The “Post-War,” 1945-2022, Part V.

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022

Part V


John M. Lane

The Thirty “Greed is Good” Years, 1978-2008

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Abraham Lincoln, before the U.S Civil War (1861-1865).

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge in mankind, and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”

The fictional character, “Gordon Gekko.”

In the film “Wall Street,” 1987

                                          Beginning in the late 1970s, the reaction against what was believed to be the excesses of the 1960s and early 1970s began in earnest. Many thought it was time to restore “traditional” American values. The revolution in “rights” had gone far enough. What about “personal responsibility” and ownership? After taking office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan began implementing his program to end liberal “activism” and restore American greatness.  It was the fulfillment of their career dreams for Laissez-faire/free-market economists from the “Chicago” and “Austrian” schools of economic philosophy. Both Milton Friedman and Alfred von Hayek had lived to see the ideas of their philosophical foe, John Maynard Keynes, overturned.   

Photo by Dom J on

                                    At every level of government, officials tried to balance budgets, cut costs and taxes, and “privatize” as much as possible. Taxes were cut, mainly for the wealthy, believing they would create more jobs and growth, trickling down to the rest of the population, thereby improving everyone’s well-being. “Reagan and other conservatives adopted what became known as “supply-side economics,” based on the erroneous belief that, by increasing the rewards to effort, tax cuts would generate more than enough through growth to compensate for the cuts.” (Lind 378). To confront the Soviets, the defense budget was increased to 1.7 trillion dollars over five years. The result: inflation remained high, the deficit grew (perversely, the deficits were used to show that spending on social programs could not be continued. The money was not there to spend.), and nothing trickled down. The wealthy kept the extra money and spent it on themselves.

                               To fight inflation, the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by 7 percent over the rate of inflation to 19 percent. These moves resulted in two recessions in three years. (Lind 387). By 1984, inflation was under control; the way was paved for Reagan’s landslide reelection over Walter Mondale. He carried 49 of the 50 states. 

There were “two Nixons” and there were “two Reagans: President Ronald Reagan visiting the suburban Maryland home of an African American family in 1982 that had a cross burned on their yard in 1977.

                              The squeeze on the working and middle classes became tighter. Unemployment reached 10.7 percent in 1982. In the same year, there were 2,700 mass layoffs/plant shutdowns. The new policies devastated American manufacturing and its ability to compete globally. The manufacturing sector of the American economy has still not recovered. The labor movement was also crippled as the hollowing out of non-college-educated working, and middle-class workers accelerated. In 1987, the savings and loan industry collapsed after they began using “junk bonds” to invest in commercial real estate and businesses. It cost the American taxpayer 200 billion dollars to bail out the industry. By 1989, 31.5 million Americans were classified as poor. In the 1980s it was Japan that was the giant of growth and prosperity. The term “Japan Inc.” was accurate. “The deficits were easy to finance because of the inflow of foreign money, much of it from Japan…The United States was now the world’s largest debtor and Japan the world’s largest creditor. The Japanese central bank bought huge quantities of US government bonds to keep the yen artificially low, thereby subsidizing Japanese exports while hurting American exports. The same mercantilist technique would be adopted on a much larger scale by China a few decades later, with disastrous results for the economy of the United States and the world”. (Lind 389-390) History lesson, anyone?

                                  To help fund education in their states, states developed the “innovative” idea of starting state lotteries to fund public education and college scholarships. States began to rely on gambling by the people who could least afford it to fund education because they were no longer able (or willing) to. Local jurisdictions that could afford it raised property taxes to help support their schools.


                                   Technology, especially (by the late 1990s, the Internet), finance, and service, became growth industries while manufacturing jobs were sent “offshore.” Lavish lifestyles were praised and admired. Television shows, fictitious (“Dallas” and “Dynasty”) and “reality”- based (“Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous”), glorified the wealthy, promoting a lifestyle of “premium,” “deluxe,” “exclusive,” and “first-class.” Any product with those terms attached to it was seen as the best. Having an account at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, or Bloomingdales was a sign of status and success. Tax cuts for the wealthy began the most significant upward transfer of wealth since the late 19thcentury: (“the ratio of CEOs’ pay to their employees’ pay double(d) (before sextupling in the 1990s.), The top income tax rate on the richest is reduced from 70 percent to 28 percent.” (Andersen 120) This trend has continued unchecked as of 2022. Stocks and the stock market were seen by many as the leading indicators of economic growth, which every credible economist knows is false. 

Maybe you can have this!!!!!

                             Throughout the West, but especially in the United States and Britain, working and middle-class wages and salaries stagnated, and quality of life declined. In the United States- (“Consumer credit was deregulated excessively, causing consumer debt suddenly to increase by a third and interest payments to balloon, home mortgage foreclosures quadrupled. Federal spending on housing programs for low-income people was cut by 75 percent. The number of jobs requiring a college degree started increasing significantly. The cost of a four-year college (education) and the student debt to pay for it started increasing significantly.” (Andersen 121)

                        The working and middle classes had to take on more and more personal debt while working at more low-paying jobs to maintain what they had. (“Jobs in manufacturing rapidly disappeared- by 22 percent during the decades {the 1980s}).” (Andersen 120) Social mobility all but stopped. The idea that younger generations might not do better than their parents and grandparents was becoming a reality. During the 1981-82 recession, the departure from the Midwest to Texas and the West could have reminded people, although the scale was smaller, of families leaving for California in the 1930s. 

                      A new emphasis on “the war on drugs” would devastate African American communities. The 1980s drug of choice was cocaine and its synthetic partner, “crack.” Crack came into African American communities and crushed them. (“The large-scale movement out of poverty for black men from 1960 to 1980 stopped”, “Incarceration of “criminals” began its massive increase, doubling (before doubling again in the 1990s), and the first private profit-making prison companies were founded.” (Andersen 123) The use of cocaine would be just as pervasive as the use of crack. However, cocaine was the drug of the rich, the elite, and the white, and although law enforcement did attempt to enforce the law against cocaine users and dealers, it was never done with the single-mindedness of the effort against crack. Prosecuting crack offenses could bring 25 years to life sentences in prison; the punishment for cocaine offenses rarely reached that extent. 

A New phase in “The War on Drugs”

                            Combined with the de-industrialization of the country and the jobs that went with it, the cuts in funding for housing, education, medical care, and childcare, in addition to the “war on drugs” and the resulting mass incarceration to feed the rural, job-creating, prison-industrial complex (much of which would soon be in the hands of private companies); set back African American economic and social progress for at least thirty years. Maybe that was the point. In the 1980s, white Americans suffered from the cuts and elimination of the same programs, even more so because their numbers were more prominent. The question must be asked: Why would the great bulk of the majority population accept less than what they could realistically receive? 

                      In short, using resentment, particularly racial resentment, as a political strategy worked and continues to work in the 21st century.


                                George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as President in 1989. His foreign policy credentials to be President were beyond reproach (CIA director, Representative to China, UN Ambassador.) Bush would oversee the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the end of the Soviet Union. Bush used the US military in 1989 to invade Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power. However, He is remembered for the “Gulf War.” The 1991 Persian Gulf War was the last war of the second industrial revolution (1850- 1990, oil, steel, natural gas, and coal, the “commanding heights” of economic development dominated by the Americans, British, and Western Europeans). The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had decided to acquire the oil fields of neighboring Kuwait to rebuild his depleted financial resources resulting from the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. Saddam calculated that the West and the United States would not intervene because they no longer had the stomach for combat that might involve heavy casualties. He calculated wrong. The West needed access to Persian Gulf oil to keep their economies going.

                      Britain, France, and the United States sent an overwhelming force to Saudi Arabia and significant contributions from Arab countries as well. The American force alone numbered close to 500,000. For whatever reason, Saddam had decided to engage the West in a decisive battle, and in turn, he was decisively defeated. The armies created by the United States, Britain, and France to fight a massive battle of “decision” on the plains of Central Europe against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were unleashed on Saddam. This war happened because the now decrepit Soviet Union could do nothing to stop it, and the Chinese looked the other way. (Lane)

The First Persian Gulf War, January-March 1991

                      The victory was spectacular in its swiftness but was not decisive. Many of the best Iraqi units escaped and were relatively untouched when a cease-fire was declared. The Americans decided not to march on to Baghdad and remove Saddam. (Lane) The Americans believed the Iraqi people would do that. They did not. An uprising in the Basra region was attempted, and ordinary Iraqis paid a terrible price for trying. Comparatively speaking, casualties for the Allies were light, as the public could watch incredible images of smart bombs hitting their targets. It almost looked like a video game. Maybe this was the future of war: “cool” images with little or no casualties.

                     Domestically, Bush discovered that his inherited federal budget deficits were becoming untenable. He reached a five-year budget agreement with the Democrats that included tax increases. He had to renounce his “no new taxes’ campaign pledge to reach an agreement.  The Budget deal, combined with slow economic growth in 1991 and early 1992, finished Bush politically. H.W. Bush lost to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton (in a three-way race with Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot.) after having an 89 % approval rating at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. His primary domestic achievement was the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in 1990.

President George H.W. Bush signing the American with Disabilities Bill in to law, 1990

                     The Democrats, desperate to win back the White House and Congress, chose another southern governor, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, as their candidate in 1992. Clinton was a “new Democrat,” supported by the Democratic Leadership Council, which would showcase the Democrat’s new moderation. The new Democrats would be “tough on crime,” advocate welfare reform, be “fiscally responsible,” and “carry a big stick” on foreign policy issues. The election of Clinton validated the policies of Nixon, especially Reagan, and indicated to the Republicans that they had been right. The same thing happened in Britain in 1997, with the ascendancy of “New Labor” under Tony Blair as Prime Minister. The Tories knew there would be little effort to roll back Conservative policies. Like the American Democrats, Labor would show they were better managers than the Tories and the Republicans. Other than that, nothing of substance would change. As Clinton said, the days of “big government” were over.

President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

                    Clinton got the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress in 1993 as the movement toward economic globalization continued. Congress also passed the “motor voter” registration act, making it easier to register to vote, the Brady gun-control act, and a family-leave law. For the first time since the Truman presidency, an attempt to expand and reform health care coverage was introduced. The forces that defeated Truman’s effort again mobilized quickly to crush the proposal. Clinton lowered his sights and policy ambitions for the rest of his presidency. This was especially true after the Republicans regained control of Congress in 1994. Virulence, anger, and hypocrisy characterized American politics for the next 25 years.

                         Clinton, and his wife, Hillary, would be under constant investigation and attack for the eight years of his presidency. (She would become a US Senator from New York, US Secretary of State, 2008 Presidential candidate, and the 2016 Democratic nominee for President.) They were accused of murdering a top aide to keep him quiet about alleged criminal activity in a land transaction: “Whitewater.” Clinton faced a special prosecutor in 1998 after easily being reelected in 1996 because of unspecified wrongdoings that eventually focused on an affair with a White House intern. That affair led to Clinton being impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate after a televised trial. Clinton’s approval ratings remained high, even in the face of the attacks. This was due mainly to growing general prosperity, his effective use of the media, and his “baby-boomer” celebrity status.

                       Trade was a significant focus of the Clinton administration in foreign policy, especially attempts to strengthen the World Trade Organization (WTO). Clinton met several times with Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin to shore up the fledgling Russian “democracy.” (Those efforts failed). Militarily, after the chaotic attempts of nation-building and peacekeeping in Somalia, Clinton would be hesitant to commit US ground forces anywhere. A 1994 invasion of Haiti was avoided at the last minute, as hectic negotiations allowed for the invasion to become a peacekeeping mission. In 1999, in the former Yugoslavia, in support of Kosovo’s independence, NATO mounted a bombing campaign over Serbia and Kosovo (including bombing Belgrade) that forced the Serbs to back down without sending in ground forces.

                   In the year 2000, the world survived Y2K and was on the cusp of a new age. The Third “Industrial Revolution” was underway. The “World Wide Web” made the world even smaller, while incredible wealth was being made for the few at the expense of the many. In the United States, 2000 was an election year. Vice-President Al Gore was running as the Democratic candidate to succeed Bill Clinton. The Republican candidate was Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush. For a modern Republican, Bush ran a surprisingly moderate campaign, as did Vice-President Gore. There were no major foreign policy issues to debate as both candidates explained how the United States would continue to manage affairs as the world’s remaining “superpower.” Domestically, they seemingly argued over how best to work Reagan’s legacy, with a few “tweaks” around the edges. Bush promised to lower taxes and return the government surplus to the people built during the Clinton “boom” years; he also encouraged homeownership and expanded local “faith-based” charitable activity as an adjunct for and replacement of government aid. Gore wanted to continue encouraging four-year college enrollment as a means of social mobility while supporting the continued growth of the “tech” sector and bringing attention to the signs of environmental damage. Again, it was a relatively moderate plan for a political party seen popularly as full of dangerous liberals, socialists, and radicals.

                  Bush won in one of the closest elections in American History. The election was not decided on election night, as ballot problems in Florida delayed counting ballots. The fight over ballot counts and recounts (“hanging chads”) went into December. Inevitably the fight ended up in the Courts.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ended the Florida recount. Gore reluctantly and gracefully conceded defeat, even though he had won the popular vote by over 500,000. There were no calls of “fraud” and no storming of the Capitol building. George W. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 2001. 

               Gore lost in 2000 because the historic political alignment that began in 1964 was complete. Gore did not carry his home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. During the campaign, Gore kept Clinton at a distance, a grave mistake. However, it probably would have made little difference. The non-stop, incessant echo chamber “dog-whistle” racism of the previous 36 years had taken its effect. It was time to end the “hand-outs,” the “preferential treatment,” the “special favors,” the “reverse discrimination,” and the “coddling of criminals.” These attitudes were (and are) nothing new. In an opinion in a Supreme Court ruling on cases involving Civil Rights Laws in 1883 written by Justice Joseph P. Bradley, the “court majority found the Civil Rights Act of 1875 (was) beyond Congress’s powers under the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments.” (Schmidt, Jr. 461: 1982) Congress could not regulate private discrimination. In a statement that echoes down to our own time, Bradley, near the end of his opinion, wrote:” When a man has emerged from slavery…. there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the particular favorite of the laws.” (Schmidt, Jr. 462:1982- also from Lane) It is doubtful whether many African Americans considered themselves “particular favorites of the laws.”


                As President, George W. Bush pushed ahead with his tax cuts, which Congress passed in 2001. He advocated for more deregulation to “stimulate” economic growth and for more education reform and restructuring. His entire presidency changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. The country and world would never be the same. 


                            With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “rollback” of Communism, the United States no longer had an enemy upon whom their entire foreign policy was based. In the 1990s, going into the 21st century, American foreign policy focused on spreading free trade, open markets, and “Jeffersonian” democracy. The Americans did eventually find a new enemy: “Global” Terrorism. Terrorist attacks steadily increased from the mid-80s, leading to the ultimate attack: September 11, 2001.   On September 11, 2001, four hijacked aircraft were used to attack the United States. Two crashed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City.

Another crashed into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers resisted and fought the hijackers. The loss of life was the heaviest the United States had suffered since Pearl Harbor. The attack was planned and carried out by the Jihadist terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by the Saudi Arabian terrorist Osama Bin Liden. The United States responded by allying with anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and intervening. The Taliban “government” in Afghanistan was overthrown, and Al Qaeda was crippled. Most of the Taliban leadership escaped to Pakistan; its military and intelligence service had helped create them. Bin Laden escaped and became virtually powerless to control Al Qaeda while hiding in Pakistan. 


                           The United States and Britain invaded Iraq in March 2003 (while the fighting in Afghanistan continued) to remove Saddam Hussein from power and destroy his “weapons of mass destruction” (which no longer existed). Crushing the depleted Iraqi Army took a matter of weeks. However, the invasion force was not big enough to secure the country, and no plans were made as to what to do with Iraq after it was conquered. As in Afghanistan, a government was created, and as in Afghanistan, guerrilla war and insurgency began, killing Allied troops in ambush after ambush. Surges went into an area, cleared it, left, and inevitably. Allied forces would have to return to repeat the process.

Marines crossing a bridge in Southern Iraq, under fire, March 2003

                          By 2008, the United States was in two unwinnable wars. The traditional, historical American definition of victory in war: total annihilation and defeat of the enemy could not be achieved. It is tough to defeat a “tactic.” Terrorism is a tactic; it is not a strategy. To paraphrase, Max Boot describes: Terror is the tactic the weak use against the strong (to carry out a strategy, in this case, to strike at the United States and the West). The overall campaign after 9/11 was called the “Global War on Terror.” American forces were deployed in direct combat or advisory roles in Asia, Africa, and South America, fighting or helping to fight groups identified as terrorists. The “terrorists” knew what a new generation of American “leaders” failed to learn from Vietnam. It is tough to convince free citizens in democracies/democratic republics to commit to an “open-ended” military campaign with vague goals, which entails the loss of blood and treasure indefinitely, no matter how good you think your” counter-insurgency strategy and tactics” are. In addition, the Americans did not draft soldiers. Consequently, only around one percent of the American population fought the “Global War on Terror”; the rest went on with their lives.

                                       2008 was an election year. Not only was the country reeling from the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, with no end in sight, but the economy, especially the housing market, was in “freefall” as well. 


                                    In the first year of the FDR administration, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act (1933). The law divided the banking industry. Commercial banks would be for mortgages, other loans, checking and savings accounts, etc. In other words, everyday banking. Investment banks would be for investments, stocks, bonds, securities, etc.  The law was designed to separate investments, which were riskier, from regular banking. It made banking “boring,” which is a good thing for most people.  At least until 1999. In another case of a peculiarly American phenomenon called “history does not apply to us,” Glass-Steagall was overturned. The barrier between commercial and investment banking was removed. The result was a “wild west” of financing. Anyone with financial assets or access to “hedge-fund” cash rushed to acquire the “easy money.” Exciting “new products” were developed out of old concepts (derivatives) that most of the executives running the banks could not explain. Banks and investment houses that should have known better got involved. There was simply too much money to be made, especially in financing mortgages. Anybody could get a mortgage: no assets, no employment, no problem. An adjustable-rate mortgage will solve the problem. We are an “ownership society,” and you need to be an “owner.” The poor, especially in the inner cities, were pulled into situations that destroyed their lives. Were they forced to sign the papers: No. However, the documents should never have been offered in the first place. The process used to be called professionalism, honesty, and morality. What was the result? “…in August and September 2008, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury mounted the greatest economic rescue effort in world history. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed corporations that underwrote a majority of America’s home mortgages, were effectively nationalized. Most of the great investment bankson Wall Street, including Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch, victims of bad gambles on home-mortgage debt, either vanished or were absorbed by or converted into large commercial banks. In a desperate effort to stop the contagion of bad debt and avert a credit freeze that could cause a new depression, the US government promised a bailout of the financial sector of more than a trillion dollars.” (Lind 446) To repeat, the means to have prevented this was repealed in 1999, 8 years earlier.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: Fall 2008: Barely averting disaster


                      As all this occurred, a first-term senator from Illinois with a funny-sounding name was considering a presidential run. Barack Obama, of mixed Black-White ancestry, would have to defeat doubters in his party, an opposition with a media apparatus that could destroy his candidacy, as well as history. Would he be able to convince the country to do what many still considered to be unthinkable? 

Works Cited


Andersen, Kurt. Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America- A Recent History. New York: Random House, 2020.

Gellman, Barton, “January 6 Was Practice.” The Atlantic, January/February 2022.

Lane, John M. “Freedom Deferred: Frederick Douglass and The End of Reconstruction, 1865-1895”, 2022.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part III.” 2021.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part IV.” 2021.

Lind, Michael. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

McGee, Heather. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. New York: One World, 2021.

Schmidt, Jr. Benno C, “Principle and Prejudice: The Supreme Court and Race in The Progressive Era. Part I: Heyday of Jim Crow” Columbia Law Review Vol. 82, No. 3 (April 1982), pp.444-524. JSTOR 18 September 2009.

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