How Economic Growth Came to Define American Greatness in the Late Twentieth Century
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
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Table of Contents
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I would like to thank Clark Dougan, Carol Betsch, and the University of Massachusetts Press for so ably helping me bring this book to completion and publication. There are many people, particularly at George Mason University, whom I wish to thank for their varied contributions, including the late Roy Rosenzweig, Hugh Heclo, Zach Schrag, the late Larry Levine, ...
Introduction: A New Measure of America?
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On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, social scientist Lee Coleman wrote a short essay (“What Is American?”) in which he analyzed “alleged American traits” and ideals most often mentioned in books, articles, and speeches throughout the country’s history. Coleman listed America’s democratic tradition, republican form of government, pioneer and frontier spirit, individualism, and belief in liberty, equality, and mobility. Secondarily, in a darker vein, he noted Americans’ conformism...
Chapter 1: The Economics Profession and the Changing Discourse
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A tiny profession with little public influence in the 1920s, economics became a celebrated key player in Washington by the 1950s. Its ideas and language were enthusiastically embraced by national leaders and policy makers, opinion shapers, and the public in post–World War II America... And many economists were happy to bask in the limelight. The intellectual fodder was provided by the parallel developments of Keynesian economics, which became orthodoxy...
Chapter 2: Economists Come to Washington
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Despite Galbraith’s popularity among liberal intellectuals and Friedman’s devoted following among neoclassical free-marketeers, it was the “scientific technological elite,” or the “new class” described by Eisenhower and Galbraith, who carried the day. Just as Tom Wolfe called 1980s investment bankers “masters of the universe,” economists during the postwar decades became America’s masters of abundance. As Samuelson noted, the once “dismal profession” had acquired...
Chapter 3: Business’s New Paradigm, “People’s Capitalism”
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After spending the Depression in the doghouse, American business roared back into public esteem in the 1940s thanks to its dazzling record of World War II production. Business sought to consolidate its good graces after the war, but it took the confluence of several developments for the business community to find a cluster of messages that resonated with the American people...
Chapter 4: The Big Postwar Story
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Journalists recognized that one of the biggest stories of the postwar decades was America’s dramatic economic growth and mass prosperity, and the changes that these were bringing about in American society, politics, and culture. Longtime Fortune editor Hedley Donovan recalled in his 1989 memoir: “It is hard to remember, now that we have had so much of it for decades, what a big story prosperity was. . . . We analyzed and celebrated the American boom—in prose, photography, paintings...
Chapter 5: Defining the New America for the World
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Indeed, the nation’s leaders, with their economic and cold war advisers, recognized by the 1950s that the set of ideas about “what distinguishes us from the rest of the world” could be used to project this new image of America around the globe. While the U.S. government felt compelled to explain its policies and what it stood for to foreign audiences during both world wars, it was only during the Truman and Eisenhower years that the United States developed a...
Chapter 6: Beyond Civics and the 3 R’s
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In the quarter century after World War II, American children increasingly were taught to understand their nation, its history and greatness in economic, rather than political, philosophical, social, or moral terms. School children learned that the U.S. economy was an unprecedented marvel of productivity and a facet of Americanness of which to be proud. During this period, economics became a much more prominent part of social studies, history, and other ...
Chapter 7: A Flawed Measure: Critics and Realities
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Economic metrics may have become a dominant way to gauge America’s success as a nation and culture and its people’s worth in the decades after World War II, but not everyone bought this message. And by the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the U.S. economy itself no longer churned out such unambiguously positive data suggesting that America— a nation measured in economic terms—was an across-the-board success...
Chapter 8: Measuring America in the Twenty-first Century
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A decade into the twenty-first century it is difficult to see the appeal of framing U.S. identity in economic terms. At this juncture in our nation’s history, why would Americans embrace such a framework for thinking about their country, its success and greatness, and their personal success? The economic failures that began in 2008, extreme and seemingly surprising, came in the wake of a U.S. economy that has performed unevenly...
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Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2010