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Summary of Lizabeth Cohen's article “Trying to Buy Our Way Out of Trouble”


In the article “Trying to Buy Our Way Out of Trouble,” Lizabeth Cohen writes about a message that the media and politicians sent to the American public in December of 2002. The message was that “consuming…is our best hope for keeping recession at bay.” They hoped that after 9/11 our economy would not crash if we kept spending money.


Cohen reminds the reader that encouragement from the government to spend more money happened after the Great Depression as well. It was also at this time in the late 40's and 50s that “consumer credit inflated that purchasing power” and many Americans started buying expensive household items on credit. Cohen does not think that Americans bought on credit just so they could have more “purchasing power” though. She believes that Americans thought being able to spend more money would bring more equality to social classes.


However, Cohen thinks that increased spending power has not brought equality to Americans. Instead, she feels it has increased inequality. She writes that retailers “distanced themselves from consumers deemed undesirable because they were too poor, too black, or young and unruly” (Cohen). She also notes that transportation to malls was (and still is) encouraged for white, suburban women but not for people who live in the city or even the people that work at the malls.


In short, Cohen wants readers to think about the fact that it doesn't just matter how many dollars are spent but “who has dollars to spend—and where they are able to spend them.” We are fooling ourselves if we think that spending more money makes Americans more equal.


 Word Count: 269

Summary of Cohen's Article

Cohen makes an argument about the detriments of consumption on equality in America .  She is responding to the government's and businesses' call to "spend more" after 9/11 to help boost our economy.  Cohen's goal is to show that consumption, as it is currently, is problematic and that we, as consumers in America , need to think more carefully about it. 

According to Cohen, the problem is historical and dates back to the recovery from the Depression in the 1930's.  Then, as now, the government and business leaders and workers called for more spending and increased consumer credit to enable this.  As a result, a pseudo-democratic idea that spending more would create more equality among classes in the U.S. was born.  "Citizens, living better than before, would be on equal footing with their prospering neighbors" (Cohen).  Cohen does not believe spending more creates more inequality.  In fact, she argues just the opposite and cites many examples of the negative effects increased shopping and malls have had on society, and she concludes by saying, "So before we praise consumer spending too lavishly this holiday season, it is worth recognizing that totaling up the dollars spent is not enough" (Cohen).  Cohen wants us to think about some of the less tangible effects our holiday shopping and make a change.


Word Count: 215