The 1920s were prosperous years from the American population, and this cultivated the culture of consumerism. At this time, items such as ready-made clothing, motor vehicles, household appliances like refrigerators, and trips to theatres became staples in the American household. Although these were not new in the country, there was an increased appetite for them in the 1920s. There are several reasons for this shift to consumerism. Consumerism is a theory used to explain why people acquire goods and services in increasing amounts with time (Beder 43). Some of the reasons for the increasing consumerism in the country during the 1920s are technological advancements and inventions in areas such as communication, transport, and manufacturing.
The first reason is that people had more disposable income with increased prosperity. More Americans had jobs, and wages were on the rise. Wages rose from an approximate figure of $36.4 billion to over $50 billion. This rise meant that people earned more, and thus they had more disposable income to spend. They spent this extra money on consumer goods that they previously would not have been able to access. Access to credit also became much easier during the 1920s, and people could purchase any goods they wanted and pay off their debts later over time. This fuelled the attitude that a person could buy now and pay later.
Advertising also played a massive role in encouraging the culture of consumerism in the 1920s. Companies used different platforms such as television, print media, and celebrities to advertise their products to the public. Movie theatres gained popularity during the time, and advertisers took advantage of this. There were adverts before the airing of movies, and this prompted consumers to purchase the products they saw. The 1920s also saw a growth in the celebrity culture, and ordinary people wanted to be like these celebrities. A company would hire a celebrity to advertise a product, and people would rush to purchase the item. Access to electricity as the country switched from coal gave households the power needed to run appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, and electric irons that saved on labor and were also luxurious (Beder 45). Another reason why the United States prospered in the 1920s is increased efficiencies in terms of new technology and mass production. An example of this is the assembly line in factories that allowed them to harness economies of scale and produce goods at a lower price for the consumers.
The Great Depression between 1929 and 1940 marked a period of economic turmoil for the United States, and it also spread to other industrialized nations in the world. The Depression brought changes to the relationship between the economy and the state. Currently, the US government has different kinds of support for citizens who are unemployed, disabled, or living in poverty. Things were quite different in the 1930s. There were no such provisions, and when the Great Depression hit, people lost their sources of income, leaving them helpless. This was when President Roosevelt sprung to action with the New Deal and the Second New Deal.
Before the Depression, the economic system was more or less a laissez-faire capitalistic system (Cole & Ohanian 783). However, when the economy collapsed, the people were left alone with no one to come to their rescue. This situation is what prompted the state to take more control of the economy, and the two were firmly entwined since then. The government took a more proactive approach when it came to economic matters. Some of the systems introduced under the New Deals include social; security, unemployment insurance, welfare programs, job creation programs, among others (Cole & Ohanian. 802).These federal programs allowed the state to oversee the economy of the country and step in when necessary. For example, unemployed people could file for unemployment insurance and get some money from the government when they lost their jobs. About two hundred thousand people received social security benefits in 1940 alone, and this has grown to millions today.
The Second World War and the early Cold War brought many changes to the United States. The Cold War inspired fear and paranoia among the American public that there were communist spies in the country (Keegan 31). For this reason, the government and the public took a great interest in finding any spies and punishing them. Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy preyed on this public fear claiming that he had a list of communist spies within the country. The Second World War had a significant impact on the US economy. When the war began, the country was still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, including widespread unemployment. The war effort required the production of different kinds of goods and this created employment for many people. World War two became a kind of alleviation for the Great Depression because people could find work in the factories (Murray & Millett 11).
The America of today is based mainly on the contours of the twentieth century. The first reason for this is that many government programs established under the New Deal during the Great Depression are still in place today. These include unemployment insurance, government bailouts, and the social security system. The Cold War was characterized by proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union, and this persists to date. The United States and countries from Eastern Europe fight for superiority in areas such as space exploration, the creation of arms and weapons, as well as proxy wars.
Beder, Sharon. “Consumerism: An historical perspective.” Pacific Ecologist 9.1 (2004): 42-48.
Cole, Harold L., and Lee E. Ohanian. “New Deal policies and the persistence of the Great Depression: A general equilibrium analysis.” Journal of political Economy 112.4 (2004): 779-816.
Keegan, John. The second world war. Random House, 2011.
Murray, Williamson, and Allan Reed Millett. A war to be won: Fighting the Second World War. Harvard University Press, 2009.