Recently, Raz sent in this image of cans of WD-40, part of their Collectible Military Series, for sale at an auto parts store:

The types of war-related advertising we see can give us insights about how average Americans are connected to, and affected by, different wars. During many U.S. wars, contributing to the war effort was the duty of every citizen; this is particularly apparent with World War II. The draft, the deployment of some 16 million Americans, and public calls to purchase war bonds and ration food meant that war was nearly everyone’s concern. In contrast, the current War on Terrorism mostly only impacts those connected directly to it—military families. There are no widespread calls to ration, buy war bonds, or otherwise support the war effort through employment, growing vegetables, saving scrap metal, or other changes to our daily lives. My own research shows that members of military families feel the war is ignored and forgotten by most Americans. They feel isolated in their daily anxieties and their efforts to support their loved ones.

Products like the WD-40 Collectible Military Series were more common during WWII than they are now. During WWII advertising used the war cause and feelings of patriotism to sell a wide range of products that, ads argued, would help the U.S. win. Some were clearly connected to the war effort:

With others, the connection was much less obvious or direct:

Both Shlitz and Camel donated to the war effort. Similarly, with their “Drop and Give Me 40” campaign, WD-40 is donating part of their profits to charities that support service members and their families:

For each can purchased from March 2011 through May 2011, WD-40 Company donated 10 cents to three charities that help active-duty military, wounded warriors, retired veterans and their families. On Memorial Day, WD-40 Company presented $100,000 checks to each of the following military charities: Armed Services YMCA, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Veterans Medical Research Foundation.

Although military-themed products (aside from “support the troops” t-shirts, stickers and pins that are widely available) are not as common as they were during WWII, some companies have come out with patriotic advertising.

Goodyear has “support the troops” tires, sold and marketed at NASCAR races:

An Anheuser-Busch commercial shows ordinary Americans stopping their everyday lives to thank the troops. There is no mention of the company until the very end, and nothing at all about beer:

American Airlines has a similar advertisement depicting various Americans being supportive the troops before and during their flight:

The messages in these recent ads are markedly different than the WWII messages of everyone taking part and working toward victory, reflecting changing relationships between war efforts and the average citizen. No reminder of the war was necessary in the 1940s—war was a part of everyday Americans’ lives. Current ads, like the WD-40 series, often serve less as a call to specific action than as a reminder that the war exists, as a reminder to thank the troops and support service members. It’s a different type of message for a different type of war, one that only involves a small fraction of Americans and is often largely invisible to everyone else.

A longer version is cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Long before the Freakonomics guys hit the best seller list by casting their economic net in sociological waters, there was Gary Becker.  If you want to explain why people (some people) commit crimes or get married and have babies, Becker argued, just assume that people are economically rational.  Follow the money and look at the bottom line.  You don’t need concepts like culture or socialization, which in any case are vague and hard to measure.*

Becker wrote no best-sellers, but he did win a Nobel.  His acceptance speech: “The Economic Way of Looking at Behavior.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Friday about the recession, Becker started off Labor Day weekend weighing in on unemployment and the stalled recovery.  His explanation: in a word, uncertainty.

These laws [financial regulation, consumer protection] and the continuing calls for additional regulations and taxes have broadened the uncertainty about the economic environment facing businesses and consumers. This uncertainty decreased the incentives to invest in long-lived producer and consumer goods. Particularly discouraged was the creation of small businesses, which are a major source of new hires.

There’s something curious about this.  Becker pushes uncertainty to the front of the line-up and says not a word about the usual economic suspects – sales, costs, customers, demand.  It’s all about the psychology of those in small business, their perceptions and feelings of uncertainty.  Not only are these vague and hard to measure, but as far as I know, we do not have any real data about them.  Becker provides no references.  The closest thing I could find was a small business survey from last year, and it showed that people in small business were far more worried about too little demand than about too much regulation.

Compared with Regulation, twice as many cited Sales as the number one problem.  (My posts on uncertainty from earlier this summer are here and here.)

In addition, the sectors of the economy that should be most uncertain about regulation – finance, mining and fuel extraction, and medical care – are those where unemployment is lowest.

More, as David Weidner writes in the Wall Street Journal, taxes, interest rates, and regulation at an all-time low.

[The uncertainty-about-taxes-and-regulation argument] would make more sense if, say, taxes were already high and might be going higher or regulatory burdens were heavy and might be getting heavier. But when taxes are at a 60-year low and the regulations are pretty much the same as they were in the 1990s boom, the argument makes no sense at all (Mark Thoma quoting an e-mail from Gary Burtless).

If it’s really uncertainty caused by these things that causes a reluctance to hire, the time to invest and hire should be now.


* This is an oversimplified version, but it will do for present purposes.

This month thousands of sociologists met in Las Vegas for our annual meeting.  There were lots of opinions about the city and our accommodations at Caesar’s Palace.  In the two-minute clip below, a sociologist who studies cities, Sharon Zukin, offers her thoughts on Las Vegas:

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Attention upper-middle class white women: help save poor Indian women from a life of forced prostitution, all from the comfort of your hammock! Simply purchase some comfy, trendy pants.

(Image from International Princess Project, the organization behind Punjammies)

Aliyah C. wrote to us about a series of photos on a website for a product called Punjammies. The images offer a stark illustration of the racial, classed, and gendered nature of many “development” initiatives.

According to their website, Punjammies claims to offer Indian women who have escaped forced prostitution a chance to rebuild their lives by providing them with the marketable skill of manufacturing clothing.

Images in the Punjammies catalogue make it clear who the target market is: They feature exclusively white women, luxuriously lounging about in Punjammies attire.

Meanwhile, images on the “About” page depict the women purportedly empowered by this operation, conducting manual labour to produce Punjammies products.

Consumerism-driven development initiatives like Punjammies fail to challenge the inherent inequalities at play in a situation where wealthy, white women in the developed world are seen as benevolent and charitable for making a purchase, while women in developing countries manufacturing the products are portrayed as beneficiaries. Furthermore, as Barbara Heron might argue, Punjammies is a prime example of how development initiatives often play into notions of white female subjectivity as compassionate and caring, dependent upon the Othering of women of colour in the south.  In fact, since colonialism, the advantages that accrue to those of us in developed countries have been linked to the disadvantages faced by the rest of the world. Our economies are not separate entities, they are intimately linked.

Reflecting upon images like these should remind us to remain critical of the ways in which “development” is marketed to us, and how it can perpetuate rather than challenge inequalities.


Reference: Heron, B. (2007). Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender and the Helping Imperative. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Hayley Price has a background in sociology, international development studies, and education. She recently completed her Masters degree in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

The U.S. economy is in trouble and that means trouble for the world economy.

According to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report, “Buoyant consumer demand in the United States was the main driver of global economic growth for many years in the run-up to the current global economic crisis.”

Before the crisis, U.S. household consumption accounted for approximately 16 percent of total global output, with imports comprising a significant share and playing a critical role in supporting growth in other countries.

…as a result of global production sharing, United States consumer spending increas[ed] global economic activities in many indirect ways as well (e.g. business investments in countries such as Germany and Japan to produce machinery for export to China and its use there for the manufacture of exports to the United States).

In short, a significant decline in U.S. spending can be expected to have a major impact on world growth, with serious blow-back for the United States.

There are those who argue that things are not so dire, that other countries are capable of stepping up their spending to compensate for any decline in U.S. consumption. However, the evidence suggests otherwise.As the chart below (from the report) reveals, consumption spending in the U.S. is far greater than in any other country; it is greater than Chinese, German, and Japanese consumption combined.


Moreover, there is little reason to believe that the Chinese, German, or Japanese governments are interested in boosting consumer spending in their respective countries.  All three governments continue to pursue export-led growth strategies that are underpinned by policies designed to suppress wage growth (lower wages = cheaper goods = stronger competitiveness in international markets).  Such policies restrict rather than encourage national consumption because they limit the amount of money people have to spend.

For example, China is the world’s fastest growing major economy and often viewed as a potential alternative growth pole to the United States.  Yet, the Economist reveals that the country’s growth has brought few benefits to the majority of Chinese workers.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite several years of wage increases, Chinese manufacturing workers still only earn an average of  $1.36 per hour (including all benefits).  In relative terms, Chinese hourly labor compensation is roughly 4 percent of that in the United States.   It even remains considerably below that in Mexico.

Trends in Germany, the other high-flying major economy, are rather similar. As the chart below shows, the share of German GDP going to its workers has been declining for over a decade.  It is now considerably below its 1995 level.  In fact, the German government’s success in driving down German labor costs is one of the main causes of Europe’s current debt problems — other European countries have been unable to match Germany’s cost advantage, leaving them with growing trade deficits and foreign debt (largely owed to German banks).


The Japanese economy, which remains in stagnation, is definitely unable to play a significant role in supporting world growth.  Moreover, as we see below, much like in the United States, China, and Germany, workers in Japan continue to produce more per hour while suffering real wage declines.


For a number of years, world growth was sustained by ever greater debt-driven U.S. consumer spending.  That driver now appears exhausted and U.S. political and economic leaders are pushing hard for austerity.  If they get their way, the repercussions will be serious for workers everywhere.

Our goal should not be a return to the unbalanced growth of the past but new, more stable and equitable world-wide patterns of production and consumption.  Achieving that outcome will not be easy, especially since as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s World Investment Report 2011 points out, transnational corporations (including their affiliates) currently account for one-fourth of global GDP.Their affiliates alone produce more than 10 percent of global GDP and one-third of world exports.  And, these figures do not include the activities of many national firms that produce according to terms specified by these transnational corporations.   These dominant firms have a big stake in maintaining existing structures of production and trade regardless of the social costs and they exercise considerable political influence in all the countries in which they operate.

In Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are, Rob Walker discusses one of the central dilemmas facing marketers: they are trying to get large numbers of people to buy the same thing, while convincing them that doing so in no way makes them conformists. How do you “keep it real” (a phrase repeated ad nauseam by the marketers Walker interviewed) and appear authentic and non-conformist while trying to get as many people as possible to buy the same product?

One solution is to frame buying your product not as a boring act of conformity, but instead as a way of expressing your own unique personal identity. Buying a product you’ve seen advertised doesn’t detract from your authenticity, it enhances it — even if you’re buying a mass-produced product that thousands or even millions of other people purchased identical copies of.

Bec G. sent in this an ad from Jeanswest Australia that illustrates this, asserting that their jeans are “as unique as you”:

Of course, as Bec pointed out, the models they chose to represent how unique Jeanswest customers are are all pretty uniformly thin, even the pregnant woman.

Sarah F. sent in another example. The Australian website for the sandwich chain Subway asks customers whether their preferred sandwich is unique:

I filled out the quiz, creating the only thing I ever get if I eat at Subway: a standard veggie sandwich, no tomatoes. I was then asked to give this amazing item its very own name, to be saved for posterity on the Subway website (if they approve the name): “You’ve just created a Sub that is a reflection of you, so let’s give it a name. Feel free to be creative, after all this is YOUR creation!”

Then it was time for the big reveal. The webpage reinforced the message that designing my very own personalized sandwich from their relatively limited stock list of ingredients is an important expression of my inner being:

I was so nervous! What if my sandwich wasn’t special? Was the honey oat bread too mainstream a choice? Oh, why didn’t I go with the chipotle sauce?!

But it all turned out ok!

In Australia, at least, I now know that my Subway sandwich choice separates me from the masses. What a relief!

Claude Fischer, at Made in America, argues that the biggest change of the last 50 years is the increase in the number of mothers in the workforce.  From the beginning of last century till now, that rate has accelerated precipitously:

While some women have always worked (at unpaid housework and childcare, selling goods made at home, or in paid jobs), most women now work outside of the home for pay.  So long “traditional” family.  Why the change?  Fischer explains:

First, work changed to offer more jobs to women. Farming declined sharply; industrial jobs peaked and then declined. Brawn became less important; precise skills, learning, and personal service became more important. The new economy generated millions of white-collar and “pink-collar” jobs that seemed “suited” to women. That cannot be the full story, of course; women also took over many jobs that had once been men’s, such as teaching and secretarial work.

Second, mothers responded to those job opportunities. Some took jobs because the extra income could help families buy cars, homes, furnishings, and so on. Some took jobs because the family needed their income to make up for husbands’ stagnating wages (a noteworthy trend after the 1970s). And some took jobs because they sought personal fulfillment in the world of work.

And married working mothers changed the economy as well.  Once it became commonplace for families to have two incomes, houses, cars, and other goods could be more expensive.  Things women had done for free — everything from making soap and clothes, to growing and preparing food, and cleaning one’s own home — could be commodified.  Commodification, the process of newly buying and selling something that had not previously been bought and sold, made for even more jobs, and more workers, and so the story continues…

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Jeff H. sent in a link to a graphic at Civil Eats that lets you see the rise in U.S. daily caloric availability between 1970 and 2008, and where the additional calories are coming from. They are based on USDA data on food available for human consumption, minus what is wasted through being thrown out, spoiling before making it to the store, etc., to approximate average daily calorie consumption. It’s a rough measure, and clearly actual consumption will vary widely, but the overall changes provide some insights into the changing U.S. diet.

Note: I sometimes used the word “consumption,” “consumed,” etc., in the post since availability is an approximation of it, but as a reader pointed out, I should have been more careful, so I’ve fixed it throughout the post.

In 1970, we consumed had available an average of 2,168 calories per day, and the single largest source was meat/eggs/nuts:

By 2008, we had 2,673 calories available on average. The big jumps were in added fat — there are 231 more calories a day available per person, and it’s now the single largest source of calories — and grains. I was surprised to see how small the increase in added sugars was…and calories available from vegetables and dairy actually went down:

Overall, that’s an increase in available calories of 23.3% during this 38-year time frame.

You can go to the Economic Research Service website and create charts or tables of caloric availability for specific food groups. For instance, the chart on changes in sweeteners shows the jump in use of high-fructose corn syrup, and an accompanying decrease in dextrose:

There’s a lot less whole milk than there used to be:

But we’ve grown to love mozzarella and make a lot more of it:

Or instead of looking at trends over time, you can get the breakdown for one particular year. Here are the sources of our added fats for 2008:

Non-alcoholic drinks (excluding milk):

I warn you, this is one of those things where it seems like you’ll just look for a second, and the next thing you know you’ve spent 45 minutes making customized charts of every possible category of food.

Also, we do not like lima beans:

UPDATE: Reader Chorda provides some context that I think is helpful:

The added fat looks impressive, but because fat has 9 calories per gram that increase ends up only being 25.6 grams of fat over the 1970 amount, or 0.903013 ounce. Yes, less than an ounce of fat can add 231 calories. On the other hand, the additional grains and sugar combined would be 62.51 grams of carbohydrates, or 2.20497 ounces dry weight and 250 new calories from carbohydrate sources.

Just over three ounces of food can make a difference of 481 calories. Eating that extra 3.1 ounces every day for a week is 3,367 calories. One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories.

Take two tablespoons of oil. Combine with three tablespoons flour and one tablespoon sugar. That is the largest difference between 1970 and 2008. Could you even get a single pancake out of that?