White Males and A Maturing American Economy
Updated: Oct 12
America is not even 250 years old and when anything starts from zero, growth rates can often be exponential, even economic. And so, for the first 153 years of its life, America experienced the kind of economic growth that had seldom been enjoyed by any country throughout history. This growth was never more personified than in the 1800’s under the vision and drive of the “Robber Barron’s”, who utilized the efficient extraction of hydrocarbons to fuel an incredible industrial revolution. However, it would not be long before the efficient markets theory would raise its head, and in 1929, America experienced the first of its “great depressions”, lasting until 1933.
It was during the depression that James Truslow Adams coined the term “The American Dream” when he wrote, "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
America’s emergence from its own depression coincided with the rise of Hitler in Germany, culminating in the 2nd World War. America eventually took on more than its fair share of responsibility for helping the world avoid rule by the Nazi’s, and she was rewarded with a world where she was the only major industrial nation left standing i.e. a world pretty much devoid of competition. Accordingly, she enjoyed another period (of about 25 years) of unprecedented, exponential economic growth.
Never has the term the “American Dream” been more descriptive of a period in American history than the 1950s, but it is important to consider why.
1. America had no real global competition resulting in a second period of exponential growth resulting in industrial productivity being at an all time high
2. In 1955 there were only 150,000,000 people in the United States
3. Women and minorities were not truly embedded in the workforce, so combining this with 2 above resulted in little competition for good paying jobs
4. In 1955 the average annual income was $3,500 from which a family of four could have one parent work, buy a house and a car, get good healthcare benefits, and put two children through college
5. It was fully expected that each future generation would do “better” than its predecessor
6. Unions protected the rights of workers and helped increase pay and benefits (the law of the unintended consequence of this would not raise its head for another 35 year). The Democrats supported the Unions and their workers while the GOP favored businesses and their owners, eventually reducing the power of the unions and not without reason.
7. The vast majority of professional athletes playing Football, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, Baseball, were white, as were the vast majority of politicians, teachers, law enforcement officers etc., etc., etc.
8. There were still segments of the American public that could not vote
9. In 1955, America had one of the highest standards of living in the world
The bottom line was if you were a white male and had even just chose to have a high school education you could fall out of bed and make a living that was enough to achieve the “American Dream”. This is what many white families in America became accustomed too, however, if you were a minority, the American Dream was still nothing but a “dream”.
Sixty-five years later in 2020, it is an entirely different picture:
1. The rest of the world recovered from WWII resulting in major global competition for the United States. There is now even real competition from countries that were not even on the industrial or technology “radar screens” in 1955, i.e. China and India
2. The population of The United States has more than doubled to almost 330,000,000
3. Women and minorities have become fully embedded in the workforce
4. The national average income (not the mean) today is $48,000, try buying a house and a car, getting good healthcare benefits, and putting two children through college on that
5. It is being said that generation Z will be the first American generation to make less money than their parents
6. Unions have way less power on behalf of their workers
7. The vast majority of professional athletes playing Football, Basketball, and Baseball are not white.
8. All Americans can vote
9. America now has the 15th highest standard of living in the world
Today, the bottom line is so different than it was in 1955 as if you are white and just choose to only have a high school education, simply falling out of bed is no longer an option, plus, the number and type of opportunities in certain regions of the country are way less than they were 65 years ago. As for minority families, there are at least now some avenues available to reach the dream. Thus, it appears to some that they are moving backwards while others (women and minorities) are moving forwards. The reality is, that after almost 250 years, the economy has matured, there are more people competing for opportunity, and “others” are at last starting to play on the same field.
The above is not the fault of one person, or of one party, as it has happened because:
1. The economy of the US has matured resulting in slower growth, which, after a certain period of time, is endemic of any “superpower”
2. The rest of the world has caught up, and in some instances, it has surpassed America
3. Not only are there more people in the US, but more of them are in the workforce i.e. there is simply more competition for good jobs
4. To break the unions, many jobs were sent abroad. It is laudable to want to bring them back, but we then must be prepared for the goods we buy to become two or three times more expensive
5. Increases in incomes have nowhere near kept up with the cost of living, especially in “non-discretionary” items such as education, healthcare, housing etc., etc. Whereas other countries in the world see non-discretionary as mandate to try and find the best way to make things available for all, the US sees it as a huge captive market that can be taken advantage of and exploited
6. America spends 26 times more on its military than the next 25 nations combined, 23 of which are allies
7. “Others” are becoming civic and private sector leaders
8. The demographic makeup of America is very different than it was in 1955.
The bottom line is that the American Dream is still alive, but it takes a different kind of education, skill set, geographic location, and opportunity to achieve it.
In summary, when white males speak of the “American Dream” disappearing from their view they are not wrong, as the 1950’s version that is still revered by their parents or grandparents is off the table for many. However, blaming a single political party or “other” Americans is wrong, and it is partly to blame for the hate and division we are seeing in America today.
Whether we like it or not, America has matured, and it is also now part of an interconnected global marketplace. It has been the world’s “superpower” for +/- 100 years and it is experiencing the same socioeconomic issues that affected each superpower that preceded it. Unfortunately, instead of learning from history and working together to solve our problems, we have chosen hate, and division as the answers. Any brief review of history will tell us the likely outcome if we continue https://www.swilliamsllc.com/post/history-has-a-habit-of-repeating-itself.