Sunday, March 05, 2006

Life in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies

In many substantive ways American society is at a crossroads and the opposing forces are formidable. This is obvious when one observes the acidic rhetoric over the Iraq War and the war on terror; the battle over a “woman’s right to choose” at the partial birth end of pregnancy; the nightly campaign by Bill O’Reilly to force state legislatures to pass Jessica’s law; the debate over control of public school funding and policies; and the contest over entitlements vs. individual rights. In this post I’ll concentrate on the final issue as it relates to the civil rights discussion in the last post (“Civil Rights and Wrongs”, 3/4/06).

I’ll adopt the reasonable philosophy that socio-economic policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm. So I’ll begin with some actual facts and see how ignoring or misinterpreting them led to premises or myths that drove social policy to disastrous ends. Let’s start in the fun fifties.

Life Magazine in 1950 looked at America and liked what it saw. “Two years ago, four years ago,” wrote the editor, “the US was hip-deep in a postwar boom – and the news today is that it is still smack in the middle of the same boom. The darned thing goes on and on and on.” Life was good in Ike’s day.

The article did not mention poverty, and the Federal Government spent only a miniscule amount on it. Who knew that fully thirty percent of Americans were living below the poverty line? That same year the US Supreme Court ruled that the University of Oklahoma could not require its lone black student to eat alone in a separate cafeteria, but the Court did not repudiate the underlying “separate but equal” doctrine. The New York Times counseled patience. Most folks in the 1950s were relatively satisfied with their lot.

Fast forward to 1968: Real GNP had been rising for nine straight years, inflation averaged 1.6% and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, tantamount to full employment. As a consequence, the poor population fell from 30% in 1950 to 13% in 1968. This improvement had everything to do with the booming economy and little to do with the Great Society social programs that were enacted starting in 1964 but had spent comparatively little by 1968.

After the Johnson presidency ended, the war on poverty really took off under President Nixon. Federal government expenditures on social welfare programs (in inflation adjusted dollars) quadrupled over the years from 1968 to 1980. One would have expected a significant improvement in the poverty indices. It was not to be. In 1980 the poverty percentage was precisely the same 13% as it was in 1968 when the welfare spending ramped up.

To get an idea of the inflation in social spending by the Federal government during those times, consider the following per-capita percent increases from 1950 to 1980: health and medical 300%, public assistance 650%, education 1200%, social insurance 1350% and housing 6450%. This was quite a generous war with not much accomplished.

Moreover, many other basic indicators of well-being took a turn for the worse in the late 1960s. Why did this happen? Perhaps it was a consequence of false premises or unintended consequences. Read about that in the next post.


Blogger Free Agency Rules said...

Great Post!

Ever notice that its is almost always the Dems who control our school system and yet it is the Dems who constantly complain about it with the only solution being "more money!"

The people with the only good solution..."Vouchers" are scoffed at.


9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, they're turning our kids into communist pinkos! We need to get in there, teach them about creationism, and and teach them to have a VERY healthy skeptical attitude towards "science"

11:17 AM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

We need to teach the kids "to have a VERY healthy skeptical attitude toward" LIBERALISM.

10:39 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home