General America


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Awesome post E.D. You left out in your analysis of the 50’s that the world outside of America was pretty much a bombed out wreck. Of course the country ruled the manufacturing world. Every other factory and industrial core in the civilized world was a rubble choked, war scarred mess.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco says:

      His post is not awesome. It is a meander.

      Parts of Europe were a bombed out wreck in 1945. By 1958, reconstruction was complete in Western Europe; somewhat later in Eastern Europe.Report

  2. Avatar mike farmer says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote. I would go further, though. There’s a tendency to accept the dichotomy of radical free marketism and smart regulation as an ideological stand-off with radicals on one side and realists on the other.

    However, I would like to suggest the importance of direction and objectivity. If it’s true that free trade and free markets are good, even with the caveat that some regulation is needed, wouldn’t it be the true realist position to advocate a direction toward free trade and free markets with as little regulation as possible?

    If this direction is established, and every issue where regulation is now deemed necessary is re-evaluated objectively to determine just how much regulation, if any, is needed, wouldn’t his satisfy the realist approach, but also ensure regulation is not just a State power-play, but actually necessary?

    The problem now is direction toward social engineering and statist policies — with a change in direction, and with a full acceptance that free trade and free markets are better for the future of the country, we could objectively decide when regulation is absolutely necessary and apply regulations with great caution.

    With the present battle between statists and free market advocates, statists will win because the State is given too much power to tempt society with the subjectively pleasing proposition that people can get something for nothing and that the State can provide safety and equality.

    This is why I propose limited government, because without limitations and a direction toward the free-est trade possible and the free-est market possible, then the creeping statism will continue.Report

  3. Avatar Kyle says:

    OH NO! The middle class is dying, dying! So dead. Decades Horribilis!

    Unless, of course, you drop the Amero-centrism for a moment.

    I’m an incentives guy and if I were to highlight one flaw with America’s approach to policy over the years, it’s that it’s far too reactionary. Something, I think would be more apparent, if the private sector wasn’t as a vibrant and dynamic as it is. Which is less extolling the virtue of “not-the-government” than recognizing that the more dynamic and powerful the private market is, the less we focus on or care about what government is or is not doing today.

    We’re a reactionary country. Ooh Germany has an Autobahn, lets build highways. Ooh the homeless have no homes, let’s build projects. Taxes are too high, let’s cut ’em. Do any of these have a point? A goal besides alleviating our outrage of the moment. Unemployment is rising, quick shovel ready jobs!

    It seems like America’s track record is really slanted towards responding decently well to crises rather than heading them off to begin with. My big question is how much of that tendency is structural, cultural, and too be expected.Report

  4. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’d imagine an even better question is:
    What would the world have looked like if the US had basically done another 180 on its global obligations post-WW2 like it had at Versailles thirty years prior.

    So much of the Post War international system was deliberately crafted by American policy that the counterfactual scenario where the US went full out protectionism can’t hold up at all.Report

  5. Avatar Travis says:

    Many of the dead lumber towns are dead not because of any government environmental regulations, but because all the marketable lumber has been logged out.

    The fact is, were logging companies unencumbered by environmental and land use regulations, there’d be just as many dead lumber towns, if not more. Timber companies, pre-regulations, rarely showed any inclination toward sustainable logging practices, and were never sentimental about abandoning towns and regions where they had extracted every last log to be found. The continent was limitless, after all. Just move on to the next place, and the next.

    Furthermore, technology has vastly reduced both the number of people needed to log a forest and the number of mills required to process the logs. Just like the shrinking farming towns on the Great Plains, many of those “dead lumber towns” simply aren’t economically necessary anymore. Short of trading chainsaws and log trucks for axes and Shays, there’s really no way to reverse that.

    The history of the Western United States is full of resource-extraction economies that boomed and then busted as soon as the resource was depleted sufficiently to make its extraction no longer economically viable. (See William Cronon’s excellent essay on Kennecott, Alaska, for an extreme example.) It’s only through sustainable cutting practices — like the ones enforced by government regulations — that North American logging jobs can be sustained on any sort of long-term basis.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Many of the dead lumber towns are dead not because of any government environmental regulations, but because all the marketable lumber has been logged out.

      Often because local lumber companies that had to practice sustainable logging or go out of business were purchased by outside capital, which was happy to clear-cut and then take the resulting profits and invest them elsewhere. The market encourages this, because trees are more valuable to those who can monetize them immediately.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Property taxes induce a bias toward deforestation. Commercial concerns and co-operatives in the business of marketing timber have an incentive to propagate timber (unless the demand for wood products is collapsing faster than the demand for daily newspapers &c.)Report

    • Avatar Sam M says:

      But there was clearly plenty of valuable timber left in the Pacific Northwest when the spotted owl came to town. It was regulation related to the owl that killed the industry. Now, there’s an argument to be made that this just hastened the death. You can’t cut like that forever.

      I might add that many loggers do, in fact, blame globalization for their woes, and not without reason. First, a relentless onslaught of timber, not from China, but from Canada. Just as important has been the outsourcing of paper making. For enviromental and labor reasons, a lot of that is going to South America and China. It matters because when most people think of logging, they think of “timber” and “logs.” But you only get that with the big, straight trees. And only every hundred years or so. But if you manage a forest to make those kinds of trees, you are CONSTANTLY removing lesser “junk trees,” which are great for paper. So all of a sudden your land is returning on investment every ten years instead of every 100-200. At least it pays the property taxes.

      Finally, I might add that the industries tendency to cut and run can be overstated. Collins Pine still has a huge presence in Pennsylvania, where it got started. It manages one tract of land, in fact, for the benefit of the Methodist church. It was also the first FSC certified landowner in PA.

      Cool company, actually.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus says:

    I’ve not studied American history since university, but I was under the impression that the post-war boom was due to a massive influx of government capital into the industrial sector during the war. I don’t see that happening again, but if there was a re-industrialization, it might not have to be exactly protectionist. Admittedly, I’m not sure how.Report

  7. Avatar Art Deco says:

    and the concept of a two-income household was as strange as the idea of rearing children out of wedlock….Could we have, through protectionist and greater redistributive policies, created a society wherein the same level of economic prosperity and indeed preeminence could have continued to present day while at the same time bringing minorities and women into the work-force? … immigration, the civil rights movement, and the society-wide integration of women into the labor force have changed the face of American jobs entirely.

    For the record about a third of the workforce was female in 1957. As most women were married by their 21st birthday at that time and divorce rates were comparatively modest, we can surmise that these were married women working. Then as now, clerical work tended to be performed by women and then as now, the trades were a masculine preserve. What has changed is the proportion of women in professional managerial employments, but these constitute only about 13% of the posts in the economy.

    This may come as a surprise to you Mr. Kain, but it is not a novelty for blacks to work for a living; labor force participation among blacks was higher in 1955 than is the case today. The black population constituted and constitutes about 12% of the total, so its story is but a modest component of the main narrative. If I am not mistaken, what has changed is that the bourgeois component is comparatively larger (though still < 15% of the total) and tends to be composed of civil servants rather than small business and professional men with an exclusively black clientele (as was once the case).

    I am not sure why you are so concerned with tariff levels. The United States has a large domestic market and integration into world markets brings comparatively modest advantages. The effect of liberalizing foreign trade on levels of welfare and economic dynamism are in any case small (though not to be foregone). Also, tariffs are most effective with fairly undifferentiated commodities for which demand is quite price elastic – agricultural goods, not manufactures.

    What has changed most severely since 1955 has been the vigor and durability of social institutions like marriage. Another change has been the complementary atrophy of secondary education and hypertrophy of higher education, with the consequence of imposing a delay on the commencement of adult life and leaving our young laden with debt. A third change has been the replacement of trade and industrial unions with predatory associations of public employees.Report

  8. Avatar Sam M says:

    One thing people fail to take into account is the degree to which the war simply stalled some declines that were already quite apparent. Big Steel died in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s and early 80s, but many people saw the writing on the wall by the late 1920s and early 30s. My dad graduated from high school in 1951 and had an opportunity to work in the mills, but was very uneasy about their future. He was not the only one.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco says:

      The war was over in the fall of 1945. The succeeding 18 months saw the most severe economic contraction the country has had since 1933 as the armaments industry wound down. I do not think the war stalled much.Report