The restoration of conservatism, most notably economic, laissez-faire conservatism, in the United States beginning in the late 1970’s destroyed the United States Economy.
The economic realities of our parents’ and grandparents’ world rested on the solid foundation of the 1930’s New Deal, and of the economically liberal philosophies that underpinned it – that if the economy is getting to a point where regular people are unable to afford the standard of living, the government can and should intervene to assist such regular people, even if large corporations and the very wealthy people who administer those corporations scream that such assistance is communism and usurps the prerogative of the nobility. Also that labor unions are a good thing and should be supported and encouraged by the government.
Poverty Eventually Hurts Even The Rich
The idea was that, broadly speaking, the weaker aspects of the economy should be the greatest direct beneficiaries of state intervention because otherwise, these people will get no help. The corporate class will not assist them, because that class short-sightedly sees poverty among the masses as good because it keeps labor prices low, and makes wealth more exclusive and thus more prestigious. The corporate class does not see that this commitment to poverty eventually hurts even the rich, as the poor become less invested in society as a whole and thus more willing to detach from and rebel against it – possibly by electing the kinds of governments being seen in Europe during the New Deal, which Roosevelt hoped the New Deal would prevent in the States.
Although this system worked magnificently and created the strongest and broadest economy in the world by the 1950’s, one in which people working factory jobs that once allowed them to live in one room tenements were now owning homes, buying cars and saving for their children to go to college, the corporate class was never very enthusiastic about it. However, the New Deal rhetoric had so successfully painted laissez-faire conservatism as thinly veiled corporate greed and the main cause of the Great Depression, that there didn’t seem to be anything they could do about it.
The New Right
That is, until a younger generation of conservatives began to develop an exciting new breed of conservatism called the “New Right,” exemplified by William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. This version of laissez-faire emphasized the “liberty” aspect of reducing regulation of corporate interests, and vilified government assistance to the working class as a big government scheme to crush the freedom of the free market.
The New Right took all of the resentment that the New Dealers had piled onto the corporate class and transferred it to a heretofore allegedly unrecognized shadow class of “permanent bureaucracy” (what Trumpism would term “the Deep State”), whose oppression of corporate interests was just the first step in eventually forcing all “regular Americans” into Soviet gulags.
Although this vision of the evil deep state crushing our freedoms on the pretext of helping the poor is just common sense reality to today’s rank and file conservatives, in mid-century America it went hard against the general grain. Thus, to bolster the popularity of this bold new philosophy, the New Right tied their argument to any sort of resentment against “newfangled values” that it could find.
Thus, resistance to gay rights became “the self-appointed bureaucratic nanny state wants to force us to let our sons learn how to be gay, just like it wants to rob hard workers of the money they earn in order to spend it on frivolous government welfare programs aimed to encourage things like homosexuality,” or “government assistance is part of the overall liberal scheme to empower the lazy and undermine the strong, in order to weaken America for an eventual union with the Soviets, which is what these liberals really want,” etc.
In the late 1970’s, our economy was really struggling – not because the government was choking the ingenuity and work ethic of the corporate class, but because our post-war virtual monopoly of international production was over, and because we had become highly dependent on foreign oil whose price could be dictated by the whims of strongmen.
The New Right jumped on this apparent crisis as proof that what they had been saying since the 1950’s was true, and that if we didn’t act quickly to get the government out of the economy, we would soon be taken over by socialists using the crisis they had intentionally created in order to finally fully crush American freedom.
They Were Wrong
The man who won the White House in 1980, who had been pushing this philosophy since the late 1950’s, was swept in on a popular tide of approval for this formerly laughable philosophy. And it continues to be the religion of the Republican party to this day.
The mechanisms in place in the world that our parents grew up in to distribute wealth more fairly are no longer in place. They are no longer in place because our parents’ generation was fooled into believing that these mechanisms were responsible for economic problems in the 1970’s and 1980’s that were actually largely unrelated to our New Deal economic system and philosophy. They therefore elected people who destroyed these mechanisms, and they cheered for the rebirth of American freedom while it happened.
They cannot admit they were wrong. Therefore, if things are worse for our generation than for theirs, it must be due to our laziness and sense of entitlement. Far from admitting that the philosophy of the New Right is responsible for the explosion in cost of living, and the resultant decrease in quality of life for a broader and broader section of the American population, they claim that any economic problems are the result of lingering liberalism, and cry that the only way to full prosperity is more economic conservatism. And they’ve taught many of their children to believe this as well.
Thus, even many members of our younger generations seem perfectly willing to pick up this misguided torch.