Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The good old days

"They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in"
- John Boehner as quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 29, 2010.


Just what does John Boehner miss from his boyhood America?

Boehner was born in November of 1949 so he turned 18 in 1967.  Here's what America was like during that interval:

1949-1967  the Good:

The economy was booming due to the economic stimulus effect of deficit spending during World War II, which pulled the country out of the Great Depression. The federal government continued to spend on infrastructure and innovation, including the the interstate highway system and a manned space program.

Federal college support for returning veterans created the most highly educated and dynamic work force that the world has ever seen. State college costs were low for non-veterans as well, because most states realized the value of an educated workforce and fully subsidized college infrastructure and operating costs.

Federal regulation of the financial industry prevented the financial crashes that occurred every 7-12 years before 1929 and restarted in 1987 as a consequence of deregulation pushed by Reagan and successors. As pointed out by one blogger(1), Boehner was 37 years old before he ever saw a financial crash.

Wealthy Americans and corporations paid higher taxes on their income, keeping the tax burden on the earned income of middle-class working Americans quite reasonable.

1949 - 1967  the Bad:

The sons of the poor and blue-collar workers were drafted to fight in Korea and Vietnam, while sons of the wealthy and white-collar stayed home (or were stationed in Europe).

Women could be legally discriminated against at work and excluded from universities and professions. It was OK to fire a woman who became pregnant or just because you wanted to give her job to a man.

Businesses dumped toxic waste into the air and into our waterways without controls or consequences. Businesses, government and individuals could destroy the habitat of any species, even leading to extinction.

For half of Boehner's childhood, "separate but equal" was a valid legal doctrine.


John Boehner wasn't clear about what he misses from his boyhood America, but I have a hard time finding things from 1949 -1967 that the Democrats have "snuffed out" that reflect something good. Perhaps this is just my bias and someone can provide some counter examples that support Boehner's idea.

But all partisan finger-pointing aside, much has changed because our population more than doubled from 1949 to 2010 - an increase almost entirely in cities. In 1950 there were 55 million rural Americans(2). By 2000 only 5 million more people had joined the rural lifestyle (a 10% increase) while urban America added 129 million people (a 132% population increase)(3). The America where 1/3 of us had rural roots is gone and isn't coming back. Life moves on.

The good old days are mostly just old


(1)  I wish I could say that I thought up with this way of looking at Boehner's comment, but I'm just not that original - I was inspired by a blogger who contrasted the Reaganesque America that he grew up in to the FDR-influenced American that Boehner grew up in.

(2)  http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/urpop0090.txt

(3)  http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census/cps2k.htm

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