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Household Consumption - Household, from unit of production to consumption

By the mid-20th century, the American household had become a unit of consumption, and no longer produced any commodities. Evaluate this proposition, bring in Cowan and Nestle. Articles would be welcomed.

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1. By the mid-20th century, the American household had become a unit of consumption, and no longer produced any commodities. Evaluate this proposition, bring in Cowan and Nestle (is this your text or is it referring to a company?).

Let's take a closer look at the research. Overall, though, the literature seems to support the proposition, as least the first part of it. For example, the author below argues for the preposition that by the mid 20th century the American household had become a unit of consumption:

ARTICLE: The landscape of mass consumption
by Lizabeth Cohen
February 2003

Few would dispute that at the start of the 21st century, we are inhabiting a world being reshaped by a global capitalist marketplace, where transnational flows of capital and goods and new structures of information, transportation, and communication are transforming our daily experiences and the physical spaces where we live them. The way we make a living, where we dwell, how and where we interact with others, what and how we consume, the political authorities to which we are accountable, and so many other aspects of our lives are now in flux. As an individual living in today's world, I, of course, monitor these transformations, but rather than predict the future impact of economic globalization, as an historian I feel better equipped to probe an earlier, but similarly formative, economic restructuring that helped define the American national, and especially metropolitan, experience of the last half-century. As we contemplate the complex ramifications of that post-World War II restructuring, they may suggest the kind of changes we should be alert to in our own times.
I would like to begin by establishing two points: first, that such a dramatic and multi-dimensional shift indeed occurred after World War II - the establishment of a new order that I have entitled the Consumers' Republic - and secondly, that it had particular consequences for the physical shape of postwar metropolises.

The United States came out of World War II deeply determined to prolong and enhance the economic recovery brought on by the war, lest the crippling depression of the 1930s return. During wartime, a mass production war machine, operating at full throttle to produce the material for battle, had already provided many new jobs and filled many empty pockets and bank accounts. Ensuring a prosperous peacetime would require making new kinds of products and selling them to different kinds of markets. Although military production would persist, and expand greatly with the Cold War, its critical partner in delivering prosperity was the mass consumer market. A wide-range of economic interests and players - including strident anti-New Deal big businessmen, moderate and liberal capitalists, labor and its allies on the Left, and government officials - all came to endorse the centrality of mass consumption to a successful reconversion from war to peace. In some ways, this was the same Keynesian scheme that the New Dealers had seized upon to pull them out of the Great Depression in the late 1930s. But the experience of war had turned promising strategy to proven reality. Factory assembly lines newly renovated with Uncle Sam's dollars stood awaiting conversion from building tanks and munitions for battle to producing cars and appliances for sale to consumers.

If encouraging a mass consumer economy seemed to make good economic sense for the nation, it still required extensive efforts to get Americans to cooperate. Certainly, there was tremendous pent-up demand for goods, housing, and almost everything else after a decade and a half of wrenching depression and war, but consumers were also cautious about spending the savings and war bonds that they had gladly accumulated while consumption was restricted on the home front. Hence, beginning during the war and with great fervor after it, businesses, labor unions, government agencies, the mass media, advertisers, and many other purveyors of the new postwar order conveyed the message that mass consumption was not a personal indulgence. Rather, it was a civic responsibility designed to improve the living standards of all Americans, a critical part of a prosperity-producing cycle of expanded consumer demand fueling greater production, thereby creating more well-paying jobs and in turn more affluent consumers capable of stoking the economy with their purchases.

For its promoters, this mass-consumption driven economy held out the promise of political as well as economic democracy.
Reconversion after World War II raised the hopes of Americans of many political persuasions and social positions that not only a more prosperous, but also a more equitable and democratic American society would finally be possible in the mid-20th century due to the enormous, and war-proven, capacities of mass production and mass consumption. As more Americans lived better and on a more equal footing with their neighbors, it was expected, the dream of an egalitarian America would finally be achieved. Politicians never tired of tying America's political and economic superiority over the Soviet Union to its more democratic distribution of goods. In 1959, at the American Trade Exhibition in Moscow, Vice-President Richard Nixon went so far as to tell the Russian people that all the homes, televisions and radios that Americans owned brought them closer to the Marxist ideal of a classless society than the Soviets. [1]

The new postwar order deemed, then, that the good customer devoted to "more, newer and better" was in fact the good citizen, responsible for making the United States a more desirable place for all its people. As Bride Magazine told the acquisitive readers of its handbook for newlyweds, when you buy "the dozens of things you never bought or even thought of before, ... you are helping to build greater security for the industries of this country... [W]hat you buy and how you buy it is very vital in your new life - and to our whole American way of living." [2] Wherever one looked in the aftermath of war, one found a vision of postwar America where the general good was best served not by frugality or even moderation, but by individuals pursuing personal wants in a flourishing mass consumption marketplace.

Private consumption and public benefit, it was widely argued, went hand in hand. And what made this strategy all the more attractive was the way it promised a socially progressive end of social equality without requiring politically progressive means of redistributing existing wealth. Rather, it was argued, an ever-growing economy built around the twin dynamics of increased productivity and mass purchasing power would expand the overall pie without reducing the size of any of the portions. When President Truman challenged Americans in 1950 to "achieve a far better standard of living for every industrious family" within a decade, he characteristically reassured them that "raising the standards of our poorest families will not be at the expense of anybody else. We will all benefit from doing it, for the incomes of the rest of us will rise at the same time." [3]

What I have called for convenience A Consumers' Republic - my phrase, not a label used at the time - had far-reaching implications for the physical character of postwar America. To begin with, new house construction provided the bedrock of the postwar mass consumption economy, both through turning "home" into an expensive commodity for purchase by many more consumers than ever before and by stimulating demand for related commodities. As today, the purchase of a new single-family home almost always obligated buyers to acquire new household appliances and furnishings, and if the house was in the suburbs, as over 80 per cent were, at least one car as well.

The scale of new residential construction following World War II was unprecedented. And it was made possible by a mixed economy of private enterprise bolstered by government subsidy - in the form of mortgage guarantees with low interest rates and no down payment directly to buyers as part of the veterans benefits under the GI Bill of 1944, and indirectly to buyers through loan insurance to lenders and developers through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The federal government assisted as well through granting mortgage interest deductions on income taxes, a mass tax since World War II, and constructing highways from cities out to the farmland that overnight was being transformed into vast suburban tract developments.

This promotion of private market solutions to boost the mass consumption economy - even if heavily subsidized by the federal government - turned a dire social need for shelter into an economic boom. The ground had already been set during wartime, when consumers across the economic spectrum were encouraged to imagine "home" as a newly-built, single-family detached house for purchase in the suburbs, not a rented residence in a multiple dwelling in the city. One out of every four homes standing in the United States in 1960 went up in the 1950s. As a result of this explosion in house construction, by the same year, 62 per cent of Americans could claim that they owned their own homes, in contrast to only 44 per cent as recently as 1940 (the biggest jump in home ownership rates ever recorded). Home building became so central a component of postwar prosperity, in fact, that beginning in 1959, the United States Census Bureau began calculating "housing starts" on a monthly basis as a key indicator of the economy's vitality. [4]

The passage of time revealed, however, that despite the idealistic expectations that launched the Consumers' Republic, private housing's centrality to the mass consumption marketplace favored certain kinds of metropolitan locales, as well as particular social groups, over other ones. Dependence on new single-family, privately-owned, detached home construction to solve the enormous postwar housing crunch as well as to fuel the economy privileged suburbs over cities. As millions of Americans concluded it was cheaper and more desirable to own rather than rent, they left older, often deteriorating housing in urban neighborhoods for the new suburban communities favored by the VA and FHA loan programs and reinforced by the lending policies of private banks. Between 1947 and 1953 alone, the suburban population increased by 43 per cent, in contrast to a general population increase of only 11 per cent. Over the course of the 1950s, in the twenty largest metropolitan areas, cities would grow by only .1 per cent, their suburbs by an explosive 45 per cent. By 1965, a majority of Americans would make their homes in suburbs rather than cities. Today, typical American metropolitan areas range in the proportion of their center city population from the 20 per cent of Boston to the 30 per cent of New York, but overwhelmingly their populations are suburban. [5]

The home ownership at the heart of the Consumers' Republic did more than expand the numbers and enhance the status of suburbanites over urbanites. In the process, it advantaged some kinds of ...

Solution Summary

This solution evaluates the proposition: "By the mid-20th century, the American household had become a unit of consumption, and no longer produced any commodities" through research and examples. Supplemented with two informative articles, one on the food consumption by food type in U.S., and the second articles discusses why consumption matters.