More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America

More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America

More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America

More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America

Synopsis

James Carville famously reminded Bill Clinton throughout 1992 that "it's the economy, stupid." Yet, for the last forty years, historians of modern America have ignored the economy to focus on cultural, social, and political themes, from the birth of modern feminism to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now a scholar has stepped forward to place the economy back in its rightful place, at the center of his historical narrative. In More, Robert M. Collins reexamines the history of the United States from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, focusing on the federal government's determined pursuit of economic growth. After tracing the emergence of growth as a priority during FDR's presidency, Collins explores the record of successive administrations, highlighting both their success in fostering growth and its partisan uses. Collins reveals that the obsession with growth appears not only as a matter of policy, but as an expression of Cold War ideology--both a means to pay for the arms build-up and proof of the superiority of the United States' market economy. But under Johnson, this enthusiasm sparked a crisis: spending on Vietnam unleashed runaway inflation, while the nation struggled with the moral consequences of its prosperity, reflected in books such as John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. More continues up to the end of the 1990s, as Collins explains the real impact of Reagan's policies and astutely assesses Clinton's "disciplined growthmanship," which combined deficit reduction and a relaxed but watchful monetary policy by the Federal Reserve. Writing with eloquence and analytical clarity, Robert M. Collins offers a startlingly new framework for understanding the history of postwar America.

Excerpt

Over the years, economists have developed several definitions of economic growth. Usually they use the term to mean either an absolute or per capita increase in an aggregate measure of national income, such as the well-known gross national product (or its more recent variation, the gross domestic product). Refining the matter even further, economists often take care to distinguish between economic expansion, which entails increasing the use of existing capacity, and economic growth, which involves increasing the economy's productive capacity itself. Few Americans, however, have used the term with such precision. Rather, they have generally construed growth to mean a significant increase in something: more economic activity, more production, more consumption. in this century, growth has also assumed unmistakable connotations of technology, industrialism, materialism, and consumerism -- forces often as disorienting as they are rewarding. It was precisely this broader, richer, popular understanding of economic growth that drove some Americans to question its desirability even as the events that heralded the Great Depression were making growth, however defined, increasingly problematic.

I. Ambivalence

Attitudes regarding economic growth varied widely during the Great Depression. the twelve Southerners who in 1930 contributed to the sympo-

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