European History History North American History Political Science

Consumerism, the European Union, & Euro-Terrorism

Consumerism, the European Union, & Euro-Terrorism

Consumerism is about luxury and wants rather than needs. It exists “when the majority of the population either possesses or aspires to own a range of goods and services that far exceeds the level required to meet basic subsistence.” [1]

While the ideology began in several countries across the global as early as the seventeenth century, it boomed in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was this American model that was explicitly exported to the rest of the world in the 1900s, particularly Europe, as evidenced in postwar reconstruction programs such as the Marshall Plan.

The standard of living rose, leisure time flourished, and percentage of money spent on food and housing declined. The automobile industry thrived as well as the sale of “gadgets” such as televisions, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, stereos, etc.

The result of the preceding and ongoing industrial and technological expansion was the ascension of managers and experts with backgrounds in engineering or accounting to the higher ranks of the middle class. Unfortunately, new marketing techniques and easily accessible credit led to an obscene amount of overspending, particularly among the working class, which eventually created divisions among the poor.

The conglomerate that would become the European Union (EU) was established in 1952 “as a means of preventing France and Germany from ever going to…war with each other again.” [2] The Roman Treaty of 1958 grew the community, and the EU eventually expanded to include twenty-eight member states.

Many European states sought to create a United Europe in the 1950s as a result of the “Americanization” of the continent at the height of consumerism. Some complained that “European ways of life would be swamped by American culture,” while others “welcomed the safety granted by their American host country but nevertheless warned of totalitarian aspects of the American mass consumption and culture.” [2]


[1] Matthew Hilton, “Consumption and Consumerism,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, edited by Peter N. Stearns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[2] Stefan Immerfall and Barbara Wasner, “European Union,” in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture, edited by Dale Southerton (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011): 559-563, doi: 10.4135/9781412994248.n210.

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