America’s status as the number one nation on Earth is waning. Americans are working harder than ever, yet our prosperity is declining. The idealization of more prosperous past has been growing, its manifestation and most recognizable slogan “Make America Great Again” is largely a glorification of mid-20th century America. A nuanced perspective is that America during that era contained inequality, racism, and environmental degradation: issues that have always underlined American history, and continue to be issues today.
However, ther|e is some truth to the idealization of this time period. The mid-20th century marked major milestones in American history. This was an optimistic era. America had not only survived the Great Depression but also became the de facto world leader at the end of World War II. These events saw the growing strength and consolidation of power at the Federal level. Importantly, trust in America, in the Federal system of government was high.
The mid-20th century was a time where the support for the federal government, and general post-war optimism generated the support for large-scale, government led initiatives aimed to improve the quality of life in America. The New Deal (1933), Federal Housing Administration (1934), Social Security (1935), Federal Aid Highway Act (1956), Environmental Protection Agency (1970), and other federal initiatives were decisive acts that improved the quality of life in America.
A bulk of these programs were focused on the construction of public infrastructure: roads, transit systems, water, power, utility infrastructure, public amenities like national parks, and housing projects. The vision of this era was to build the America of the future. Today’s current landscape, the suburbanized landscape of single-family homes connected by highways is the result of these programs.
Federal programs had monumental influence for the development of the United States and led to the prosperity for a large segment of Americans. However, to make clear, these programs were not at all successful in elevating the lives of all Americans. Today, America is divided, as America always has been. The concentration of poverty in both urban and rural areas of the country is the result of failure in federal policy. The segregation of Americans by race and income is a result of failure in federal policy.
This brief explanation of American history is to introduce several conclusions. First, those who feel nostalgia for a former grand era of America, have some factual basis for their perspective; this being that the primary cause for the success of this era was the large-scale federal spending on programs and infrastructure projects that the American people benefited greatly from. In summary, government investment of this nature leads to positive impacts for the American people.
Today, the Federal government is a shell of its former self and Americans are receiving diminishing gains from the Federal system. The consolidation of power at the Federal level has reached a point where differences in political ideology has stagnated the process of improving prosperity in the America. The Federal government today lacks the vision to invest in the American people and landscape. Increasingly, local, region, and state governments have been forced to tackle issues with diminishing support from the federal government.
For a full copy of the report click here