LIZABETH COHEN A CONSUMERS REPUBLIC PDF

Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? In this signal work of history, Bancroft Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Lizabeth Cohen shows how the pursuit of prosperity after World War II fueled our pervasive consumer mentality and transformed American life. Trumpeted as a means to promote the general welfare, mass consumption quickly outgrew its economic objectives and became synonymous with patriotism, social equality, and the American Dream. Material goods came to embody the promise of America, and the power of consumers to purchase everything from vacuum cleaners to convertibles gave rise to the power of citizens to purchase political influence and effect social change. Yet despite undeniable successes and unprecedented affluence, mass consumption also fostered economic inequality and the fracturing of society along gender, class, and racial lines.

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A paradox arose in the midst of the Great Depression of the s. Hard times forced many Americans to struggle to find and keep work, to feed their families, and to hold on to their homes or pay their rent. Yet increasingly they were being viewed by policymakers—and were thinking of themselves—as consumers, as purchasers of goods in the marketplace. Even as many people were barely making ends meet in the thirties, two images of the consumer came to prevail and, in fact, competed for dominance.

On the one hand, what I will call citizen consumers were regarded as responsible for safeguarding the general good of the nation, in particular for prodding government to protect the rights, safety, and fair treatment of individual consumers in the private marketplace. On the other hand, purchaser consumers were viewed as contributing to the larger society more by exercising purchasing power than through asserting themselves politically.

Consider these two contrasting depictions of the consumer from the s. In practice this meant that the National Recovery Administration NRA made consumers members of some code authorities as well as established a Consumer Advisory Board CAB , which, despite a constant struggle to get equitable recognition from NRA officials, gave consumers a legitimate voice in the federal government's efforts to foster recovery. After angry consumer advocates descended upon Washington to complain about the inadequacy of the CAB, a Consumers' Counsel was added as well.

Lynd, document well the citizen consumer perspective that prevailed among New Dealers at the time. Again and again Lynd articulated the importance of empowering consumers-whom he labeled "forgotten men"—to a viable democracy.

He knows he buys wastefully. They also sought protections for consumers against exploitation by business or government, such as requiring quality and labeling standards for all products.

Nothing less than the viability of American democracy was at stake, Lynd insisted. The competing vision of Americans as purchaser consumers came through powerfully in a twenty-six-minute public relations film that the Chevrolet Motor Company produced in , entitled From Dawn to Sunset. Released only months after General Motors, Chevrolet's parent company, signed an historic union contract with the United Auto Workers UAW , it depicted employees in twelve plant cities serving the corporation and the nation more as purchasers of goods, including but by no means limited to cars, than as workers in factories.

Chevrolet obviously had a vested interest in depicting new UAW members as well-paid and job-secure customers rather than as tenacious rank-and-file unionists. But much more was at stake. It was the buying power of consumers in the aggregate, not the protection of individual consumers in the marketplace, that manufacturers like General Motors, along with a growing number of economists and government officials by the late s, thought would bring the United States out of depression and ensure its survival as a democratic nation.

Why in the thirties did a wide range of Americans, from ordinary citizens to policymakers, begin to recognize that consumer interests and behavior had profound economic and political consequences for the nation?

And what did it mean that they endorsed two very different prescriptions—the citizen consumer and the purchaser consumer—for the proper role of consumers? Answering these questions matters not only for understanding the s, but the decades that followed as well.

The new expectations that Americans developed during the Great Depression for how consumers should contribute to a healthy economy and polity would leave a legacy for World War II and the postwar era. The s, of course, were not the first time that Americans took note of the importance of consumption and consumers. Almost from its initial European settlement, America participated in an economy of commercial exchange, and gradually over the centuries a market revolution increased the amount of goods that Americans purchased rather than made at home or did without.

Not only did people consume more ready-made products as time passed, but the accumulation of luxury goods-at first, imported china and textiles, later fineries manufactured domestically-marked distinctions among Americans, such as between urban and rural dwellers and among social classes.

Moreover, at crucial moments of political conflict, Americans exercised their clout as consumers, withdrawing their purchasing power to put economic pressure on their opponents. On the eve of the American Revolution of the late eighteenth century, colonists shirked imported British tea and fabrics.

Likewise, nineteenth-century workers organized boycotts of their employers' goods as part of their campaigns for shorter hours, higher wages, and better working conditions.

But despite the longstanding significance of consumption in their lives, when Americans before the twentieth century contemplated what made for the most robust national economy, the most stable American polity, and the most independent citizenry, they overwhelmingly pointed to the vitality of production and the power of producers.

The Progressives identified consumers as a new category of the American citizenry, an ideal broad-based constituency desirous and deserving of political and social reforms to limit the dangers of an industrializing, urbanizing, and politically corruptible twentieth-century America. Because all men and women were thought to suffer as consumers from unfairly jacked-up prices, defective manufactured goods, and unresponsive if not deceitful politicians, reform was easily pursued in their name.

Progressives sought more direct democracy-primaries, initiatives, referenda, recalls, and female suffrage-as well as specific remedies to protect consumers and taxpayers from exploitation, such as municipal and consumer ownership of utilities and fairer tax policies. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act , although weak, were passed to set some minimum standards for the safety and quality of goods increasingly being produced for national markets.

And Progressives promoted anti-trust legislation, culminating in the Federal Trade Commission Act FTC, , to protect against monopolies that violated an idealized America where consumers were best served by local, independent, and competitive businesses. Consumers at the grass roots complemented Progressive reformers' efforts by asserting their power in the marketplace.

Housewives in some local communities successfully boycotted merchants to bring down prices when they climbed too high. Particularly well documented are the protests of New York's immigrant Jewish housewives in kosher meat boycotts in , rent strikes in and , and cost-of-living protests in A fair shake at consumption-achievable through the eight-hour day, government-regulated minimum wages, and union labels-seemed to promise workers both a better quality of life and full rights as citizens.

In the tradition of their nineteenth-century antecedents, workers also expanded their use of consumer boycotts to punish uncooperative employers, as during the Seattle labor movement's impressive organizing drive after World War I.

The NCL viewed consumer organization instrumentally as a strategy to better the working conditions of producers; only tangentially did it concern itself with the exploitation of the consumer. During the s mass consumption-the production, distribution, and purchase of standardized, brand-name goods aimed at the broadest possible buying public-grew more prevalent.

By the end of the decade, most Americans, regardless of how much money they had to spend, recognized the growing dominance of mass consumption in the nation's purchasing. Not all Americans participated equally in mass consumer markets; many more lacked a car, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and radio in than had one.

Yet the expansion of a middle class with more time and money to spend, the extension of consumer credit and installment buying, and the burgeoning of advertising ensured that more and more Americans would consider themselves mass consumers by the s.

At the same time that mass consumption boomed in the s, however, governments only acted minimally to protect consumers from the growing dangers of substandard and sometimes dangerous products, unfair pricing, and misleading advertising.

Manufacturers, distributors, and advertisers essentially enjoyed free rein in the increasingly national mass marketplace. During this business-dominated decade, consumers' political consciousness was not high. Much of the fervor had gone out of Progressive Era reform movements. But so long as exciting new products like automobiles, radios, and household appliances kept coming on the market, and affluence seemed to be growing-at least for the middle and upper classes who could afford these consumer durables-few challenged the status quo by calling for stronger regulation.

Rather, those in power in a Republican-dominated Washington argued that the consumers' and manufacturers' joint interests were best served by allowing business to pursue unfettered technological innovations and economic efficiencies.

The free market would do the rest to deliver to consumers the best-quality goods at the cheapest prices. As most Americans concentrated on getting ever greater access to the fruits of mass consumption, some persistent Consumers' Leaguers and unionists still sought to enlist consumers in the battle to improve the conditions under which these goods were made. But few Americans during these years considered consumers a self-conscious, identifiable interest group on a par with labor and business whose well-being required attention for American capitalism and democracy to prosper.

That shift in mind-set would await the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the second-wave consumer movement it inspired. The depression and the Democratic administration's eclectic efforts to overcome it, collectively known as the New Deal, remade the American political economy.

A national welfare state emerged, industrial relations were restructured around state-sanctioned collective bargaining, and the federal government assumed a more active role in the economy.

Less often mentioned but equally noteworthy was a growing recognition by those in and out of government of the importance of considering the consumer interest in reconstructing a viable economy and polity. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Books 'A Consumers' Republic'. Discovering the Consumer Interest The s, of course, were not the first time that Americans took note of the importance of consumption and consumers. Home Page World U.

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She received her Ph. Historians and social scientists analyzing the contemporary world unfortunately have too little contact and hence miss some of the ways that their interests overlap and the research of one field might benefit another. I am, therefore, extremely grateful that the Journal of Consumer Research has invited me to share with its readers an overview of my recent research on the political and social impact of the flourishing of mass consumption on twentieth-century America. What follows is a summary of my major arguments, enough to entice you, I hope, to read A Consumers' Republic Cohen , in which I elaborate on these themes. Although this essay is by necessity schematic, the book itself is filled with extensive historical evidence and is heavily illustrated with period

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A paradox arose in the midst of the Great Depression of the s. Hard times forced many Americans to struggle to find and keep work, to feed their families, and to hold on to their homes or pay their rent. Yet increasingly they were being viewed by policymakers—and were thinking of themselves—as consumers, as purchasers of goods in the marketplace. Even as many people were barely making ends meet in the thirties, two images of the consumer came to prevail and, in fact, competed for dominance.

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Pop quiz: Patriotism involves a giving your life for your country; b flying the flag on national holidays; c shopping till you drop. If you answered c , you'll be well prepared to follow this Cohen, the Bancroft Prize-winning author of Creating a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, , has written a detailed study of how the mass consumption of consumer goods shaped U. Lizabeth Cohen. In this signal work of history, Bancroft Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Lizabeth Cohen shows how the pursuit of prosperity after World War II fueled our pervasive consumer mentality and transformed American life. Trumpeted as a means to promote the general welfare, mass consumption quickly outgrew its economic objectives and became synonymous with patriotism, social equality, and the American Dream.

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