The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality

The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality

The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality

The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality


The 1970s looks at an iconic decade when the cultural left and economic right came to the fore in American society and the world at large. While many have seen the 1970s as simply a period of failures epitomized by Watergate, inflation, the oil crisis, global unrest, and disillusionment with military efforts in Vietnam, Thomas Borstelmann creates a new framework for understanding the period and its legacy. He demonstrates how the 1970s increased social inclusiveness and, at the same time, encouraged commitments to the free market and wariness of government. As a result, American culture and much of the rest of the world became more--and less--equal.

Borstelmann explores how the 1970s forged the contours of contemporary America. Military, political, and economic crises undercut citizens' confidence in government. Free market enthusiasm led to lower taxes, a volunteer army, individual 401(k) retirement plans, free agency in sports, deregulated airlines, and expansions in gambling and pornography. At the same time, the movement for civil rights grew, promoting changes for women, gays, immigrants, and the disabled. And developments were not limited to the United States. Many countries gave up colonial and racial hierarchies to develop a new formal commitment to human rights, while economic deregulation spread to other parts of the world, from Chile and the United Kingdom to China.

Placing a tempestuous political culture within a global perspective, The 1970s shows that the decade wrought irrevocable transformations upon American society and the broader world that continue to resonate today.


The 1970s are a decade of ill repute. “A kidney stone of a decade,” one character in the popular cartoon strip Doonesbury called it. the nation’s core institutions seemed to be breaking down as the United States, in most tellings of the story, sank into a mire of economic decline, political corruption, and military retrenchment. the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam in defeat and demoralization, a new outcome for armed forces that, despite something closer to draws in the War of 1812 and the Korean War, had little experience with outcomes other than victory. the United States withdrew from, or scaled down, much of its presence in international affairs, from Southeast Asia to Panama to Iran. Public confidence in the nation’s leadership withered. Richard Nixon disgraced the office of the presidency in the Watergate scandal and became the nation’s first chief executive to resign. Gerald Ford could not overcome his status as an appointed president to get elected in his own right, while Jimmy Carter failed to win reelection.

None of the three presidents brightened the country’s dimming economic prospects. An eightfold increase in the price of oil stemming from Middle Eastern turmoil exacerbated inflation from Vietnam War spending, which combined with a slowing economy to create the new dilemma of “stagflation.” Americans’ confidence in the economic future of their families sank. the nation’s largest city, New York, came within a whisker of declaring bankruptcy in 1975. Neither major political party offered compelling solutions to the country’s serious problems. Ford, a longtime U.S. congressman from Michigan, recalled how as a freshman in the House of Representatives he had listened to President Harry Truman describe the state of the union as “good.” When Ford’s own chance came to make the annual . . .

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