Friday, December 3, 2021

Daniel Robert McClure's "Winter in America"

Daniel Robert McClure is assistant professor of history at Fort Hays State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Winter in America: A Cultural History of Neoliberalism, from the Sixties to the Reagan Revolution, and reported the following:
From (the end of page 98 and) page 99:
Global markets, according to Business Week in 1963, now distinguished the normative scope for U.S. business. More than this, the overseas-domestic aspect of the multinational created an internal economy for the companies. As Ray R. Eppert of Burroughs Corp. asserted, “The net result of our investing abroad is that we have grown at both ends.... That’s because our overseas subsidiaries serve as captive markets for the parent corporation.” “More than 80% of the U.S. parent’s $25-million in exports,” added Business Week, “goes to its own subsidiaries, mostly as parts for fabrication but also as finished machinery. Internal sales as well as total exports have nearly doubled since 1956.” Reporting on the National Industrial Conference Board’s antitrust conference in New York City in 1965, Business Week observed that mergers continued to be seen “as a technique for growth,” noting the “record 1,700 corporate consolidations last year,” which were expected to “pick up speed, if company earnings keep up their present pace.” Market shares expanded with mergers: “100 largest manufacturing companies had grown from 23% in 1947 to 32% in 1962.” Rather than the traditional monopoly, conglomerates embodied the concept of concentrations Walter Lippmann warned of in his Good Society (1938). They would also become the archetype enterprise for the neoliberal era.

Throughout this evolution of multinationals and finance, an American public increasingly became a part of this expanding world of MNCs or within the employment sectors related to their growth. This new class of managers, technicians, academics, and journalists working in large corporate organizations also raised families in spacious, newly constructed, federally subsidized white suburbs. Consequently, the new middle class, particularly in the West or Sun Belt or the “gun belt” shared “a technocratic culture, an acceptance of Cold War ideology, [and] a relatively conservative politics.” In the context of settler colonialism, the Sun Belt represented a new postwar ideological divide between a stagnant East and a rejuvenated West. Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner characterized this geographic identity as “a place outside civility or urban civilization, a site associated with the male subject conceived as a private entity, the bearer of rights of property and propriety whose boundaries must be protected with violence. The exaltation of the male individual in conservative thought is always linked to nature for this reason. Nature is unconstrained.... The more ‘natural’ Sunbelt is thus a metaphor for the conservative ideal of individual freedom, the exaltation of individual rights over collective responsibility.” It would take until the passage of social equality legislation, however, for the Sun Belt to begin truly championing individualism over the collective nature of the welfare state.

Exemplary of the consensus politics at the time, “conservative politics” mostly policed social boundaries related to race, gender, and sexuality—safely secured by pre-1960s federal housing policies—rather than a retreat from federal intervention. Taking advantage of the welfare state, many Americans found prosperity and opportunity through the various housing programs, infrastructure developments (e.g., the interstate freeway system), educational investments, and defense spending—all of which aided the success of big business. 68 Shaping the institutions of federal intervention, of course, was the ongoing institutional racism of de jure and de facto Jim Crow discrimination.
Opening to page 99, the reader wades through the global sales of multinational conglomerates in the postwar era, specifically detailed in an article in Business Week discussing how companies often used their own overseas subsidiaries as “captive markets for the parent corporation.” These “Internal sales” and exports doubled between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s, signaling the increased momentum of outsourcing by U.S. corporations overseas. A wave of mergers followed, along with the resulting expansion of market shares. The first paragraph ends with a flashback to an earlier chapter discussing Walter Lippmann’s 1938 concept of “concentrations,” a phrase denoting the concentration of capital and markets via monopoly/oligopoly capital. This paragraph on page 99 underlines an important element of Winter in America: the active role played by multinational conglomerates in shaping the economic practices leading to a space conducive for neoliberalism.

The next paragraph examines the American people—the “managers, technicians, academics, and journalists”—operating through this evolving world of the multinational conglomerate, particularly those living in the Sunbelt or West, where massive Cold War subsidies and defense spending generated an ironic combination of socially conservative middle-class citizens living in federally subsidized spaces and enjoying the multiplier effects of government spending. From this intersection of a globalizing economy and the federally subsidized white suburbs arose a renewed sense of individualism still shaped by the anti-Black legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. The 1960s, however, would interrupt this “Leave it to Beaver” white suburban utopia in the form of social equality legislation (Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc.).

Alongside the usual suspects of Milton Friedman and FA Hayek, page 99 outlines the way neoliberalism evolved after the 1970s through both a white, educated citizenry who both thrived in the postwar economic growth of the Jim Crow Welfare state and, later, felt betrayed after the federal government passed social equality legislation, as well as the larger structural shifts of multinational conglomerates who, through their negotiation of the regulatory environment of the Welfare state, paved the routes to neoliberal globalization. Suspicion towards social equality federal intervention—for example, housing debates, busing, and affirmative action policies—opened a rhetorical window to bring the suspicion towards “big government” by white Americans into the arguments from multinational conglomerates, finance, and economic conservatives and neoliberal economists who had waited since the 1930s to dismantle the regulatory Welfare state.
Learn more about Winter in America at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue