I’ve been thinking a lot about the statement about “Make America Great Again”. What caused America to be great? Were we ever not great? Are we not great now? I am going to assume we are talking about America being a new superpower and the sense of awe in our abilities after the World Wars.
America, post-civil war, took off expanding our industrial base. We created lots of manufacturing jobs. This was fueled in part by the newly freed slaves moving north looking for a better life and by immigrants coming into the country also looking for a better life. Both of these, it could be argued, were new groups of citizens of this country. (back to my immigrants are necessary argument)
When we got pulled into WWI we had a huge industrial base and were able to help defeat the Germans. Up until this time America was extremely isolationist and generally avoided foreign entanglements, with a couple of exceptions (e.g. Spanish American war) When the German’s were defeated, we helped dictate the terms of the surrender at the end of the war. The terms of the surrender agreement helped set the stage for the rise of the Nazi party.
Following WWI, we continued to industrialize and give away credit relatively freely (like the recent housing market crash). Industrialization and over supply of goods led to unemployment and ultimately the crash of the market resulting in the Great Depression. We were again somewhat isolationist because of the need to deal with things at home, which is part of the reason we waited so long to get involved in WWII. We still ha a huge industrial base, but didn’t use it to full capacity because of the economic issues.
The thing that pulled us out of the Great Depression was a lot of government funded work programs (the PWA was a big deal) and then the increased demand for industrial products to get us into WWII. The need for military hardware and R&D around new products stimulated our economy like never before.
Coming out of WWII we were the only nation involved that didn’t have their infrastructure and economies devastated. This created a vacuum which we were happy to fill. We also made sure that we wouldn’t repeat the errors with the end of WWI and made sure that both Germany and Japan could not have a military and focused them on rebuilding their economies. By shaking off our isolationist tendencies we opened the door to phenomenal economic growth.
Our immense growth in the 20th century was caused specifically because of the world wars and our advantageous position following the wars. Eisenhower warned of the Military-Industrial complex because he knew that if we ramped down our need for a strong military presence all over the world, industry would need less supply because of reduced demand. This would in turn reduce profits. It was in both the military and corporate interests to make sure there were continuing conflicts and need for US presence all over the world. We became the police of the world and profited from it because of what made us great.
If you follow the necessary logic to “make America Great Again” you need to question what part of great and look at what got us there before. We expanded our economy because of war-time spending. We became a great power because we ceased to be isolationist. We created a strong middle class, the backbone of the economy, by strengthening our economy, largely by innovation and demand driven by government spending. Its funny that so many of the people that want small government and shun social programs are ok with subsidies and government handouts for businesses supplying military hardware. They forget that our economy is largely driven by Government spending.
Our economy continued to grow because we created the situation where it was cheaper to manufacture overseas and embraced that in the profit motive for doing so. As our workers’ salaries increased, so did the cost of our products, so our success resulted in moving jobs overseas because we wanted to maintain profit and competitive pricing. This is along side the fact that a lot of the demand for industrial products was created in large part because of military spending and the growth in the middle class because of the jobs created by this. If we reduce government spending in these areas we will suffer because our economy has been propped up by this type of demand.
We are very closely tied to most economies of the world, and have profited from it, because we created a system that benefits us after we were the dominant player while everyone else rebuilt. If we back away from that the entire world suffers. We cannot go back to being isolationist without making things worse, not better, for everyone. We will lose our advantages if we do not continue to maintain our place as a global thought leader. If we fall back all we do is leave a vacuum for another up and comer to fill.
Back to my earlier premise, we wouldn’t have grown our economy or ceased to become isolationist if it hadn’t been for Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Franz Ferdinand, kicking off WWI. The end of that conflict set the stage for the rise of Adolph Hitler, who started WWII, destroyed Europe, setting the stage for America to step in and become the world power it is today. We took advantage of the situation by realizing that we needed to step up, be great and show the world another way, while exploiting the opportunity to grow our economy, and the rest of the world’s economies. If WWI and WWII hadn’t happened, who knows where we would be today… its almost assured that we would not have the standing we do today.
To continue to be both a leader and create a need for growth in manufacturing jobs some new unique product or industry will need to be created to support the manufacturing base we need and fill a gap if we really want to pull back on our military involvements. Green energy and energy independency along with it could be that opportunity, but because the incoming administration isn’t really a supporter of this industry we are going to squander a prime opportunity and instead try to go back in time out of some sense of nostalgia. My guess is we aren’t going to make us great again, we are going to take what makes us great and throw it away.