We’re not them, so who are we?

 In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

That’s from a NY Times op-ed today by George Packer (author of one of my favorite Iraq War era books, The Assassins’ Gate). It was true then. But we all know it’s not true now.

Later in his piece (which is about individualism as reflected by a celebrity obsessed culture), he uses the phrase ‘the great leveling’. And that perfectly explains I think why that post-War era succeeded and did so on every level.

The shared experience of WWII touched everyone, whether at war or at home. At war, the mechanic served with the lawyer whose car he fixed, and the young kid with an 8th grade education spent lonely nights talking to college professors.  Even more powerful in its effect on the later society was that they not only shared the experience but during it they were equals – all called to service by their country, wearing the same uniforms, fighting in the same battles with the same weapons. ‘GI Joe’ carried the same rifle as his lieutenant did.

They shared too, by rising to the challenge. And when it was done, they shared the tears and the pride.

It’s possible for societies to exhibit those values even without war. There are some here on our planet who manage it. But for us, that day is past.

We’ll never be those people again.

Now go have a nice day!

20 responses to “We’re not them, so who are we?

  1. Never is a long time, Moe. Not right now, I agree, but maybe sometime….


  2. The thing was that WW2 brought all classes together in a rough form of equality. It brought the lesser up closer to the higher.

    Your quoted segment identified exactly what went wrong afterward, Moe. All those “collective structures” were predicated upon wealth redistribution from those that earned it to the rest. To a large extent those same programs eliminated or reduced, through the unintended consequence of the Entitlement Society. a lot of the non-war challenges that brought people of all classes together.

    The lower orders then just sifted back to where they came from or even below that with each following generation being more unequal in worth and farther from the productive echelons of society.

    Frankly, we really screwed ourselves by trying to protect people from failure and make their lives materially better without regard to their input into the system.


    • You say: All those “collective structures” were predicated upon wealth redistribution from those that earned it to the rest.

      No, they were the result of what we learned in the war – that we do best when we commit to each other and to a common future.

      You really have it upside down jonolan with your ‘lesser orders’. I’m guessing you’re okay with euthanizing the less able and not so smart since they are just a drain on the segment of society you think is the only valid one?


      • I don’t even know where you got that idea, Moe. There was no commitment to each other or a common future involved in those things. Most were, in point of fact, the opening salvoes of the current civil war and spoke more of division than unity.

        The highway system is an exception. It was designed and built for primarily military reasons.


      • As for euthanizing the less able – I’m ambivalent on that. I quite in favor of cleansing society and the species from defectives and parasites BUT, after years of studying eugenics – including doing primary research for books on the subjects – I can’t come up with a metric that would actually work for determining who is removed from gene pool and society without turning it into some form of racial or ethnic cleansing.


  3. I’ve thought some of the same lately, Moe.. The corruption, the few rich, the unemployment, the poverty, the lack of social mobility. As the years go by, it’s beginning to become a permanent feature of the US.


    • Indeed mac, I hear often that the changes are now structural. Labor, as we knew it – I don’t mean unions, I mean workerbees – is less and less necessary. Between productivity, mechanization and outsourcing, those general labor jobs are probably not coming back anytime soon. Throw in our insane primary system that pushes the best financed ideologues to the top and . . . aaaggghhh. (you ever read The Big Sort by Bill Bishop? It’s about how we’re self segregated geographically based on income and ideology.


      • Ah, good book tip!
        But what’s the implication of these structural changes, if they’re permanent? A need for smaller populations in industrialized countries?

        Did you see Dylan Ratigan on Jon Stewart the other day btw? He’s just gone into farming with some veterans – sounding very done with cable news 🙂


        • I think the implication is we’re are becoming an oligarchy, a more benign form of fascism. And ultimately, perhaps a generation or two down the road, I would expect some sort of radical upheaval. By arms? I don’t know.. But I am truly pessimistic. The stateless corporations join with multiple states to protect their own interests. We’re pretty screwed.


          • 🙂 Nah, it’ll be sunshine and better days soon!! The digital age empowers the individual and slowly dissolves the big bad structures..


            • You may be right mac – I don’t think we’ve even begun to experience the power of social media. It’s changing the world.


              • I’d also say that biotech is on the cusp of an eerie revolution these days.. which will upend a lot of things. The end of brain diseases, aging, in large part death, the replacement of eyes, organs (all good!), but also the difficult part – designing of humans. It is very much a journey for all of us 🙂


                • You’d best hope that biotech never reaches the level of supposed benefit you’re describing. If it does, the “genocide” that’ll happen will beggar anything in history.


  4. We have been through these structural changes many times before. If you want to understand how to fix an economy, you must study the great depression of 1920-21 that nobody remembers. Somebody did something right back then.


    • The greatest living scholar of The GREAT Depression (not ’20-’21, but ’29-’41) is chair of the Fed, Ben Bernancki. It was his life’s work. What he learned was that they did NOT do anything right back then. It took a World War to get us out of that Depression.

      He injected capital into the economy, he kept inflation flat. And it worked.

      The only thing ‘they’ did right back in the 30’s was get people to work with government projects that put money back into the pockets of ordinary people and kept the economy alive.


  5. If you want to understand how to fix an economy, you must study the great depression of 1920-21 that nobody remembers. Somebody did something right back then.(Alan)

    LMAO, In reality the drunk just took a slight break from drinking. 😉
    Back with a vengeance though.


  6. Alan & Scott, you’re both right.


  7. On the left we have the Nobel Prize winning Liberal sage Paul Krugman. He does not think much of the lessons from the great 1921 recession. Which is great because I don’t think much of him.


  8. Where is all this fascination with ’20-’21 coming from??? Just went to wiki for some info. It was short, brutal and only in the US, not lengthy and worldwide like the 30’s and today.

    “The Depression of 1920–21 was an extremely sharp deflationary recession in the United States, shortly after the end of World War I. It lasted from January 1920 to July 1921.[1] The extent of the deflation was not only large, but large relative to the accompanying decline in real product.[2]

    A range of factors have been identified contributing to the depression, many relating to adjustments in the economy following the end of World War I. There was a brief Post-World War I recession immediately following the end of the war which lasted for 7 months. The economy started to grow, though it had not yet completed all the adjustments in shifting from a wartime to a peacetime economy. Factors identified as potentially contributing to the downturn include: returning troops which created a surge in the civilian labor force, a decline in labor union strife, changes in fiscal and monetary policy, and changes in price expectations.”


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