Magnificent And Depressing

This got posted up while I was on vacation in San Francisco, so I missed it. Luckily, someone in my Twitter stream was still posting it up today, so it didn’t completely pass me by. It’s a graph from Pew Social Trends Report by way of The Atlantic, of the last sixty years of economic activity in America.

All of it.

Of course, any graph that tries to represent such an incredibly large amount of data is going to be pretty broad-brush. There’d be no comprehensible way to really do a thorough, deep dive on every facet of all the economic activity since the end of WWII until now — there’s just too much to say about it. But oftentimes, graphs which purport to cover very big-picture views of, well, anything, tend to not just use broad brushstrokes of necessity, but are also insufficiently focused in what they do try to represent as to be nearly-useless.

This one isn’t (click for larger version at Atlantic web site):

As the article at The Atlantic puts it:

Here’s the arc it captures: In the immediate postwar period, America’s rapid growth favored the middle and lower classes. The poorest fifth of all households, in fact, fared best. Then, in the 1970s, amid two oil crises and awful inflation, things ground to a halt. The country backed off the postwar, center-left consensus — captured by Richard Nixon’s comment that “we’re all Keynesians now” — and tried Reaganism instead. We cut taxes. Technology and competition from abroad started whittling away at blue collar jobs and pay. The stock market took off. And so when growth returned, it favored the investment class — the top 20 percent, and especially the top 5 percent (and, though it’s not on this chart, the top 1 percent more than anybody).

They ruefully conclude: “And then it all fell apart. The aughts were a lost decade for families, and it’s not clear how much better they’ll fare in the next.”

And that’s exactly it. This is what we’re up against, those of us who favor the immediate-postwar pattern of continued prosperity for all hardworking Americans, not just the richest and/or luckiest of us. This is what’s been lost, and what must be rebuilt.