Shell begins her book with a quote from the late US president William McKinley:
I do not prize the word "cheap". It is not a badge of honor.
However, cheapness has become ingrained in the American character. Even before the 21st century recesssion began, paying full price for an item was almost viewed as a sign of stupidity or laziness. With 10% unemployment around the country, imminent layoffs, and rising utility bills and taxes, people are economizing more than ever by refusing to pay full-price.
However, this obsession with cheapness is what led to the undermining of the American economy. Shell's book documents the destruction of American industry due to conspicuous consumption of the cheap. At the same time, she offers some remedies for the situation.