Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I know some of our blog writers and readers are fluent in various areas of economic and cultural history. Now for a question that combines the two that I've been pondering, and one related to the post below.

I've been thinking about the history of our "culture of consumption" recently. Nowadays, we live in a world where after a foreign attack on our own soil we are told to return to our malls, and in the midst of a war longer than WWII told to go shopping more. My question: what is the origin of this world?

There seems to be three answers, the first two of which are rather simple. First, Americans have always had a particular propensity to truck, barter, and exchange stuff. De Tocqueville noted it (and if he didn't he should have), as did Weber in the Protestant Ethic, etc. Second, the proliferation of credit and installment plans in the 1920s disincentivized being thrifty and saving up for goods.

The third, though, would be Keynesianism: that theory of theories that tells the state to spend its way out of recessions and, accordingly, to citizens that they need to do their part in spending. Anybody have any thoughts or know of anything out there that addresses the culture of consumption before Keynesianism? What did general economic theories hold about the role of consumerism in boosting an economy?


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