How Economic Prosperity Can Lead to Social Justice

How Economic Prosperity Can Lead to Social Justice


Hey guys! Welcome back to another video! Even though that doesn’t really make any sense
because this is the first time I’m intentionally recording my voice. This is actually a video project for school. Because see what happened is that I made the
unfortunate and arguably foolish decision of taking AP United States History this year. Our final for the class is this here video;
its purpose is to cover a certain aspect of history we didn’t learn about—or at least
didn’t learn about in depth. A bit of a disclaimer before we start: I’m not a historian,
and as a consequence, there may be things in this video which I’ll mince factually,
or otherwise get just plain wrong. But I’ve done a job of compiling information
where it might lie, for what it’s worth. And so, without any more preamble, let us
begin. Now the main idea here, in this section,
really, is that the economic growth of the United States during the mid 20th century
happened, primarily, as a result of war. The 1930’s—by no means a stranger to economic
ruin—was sort of hampered, in a sense. First, by the traditional Republican model of high
tariffs, tax cuts, and overall belief in laissez-faire policy, and then by the progressive New Deal
initiatives of FDR. And although Roosevelt’s programs did much
to stir hope in an otherwise hopeless economic climate, objectively, they did little to end
the Great Depression. Until the war hit. Roosevelt had wavered between Wilsonian isolationism
and aid to the British for some time, while the American public leaned aggressively to
the former. But after Pearl Harbor, most Americans were
ready to serve justice; and here, really, is when we see the economy begin to heal—and
not only heal, but it would become apparent that World War II—for all its history-changing
effects—would mark the start of a new and changed American economy. Both the mass mobilization of almost all sectors
of the United States as well as increased government spending during this time pulled the U.S. out of the Depression. I mean, in 1929, government spending was around 1%. By 1955—it was 17%. Now that may not seem like much, but in the
context of economy, it’s a huge boost. And the mass mobilization of America lead
to what Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” …a vast bureaucratic network of
corporation and government working hand in hand. Here’s (more or less) how it worked: the government would pay private corporations to work on defense systems, and essentially any tools that would help them blow the other side up. This included fields such as scientific research and technology. Eventually, companies like Boeing and General Dynamics would become so intertwined, so caught up in this system that, in a very behavioral
way, they sort of became surrogate divisions of the Pentagon, and Defense Department. Mobilization and government spending for war
would continue through the Korean War and Cold War, albeit not as overwhelming as during
World War II. But in the big picture, such mobilization
was only the beginning. Because while the war healed a damaged economy,
the postwar years put it on steroids—and, by extension, changed American society. One of the major causes of both economic and societal change was population growth. After the war, when women returned home from
factories and men from the battlefield, they shifted their focus to starting and raising
families. This became known—quite notoriously—as
the “Baby Boom.” Nowadays, Baby Boomers like to post minion
memes on Facebook. But back then, they became—in many ways—the
spark that would ignite the country’s postwar growth. The population boom lead to an expansion of
consumer markets, for example. As babies come popping out, their mothers
required all the necessary things to raise a baby. This lead to new products and amenities, of
course, but it also lead to
the construction of shopping malls, and supermarkets— which would itself become an industry. You also begin to see the expansion of American
suburbs; or, as I like to call it, the Suburbia Americana —sort of like the Pax Romana, but
with more lawn mowing and less gladiator fights. During this time, the suburban population
grew 47%. The most famous of the suburban developments,
and one of the first, is probably Levittown, created by this guy, William Levitt. The first homes were built in New York in
1947 for returning veterans. These veterans would often strike deals with
organizations like the Veterans’ Administration and the Federal Housing Administration. Of course, all the daddies and moms and their
babies needed a way to get from their new homes to the new malls and supermarkets; and
so, the 1950s also marked the preponderance of American highway construction. It would be during this time that so many
of the highways used today would be built. And as often is the case here, the highway
boom lead to a growth in the automobile industry, as well. And it would even lead to new opportunities
for business; I mean McDonald’s came around during this time. In addition to adults, you begin to see industries
and markets cater to a group I belong to—teenagers. You observe during this time both the economic
and, in a way, the philosophical development of “youth culture.” Nowadays, youth culture is largely just memes,
and…like…TikTok, and stuff. Youth culture itself had sort of started in
the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 50s that teenagers presented a very large, untapped,
and—perhaps most importantly—very lucrative demographic. So you see people like Sam Phillips stealing
traditionally black musical styles and making Elvis a star, effectively creating rock’n’roll. And you see the success of movies like Rebel
Without a Cause, starring James Dean, which often celebrated adventurism and rebellion. Parents grew frightened by a perceived decay
in moral values—but this sort of thing, of course, always happens… Government assistance also helped the economy,
albeit in a more subtle, indirect way. This often came in the form of assistance
to veterans. For example, the G.I. Bill gave veterans mortgage assistance (which
enabled them to buy homes in the newly-formed suburbia) and help in accessing educational opportunities and technical and/or vocational training. You have the passing of the National Defense
Education Act, which increased funding for schools. It also helped that the massive corporate
growth during this time (and when I say ‘massive growth’ I mean like three companies owning
90% of an industry and stuff) required a huge white-collar army. Jobs became easier to find. The phenomenon of the “organization man”
developed—someone who essentially sold their individuality to the corporation that employed them. In a way, this recalls the plight of labor
workers during the Gilded Age under scientific management. Nevertheless, an education combined with corporate
needs, lead to a one-way ticket into the middle class… …for white people, at least. All of these factors—from war to highways—changed
America in deeply new ways. As Alan Brinkley at the Gilder Lehrman Institute
put it so succinctly… “The cumulative economic effect of all these changes was a radical
change in the American life— the birth of an economy (and thus a society) in which many Americans came to consider affluence a norm; in which the ability not just to subsist,
but greatly to enhance the quality of one’s life came to seem a basic right; in which material abundance became one of the ways in which many, probably most, Americans defined their world.” While the 1950s themselves were a grand display of American affluence and brimming opportunity—at
least for white Americans—they also represented, in context of the greater American story,
the makings of both reform and revolution. The 1960s, of course, was the era of change—of
civil rights and counterculture. But it is during the 50s, that the seeds for
this change would be sown. During the 1950s (and the 1940s), African-Americans
would obtain the necessary opportunities and tools to start their fight for rights. The mass mobilization we talked about earlier
necessitated an army of workers and—because a large percentage of men were on the battlefield—the
slack would have to be taken up by others. This included women and black Americans. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of
other minorities; Japanese-Americans living in Southern California, most famously, were
locked up in internment camps far from home. However, the mobilization of black Americans
and women would have large ramifications for the future, because it would enable these groups
to seek after the expansion of their rights. Black Americans, in a way, were the first
to step up. In June of 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive
Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in defense industries. This would be accompanied by the continuation
of the Great Migration, which although started in World War I, nevertheless gave black Americans
new opportunities in work. Early civil rights movements, such as the
Double V Campaign, would set precedents for later advocacy of legal and political action. Work, however, would not be the only sector
opened up to African-Americans. During the 1950s, they would gain the economic
leverage needed to build a voice for social change. This often came with the veterans’ benefits
programs, which gave black Americans the opportunity to obtain education. With enough time, the black middle class grew
to include more people as a result of this process. And being in the middle class, such Americans
would have the means necessary for carving out a voice in the greater national conscience. The expansion of education would also lead
black Americans to become more involved in professional fields. Many would find jobs as ministers, teachers,
doctors, attorneys, and more. You can see this shift in Brown v. Board of
Education, which was advocated for by Thurgood Marshall and other black attorneys. Although he attended college in the 30s and
40s, the success of the Supreme Court case bore witness to growing leverage among black
Americans. He later would become an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. The 1950s, however, was not marked exclusively
with growing opportunity for the black community. Instead, the growth caused a paradoxical mix
of both blessing and curse. Because while a voice was developing, and
POC were given more opportunity, ugly developments in the cities increased discrimination. Here’s (sort of) what happened: because of the aforementioned Suburbia Americana, many white urbanites moved out of the city to settle in these new homes. More often than not, these suburbs barred
blacks from buying in them: Levittown, for example, was meant only for “the Caucasian
race”—and suburbs became increasingly homogenous, racially speaking. As a result, black Americans—especially
those of poor economic standing—would be left behind in the cities. Those white Americans who lived in cities
often segregated themselves into nicer areas as well, and were thus shielded from the ghettos. This sort of “white escape” is sometimes known
as the “White Flight,” and it compounded already-existing disparities and problems
of racial discrimination. This paradox is, I think, most acutely captured
in a photo from the 1968 Olympics, which were hosted in Mexico. It’s a famous photo and not really in the
time frame that we’re looking at. But in my estimation it gives a good view of the paradox of the 50s and 60s. Here it is. The two sprinters in the picture—Tommie
Smith and John Carlos—are giving the black power salute, which grew out of the post-60s
civil rights movements. (Think Black Panther Party and black nationalism) And sort of the idea here is that Smith and
Carlos are using their advantage of being in the Olympics as an opportunity to speak
for those who do not have a voice—mainly, the poor. As one TIME article noted, “Smith in black
socks, his running shoes off, i[s] a gesture meant to symbolize black poverty.” It goes on to describe other symbols: how
Carlos’ unzipped jacket represents solidarity with blue-collar workers, his necklace the
lynchings and killings of African-Americans. Poverty was not only an issue among black
Americans, however. In general, the massive opulence of the 1950s
was accompanied by a more unattractive reality: the fact that the majority of those in poverty
remained poor. They were not able to share in the economic
success with the rest of the country. As our friend Alan Brinkley puts it, “Distribution
patterns … remained unchanged—the wealthy and the poor experienced roughly the same
rates of growth. The gap between them remained the same.” Such realities were under the radar of most
Americans until economist John Kenneth Galbraith published his book, “The Affluent Society.” In it, he exposes the stagnant gap, and calls
the poor an “afterthought” in the middle-class mind. Social critic Michael Harrington joined in
on the fun a couple years later with “The Other America,” talking of “the economic underworld”
of the United States. Such developments can be seen as a precursor,
and in many ways a cause, of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives. In fact, Dwight Eisenhower coined the term
“military-industrial complex” during his farewell address, in an effort to warn against its dangers. In a speech he gave in 1953, he also did similar: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who
are cold and are not clothed.” So although the 50s saw great economic growth,
some were keen enough to realize that those from disadvantaged backgrounds were not able
to share in it; and this realization would be addressed in the 60s and beyond. In addition to African-Americans and the
poor, women also faced challenges, though their challenges were perhaps not as apparent
as those of the former. A prevailing ideal during the 1950s was the
middle-class domestic ideal—the triumph of the nuclear family—which can be summed
up perfectly in images like this: And for women, their allotted position was
simply: mother, wife, housekeeper. Femininity meant staying at home and cooking
dinner. Media enforced this too: think of sitcoms
like I Love Lucy, in which Lucy repeatedly tries—and fails—to break out of her place
at home. The implications are clear. The domestic ideal became a powerful force
in shaping views on women and gender roles, and it’s even reminiscent of older American
ideals: those of the 19th century and even—in some respects—the republican motherhood
of post-Revolution America. However, all of this is in contrast to the very real
actualities of working women. As my AP book pointed out, women were often
caught between the gravity of two forces: one of which was the aforementioned domestic
ideal, and the other, the job market. Because the truth is, the job market grew
for women as well, and many women took advantage of such opportunities. Just for a statistical view: in 1954, half
of all married women worked. A good percentage of this was, of course,
working class women who worked to help the family. But it was those in the middle class—who
could afford a college education—who faced a bit more trouble. For starters, middle class women were often
barred from many jobs on the basis of gender. Many sectors were predominantly male, with
little room for advancement. Women were often given “gendered” jobs—you
know, things like nursing, or teaching, or (yeah im not going to try and subtitle that) You can see it in these ads from that time. And secondly, culturally-driven media discouraged
women from working. There’s I Love Lucy, which we mentioned;
but there were more surly implications elsewhere. For example, psychologists often claimed that
domestic mothers were the “normal” type, and those who wanted to work were misfits
and needed therapy. Such media reinforced the domestic ideal. Despite such rhetoric, however, women still
took to the workforce in large and ever-increasing numbers. Gender discrimination, cultural ideals, and
increasing numbers of women in the workforce would, eventually, lead to the Women’s Liberation movement and the second-wave feminism of the 1970s. Perhaps inspired by the Civil Rights Movements
of the 1960s, women would begin to advocate for greater equality in areas like employment,
as well as change cultural ideas about women. It was during this time that Roe v. Wade happened,
which made abortion a constitutional right. The beginning of this movement is often seen
as Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” which was published in 1963. The book is a direct response to the domestic
ideal of the 1950s: Friedan argues that women were trapped, in a sense, as housewives and
mothers, and were unhappy as a result. So as you can see, the 1950s set the foundation
for the later women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s; and not only women’s movements,
but also those of social reform, and racial reform. So, what does all this mean? Well, the 1950s is sort of when the classic
image of “American” was born. I’m talking about grandma’s apple pie,
baseball, walking to school in the snow, white Republican Protestant Christians, the Suburbia
Americana, the nuclear family, the fulfillment of the American dream, the Joneses, rollerblading
waitresses, the white picket fence, every. Norman. Rockwell. Painting. Ever. But as we’ve seen, this was only a mythological
ideal. Because while it’s true that America saw
great growth after World War II, hiding underneath that bright surface lurked racism and poverty
and realities that often broke the mythology of the middle class. And it was ultimately during the 1950s that,
in a very important way, foundations for later movements, great movements of change and struggle
and revolution, would develop. The 1950s reminds us that, in our own time,
although we may hear stories that confirm a certain status quo—whether it be one of
success or doom—ultimately, there will always be deeper forces at play—forces that, hopefully,
lay the foundation for even better tomorrows. Hey guys, thank you so much for watching! I hope you enjoyed the video. Lord knows I didn’t … Like I said at the start, be wary that there
might be inconsistencies and subtle or small errors here or there. The period is vast, like of all history, and
I couldn’t possibly hope to do it justice in a short video like this. If you want to learn more about some of the
topics discussed here, I recommend checking out the videos my other classmates made. Over on emthesmølchild’s channel, you can hear her talk about some of the minorities I didn’t
cover in this video: Mexican-Americans and the LGBT community, and each group’s struggle
for rights in the 60s and 70s. On Amiinova’s, you can learn about all the
Cold War stuff of this time period: JFK and that one time we almost all blew each other
up. And if you want to learn about the Black Panther
party, and black nationalism, head on over to Eddy’s video. They were actually pretty hardcore. Lastly, I just want to give a big shoutout
to my brother, Tristan. You can visit him over at BabishProphet—link
in both the description and in the cards. He really helped me with this video, especially the audio. RIGHT TRISTAN? WAIT GIVE ME A SECOND 𝕒𝕙𝕙 𝐌𝐌 𝓃𝓎𝑒𝒽~ Y̶̬̹͔͉̠̮̮̼̻̱̻̼̹̆͒̀̔͑́̌̆̇́͘Ȩ̶̣̝̭͕̤̈́́͊͑̆̅̐͐͊̑̅̉̋̉̆̍͛̑͂̐͐̎̇͜͝ͅÃ̷͎̞͍͙̻͎̙͖͜Ḩ̷̨̯̘͈̝̣̣̑̂͛̾̓̌̉̓́͐̕̕͘͝ ̵̧̨̢̖̮͙̦͎̺̰̪̯͍̟̹̝͓̰̪͕̮̄̈̄̆̂̅̌̈́̔̒̌͆̅̌͊̎̒̾̂͂̚͜͠͝͠ͅI̶̪̝̰̰̹͉̪̺̟͎̻̣̤̭̹̹̜͐̎̔͒̿ ̴̮̉̽̑D̶̛͓̤̖̮̽̈̓̀̇̔̈́̉̓͆̇̏̇̈́̀̊̽̑̇̀̅̚̚͝͠͝ͅİ̴̢̨̧̛̬̠̱̤̹̱̻̣͚̼̙̲̘̹͖̳̤͎͗̃̐̿̿͋̐̅͜͝ͅD̸̲͎̯͍̲͎̰͉̞̩̤̬͔̥̮̥̰͛̀͗̿̂͒̋͋̿̒̅̈͘͘ Of course, if you feel like subscribing to
me (or any of the aforementioned lovely persons), go right ahead. And, with that, I end the video here.

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