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Conservative ideas that were once at the fringes of political discourse moved into the center of American politics by the end of the century due to many factors.  Factors included the rise of union power, a perceived threat on the way of life for the wealthy industrialists, and the embracement by the general population of the New Deal “welfare” policies rather than laissez-faire economics.

At the conclusion of World War II, the United States stepped into the industrial vacuum caused by the demise of Japanese and European factories and production of goods.  This allowed the rise of unions and negotiating power, after decades of the job sites being ruled by this new type of “aristocracy” that industrialists had become.  Economically, these aristocrats saw the socialistic tendencies of the New Deal, which did not allow survival of the fittest (Social Darwinism), but rather a helping hand to those who were down and out, in need of assistance.  This premise attacked the basis of a laissez-faire economic system that the industrialists supported.

In order to combat this perceived threat, many successful businessmen began looking at ways to help preserve their way of life.  Several organizations were formed Mont Pelerin Society, or strengthened, such as the Chamber of Commerce.

 

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Walmart’s origins draw on its’ populist roots.  The company germinated and grew in the Ozarks area of Arkansas.  The company started out on funding, not from the Eastern banking and loans, but rather from local folk and a little help from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which helped to fund clean, high tech jobs, military installations, and service industries in the Sun Belt region, post World War II, subsequently bringing jobs and a population base to the rural areas.  As the company grew, the targeted demographics (hard-working, no frills, agrarian, salt of the earth folk) and store locations (county seats, near military bases) appealed to the common people.

Country music bands and bar-b-q’s on the weekends, when most country folk would come to town for shopping, social, and business needs.  The company was family oriented, comfortable, and homey; a place where people knew their neighbors.  No matter which store a person visited, the feeling and ambience of each store made you feel welcome, like you were back visiting an old friend.  Women were recruited to work in stores, providing some of that nurturing feel – servicing customers was just an extension of tending to their own families.  This also reinforced the paternalistic, evangelical Christian model that the store’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton supported.  Further, the Walton family supported and encouraged the education of white-collar workers from the Sun Belt for the “family” business of stores through support of Christian higher education facilities such as the University (College) of the Ozarks.

The “modern” version of Wal-Mart is a multi-national company with a tad bit of the “hometown” atmosphere within the stores still left.  If Wal-Mart was a country, it would rank 6th in China’s export market and it’s economy would rank 30th in the world, right behind Saudi Arabia (Moreton 6).  A far cry from the “down home” attitudes of supporting small businessmen, the retail giant still comes into rural communities, ousting many mom and pop stores, ending family businesses, and creating a monopoly on shopping options.  Yet the giant is not satisfied with the small areas and readily moves into big cities, often with enough business to support several stores in the cities but some mom and pop stores are still able to hold onto their customer base despite the competition.

 

I don’t believe that Thomas Frank feels that poor conservatives are stupid, but rather these folks were a bit hoodwinked and mislead as political parties started migrating on their core beliefs, stances, and values.  The traditional Democratic Party started morphing and via the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), “has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting, affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.” (Moreton 243) The blue collar workers who were the “backbone” of the Democrats started moving into the ranks of  the Republican party of Kansas and other areas of the country.  There are “radical” conservatives who tend to comprise the poorer demographics of the state.  These folks have been struggling financially yet support deregulation and tax cuts, which only hurts their cause, jobs and families.  The “liberal” conservatives of the Republican Party are the big winners with local and state politics as they benefit from the voting reactions of the “radical” conservatives who keep supporting tax cuts which only benefit the wealthy and does not benefit the poor conservatives.  These  “radical” folks started chasing red herrings in the form of social issues and let their beliefs run their economic issues.  Hot topics like Christianity, abortion, gun control, and gay marriage/rights sucked in the poor “radical” conservatives.  These topics sidetracked the poor conservatives into not thinking about their own jobs and how tax cuts affect their own economic well-being.

Cohen Final

“Use Your Buying Power as You Use Your Ballot”

Lizabeth Cohen’s book, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, guides the reader to understanding the economic, political, racial and social needs that drove the United States’ need for consumption in the name of democracy during the time frame of post World War II to 2003.    Unfortunately this push for consumption and democracy did not benefit all groups of people within the United States.  Specifically, African Americans suffered from: limited financial means, oppressive laws, racism, and the societal need to exploit minorities.  This relationship between consumer culture and democracy has, and continues to, erode the much needed integration and participation of the African American community.  The drive for consumerism, by benefitting some groups over others, widened the gap between dominant and minority groups within the United States and did not help democratic participation among the minority groups; furthermore, it created an unsustainable economic climate while commercializing politics.

At the conclusion of World War II, the country was going full-tilt with wartime production, a high employment record, and frugal citizens saved. Reevaluation of the economy was necessary with the conclusion of the war and decisions were necessary to keep the proverbial economic ball rolling – for the best interest of the country and subsequently, the people of the United States.  Cohen describes this as, “a vision of postwar America where the general good would be best served not by frugality or even moderation, but by individuals pursuing personal wants in a flourishing mass consumption marketplace” (p. 121).  This took on the form of pushing consumption by every day citizens in order for them to do their democratic duty for the benefit and well being of the United States and her citizens.  This push towards consumerism came at a cost; the well-being of citizens who’s lives became more complicated by the acceptance of the Consumer’s Republic which translated to the consumption, expectation, and desire for more items than ever before in American history.

Consumption equality was not to be easily procured for two groups of citizens – African Americans and women.  These two groups of citizens played a vital, yet peripheral role in this new consumer democracy model.  African Americans had long tried to break the clutch of the Jim Crow laws and hoped that with their service to the country, their purchasing power would be enhanced and “testified to the widespread appeal of the inclusive ideals of the Consumers’ Republic” (p. 167).  Historically, African Americans were only given the choice of second rate, more costly goods at the hands of the Caucasian storeowners.  Basic “consumer rights” such as eating in restaurants, bowling, sitting in “normal” seats at the theaters and on buses that were overlooked and “politicized black consumers had already spent years agitating at the grass roots, for literally, a place at the table” (p. 167).

Women began to play a more prominent role in American society during the war years.  Women, as well as African Americans, filled in at jobs vacated by men going off to serve in World War II, that were traditionally conducted by males.  Both women and African Americans were paid fewer wages than the male counterparts that they were replacing.  Women also continued the role as caretakers of the public good, which was started during the temperance movement, through their roles as consumers and keepers of the households.  Yet as the war concluded and men returned home, women were again stripped of their political power through the G. I. Bill and new income tax codes.  “The fabled ‘corporation man’ of the 1950s, then, was as much a product of federal policy as corporate priorities and was by no accident a man” (p. 141).  These governmental actions again restored the economic power to the white males of the United States while excluding African American and women veterans.

One social group that benefited from the advent of new consumerism was the working class.  New industrial jobs provided a good income along with benefits that ushered in a new era of homeownership, the purchase of consumer goods to furnish the accomplishment of reaching the “American dream”.  Housing developments became easily identifiable to a “particular consumer market through home prices, lot sizes, and community amenities, giving new suburban areas instant socioeconomic, and therefore, market, identities” (p. 202).  As time progressed, communities would no longer be composed of workers and bosses living together, in the same neighborhoods.  In fact, as more industrial and manufacturing jobs moved further out of towns, average workers could not find affordable housing near their jobs and social stratification of the suburbs began more earnestly.

African American citizens worked hard to gain the economic rights granted by the Civil War, but white citizens saw these economic rights as a threat to their perceived world order.  African Americans generally had to pay more for consumer goods that were second rate than their white-counterparts did which lead to a great deal of resentment.  Consumer boycotts and cooperatives led to “organizing at the point of consumption a viable racial strategy” (p. 50).  Consumer boycotts by African Americans were first tried in the South at the turn of the twentieth century, on trolley car companies who mandated segregation.  While the boycotts ultimately failed, the end result was that a few companies went bankrupt, while other companies along saw decreased profits for several weeks up to a few years, and finally and most importantly, the pride and sense of resistance that was spoken of and shared with future generations of African Americans.  Here lay the seeds for several economic steps that were taken by the African-American community.

Generally, conducting business with white operators of the time meant “economic exploitation and racial discrimination” (p. 43).   Black businesses were generally limited to barbershops, funeral homes, independent grocers, and a few larger insurance companies.  African-American leaders began to realize that racial solidarity in the market place would enhance the economic and social power of African Americans.  This solidarity could be achieved with separate, black owned business who could be supported by black consumers and run by black entrepreneurs (p. 42).  Lack of capital, business loans, and overall business knowledge led to the downfalls of many small businesses and made business startups difficult.  Yet one arena that African-American consumers could make their voices heard was through the proven use of boycotts, which happened in many major cities like Chicago and New York City.  Stores that refused to hire African Americans into positions other than janitorial or elevator operators were boycotted as well as other businesses that practiced unfair trade practices such as utility companies, unfair rent rates, discrimination in public places.  At last, African Americans realized the strength of consumer power lay “with the potential for mobilizing mass action by individual consumers (p. 53).

Through consumer mobilization, African Americans could be viewed as a legitimate and effective agents of protest that challenged the Consumer’s Republic and who was “eligible” to participate.  The advent of World War II offered hope to many African Americans that their lives would undergo a change, whether from serving in the military, or taking on a new job with the increased number of vacancies and that their rightful roles as participants in the Consumers’ Republic would be allowed and even welcomed.  With the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments, blacks theoretically gained equal access to all public accommodations – schools, parks, inns, theaters, and other common establishments.              Yet reality set in when African Americans were excluded from the OPA (Office of Price Administration) boards or continually denied service in restaurants and stores.  African Americans supported OPA policies because they saw this as a chance to make up for past exploits by white owner/operators of consumer goods – here was finally a chance for equality – to pay the same prices for quality housing, goods, and recreational activities as their white counterparts.  Sadly, this concept of equality did not happen for African Americans during and post World War II both in the South and growing in the North.  Rather, a growing segregation within metropolitan America continued with fervor, distinguishing residential areas by class and race.

Citizens living in the Consumers’ Republic began receiving a consistent barrage of effective marketing techniques in all aspects of their lives, personally and publicly.   The marketing sector also started impacting politics, as Republic Party chairman Leonard Hill declared, “you sell your candidate and your programs the way a business sells its products” (p. 333), with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election runs in the 1950’s.  This ushered in a new phase of politics in conjunction with mass media and advertising.  Yet people began again demanding, “the Consumers’ Republic be accountable to the ideals upon which it was founded; that a flourishing mass consumption economy could be safe, democratic, and equitable” (p. 386) while calling for more government involvement with the goods and services being offered to consumers.

The Consumers’ Republic has done more harm than good to the strength of the United States because the push for consumption and democracy did not benefit all groups of citizens in the country.  The entire focus of the country over the last seventy years has been to produce vast quantities of goods for consumption yet these goods were designed to be temporary, consumable items that would need to be continually replaced.  Couple the temporary lifespan of products with more sophisticated marketing techniques, which ranked its success by “maximizing the middle-class market…with enough discretionary income to support the mass production and distribution of goods” (p. 310), with further market segmentation by gender, age, race, and other demographic information.

The continuing end-result of these techniques is more government involvement in all parts of our lives.  The constant stream of media and the marketing techniques designed to persuade us who to vote for, what programs we should support, which medicines to take, how new of a car should sit in your driveway, what kind of food you feed your children seems to be winning in main stream America.  This drive for consumption has also spread throughout the world with the growing demand for cars, material objects, and consumerism.  Ultimately, the concept of supporting democracy through consumption in the Consumers’ Republic, is based on very faulty logic, evidenced by history and the depletion of finite resources needed to keep this Republic continuing.

Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic:  The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America shows how the need for consumption in the name of democracy from post World War II to 2003 benefitted one particular group of people – Caucasian, middle class males and their families.  African Americans and women did not see the huge gains politically and economically that their male Caucasian counterparts saw.  In fact, mass consumption has caused greater social inequalities and greater voter apathy.

 

The Green Book

Travel guide helped African-Americas navigate tricky times

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/24/green.book.black.history/index.html?hpt=C1

It’s the Inequality, Stupid!

http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

beginnings of Cohen paper

How does Lizabeth Cohen understand the relationship between consumption and democracy as it developed between approximately 1932 and 2003?  Do you think this is a net plus for the country or has it done more harm than good?  Explain.

Drive around most any American town, in any state, and one can see the same familiar sprawl of suburbanization – enclaves of neighborhoods with thematic street names that are similar in style, color themes, and size; dating from the 1940’s to modern construction.  Strip malls with a grocery store, hardware store, fitness center, coffee shop, restaurant, and perhaps even a bookstore that has managed to stay in business.  Acres of blacktopped parking areas surrounding massive shopping malls anchored by name brand stores such as Macy’s, Dillards, Sears, Zales, Victoria’s Secret, and multi-plex movie theaters.  All of these choices, too much to choose from, and massive commercialization and consumerism right at one’s finger tips.   Yet how often does the average citizen contemplate the meaning of all that is available for them to consume and the history behind this consumerism and democracy? Lizabeth Cohen’s book, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, guides the reader to understanding the economic, political, racial and social needs that drove the United States’ need for consumption in the name of democracy during the time frame of post World War II to 2003.

The country was going full-tilt with war time production, employment, and personal savings but with the conclusion of the war, the economy needed to be re-evaluated and decisions had to be made in order to keep the proverbial ball rolling, supposedly for the best-interest of the country and subsequently, for the people of the country.  This took on the form of pushing consumption by every day citizens in order for them to do their democratic duty for the benefit and well being of the United States and her citizens.

The influx of returning soldiers caused issues within society from the factories, businesses, and other venues that had hired women and minorities in record numbers as replacement workers for the departing warriors.  When these soldiers returned, the government took action to provide them with several key benefits that still impact our country today – the G.I. Bill, or the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.  This legislation provided an opportunity to restart their lives by offering “unemployment pay while looking for a job, tuition and subsistence allowances for further education or training, and loans to purchase homes or farms or to start a business” (p. 137).  The main purpose was to avoid economic issues that had happened after World War I – high unemployment, political unrest, and economic disruption.  The passing of this Act created social and economic fallouts highlighted by the inequalities between veterans and non-veterans, female versus male veterans, and Caucasian versus African American veterans yet the Act also created a very new type of America – one in which its’ citizens would be much more upwardly mobile through education, home ownership, and the purchasing of consumer goods.

 

Consumption and Race

Cohen discusses the rise of consumerism in post-war America and how this rise was tied into politics and policies.  While the push was on for returning soldiers to buy homes, attend college, and attain the American Dream, African American soldiers were not a ready mix into this blooming economic period.  Their voices were largely ignored, starting the bigger gaps between the haves and the have-nots.  Poorer, colored people were banned from shopping centers and by homeowner associations.

The majority of people in some areas then, had the least amount, while the top tier of their society controlled the majority of things.  Almost one hundred years after the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, and fighting with honor in their country’s Armed Forces, yet many African Americans could not participate in the rise of consumerism that was transforming America in the 1950s and 1960s.  However more African Americans were becoming educated, attending college, looking towards their future and wanting what the American Dream that was being sold to everyone else.  They were tired of getting second class goods and services. Enough was enough and it was time for a revolution – the Civil Rights movement.

I found this video production interesting.  I liked the early scientific journalism techniques regarding the interviews, equipment, and volleying between the scientist and the interviewers.  I was also struck by the vocabulary and level of discussion that many of those interviewed showed.  But the biggest surprise was that this took place in Pennsylvania, a northern state.  I am interested in knowing a demographic breakdown of the occupations and education levels of the 60,000 people who lived in Leviitown and what impact that had on prevalent attitudes.

Many of the people interviewed were in favor of the African American family moving into the neighborhood. Offering that they would be neighborly, talk with them, and let their children play together.  The folks in Leviitown who were against integration of their neighborhood all had very similar arguments as to why the their new neighbors should not be in their neighborhoods.  The reasons given being devaluing the neighborhood, increased crime, and the potential for African American and white children to grow up together and like each other, increasing the possibility of marriage outside of one’s race.

This was after WWII, the Korean War had stopped, and Viet Nam was sleathily beginning.  It seems that more people would have been like the open-minded neighbors and realized that integration was impossible to stop and a natural evolution of the times.  The argument that property values would decrease with an African American family, or more, living in the neighborhood was not convincing to me.  Yet the realization that this was probably a prevalent attitude throughout much of the country during this time is disconcerting and underscores how much the Civil Rights movement was needed in the South, but through the whole country.

I was not part of last week’s discussion, so I am putting down my thoughts and reflections from watching the movie clip.

Watching this Barstow Family movie clip was a walk down memory lane.  My first trip to Disneyland was when I was two or three with my parents and grandparents.  Apparently the Pirates of Caribbean scared me quite badly and had me crying.  My grandparents retired to Santa Barbara and taking me to the Magical Kingdom was a staple part of my childhood.  My last trip there was in 1979 or 1980, as I distinctly remember my grandfather paying for my brother and I with two twenty dollar bills and getting four newly minted Susan B. Anthony dollars back in change.

The Magic Kingdom was a small, anticipated part of my childhood for over a decade.  The fairy tale quality of the park, with everything being so neat and well orchestrated was a constant in the changing flow of childhood.  Books I read came to life. I have strong memories of The Swiss Family Robinson tree houses.  The land of The Jungle Book and the boat rides with hippos, alligators, and monkies.   Seeing that old Mississippi water boat.  Journeying through different cultures in It’s a Small World.  Buying the Mickey Mouse hats with my name embroidered onto them.  Movies I had seen came to life at Disneyland giving some credibility to the imaginary world of celluloid.  Riding the monorail around the park and looking at all of the buildings, flowers, theme areas, and the expanse of parking lots.  The ticket books for rides and seemingly different letters for different categories of rides.  The Electric Light Parade and fireworks at nighttime when all of the characters walked through the streets.

I plan on taking my son there in the next year or two.  I fear if I wait until he is too much older, the magical aura of the place may not have the same charm as I remember, as he will have outgrown some of that vivid imagination and the focus will be primarily on the rides.  I am almost hesitant though, in going back there and having what I know now, as blatant commercialism, attacking us from all sides.  The cost for tickets, food, and gimmicks will shock me and my conservative spending, I’m sure.  I realize I will have to keep my disdain with the commercialism at bay. Yet I do want him to experience the Magic Kingdom and have memories, albeit it different from mine which is all right, as we will each have a reference point from our childhood to keep in our memories.  In my mind, Disneyland is one of the American icons, like baseball, McDonalds, and Corvettes.

The movie clip I enjoyed for a variety of reasons.  First, I really enjoyed the creativity that the Barstow family demonstrated with the projects they made for the contest.  I also found the cinematography of the home movie to be very creative and I wondered who choreographed parts of it, who designed the “skit” or layout of the movie.  Was it done after the fact for the benefit of the tape company?  Or did the family create the movie on their own?  The movie also showed a glimpse of mainstream America – the house in the suburbs, three children, a mom and a dad, the proverbial family vacation, the clothes and other backdrops of middle class America in the mid 1950s.

The question of, “Are today’s children too jaded to appreciate a trip to Disneyland?” has me leaning towards no, but I feel it is how children are raised within their homes.  Yes, children won’t have their gadgets to play with, but the Magical Kingdom is a huge, interactive gadget.  I believe that seeing classics would be appealing.  Depending on the age of the children, taking their own movie clips and photos with their iPod touches or iPhones would offer them a chance to merge their experience with their “gadgetry” and creativity to create a cool memoir of their trip to the Magic Kingdom.  However, I can see how Disneyland could be low-tech, or slow for some children (but remember I haven’t been there in 30 years).  In that case, I would think a trip to Epcot Center in Florida could be substituted.  I went there once in the late 1990s and for me, it was like a grown-up version of It’s a Small World.  I felt that exhibits and displays focused more on technology, science, and the future rather than relics of nostalgia that Disneyland provides.