Friday, June 26, 2009

The Golden Age of America

You would probably think this occurred during the roaring 20’s. I disregard that period as being false prosperity, it was reckless and out of control, much like the fiasco we are trying to dig out from at the present time. High leverage and no accountability led us like Lemmings over the cliff.
The golden age I am referring to occurred during my life time and lasted from about 1947 to 1974. These were the years following WWII. The growth was real, solid and dependable.
I’m going to ignore the effects of the war in Korea (or police action) as it was referred to, and the Vietnam War. Both of these conflicts had a negative effect on the prosperity of Americans to say nothing about the millions of oriental lives taken together with over 100,000 Americans and billions of dollars wasted. It took rioting students to bring the latter to a halt. I have stated that the IRAQ war would never have occurred if the draft was still in effect. Since the current generation of students weren’t involved they just ignored it, and so it goes. Putting that aside I want to talk about the good things that occurred during these years.
Before FDR’s death he convinced the Congress to enact the GI Bill of Rights. This provided opportunities for returning GI’s to learn new skills and stretch out their horizons. This one simple act took the pressure off of business and industry, as there were not sufficient jobs available for the millions of returning veterans. It must be remembered that America’s factories had quickly converted from peacetime products to producing weapons and material to support the war effort. Manning those factories were men not qualified for military service and the women of America. Do you recall the name, Rosie the Riveter? These women gladly returned to their home responsibilities to make room for veterans. I might also add that President Eisenhower deported millions of illegal immigrants back to Mexico. I believe it was in the early 50’s. It was simple then. It is only complicated now as our leaders have no intention of sending them home regardless of the unemployment status of millions of American workers.
The GI Bill was to expire in September 1946. I turned 18 on 7/30/1946 and immediately enlisted in the Army Air Force. When my enlistment was over in 1949, I took advantage of this opportunity and entered college at the University of Buffalo. I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering, married my wife, Carolyn and started my career with Firestone in Akron, Ohio. You can multiply my experience by millions of other veterans. The point I want to make is that these men receiving higher education and spreading across the country was unprecedented. Prior to the war only the children of doctors and lawyers went on to college. The rest stayed in the communities where they were born, worked for the local factory and retired after 35 or 40 years never straying far from home.
During the four years of war civilian goods were just not available. Civilians put their extra money into war bonds. There was a pent up demand for goods and services. These bonds were cashed to purchase. With increasing speed the factories converted back to civilian goods. The influx of new GI graduates greatly helped in spurring on development of new products. Salaries and wages increased on a steady basis. Families could now afford to purchase homes where previously most lived in rental units, including my own family. Year after year prosperity spread from State to State. There were of course pockets of despair and the Negroes for the most part were not as prosperous as the rest of us, but even here they had jobs paying wages they had never seen before.
President Truman is credited with the Marshall plan which sent goods and agricultural products to Europe at a critical time. This also increased production here at home. The net effect was increasing capacity with more good paying jobs available. These were happy times. People moved to the suburbs, bought fishing boats, campers and vacation homes. They were able to put aside college funds for their children. We were determined that they would be able to inherit a better life. This continued until the early 70’s when chinks started to develop.
Once again using me as an example, the opportunity for growth was astounding. The tire industry blossomed. New plants were built all over America and Canada. Because of this, men like me were given advancement opportunities. It felt as if it would never end. These were heady times but solid not flaky as recent times. Salaries and wages steadily increased. Houses grew in value at a steady rate. All was well with the world and then it was over. If you did not live thru these years you cannot possibly understand.
I have many former union friends but would be remiss if I didn’t make the point that unions became so powerful, they could shut down whole industries to realize their demands, the granting of which made it more difficult to produce quality products at reasonable cost. It was during this time that rebuilt factories in Europe and Japan started exporting products to America. At first it was a bother but later on became a real threat. We could no longer compete as many of our factories were aging with high wages and benefits and with decreasing productivity. Then along came President Jimmy Carter. He and the Democratic Congress started enacting punitive legislation such as OSHA, DOT, and EPA. These, while of some benefit, added enormously to our cost of production.
In spite of all of the above, our country was still growing and still prosperous. The Golden Age finally came to an abrupt end with the creation of OPEC. They instantly raised fuel costs from $4/ gal. to $40/ gal. The whole industrial world was affected. In my own industry six huge factories were immediately shut down. The tire industry to this day has not recovered to where it had been previously. We might have grown to overcome this huge financial setback but there were other forces at work. The Northern States were depleted first by sending factories to the Southern States where unions did not have power. This went on for some time until the next step was initiated and that was to desert America entirely. Decisions were made to send the latest equipment overseas whereas previously they would have been installed in USA factories. This ushered in the era of huge corporations making profit only decisions without consideration of the problems created by lost, good paying factory jobs here at home. This led to entire factories being shut down and reassembled first in Mexico and later the Far East i.e.; Thailand, South Korea and China. The unions already weakened continued losing influence. This was accelerated during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
As the men lost their status as breadwinners, millions of housewives entered the work force, not because they wanted to, but because the families were desperate to maintain the standard of living they had grown to accept as their right. Men worked two or more jobs. None of these had the wages and benefits that they had become accustomed to.
Even with all of the above, families continued to lose ground. It is my contention that this is when drug use intensified. They were used to cloud reality.
Government, whether Democrat or Republican, was either too stupid to realize what was happening or just didn’t care. I have heard politicians say that manufacturing can never return. I deny that categorically. All Americans need is a level playing field. As it is now the cards are stacked against us. Corporate taxes in America are far greater than factories located overseas. Health care costs are borne by factories here but not elsewhere. How can we ever compete? The so-called free trade agreements have created havoc both at home and abroad. Their real intent is to foster huge profits for corporations with total disregard for Americans or for the citizens of the country where the factories are installed.
The military/ industrial alliance exerted their influence forcing America to spend billions and yes, trillions on an annual basis to create the illusion that we were a super power. Europe and the other industrial nations took a different route. Without ever declaring it as a plan, they reduced their military to a reasonable level consistent with backing away from wars as the way to settle disputes. Having their countries devastated during two world wars, they have said no more. The funds thus made available were used to improve the lives of their citizens which included universal health care. This alone reduced the cost of production and kept their industries viable, even though high wages are paid to their workers.
I sometimes wonder what life in America might have been like had the golden years continued. I think my generation would have opted out of the work force at earlier times, probably to play golf year round in Arizona or elsewhere. The void of us leaving would have created opportunities for younger people to take our places. Children wanting college educations would not have to go deep in debt to do so. The tension people live with today would not exist. Drug usage would be lessened as well as crime. We would be a more content society. We would probably donate funds on a larger scale to assist poorer people around the globe, etc. etc.
Can we ever return to those solid years? The answer is yes and no. Yes, if our government would take the steps necessary to remove the barriers that make it nearly impossible to compete on the world stage. No, if the status quo remains the same. I will be honest here even with the creation of a level playing field, those industries that are labor intensive will not return, but there are many where labor costs are not the principle cost of doing business. Those would come home. With competition as it is, we will never regain our #1 status, but the hemorrhage of jobs being lost would slow down and hopefully some would return. We will never know if we don’t try.
My thoughts on regenerating the golden age would include the following ideas;
1- Reverse the taxation policies from encouraging companies from sending jobs overseas. This would include closing tax loopholes such as using the Cayman Islands as a pseudo headquarters.
2- Universal health care, to remove this pediment from our factories.
3- Eliminate star wars funding immediately.
4- Begin an orderly but systematic withdrawal from our over 4,000 military bases around the world, starting with Korea.
5- Renounce war as our first reaction to disagreements with other countries.
6- Reform the election process. As it is today corporations exert enormous pressure on those seeking public office. Ban them as well as unions from contributing campaign funds. They do this in Canada, why not here? Restrict primary campaigns to six months before the voting day. Limit TV exposure to specific hours and thereby eliminate round the clock campaigning. How can anything worthwhile ever get enacted when our elected officials need to spend so much of their valuable time begging for contributions? It has reached the point where the candidates of the two parties are indistinguishable except for social issues like gay rights and abortion rights.
7- Spend whatever funds are necessary for us to become energy independent. Make sure these funds are spent in American factories here at home.
I could go on and on but to do so would only bore you. The point is that Americans today could be enjoying a higher standard of living but the huge mega corporations have seen different. In their pursuit of obscene profits they have abandoned Americans to second class status except for those few at the top. We only have ourselves to blame as we let it happen without so much as a mild protest. I believe it will take us going to the streets in peaceful demonstrations in order to get the attention from our “leaders”. The news media will not help. They make too much money with the way it is. I would support, but am too old to lead something like what I envision will be necessary. Don’t think it can’t happen here. Just look at the bravery of Iranians who have taken to the streets in defiance of what they consider to be a rigged election.
Think about it. Will you be the one?

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
June 25, 2009