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Aside from being built on the ideals of simplicity and parsimony, much like the Pilgrims, consumerism in the United States has arisen as active energy since its inception. Despite open opposition from various segments of the American economy throughout its history, consumerism has thrived in the commercial culture of the United States, as shown by higher levels of consumers from its inception to the present.
As a result, the term consumerism is often used to express a variety of concepts. Accordingly, in this essay, the term consumerism is used to illustrate the impacts of equating individual happiness after buying material possession and consuming them. Since it is often a term that always faces criticism and hence linked to it and that started way back with great economists like Karl Marx however, it can be traced back to the very first human civilizations.
According to Cohen (43), the way how modern consumerism is defined only gives stress to two discrete features, and the first is emphasizing the acquisition, arrangement, and satisfaction of the commercial utility of the goods. Secondly, is the involvements and participation in economic activities in the social groups that are considered to be of upper-class of the economy? Thus, these two definitions are of great importance since they are shading light on how the term is used in this essay regarding the history of the origin of consumerism in the US.
For one study the origin of consumerism in the US two different methods can be adopted. The first one is to consider the emergence of consumerism in the US which can be looked from a different point of view insisting on some philosophical components of consumerism as they were in the modern American society. Secondly, a short history of consumerism in the US is going to be considered under chronological perspective with a lot of emphases given to the relevant periods and dates as the pillars of consumer culture in the US up to the current day.
In the process, particular essential components of consumerism in the America are going to be considered to give a broader perspective of the impacts and origins of the consumerism in America. Hodge says that consumerism and globalization are very much associated, it is, therefore, necessary to comprehend the present relations in the American society.
History of Consumerism In The United States
The ascent of consumerism in America has been a stable process for an extended period, particularly throughout the 20th century in the WW1. Martin (67) says that the primary key to economic prosperity is nothing but an organized design of discontent. In that 20th century, its first quarter was marked by technological development which in return led to increased production. In consequence, there was a lot of productions, but conversely, the consumer could not purchase what was being produced at a higher price.
Before that, in the year 1907, Simon Nelson who was an economist said that that the upcoming morality does not have much to do with savings, but it is more focused in expanding the consumption (Martin). Thus, the establishment of the inconsistent consumer was indeed a necessity of the time. Accordingly, time collapsed and when the WW1 ended the new boom period led to spread of consumerism in America. In the times of sixties, Hippies as well as the seventies with the world having fuel or rather petroleum crisis, the habits of consumers became questionable. The simple statement that was said by Carter in the year 1979 as a critic of consumerism pinpointed one of the primary reasons for him being defeated by Ronald Reagan in the presidential contest. It is so important to note that the pattern of consumption ascended just after the exit of Reagan from office. During this period there was widespread of new methods of marketing, and that is the critical marks of that time.
More, Newer, Better After WW1 what is what consumer spent was not necessarily meant to show an indulgent material zeal. For sure, the United States households were appraised as the nationalistic citizens in the year 1950s, which lead to the final success of the adaptation of American lifestyle. Hence, an excellent buyer was often devoted to more and newer goods. The person who could purchase the latter was considered a good citizen. Cohen says that given that economic revival after a more extended period, more than a decade of economic depression coupled with war relied on the self-motivated mass consumption of the economic good.
Edward Bernays is famously known as the predecessor of modern-day public relations. He came up with the technique of propaganda in 1915 as a way for the government of the United States to restrain the perceptions of the public during the First World War (Martin 54). The birth of public relations in the U.S. also saw the growth of consumerism. After the war, Bernays began using his knowledge of public relations to explore other areas such as commerce and business, and this was partly driven by the support he got from the government. He viewed democracy as a concept that constituted several elements including the intellectual management and exploitation of public opinions. He went on to assert that the minority individuals with intellectual capabilities are expected to utilize the idea of propaganda systematically and endlessly efficiently. Some of the phrases stated by Bernays have been used today by different people to influence public view for economic and political gains
It is essential to have a systematic standpoint in analyzing the idea of consumerism and its history in the United States. This will help to give a more in-depth understanding of the factors behind the rise of consumerism and its implications in the years of development and discovery of the United States till today. The real benefits of propaganda as a tool to managing the opinions of the masses were experienced at the end of the Second World War after the American armed forces returned a more peaceful country than they had left it (Cohen 44). Most countries suffered severe economic downfalls following the first and second world wars; however, America was able to survive economic depression which saw a notable rise in the spending potential of most adults from 190's onwards. With enough jobs, and improved wage rates, the baby boom era set in which saw many young people get married and have kids at exceptional rates. New legislation was enacted, and others amended such as the G.I Bill of Rights which enabled families to own homes in areas that were expanding at a rapid rate.
Pragmatic Spending Their American government invested their wealth regarding items around their homes as well as families. When the war came to an end, the kind of good that most people desired were Cars, television, toasters, and washing machines, refrigerators, and vacuum clears, those were the machines that could improve their lives to match the modern. However, the time between 1945 and 1949, most American citizens bought refrigerators which counted to be more than twenty million in numbers. There were 21 million cars and more than 5 million stoves. The trend continued for a long time until the late 1950s (Cohen 56). Martin (67) said that the number of values linked to domestic spending sustained the common American concerns with a lot of expediency and morality instead of affluence and luxury. Buying for the domestic goods assisted assuaged the ordinary American disquiet with consumption which was the fear that more consumption could result in the corruption.
When WW1 ended, the idea of consumerism in the United States grew roots deeply. There are a lot of reasons which increased consumerism in the 1950s which were considered the period of prosperity. During this prosperity, a soldier who came back home from battles were allowed learning opportunities and could back college to study (Martin 67). There are also cheaper houses that were built for the Americas. The time was as well known for the Baby Boom given that families were swiftly increasing in size. Thus, to offer support for their families, men were determined to work in offices which provided good salaries while mothers would remain back and keep themselves busy doing chores and taking care of children. In the 1950s nearly every single family in the US' suburbia had to acquire TV set as well as the car in their homes. Household machines emerged to be famous as a result of an improved advertisement in the 1950s. Martin says that materialism was the only things that drove and kept the families have a perfect life along with teen culture and hardworking husbands. Eventually, materialism became the most integral part of American Dream of which is to be better than anybody.
In sum consumerism drove and motivated almost every part of America society, the economy was being managed and determined by the idea of consumerism. Every sector of the economy wanted to adopt the concept. Nonetheless, the approach is what accelerated industrialization and the development of the current American's economic well-being. There were better foods, sophisticated machines, and more weapons. The zeal to have gold led to people to new world and materialism drove the American to perform great and better things. Nonetheless, the latter pushed American to some ill path of personal destruction. There are a lot of significant areas where consumerism values diminished like when the natural disaster took place.
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Hodge, Christina J. Consumerism and the Emergence of the Middle Class in Colonial America. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Martin, Jennifer. "Consuming American Consumerism in the road." Devouring Cultures: Perspectives on Food, Power, and Identity from the Zombie Apocalypse to Downton Abbey(2015): 67.
Cohen, Maurie J. "Collective dissonance and the transition to post-consumerism." Futures 52 (2013): 42- 51.
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