The Anxieties of Affluence

The Anxieties of Affluence: Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 19391979

Daniel Horowitz
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Anxieties of Affluence
    Book Description:

    This book charts the reactions of prominent American writers to the unprecedented prosperity of the decades following World War II. It begins with an examination of Lewis Mumford’s wartime call for “democratic” consumption and concludes with an analysis of the origins of President Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech of 1979. Between these bookends, Daniel Horowitz documents a broad range of competing views, each in its own way reflective of a deepseated ambivalence toward consumer culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-110-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Why does affluence cause so much anxiety? This book examines how American writers worried about affluence from the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s through the late 1970s, from a time when prosperity seemed uncertain to one when it expanded into a mass expectation and then to the point where millions of people took it for granted. It begins as wartime conditions were forcing the nation to consider the relationship between consumer spending, democracy, and the struggle against fascism. It ends with the energy crisis that sparked a discussion about an era of diminished expectations. Focusing on major...

  5. 1 Chastened Consumption: World War II and the Campaign for a Democratic Standard of Living
    (pp. 20-47)

    During World War II, millions of American consumers began to put depression conditions behind them and started to look forward to a peace that would enable them to extend their experience of prosperity by spending what they had saved. Government officials and molders of public opinion called on citizens to curtail their expenditures so the nation could dedicate its full effort to winning the war. Some influential social critics went even farther, hoping that the nation would learn from wartime conditions to turn away permanently from the chase after materialistic satisfactions. Lewis Mumford (1895–1990) led the fight for curtailed...

  6. 2 Celebratory Émigrés: Ernest Dichter and George Katona
    (pp. 48-78)

    Beginning in the 1940s, George Katona and Ernest Dichter celebrated the contribution of affluent consumers to American life. Dichter (1907–1991) made a handsome living in the United States helping corporations understand the psyche of shoppers. In the process, he linked democracy with purchasing, redefined the roles of middle-class women, and promoted a distinctly anti-puritanical vision. Katona (1901–1981) relied on his surveys of consumer expectations carried out at the University of Michigan from 1946 to 1972 to assert that the optimistic and sensible American consumer would protect the nation from the inflation and instability that had ravaged Europe in...

  7. 3 A Southerner in Exile, the Cold War, and Social Order: David M. Potter’s People of Plenty
    (pp. 79-100)

    George Katona and Ernest Dichter believed that middle-class consumers would make their adopted nation safe for democratic capitalism. In the 1950s and early 1960s a series of native-born writers cast a more skeptical eye on the effects of affluence. In the mid-1950s the most influential of these critiques wasPeople of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character(1954) by the historian David M. Potter (1910–1971). His book differed from the celebrations that Dichter and Katona offered as well as from the more insistent and forceful critiques that John Kenneth Galbraith, Vance Packard, and Betty Friedan would soon provide....

  8. 4 Critique from Within: John Kenneth Galbraith, Vance Packard, and Betty Friedan
    (pp. 101-128)

    In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a series of best-selling books transformed the discussion of American affluence. They can be divided into two groups. The first—John Kenneth Galbraith’sAffluent Society(1958); three books by Vance Packard,The Hidden Persuaders(1957),The Status Seekers(1959), andThe Waste Makers(1960); and Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (1963)—launched critiques of American society even as they continued to assume that the affluence of the middle class was the chief problem facing America. The second group—Paul Goodman’sGrowing Up Absurd(1960), Oscar Lewis’sChildren of Sánchez(1961), Michael Harrington’sThe Other...

  9. 5 From the Affluent Society to the Poverty of Affluence, 1960–1962: Paul Goodman, Oscar Lewis, Michael Harrington, and Rachel Carson
    (pp. 129-161)

    If Vance Packard, Betty Friedan, and John Kenneth Galbraith offered perspectives on affluence that were at once familiar and challenging, then Paul Goodman, Oscar Lewis, Michael Harrington, and Rachel Carson broke new ground by turning their attention to people and issues missing from works on the perils of middle-class affluence. InGrowing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society(1960), Goodman focused on the adverse impact of postwar prosperity on young men. The anthropologist Lewis, inThe Children of Sánchez(1961), his dramatic portrayal of a family living in Mexico City, focused not on suburban affluence but on...

  10. 6 Consumer Activism, 1965–1970: Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King Jr., and Paul R. Ehrlich
    (pp. 162-202)

    In the late 1960s, a group of writers went beyond the influential books by Rachel Carson, Paul Goodman, Michael Harrington, and Oscar Lewis. Among others, Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King Jr., and Paul R. Ehrlich not only critiqued affluence but also turned their critiques into vehicles for consumer activism. Vance Packard and Betty Friedan had inspired activists, but neither through their books nor in their own activity did they lead consumer movements. Other writers—Galbraith, Goodman, Harrington, Lewis—had tremendous impact, but more in shaping public discussion than in fostering consumer insurgency. Carson presents a more complicated case of the...

  11. 7 The Energy Crisis and the Quest to Contain Consumption: Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, and Robert Bellah
    (pp. 203-224)

    In 1974, when Paul and Anne Ehrlich announced “the end of affluence” in a book of that title, they were not alone. The consumer protests beginning in the mid-1960s typically were based on the assumption that there was enough affluence to go around, but by the 1970s, many observers feared that this was no longer so. Writers, offering their own version of the new moralism, remained concerned that abundance was producing social corruption and excessive self-regard. Watergate, the war in Vietnam, soaring inflation, and rising energy prices turned 1960s optimism into 1970s pessimism and restored among millions of Americans a...

  12. 8 Three Intellectuals and a President: Jimmy Carter, “Energy and the Crisis of Confidence”
    (pp. 225-244)

    On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address titled “Energy and the Crisis of Confidence” to an audience of 65 million Americans. Commonly known as the “malaise” speech, although he did not use the word, this address was one of the most memorable and controversial ones by an American president in the second half of the twentieth century. Evoking a nation plunged into crisis by the excesses of affluence, Carter suggested a comprehensive energy policy. A wide range of factors shaped the speech, from the demands of international and domestic politics to the conflicting advice of those to...

  13. Epilogue: The Response to Affluence at the End of the Century
    (pp. 245-256)

    On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered his “malaise” speech. Opposing him for the presidency the following year was Ronald Reagan. On the eve of his election in 1980, Reagan countered Carter’s vision. At the time inflation was running at an annual rate of 13.5 percent, interest rates had reached 18 percent, and unemployment stood at over 7 percent. The Iranians were still holding fifty-two Americans hostage for what would turn out to be 444 days. Asking whether the nation had a future in which it could realize its ideals, Reagan, in a nationally televised address, remarked, “There are...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 257-318)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-322)
  16. Index
    (pp. 323-339)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 340-341)