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The Big Postwar Story: Abundance and the Rise of Economic Journalism

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Abstract

The post-World War II era saw a dramatic transformation of U.S. financial journalism. Financial reporting changed from reciting stock quotes and company earnings and puff pieces on businessmen and individual companies to broader stories about the national economy and what economic trends meant for average Americans. The readership of business publications expanded enormously during the 20 years after the war, and economic reporting gained a more prominent place in major newspapers and general-interest magazines. What once was intended for a small cognoscenti of businessmen was now geared to the burgeoning postwar middle classes. Most significantly, financial journalists recognized that the big story of the era was America's dramatic economic growth and mass prosperity, and the changes that these were bringing about in American society. The post-World War II era was a watershed in the history of financial journalism in the United States. Financial reporting - which dated to the late 19th-century American industrialization -- changed from a dry recitation of stock quotes and company earnings and puff pieces on businessmen and individual companies to broader stories about the national economy and what economic trends meant for the average American. As Fortune writer and economist John Davenport said, Henry Luce conceived of Fortune as more than "stock and bond quotations and carloading statistics, the stock in trade of most previous financial journalism."1 Most significantly, business/financial reporters and editors recognized that the big story of the postwar decades was America's dramatic economic growth and mass prosperity, and the changes that these were bringing about in American society. As longtime Fortune editor Hedley Donovan recalled: "It is hard to remember, now that we have had so much of it for decades, what a big story prosperity was. . . We analyzed and celebrated the American boom—in prose, photography, paintings even, and of course in tables and diagrams and charts."2

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... Previous to and during this same period, American society maintained a conversation about the risks associated with the rise of mass production and mass consumption, as evidenced in the mid 1960s by publications such as Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Time Magazine all expressing concern about the performance of the consumption-based economy and the impact of the economy on the environment, education, government, public works, poverty as well as the need to seek greater meaning beyond material consumption alone (Yarrow, 2006;Edwards, 2014). ...
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The notion that the consumer is in a position of power relative to corporations is taken for granted by corporations, economists, and consumers in today's mass consumption landscape. This research questions and ultimately debunks the belief in the powerful consumer through (1) the concept of power and sexuality put forth by Foucault, (2) fashion as discourse discussed by Barthes, (3) analysis of French and Raven's uses of power, and (4) consumer interviews. This research shows that consumers are not aware of all the tools for power at their disposal, do not see an alternative to consumption as viable, are unable to extricate themselves from normative dynamics inhibiting their ability to question their position, are trapped by their desires for consumption, and want to see themselves as a powerful entity. Further, this research demonstrates that corporations have the greater power relative to consumers, are invested in perpetuating the myth of the powerful consumer and use their power to reinforce their position. The discussion is concluded by addressing the implications of this research at a societal level, namely in service of sparking a dialog at a policy, cultural, and economic levels about power and value.
... During the late 1960s, those authors turned from pointing out the superfluous character of consumer preferences in affluent contexts to producing unorthodox writings about the power of producers to control markets by persuading consumers (Galbraith 1967;Mishan 1967;Scitovsky 1972Scitovsky , 1976. Unlike Katona's view of consumers being 'powerful' in contexts of mass consumption, the literature on mass production developed alongside a change in the public view of affluence: from optimistic accounts, to worries about the fragility of American prosperity, the misuse of natural resources and the nuclear threat, to name a few (Yarrow 2006). ...
... However, Yarrow (2006) noted that after World War II, financial news in the United States transformed from merely reporting the earnings of private individuals and companies to discussing the social impact of company activities that affect the average person. Hester and Gibson (2003) noted that economic news are more significant than news on foreign affairs or politics since economic issues, like jobs, taxes, and even stocks, have an effect on the individual level. ...
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This thesis explores the relationship between source diversity and frame diversity as well as frame diversity and news quality. In line with the theories of framing and social responsibility of the press, it situates the said propositions in the area of economic journalism. A total of 616 economic news articles were content-analyzed, covering 20 quarters of gross domestic product (GDP) performance from 2006 to 2010. This thesis finds that source diversity in economic news is low to moderate while frame diversity is moderate to strong. Both types of diversity are positively correlated, such that higher source diversity leads to higher frame diversity in economic news. On the other hand, economic news is perceived to have low levels of interest, analysis and context, and moderate levels of understandability and impartiality. Of these five dimensions of news quality, only understandability is not correlated with frame diversity. This means that higher frame diversity in economic news leads to more interesting, impartial, analytical, and contextual stories. Eight economic journalists were interviewed to provide insights on the study’s findings. Finally, theoretical, methodological, and practical implications on framing economic news are discussed.
... During the late 1960s, those authors turned from pointing out the superfluous character of consumer preferences in affluent contexts to producing unorthodox writings about the power of producers to control markets by persuading consumers (Galbraith 1967;Mishan 1967;Scitovsky 1972Scitovsky , 1976. Unlike Katona's view of consumers being 'powerful' in contexts of mass consumption, the literature on mass production developed alongside a change in the public view of affluence: from optimistic accounts, to worries about the fragility of American prosperity, the misuse of natural resources and the nuclear threat, to name a few (Yarrow 2006). ...
Article
The aim of this essay is to present and explain the emergence and decay of two unorthodox views of consumer behaviour that developed from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s: the view of the powerful consumer and the view of market control by producers. It begins by presenting their common origins in empirical studies that opposed the Keynesian-type analysis of consumption. While the first developed into the program of behavioural economics defended by George Katona of the Michigan Survey Research Center, the second nourished the contributions of authors like Galbraith (1958, 1967, 1977), Scitovsky (1954, 1962, 1976) and Mishan (1960, 1967).
... In the post World War II period, business reporting in the U.S. articulated an " ideology of abundance " to an expanding audience that included not only a 15 narrow business elite but now a broader swath of affluent middle class America. American business publications of the era described American capitalism as a system of mass production and consumption that had discovered the secret to stable and constant economic growth through cooperation between business and government (Yarrow, 2006). In the 1970s, The Wall Street Journal served as an arena for the discussion and dissemination of supply-side economic policies (Parsons, 1989, ch.5; Scharff, 1986, ch.14). ...
... Business reporting in post-World War II America told the story of growth (Yarrow, 2006). Interrupted by the Korean War from 1949 to 1952, the postwar period contrasted sharply with prewar assumptions of endemic depression and economic weakness. ...
Article
The cultural authority of social science hinges on its public representation. In postwar United States of America, the business media were influential promoters of the appreciation of economics. This essay examines the work of a journalist and editor, Leonard S. Silk, and a magazine, Business Week, to reveal how trust in economics was established in the 1960s. Electing a cast of representatives of the economics profession, the media examined their biography, character and social identity. Economists were first assigned the identity of assistants to business planning, as forecasters. Soon after, economists were represented as experts on the fiscal management of the economy, as government advisers. Overall, trustworthiness in the media was a measure of the perceived independence of economists from their employers and from ideology.
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Scholarly engagement with the magazine form has, in the last two decades, produced a substantial amount of valuable research. Authored by leading academic authorities in the study of magazines, the chapters in The Routledge Handbook of Magazine Research not only create an architecture to organize and archive the developing field of magazine research, but also suggest new avenues of future investigation. Each of 33 chapters surveys the last 20 years of scholarship in its subject area, identifying the major research themes, theoretical developments and interpretive breakthroughs. Exploration of the digital challenges and opportunities which currently face the magazine world are woven throughout, offering readers a deeper understanding of the magazine form, as well as of the sociocultural realities it both mirrors and influences. The book includes six sections: Methodologies and structures presents theories and models for magazine research in an evolving, global context. Magazine publishing: the people and the work introduces the roles and practices of those involved in the editorial and business sides of magazine publishing. Magazines as textual communication surveys the field of contemporary magazines across a range of theoretical perspectives, subjects, genre and format questions. Magazines as visual communication explores cover design, photography, illustrations and interactivity. Pedagogical and curricular perspectives offers insights on undergraduate and graduate teaching topics in magazine research. The future of the magazine form speculates on the changing nature of magazine research via its environmental effects, audience, and transforming platforms.
Article
Hired Pens tells the story of the class of full-time independent professional writers who emerged in America in the 1830s and '40s and flourished during the great age of print that began after the Civil War and continued into the 1960s. While most accounts of the writing life focus on high-culture artists, Hired Pens treats authors who pursued the shifting popular tastes of Grub Street. Likewise it treats a literary marketplace that includes not only novels and poetry but gift annuals, story papers, general-circulation magazines, dime novels, pulp and slick magazines, newspaper syndicates, and paperback originals.
Prosperity Decade: From War to Depression
  • George Soule
George Soule, Prosperity Decade: From War to Depression, 1917-1929 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1962).
Economy is Like a Regular .300 Hitter
  • Walter Heller
Walter Heller, "Economy is Like a Regular.300 Hitter," Life, March 10, 1961, pp. 24-25. This Life article, captured this attitude.
Is a New Era Really Here?
U.S. News & World Report, "Is a New Era Really Here?" May 20, 1955, pp 21-23;
Perpetual Prosperity: Is the Business Cycle Out
  • Leon Keyserling
Leon Keyserling, "Planning for a $300 Billion Economy," The New York Times Magazine, June 18, 1950, p. 9ff. 63 "Perpetual Prosperity: Is the Business Cycle Out?" The Nation, January 29, 1955, pp. 96-98. 64 "Where Do We Go From Here?" Life, January 5, 1953, pp. 86-92; and "I Predict We'll Have Greater Prosperity," Look, January 1, 1955, pp. 42-43.
51-55; and "The Boom-Bust Cycle: How Well Have We Got It Tamed?
  • Sumner Slichter
Sumner Slichter, "Have We Conquered the Business Cycle?" The Atlantic, May 1955, pp. 51-55; and "The Boom-Bust Cycle: How Well Have We Got It Tamed?" Business Week, November 3, 1956, pp. 176-178.
  • Jerry M Rosenberg
Jerry M. Rosenberg, Inside the Wall Street Journal (New York: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 75, 214-215;
The Business of America: 100 Years of the Journal
  • Peter Baida
Baida, Peter, "The Business of America: 100 Years of the Journal," American Heritage, December 1988 39 (8), pp. 16-18; and Francis X. Dealy, The Power and the Money: Inside the Wall Street Journal (New York: Birch Lane, 1993).
Luce and the Rise of the American News Media
  • James L Baughman
  • R Henry
James L. Baughman, Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media, p. 66;
75, 94, 97; and New York World-Telegram, World Almanac and Book of Facts
  • Arthur Jones
  • Malcolm Forbes
Arthur Jones, Malcolm Forbes (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 75, 94, 97; and New York World-Telegram, World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York).
Eisenhower Presidential Library
  • D Dwight
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Ks.: C.D. Jackson Papers and Records of Gabriel Hauge.
Roundtable on Demobilizing the War Economy
The 17-page 1941 supplement, "Roundtable on Demobilizing the War Economy," Fortune, November 1941, supplement, pp. 1-20, was based on a conference convened by Fortune in the Berkshires that drew together New Deal opponents, labor leaders, economists such as Galbraith and Slichter, and liberal businessmen such as Ralph Flanders. See "The United States in a New World: III-The Domestic Economy," Fortune, November 1943, supplement, pp. 1-13.
See also Robert T. Elson, The World of Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Empire
  • Time Inc
Time Inc., Writing for Fortune (New York: Time Inc. 1979), p. 128. See also Robert T. Elson, The World of Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Empire. (New York: Atheneum, 1968-73), vol. II, pp. 196-203.
Full Employment' Was to Create Economic Paradise, But America is Discovering That There is No Substitute for Freedom and Hard Work
  • For
For example, see "The Myth of Unlimited Abundance; 'Full Employment' Was to Create Economic Paradise, But America is Discovering That There is No Substitute for Freedom and Hard Work," Wall Street Journal, October 8, 1946, and "We Have Been Warned: State Planning Means Allocations, Controls, Constant Shortages of Materials, Liberal Advocate Warns," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1949.
Truman's New Society
  • Jerry M Rosenberg
Jerry M. Rosenberg, Inside the Wall Street Journal (New York: Macmillan, 1982), p. 78 26 "Truman's New Society," Wall Street Journal, January 10, 1949";
Social Progress-The Record
Wall Street Journal, March 2, 1956; and "Social Progress-The Record," Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1960, for prosperity under Eisenhower;
for criticism of Eisenhower's pro-welfare state policies
"The New America," Wall Street Journal, September 1956, for criticism of Eisenhower's pro-welfare state policies;
Leon Keyserling Papers, Box 78
  • S Harry
  • Library
  • Independence
  • Mo
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Mo.: Leon Keyserling Papers, Box 78. On January 17, 1952, for example, The Times reprinted the entire Economic Report in 11 pages of dense type, and most papers played the Economic Report as a prominent front-page story.
Economic Storms Weathered By
  • John G Forrest
John G. Forrest, "Economic Storms Weathered By U.S.," The New York Times, January 5, 1953.
Transition to Peace: Business in AD 194Q
  • John Kenneth Galbraith
Some of the notable exceptions included Luce's essay, "The American Century," Life, February 17, 1941, pp. 61-65 (reprinted as a supplement to Fortune, November 1941, and in Reader's Digest, April 1941, pp. 45-49); and John Kenneth Galbraith, "Transition to Peace: Business in AD 194Q," Fortune, January 1944, p. 83ff.
Reformation of the World's Economies
  • Henry Luce
Henry Luce, "Reformation of the World's Economies," Fortune, February 1950, pp. 59-63.
The American and His Economy: About Our $1,300,000,000,000 Economy
  • John K Jessup
John K. Jessup, "How to Make the Troubled U.S. Economy Succeed Without Juggling: Choices Ahead for New Prosperity," Life, August 24, 1962, pp. 72-78 and Reader's Digest, November 1962. 38 "The American and His Economy: About Our $1,300,000,000,000 Economy," Life, January 5, 1953, pp. 7-100; "Boom Time," "Luckiest Generation," and "Wizards of the Coming Wonders," Life, January 4, 1954, pp. 6-11, 27-29, 92-94; "The Good Life: From 1890-1975-Leisure of the Classes and the Masses," Life, December 28, 1959, pp. 12-185.
(cover); and "If Our Pay Envelopes Are Fatter Now, It's Because Workers Produce More
"The Fabulous Fifties: America Enters An Age of Everyday Elegance," October 2, 1956 (cover); and "If Our Pay Envelopes Are Fatter Now, It's Because Workers Produce More," Saturday Evening Post, April 3, 1954, pp. 7, 22, 46, 76.
Condensing the Cold War
  • Joanne P Sharp
Joanne P. Sharp, Condensing the Cold War: "Reader's Digest" and American Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 12.
Continuing Revolution in the U.S
  • America
America's Vast New Leisure Class," Reader's Digest, January 1954, pp. 12-14; "Fresh View of Capitalism," Reader's Digest, July 1956, pp. 137-138; "Continuing Revolution in the U.S.," Reader's Digest, August 1955, p. 72; "Second U.S. Revolution That Shook All Mankind," Life, July 13, 1959, pp. 28, 94-96 (reprinted in Reader's Digest, October 1959, pp. 37-40); "Our Gadgets Set Us Free," Reader's Digest, August 1953, pp. 33-34; "What Marxism Promises, U.S. Capitalism Delivers," Reader's Digest, February 1957, pp. 173-174.
Robert Wagner's aide during the Depression, continued to publish in The Times, The New Republic, and elsewhere after leaving office. See, for example
  • Keyserling
Keyserling, who had written popular articles as Sen. Robert Wagner's aide during the Depression, continued to publish in The Times, The New Republic, and elsewhere after leaving office. See, for example, "The Boom-Bust Cycle: How Well Have We Got It Tamed?" Business Week, November 3, 1956, pp. 176-
Unsystematic American System
  • Frederick Lewis
Frederick Lewis Allen, "This Time and Last Time: Postwar Eras I and II," Harper's, March 1947, pp. 193-203 (reprinted in Reader's Digest, June 1947); "Unsystematic American System," Harper's, January 1952, pp. 21-26, and Reader's Digest, August 1952, pp. 107-111; "What Have We Got Here?" Life, January 5, 1953, pp. 46-50; and The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950 (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1952).
The Challenge of Prosperity
The American Economy 1959," Saturday Review, January 17, 1959, pp. 17-46; "The Challenge of Prosperity," Saturday Review, January 9, 1965, pp. 23-32ff.
  • Allen Wallis
W. Allen Wallis in "The American Economy 1959," Saturday Review, January 17, 1959, pp. 17-46.
The Unseemly Economics of Opulence
  • John Kenneth Galbraith
John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Unseemly Economics of Opulence," Harper's, January 1952, pp. 58-63;
If We're So Rich, What's Eating Us?
  • Robert Lekachman
and Robert Lekachman, "If We're So Rich, What's Eating Us?" Harper's, February 1956, pp. 38-42. 49 "Challenge to Our Economy," The New Republic, June 11, 1956, pp. 21-26, and June 25, 1956, p. 3ff;
Eisenhower's Second Term
"Growth Growth Growth" The New Republic, November 7, 1960, pp. 21-23; "What America Can Afford," The New Republic, March 7, 1960, pp. 15-23; "Time for a Keynes," The New Republic, October 20, 1962, p. 35; and "Eisenhower's Second Term," The New Republic, November 6, 1965, pp. 25-27.
Several of Keyserling's frequent articles were digests of pamphlets from his pro-growth Conference on Economic Progress. 51 "Prosperity for Whom?
  • Leon Keyserling
Leon Keyserling, "The Prospects for Prosperity in 1955," The New Republic, March 14, 1955, pp. 13-17; "How Fast Do We Grow?" The New Republic, June 16, 1958, pp. 7-8; "Report on the Economy," The New Republic, July 10, 1961, pp. 13-16; and "Time for a Keynes," The New Republic, October 20, 1962, p. 35. Several of Keyserling's frequent articles were digests of pamphlets from his pro-growth Conference on Economic Progress. 51 "Prosperity for Whom?" Nation, October 2, 1954, p. 284; "Voodoo Prosperity," Nation, October 23, 1954, pp. 358-60; "Perpetual Prosperity," Nation, January 29, 1955, pp. 96-98; "What Makes Prosperity," Nation, February 4, 1956, p. 82; "People's Capitalism," Nation, February 25, 1956, p. 151; "Myth of Guaranteed Prosperity," Nation, June 3, 1961, pp. 471-476; and "Economics of Affluence," Nation, June 2, 1962, pp. 493-496.
The World of Time Inc
  • See Elson
See Elson, The World of Time Inc, pp. 257-58.
AFL and CIO Urge Reconversion Unit; Head of U.S. Chamber Agrees on Need for New Agency to Effect Postwar Transition
For example: "Ruml Asks U.S. Aid on Postwar Jobs," The New York Times, May 19, 1943; Alvin Hansen, "Wanted: 10 Million Jobs," Atlantic, September 1943, pp. 65-69; "AFL and CIO Urge Reconversion Unit; Head of U.S. Chamber Agrees on Need for New Agency to Effect Postwar Transition," The New York Times, January 10, 1944; "Full Employment," The New York Times, October 19, 1944; "The Full Employment Bill," The New York Times, June 5, 1945; Philip Murray, in "Road to Freedom," The New Republic, September 24, 1945; "The Road to Freedom-Full Employment," The New Republic, September 24, 1945, pp. 395-415;
Full Employment-Beveridge Model
  • Alvin Hansen
Alvin Hansen, "Planning Full Employment," Nation, October 21, 1944, p. 492; and Mordecai Ezekiel, "Full Employment-Beveridge Model," Nation, March 3, 1945, pp. 251-53.
Full Employment-Beveridge Model
  • Mordecai Ezekiel
Mordecai Ezekiel, "Full Employment-Beveridge Model," Nation, March 3, 1945, pp. 251-253;
that "a nation which organized itself for maximum production in war can organize itself for peacetime prosperity
  • Mordecai Ezekiel
Mordecai Ezekiel, "Road to Postwar Prosperity," Scientific Digest, September 1943, pp. 37-42; "Two Types of Crises; We Must Act to Avoid Mass Unemployment and Make Sure Bureaucratic Control at No Time Takes the Place of Individual Creative Effort," The Wall Street Journal, July 30, 1945. 55 "Full Speed Ahead," Time, September 9, 1946, p. 83; "Boom: IT's Started, but--" Newsweek, April 1, 1946, p 68ff; and "Boom: A Second Look," Fortune, December 1946, pp. 113-119. David Lawrence, U.S. News' chief editorial writer, argued on October 19, 1945, that "a nation which organized itself for maximum production in war can organize itself for peacetime prosperity." 56 "How Well Can Americans Live?" Fortune, May 1947, pp. 124-132. 57 "Economists See 1950-1960 Boom," The New York Times, April 25, 1947; "U.S. Economic Trends from 1950 to 1960," The New York Times, May 4, 1947; and "Surveying American Economy in Terms of American Needs," The New York Times, June 1, 1947. 58 "Good Times A-Comin,'" Life, May 5, 1947, pp. 30-31; and Time, "Everything for Everybody?" May 5, 1947, pp 85-86. Indeed, the idea that the "mature economy" thesis was a "myth" began to be widely reported when the Fund's report was released, as evidenced in the 16-page synopsis, "USA: 1950-1960," Business Week, April 26, 1947, pp. 55-70.
Our Postwar Economy-Bigger or Different
Business Week, "Our Postwar Economy-Bigger or Different," October 4, 1947, p. 116. 60 "Who's Utopian Now? Fortune, January 1948, pp. 2-4;
Upturn in Business is Not Far Away
  • Sumner Slichter
Sumner Slichter, "Economic Picture: More White Than Black," The New York Times Magazine, May 22, 1949, p. 7ff; Sumner Slichter, "Upturn in Business is Not Far Away," The New York Times Magazine, July 17, 1949, p. 7ff; Sumner Slichter, "How Big in 1980?" Atlantic, November 1949, pp. 39-43 (excerpted in Time, November 7, 1949, p. 21;
Better Than We Think
  • Sumner Slichter
Sumner Slichter "Better Than We Think," Atlantic, Janaury 1950, pp. 46-
We Can Win the Economic Cold War Too
  • Sumner Slichter
Sumner Slichter, "Our $416 Billion Future," Science Digest, February 1950, pp. 68-73; and "We Can Win the Economic Cold War Too," The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1950, p. 7f..
How America Feels As It Enters the Soaring Sixties
  • U S Growth
Fortune, The Changing American Market, p. 13; "U.S. Growth: Our Biggest Year," Life, January 4, 1954; and "How America Feels As It Enters the Soaring Sixties," Look, January 5, 1960, pp. 11-12. 71 "Social Progress -The Record," Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1960. 72 Interview with Todd May, July 21, 2004.
Ten Amazing Years: The Official Story of America's Growth
"Half Trillion," Time, January 31, 1955, p. 12; "Ten Amazing Years: The Official Story of America's Growth," U.S. News & World Report, February 1, 1957, pp. 26-29; and "The Big Surge: The New America," Newsweek, December 12, 1955, pp. 56-60.
Life's high-toned, pedagogical style was derided by its somewhat more down-market competitor, Look, as "condescending
"The American and His Economy," Life, January 5, 1953, pp. 7-100. Life's high-toned, pedagogical style was derided by its somewhat more down-market competitor, Look, as "condescending."
Special Report: The Changed American Market-There Are More, Richer, Freer-Spending People in Every Region
Some of the more notable ones during these four years include: "U.S. Growth: Our Biggest Year... and Basis for a Bigger Future," Life, January 4, 1954; "Special Report: The Changed American Market-There Are More, Richer, Freer-Spending People in Every Region," Business Week, July 4, 1953, pp. 74-76;