I won’t comment on the candidates themselves, but there is a clear slogan winner in the ongoing presidential campaign, e.g., “Make America Great Again.” Older Americans who lived in the mid-twentieth century referred to in the slogan have nostalgia for what economists agree was a “golden age” in our nation’s history. Every high school reunion members of my Class of ’54 wax eloquent about what we consider an enchanted childhood in the forties and fifties.

Nostalgia

I won’t comment on the candidates themselves, but there is a clear slogan winner in the ongoing presidential campaign, e.g., “Make America Great Again.” Older Americans who lived in the mid-twentieth century referred to in the slogan have nostalgia for what economists agree was a “golden age” in our nation’s history. Every high school reunion members of my Class of ’54 wax eloquent about what we consider an enchanted childhood in the forties and fifties.

A theory of history is it has moved from East to West which, interpreted, means Great Britain’s experiences of the past foreshadow or portends America’s future.

“What the British have now is a collective memory of greatness.

That memory is what persuades many people on the island that if

Something in the world needs to be done, then Britain should be

Among the countries to do it.” [1]

America is fortunate in being separated on east and west from Europe and Asia by thousands of miles of water. During WWII, we were called the “Arsenal of Democracy” meaning we were safe from the ravages of war and benefiting from it by supply the Allies with the food and weapons of war. The New Deal treated the worst of the sufferings from the Great Depression, but WWII actually restored our economy and made us the supreme power on earth.

The war gave all of us a self-concept of moral rightness in a righteous cause and military supremacy anywhere on earth. No power on earth could successfully challenge us. We were Number One, unbeatable.

In 1945 we were the world’s greatest power militarily and economically. But, military power is very expensive and possible only if three conditions are present e.g., a strong, healthy economy with an equally strong and unified government and public willing to build and employ it. Then the UK had all these prerequisites to being the world’s policeman. It took the Korean and Vietnam wars to disabuse us of that memory and myth of invincibility.

Levin wrote, “We live in a period of profound transformation, but we have tended to understand conditions today not so much as a transition but as an aberration, hence we have spent the past decade and more waiting for a return to normal that has refused to come. History matters but if we are using that period as the standard by which we evaluate candidates, cultural conditions, and political candidates and policies, we need to have an accurate understanding of that earlier era. Many voters either have no memory of that era or an inaccurate one.

Little changed 1930-40 because the Great Depression left no money to change much. People started back to work in 1939 as the nation ramped up to WWII. Their standard of living didn’t change during the war because of materials being diverted to the war effort and government policies to dampen consumption and control inflation on the home front.

Postwar 1946-70

When the war ended, people had money and pent-up demand for consumer goods and housing. Until industry converted back to consumer goods there was rampant inflation, but afterward the economy grew robustly for two decades. The government helped GI’s to finance new homes with 4.5% VA mortgage loans.

With the industry and economies of the other advanced economies destroyed by the war, the U.S. monopolized global trade until the former rebuilt in what is now labeled the “rise of the rest.” During this quarter century, American business flourished enough to provide pay and benefits better than otherwise because of the absence of global competition. Clerks in those stores typically earned enough to support a family and retired at 65 on a modest defined-benefit pension heavily funded by their employer. Life was good, predictable, and prosperity was widely shared.

Homes

From 1940-50 the average size new single-family home in Oklahoma increased to 983 feet with its value in the era increasing from an inflation-adjusted $13,500 to $31,700. By 2000, the median-size home in Oklahoma was $70,500—unchanged from 1980. Nationally, homes had increased to 1,500 square feet by 1970.

The earliest postwar homes were modest in size—in the 900 square foot range. Demand far exceeded supply so they skimped on some things such as leaving off eaves. Two of my uncles had been in the war and built new homes. These houses had small living rooms fully furnished with new furniture. Neither family actually used these rooms which reminded me of windows in furniture stores. I couldn’t figure out why they had them. It was like an effort at impressing their neighbors and themselves that they had achieved the American Dream. Times were good and the standard of living for all classes was rising.

Education and Jobs

Vets received government subsidies to attend college. I helped enroll vets in OU who were on the GI bill. As I recall the GI bill their tuition and books and gave single vets a monthly stipend of $90 a month and married vets $160. Their contribution to the labor market and economy was unprecedented. Even high school graduates could obtain a job that would support a family and buy a new home. Truth be told, businesses could not have afforded living wages for undemanding jobs had they not had monopoly power in global markets.

[1] Levin, Yuval, ‘The Fractured Republic,’ 2016.