There really was a Golden Age*

by John Quiggin on March 27, 2021

The claim that the mid-20th century represented an economic Golden Age of near-full employment and economic equality, compared to both earlier and later periods, commonly meets two kinds of critical responses. Over the fold, I respond.

The first objection, which is addressed in the draft chapter I posted, is that the benefits of this period were largely confined to white men. Certainly, at the beginning of the Golden Age, the US and many other developed countries were characterised by legally institutionalised racism and sexism. Blacks in much of the US were denied the right to vote, and subject to many other kinds of legal and social discrimination. The same was true of indigenous people in many countries including Australia, and of the treatment of colonial subjects of the European empires. Women were subject to a range of discrimination, including lower wages, exclusion from a range of jobs and much more.

But the Golden Age saw all of these forms of discrimination challenged, and a great many were abolished. US examples include desegregation of the armed forces under Truman, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 along with legal decisions including Brown vs Board of Education 1964, Loving vs Virginia 1967, Reed vs Reed 1971 and Roe vs Wade 1973. The Equal Rights Amendment was on the edge of ratification by the early 1970s

Since the end of the Golden Age in the early 1970s, progress towards racial and gender equality has been glacial at best, and in some cases, has gone into reverse. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted, Roe v Wade has been chipped away and the Equal Rights Amendment blocked, or at least stalled.

To sum up on this point, there’s nothing to suggest the economic benefits of the Golden Age came through reliance on structures of racial and gender discrimination. On the contrary, those benefits created an environment where resistance to greater social equality was more easily overcome than it is today.

The second argument is that standards of living for most people are higher than they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of technological progress, standards of living have generally improved over time, even in periods (like the past 40 years or so) when most of the benefits have accrued to those at the top of the income distribution, and even when unemployment is high.

This is broadly true. In describing the mid-20th century as a Golden Age in economic terms, I am saying that relative the productive possibilities available with given technology, the economy generated a higher standard of living for the majority of people than before or since. As far as policy is concerned, this is the relevant criterion. If we could recreate the economic conditions of the Golden Age, the Internet and other technological innovations of the past 50 years would not disappear. Rather, the benefits generated by these innovations would be more widely shared.

* I was going to pose this as a question,  but deferred to Betteridges Law of Headlines



{ 65 comments }

1

Alan White 03.27.21 at 3:43 am

I do think your thesis is a good one. One factor is that the quality of public education uniformly rose significantly during this same period, affording opportunities probably never before seen, and probably not as well expressed in the public/private divides that now lay along racially unequal terrains, especially given the conservative favoritism of the private. As anecdote I am a product of the public sector of education K-12 (California), and now enjoy a retirement that my parents and ancestor subsistence farmer-types (Tennessee) could not imagine. What I worry about is that those grand days of seeing education as a public good are restricted if not gone, and with that hope for the middle- and lower-classes economically to improve their own futures.

2

Nicholas Gruen 03.27.21 at 4:02 am

Indeed, as I’ve come to realise, we were living through a Golden Age. How many of us understood that? Certainly not me.

3

nastywoman 03.27.21 at 5:20 am

YES! –
my homeland –
once –
had ”the GREATEST Party Economy on TEH WORLD –

BUT –
the Virus took care of that.

Right?
(kind of of?)

And now – what did Mr. Lindblade from Fort Lauderdale say:
”Fort Lauderdale dealt with similar spring break problems in the 1980s and early ’90s, until the city and businesses decided to make some changes, he said. One major change: Hotels started charging more money for rooms. “We’re not catering to an under-$150-a-night” crowd, Mr. Lindblade said, adding, “We’re $300 to $500 a night, and that’s just a different crowd.”

The effect, Mr. Lindblade said, has been notable. “It’s a family-oriented atmosphere,” he said, “and that’s been great for our economy.”

AND I sooo wish that somebody would –
once –
write a book about the real US Economy – and how it ”worked” -(or didn’t) for the average Spring-Breaker as _ THEY WANT THEIR F… PARTY BACK –
and that can’t be only done – NOT by raising taxes for the Rich -(as Switzerland has proven)
WE -(the government) – just HAS to give EVERYBODY enough money to be able to pay the 300 to 500 bucks per night in Fort Lauderdale…

4

nastywoman 03.27.21 at 5:50 am

AND the points about the ”Sexism and the Racism THING” –
NOW –
as that NOW had been changed finally so much more favourable –
compared to the 50th –
in favour for BLM matters –
(BUT still NOT for ”Asians Lives Matters TOO) –
couldn’t we call ”NOW” –
”The Golden Age”
since US Democrats have reduced poverty and inequality with ”The American Rescue Plan Act” in such a dramatic way?

AND – okay –
”Charting a course for a more equitable recovery will require turning the short term policies into long-term… ”thingy” – but as it looks like that TEH Party might be back -(soon) – at least for everybody who is able to pay 300 to 500 bucks in Fort Lauderdale –
isn’t that…

”GOLDEN”?

5

nastywoman 03.27.21 at 5:55 am

AND do you guys know that for everybody who is ”a mutt” –
(as Obama called himself) –
that the Obama Years truly were ”the Golden Age” –
as in the Obama Years EVERYBODY was so… nice –
to
US
Mutts…

6

nastywoman 03.27.21 at 6:03 am

AND furthermore –
I know this very old dude who was a Helicopter Pilot in the Vietnam War and he told me that it’s impossible that ANY period of time in the US were YOU could be drafted could have been –

”A Golden Age”

That only is possible when a country makes it’s Army a kind of ”outsourced professional entity” while the rest of the country can PARTYYYY… without getting bothered by the… the WarStuff….

7

Hidari 03.27.21 at 8:50 am

Nobody sane doubts that ‘les trentes glorieuses’ were a golden era, and the only blindspots in the West are that this was also a golden era outside the capitalist world: despite all the horrors and missteps of the Communist countries, you were undeniably and unarguably better off in China and Russia in 1975 than in 1945 (and in the Eastern Bloc there’s not even any debate about it).

But the question is: why, in the capitalist ‘democracies’?

This article and the first graph might give a clue:

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/02/us-workers-strike-data-2020

Until the trend line for this graph picks up (and I don’t mean just a small upturn either), I predict that worker’s wages will remain stagnant and working conditions will continue to decrease (or at least, that that will be the general trend, specific counter-examples notwithstanding).

8

SamChevre 03.27.21 at 10:33 am

To sum up on this point, there’s nothing to suggest the economic benefits of the Golden Age came through reliance on structures of racial and gender discrimination.

I disagree.

The most frequently cited example of “what was golden about the golden age” is that one normal worker’s income could support a family in a normal degree of comfort. This benefit really does require that the normal family have only one income: it isn’t compatible with an economy where most women work, and their work is an important portion of the household economy.

9

Tm 03.27.21 at 10:46 am

I think we can all agree that post war economic policies did something right that we should want to understand and learn from, but with the caveat that some of the conditions of the postwar successes cannot simply be recreated. These conditions include a devastating world war in which US liberal democracy and Soviet Communism defeated fascism, thereby discrediting right wing politics and economics for a generation. And of course, the global economy, the structure of capitalism, as well as of the working class, where very different from today.

Also, my point stands that growth will always look more impressive when you start from a low base line. We shouldn’t be nostalgic for those growth rates and for the economic paradigm that undergirded them. Our period’s problems can only be exacerbated, not solved, by dirty growth (and clean growth is a chimera).

I see no contradiction between critically analyzing and even admiring the progressive aspects of the postwar period (or any other period), and resisting the politically regressive nostalgia and glorification that invariably come with the Golden Age discourse. And that nostalgia is very real in the US (to a much lesser extent in Europe), it has been a persistent feature of the Trump-age political discourse. On the right, that nostalgia quite explicitly endorses the unapologetically racist and patriarchal culture (*). In parts of the left, I see a naive nostalgia for the working class/union culture of the period (**), blind to its problematic aspects and again blind to the fact that we live in a different world with a different capitalism and different working class.

(*) “seven in 10 Trump supporters prefer the more culturally homogeneous America of 1950s and that the same proportion of Clinton voters believe that American society has changed for better since then.”
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/election-night-2016/where-nostalgia-fits-in
(**) That tendency is most obvious among the Jacobin „class first“ crowd. An example of this discourse in Europe is Didier Eribon (Retour à Reims).

10

Tim Worstall 03.27.21 at 11:15 am

“there’s nothing to suggest the economic benefits of the Golden Age came through reliance on structures of racial and gender discrimination.”

It’s even possible to suggest that the economic benefits came from the lifting of the social and economic restrictions…..Gary Becker could even be right, discrimination is costly to those who do it. If a society locks away productive capacity on taste discrimination bounds then not doing so will benefit the society….

11

Louis N Proyect 03.27.21 at 2:32 pm

That golden age was a function of US hegemony achieved by its victory over the Axis. In the 1950s, American automobile, steel, oil, petrochemicals industries, etc. generated enormous super-profits. The reemergence of German and Japanese industry cut into these profits and led to the rust belt. When China entered the world market, it made American profitability even more fraught. I wrote about this about 20 years ago:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/economics/peter_camejos_long_wave_l.htm

12

JBL 03.27.21 at 2:37 pm

Brown v. Board was 1954, not 1964!

13

John Quiggin 03.28.21 at 12:26 am

@12 D’Oh! Eagle-eyed readers are one of the many benefits of posting my material as it goes

@11 What was striking about the Golden Age is precisely that it was shared by all the (then) developed countries. The US prospered even as Japan, Germany and the rest of Western Europe caught up in technological terms and to a large extent in terms of income per person.

14

John Quiggin 03.28.21 at 12:27 am

More generally, a lot of people seem to be focused on the 1950s. The Golden Age ran from the end of the War to the early 1970s. Some aspects like full employment began during the War, and others continued, though more slowly until around 1980 (Reagan, Thatcher, defeat of Mitterand etc).

15

Murray Reiss 03.28.21 at 12:36 am

Another name the Golden Age has been called is the Great Acceleration. Referring, for the most part, to the great acceleration of carbon emissions that underlay all that prosperity.

16

John Quiggin 03.28.21 at 6:25 am

@15 Much the same points apply to this observation as to other criticisms discussed here. Major action to reduce pollution mostly began during the Golden Age.

It’s true that, at the time, no one worried much about global warming. But that’s because there wasn’t any. Particulate pollution generally offset warming, which only became apparent after measures like the Clean Air Act stopped this.

17

Tim H. 03.28.21 at 1:21 pm

From my (Working class) perspective, the distaste of conservatives for laborers with even a little power was insufficient to explain the damage done to organized labor. It required joining conservatism to white supremacy.

18

MisterMr 03.28.21 at 1:49 pm

It seems to me that there is some confusion about this growth thing.

GDP = (people working) x (average productivity)

Therefore GDP can grow both because of an increase in productivity or because of an increase in the number of people who are working.

It is argueable that , if we put very strict limits on the available technologies to prevent pollution, productivity as we usually calcolate it might fall.

So ideally we could still have an increase in the number of people who work (that increases production and therefore pollution), but a technological change in the mode of production (that lower the pollution per employed person), which might lower average productivity, so in the end GDP might go either way.

19

Tim Worstall 03.28.21 at 4:01 pm

“The Golden Age ran from the end of the War to the early 1970s.”

That’s a bit sweeping. Rationing only ended in 1954 in Britain. Both potatoes and bread were rationed only after the end of the war too. A Golden Age and rationing of food looks like a difficult combination.

20

marcel proust 03.29.21 at 1:32 am

@John Quiggin:

It’s true that, at the time, no one worried much about global warming. But that’s because there wasn’t any. Particulate pollution generally offset warming, which only became apparent after measures like the Clean Air Act stopped this.

I’ve not heard this before. Do you have a cite for this assertion? At first glance it seems plausible. Cities of what was once called the first world are much cleaner (though attributing all or most ofthis to the Clean Air Act seems amazingly Amerocentric especially for an Ozzie. And cars everywhere are much cleaner, at least those whose target includes the former first world; what about cars that do not target those countries: e.g., Tata and Chinese brands? The massive expansion of coal powered electric plants in China & India and other countries seems like it may globally offset any improvements in the first world.

So, much as I enjoy and learn from your writings, can I see some receipts?

21

nastywoman 03.29.21 at 4:11 am

AND – isn’t…
Joe…?

From this ”Golden Age”?

AND
that’s why we have this ”Golden Age” –

a… gain?

22

Tm 03.29.21 at 9:08 am

JQ: “In policy terms. the dominant features of this period were the use of Keynesian macroeconomics to stabilize the economy and the development of a fairly comprehensive welfare state, protecting citizens from falling into poverty due to old age, incapacity or unemployment.”

But the extent of that “fairly comprehensive welfare state” was (and remains) very uneven. In the US, it was (and remains) far less than comprehensive. The point isn’t to nitpick but I am uncomfortable with some of the overly broad generalizations commonly made about the postwar recovery.

“The US prospered even as Japan, Germany and the rest of Western Europe caught up”
After WWII, there was little industrial competition for the US, since much industrial capacity outside the US had been destroyed. It took decades until Germany and Japan became serious competitors and export champions. Those decades were remembered as prosperous by both the US and their former enemies but not exactly for the same reasons: I think America’s unquestioned economic superiority of the early postwar period is undeniably an important factor in the US-specific “golden age” nostalgia. As an aside, while (West) Germany remembers this age as the time of the “Wirtschaftswunder”, one doesn’t feel the kind of “golden age” nostalgia common in the US. That nostalgia has a lot to do with the perception of past greatness, and is related to French and British nostalgia for lost colonial empires. It has little to do with a perception of a better, more equal economic order. That observation doesn’t of course invalidate JQ’s economic arguments, and isn’t meant to. But it is relevant to the framing of this “golden age” narrative.

23

MFB 03.29.21 at 9:22 am

Mr. Quiggin, I think you are mistaken on many levels. Firstly, economic growth injected vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and no serious climatologist would claim, absent hard evidence, that particulate pollution “offset” this. (The Clean Air Act did not apply outside the U.S., where particulate pollution continued to increase and yet so did global warming.) In other words, the “golden age” was also the golden age for global warming, and eventually made it possible to heat up the planet without anyone in authority seriously noticing (although science fiction writers were talking about it in the 1960s).

The problem, and I think the reason why you so flippantly dismiss the issue, is that if you restore a golden age level of economic growth, you will probably also restore a golden age level of carbon dioxide injection and thus doom human civilisation on the planet (or at least run a serious risk of that).

Of course, nobody knows how to restore a golden age level of economic growth to the West; it certainly couldn’t be done by reintroducing the economic policies of the 1940s to the 1960s, because too many powerful people oppose that, and also because there are now substantial competitors to Western manufacturing.

24

Tm 03.29.21 at 9:23 am

So far, we haven’t talked about the specific economic factors that contributed to the relative prosperity and low inequality of the postwar period. In my understanding, among the economic policies in question are:

High tax rates on high incomes and businesses
High investment in public infrastructure
Strong unions
Expansion of the welfare state
Low capital mobility

The latter shouldn’t be underestimated I think.

25

John Quiggin 03.29.21 at 9:37 am

Marcel @17 Here’s a link https://skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-mid-20th-century.htm

TM @19 You still seem to be focused on the 1950s. Don’t you feel nostalgic about Martin Luther King, 1968, Stonewall, the Civil Rights Act and much more that was put into reverse under Reagan and Thatcher? I hope for a return to all those things in a post-austerity economy.

Coming from Oz, I’m not sure where my own nostalgia for the 1960s (the part of the Golden Age I can actually remember) fits into your distinction between the US and Germany/Japan.

26

John Quiggin 03.29.21 at 9:38 am

TM @21 I agree 100 per cent with this list, especially re low short-term capital mobility

27

Scott P. 03.29.21 at 10:10 am

I’d argue the real Golden Age, in terms of quality of life and cultural production, was the 1990s.

28

nastywoman 03.29.21 at 10:10 am

@20
”Of course, nobody knows how to restore a golden age level of economic growth to the West”

this morning I read in my German Newspaper -(the terrible Südkurier) that:
”The Germans are sitting on a mountain of money” –
(and I think my fellow Americans too?) – as the Virus for some time now had put ”Consumism” -(better word for Western type of ”Capitalism”) – on Pause –
and as at least Joe knows – that the easiest way to restore a Golden Age of Consumerism is to:
”…enacting “the largest antipoverty effort in a generation.”
as Erich Levitz writes:
”Now, with the momentum built by the passage of the American Rescue Plan, the president is poised to “reengineer America” through massive investments in green infrastructure and expansions of the welfare state, thereby ringing in the “dawn of a new economic era” and securing his title as a “latter-day FDR.”
Unless: He’s merely passed the largest package of “temporary expedients to dampen hardship during a crisis” since … the one Donald Trump signed into law last year. Now, with no emergency to force the hands of his party’s moderates in the Senate, the president is poised to pass nothing of great consequence, forcing his clear-eyed progressive supporters to grapple with the likelihood that “the best of Bidenism is already in the rearview mirror.”
These are just two of the more extreme positions in the roiling debate over whether the first two months of the Biden era augur a “transformational” or “FDR-sized” presidency.
The prominence of this question in coverage of the administration may seem strange. After all, Biden’s career-long speciality has been identifying the path of least political resistance and taking it with aplomb. And even if the president weren’t an inveterate triangulator, it’s not clear why his performance would be best judged by its congruence with some grand historical analogy. But progressives have been waiting decades now for the coming of the anti-Reagan — the figure who will raise the New Deal order from its grave, scrub it clean of all white-supremacist anachronisms, and plant it so firmly into the public’s common sense that future Republican administrations would destroy themselves trying to knock it down.

Thus, in 2008, Barack Obama touted his ambition to change “the trajectory of America” in the same way that Ronald Reagan had done. Obama’s subsequent failure to realize that aim — and the tepid, inequitable recovery that followed his administration’s modest reforms — grew the constituency for a policy realignment. Thomas Piketty’s eye-popping illustrations of inequality, the IPCC’s increasingly harrowing reports, and Donald Trump’s scandalous election brought the likes of the IMF, the Financial Times editorial board, and David Brooks into the coalition against “neoliberalism” (however much their desired alternatives may diverge from that of Bernie Sanders). The COVID pandemic reinforced this intellectual fashion for a new economic order, while appearing to open up political space for its construction. By May 2020, Biden himself was broadcasting an ambition to be the next FDR. And his success in shepherding a nearly $2 trillion relief bill through Congress has inspired more serious consideration of this prospect — both within the commentariat and, apparently, his own mind…”

and perhaps read the rest at the NY Mag?

29

reason 03.29.21 at 11:40 am

One thing I think that should be always pointed regarding the Golden age lasting until the early 1970s (I finished school in the early 1970s), is that this period was a period with a relatively stagnant workforce. The combination of the pill and the post war baby boom meant that the early 1970s saw a massive demographic change. It was also the time when the US went from a net exporter of oil to a net importer. It is not just economic policy that mattered. There were important external factors.

30

notGoodenough 03.29.21 at 11:58 am

MFB @ 20

With respect, some points:

1) There are, and have been, many Clean Air Acts around the world – it would be a mistake to focus only on the US clean air act (which is, naturally enough, US specific).

2) Sulfate particulates do, in fact, offset anthropogenic global warming to a certain extent (which is not, of course, by 100%) due to radiative cooling effects – I believe this is pretty well established by now. As far as I can tell, this means that if you reduce particulate sulphates but keep emitting GHGs (and carbon particulates), you effectively reduce a “cooling factor” which (while by no means completely offsetting warming factors) did indeed help slow the acceleration. To the best of my knowledge, many clean air acts did in fact reduce sulphate emissions (see, for example, the UK Clean Air Act of 1956) but did not necessarily decrease GHG emissions – the net effect of this being to accelerate the effects of the climate change. This does not mean reducing sulphate particulate matter was bad per se (there are, after all, considerable environmental reasons to do so), but rather is simply noting the physics of the situation.

3) JQ´s chapter (if I read it correctly) is broadly arguing for economic policies leading to a more equitable society (for example, decreased inequality, improved power of the labour force, a strong welfare state, etc.). Indeed, the focus appears to be – if anything – on decreasing economic inequality, and the policies leading to this (for example, socialising healthcare, increasing tax rates on the wealthy, improving the protections of the labour force and union power).

I´m afraid I don´t see any particular reason why these sorts of policies would necessarily be tied to increased GHG emissions. I also do not see why this would necessarily be tied to economic growth of the manufacturing industry (which seems to be what you are suggesting) rather than the other sectors JQ has highlighted as significant to the 21st century economy [1].

Might I respectfully suggest that – given you appear to be arguing about “economic growth” (and that of manufacturing in particular?) rather than the “economic equality” JQ seems to be discussing – you may wish to re-read the chapter to see if your criticisms still apply [2]. Perhaps they still will, but it might be a useful exercise?

[1] https://crookedtimber.org/2020/12/21/the-21st-century-economy/).
[2] https://www.dropbox.com/s/bpmnqpxif2or9i6/Chapter%202%20draft.pdf?dl=0

31

Tm 03.29.21 at 3:29 pm

@22 I just don’t think nostalgia is the right approach. See 9.

32

oldster 03.29.21 at 3:34 pm

I would add to the list of TM@21:

massive expansion of education at all levels, esp. college & university.

In the US, at least, the years from the late ’40s to the mid-70s were also the Golden Years for the state universities and private universities. This had all kinds of good effects which the right wing absolutely loathed, since they perceived correctly that education is the enemy of right wing ideology.

It might be interesting to add in global campaigns for vaccination, too.

So far as the overall claim of the post, and the pushback about the status of women, minorities, climate change, and so on, I wonder whether the debate has shifted from “it was/ was not a Golden Age,” to “it was/ was not an Age Progressing towards Gold,” which is a less ambitious and more defensible claim.

33

JimV 03.29.21 at 4:06 pm

Another anecdote: I think it was in the 1972 annual meeting of the GE Large Steam Turbine Engineering Department that Jack Downs (then head of that organization) told us something like this: “We are scheduled to ship 25 large (500-1000 Megawatt) steam turbines for nuclear plants next year. We have never shipped that much Megawatt capacity in our history and I am not sure how we are going to do it.”

It turned out we didn’t have to, as most of them were cancelled, as were most of our backlog which was scheduled out to 1980. The electrical power industry had had enough issues with nuclear plants and went back to fossil fuels. We might have been that close to keeping AGW at a significantly lower level.

(None of those we did ship had any significant engineering problems as far as I know. We supplied Fukushima turbines but not the plant design.) (Fossil-fueled turbines run at higher temperature, pressure, and RPM, and did have some problems.)

Of course, with going-on 8 billion people we were bound to have bigger and bigger problems. The next pandemic is probably not long away. There were less than four billion of us when I was born.

34

Tm 03.29.21 at 8:54 pm

Oldster: Mass expansion of higher education is one of the more or less universal features of the post war period. I kind of subsumed it under „public infrastructure“ but it certainly deserves to be singled out. It’s also an example for why the conditions of that period cannot simply be recreated. There could, and should, be more public investment in education, but it will never again have the same tremendous effect.

35

Tm 03.29.21 at 9:21 pm

A longer response to JQ 25: Your framing suggests that everything has been going downhill since the 1970s, after the great strides made especially in the 1960s. I would dispute that framing, not that I don’t appreciate the momentous progress that you point out, but history is more complex. There have been setbacks in some areas, small and sometimes large steps in the right direction (e. g. LGBTQ rights) in others. In any case, activists who lived through and participated in the struggles of the 1960s hardly believed they were living in a glorious golden age! They experienced horrible, oppressive conditions, which motivated them to work for change. Their testimony should be enough to dispel any „golden age“ fantasies.

As you know, I’m very much in favor of learning from history, learning to better understand our own time through the study of the past. But we must understand each time as shaped by its specific conditions.

36

KT2 03.30.21 at 1:00 am

Tm@9 said: “… and resisting the politically regressive nostalgia and glorification that invariably come with the Golden Age discourse.”

JQ bringing a past golden age into ‘now’ carries a tinge of nostalgia. 

Countervailing forces of two experiences need to be planned for:
● “The slow climb toward a more humane capitalism and 
● the rapid descent away from it constitute two very different experiences.” from “Bookends to a Gentler Capitalism:” below.

I hope not, but a rapid acent to a golden age will potentially become a bug, due to the accent /  decent from away from current age. Using the golden age is not necessarily a feature, as it is projecting history with more good and less bad, into ‘a’ possible future, with… “The CEO of JPMorgan Chase has some ideas about how to make capitalism a little nicer, now that the tide is turning against capitalism”
https://theoutline.com/post/7300/jpmorgan-chase-ceo-jamie-dimon-wants-a-kinder-gentler-capitalism-shut-up-jamie 

Another interpretation – against promoting a prior golden age: “Reading Thomas Piketty: A Critical Essay

“Taken in this light, nostalgia for a golden age of general prosperity and social harmony—the promised land of social democracy–is a delusion grounded on a mere temporary compact between capital and labor, a reluctant concession meant to anesthetize the power of labor and anti-capitalist action. If we take seriously Piketty’s claim that “historical experience remains our principal source of knowledge,” then we must concede that the thirty glorious years offer only a momentary and deceptive respite from the march of inequality.

“In a footnote, Piketty cites Joseph Stiglitz as sharing a similar sentiment about this “golden age.” Indeed, it is remembered fondly as such by many of those associated with the so-called Baby Boom, the generation that today occupies the most important leadership roles in politics, economic life, culture, and the media.

“It is no surprise that this “golden age” is identified with social democracy (and Euro-Communism) in Western Europe and social harmony, liberal values, and the ‘War on Poverty’ in the United States. But placed in the context of Piketty’s long-term analysis of inequality and its persistent tendency to reproduce, this is a rather pathetic basis for projecting the success of those values, a thin foundation for advocacy of center-left moderation.
https://philosophersforchange.org/2014/04/29/reading-thomas-piketty-a-critical-essay/

But where is your story of ‘a’ future? Not a golden age, just a better fairer one. What happened to Ali?
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/17/socialist-utopia-2050-what-could-life-in-australia-be-like-after-the-failure-of-capitalism

https://crookedtimber.org/2019/01/18/socialist-utopia-2050/

From comments at CT, I agree with Howard Frant  “You’re pretty breezy about the abolition of intellectual property, considering how much importance you attach to technological progress. How’s that going to work?”
Add to IP intractable private property rights too.

Not applicable in your perceived last ‘golden age’ but now a missing addition to a future golden age is, as Murray Reiss says “The most utopian aspect of this, of course, is the assumption that Australia has not been ravaged by the effects of Global Warming, aka Anthropogenic Climate Disruption”
…” experts estimate that climate change is likely to displace between 150 and 300 million people.
“According to international refugee law, climate migrants are not legally considered refugees. 
“Refugees’ rights, and nations’ legal obligation to defend them, were first defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was expanded in 1967.”… https://theconversation.com/climate-change-will-displace-millions-in-coming-decades-nations-should-prepare-now-to-help-them-89274

And my major categorisation and language problem, why call it socialism? as Louis N. Proyect reminds us “This definitely sounds better than the status quo but why call it socialism? Isn’t it nothing more than a very nice and gentle kind of capitalism?”

To which nastwoman replied “And @18 –… Or as a famous (Petty) philosopher used to sing: ”the sky’s the limit…”.

So not socialism but ‘SkysTheLimitism’. Hmmm…

Plenty of gentle capitalism. This seems to broaden your thesis of golden age back to the gilded age;

“Bookends to a Gentler Capitalism: Complicating the Notion of First and Second Gilded Ages

…”During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we are experiencing the decline of that effort as capitalists and their ideological and political supporters push to see how far they can go to ensure the unchallenged hegemony of corporate and property rights [see Jamie Dimon]. The slow climb toward a more humane capitalism and the rapid descent away from it constitute two very different experiences.”
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-gilded-age-and-progressive-era/article/abs/bookends-to-a-gentler-capitalism-complicating-the-notion-of-first-and-second-gilded-ages/EAA852693D5A17EC0DAA50D15CC97D43

It seems those benefits were never properly overcome, nor institutions permanently immunized from reverting to austerity, monopoly or to post golden age.

As you said JQ “progress towards racial and gender equality has been glacial at best, and in some cases, has gone into reverse.”. Golden doesn’t include glacial and reverse.

So we also have to update institutions, eradicate foolishness and malice, and have socialism ameliorate capitalism. A very tall order to protect a neo ‘golden age’. Foolishness may he adressed or managed or countered. Mailce, unless you get all those you mention  (and also those not mentioned) inside the ‘golden tent’,  malice at both ends of the spectrum will erode the neo golden age.

And malice from the ‘right’ end – envy greed fear tribalism populists and markets, militarism etc etc in its many forms. And (groan) Capitalism. See again Jamie Dimon.

And whilst above is going on, climate change is likely to displace between 150 and 300 million people.

As Tom Atlee mused “everything is getting better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster”. And some wag appended “and slower and slower”.

I’d like a series of threads on how to rebadge, rename or reanimate socialism please.

Apologies I don’t have enough time to write few words.

37

KT2 03.30.21 at 1:55 am

Nicholas Gruen said “Certainly not me”, nor I.

Name change.
Instead of the golden age, how about “The Tolerant Age” as argued below  “Tolerance of individual rights appears to be closer to an ultimate driver” …”… however, cultural transmission has been accelerated and reconfigured by technological changes (33), and future tipping points may not be readily predicted from 20th century trends (1).” 

From;

“Religion, Secularism & the Golden Age.

“Our recent paper in Scientific Advances shows that, in the 20th century, secularisation occurred before economic development and not the other way around. 
https://theconversation.com/religious-decline-was-the-key-to-economic-development-in-the-20th-century-100279

“Religious change preceded economic change in the 20th century

“… also indicate that tolerance for individual rights predicted 20th century economic growth even better than secularization. These findings hold when we control for education and shared cultural heritage.

“Our observation that secularization preceded economic change further rules out a bicausal relationship between income and religion (13–15) as well as the theory that socioeconomic advances cause religious practices to be phased out (3, 4, 17).

“Our findings do not mean, however, that secularization was the ultimate cause of economic development. Both secularization and economic growth may have been driven by something else, with secularization responding faster than GDP. This likely rules out technological advances as the ultimate cause, as it is hard to imagine how religion could respond faster to technological change than GDP.

“Tolerance of individual rights appears to be closer to an ultimate driver, in that more people are included in economic activity, especially women (24, 25). The tolerance factor, which is most highly loaded on individual rights for divorce and abortion (table S11) and therefore likely to correlate with women’s rights generally, was a better temporal predictor of GDP per capita than the secularization factor. 

“Our results showed that education is predictive of future GDP, but not of future secularization. 

…” we used EFA to allow the patterns of variation to emerge from all the WEVS data. 

… “That is, the persistence of generational values is consistent with both the theory that intergenerational change is a coherent mode of value change (5, 17) and the theory that demographic shifts, rather than economics, drive modern cultural change (1).

“Controlling for shared history did not substantially alter our findings, 

“The pace of change and its causality are important dimensions for future study. … In the 21st century, however, cultural transmission has been accelerated and reconfigured by technological changes (33), and future tipping points may not be readily predicted from 20th century trends (1).”…

“… also indicate that tolerance for individual rights predicted 20th century economic growth even better than secularization. These findings hold when we control for education and shared cultural heritage.”…
18 Jul 2018:
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar8680
https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/7/eaar8680
  

38

nastywoman 03.30.21 at 4:37 am

and about ”nostalgia” –
what I always wanted to ask you guys:

Why are… may we call them… honorable:
”The Elders”? –
always love to talk about THEIR… may we call them: ”Kriegserlebnisse”?
(about ”the old battles” they once fought) –
instead on focusing on the current ”battles”?

As there actually is a very ”current battle” about getting to a ”Golden Age”…

39

mike_h 03.30.21 at 7:09 am

For those of us with wayward reading habits: there was, certainly, a Golden Age. Kenneth Grahame did the business in the 1890s. But enough of the ribbing. Thank you, it’s an enjoyable exercise to read the drafts and attendant comments.
Without getting into “marking the essay” stuff: my reading comprehension was taxed in getting the sense (under the graph) of which country you’re referring to re- unemployment insurance – the States or Oz? And. If the heading, excitingly, tells me the Golden Age is to be explained, you can’t imagine the depth of frustration and disappointment I felt when you tell me (last paras) it isn’t the place for that explanation! I felt led-on, emptied of hope, a dead parrot was in the offing. Or sump’n.
It remains of great interest to me how different perceptions of the post war period are. I can’t dispute the gross data indicating improvements in economic conditions. I don’t get the sense though, from the drafts, of how such conditions derived from a low base. And yes. The low base was, unsurprisingly, uneven in its “manifestations”. Given the depredations of war on wider Europe and elsewhere globally, it was hardly a golden age for one heck of a lot of people. But, the USians and Antipodeans did have a Golden Age I can’t deny. Living for over fifty years in Australasia I’ve repeatedly met incomprehension about post-war conditions in other countries by Anglo-Celts downunder. I was telling someone last Sunday about the school I went to, as a littlie, just after the war. There were day kids, and the “residential kids” housed at the school. Kids who were displaced and orphaned (from the east end of London) by the intensity of the bombing of the docks and industries there. I had dropped from the skies myself, gauging by the reaction.
So, a period of Golden Weather is sorta rather more apt for me – if gold has to be the preferred mineral. It’s certainly been a Golden Age since then for that important percentage who need to maintain their lifestyles in style…

40

Hidari 03.30.21 at 8:41 am

@32 ‘massive expansion of education at all levels, esp. college & university.’

A massive expansion of free (or at least cheap) education at all levels.

The adjective is not just an add on: it’s fundamental.

41

Tm 03.30.21 at 4:20 pm

This is a rather long review by Erik Baker of Thomas Frank’s latest book but has some relevance to the current debate by examining closely some of the class contradictions of the post war era.

The postwar prosperity that Frank yearns for, always unevenly distributed, rested on direct federal subsidies for immense corporations in the defense and agricultural sectors and the selective drafting and application of labor law and business regulation along the fracture lines of race and gender. … Middle-class consumers of the era certainly benefited from low prices and cheap credit. But if it was populism, it was not one that Frank has the conceptual tools to come to terms with. Nor, for that matter, is it one that we should aspire to recreate today. …
The radical labor movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s ultimately failed because they proved unable to overcome the divergences in short-term interests that the postwar political economy had established among a working population divided by geography, race, and gender.

These tidbits are not meant as a summary of the essay, which is both long and deep and worth reading if you care about US centric economic and political history. Its treatment of Frank’s theses is more cursory than I would have liked.

“Political nostalgia, an uncritical turn to an unusable past, is among the greatest dangers for the left today.”

https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/the-people-it-depends/

42

Barry 03.30.21 at 8:18 pm

“The adjective is not just an add on: it’s fundamental.”

Agreed. It meant that a generation (in the US, mainly white and largely male) in several countries had a massively higher education level without massively increased starting debt.

Which probably had knock-on effects, such as those people being able to buy houses at a much earlier age than later generations.

43

mary s 03.30.21 at 11:21 pm

I disagree. First of all, the politics of the way the New Deal and other great social programs were either set up or not set up was very much tied to race. To put it euphemistically, “compromises” had to be made with the Southern Democrats. And whatever solidarity there was around the New Deal and WWII and the Cold War was at least in part the product of exclusion — of non-whites, women, foreigners, non-hetero people, and “communists.”

It is certainly true that these marginalized/excluded groups — not just African Americans but also other groups (e.g., farm laborers who had been excluded from New Deal policies) — fought against their exclusion. Was this struggle a good thing? Yes. But the struggle was certainly not unique to this time period, and the fact that there were some limited successes (you might even say moral successes) does not, in my opinion, make this era a golden age.

Then you have women — the middle-class women who were, I guess you could argue, ‘taken care of’ economically but did not have economic agency. and the working class and poor women who were not. There was a brief period of time when women like my mom could take low-paying jobs once the kids were old enough and boost family incomes, but those jobs were pretty darn crappy. (My mom worked at a department store for 10-15 years and never made above minimum wage.) Nowadays, a lot of lower-income families are not making it with two adults working . . .

Then there’s organized labor — I’m no expert but it seems pretty clear to me that there was always an eye toward maintaining corporate profits, no matter what the “rank and file” wanted, especially the non-white members. For example, the Teamsters helped the growers bust the farmworkers union, and the AFL-CIO organized a bunch of construction workers to bust up an anti-war rally (this is something I read about the other day).

I would further argue that the successes of struggles for inclusion are part of the story of the end of the so-called golden age. I’m thinking here about Heather McGhee’s narrative of the public swimming pools — when Black citizens fought for and managed to win access to public amenities, many municipalities responded by shutting down those amenities. Similarly, public schools (some of them, anyway) were ordered to integrate but . . . well, anyway, I think there’s a connection between rights struggles and the loss of the NewDeal/WWII/Cold War “consensus.”

Another aspect of that golden age was the near-total restriction of immigration from non-white countries, which ended after the immigration reform of the mid-1960s. Not to mention the mucking about that the US did in other countries to prop up the American Standard of Living.

I think I’m losing my train of thought, so I’ll stop here. I don’t mean to imply that there wasn’t anything good about those decades. I just don’t see them as Golden — in part because it has not been all downhill since then. I won’t go on and on about it, but I will say that I, as a white woman, have a whole lot more economic options, and a better standard of living, than my mom did.

44

John Quiggin 03.31.21 at 12:34 am

TM @35 LGBT rights is one area where progress started very late (Stonewall is the standard reference) and has continued through the neoliberal period. I’ll mention this.

My recollection of the 60s (the only part of the Golden Age I can remember) is that people were both angry about injustice and confident, based on past successes that it would soon be overcome, whether through reform or revolution. Nobody contemplated decades of stagnation and/or regression.

I can’t find the comment now, but I agree the current ending of the chapter (we don’t know why things worked so well, or why they failed) is a cop-out. I’m hoping to say something about my thoughts there, but also writing to a tight deadline.

45

nastywoman 03.31.21 at 6:54 am

and isn’t the question if these ”Good Ole Times” –
(as my grandfather used to say)
when he still could go golfing –
were a:
”Golden Age” –
are as… as irrelevant? to the question if we can get to a ”Golden Age” by giving everybody enough money to be able to go golfing –
and how to do that – as the question if WW1 had anything to do with some of my friends really desperately wanting to go shopping again?!

46

nastywoman 03.31.21 at 7:57 am

and I sooo remember how my friend Paul Krugman
once (jokingly?) asked for an Alien Attack –
(or some other kind of devastating ”PreKeynesDesaster” –
in order to have the GREAT Keynes doing his magic –
AGAIN –
in installing the typical ”AfterDevastatingWarGolden Age –
as I just was at the Deutsche Eck in Koblenz and we filmed at the Kaiser Wilhelm Denkmal – and afterwards at the Krone in Assmannshausen and on top of the ”Höllenberg” (The Hell Mountain) – and as there are(still) all of these Guest Books at the Krone from 1919 –
(when my Great Grandfather took over the Rheinland with his American Troops) – and if found his signature in one of them – and this signature was crossed through and had the German comment. ”Unwillkommene Gäste” (unwelcome) added – I somehow thought-
it’s NOT funny –
to ask for some Alien attacks in order to get some Keynes passed –
especially in times –
where we had ”a Pandemic” in order to get to a –
”Golden Age”…?

47

Tim Worstall 03.31.21 at 9:21 am

“Sulfate particulates do, in fact, offset anthropogenic global warming to a certain extent”

There is a – speculation is probably the best word – that coal fired shipping had something to do with it too.

We know that iron fertilisation of the ocean works. Works in that some portion of the algal blooms ends up sinking down to become rock. The arguments are about how much and whether that’s a useful amount.

We know that fly ash from coal burning is largely a ferrous aluminosilicate which adds both iron and silicious acid (that might not be quite the right name but in some ocean areas this is the limit of the growth of the biome) as well as potassium and phosphorous to seawater.

So, lots of boats running back and forth spraying fly ash over the oceans sequestrates some CO2. Whether that sequestration is more than the CO2 from the coal burning is something I don’t know. But it will be more than the same shipping using oil, a change that largely occurred post WWII for merchant shipping.

48

MFB 03.31.21 at 10:08 am

Nothing more from you on this thread, please. Next time, avoid personal attacks.

49

MFB 03.31.21 at 10:30 am

mary s, of course you have a point. The period 1945-1975 was not an unalloyed blessing for everybody. However, when you say that nowadays you have a better set of opportunities than your mother had, I wonder whether you are not something of an anomaly. As far as I know, to a very large women in the U.S. are discovering that the opportunities available to them are worse than the opportunities that their mothers had. Ditto for blacks.

There may have been a loosening up of restrictions for the middle and upper classes, which is no bad thing in itself, but loosening up job reservation when there are no jobs available is a devil’s bargain, as we have discovered in South Africa where “broad-based black economic empowerment” has simply enabled a few hundred african people to become filthy rich while almost everybody else (but particularly africans) has grown poorer because the job market has collapsed, trade unions have been obliterated and salaries have dwindled.

I may be wrong, but this is the narrative I’m hearing and I’d be interested to hear what others are saying. My impression is that the surge in economic inequality in the United States has hit poor people, women and black people particularly hard. In which case the liberties won in the 1970s and 1980s (has much happened since then, apart from gay marriage?) are not really applicable to a big chunk of the populace.

50

Tm 03.31.21 at 10:58 am

@40, 41: There would never have been a mass expansion of higher education if it hadn’t been affordable for large strata of the population. So sure, that is fundamental, and it’s also implicit. Also implicit is the fact that this post war expansion was due as much to capitalist necessity than to progressive political energy.

51

Hidari 03.31.21 at 11:07 am

@43

People talk about the ’30 Glorious Years’ but it was actually more than that: It was only in about 1977 that the Callaghan, putatively ‘Labour’ Govt. ditched Keynesian pump-priming of the economy with predictable consequences (it’s often forgotten that the famous Boys from the Blackstuff was originally set pre-Thatcher, i.e. under a ‘Labour’ Government: cf also the ‘Labour isn’t Working’ Saatchi ad).

Likewise, Reaganism really began under Carter, but not in the first few years. It was only in about 1979 that Carter turned firmly against Keynesianism and started what was effect a proto-Reaganite mode of governance. It was Carter, not Reagan, who put Volcker in charge of the Fed, and began Reaganism (in all but name) in 1979.

So it was really the ‘Glorious 35 Years’. And given that, we can see that the claim that ‘no one’ cared about LGBT rights etc. in this period as the pernicious nonsense it is. By the late 1970s, all the ‘current’ modes of protest (anti-racism, LGBT rights, feminism) were, so to speak, ‘up and running’ and it was only the cultural backlash of the 1980s that slowed progress. But this was not enough to stop them, and, as we saw in the 1990s and then into the 21st century, the eventual triumph (or in the case of feminism and the environmental movement, semi-triumph) of these movements, or at least their move into the mainstream. The 1960s and 1970s were also the period when the modern anti-racism movement really got started.

These movements also very clearly and explicitly came out of the New Left The original title of the LGBT movement was Gay Liberation (and Women’s Liberation): the word Liberation of course coming from the National Liberation Front of Vietnam. In the 198s0 it was the Bennite wing of the Labour Party (cf Ken Livingstone) which fought harder and most effectively for LGBT people and also achieved the most, environmentally (e.g. the car ban in London, investment in public transport) while the Labour Right babbled on and lost election after election.

As I say you have to question why so many people are anxious to question the objective facts.*

*Of course, this is a rhetorical point! I know perfectly well why they are, but I thought I would just raise the question…..

52

Tm 03.31.21 at 11:14 am

JQ 43: “Nobody contemplated decades of stagnation and/or regression.”
I may be repeating myself but I would be very cautious with that kind of generalization. People had very different interests and perceptions. Some expected the world revolution any day now, others (actually the majority of the population) disapproved or even were afraid of the protest movements. Among those who participated in the protest movements, the motives ranged from existentially oppressed people risking their lives to privileged kids shaking off parental authority and calling it revolution.

53

LFC 04.01.21 at 1:54 am

I don’t have the time or energy to comment on most of the substantive questions being discussed in this part of the thread, but I have to protest Hidari’s claim that the word “liberation” was somehow originated by the NLF and other movements in other contexts borrowed it from the NLF. While of course parts of the New Left supported what they viewed, not without a certain amount of justification, as the Vietnamese revolution, there is zero historical evidence that the NLF had some kind of patent of origin on the word “liberation.”

54

nastywoman 04.01.21 at 2:17 am

as isn’t this… ”the point”:

”WASHINGTON — It has been 40 years since President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”

The infrastructure plan that President Biden described on Wednesday — $2 trillion in federal investment in poured concrete, electric car chargers, artificial intelligence and social engineering — is a bet that government can do colossal things that the private sector cannot.

In fact, when the long-awaited “infrastructure week” finally arrived in Washington, it turned out to be about a lot more than just new highways and the replacement of old lead pipes. Urged on by the left wing of his party, and reminded by historians that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson went big, Mr. Biden is using the framework of rebuilding crumbling highways and bridges to try to reshape the American economy by focusing more on long-range problems like climate change and inequality that have been caught up in the culture wars.

It will take years to know whether Mr. Biden’s initiative will have the lasting power of the New Deal or the Great Society, or whether it can “change the paradigm,” as he argued a few weeks ago”.

55

John Quiggin 04.01.21 at 2:37 am

“One thing I think that should be always pointed regarding the Golden age lasting until the early 1970s (I finished school in the early 1970s), is that this period was a period with a relatively stagnant workforce. ”

That should have been bad for growth in output per person, but the drag of low participation was offset by rapid growth in output per hour worked.

56

John Quiggin 04.01.21 at 2:38 am

A point that’s been made many times is that the Cold War gave the US an incentive to deliver better conditions for workers. Biden is now invoking the same arguments, in the frame of democracy vs autocracy.

57

John Quiggin 04.01.21 at 3:12 am

TM “There could, and should, be more public investment in education, but it will never again have the same tremendous effect.”

I took a look and found this graph in Wikipedia. A few observations

  1. The pattern of Golden Age followed by stagnation is strikingly evident, particularly if you focus on the 25-29 graphs (those who have recently completed education). But, this is more notable for the US than for other developed countries, where progress continued after 1980.

  2. While the shift to near-universal high school can’t be repeated (though there’s still room for improvement), there’s a big gap in college completion compared to an extrapolation of the Golden Age trend. I’d like to look a bit more at community college, which is an important part of the picture.

  3. Your general point is right. We can’t simply replicate the policies of 50-70 years ago, and expect the same outcomes. The point is more that we can do a lot better than we have for the last 50 years.

58

David Gastil 04.01.21 at 5:31 am

People often put growth at the center of everything for this era, but I feel like the relative economic equality was really the more salient factor. Whether that equality was the result of growth or the impetus for growth seems to be an open question as well. Some forms of enhanced equality of opportunity preceeded this era (especially the new deal) and these weren’t all racist projects like what happened with housing. Desegregation of the military and civil service in the US seems to be relatively unrelated to the rate of economic growth, but its effect on the economy was still dramatic.

The Great Migration and the slow death of the sharecropping system also preceeded the Civil Rights Era proper and many African Americans and other minority communities saw dramatic improvements in standard of living as well as relative social freedom. Americans of many walks of life saw new opportunities and even people who were “left behind” by the government policies still benefited from many other forms of decreased social marginalization such as more women going to college and getting the “temporary” jobs that would eventually prepare them for independence in the era of no-fault divorce. Big changes often start small, after all.

In any case, I think the obsession with growth-based policies (both Keynesian and supply side) is one of the darker outcomes of this era. A terror of stagflation and the end of growth seems especially egregious when the new growth is hoarded by a wealthy elite, yet all attempts at reform have been stymied by this ingrained memory of what supposedly went wrong in the late 70s. We know the familiar script of blaming Thatcher and Reagan and various forms of voodoo, but we also need to ask ourselves whether the post-war obsession with growth and standard of living (one very much associated with liberalism) is what ultimately paved the way for the bipartisan dream of a “return” to growth and the yuppie utopia that would follow.

59

Hidari 04.01.21 at 7:12 am

@58

‘People often put growth at the center of everything for this era, but I feel like the relative economic equality was really the more salient factor. ‘

Yes absolutely. There is a more general trend. here, with elites doing everything in their power to portray the 1970s as the ‘worst’ decade of the 20th century (presumably worse than the 1930s, or the 1940s, who knows?) while at the same time portraying the 1990s (gag) as the best. ‘The decade that taste forgot’ and all that.

But in fact huge amounts of stuff got achieved in the 1970s. As the cliche has it, ‘the 1970s was when the 1960s really happened’. and, a related cliche ‘In the 1960s there was a lot of talking, but in the 1970s things actually got done.’

And one of the things that got achieved, apart from the fact that the 1970s were a Golden Age of Labour militancy (there were a lot of strikes, which is obviously a good thing) was that inequality went down. A lot. 1979 (a year that is excoriated in elite discourse: ‘the winter of discontent’ and all that) was in fact the most equal that the UK has ever been (in terms of the Gini Coefficient). It was this move towards a more or less egalitarian/more fundamentally just and equal society that Thatcherism and Reaganism fought hardest against and of course inequality spiralled upwards in the 1980s, because that’s what Thatcherism and Reaganism were all about.

I won’t derail the conversation, but one of the things that has been most irritating about ‘the discourse’ in the last few years is that, if you go back about 5/6 years, there was a really good, really positive discussion ‘in the air’ about inequality. People were talking about Picketty, they were talking about The Spirit Level, inequality was seen as the key issue of our age. Now of course that discourse has been altered and we spend all our time talking about….ahem…’other issues’, which economic elites find much easier to assimilate and ‘capture’ and use.

Elites will fight tooth and nail to avoid ‘the discourse’ being about inequality, because they don’t want a more equal and just society, because they think (entirely correctly) that the price they will pay for a more equal and just society is that some of ‘their’ wealth will get taken away from them in the form of taxes.

60

John Quiggin 04.01.21 at 7:26 am

@58 I agree entirely on inequality. I’ve just posted along these lines.

@59 I don’t have UK stats, but I’m pretty confident that the minimum level of inequality in both Oz and the US was reached in the early 1970s. And even if the UK Gini coefficient was low in 1979, the fact of defeat was evident with the capitulation to the IMF in 1976. Hobsbawm’s “Forward March of Labour Halted” lecture in 1978 was clear on this.

As for the 1990s, they look now like the rightwing analog of the 1960s, a time when victory seemed assured but when, in reality, disaster was just around the corner.

61

Hidari 04.01.21 at 9:19 am

‘I don’t have UK stats, but I’m pretty confident that the minimum level of inequality in both Oz and the US was reached in the early 1970s’.

You could well be right, I couldn’t find the answers online quickly. But it was definitely at some point in the 1970s.

Again as you rightly point it was Callaghan in 1976 who said: ‘We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.”‘ which was a crucial first step in the repudiation of Keynesianism and the de facto adoption of (a form of) moneterism.

Again, as cannot be clearly stated enough, under a Labour Government.

‘As for the 1990s, they look now like the rightwing analog of the 1960s, a time when victory seemed assured but when, in reality, disaster was just around the corner.’

Yes.

62

notGoodenough 04.01.21 at 9:57 am

JQ & Hidari

Not sure if these are quite the right stats, but my understanding of the ONS is that it supports the idea inequality was at its lowest in the 70s (it only goes back to 77, but sufficient to make the point I think?):

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householdincomeinequalityfinancial/financialyearending2020

PS Hidari @ 61

Not sure if this matters, but you seem to have put your email in the name box? I merely draw it to your attention in case you’d like it fixed…

63

Hidari 04.01.21 at 11:09 am

@62

‘Not sure if this matters, but you seem to have put your email in the name box? I merely draw it to your attention in case you’d like it fixed…’

Hi
yes I would like it fixed, and yes, obviously that was a mistake…if it was easy for a site operator (say, the writer of the OP to fix it) that would be great.

Fixed – JQ

64

jpr 04.01.21 at 9:17 pm

Comparison between what China and India achieved for their populations in approx. the first 3 decades of their independence is also revealing. See chapter 11 of this book by the Indian economist, Amartya Sen:

https://archive.org/details/hungerpublicacti0000drze

tldr; The comparison is not, however, entirely one-sided. There are skeletons in China’s cupboard–millions of them from the disastrous famine of 1958-61. India, in contrast, has not had any large-scale famine since independence in 1947. We shall take up the question of comparative famine experience later on, and also a few other problems in China’s success story, but there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India.

65

Hidari 04.02.21 at 6:42 am

@63 Thanks!

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