"Wherefore We must interrupt a silence which it would be criminal to prolong, that We may point out...as they really are, men who are badly disguised." Pope St. Pius X, September 8, 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Domestication of the American

There is a great tension in American society between our current predicament and its cultural trappings and the process which gave rise to the nation we know it today.  How did a country founded by self-reliant pilgrims, minutemen, pioneers, yeomen farmers, entrepreneurs and immigrants, who risked their lives merely to come to this country, much less to establish themselves prosperously thereafter degrade into the country with the highest prison population where half of the population accepts a government handout having an unemployment rate upwards of 20% where people complain if they are 'uninsured'?

After much pondering, the critical change I have come to believe took place during the perhaps purposefully misnamed 'Greatest Generation.'  During the Great Depression, the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations worked tirelessly to keep wages from falling. As UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian points out, "The Depression was the first time in the history of the U.S. that wages did not fall during a period of significant deflation."

Thus, as business revenue fell, unable to pay employees less, employers during the Great Depression were forced to fire employees.  As we all know, the Great Depression created not only some of the highest unemployment rates ever seen in the United States, but high rates that were chronically so.  We have following the start of the Great Depression what is likely the first and only (so far) decade in the United States where the unemployment rate persisted above 15% for the entire decade!

This difference was diabolically crucial.  In an economy where employers are allowed to spread the decrease in revenue amongst all of its employees relatively equally, everyone is given a chance to scrape by.  And what else would expect from a nation with the aforementioned cultural heritage of the then-United States?  However, when wages are kept artificially high for an extended period of time (i.e., a decade) forcing employers to fire some workers for the sake of keeping the others, we create a class of chronically unemployed workers who really have no where to turn except towards government handouts for their sustenance.  Intentional or not, this was the domestication of the American.  Americans, concerned about the welfare of their family and unable to scrape by through work were forced to turn to government handouts for day to day living.  And if we know anything about habits, it is that it is far easier to avoid the behavior in the first place than change the behavior once acquired.

The 'Greatest Generation,' then, was anything but.  Instead of another proud American generation dedicated to hard work, thrift, independence, peace and prosperity, we have a generation that broke down (or was allowed to break down), were the first to accept our current culture of dependency, learned incorrectly that success and prosperity lie in military endeavors (during WWII), and remain through our bankrupt Social Security program one of the greatest dole-dependent classes in the United States.

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