But this is an interesting turn indeed. The problem with capitalism, as any fool know, is that it is an insatiable system that relies on satiable institutions and individuals. It tends towards over-production, crisis and devaluation, unless extra demand can be found. In the post-1970s 'fix' (as regulationists call it) that now appears to be coming to an end, consumers have tended to perform the role previously attributed to the Keynesian state, and live outside of their means. But they can only be persuaded to do this if products satisfy unquenchable, irrational, infantile desires. The task of getting people to buy stuff they 'really shouldn't' was absolutely crucial to the regime of capital accumulation of the past thirty years. As Adam Curtis showed in this film, modern advertising was more than up to the job. Kevin Roberts et al filled their boots through mastering the art of communicating to the unconscious, largely through the world-changing discovery that not only do people rather enjoy having sex, they are also a little anxious about their ability to have enough of it.
An advertising paradigm that encouraged you to do what you 'really should', that is, one that spoke to the moral superego rather than the desires that lurk beneath, would be ineffective at mopping up surplus production. Hell, people might come over all German and save more money than they spend!
However, if real austerity has little place in marketing strategy, there is certainly a place for 'faux austerity' (the trend-spotters might want to take this and call it 'fausterity'; that one's on me). Being tugged every which way by acts of warm and welcoming seduction, the consumer occasionally wants to be treated a little mean. "Have you read this book? Pah! You really should, you know", say the dominatrices of Waterstones. Having exhausted all options to speak kindly to the inner child, the marketers approach via a pincer movement, clamping down hard upon the guilty adult.
There is one crucial difference between real austerity and Fausterity: the latter must result in failure, and repeatedly so. The economically successful diet book is the one that has a sequel ('how to actually lose weight!'). The economically successful gym is the one which is only used by a minority of its paying members. And one can't help but think that the last thing Waterstones wants is for people to actually read the 'books you really should read', but to buy them, put them on a shelf, then feel ashamed for not reading them. Full of a sense that you don't read serious books, you are then perfectly positioned for a bit of literary S&M next time you enter Waterstones. This is what the word 'really' is doing on the sign - no messing around, this time you really should read these books. Meanwhile, those who really do read such books are probably perfectly happy with a combination of second hand bookshops, friends' bookshelves, public libraries and Amazon, having no need for the moral lecture.
So there's an irony. Perhaps the credit crunch, caused partly through consumers ceasing to fear debt, will result in a culture of Fausterity, a new respect for an ethos of self-control, discipline and superego. And naturally, there is someone on hand to sell this to them.