July 10, 2008
The Golden 50s
The nostalgic spot that the good ol' 50s have in American culture has some economic justification. In some ways, it was indeed a golden age. Charles Morris, writing in The Trillion Dollar Meltdown:
Birth rates dropped sharply during the Depression years, so the generation of men entering the labor market in the 1950s was an unusually small one and was much in demand. The pay gap between young workers and older workers therefore became unusually narrow, facilitating early marriage and family formation. All measures of social disruption, like crime rates, dropped like a stone. Earlier marriage and greater economic security also made couples more willing to have children.Thus, the 50s of "Leave it To Beaver" and the great explosion of the American suburbs, so fondly remembered, were the result of unique social conditions. These circumstances were not (and are not) the norm.
Moreover, the very benefits that the 50s brought to the US carried with them the seeds of their own destruction:
When the boomers reached school age, elementary schools everywhere were forced onto double and triple sessions; it was even worse in the suburbs, where schools had to be built from scratch. As they hit their teens, juvenile delinquency moved to the top of the social agenda. Struggling to cope, police forces became more selective about the behaviors that elicited an intervention, a process that Daniel Patrick Moynihan later called "defining deviancy down."And so on.
This is in the intro to the book. Morris is merely recounting the economic (and incidentally social) history that has brought us to our current economic, um, situation. He goes on to cite the predicted and successful rise of the Republican party (culminating in Nixon's 1968 victory over Humphrey). From this point, I believe we will be going on a wild ride through the inflationary 70s, the 80s Reagan era, the boom years of the 90s, and the confluence of events (and technologies) that have brought us to where we are.
The only positive notes that have emerged from the intro so far are that a) the US has seen strong hits to the dollar before (and recovered) and that b) the Japanese economy went through something like we are experiencing (tho in their case, government inaction has prolonged the pain a long, long time). But we'll see, won't we.
More as I encounter interesting tidbits.