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The 1920s, 50s and 80s – three good US decades

“Obama went on to tell Romney: “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.” So he’s Reagan, Eisenhower and Coolidge all rolled into one? Sounds way too good to be true, but one can only hope.”

James Taranto.

I suppose a person could argue that the 1920s were flawed in America because the boom of that era ultimately led to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but can, say, Harding and Coolidge get the blame for the scale of the downturn in the 1930s? And a lot of good things were created and invented in the 1920s in the US. The major turd in the punchbowl was Prohibition and the associated surge in organised crime. As for the 1950s, yes, Eisenhower was no radical, but as a recent biography sets out, he was a wise leader in many ways, and the process of dismantling the Jim Crow regime in the South was under way before JFK got in. As for Ronald Reagan, well, to even hint that Romney could be a new Gipper, and take the US back to the vibrant 80s when the Soviets were on the run counts as a massive own goal for Obama. Just think what Romney must have thought: “God, this preening jerk actually tried to imply that I might try and have a re-run of the 1980s! I have got the White House in the bag.”

Finally, the 1950s in the US gave us lots of Hitchcock movies, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Grace Kelly, M. Monroe, lots of good novels, interesting aircraft and space-craft, and er, some of these beauties.

28 comments to The 1920s, 50s and 80s – three good US decades

  • JSC

    Considering the Crash of 1929 actually had nothing to do with the Great Depression (which started over a year later due to a run on banks, not due to the market crash) I don’t see why it’s always brought up as being a bad thing. It was a market correction like any other, it just happened to be big. We’ve had larger corrections in the DJIA since then and no depression followed then either. So please don’t blame the Roaring 20’s (and the policies that enabled them to be “roaring”) for the Depression that followed — that’s been shown many a time to be the result of the changed government policies, not the stock market.

  • Mike James

    That quote characterizes the stereotypical Leftist mindset so concisely. Obama picked the three decades Leftists have derided most frequently over the years, it seems to me. Never trained to make a balanced appraisal of anything, always and only filtering their perception of reality through an ideological test, a Leftist would not be able to even guess that any particular object of his scorn might have something that would appeal to another.

    It never occurred to him that some people have fond memories of those decades. I remember the Eighties, it felt like that country had started moving again, like coming back to consciousness again after passing out. Doing something about the Soviets felt good, right, and necessary. The economy taking off again for the greatest part wiped out the mental funk we carried over from the wretched Seventies.

  • A cowardly citizen

    Prohibition wasn’t an economic policy of the 1920s.

    But your other points stand.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Cowardly, I did not say that Prohibition was an economic policy, merely that it was a major point against the 1920s. However, it is worth noting that Prohibition was a sort of economic policy: a lot of those who wanted it thought it would boost the economy by reducing drunkeness, for example. Needless to say, they overlooked the Law of Unintended Consequences.

  • Regional

    As mentioned before in this place the 1920’s were a time of rapid change through mechanisation. Polticians turned the market correction into a depression unlike 1920 when America came out of recession by market forces.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the 1950s it might be best to make a clear distinction between the “social” policies in effect in the 1950s, and the efforts by Eisenhower and others to change those policies for the better.

  • Laird

    FWIW, I’m not particularly fond of the cars of the 50s. The rest of the decade was pretty fine, though.

    Taranto comes up with some fine lines, doesn’t he?

  • Tedd

    Having been born in the 50s I didn’t have much chance to observe it with any degree of perspective. Like everyone my age in North America, I grew up inundated with propaganda about what a terrible decade it was. But the further I get from it and the more I learn about the reality of it the more it seems to me that it was a fine decade.

    In North America, cultural sophistication peaked in the 50s, by many measures. For example, typical middle class people in North America were more likely to read classic literature, listen to classical music, and be familiar with the work of public intellectuals than at any other time in our history.

    From my perspective now, it appears that the 60s and 70s were an orgy of babies being thrown out with bathwater. (I guess that’s a pretty tortured metaphor, but you know what I mean.) The 80s had some good points, but I’m not sure it was a rediscovery of lost things of value so much as a pause in the decline. Though, for those in the UK, perhaps Thatcherism did represent a rediscovery of lost things of value.

  • Brad

    The 20’s and the 50’s were the decades following war and people trying to get back to normalcy. Unfortunately in the 20’s easy credit due to poor monetary policies (made possible by the Fed) allowed people to go on a decade long bender trying to bury WWI. The 1950’s tried to bury WWII (and to some extent Korea) with trying to push the Leave it to Beaver Cleaver Family mentality down everyone’s throats (and the 60’s were a reaction against that forced stability). Of course the 80’s were a reaction to the stagnation of the 70’s brought about by the cost of Viet Nam. So pretty much the century has been warfare, terrible economic/monetary policies, and people acting and reacting against the horrors of both kinds perpetrated by the State.

    One can only wonder how the century would have panned out if the US had stayed out of WWI that it no reason to be involved in, or further back if central banking and the personal income tax had not been installed that allowed the US government to fight wars without having to sell the cause to those who would have to fund it. Next year we, in the US, will be able to celebrate the centennial of when we cast ourselves into a century of warfare/welfare that has us on the brink of collapse.

  • Bruce

    FWIW, I’m not particularly fond of the cars of the 50s

    Yeah, the 50s produced a lot of oinkers, but also some really spiffy cars.

    In America we had the original T-bird, Corvette, and Loewy Coupe. From Britain we got Big Healeys, MGAs, and Jaguar XK120s. Porsche gave us the 356 and 550. In Italy, Alfa Romeo made the Giulietta Spider and Ferrari the 250.

    And, if you were short on scratch, there was always the VW Beetle Cabriolet and its Italian-styled cousin, the Karmann Ghia.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Johnathan Pearce: However, it is worth noting that Prohibition was a sort of economic policy: a lot of those who wanted it thought it would boost the economy by reducing drunkeness, for example.

    In fact, Prohibition did reduce drunkenness and the economic and social costs associated with it. Deaths from alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis dropped substantially. However, the unexpected secondary costs (gangster violence, political corruption, and the undermining of rule of law) exceeded the benefits.

    As to the reasoning for Prohibition: note that it was enacted at the crest of the Progressive movement in the U.S., and just after World War I, when the wartime U.S. had a proto-fascist level of state control. The Prohibition Amendment was proposed in mid-1917, and ratified in January 1919; I strongly suspect that it was argued for as valuable behavior improvement during wartime.

    (Compare to the restrictions on pub hours in the Defence of the Realm Act, which had a similar intent.)

  • Todor Kamenov

    Perfect comeback would have been: I suppose that means you are claiming the 1930s and the 1970s for yourself then, Mr. President? Yes, that seems appropriate.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Posted by Rich Rostrom at October 25, 2012 06:59 AM

    This. Prohibition was foisted on the ‘twenties by the Progressive ‘teens.

  • brian huntington

    I’ve noticed many people on the right-of-center internet are rather confident that Romney is going to win, and the left half feels sure Obama will clinch it.

    For what it’s worth, InTrade has Obama’s odds of winning at 58%. That seems about right to me. Obama is still slightly ahead in Ohio, and that is a firewall Romney cannot win without.

  • Bruce

    Ohio isn’t even the toss-up state with the most delegates. The victor requires 270 votes in the electoral college and Obama currently has far fewer than that locked up. Romney could easily win without Ohio’s 18 electoral college votes.

  • Paul Marks

    The bust at the end of the 1920s was caused by the credit money boom crearted by Benjamin Strong of the New York Federal Reserve. A credit money expansion policy supported by Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve right now (in spite of it being responsible for the bust of 2008).

    The reason that the economy did not recover in the 1930s (unlike every other credit money expansion boom-bust since 1819) was that first Herbert “The Forgotten Progressive” Hoover and then Franklin Roosevelt would not let it recover – their frantic interventions (Hoover’s being ignored by the history books – that present a fantasy “free market” version of Hoover) PREVENTED recovery.

    This policy of frantic interventionism is also supported by Barack Obama.

    As for his general attack on the 1920s, 1950s and 1980s (three good decades in American history).

    What else does one expect from a scumbag like Barack?

  • Bruce

    I’ve never bought into Murray Rothbard’s view that Strong caused the Great Depression. He had been dead for a year when the market collapsed, and it was the Feds intervention to prevent the outflow of gold to Europe that resulted in a massive collapse of the money supply. The Feds actions were in contradiction to what had been Strong’s policies.

  • Laird

    Bruce, there’s a lot of Rothbard that I disagree with, and if he actually said that Strong caused the Great Depression I agree with you. (I don’t know whether he did or not.) But I think it is clear that Strong’s monetary expansion caused the Crash of 1929. Which I think is all that Paul said.

  • Bruce

    It’s far from clear to me that Strong’s policy caused the Great Depression, and I doubt you’d find a consensus among economists supporting that view.

    I think a stronger case can be made that the U.S. holding a fixed price in gold for the dollar, as demand for gold dramatically increase due to economic uncertainty around the world, played a much larger role. Countries that abandoned gold parity began their recoveries long before the U.S. did. See, e.g., The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison

  • Laird

    Bruce, it seems to me that you’re conflating the Crash of 1929 with the Great Depression. The two are far from the same thing; in fact, it can be plausibly argued that they were wholly unrelated.

  • Paul Marks

    ALL monetary expansion “booms” must end in bust.

    It is not the “collapse in the money supply” that is the problem it is THE INCREASE IN THE MONEY SUPPLY IN THE FIRST PLACE that is the problem.

    And who caused the monetary “boom” – Benjamin Strong.

    But that does NOT mean that Strong caused the “Great Depression”.

    What caused the bust to turn into the Great Depression (unlike the bust of 1921 and every previous bust since that of 1819) was the failure to recover from the bust. The failure of markets (especially labour markets) to clear.

    And that failure was caused by the interventionist policies of Herbert “The Forgotten Progressive” Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.

    The view that things would have O.K. if only the money supply had not been allowed to collapse……

    That is exactly the point of view that is destroying the world right now.

    Push interest rates to zero, throw money from helecopters – do ANYTHING rather than let “the money supply” (i.e. the bank credit bubble) go. That is the modern policy.

    And it is a policy that will lead to collapse – a lot more radical form of collapse than a “collapse of the money supply”.

  • Alisa

    So when does – technically speaking – The Great Depression begin?

  • Laird

    2009, Alisa.

  • Alisa

    You did know that I meant the previous one, right?:-)

  • Laird

    Than you should have used “did”, not “does”!

  • Alisa

    Right. So does you had an answer?

  • Laird

    Most economists date it from 1929 to 1939, although to some extent it depends upon the country you’re talking about.

  • Alisa

    The US. So it began the same year of the Crash, but they are not related? Or is 1929 contested as its beginning?