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The Anxieties of Affluence

Critiques of American Consumer Culture, 1939-1979

Daniel Horowitz

Publication Year: 2004

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 deep-seated ambivalence toward consumer culture.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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p. ix

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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...

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1. Chastened Consumption: World War II and the Campaign for a Democratic Standard of Living

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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...

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2. Celebratory

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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...

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3. A Southerner in Exile, the Cold War, and Social Order: David M. Potter’s People of Plenty

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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...

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4. Critique from Within: John Kenneth Galbraith, Vance Packard, and Betty Friedan

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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’s Affluent Society (1958); three books by Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders (1957), The Status Seekers (1959), and The Waste Makers (1960); and Betty Friedan’s...

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5. From the Affluent Society to the Poverty of Affluence, 1960–1962: Paul Goodman, Oscar Lewis, Michael Harrington, and Rachel Carson

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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...

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6. Consumer Activism, 1965–1970: Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King Jr., and Paul R. Ehrlich

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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...

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7. The Energy Crisis and the Quest to Contain Consumption: Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, and Robert Bellah

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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...

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8. Three Intellectuals and a President: Jimmy Carter, “Energy and the Crisis of Confidence”

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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. ...

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Epilogue: The Response to Affluence at the End of the Century

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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...


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pp. 257-317

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pp. 319-321

Writing about books, authors, and ideas has made me abundantly aware of how much I rely on the work, help, and encouragement of others. I have no illusions that this book will have an impact on national consciousness similar to that of the best-sellers whose histories I explore. Nor can I imagine that the response to this book will transform my life as...


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pp. 323-339

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761106
E-ISBN-10: 1613761104
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558494329
Print-ISBN-10: 1558494324

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 667102286
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Anxieties of Affluence

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Intellectuals -- United States -- Attitudes.
  • Acquisitiveness -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Wealth -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- United States -- Psychological aspects.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Moral and ethical aspects -- United States.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Affluent consumers -- United States -- Psychology.
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