A Short History
For some time now I have been contemplating writing a piece concerning social democracy and liberalism. My ideas are based on a life-long journey looking from the outside in. As a young man, in my early teens, I worked on philosophy and theology trying to understand our world. By my late teens, I had come up with what I thought was the original idea of doubting objective reality and proving my own existence through the act of thinking. I purposely tried to develop my ideas without the influence of any institutions. Despite my somewhat callow and nascent philosophical attempts, of course, the two major institutions that were part of my life, the Baptist Church and public education, did influence my thinking. Yet, my parents, relatives and neighbors had the most influence.
I was also fortunate to be one of the last ones to hear some of the best Baptist preachers that this country has ever produced with their rendition of what would now be called the Social Gospel.
I am fifty two years old and I sometimes think of just how different our country is now. Like many millions of other Americans my age or older, I remember the world of Sunday dinners, three TV stations, everything closing at 6:00 p.m., extended families, hay rides, cookouts, folk music, real neighborhoods, and real childhoods. Faith and spirituality were much more a centerpiece of American life than is experienced now.
Yet despite my somewhat romantic and idyllic recollections, my parents' Great Depression/WWII generation suffered greatly before I was even born. Liberalism had failed before and during the Depression and they knew it.
experience of living hand to mouth and watching the institutions fail one after
the other had a profound psychological impact on this great generation. As a
youngster and a young adult, I often questioned (pestered) every adult who
lived through the before mentioned times to understand what had happened and
why they did what they did and why they thought what they thought.
For any young people who may be reading this, let me bear witness to their witness and say unequivocally that if had not have been for a polio stricken aristocrat who the young people of my parents' generation perceived as speaking for them, and if had not have been for a set of economic policies called the New Deal aimed at helping ordinary people, and if had not have been for the GI Bill and the legality of unions in the US in the post WWII era, there would have been upheaval in the United States. Like my dad, son of a millwright, former CC and combat WWII veteran used to say, "If things hadn't changed after WWII, there would have been a revolution in the United States. Once the WWII Vets found out what they could really do, they weren't willing to be treated like peasants anymore".
Over and over again I heard this sentiment growing up. But things did change after WWII. The US reached unparalleled heights for a thirty year span through a combination of social democratic reforms, progressive taxation, Keynesian economics, and unprecedented growth through the exponential exploitation of resources.
By the late seventies however, the system passed its sustainable limit and started falling apart. Two Arab oil embargos and three straight years of double digit inflation polished off prosperity in the US.
Even as late as 1970, as I remember it, it was common for a man to come out of high school, work in a factory for a few years, and then he would be a able to buy a small house, support a wife and children, afford a car, and still be able to save a little bit. It was also common at the time among well-established, middle aged parents of families to be able to afford a college education for those young people so inclined. Thinking back to 1970, I can hardly recall any women in our neighborhood having to work outside the home. By 1980, the majority of these same women were compelled to work outside the home out of economic necessity. I am bringing this up because it had and still has such a profound effect on society. These women weren't just sitting around all day: they were running households and collectively running the community with close affiliations to civic organizations and churches. It takes a lot of time and effort (basically a full time job) to establish real communities, and once these women were out of the way and having to work full time jobs outside of the home and community, real communities dried up and died, ultimately paving the way for Globalization.
By 1980 I already knew the American Dream was dead, and so did many other people my age. Practically the only option left for any kind of chance at a decent life was competing through the education system and obtaining a four year college degree.
A whole story unto itself, the initiation and development of the so called meritocracy, from the late forties through the sixties, psychometric "intelligence" testing (remember the SAT was called an aptitude (intelligence) test until the early nineties when the College Board was forced to change the name-but not the method) was used as the filter to determine who could enter the aristocracy and achieve at least average wealth.
The US had made a grievous error thirty years before: instead of replacing classic liberalism with social democracy, we opted for the band aid approach, counting on seemingly infinite resources to mitigate the adverse effects of capitalism. When the system crash happened circa 1976, powerful economic interests saw their opportunity to dismantle the New Deal and the Great Society and installed Reagan and a host of New Deal busting reforms. By 1983, the egregious levels of wealth inequality of pre Great Depression capitalism had been achieved once again and remained that way until the Great Recession of 2007. Concurrently, liberals abandoned the Church in droves on a path towards secularization with the advent of the Fundamentalist takeover of the Church throughout the eighties. Neo Liberalism and Neo Conservatism morphed into Globalization and the dismantling became bipartisan throughout the nineties.