Pocketbook Politics

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(Commentary)
(Kirk Johnson, Spring 2013)
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===Kirk Johnson, Spring 2013===
===Kirk Johnson, Spring 2013===
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In the introduction, Jacobs argues that the periodization of 20th century labor and economic history into discrete periods such as the Progressive Era, the conservative 1920s, the New Deal, and so forth has masked another strand of continuity which spans the entire era--the concept of the citizen as consumer. Consumer politics turns out to be an area in which unexpected alliances and avenues for activism were possible.
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The context for this begins with a simple fact--the late nineteenth century was a period of extended deflation, while the twentieth century brought extended--and sometimes rapid--inflation. This means that when other changes occured, they were experienced by people who'd grown up in a world in which prices went down if they changed at all. Some of these other changes included: the rise of a middle class of professionals who lived on fixed incomes (incomes which lost purchasing power as prices rose); the increasing nationalization of markets as consumers increasingly were forced to analyze products produced from afar, advertised with deceptive or at least uninformative means; and the

Revision as of 20:42, 30 January 2013

Meg Jacobs. Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. xiv, 349 pp. $35.00, ISBN 0-691-08664-8.

Summary

Jacob traces the emergence of consumption "as the foundation of American civic identity" (2) from approximately the turn of the twentieth century until the 1970s. She argues that throughout this period, "the ‘purchasing power question’ of what people could afford remained on the political agenda, regardless of the state of the economy or the politics pursued by Congress or the president" (3). This was largely due to inclusiveness of consumer ideology across race, class, and gender lines. By emphasizing the importance of the state's role in shaping how consumerism ideology formed and strengthened, Jacobs seeks to expand on the existing studies that have largely focused on consumerism at the grassroots level.

Pocketbook Politics is divided into three parts. Part 1 discusses how inflation in the early decades of the twentieth century made purchasing power an important, and at times urgent, political issue. Part 2 examines how progressives used these notions of purchasing power to shape national reform policies during the Great Depression. Part 3 addresses wartime inflation, the patriotic appeals for fair prices, and the postwar inability to control inflation that contributed to the "downfall of labor liberalism" (10). Jacobs' attention to the state and grassroots levels is reflected in the kinds of sources she draws on: governmental records, popular magazines, advertisements, personal papers of people like Edward Filene, and shoppers' guides to products.

Commentary

Kirk Johnson, Spring 2013

In the introduction, Jacobs argues that the periodization of 20th century labor and economic history into discrete periods such as the Progressive Era, the conservative 1920s, the New Deal, and so forth has masked another strand of continuity which spans the entire era--the concept of the citizen as consumer. Consumer politics turns out to be an area in which unexpected alliances and avenues for activism were possible.

The context for this begins with a simple fact--the late nineteenth century was a period of extended deflation, while the twentieth century brought extended--and sometimes rapid--inflation. This means that when other changes occured, they were experienced by people who'd grown up in a world in which prices went down if they changed at all. Some of these other changes included: the rise of a middle class of professionals who lived on fixed incomes (incomes which lost purchasing power as prices rose); the increasing nationalization of markets as consumers increasingly were forced to analyze products produced from afar, advertised with deceptive or at least uninformative means; and the

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