And why did people in those days have such high standards for their own lives?
For one thing, the people in the 1920s didn’t call themselves “farther back.” The reason is obvious: It’s a name for the first few decades of the 20th century. And the 1920s were an epoch of expansion. The era started with the Great Depression and ended in the Second World War – that’s about as long a world that one could reasonably call “the 20th century.” And for the first time, Americans were in the midst of a world war. The Americans were preparing for both battles.
Why was there a Great Depression if it was so hard to get into the middle class during the previous decades? In short, because people started looking at their incomes and their wealth and starting seeing that most of what was going to keep them out of poverty became a problem instead. And the problem for America and the rest of the world was that the growth that was taking place in the rich countries was taking place in the US, and American capitalism was too far developed to be able to take care of the rest of the world. But to understand America’s position within the world economy, we have to look at the economy, not the population – not even the United States’ population. The United States has always been a nation on the verge of being at the front line of conflict. This is especially true during World War II. And the reason you see this early history of what we call the Great Depression in your books is that the US was being occupied by its enemies – the Germans, the Russians, the Japanese – and they had a plan for the US to come over to their part of the world and be a part of their world empire, and not be involved in a foreign war that might destroy the country that we were in as a free and independent, democratic nation.
You’ve called yourself a “social-justice optimist.” Do you think that if all we did was change the distribution of wealth, that that wouldn’t make any difference?
I think any major change in society doesn’t come along completely by the grace of the people who can do the most extraordinary things and the people who can make the most revolutionary change. What really matters is what people in society – the average person – do about it. And if the majority of people don’t believe in anything, and they’re told, well, we’re going to change the distribution of wealth so that the rich are going to get richer and
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