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When reading the President's remarks from the other day about the problems with healthcare.gov, I was somewhat discomfited by the concept of "president as corporate salesman" that pervaded the speech. The most glaring example of this is the line "....because consumers want to buy this product and insurance companies want to sell it to you."

The Affordable Care Act, by design, accepts the conservative (neoliberal) notion of health insurance as a market good. We (unless we are very poor, disabled, or elderly) are supposed to "choose" private insurance from the marketplace. When the state views its residents as "consumers," it will tell them to make a purchase. When the state views its residents as "citizens," it seeks to provide the universal goods and services needed for a healthy and educated body politic, for the universal attainment of positive liberty.

"Choice" has its role in some aspects of the economy. I've discussed this elsewhere.  However, if we say, as liberals do when talking about education and health care, that "everyone deserves the best quality, then we are implicitly arguing for universal provision as against choice, especially in those cases where "choice" only means "you get only what you can afford, not what you need.” “Choice” as a concept makes sense when there are qualitative differences, particularly qualitative differences at each price level. When “shopping” for health insurance plans, the questions are “how much do they cover” and “how much do they cost.” The concerns are quantitative. One does not ask if a health insurance plan is yellow or blue, sweet or spicy, funny or serious. One can say those about clothing, about food, or about entertainment, where “choice” is a matter of taste, not just price.

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute has an excellent piece up today called "What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?" Konczal argues,

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism.
It's worth reading in full.

One of the key aims of the neoliberal project is to change the individual's relationship with the state to that of a consumer, rather than that of a citizen.

This tension between the individual as citizen and individual as consumer made me ask a question: When did the emphasis on the consumer become greater than the emphasis on the citizen?

Out of curiosity, I turned to the Google Books Ngram Viewer and tracked the relative frequency of the words "consumer" and "citizen" in the corpus of the English language over the past two centuries. I found the results rather revealing.  

From 1800 to the late 1890s, the word "consumer" was comparatively infrequent. It then experienced its first acceleration between (roughly) 1896 and 1920. For most of this time, however, the word "citizen" was becoming more frequent as well.

The word "citizen" experienced a download trend between 1919 and 1931. This largely coincides with the materialism of the "Roaring Twenties."

The word "consumer" rose sharply throughout the 1930s, the Great Depression. The word "citizen" rebounded slightly in the 1930s from its downward spin in the prior decade.

In the decade after World War II, with the beginnings of the era of mass consumerism, "consumer" continued to rise, and "citizen" began to fall again. "Consumer" passed "citizen" in 1957.

From 1966 to 1980, the word "consumer" saw a sharp increase. This might be a result of the rise of the "consumer protection" movement a la Ralph Nader. But it is also likely a result of the increase in consumerism . It seems fitting, in a way, to see that Reagan was elected in the year of peak "consumer."

From 1970 to 1988, the word "citizen" saw a quick decline. Trough "citizen" occurred in 1988, the end of the Reagan presidency.

I think that the chart serves as a great inspiration for a longer think piece on the relationship between the individual as consumer and individual as citizen. Maybe I'll write it someday.

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Comment Preferences

  •  post WWII (8+ / 0-)

    The title question immediately made me think of post WWII as the most relevant time period. Interesting that your google search seems to correlate with that.

    I consider it an insidious cultural problem.

    Thanks for contributing your perspective.

  •  at least as far back as 1951 (6+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:07:43 PM PDT

  •  I'm Sure It Needs to Be Tracked In the Messaging (7+ / 0-)

    of the RW revolution going back into the 60's, though I don't think they were doing much in the general public that early, and the activities of the rw thinktanks.

    I just scanned the 1971 Powell Memo and the only hits on "consumer" were few and no advocacy to steer debate toward employing the term to replace the term and concept of "citizen."

    But I recall it coming into practice by the 80's so I'd guess it was a messaging concept developed in the 70's.

    The corporate and financial worlds have huge incentives for this usage and since they've been driving the RW revolution back into its beginnings, we should look to those circles for the trend. Nothing about societal trends favoring the top of the economy has been accidental for most of our lives.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:09:27 PM PDT

    •  it's been the RW project since the 20s at least (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gooserock, 3goldens, grover

      maybe since the 1900's

      turn everyone into an isolated home-owning consumer and sell a lot of stuff to them.

      An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

      by mightymouse on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:33:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I Live in a 20's House and These Houses all Have (7+ / 0-)

        front porches and were close to the street encouraging community interaction. This is suburban rustbelt Ohio. Through WW2 they were still building very mixed income housing neighborhoods. House prices ranged 200% to 300% within momentary walking distance between the side streets and the avenues.

        We don't see the inward oriented generally front-porch-less housing here till around the GI Bill housing boom neighborhoods after WW2. But even then the houses were still close together and near the streets, encouraging of neighbor interaction till the 60's neighborhoods were being built. At that point we start seeing the big setbacks from the roads, wider lots, and integrated garages and other factors tending to isolate families.

        So between developers and city planners there was still plenty of community promotion going on by society into the 60's. We were still being viewed as both consumers and citizens into this time period.

        We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

        by Gooserock on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:49:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Grew up in a '20s era-built neighborhood... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          unfangus, mightymouse

          like that -- front porches spread across the front of the structure -- close to the street, in Northwest Pennsylvania.

          Definitely community-oriented; knew all the neighbors on at least a first-name basis.

          Good times

          'Cuz freedom can't protect itself ~~ EFF ~ EPIC ~ ACLU

          by markthshark on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 10:40:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Air conditioning and TV have been a big factor (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mightymouse

          Those big front porches were there because the houses were too hot in the summertime.

          The kids could play in the streets and yards because there were fewer cars, while the adults kept an eye on them and entertained each other on the porches.



          Women create the entire labor force.
          ---------------------------------------------
          Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

          by splashy on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 10:51:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  So basically this starts with the first push backs (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        unfangus, mightymouse

        against the New Deal. Good to know.

        Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

        by GreenMother on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 02:18:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Watch Century of the Self BBC Doc on YT and (7+ / 0-)

    you'll learn when we became consumers (20s-30s) and when the art of marketing to consumers was transplanted to politics (80s) - hilariously/sadly the person largely responsible is the nephew (?) of none other than Sigmeund Freud and his descendants. Truth is always stranger than fiction. I think there are a couple of books on the subject as well, don't recall the names.

    If I knew it was going to be that kind of party, I'd have stuck my ---- in the mashed potatoes! - Paul's Boutique

    by DoctorWho on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:27:59 PM PDT

  •  globalists don't recognize citizenship. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gulfgal98, splashy

    All they see are consumers.. and places around the world to move labor to cheapen production.

    That is all we are - consumers...

    citizens? that sounds so antiquated.

  •  When? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    second gen, MKSinSA

    around 1607 methinks.  I find it odd that folks today think much has changed other than technology and the transition from "loose lips" to tippy tappy fingers on electronics.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:35:55 PM PDT

  •  After WWII. In fact the only reason the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, unfangus

    wealthy kept us around at all is for decades after WWII we were the primary source of income for them.

    That has changed and they don't need us. They have the billions in India and China who, even if they have only a thousand a year in disposable income, still have more in total than we do.

    So they can safely kill us off.

    “Never argue with someone whose livelihood depends on not being convinced.” ~ H.L. MENCKEN

    by shigeru on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 07:41:23 PM PDT

  •  Substantial rise of marketing, madison avenue (8+ / 0-)

    and the use of psychological marketing post WWII. People were only seen as markets and described as consumers. The era of the "Hidden Persuaders" mentality in selling combined with planned obsolescence (and the decline in product quality as the driver of sales).

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 08:09:46 PM PDT

  •  kids know (if (5+ / 0-)

    they think about it at all) that they have no value to society except as consumers. They know, even if they can't articulate it, that they are not valued as thinkers, craftsmen or -women, artists or 'participants in society'.
    Similarly I had a ten year old girl tell me, "they only care that our grades are good so the school can get more funding". Cynical punk.
    When I was 20-22 it was the Vietnam days and my skills as a machinist were highly valued, giving me very high starting pay, union representation, a craft job I was proud to do well, and approval from older men in society.
    Now what 21 year old can have those things? The machinist schools and apprenticeships are gone forever and no one teachs kids the soul enrichening hand crafts.
    Ah just an old guy bitchin' but...if our society doesn't value the kids, they will certainly return the favor someday.

    I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

    by old mule on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 08:32:58 PM PDT

    •  and also (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      unfangus, splashy

      remembering on Friday after work coming home after stopping for a new pair of jeans and a few other things, saying to my family "Hey I got us a couple records, it's payday, let's got see a movie or something". Not many kids today could have a wife and baby and still have a few bucks left over after every paycheck.
      Our country has thrown away a LOT.

      I buy and sell well trained riding mules and American Mammoth Jack Stock.

      by old mule on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 09:14:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There's a great video, (4+ / 0-)

    The Story of Stuff (watch it here: http://storyofstuff.org/...) where consumerism is addreseed by activist Annie Leonard and at about the 11 minute and 33 second mark she goes into detail about the post WWII push for consumerism, led by econmist Victor Lebow. The video is about 20 minutes long but well worth watching...as are the other shorter mini films on her site.

    To be blunt, if you do not suffer from seriously diminished mental capacity or the personality disorder that is right wing extremism and still vote Republican...I'd double check on the two previously mentioned conditions.

    by jellin76 on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 08:52:19 PM PDT

  •  I understand the disturbance but... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight

    We are both, in truth. And both can be even more  beneficial when they are united in purpose. The sum of these two things together equals something much more powerful than each exercised independently.

    They are our only weapons and every man, woman, and child in this country should learn how to better use them to greater effect.

    Being a consumer gives us more torque ONLY if we are and remain citizens first.

  •  It's a pervasive mindset now (4+ / 0-)

    Also note that political parties no longer have a reputation, they have a "Brand".

    It seems appropriate given that what we have is a strange mix of democracy and corporate influence.  In a corporatocracy, politicans are brand salesmen, and voters are the "marks," er, I mean "consumers".

    "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

    by Subterranean on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 09:57:47 PM PDT

    •  Branding (2+ / 0-)

      When commentators speak of political 'brands'  it is fingernails-on-blackboard annoying to me, too.

      Using search terms "democratic brand" (then re-running it case-insensitive), and doing the same for "republican brand" in Ngram Viewer yields interesting results.

      A usage spike for both phrases occurs circa 1960 just before the citizen/consumer trends knee over. Don't know what to make of it, but while since 2000 trending increases for both usage has become much more pronounced  for Republican.

  •  "Patient." (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BusyinCA

    Yes, there is the citizen issue you raise.

    But what concerns me is that we have been relabeled consumers of healthcare. We're no longer patients.

    Ask your friends and family who have been really ill or really injured if they made any decisions about their care in the ambulance, while driving to the ER, while in the ER (or trauma room) or any time they've needed anything but pretty routine care.

    Most of the time, they'll look at you like you're crazy.

    Patients don't choose care. When we can, we try to choose our doctors (which, it's funny. THAT choice has been taken away from us by and large). But if you need emergency surgery, you're not asking the surgeon for a copy of his CV and calling up references. You're thanking whatever guides you that there's a surgeon available at 3am who can take care of you immediately.

    The massive problem I see with the consumer-based system is that the vast majority of people have nowhere near enough information to pick and choose what care is right for them.  And those who DO have that sort of knowledge and experience? Well, sheeze, it's well known that physicians often make terrible patients. Why is that? Too much knowledge can be a problem too when you're too close to the situation.

    What passes for knowledge these days is data on the internet. Google your ailment and you're an expert. Now go and second-guess your doctor and all the tests she does or doesn't think she should run. Call the other hospital. Will they do the surgery for less?   Yes? Hmm. A good consumer should go for the best cost if hospitals seem equivalent. A good patient asks her doctor why she trusts one hospital over another.

    "Care" in the term "healthcare" isn't there accidentally. We don't say "autocare" to refer to vehicle maintenance.  We expect caring upkeep and repairs of ourselves and those we love. We want our doctors and nurses to treat us like patients, not like people holding numbers at the deli.

    The deli shop owner at the deli may be a great guy. But he doesn't care if your salami wasn't perfect for you, or if a mortadella would have been more suitable given your age and family history. Your physician does.

    He cares. You're his patient.

    We're teetering on the edge of that system. Below us is the valley of consumerism. Most patients don't think of themselves as consumers. But if we don't back up this train, I'm not sure we won't ruin medical care in this country forever.

    © grover


    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

    by grover on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 12:16:24 AM PDT

  •  How about taxpayers? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    Republicans have been working to replace citizen with that word for a while now.

    "When dealing with terrorism, civil and human rights are not applicable." Egyptian military spokesman.

    by Paleo on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 12:24:35 AM PDT

    •  Yes, only land owners though in their world can (1+ / 0-)

      be Citizens--or at least that is how the voter suppression attempts in 2007 looked. Everyone else--the poly-ticks deemed was a free-loader.

      Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

      by GreenMother on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 02:17:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Taxpayers are people who have access to and (0+ / 0-)

      use currency. Since access to currency is being used to restrict the participation of some people in the free trade and exchange of goods and services, "taxpayer" has come to identify the exclusive users. The excluded are made up of children, prisoners, sick people, homeless, indigent and impecunious. The "almighty dollar" is no longer an object of scorn, but a tool of subordination, whose utilization leaves no finger prints.

      Money and the law = the invisible, invincible duo.

  •  Health care insurance for the majority of people (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    Don't have health care will remove the Republican stigma they've assigned to these people as health care queens.  

    Of course Republicans want this to fail because people who couldn't get health care were described as parasites, but when these people suddenly pay for and get health care insurance, the Republican talking point will no longer exist.

    The actualization that these people chose not to get health care and live off Emergency Room care will wink out of existence and the decades attack that Republicans have been pursuing will be seen for what it is.  A completely made up story about poor and middle poor Americans not wanting insurance but rather than the truth, that they weren't allowed to get insurance.

    That's the triumph there.

    Republicans will be uncovered as the liars they've been.

  •  I often commented on the use of the word (1+ / 0-)

    Customer, when I was in the military back in the 1990s.

    It really bothered me. It's the effing military--WHAT CUSTOMERS?

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

    by GreenMother on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 02:14:08 AM PDT

  •  After 9/11 (1+ / 0-)

    When Bush said, "go shopping". I see from your plots that the data says it happened well before that incident, but it was the most offensive example.

  •  I've long objected to "consumer" because of (0+ / 0-)

    its relationship to consumption, a negative debilitated state. However, in the context of civil rights, which only adhere to citizens, consumer rights are broader and closer to the universal human rights recognition to which aspire. So, the consumer rights revolution, which governs not only our dealings in the private market place, but also the public corporations' obligation to serve ALL persons regardless of age or nationality or social station, will likely, in retrospect, turn out to be more significant. The citizen is important, but the young and the halt and the mentally incompetent are naturally precluded from that role and still entitled to care and respect.
    Also, while "user" might also serve, "consumer" has a certain aggressive tinge, which is probably why public officials are opting for the more pejorative "customer," a creature of habit, whose behaviors can be anticipated and managed. "The customer is always right," is actually a condescending and dismissive phrase, unless one reads it as people on the political right being creatures of habit needing to be served.

    Consumer rights seems an acceptable rendition of human rights.

    That said, private enterprise in the U.S. has long been accustomed to feeding at the public trough and being advantaged, vis a vis foreign interests, by a guaranteed income stream and monopolistic conditions secured by legislative privilege. Think copy right, liability law, territorial exclusion, etc. That public corporations should focus on disutilities may have been proclaimed, but not really preferred.
    If our public corporations were limited to dealing with disutilities,

    inundation
    incineration
    invasion
    injury
    incarceration
    infestation
    ignorance

    then it would be automatically limited, but that's not what the proponents of limited government are after. What they want is access to the public purse for themselves and the exclusion of everyone else. What they want is for the public corporation to serve the interests of a hierarchy, a metaphorical top dog or predator class.

    Capitalists as metaphorical cannibals.

  •  sure the idea tracks back further, but to me the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    waterstreet2013

    rip in the veil came when GW Bush announced after 9/11 that the way to regain normalcy was for people to go down to Disney World. Oops- wouldn't want the economy to falter or anything...

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 04:15:33 AM PDT

  •  I, Consumer - from Truthout (1+ / 0-)

    Where have all the people gone? Not to mention the citizenry, human beings, neighbors, inhabitants, individuals, men, women, adults, children, workers, employees, employers? Suddenly, everywhere, gone, all of them. Their places taken by consumers.

    It was not a matter of right or left. National Public Radio (NPR), the staunchest of middle-of-the-roaders, used the term. In testimony before Congress, the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that consumer incomes were down. And Fox News reported that not "people" or "humanitarians," but rather, consumers - had been deceived by criminals in the act of giving charity to those suffering from natural disasters.

    It continues here on Truthout.

  •  In education, too. (1+ / 0-)

    I read Diane Ravitch's book The Death and Life of the Great American School System for an ed psych class. Her line "...the problem with the marketplace is that it dissolves communities and replaces them with consumers" is highlighted and has an arrow pointing to it in my copy because, for me, it perfectly sums up the importance of public education (and healthcare, public transportation...)

    I'd love to read a longer piece on consumer vs. citizen!

  •  Interesting ideas (0+ / 0-)

    Food for thought...



    Women create the entire labor force.
    ---------------------------------------------
    Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 10:46:24 AM PDT

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