Ethical Dimensions of Consumerism in the United States
3. Politicizing the Consumer in America
3.1 The Historic Roots of Political Consumerism
3.1.1 From the Revolution to the Rise of Fordism
Just as opinions on the political dimension of consumption diverge, for a long time experts have been at odds with each other over the emergence of consumer culture in America. Some date it back to the 1880s, to the aftermath of the American industrial revolution, and link it to the emergence of a managerial class.1 However, more recently, the view that the foundations for the American consumer society were laid in the mid-eighteenth century, even before the American Revolution, has become dominant. According to James Axtell, the “English ‘consumer revolution’”,2 which also effected colonial America, opened up an unprecedented variety of economic choices and consumer goods. Similarly, the historian T.H. Breen traces “the Birth of an Anglo-American ‘consumer society’”3 back to the same period preceding the American Revolution. By 1750, Great Britain had established a “virtual ‘empire of goods’.” However, this rapidly growing material culture also came with issues of economic and political dependency and imported goods were thus increasingly perceived of as “symbols of oppression.”4
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