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Consumption, Work Hours, and Values in the Writings of John A. Ryan: Is it Possible to Return to the Road Not Taken?


  • Martha Starr


The 1920s saw important debate about consumption and work hours. Some industrialists argued that work hours needed to remain high to sustain demand for output; others thought they could fall because people would buy goods to complement their leisure. In contrast, John A. Ryan thought that work hours could and should decline in the interests of “industrial sanity, social well-being, and desirable human life.” This paper discusses Ryan's views of consumption and work hours, which were far broader and richer than contemporary critique. Ryan's writings clarify that, if contemporary projects are to engender the sort of fundamental changes in everyday life contemplated in the 1920s, they need to consider social as well as individual values and the ineludible distributional dimensions of the consumerist lifestyle; otherwise their effects may be confined to promoting lifestyle adjustment among better-off groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Martha Starr, 2008. "Consumption, Work Hours, and Values in the Writings of John A. Ryan: Is it Possible to Return to the Road Not Taken?," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 66(1), pages 7-24.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:66:y:2008:i:1:p:7-24 DOI: 10.1080/00346760701668453

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    consumption; work hours; wellbeing; John Ryan;


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