The Country That Was

 

From Derek Leebaert’s cold war book, The Fifty-Year Wound, a brief portrait of America in 1963—of the nation, in other words, just before Lyndon Johnson enacted the Great Society:

With unemployment around 4.5 percent, the average hourly wage was $2.14 in an economy in which a family of six could be well fed on $30 a week. For 10 years, inflation had averaged 1.3 percent.

An amazing 96 percent of Americans believed that their standard of living would keep improving.

Riochet Sunday morning essay assigment: In no more than 200 words, explain how we went from there to…here.

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Members have made 34 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Israel P. Member

    I never had the feeling that President Johnson was an ideological Progressive in the FDR-Wilson mold, certainly not the “let’s create more dependents” Progressive that came later and culminated in Obama.

    But that is when the sheer size of the federal government began to get truly out of hand (ie accelerating the growth in the number of government employees) while at the same time creating new dependencies as unintended consequences of Medicare and the various “War on Poverty” programs.

    It made living off other peoples’ money something no longer to be embarrassed by.

    • #1
    • February 3, 2013 at 1:31 am
  2. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Explain? Why?

    “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

    • #2
    • February 3, 2013 at 2:12 am
  3. Profile photo of sven141 Member

    Fiat currency.

    • #3
    • February 3, 2013 at 3:43 am
  4. Profile photo of Fricosis Guy Coolidge

    Lee Harvey Oswald, LBJ, and Richard Nixon.

    Nixon, you say? We conservatives give Nixon too much of a pass re: his role in consolidating the administrative state (EPA, anyone?). He was so statist that imposed wage and price controls. Oh, and he ended convertibility to gold in 1971 per @sven141.

    • #4
    • February 3, 2013 at 4:56 am
  5. Profile photo of Black Prince Member

    By allowing…

    Marxist/Leninist ideology [to be] pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students without being challenged or counterbalanced by the basic values of Americanism or American patriotism.

    – Yuri Bezmenov, 1985

    • #5
    • February 3, 2013 at 6:34 am
  6. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Member

    Television

    • #6
    • February 3, 2013 at 6:44 am
  7. Profile photo of Augustine Inactive

    I don’t have to explain because Charles Murray did almost 30 years ago now in Losing Ground and then he did it again last year with Coming Apart. In short, the welfare state coupled with social revolution created a series of incentives for the poor to avoid work, avoid marriage, and to see themselves not as free people with dignity but as victims whose needs must be provided by a benevolent government. The rise of the GOA (Generous Outside Agency) then worked to further erode the social fabric and civil society that once held the lives of the poor together and gave it that quiet dignity that once defined “poor, but proud.” I would also cite Philip Rief’s diagnosis of the “theraputic state” that provides further support for the above. 

    • #7
    • February 3, 2013 at 7:41 am
  8. Profile photo of raycon and lindacon Member

    For the children. A nation which gives it’s future over to her progeny before they become wise with age has destroyed their children’s future.

    • #8
    • February 3, 2013 at 7:41 am
  9. Profile photo of Rightfromthestart Thatcher

    I’ve wondered and pondered about this for 45 years. I’ve written before how I went into the Navy in 1964 in Richie Cunningham’s Happy days America and got out three years later into Haight- Ashbury America. The world turned upside down in 1965. I felt like a stranger among my own age cohort.

     Things changed so rapidly that by the early 70’s there were at least two TV shows (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley) and two movies (Last Picture Show, American Graffiti) and probably several others which featured nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of the late 50’s, a period merely 15 years earlier, as if it were another country. 

     Reasons? All of the leftist boll weevils exploded out into the culture almost at the same time. It was a leftist coup we never saw coming. Start with weak kneed college administrators, why didn’t they expel the rioters and occupiers immediately? 

     How about this quote from LBJ ‘ I’ll have them n*****rs voting Democrat for the next 200 years’ followed by the McGovern wing takeover of the Democrat party a few years later.

    • #9
    • February 3, 2013 at 7:45 am
  10. Profile photo of Jimmy Carter Member

    Walter Cronkite

    • #10
    • February 3, 2013 at 8:01 am
  11. Profile photo of Leslie Watkins Member

    Success. As George Will once said, all of our problems derive from success. In the midsixties, the bloom was still opening. It’s fully open now, with decaying glick descending from the tip of each petal toward the compressed center core. It has the look of what it once was, but it’s only a veneer. Ain’t no stopping us now. 

    • #11
    • February 3, 2013 at 8:04 am
  12. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    Why do I suspect (OK, hope) we’ll have the author for a guest soon? If we do, it’ll be fun. 

    I followed the link to Amazon, because it sounded like an intriguing book. I won’t attempt to comment on the details of his thesis, because I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like an interesting angle on the topic. According to the [not-always reliable] comments there, Derek Leebaert’s thesis is that the infrastructure of the Cold War may or may not have “won” there, but it certainly set us up for a fall. I’m willing to buy that.

    The problem likely began before the Cold War, though. IMO the chief difference between [the first 150 years] of America versus [what has come since] is the attitude toward government. That changed post-Depression and into World War II.

    In short, I’d argue America had always lacked a distinctive class consciousness. In turn, for that same reason, America distrusted government, precisely because it was composed of people like the rest of us. There was no sense that a representative was an expert or genius. So we didn’t expect much from them. 

    • #13
    • February 3, 2013 at 9:00 am
  13. Profile photo of Lensman Thatcher

    It was like a perfect storm, elements of which were building for the previous 50 years. (1) The Progressive Movement took over academia. The trend identified by Wm. F. Buckley in God & Man at Yale (1951) finished its sweep across the country. (2) Kennedy’s assassination (1963) ended anti-communism in the Dem Party. (3) Keynesian economics justified government over-spending as an economic stimulus (1965). (4) LBJ’s Great Society (1965) removed the element of shame from welfare programs and introduced the trends that destroyed the Black Family. (5) Cheap birth control and widely available abortion amplified trends that have destroyed the intact family for half of America. (6) The glorification of the popular youth culture (e.g. rock & roll) made perpetual adolescence respectable.

    Summing up: the moral culture that Madison and the other Founders thought essential to our country thriving under our Constitution largely disappeared from what are now called “Blue States.” California is a wreck, instead of the engine of our economic prosperity. It is no accident that Texas is thriving. Its culture looks more like 1962.

    • #14
    • February 3, 2013 at 9:25 am
  14. Profile photo of Valiuth Member
    Peter Robinson: 

    With unemployment around 4.5 percent, the average hourly wage was $2.14 in an economy in which a family of six could be well fed on $30 a week. For 10 years, inflation had averaged 1.3 percent.

    An amazing 96 percent of Americans believed that their standard of living would keep improving.

    Average income in 1964 was around 6000$ per family today it is 52000$. This is 8.66 times higher than it was back then. Are you saying a family of 6 can’t eat well on a weekly budget of 260$? 

    Life today is not worse than it was back 40 some odd years ago. It just isn’t. Conservatives make this argument all the time to combat desires by the left to raise taxes and expand the welfare state. We can’t have our cake and eat it too with this. The average family is wealthier today than it was back in 1963. We have not become poorer despite all of the Great Society programs. I would argue though that too much of this sentimentality is nostalgia. 

    Who would really like to go back to 1963 and live then?

    • #15
    • February 3, 2013 at 10:55 am
  15. Profile photo of Trajan Thatcher
    Cattle King: I don’t have to explain because Charles Murray did almost 30 years ago now in Losing Ground and then he did it again last year with Coming Apart. In short, the welfare state coupled with social revolution created a series of incentives for the poor to avoid work, avoid marriage, and to see themselves not as free people with dignity but as victims whose needs must be provided by a benevolent government. The rise of the GOA (Generous Outside Agency) then worked to further erode the social fabric and civil society that once held the lives of the poor together and gave it that quiet dignity that once defined “poor, but proud.” I would also cite Philip Rief’s diagnosis of the “theraputic state” that provides further support for the above. · 3 hours ago

    Well said- in short the Life of Julia ( soon to be the Life of Julio too), has in affect, taken hold. Is it any accident singles, at or below the national income avg. overwhelmingly voted for Obama? 

    The death of shame, the Protestant work ethic ( see Malangas excellent treatise ) , there is no dignity rich or poor unless the government bestows it.

    • #16
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:11 am
  16. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    I propose an alternate theory because I’m reading Eisenhower’s farewell address: Technology and Expertise happened.

    The limited government of the pre-war era was predicated on the notion that anyone could do anything. My uncle says my Grandfather (1890) believed “if all else failed, you could always go west and farm.” And he did. A different uncle (1940) believed that you could always enlist in the army and make something of yourself. And I have argued (based on James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy), that pre-war Government was filled with clerks who were all equally replacable.

    None of that is true anymore. Farming, industry, the military, and even the government functions we believe should belong to DC are all massively technical and require expertise to operate. As a result, functioning in the modern world also requires massive expertise.

    You can live cheaply, but you can’t work cheaply -an expert could figure out how to replace you easily, and cheap workers and elected officials are the last people in a position to successfully argue against such experts.

    And the benefits of technology and expertise are so obvious, it is hard to even point out their drawbacks.

    • #17
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:15 am
  17. Profile photo of iDad Member
    Valiuth
     

    Average income in 1964 was around 6000$ per family today it is 52000$. This is 8.66 times higher than it was back then. Are you saying a family of 6 can’t eat well on a weekly budget of 260$? 

    Life today is not worse than it was back 40 some odd years ago. It just isn’t. Conservatives make this argument all the time to combat desires by the left to raise taxes and expand the welfare state. We can’t have our cake and eat it too with this. The average family is wealthier today than it was back in 1963. We have not become poorer despite all of the Great Society programs. I would argue though that too much of this sentimentality is nostalgia. 

    Who would really like to go back to 1963 and live then? · 22 minutes ago

    Even if the sole measure of well-being was wealth, you fail to consider the certainty that the prosperity you claim is unsustainable.

    • #18
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:26 am
  18. Profile photo of Trajan Thatcher
    • #19
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:43 am
  19. Profile photo of Trajan Thatcher
    iDad
    Valiuth
     

    Even if the sole measure of well-being was wealth, you fail to consider the certainty that the prosperity you claim is unsustainable. · 16 minutes ago

    I agree to an extent when it comes to appurtenances etc. However, how much ‘wealthier’ would we be with a regulatory status more equal to 1963 than now?

    My father recently sold his home, he bought it in 1978, he came across his original signing docs. while packing, the Hud 1 et al , those original signing docs held a total of 18 pages and his signature was required 5 times.

    If you have bought a home in the last 20 years, you’d know that this is as archaic as the magna carta comparatively, whats the count now? 60? 80? I think I signed at least 20 times in 2002, every single one of those additional pages and signatures represents an added cost, see my point?

    • #20
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:44 am
  20. Profile photo of Valiuth Member
    iDad
    Valiuth
     

    Life today is not worse than it was back 40 some odd years ago. It just isn’t. 

    Even if the sole measure of well-being was wealth, you fail to consider the certainty that the prosperity you claim is unsustainable. · 9 minutes a

    Granted there is more to life than money, but that argument stands as well against 1963 as it does against 2013. We always have problems. As to sustainability what level of wealth is sustainable? That of the 1960’s (which by all measures is less than that of today) or that of the 1860’s or 1760’s? 

    I would like to point out that we have never really sustained anything for the last 300 years. Sustainability is stagnation. If anything we will become more sustainable as we set our goals lower. 

    • #21
    • February 3, 2013 at 11:44 am
  21. Profile photo of raycon and lindacon Member
    Valiuth
    Peter Robinson: 

    … Life today is not worse than it was back 40 some odd years ago.

    The average family is wealthier today than it was back in 1963. We have not become poorer despite all of the Great Society programs. I would argue though that too much of this sentimentality is nostalgia. 

    Who would really like to go back to 1963 and live then? · 1 hour ago

    Life isn’t measured by stuff. 

    We have had 50 million babies murdered to get us to our present prosperity. 

    We have the almost total destruction of the Black family. 

    75% of black children are born to unmarried mothers. 

    25% of white children are born to unmarried mothers.

    Boys without fathers overload our prisons.

    We have a physical prosperity that is almost totally unappreciated by it’s beneficiaries.

    Yes, I’d take 1963 over the present. In 1963 I was going in and out of third world countries, and seeing our future culture. We knew then that it was not at all desirable for America.

    Stuff ain’t that important.

    • #22
    • February 4, 2013 at 1:03 am
  22. Profile photo of Tommy De Seno Contributor

    The percentage of women in the labor force has doubled since then.

    That’s right – I said it!

    • #23
    • February 4, 2013 at 1:31 am
  23. Profile photo of Modus Ponens Member

    The corruption of our language has played a large role. Do you ever notice that the left never speaks our language? That’s because we always end up speaking their language. By “speaking their language”, I mean that we often fall into the trap of using their phrases and aphorisms with the unintended consequence of helping to perpetuate their point of view. This occurs even today. For example, when OWS changed “the 99%” from a percentage to a slogan, people who otherwise oppose OWS began using the same phrase. The problem is that “the 99%” is a loaded phrase, in the same vein as the cliches which Jonah Goldberg talked about. It was used to describe a system of class warfare which does not actually exist in our society. Regardless of who uses the phrase and for what purpose, what people take away is the premise that class warefare exists in our society. Once these phrases become a part of our vernacular, it becomes difficult to have rational arguments because so many premises of the left are implied by the language. 

    • #24
    • February 4, 2013 at 1:42 am
  24. Profile photo of Monty Adams Inactive

    The American economy of the early sixties was largely due to the huge advantage the US held after the other major industrial powers were leveled during WWII. The US built up a massive export economy while the fruits of tens of thousands of WWII vets getting college educations from the GI Bill were kicking in as well. The US was never going to maintain that level of sustained economic growth as Asia and Europe rebuilt and began to compete with US exports. 

    Also, short-sighted unions squandered the lead US industry had built up, mistaking their companies’ successes as something inherent to the character of the American worker, rather than the temporary head start WWII had given the US on the rest of the world. Unions cashed in rather than reinvesting their industries’ successes for short term gains in benefits.

    Meanwhile, social cancers like civil rights injustices along with technological innovation that created new opportunities for women caused tremendous social turmoil, allowing leftist ideologies to gain purchase even in the most broadly successful, socially mobile society the world have ever seen, perverting the unique, independent American character into something confused and pampered with a misplaced sense of entitlement and grievance.

    • #25
    • February 4, 2013 at 1:53 am
  25. Profile photo of Ontheleftcoast Member
    We have had 50 million babies murdered to get us to our present prosperity. 

    And the vanished children were replaced by a like number of legal and illegal immigrants…..

    • #26
    • February 4, 2013 at 2:29 am
  26. Profile photo of Barfly Member

    Not exactly on topic, but I thought I’d mention I found Leebaert to be rather whiny. He shoves his thesis (“We could have done it better”) down the reader’s throat with a disturbing lack of finesse, balance, and perspective.

    He’s certainly right, in large measure. But in his lack of sympathy for the historical players he’s the archetype of an armchair quarterback. I’m more inclined to the view of Paul Nitze: on the whole, we made a good job of it.

    Back on topic, the Cold War got us here (to the extent that any one thing got us here) because it was a primarily ideological fight on many fronts and we had to pick our battles. Our putative allies worked against us more often than with us. We ceded the battle completely on the grounds of the non-technical academy and in the popular culture; the “intellectual” and entertainment segments of our society sided wholly with the enemy.

    Now we’re a spent force. We beat the main enemy, but not before the cancer metastasized. We’re out of moral energy and time, dying of our wounds.

    • #27
    • February 4, 2013 at 3:06 am
  27. Profile photo of ConservativeFred Member

    Who would really like to go back to 1963 and live then?

    I’ve been pondering this for a while. My grandfather was 47 in 1963, and my grandmother was 45. They had a home in Milwaukee (paid in full), and a basic cabin in northern Wisconsin (paid in full). Their daughter, my mother, had just graduated college (no student loans). Their other daughter and son, my aunt and uncle, would soon be starting college (no student loans for either of them).

    My Grandfather was the sole provider. He had a college degree and a masters degree, and worked as a junior high science teacher. My grandparents came from modest means, first and second generation Americans. Yes, they were thrifty and hard working, but they were also the product of a booming post-war economy.

    Adjust for inflation and increase my salary to a level 5 times my grandfather’s salary, and I could never achieve their level of financial success. I am left to wonder whether I have done something wrong, or society has changed? Probably a bit of both, but from my perspective in 2013, the year 1963 does not look too bad.

    • #28
    • February 4, 2013 at 3:26 am
  28. Profile photo of Lucy Pevensie Member
    ConservativeFred: Who would really like to go back to 1963 and live then? . . .

    Adjust for inflation and increase my salary to a level 5 times my grandfather’s salary, and I could never achieve their level of financial success. I am left to wonder whether I have done something wrong, or society has changed? Probably a bit of both, but from my perspective in 2013, the year 1963 does not look too bad.

    We live in a neighborhood that was built for university faculty in the 1920s. In the 1960s, a number of smaller houses were built around the edge of it, for people like school teachers. These days, they are inhabited by people like me, a mid-career academic physician, and my next-door neighbors, a two-cardiologist couple. That’s how housing inflation has gone over that time, and we’re not in an area like California or the Northeast where housing inflation went really crazy. It is true that we can never get to the kind of prosperity our parents and grandparents had. Valiuth probably can’t understand this because, I think I remember, he is an immigrant.

    • #29
    • February 4, 2013 at 5:43 am
  29. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Moral relativism, plus a few persuasive but unsound economic ideas.

    • #30
    • February 4, 2013 at 6:44 am
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