A Lilac Consensus
Capitalism is an astonishing belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greater good.
John Maynard Keynes
The world emerged dazed from the horrific events of World War II, and everything was changed, lots of new realities in different shapes. Two opposing northern power blocs, representing those ideologies of Socialism and Capitalism, the reds and the blues. The red of the Soviet Union is a dark red, mixed with black or maybe brown of totalitarianism; the blue of the USA is a purplish kind of blue, with a little pink mixed in. Europe, in the middle, is generally pink and a bit sky blue; the West form a sort of lilac consensus.
This is an interesting Wikipedia article on the history of associations of colours with political ideas.
Lindy Davies, in his afterword to Henry George’s The Science of Political Economy, referring to the clearly differing factors of production, imagines factor payments to a company in terms of colour, that are mixed together in the gross receipts. In his colour scheme, as seems appropriate, land is green, labour is red and capital is blue. Mixing these together produces a brownish-grey sludge, with none of the colours represented. He says.
But before they get mixed, Georgist policy calls for the land portion to be taken -- while it is still green -- and then the entrepreneur's profit can be appropriately purple.
Anyway, that’s just colours.
The design of the post-war world had begun the year before the war’s shocking white heat finale. In 1944, the 44 Allied nations met at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, USA. This was the world’s first negotiated international agreement to establish financial arrangements among nations, and put in place a system of international regulations around trade, expressly to avoid the economic chaos of the 30s which had led to war. By these nations tying the value of their currency to the US dollar, in turned tied to the US gold reserves, essential stability would be ensured. The IMF and the World Bank were established.
John Maynard Keynes
Actually, at Bretton Woods, hugely influential British economist John Maynard Keynes had brought along a set of proposals he had designed, along with EF Schumacher, for a world reserve currency, the Bancor, designed to ensure that global trade would benefit all people in the world. The world at large, including its financial press, enthusiastically endorsed this plan. The world at large except one, which was the USA; and so the dollar became the world’s reserve currency. What then ensued was an era of global trade that certainly didn't benefit everybody.
Keynes’ analysis of economics was to prevail for a long age of 30 years, an era when the energy of society was largely channelled and directed. Keynes’ general policy direction, published in 1936 in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money had seen action in Roosevelt’s attempts to relieve the Great Depression. Keynes advocated that governments should take responsibility to manage the economy, stimulating it with pump-priming when necessary.
At the war’s end, Europe could not have pulled itself to its feet and prosper again so quickly without the aid and international cooperation of the United States.
When the war ended, the USA, with the far-sighted act of the Marshall Plan had, for three years, injected 2% of its total earnings directly into Western Europe to give them the chance to rebuild their shattered industries and lacerated countries, and provide a market for shiny new American goods.
An exhausted Britain received a quarter of the financial injection and, taking ownership of the war, had decades of debts ahead.
This was very interesting, from Eric Toussaint, about the contrast in how Greek debt is treated now and how Germany’s debt was treated in the post-war years. And here from Larry Elliott.
America had recent experience of re-building, its deep 30s recession being turned around by a massive programme of public investment under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Now a post-war Western economy was similarly carefully planned, public investment-led, underpinned by the stability afforded by the dollar, linked to US gold reserves, and within a framework of international regulation and cooperation.
This post-war age was led politically by a war-scarred generation seeking, above all, to avoid the conditions which had led to war. They carefully managed and tended the Western economy. With the horror of what the world had emerged from ever present, carefully planned actions in an atmosphere of international cooperation and construction delivered huge advances for the populations of the West.
These advances have been part of Western life for some time now and taken for granted. It's become hard to imagine what it was like to live in the desperate conditions people used to suffer. Before universal health services, people would die when they couldn't afford health care, disease was rife because it went undiagnosed because people couldn't afford to go to the doctor, and life expectancy was much shorter. When universal healthcare systems were instituted in the lucky handful of countries, life expectancy and the general health of the population rose significantly. Before social security, many people were often struggling to keep themselves fed.
Universal education systems enabled working class people, for the first time, to climb out of poverty. These were the fruits of a post-war consensus which was committed to ending the inequality and exploitation of people that existed prior to WWII. The world had been ripped up and had seen all manner of barbarism and suffering and the necessity for solidarity was clear to the survivors.
The arms race madness was always in the background, huge funds were being raised from income tax to fund it all, but it wasn’t a noticeable burden, because, as British PM, Harold Macmillan told the British people in 1957, they’d never had it so good. The population as a whole were much better considered by their leaders than they’d ever been. Technology and huge industrial expansion was propelling the world into new eras of abundance of goods to long-rationed populations, and provided the wages from jobs in the factories to buy these goods, to put in the houses that they were able to buy.
Western Europe had its Social Democratic kind of Socialism, America, too, had ambitious programmes of social advancement for all. Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes were continued under subsequent presidents in the 50s, and then Lyndon Johnson’s Great Civilisation programmes. Johnson’s presidential term was the peak of Liberalism in the USA, in the old sense of the word and not in the various senses you may hear the word used. The word Liberal is a word claimed by many different people.
President John F Kennedy, whom Lyndon Johnson succeeded as President after the Kennedy assassination, defined a Liberal as:
...someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal', then I’m proud to say I’m a 'Liberal'.
President Lyndon Johnson instituted his Great Society programmes to try and reach those poor in America that Roosevelt’s New Deal hadn’t reached. If only he’d read Progress and Poverty. Surely there would be a copy in the White House library of an American international bestseller.
By the 1960s, greater numbers than ever in history had access to healthcare and education and public services, and to basic social and economic security. Culture exploded. All sorts of new ideas were flooding into everyday experience, unprecedented numbers of people in education was promoting a new level of public consciousness of the issues of the world at large.
For the West, though its population were constantly reminded that it was standing in the path of World War III, there were good times, a world of new things opening up. These were times when progress felt real and happening. A new freedom was intoxicating, culture was changing fast, faster than people could keep pace with. For a lot of people caught in this moment, things felt optimistic, even if you had nothing. You had life, and you were in a world that had almost got it all sorted out now, and was moving forward inexorably into a brighter day. And, undoubtedly, huge steps were made in this time.
Despite the ever-present shadow of possible nuclear destruction, life was sweet in the 1960s as never before, things were definitely getting better all the time. Groovy music on the radio seemed to be heralding a new age, people were reaching out to all kinds of new experiences and ways of thinking and living. And in this post-war era, the bosses, the Brain Workers (with reference to Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) were taking as income a steady multiple of the lowest paid workers in companies, before the rocket propelled lift-off in disparity of later decades.
It could be a dreamy thing to say – of course it is – but perhaps there was a glimpse of something in the 1960s of how the world could be. There’s something about the music of the 1960s, it just has a very special aura about it that can’t be reproduced. It is something magical, full of wonder, it’s something released, it has the spirit of children playing and exploring. It was the people let loose with their imaginations. Their imaginations are always there, but for a brief moment they took over. When you hear this music, clearly there was a special excitement in the air.
There’s so, so much that’s not going to get mentioned here, but we can’t, at this point, refrain from mentioning that for a magical few years in the late 60s, there was an musician among us called Jimi Hendrix. Like Henry George, an American who found a home from home in Britain. People would hear Hendrix play guitar on the radio and wonder what planet the music was coming from. For a brief time, he touched those who heard him with music which is a glimpse of beyond.
For those of you with us on this, do read John Perry’s little book.
Jimi never expressed a lot of interest in matters of society in his young life, and who can blame him? He really did have better things to do. So, it’s surely disingenuous to quote him in support of our cause, but, after Perry, we’re going to, anyway. These simple words from House Burning Down.
The truth is straight ahead
So don’t burn yourself instead
Try to learn instead of burn
Hear what I say . . .
1960s music was music free from the logic of capital. Of course, it was a business (and the businessmen mostly took the money), but the business world hadn’t developed the strategic control over mass music that was to come, it hadn’t been made into a product; the agenda was really set by musicians, any musicians, who might come out of anywhere with anything. Record companies became part of larger business concerns and became different sorts of entities. In fact, everything did.
Pop music was caught up with and captured in the end, put in a cage. Modern production orthodoxies would squeeze the capricious imagination and free spirit from popular music, honing it into a much more standardised and endlessly repeatable product. At one time, just a couple of seconds of a record would be enough to identify a band. That’s completely gone; the first few bars of a modernised record could be anyone, like a high street in a town looks like all other high streets. The airwaves came to play only records that were made with very expensive equipment, with a certain highly veneered sound, making access to the airwaves the province of a privileged few again. This is by no means the whole story, and anyway, these aren’t notes about music. In the 60s, music was part of a tangible feeling in the air, for many.
All manner of new ideas were in the air of the 60s. A tide of irreverence in culture blew away many previous strict social mores, which suddenly became superfluous, silly, from an age that was thought to have been firmly emerged from and left behind. To be from the lower orders was almost something celebrated. For many millions, the atmosphere was charged with expectancy, of advancement.
And the West, led by America, had a certain moral authority in the world (which is becoming difficult to imagine now.) While the party was going on in the West, the hi-tech struggle between the two superpowers kept ratcheting up and up in levels of awesome power and performance, and some beautiful looking weaponry was being produced.