1st Edition

The Origins and Evolution of Consumer Capitalism A Veblenian-Keynesian Perspective

By John P. Watkins Copyright 2023
    240 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Consumer capitalism arose with the second industrial revolution, the application of continuous-mass production to consumer goods during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This book adopts a Veblenian, Keynesian viewpoint, presenting an evolutionary view of consumption combined with the need to increase demand to match increases in production. The book traces the history of consumer capitalism, examining the paradox posed by applying continuous-mass production to produce armaments for dynastic ambitions versus consumer goods for the masses, manifesting itself in the world wars of the twentieth century. Multiple paradoxes at the heart of the story address booms leading to busts, over-producing countries in Asia relying on over-consuming countries in the West, and the expansion of demand depending on increasingly inventive ways of liquefying assets, in light of stagnant incomes. The book persuasively argues that these paradoxes result from capitalism’s incessant drive to accumulate capital, fostering conflict, crises, and depression. The latest paradox results from the impact of continuous-mass production on the environment, manifesting itself as the Darwinian dilemma. The dilemma stems from human beings largely winning the struggle for existence and, in the process, possibly making the earth uninhabitable, at least for humans.



    Chapter 1: The Paradoxes of Consumer Capitalism

    Chapter 2: Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Consumer Capitalism: Thorstein Veblen and John Maynard Keynes

    Chapter 3: Continuous-mass Production and The Rise of the Modern Corporation

    Chapter 4: How to Absorb the Output? Consumerism versus Militarism: Veblen, Hobson, and Polanyi

    Chapter 5: Keynes and The Great Depression: Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

    Chapter 6: The Myopic Consumer and the Rational Economist: The Institutional Pattern of Consumption and Theories of Consumer Choice

    Chapter 7: The Liquefication of Everything: Corporate Power and the Evolution of Consumer Credit

    Chapter 8: America’s Perpetual Trade Deficit

    Chapter 9: The Great Financial Crisis--A Test of Two Models: Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis and the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Model

    Chapter 10: Quantitative Easing versus Modern Monetary Theory: Overcoming the Limits of the Private Domestic Economy

    Chapter 11: The Darwinian Dilemma: Winning the Struggle,

    Making the World Uninhabitable

    Chapter 12: Conclusion: The Civilization of Consumer Capitalism


    John P. Watkins is Professor of Economics at Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah, and adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of Utah. He has taught economics for some 40 years, teaching the history of economic thought, macroeconomic theory, economic justice, and ecological economics. He is past president of the Association for Evolutionary Economics and the Association for Institutional Thought. He is winner of the Bill and Vieve Gore Excellence in Teaching Award, twice recipient of the Manford A. and June Shaw Faculty Publication Award, and voted six times Professor of the Year. His purpose in teaching is to raise the students’ level of confusion, a purpose which he is known to have accomplished with considerable success.

    "John P. Watkins’ new book constructs a coherent historical narrative of the emergence of modern mass consumer capitalism out of late nineteenth-early twentieth century capitalism. It is masterfully written, and hopefully, will be read by many economists and, most importantly, by the next generation."

    William Waller, Hobart and William Smith College

    "In his new book, John P. Watkins has utilized the insights of two of the greatest analysts of the paradoxical nature of American economic development, Thorstein Veblen and John Maynard Keynes, to interpret the key moments of the last one hundred and fifty years of American capitalism. Thus, this volume will be useful for those teaching or researching U.S. economic history as well as those seeking texts that present an alternative perspective to economic theory."

    Janet T. Knoedler, Bucknell University