The Impulse Society | Paul Roberts

Summary of: The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want
By: Paul Roberts


Immerse yourself in Paul Roberts’ insightful book, ‘The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want’, which delves deep into the concept of the impulse society. Discover how we have a world tailored to our desires, one where consumption is the driving force of our economics, while long-term societal needs fall by the wayside. Tracing back the history of this societal shift and exploring the consequences of our consumption-driven mindset, Roberts presents a compelling examination of where we stand in the economy, politics, healthcare, and other institutions as a result.

The Significance of Hipsters

Hipsters may seem like just a fashion trend, but they actually represent the impulse society that we live in today. We are constantly seeking to customize our lives through consumption and personalization. However, this focus on immediate gratification has caused us to neglect important long-term issues such as sustainability. While the American economy has been successful in creating wealth and innovation, it often fails to address crucial social necessities like education and infrastructure. The rise of hipster culture serves as a reflection of this larger societal trend towards self-absorption. The book argues that we need to shift our focus towards addressing these societal needs for a more sustainable future.

The Rise of Consumerism

The history of how the moving assembly line and psychology revolutionized American society by making consumerism its top priority is detailed in this section of the book summary. After Henry Ford’s Model T was introduced, the production of cars became more efficient, significantly reducing their cost, and making them affordable for almost everyone. Subsequently, other consumer goods also became more affordable, and personal needs became the priority, overshadowing societal needs. General Motors President Alfred Sloan introduced cheap financing through an in-house bank to make customers comfortable about spending. A range of different engines, colors, and prices was also introduced, so customers could choose cars that matched their lifestyle and socioeconomic status. The post-war industrial boom further increased affluence, and people became consumers rather than producers. However, social and environmental consequences went unnoticed, such as air pollution, over-reliance on oil imports, and a safety crisis on America’s highways.

The Impulse Society’s Relationship with Finance

The “impulse society” of the 1960s America thrives on the influence of the global financial sector, which is known for its short-sighted profit-oriented methods and strategies. These ways include stock buybacks, which artificially restrict the supply of shares, increasing demand. President Ronald Reagan legalized this method. The financial sector is risk-free, and investment professionals face no accountability for risky investments. This lack of accountability has spread to other areas as well. Math and science graduates who could contribute to fields like science and medicine are instead joining Wall Street for higher wages. As society becomes more focused on finance, cities prioritize investing in banks instead of education. The focus on immediate returns threatens long-term outcomes.

The Faults of Impulse Politics

The book discusses the flaws in modern-day politics, which has become increasingly self-serving, short-sighted, and polarized. Political campaigns focus on gathering votes and funding, often resorting to brand-like tactics that emphasize differences rather than common ground. Political compromise has become nearly impossible, and micro-targeting through big data has led to further polarization. The result is an impulse politics that prioritizes short-term goals at the expense of more important societal problems such as unemployment, health care, and climate change. The book argues that as a society, we need to take a hard look at our political system and its values, and consider how to shift towards a more cooperative, compassionate, and long-term approach to governance.

Two-Class Society

Economist Tyler Cowen predicts a future society divided into two classes – the wealthy and the unfortunate. While the financial sector booms, companies aim to cut costs, resulting in the loss of jobs. Corporate raiders have become a dominant force in restructuring struggling businesses by laying off employees and selling the company for a profit. Additionally, technological advancements have rendered certain service jobs obsolete, including travel agents, telephone operators, editors, and soon, lawyers. The emergence of quantitative legal prediction (QLP) poses a threat to the legal profession, with computerized predictions being 75% accurate compared to human predictions at 59%. Overall, the future of society looks bleak, with a growing divide between the fortunate and the less privileged.

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