The 1950s are gone

By Erik Dolson

There was a time, 70 years ago, that liberals are now looking to with nostalgia, as are Republicans who want a return to that golden age. The problem is, that era was an exception, not a norm. The conditions that created the 50s no longer exist.

The U.S. had just won WWII, and thanks to the Marshall plan, was rebuilding the rest of the world. Europe and Asia had no industries left, their cities were shattered, and we had it all, including a pent up demand for homes and jobs.

In this situation, U.S. capital and labor were in high demand, with income from around the world that needed to buy what we could produce. The current “American Dream” was built on that foundation, especially that children would have a better life than their parents.

If there is something that should be called “American Exceptionalism,” it is that America was in an exceptional position after winning WWII and defeating fascism.

But remember what preceded that: the Great Depression. This was a time when the forces of industrialization and capitalism, mostly unchecked, led to violent swings in the well-being of the average person. It was also a violent time in Europe, after WWI.

We seem to have forgotten those wars and how they affected the world. In the last 70 years, we have seen nothing like that fear and turmoil.

There are ways to improve our “economies,” but we have to face a few facts.

We have to recognize that there will be winners and losers, through no fault of their own. That is both the strength and horror of capitalism. How do we remain a civilized society, a community, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?” (version until 1954).

We have to recognize that democracy and freedom are often enemies of each other, and that liberty, often tied to property rights, is fundamental in America.

We have to recognize that there is no such thing as a “free market,” that government setting rules to achieve a better society is often the only constraint that capitalism will obey.

No system is perfect. There are European countries that have achieved a fair balance. I am pessimistic that we can follow their lead, because our “system” has been captured by vested interests (banks, pharma, energy, tech, educators) that are not going to just give up what they have won, and we have a populace half of whom think science is an opinion and who are easily manipulated into advocating against their own interest.

Lest someone think I am blindly liberal, I believe in capitalism, business (especially small business) and capitalism as practiced elsewhere. And I know that only large business will be able to compete against the Chinese.

While I probably have liberal “values” such as universal health care (lose your job AND your health insurance?) and universal K-12 education (let’s make it more effective), the arrogance of the Left and the thrust that actions should not have consequences have had almost as corrosive an effect on American dialogue as unrestricted political contributions and the resulting concentration of power.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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