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Friday, December 14, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 3

The last element of the pre-conditions of the Boom is the one which is often unstated: the boom is, literally, the product of the GI Generation. The GI Generation is, in a socio-economic sense, a product of the Second World War: the American economy went from being coal driven industrial economy, to being an petroleum driven mechanized economy: oil surpassed coal as a source of BTUs of energy only around 1950. This is somewhat misleading because internal combustion engines are more efficient in terms of final work output than steam engines are less efficient, not because of intrinsic efficient: in practice a steam engine produces useful motion at a rate of around 40%, while, in practice, internal combustion produces useful work at around 20% at the same period – it has risen to over 30% today, or still behind what a steam driven turbine can manager – but because the work is done in place and there is no loss from the cost of transporting the energy by electricity, heat, or feul to move the fuel – coal is less energy dense that either diesel or gasoline.

With the War came the end to a long slow decline in the number of hours that employed people worked came to an end. In the US, combining commute times, with a slow continuous increase in the number of hours worked, has resulted in wide gap between the US and Western Europe. While the image Americans have of the era is of a placid domesticity, looking at surveys of the times, such as the famous Kelly Life Survey (KLS) shows that this applied to a relatively narrow range of people the new economy applied to. Much of America, even white America, was in poverty, and much of the newly affluent class was pressured to do unpaid social work, especially by women, which are not accounted for in labor statistics.

The GI Generation was a military creation, and trained as such. While many economists focus on the demand side of the World War II economic shift: that is there was enough demand generated by the war effort to pull the economy out of the Depression, but what is overlooked is that the War also universalized infrastructure: being able to drive, work mechanized devices, phone service, radio, and so on became ordinary skills, the ability to work in a paper driven bureaucracy became an ordinary skill. Before the war, Americans were economically starving to death, in the middle of plenty. Uncle Sam's finishing school trained Americans to take advantage of the powerful position America found itself in after the Second World War: one of a few industrial economies not touched by the war, and the holder of half of the world's remaining industrial capacity: the others were Australia, Canada, Argentina – whose combined output was a drop in the bucket compared to the US.

This might seem as if it is part of an objective realities story, or a ergodic economic story, however, it is the social valence of the GI Generation which is among the under appreciated aspects. Just as with the Marxian consciousness story of social consumption, and the historicist story of being a synthetic intellectual generation, the psychological aspect of this part of the story is a fundamental pillar. Important aspects of the military ethos are pack honor and mentality, the importance of CYA (cover your ass), and group solidarity. The boom then both inherited and reacted agains the military ethos that they saw. It is no accident to say that the methods of mass mobilization and organization were coming to be applied to everything: schools were "skill and drill," subdivisions were laid out like MASH units.

The GI generation were heavier users of alcohol than either their parents or their children would end up being. The subterranean pressures on the nuclear family home that would lead to the liberalization of divorce laws were already in progress. While views on the militarismare filtered through the boom's own critique, namely the sense of containment, constraint, and restriction, there has yet to be a thorough going analysis which connects both the positive and negative aspects of the military heritage of the boom. This includes hero worship of the GI generation, excessive evaluation of the effectiveness, and importance, of the security state.

One of the cardinal legacies is that boomerite ideology aims to produce a sense of security they felt during this time on the streets, while assuaging the personal insecurity they felt in the home. To paraphrase Ike, the look forward with nostalgia.