Naimil Shah: Why poor people buy TVs

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    File under “Why pushing wholesome food markets in poor areas never works as well as hoped”Report

    • Avatar gregiank says:

      Pushing wholesome food doesn’t’ work if its not the kind of food people wanted to eat in the first place. Poor people love fresh natural food its part of their cultural heritage kind of stuff.Report

  2. I read the article and told myself, “this kind of reminds me of what Orwell said in Road to Wigan Pier,” and then at the end, the author quotes from Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This isn’t a particular novel interpretation or explanation. People noticed this since the 19th century. Gabriel and Saul will point out that George Orwell had a very elegant passage about this in the Road to Wigan Pier.Report

  4. Avatar gregiank says:

    This is completely unsurprising. Heck middle class people buy stuff they can’t afford that well because it makes them happy or is just fun. Most of us know that just fine. Talking about this with “poor people” shouldn’t change that at all.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Remarkably their calorie intake also didn’t increase. One likely explanation for this is that since the staples formed majority of their diet, a decrease in its price left the household richer and they chose to buy more expensive food.”

    Why is this being presented as “OMG SHOCKING”? Isn’t the idea behind all these soda taxes that poor people are too fat and shouldn’t eat as many calories as they already do?Report

  6. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    Add me to the pile of “this is utterly unsurprising.”

    I’m pretty solidly middle-class (maybe even upper middle class, given the economically depressed area in which I live), and I spend money in ways outsiders would see as “foolish.” But life is hard and life is short and if, for example, buying a reproduction of a toy I had as a child makes that life seem a little less hard, I’m gonna do it. Or buying a new dress I don’t “need.” Or buying books I might be able to check out of the library for free.

    And the food thing, also: there’s only so much broiled chicken and steamed vegetables a person can take, even if they were the cheapest food available.

    I’ve never seen evidence that a deficit of pleasure is life-shortening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were found to be a factor at some point.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      “I’ve never seen evidence that a deficit of pleasure is life-shortening,”

      Frankly, it doesn’t matter if it is true on not. Lack of pleasure makes life UNPLEASANT. Why do you think mankind’s history is one of ingesting things that alter reality/give pleasure? Anything you can do to escape the drudgery is desired: food, drugs, sex….Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Given there is a solid strain of “poverty as the result of sin” thought in America (that is, if you are poor, it is because you deserve it do to being insufficiently moral), the unpleasantness of poverty is something of a plus.

        It’s punishment for your sins.

        So having those pleasures, any pleasure to offset that unpleasantness, is avoiding your punishment — you won’t learn to straighten up, work hard, etc.

        That vibe is most easily seen when it comes to food stamp programs and some of the responses.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          Stupid damn pilgrims!

          Sin is FUN!Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Well yes. But you’re only allowed to do it if you’re rich and successful (God clearly approves of you so much that you can have all your fun), or discretely if you’re middle class (God’s fond of you, but you don’t have much wiggle room).

            Of course the end result of the Puritans and the Calvinists putting their stamp on our country’s mythos is the freakin’ prosperity gospel, which is….horrific.

            Way to….not understand the message, guys. And I’m gonna be blunt: Jesus wasn’t subtle on this issue.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          “The wages of sin are death” and “those who don’t work don’t eat” are genuine Christian teachings found in the New Testament. Many other religions have also taken an anti-fun stance at times. Its a complicated issue. When life is close to the bone than the wrong use of resources can be fatal to yourself and others in your community. Teaching that material and immaterial pleasures were immoral was a mechanism to hopefully prevent this I guess.Report

  7. Avatar Van_Owen says:

    On an episode the Netflix show Sense8, one of the main characters, Kala, is visiting another, Capheus, who lives in a ramshackle hut in Nairobi. She notes the 42″ flatscreen on his wall and says that she saw similar televisions in slums in her hometown of Mumbai, in houses so poor they didn’t have a bed. She asks him why someone would by a flatscreen before a bed or other more foundational comforts. He replies, “The bed keeps you in the slum. The flat screen takes you out.”Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    A decent TV costs, what, $600?

    Hell… not even!

    Add in a cable package and electricity and that is probably $80 more a month. Now what do you get out of that? Hours and hours of entertainment. And think of the opportunity cost of not having it! “The game’s on? Go to the bar, order dinner and drinks, drop $50.” “I’m bored… let’s go to a movie… grab a couple of 20s.”

    I’ve also heard that — in developing countries — television can make a profound difference in the educational attainment of women primarily by showing them a world and lifestyle other than their own and empowering them to seek more than they might otherwise believe was possible.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      There’s also the issue of “hey, I don’t need this one anymore… you want it?”

      We upgraded our television a few years back and the old television went to a friend for the price of “if you take it out of my basement, you can have it”.

      This upgraded our friend’s television for the price of a couple hours on a Saturday.

      I have no doubt that this dynamic happens all over with every new-fangled television that comes out. The 75″ television replaces the 65″ television… hey, you want my 65″ tv to replace your old 52″ one? The 52″ one goes to a friend who only has a 40″, the 40″ goes to the nephew who just moved out.

      People visit the nephew and see that he has a 40″ television… despite only being an assistant manager at Fashion Bug.

      People start judging the nephew and judging him hard.
      When, really, he just lucked out because some other guy bought a 75″ and stuff cascaded from there.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      $1000 will buy you a lot of rutabagas.
      Personally, I’ll take netflix.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    In a few regions randomly selected poor households were given a large subsidy on the price of their basic staple. We expect that as the price of something went down it should have been consumed more but the opposite of it actually happened. Households that received a subsidy for wheat and rice consumed less of this two items and ate more of shrimp and meat even though their staples cost less now. Remarkably their calorie intake also didn’t increase.

    Is that experimental confirmation of the hypothesized Giffen good?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Found it. “Giffen Behavior: Theory and Practice” by Jensen and Miller. When I took economics in college, Giffen goods were mentioned as something that could theoretically exist, but for which no solid evidence existed.Report