Production for Use & The “Consumer” Vocabulary

Just received some news from a colleague at Washington State University about his research on the history of corporate capitalism’s reductionist “consumer” vocabulary.

Timberline Lodge, WPA-built As part of the exchange, I put this down about the NERA’s almost-forgotten “production-for-use” program:

During the mid-New Deal years, there was a very short launch of “production for use” programs, in which the government hired unemployed workers to manufacture basic goods, such as women’s dresses. This was by far the most heavily business-attacked of all New Deal programs, and was quickly shut down by the FDR authorities. There’s a short book on it by Nancy E. Rose, called Put to Work. There might be some interesting history of the “consumption” terminology in that lost facet of reality. Even if not, the fact that they called it “production for use” tells you about the connections between economic power and basic economic categories. When industry is public, you get “users.” When it’s private, the users get shrunken down to “consumers.”

[Photo: Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon, built not-for-profit in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration]