I have been working on this post since Dec. I really wanted it to be a good post, so I’ve tried to research and put my resources (when possible) in a list at the end (some are also referenced within when I felt they needed to be next to their context). I also had to break into parts because it was getting long. Like seriously longform blog long… and I want to be digestible.
TL;DR: Politicians who want to “go back to the good ‘ole days” without raising taxes are full of shit.
Part 1: What was true about the 1950’s
The historian in me is coming out here, but I feel like we can’t talk about “going back to when America was great” (which for some reason is always seen as like the 1950’s) without actually looking at it with honest eyes. And I am going to avoid some of the really good reasons we don’t want to go back like racism, sexism, homophobia, and an active draft for a wartime theater without an exit strategy… any of this sounding familiar anyway?
Let’s look at some interesting facts about 1951:
- New cars were about $2,000. IF you took a 4 year loan it would be ~$45/month on the car payment.
- Average incomes were $3,300
- Average house was in the $7,000 range. For math’s sake, if it was a $10k house, 30-year mortgage with 20% down – about $40 a month.
- A gallon of gas cost $0.18 (18 cents) At 10 gallons twice a month, you would spend less than $4 a month on gas
On a $3,000/year salary you would bring home $250 a month. The above costs would mean you would spend LESS than $100 on house, car, and gas. Campbell soup was 10₵ a can, eggs 79₵ a dozen, milk $1 a gallon, and ground beef 30₵ a pound – if I took a shopping list from my life today back to 1951 – well, I could buy a MONTH’s worth of damn good food for $50.
Let’s stick with the most commonly cited reason people claim they want to return: the government was “small” and “more efficient.” I mean, yes it was smaller (and not just because we were only 48 states) – but more efficient? That is difficult to quantify no matter how you slice the pie. We can’t compare it apples-to-apples. It’s more like pineapple-to-tomato. I mean technically, the tomato is fruit but it’s also classified as a vegetable because that is how it’s consumed/used (did you know the Supreme Court has literally ruled on this?) With the advent of computers and the internet the government is so different, I don’t think you can compare the government of 2017 to the government of 1950.
Just for example: defense is more complicated now. Can we all agree that faster travel, the internet, cell phones, and overall just a “smaller” world has made defense more complicated? We don’t have an enemy who will put boots on the ground – we fight wars with people who are not affiliated with governments per say – it’s more complicated. I bet it’s how the British actually felt fighting the colonists in the 1770s. “Just stand on a field so we can shoot each other!” “No! Come find us!”
And frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if “security” was less expensive per/person now. In the 1950s (rise of McCarthyism) intelligence was so much about having the right person in the right place at the right time. I bet we have fewer agents/event than we did then. Or we are safer by agents/information. We have programs that can input and dice information for us instead of employing an army of intelligent people (and analysis requires intelligence).
So what do people mean when they say “back to the good ‘ole days”?
So if we assume that people are not evil (which I try to do!) and work on the thought that people want the strong job growth of the 1950s, we are really talking about the government’s involvement in job growth. We are talking about the time when we had the most government involvement: the National Science Foundation was founded. 1956 was when the National System of Highways was implemented and something like $25 BILLION (1950s billions, not 2010s billions!) was allocated to pay for them. I am afraid to even try to use the inflation calculate to know how many zeroes that would be in 2016 inflation dollars!
If you can agree that we are really talking about the growth and development of government grants and programs, in part 2 I want to look at some FACTS about taxes in the USA.
Inflation Rates: http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/
2016 Tax Table: https://www.irs.com/articles/2016-federal-tax-rates-personal-exemptions-and-standard-deductions (simple version!)
Breakdown of 1950 Census data: https://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html and http://www.mybudget360.com/cost-of-living-2014-inflation-1950-vs-2014-data-housing-cars-college/ and http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1950s.html (this one didn’t include references, but it does have the comparable data from some of my other sources) http://money.howstuffworks.com/Grocery-store-prices-for-14-items-in-1957.htm http://siefert.weebly.com/
Picture of Housing cost FROM the 1950 Census summary (the solid black line are the 1950 prices for houses…):
Price of Ford in 1950s: http://fiftiesweb.com/cars/ford/
My Own Worksheet of Prices/Information on taxes: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1JGCRVz2Mm433EyUDjq54xO9HslTcyArpYqWYAuUfI4g/edit?usp=sharing