What stayed the same in the 1970s?

There’s a ton of research in economic sociology that focuses on major upheavals to the American (and, to some extent, global) economy in the 1970s. Financialization is an obvious one, along with the decline of unions, increasing inequality especially concentrated in the top 1%, increases in the incarceration rate, the emergence of institutional investors as major players in the corporate world, the declining centrality of commercial banks, the death of the Bretton Woods system, the rise of neoliberalism, and so on. Trends big and small begin, or have sharp inflection points, in the 1970s. Obviously many of these trends are related – financialization is part of what drives the dramatic increase in top incomes, for example. But it’s hard to imagine that political economy is so integrated that all of the major upheavals from the 1950s-1990s happened in this one decade. So, my question for you all is.. what stayed the same in the 1970s? What trends persisted from the 1950s-1990s, or had major changes in other decades? What do we miss by periodizing the last 70ish years as 1945-1970, and 1970s-present?

For example, in the city of Detroit, population declines first occur in the 1950s – well before the riots of the 1960s – as the spread of cars leads to suburbanization (although I’m not sure how widespread that trend is across major cities in the US). This trend picks up in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s going strong in the 1950s. What other trends are we missing by focusing so much on the shifts of the 1970s?

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Jason Kerwin

     /  September 18, 2012

    >For example, in the city of Detroit, population declines first occur in the 1950s – well before the riots of the 1960s – as the spread of cars leads to suburbanization (although I’m not sure how widespread that trend is across major cities in the US).

    In the Great Lakes museum on Belle Isle there’s some great stuff about the role of water transport and rail networks in shaping the importance of Detroit as a center for automotive production. Over the long term, I’m convinced that this is also the reason for the city’s demise as a car production hub – these days, lake freight is of pretty trivial importance for industry, and rail is also less important than it was. To some extent, Detroit brought itself down by contributing to the rise of road freight relative to shipping and rail. These days, Detroit has no geographic advantage in car production and there’s a lot of growth in factories in other parts of the US.

    But I don’t know when this started to kick in; the interstate highway system began in the 1950s, but did production already begin to move away from Detroit at that point? Or was its depopulation entirely due to suburbanization? My guess is that the former was already beginning to play a role, especially if we consider non-US car production as well as movements of the industry within the US.

  2. Austen

     /  September 25, 2012

    Nice thought-provoking twist on an important sociological question …

    So, what has -not- changed?

    The power of the two main political parties comes immediately to mind. Though, of course, both parties have undergone their own internal transformations: the Democrats have moved toward the free market, and the Republicans toward more whole-sale conjunction with the conservative movement. Still, the post-1970 changes have not broken the party duopoly.