Tampa, Fla., Gerzema and D’Antonio treat the value of "community," investigating the many benefits spawned by a Florida graphic design "meetup" and many online communities, as well. Chapter Five, Block Party Capitalism: Brooklyn, N.Y., extolls several Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs and their stories of authenticity and local, neighborhood building.
Chapter Six, The Quality of the Lion: Las Vegas, Nev., covers the story of Zappos and the value of trust in the brands that the authors claim are now more important to consumers, not less, as Spend Shifters place a premium on being able to vote for their values via their dollars.
Chapter Seven, The Citizen Corporation: Dearborn, Mich., and Chapter Eight, Innovation Nation: San Francisco, Calif., are written from the perspective of corporations old and new, large and small. These chapters feature the successful strategies of brands that have, according to the authors, recognized the shift in what’s important to consumers and have shifted their own offerings accordingly.
"Spend Shift" closes with a piece titled The Takeaway, which offers probably one of the most succinct and powerful sections in the book, a condensed statement of post-recessionary American values and how they are changing the way we live, followed by a reading list for those who’d like to explore more (primarily academic) works on the subjects treated in the book.
If you recognize that you might have made a Spend Shift, want to explore what values other than frugality are being embraced by your kindred spirits coast to coast, or want to know how various companies and brands are making a very intentional effort to prioritize values over profits, "Spend Shift" breaks these national trends down to a very relatable, human scale while still providing a heavy dose of education about this major change in our collective consciousness around consumption.