As a collective identity America was having an identity crisis during the 1970s. Prior to the civil rights advancements of the '60s the social order in the U.S. was fairly cut and dry. The economy had been prosperous and expansive since WWII. Our military superiority was clear and our moral compass was intact. We knew who our enemies were--those Godless commie rats in Russia and China. But all that had become topsy turvy by the 1970s and that is when something interesting started to happen. It started with Americans becoming increasingly apathetic in regards to politics (and the government) as well as the ethics of big business. Instead, Americans trended toward concentrating on themselves as individuals (the effect was the creation of what Thomas Wolfe famously decreed the Me Generation). Borstelmann does an excellent job of illustrating this apathy and its causes through documentation and examples. More importantly he lays out how all of this apathy provided a vast opportunity for mechanisms to be put in place that would lead to economic inequality. Eventually the Reagan Administration promoted and instituted many of these mechanisms during the 1980s which in turn has led to the corporate globalization that has been putting stress on the American people ever since.
As the subtitle of his book suggest; A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality, Borstelmann keeps this conflict at the center of his focus. Afterall this idea that racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious equality has actually led to economic inequality is prety fascinating. And as Borstelmann tackles this conflict and shows how it happened, it starts to seem that it was inevitable and, in fact, pretty much a natural part of evolution. And understanding this natural force is important in finding ways to move forward. Inequality is not something people generally stand for. Again, look at the Occupy Wall Street folks who are protesting the economic inequality that is largely defining our own decade. But a huge obstacle in getting rid of economic inequality exists, and it is illustrated in the false assumptions made by capitalists such as Milton Friedman who Borstelmann quotes at the beginning of the book:
This of course simply isn't true. Today the market gives people what the Big Corporations think they ought to want. Big Corporation have used ethically questionable predatorial business practices that have skewed the playing field so far in their favor that consumers no longer are given a fair choice. I mean, why do people really eat crappy tasting pink slimed McDonaldland/DisneyWorld chain store fast-food that will give them a lifetime of health problems? It's because the corporate consumer culture has made that crappy food 9 times more accessible than healthy food (not to mention that they have brainwashed Americas children into sugar-crazed Happy Meal daze that parents have little defence against). But this is NOT giving the people what they want. That is giving the people what the Big Corporations want them to want.
So where does this leave us?
How is this corporate consumer culture ever going to be change? A good start is for "the people" to get a good understanding of how this climate really got traction, back in the 1970s. And Thomas Borstelmann's brilliant book is a good place to start that education. For this and numerous other reasons I give The 1970s: A New Gloabla History a solid 5 out of 5 WagemannHeads.
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