It All Went Wrong in the 1970s


Do follow up my last post on the true meaning of “centrism” by reading Michael Tomasky’s “The Real Legacy of the 1970s” at the New York Times.  He argues that it was in the 1970s that the nation shifted from its old consensus on Keynesian economics to the “supply side” nonsense that never worked but which we can’t seem to get rid of.

… walk down a street and ask 20 people a few questions about economic policy — I bet most will say that taxes must be kept low, even on rich people, and that we should let the market, not the government, decide on investments. Point to the hospital up the street and tell them that it wouldn’t even be there without the millions in federal dollars of various kinds it takes in every year, and they’ll mumble and shrug.

The 1970s also saw the beginnings of the Democratic Party’s lurch to the right, as the establishment sought to distance itself from both the New Left and from Lyndon Johnson’s mixed legacy of the Great Society and the Vietnam War. The heads-up-their-ass Democratic Party leadership that has been misdirecting the party for the past 20 to 30 years started their careers in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in the rise of neoliberalism in the early 1980s. And,of course, the Republican Party has gotten nuttier and nuttier since Reagan.

Then follow that up by reading this post by Steve M, which concludes,

I think the rich assume they’re bulletproof now. They think they’ll maintain their ability to hoard all the nice stuff even if the rest of America (or the world) burns. And I wish I believed they were wrong about that. I support progressive politicians, but I suspect it may be impossible now to make significant improvements to ordinary Americans’ lives through conventional politcal means. I fear the rich won’t allow us to do that unless we threaten to destroy their world.

Then move on to Sean Illing, Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism. In brief, capitalism as we know it doesn’t appear to be sustainable, yet it’s questionable whether meaningful reform is possible in our current political climate. We’ve lost the Vital Center, people. 

30 thoughts on “It All Went Wrong in the 1970s

  1. It is not sustainable  for the  earth or us.

    I always dated it to 1980. That was the shift in practice and stated values. The wealthy demanded more and wanted to be worshipped and they got it. The corruption of the entire right took over. There were always October surprises. Being middle class was never again enough. And achieving it became harder.

  2. Since Polybius described “anacyclosis” a couple thousand years ago, various economic and political philosophers (from Cicero to Kant to the American Framers…) have tried to solve that most human of problems. 

    Anacyclosis means that every form of government, regardless of how beneficial and democratic, will always degrade into a corrupt plutocracy for the simple reasons of nepotism and the emotionally callous rationalizing of the rich and powerful.  Personally, I’d add that power games of every kind usually rewards those best at playing such games (the most cunning and ruthless) and people like that care very little about common people.  Eventually all the honest players are removed for the simple reason of having less weapons than the winners have.  At the end of the cycle, the common people always revolt and then the cycle begins again.

    The "Century of the Self" series found on YouTube describes our current cycle in more detail, without mentioning the term "anacyclosis".

  3. The system we have today is not the capitalism I studied in school, which said capital and labor shared in gains.  At some point along the way, after buying off legislators to help them destroy unions and remove safeguards, “gain” for workers became just being allowed to keep your job once capital figured out they had us in a position where we couldn’t do without them.  Which explains why wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. 

    By any indicator positive middle and working class life is measured, the trends have been downward, while similar indicators for wealth and corporations have been exploding off the charts, and hence the disparities we have.

    And when it comes to legislation, there’s no program that is not too expensive when it comes to working people, but there’s always a never ending stream of public wealth to put back into the pockets of the wealthy, or start a war, the net effect of which is the same.

    I don’t believe the solution has to be ditching capitalism altogether, but we need to put back in place the safeguards we had that leveled the playing field between capital and labor. And we need a political party that truly champions the causes of working people.

  4. Tomasky writes:

    “But others have a responsibility here too — notably, our captains of commerce. They have enormous power, and in a country this polarized, they can move moderate and maybe even conservative public opinion in a way that Democratic politicians, civic leaders and celebrities cannot.”

    The problem here is our so-called captains of commerce have more than proven they cannot be relied on to participate in any social change, when those changes don’t add dollars to their bottom lines.

    We have some measure of control over politicians with our votes.  The only control we have over these damned captains is with our dollars.  Organizing around boycotting some of the most egregious, if for no other reason to demonstrate leverage of the purse, is going to be necessary at some point, if real change is going to happen.


  5. After WWII, there were two major powers left:  the US and the USSR.  The USSR was badly damaged.  We were not.  So, our country basically "ran-the-table" economically until somewhere in the 60's. 

    After the Great Depression, and then the war, our uber-wealthy realized that they had to treat workers better, or else Americans might mimic the Russian Revolution.

    So after WWII, our booming middle class made us the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

    This middle class grew too powerful for the uber-wealthy, and so Nixon was their man to reverse this terrible "aberation."  The "Southern Strategy" was  created to divide the nation further over race.  Success!

    Things started degrading slowly throughout the 70's and early-mid 80's, largely because the rich still needed our workers well off enough to keep any thoughts of an American version of the Russian Revolution out of the realm of possibility.

    And then, the USSR fell.

    And so, with no competing economic philosophy like communism to keep our uber-rich capitalists in line, we saw all sorts of union busting, lowering of wages, losses of benefits, etc…

    I've written about this here before and at other sites:

    The worst thing that ever happened to the American worker, is that the Soviet Union fell apart.

    And so, here we sit.


  6. Great insight and comments. 

    A quote by Margaret Mead:  Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

    Sri Ramakrishna said:  The winds of grace are  blowing all the time, you have only to raise your sail.

  7. Re:  Tonight's SOtU speech – I can't stand to listen to this treasonous, traitorous, orange semi-human bellows lie on national TV, because I'm old and poor, and I can't afford a new TV set.

    Oh, I'll have it on!  I'll watch it in MSNBC.

    But I'll be watching it with the sound off.

    More specifically, I'm going to focus on watching SOtH Nancy Pelosi – AKA:  the anti-tRUMP.  

    Drinking game:  Drink a shot very time Nancy rolls her eyes!  But caution is advised:  Not just for the drinker, but for Nancy Pelosi.  Nancy!  You keep doing that, and your eyes will stay that way!!!

    I WILL, however, crank that volume up as soon as Stacey Abrams comes on!

    GO STACEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. The comment  are good but do not capture the economic reality of the 70s vs today.  The pictures are a good place to start.  Who wore these clothes?  Guys posing for magazines and people only seen on TV.  Perhaps some urban folks who were not "suits", but you could not work in polyester. Need I also mention white is not a color for a working man unless you cook or plaster.   As I recall the comedy laugh line was something like: by noon it smelled like something died on you.  

    Then there was the price.  The pants have a mark down price of about nine dollars.  Enlargement of the picture shows a suggested retail price before markdown of about double that.   Well in the 70s what now costs a dollar then cost about a dime.  Gasoline was 18-25 cents a gallon, and minimum wage a little over a dollar to a dollar and a half.  Even at the sale price that pair of pants would cost a half of a days salary for many people.   Using the dime to a dollar conversion the today price on sale would be $90.  Oh, and if someone dropped a cigarette or other ash on it, you had a pair of pants with an unsightly hole in it and a plastic enhanced burn mark on your leg to match.  

    The clothes tell the whole story.  It was the beginning of the economic age of selling you a bad idea at an expensive price.  Planned obsolescence was considered wise engineering.  Build it to wear out quickly or go out of fashion quickly.  Reduce the factory to landfill time span.  It is when America really started to become "great".  

    • “Who wore these clothes? Guys posing for magazines and people only seen on TV.” I take it you didn’t go to many weddings in the 1970s.

  9. The "vital center" went out with rotary phones and the rise of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives became brash and only wanted (and still want) to rule at any cost.

    The logical end of their program is a pyramid: one or two percent of the population at the top, another 10% or so as their retainers and flunkies, and destitution for everyone else. Its useful to measure their progress since the 70s toward this model.

    It's important to understand that this is the default arrangement of societies throughout history. There are abundant examples around the world. It takes a special and rare effort to create and sustain a middle class. It appears like a rare flower, blooming for a few decades now and then through history, then it's gone.

     Once the owners figured out how to take back the country for themselves, and once they were able to tap into the glut of labor worldwide, they were fine with stripping this country of its assets, including its useless middle class. 

    I appreciated the link to the article about Millennials and capitalism. I'm so removed from that cohort, that 1) I kind of had a disdain for them, but 2) the article gave me a lot of understanding and compassion toward them. Now I get their choices.

    It's far more useful to me to focus on  cyclical theories of politics, such @Bill mentioned upstream, or as what is discussed in books like The Fourth Turning.

    They provide a map of where things are likely to go, and help us move past things that aren't with us any more, and are unlikely to return in this lifetime.

  10. I've spent a good deal of time destroying any pictures of me in bell bottoms and polyester. However there were never any pictures of me in blcakface.

    • Well, I looked damn good in the 1970s. I never could get the big hair thing right, but now that’s kind of a relief.

  11. re the 70s – I may have told this story here before. In 1978, I was in my last year at college, and finally took the required-of-everyone speech class.

    At this time, college students had lots of hair, bell bottoms, and the hippie vibe was still strong, although disco was popular. Nearly everyone was cool and friendly and warm, basking in the 60s afterglow.

    Except for one guy. One guy in my speech class stood out against the sea of worn blue jeans like a sore thumb: dark leather shoes, white sox, dark pants, dark sport coat, white shirt. And greasy short black hair that rode atop a permanent scowl on his face. We regarded this guy as some kind of sad freak. I don't remember his speeches, but he seemed to be angry about everything.

    Fast forward five years, and these conservative guys are in the ascendance, ruling the world. John Lennon was dead, and Ronald Reagan was president.

    I didn't know it in 1978, and never would've believed it then, but this scowling guy in my speech class was like the first leaf of autumn – falling silently, quietly into the middle of summer's glory. The first note that something was about to change. And nobody then could've believed it.

  12. My hair suffered from a lot of repression in those days.  I do recall that part of the 70s.  A lot of unwelcome hair style experts appeared from nowhere,  and few that I agreed with.  

  13. Back in the 80’s I knew things were turning bad when half the long hair disappeared.  On the same person.  Mullets.  I knew it’d be a matter of time before the other half disappeared.

    But today if you had a boss who was really smart, really good at his job, great with employees, but wore a mullet, you’d have to explain this to probably every single newbie.  Theoretically, in a “free country” anybody should wear their hair any damned way they want without the slightest prejudice.  I think things are the way they are because ‘the mob’ dictates hair styles.  Yet the mob does this because they’ve been told what “is normal”.  I think there are two smaller forces, each capable of independent rational thought, continuously battling for control over the much larger faith based and tribalistic mob.  One are the ethical problem solvers.  The other are the power driven corrupt. 

    There has to be a way to make it look like the power driven corrupt are all wearing mullets.

  14. I didn't know it in 1978, and never would've believed it then, but this scowling guy in my speech class was like the first leaf of autumn – falling silently, quietly into the middle of summer's glory. The first note that something was about to change. And nobody then could've believed it

    Excellent, moonbat…yes

  15. Moonbat,

    Not just excellent, but poetic.  Beautiful.

    To me, the 60's ended when I was in my late teens.

    More specically:  Disco signaled the end.

    Dancing in the the 60's was a free-wheeling affair.  All of a sudden, you had to, HAD TO, know the latest dance steps.

  16. The only way I’ve been able to make sense out of everybody wanting to change themselves from groovy-empathizing lovers, into carbon-copy white collar assholes, is they must have been led to believe that their quality of survival depended on it. 

  17. …to make sense out of everybody wanting to change themselves from groovy-empathizing lovers, into carbon-copy white collar assholes

    These charts and accompanying text explain a lot.

    …I remember the 70s, albeit from a child’s perspective. They were very different from today. My overwhelming impression is that people were more relaxed and having a lot more fun. They were also far more open. The omnipresent security personnel, the constant ID checks, and so forth, did not exist.

    By the late 60s, conservatives got scared, and starting with the Powell Memo, began to organize and fight back. The above charts and the social change that followed are the result.

    • The 1970s were my young adult years. I graduated college in 1973, got married in 1974. Still had a lot to learn then.

  18. Holy Cross class of 1971.

    Reagan was a shock, the second time worse than the first.

    When the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact collapsed, Tom Brokaw whooped right along with George Will, "Capitalism on a roll!"

    And I knew we were in trouble.

    And when that cagey, irresponsible frat boy, Bill Clinton, said "The era of Big Government is over," I was seriously bummed out by the Democratic Party's retreat from progressivism.

    Herbert Croly's call for a government big enough to control capitalism and make it work for the common good announced a movement that began before its publication (1909, I think), and urged the absolute and utter necessity of Big Government.

    If the Democratic Party has any claim to popular loyalty, it is because it stands by and for Big Government and exactly that purpose.

    What Trump and the most selfish of the plutocrats have done through the Republican Party in the last two years has only made the need all the more obvious.

    We have a dozen years to avoid the short term worst of global warming, and Trump and the selfish geezer plutes who all knew even that short term will come mostly after they're dead have aggressively pursued exactly the wrong policies for the young and for the long run, precisely by attacking the Regulatory State.

    Let's hope the polls are wrong that show Schultz can keep Trump in the White House in 2020.

  19. moonbat, I warn conservative evangelicals (who I believe to be Useful Tool Central) that without rapid change, soon, their progeny will be pissing on their graves.  And they’ll all be atheist.

    I have a preacher uncle who was an old school silent generation Republican, now populist independent.  He’s lost three out of four of his boomer kids to agnosticism and most of his grandkids.  And the congregation he built is dying.  He gets it now why Jesus spoke of doing good works for the poor.  Good works may not buy heaven, but they make the religion appealing enough to outsiders to keep those pews full.

  20. Hurray for the "good ol' days.  No cell phones and no social media.  In the 70s I was young and beautiful.  Now I'm old and beautiful.  And my guy now is a handsome dog named Mr. Spock who is much more loyal and devoted than all who came before him.

  21. Bill, 

    I believe the Republicans motto for them is, "Need a tool?  Get yourself a "Christian" fool!"

    And the best part is, you don't have to pay the fool.  


    The fool pays YOU!

    They're laughing at you behind your backs, "Christian" fools!!!  

    All the way to the bank!

  22. @c u n d gulag

    The worst thing that ever happened to the American worker, is that the Soviet Union fell apart.


    I agree with you in the sense that I think the existence of the Communist Movement was a big factor in restraining the Oligarchs, but I have to say I believe the worst thing that ever happened to the American worker was Paul Volcker, who was appointed by Jimmy Carter. Volcker's relentless increase of interest rates was a huge factor in the deindustrialization of the Midwest and he intended to use the opportunity to destroy the unions. Following Carter, the New Democrats consciously decided to move to the Right, ally with Wall Street, and disengage from Labor. They decided the New Deal was "outdated." For some reason the 0.01% always feared Communism far beyond what I thought was rational or sane. They really believed the revolution could be exported, and that their control of the masses was so tenuous that even the mention of the underlying ideas of Socialism would lead to revolution. They aren't frightened now.

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