Much on the blog that I need to get back to, posts left unfinished that I said I’d return to with quotes and notes from stuff. Here’s yet another.

I recently read the book Consumers Republic, which uses a conceptual distinction between the figure of the citizen consumer (which existed at two main levels – fairly self consciously within consumer organizations and consumer movements; as an ideal or outlook among people in those organizations and movements and some people outside them) and the purchaser consumer (which existed in part in the atomized appetitive behaviors of individuals and in part within ideologies among economic planners and others). The citizen consumer tended to call for government regulation and to hold to a view of the greater (usually national) good and group identity. The purchaser consumer held to a basically Smithian idea that pursuit of individual ends via economic transactions would add to a good society somehow, through something like an invisible hand.

There’s a lot to like in the book, including a great discussion of the GI Bill after WWII and of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices. Included in the latter were the actions of individual home owners. There’s a quote someplace in the book, a white home owner who was upset that an African American family had moved in to the subdivision. The white home owner said something like “I’m sure they’re nice people but every time I look at them I see a $2000 drop in my property values” (because property values tend to decline when people of color move in). It’s a good example of how structural racism feeds subjective racism as well as racist behaviors by people who may not themselves be strongly racist in a subjective sense.

One thought I had on this, the reason I wanted to post this – Cohen seems to view the racist white home owners through the lens of the purchaser consumer. It seems to me they could just as well be viewed through the lens of the citizen consumer. Insofar as property values can be viewed as a social good (I am not arguing that they *should* be so viewed, but rather that they *can* be so viewed), linked to school funding among other things, then maintaining high property values could arguably be part of a vision of the greater good. That would allow the racist home owner to be not an atomized individual thinking in narrow economic terms – the purchaser consumer – but rather a self conscious political actor who may well be tied in to organizations that help put forward this interest (perhaps the local PTA, or a church group, or a neighborhood association), which would make the racist home owner a citizen consumer – arguably one operating with a very old (but no less – arguably, perhaps more – despicable) american definition of citizenship.

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