In what ways were the 1980s in America a repeat of the 1920s?In what ways were the 1980s in America a repeat of the 1920s?
Another correlation between the 1920s and the 1980s exists in the unethical behavior of businessmen and the growing materialism. Prominent men such as Joe Kennedy, Sr., were involved in insider trading when it was not yet made illegal, although it was certainly considered unethical. Kennedy, the chaiman of the U.S. Exchange Commission, was also involved in bootlegging and other questionable activities as were others. J. P. Morgan, whose activities were also, at times, questionable, came to represent unrestrained materialism.
Unrestrained materialsim and greed in the 1980s brought about the Enron Scandal in which the president of the company had the highly unethical "creative accounting" in action to fool the investors in thinking that the company was making profits. Of course the employees believed that their 401Ks and jobs were secure. However, all this corruption was later exposed and the company collapsed. The S&L (Savings and Loan) Crisis in the 1980s was the greatest banking collapse since the Great Depression of 1929. By 1989 over half the Savings and Loans had failed, along with the FSLIC fund that was created to insure the banks' deposits. Five unethical senators, known as the Keating Five were investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee for improper conduct. They had accepted $1.5 million in campaign contributions from Charles Keating, head of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Contribution.
Here are the major points of similarity that I see between these two decades:
- Both were boom times in the United States. The 1920s were seen as the "Roaring '20s" as a new wave of prosperity hit the country. This was the first time that a large amount of consumer goods became available. Similarly, the 1980s were seen as the decade of greed -- the "Me Decade." During this time, it is said, people were most interested in getting rich. This can be seen in things like the movie "Wall Street" with its line "greed is good." Perhaps relatedly, both decades were dominated by Republican presidents who believed in, for the most part, laissez-faire economics.
- Both are times of cultural divisions in the country. In the 1920s, we saw an urban-rural split in values that gave rise to such things as nativism and religious fundamentalism. In much the same way, the 1980s saw the beginning of what we now see as the "culture wars" over, especially, gay rights and abortion.
These are the two major similarities I see between the two decades.
The consumption element in both decades were present. At the same time, the emergence of mass consumption in terms of cultural realities were also evident. The 1920s had the radio and the shared experiences of radio broadcasts helped to illuminate the idea of shared cultural experiences. In the 1980's, the VCR and emergence of cable television helped to link cultural experiences in much the same way. Couple this to films and television shows, and the ideas of mass culture were highly apparent. Another shared element between both decades were the nation's obsession with sports. In the 1920's, baseball was the national sport, with figures like Babe Ruth occupying the nation's attention. Basketball in the 1980s, marked by the epic battle of Bird and Magic which was later followed by the emergence of Michael Jordan, as well as football and baseball and Wayne Gretzky style hockey captured the national spotlight in much of the same way.
Here is one point that is sort of erie.
As we know the twenties were a time of prosperity and wealth, just like the eighties. If you watch any of the movies or listen to the music of the time, there is a sense of joy and excitement. What makes this comparison erie is that they both came right before a huge crash in the stock markets. The Great Depression started probably in 1927 and now we are going through an economic downturn. If this is true, then we are only at the beginning of our economic downturn. I hope that I am wrong.
Huge stock market advances and the re-emergence of a consumer, materialist society are two similarities. The economic disparity between rich and poor seems, to me, greater or more noticeable in the 1980s than the 20s. We also have a much greater drug problem than they had in those days. Government in the 1920s did not rely nearly as much on deficit spending, and was not nearly so large or well armed.
I would have to look back and see, but I don't think the 80's were quite as "Roarin" as the 20's. The comparison between technological advances in the two decades was a good reference.
Both times were periods of great prosperity and wealth building while labor was taking a back seat to the might of industrialization. Unions were getting hit really hard in those periods; both were eras where membership in unions was way down and Reagan even fired an entire union when he replaces the air traffic controllers. The 1920s saw violence-ridden union busting techniques.