The postwar baby boom era was, in retrospect, a time-limited version of the good life; End Times (2023) highlights economic features of the 1960s

A previous post is entitled:

October 4, 2023, MCHS Woodstock picnic. We met at a picnic table next to the Boat Pavilion. Jaan Pill photo

Our most recent MCHS picnic took place in Woodstock, Ontario on October 4, 2023

I’ve also discussed Woodstock at a subsequent post:

What you thought about the Boer War of 1899-1902 depended largely on where you were living, at the time

At the post about the Oct. 4, 2023 MCHS picnic, I spoke about a few of the things we talked about that day.

I always find it of interest to know what fellow students from Malcolm Campbell High School are thinking about these days.

Oxford County Court House. Jaan Pill photo

At the current post I can add that we spoke at our October 2023 picnic about the fact that life was relatively easy for those of us who grew up in the 1960s. For many people, it was relatively easy in those days to buy a house and earn enough to live in comfort. We noted things are not as easy now for young people just starting out in life.

I’ve come across a Nov. 27, 2023 Walrus article entitled: “Why the Opioid Crisis Is Rooted in the Housing Crisis: A prevalent narrative asserts that the tents, the despair, the not waking up are about mental illness and addiction. That narrative crumbles after the first questions.”

Of the large number of articles I’ve recently come across dealing with current issues, the Walrus overview sums up many things in a manner that is informative and apt. An excerpt reads:

Detail from illustration by Kyle Scott from Nov. 27, 2023 Walrus article entitled: Why the Opioid Crisis Is Rooted in the Housing Crisis.

At the time, a miner’s cottage, the local term for a small home with practical aesthetics, could be had for $60,000 – likely less if the roof leaked. Cedar shingles last about thirty years before they go soft. The last of the bustling coal mines closed in 1986. A lot of the roofs leaked. As many as 42.6 percent of single people lived below the poverty line in 1995.

This was thirty years ago. The province of British Columbia seized some of the Hells Angels clubhouses. Unemployment peaked at 12.5 percent in 2001; now it is 3.6 percent. All around the core: expansive developments of recently built homes. Taken as a whole, the community has nicely emerged into a post-resource extraction economy. Most of the new houses are roofed with asphalt shingles now, wood no longer being essentially free, and there are a lot of metal roofs too. The cladding of the houses is often Hardie board – imitation wood made of painted cement. Little risk of rot. The shiny homes are themselves a sort of cladding. What they envelop in the centre of Nanaimo is, as it is in cities across North America, a public health crisis and the defining moral failure of our era.

Previous posts

Some previous posts addressing related themes include:

An investigative report on the American back pain industry, Crooked (2017) underlines limitations of Descartes’ theory of a mind-body split

The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973 (Kathleen J. Frydl, 2013)

Judy Rowlands Park at Mt. Pleasant Road and Davisville Ave. Jaan Pill photo

Unlike some people growing up in the 1960s, it took me quite some time to find my way. While I was looking for a way forward, I spent some time living in rooming houses – in Vancouver and Toronto. In time, things worked out well. Here’s a post about how things looked like from the vantage point of 1975:

Memories of walking along Davisville Ave. in Toronto in 1975

Occasionally in the previous years I would go hungry. Every once in a while, including when at university, a bag of brown rice would keep me going for a week. These days, I appreciate everything I eat. Some people might be inclined to eat a lot if they’ve had years of hunger previously. Every person will react in their own way. A moderate amount to eat is just perfect – highly appreciated – for me.

My own journey led me to become active in volunteer work starting in 1988 – and also led to the biography project that currently keeps me productively occupied – each day learning new things of value:

Update: biography of Einer Boberg (1935-1995), who co-founded – with Deborah Kully – a world-class stuttering treatment centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 1986

End Times (2023)

I have been recently reading a Stratford Public Library copy of End Times: Elites, Counter-Elite, and the Path of Political Disintegration (2023) by Peter Turchin. A book review at the Guardian UK website (at link in previous sentence) shares highlights of the study.

The text in End Times (2023) appears to be 10-point Times New Roman set at a line spacing of about 1.5 lines. This makes the text easy to read – and, as a result, makes it easier than otherwise to comprehend the contents. I like this kind of attention to detail; it takes the needs of the reader closely into account. At a previous post, I have spoken about typography as a crucial element in a general reader’s experience of a text.

Peter Turchin is an ecologist by training; he is at ease with mathematical modelling. This strikes me as great training for a historian. Historians whose training is largely focused on working with archival sources have much to offer; historians who are trained in other areas besides archival research have much to offer, as well.

An excerpt (p. 10) – which deals with some features of postwar baby boom economic conditions – from End Times reads:

For two generations after the 1930s, real wages of American work­ers experienced steady growth, achieving a broad-based prosperity for America that was unprecedented in human history. But during the 1970s, real wages stopped growing. While the overall economy contin­ued to grow, the share of economic growth going to average workers began to shrink. We can index the operation of this wealth pump by tracing the dynamics of relative wages – typical wages (for example, for unskilled workers or for manufacturing workers – it doesn’t matter as long as we use the same group) divided by GDP per capita. Before the 1960s, the relative wage increased robustly, but after that decade it began declining, and by 2010 it had nearly halved. [10] This trend reversal in the share of economic growth going to workers also resulted in the change of the fortunes of the wealthy. It’s the Matthew Effect: if you take from the poor and give to the rich, then the rich will get richer while the poor get poorer.

Other books about the potential demise of democracy

Among the books we talked about at our Aug. 29, 2023 MCHS picnic, in this case in Toronto, was Not Here: Why American Democracy is Eroding and How Canada Can Protect Itself (2023), by Rob Goodman, an associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University. The book’s overview of the history of American governance is of interest. From reading the book, I have learned new details about American history.

Of related interest are the books entitled How Democracies Die (2018) and Tyranny of the Minority (2023) by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

Tyranny of the Minority (2013) underlines – as does Not Here (2023) – that the American Constitution is outmoded and inimical to the sustenance of democracy.

A blurb for Tyranny of the Minority reads:

A call to reform our antiquated political institutions before it’s too late – from the New York Times bestselling authors of How Democracies Die

America is undergoing a massive experiment: It is moving, in fits and starts, toward a multiracial democracy, something few societies have ever done. But the prospect of change has sparked an authoritarian backlash that threatens the very foundations of our political system. Why is democracy under assault here, and not in other wealthy, diversifying nations? And what can we do to save it?

With the clarity and brilliance that made their first book, How Democracies Die, a global bestseller, Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt offer a coherent framework for understanding these volatile times. They draw on a wealth of examples – from 1930s France to present-day Thailand – to explain why and how political parties turn against democracy. They then show how our Constitution makes us uniquely vulnerable to attacks from within: It is a pernicious enabler of minority rule, allowing partisan minorities to consistently thwart and even rule over popular majorities. Most modern democracies – from Germany and Sweden to Argentina and New Zealand – have eliminated outdated institutions like elite upper chambers, indirect elections, and lifetime tenure for judges. The United States lags dangerously behind.

In this revelatory book, Levitsky and Ziblatt issue an urgent call to reform our politics. It’s a daunting task, but we have remade our country before – most notably, after the Civil War and during the Progressive Era. And now we are at a crossroads: America will either become a multiracial democracy or cease to be a democracy at all.

Of related interest is Canada Alone: Navigating the Post-American World (2023) by Kim Richard Nossal. A blurb for the book reads:

Canada must prepare for an isolationist and unpredictable neighbour to the South should a MAGA leader gain the White House in 2025.

The American-led global order has been increasingly challenged by Chinese assertiveness and Russian revanchism. As we enter this new era of great-power competition, Canadians tend to assume that the United States will continue to provide global leadership for the West.

Canada Alone sketches the more dystopian future that is likely to result if the illiberal, anti-democratic, and authoritarian Make America Great Again movement regains power. Under the twin stresses of a reinvigorated America First policy and the purposeful abandonment of American global leadership, the West will likely fracture, leaving Canadians all alone with an increasingly dysfunctional United States. Canada Alone outlines what Canadians will need to navigate this deeply unfamiliar post-American world.

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