Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Economist Brad Delong posted an excerpt from an article he and Steven Cohen are working on for the Atlantic Monthly.
Steve Cohen and I are thrashing about, trying to write a piece about corporate welfare capitalism and the future of social insurance for the Atlantic Monthly. We are treading in the footsteps of Peter Gosselin of the LA Times and Jacob Hacker:

In the opening the article hits on something I have been talking about for a while now. This fascination with the post-WWII period and the fetishization that goes along with it. This is most often found in Republican and/or aged circles. The belief that the period was a perfect period of growth, stability and exemplar of the true American values. Often this is combined with a belief that if people would just stop complaining and get a job we could return to that idillic period.

DeLong's piece highlights something that needs to be repeated in order to burst this modern mythology
This post-World-War-II period stands as a reference point in our collective memory of our economic history as one of rapid growth and shared prosperity. It lingers in our national memory, and remains an important source of confidence in the unity of our culture and the awesome power of our economy. But although it serves as a baseline for our economic expectations, our sense of "the way things ought to be," in reality the post-war era was in all likelihood an aberration, a period marked by a confluence of events never before seen in our history, and unlikely to be seen again
Its not that we shouldn't strive for the ideal that many see in that period, but that is must be seen honestly for what it was, a lucky break. What should also be acknowledged were the cultural and social upheavals underway at the time. It is often believed that the civil rights movement was a late-60's phenomenon, but it had been underway for generations and the 50's were no exception.
In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously rules in Brown v. Board of Education that public school segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and in 1955 orders that desegregation proceed "with all deliberate speed." The murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 receives prominent coverage in the press. In December 1955, the year-long Montgomery bus boycott begins; its eventual success demonstrates the potential of nonviolent mass action and brings the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to national attention.

Resistance to school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 causes President Eisenhower to dispatch more than 1,000 paratroopers to enforce a federal court order as an estimated 200 reporters cover the events. Congress passes the first federal civil rights act since Reconstruction, but only after it is weakened by Southern opposition. In 1959, a television documentary on the Nation of Islam brings Malcolm X to wider public attention.
And these are just the civil rights highlights. (From The Library of America's: Reporting Civil Rights.)

In order to move forward we must learn from, not mythologize our past. DeLong and Cohen's piece seems to try and do just that by examining the role of corporate welfare and social insurance through the years. I look forward to reading it.

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