Industriousness, the Gilboy Thesis, and the Lost Contributions of Home Economists to the Industrialization Debate

Nicholas O'Neill, University of Chicago

Over the last twenty years, consumption has moved to the center of debates surrounding the origins of the Industrial Revolution. The two most prominent avenues of this movement have followed either Jan De Vries in arguing that people's desire to consume more led them to be more "industrious" or Maxine Berg in reviving the "Gilboy Thesis" that people's desire to consume more created the demand necessary to sustain the industrialization process. Yet neither approach really accounts for why Western Europeans in the eighteenth century wanted to consume more and more varied consumer goods or how they navigated an expanding and impersonal marketplace for them. This paper will advance two related arguments. First, that the intellectual lineage of both the industrious and Gilboy theses can be traced back to a largely forgotten group of women home economists from the 1920s and '30s who were the direct inspiration for Gary Becker's z-commodities model at the heart of arguments surrounding industriousness and for Elizabeth Gilboy. Second, it will argue that by returning to their work analyzing the institutions surrounding acts of domestic consumption we can begin to answer why and how Europeans first learned to become consumers.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 133. Presidential Session: Household Wealth and Well-Being