The Discovery of the Consumer: Economic Reform and Social Regulation, 1865-1904

Stephen Robert Leccese, Fordham University


In the late-nineteenth century, the United States faced a crisis of economic inequality. As increasingly severe economic depressions rocked the nation and brought relations between capital and labor to a breaking point, contemporaries of all types proposed solutions to the crisis. This dissertation follows one group of contemporaries, the New School of American economists, who observed the crisis of the 1870s and 1880s and concluded that the problem was an imbalance between production and consumption. In response, they argued that giving workers greater means to consume would serve the dual-role of alleviating the economic crisis and pacifying the angry working class. After introducing this concept into economics in the 1880s, they designed policies that informed public policy during the Progressive Era. This dissertation demonstrates that consumer protections and power formed a crucial component of progressive reform, and the New School economists are responsible for that development.

Subject Area

History|Economic theory|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Leccese, Stephen Robert, "The Discovery of the Consumer: Economic Reform and Social Regulation, 1865-1904" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27957424.