Economically, the first half of the 20th century was grim — home to financial horror stories such as the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic, where a glass of beer cost 4 billion marks in 1923, and the Great Depression. But the period from the end of World War II to the 1970s looks, from today’s perspective, like a Golden Age. Malnutrition and starvation in the West were mostly confined to the pages of history. Wages rose and people became acquainted with the term “disposable income.” Regular working people gained access to everything from motor vehicles to central heating. Healthcare improved and life expectancy rose.
A rising tide of affluence benefited entire populations and suggested that the future could only get better. The American-Anglo Dream was the reality. The mix of individualism, advertising and corporate growth was a potent cocktail. But then, at some point in the 1970s, things changed.
First: Deng Xiaoping introduced a managed form of capitalism into China offering cheap Chinese labor for Western corporations that led to well-paid Western manufacturing jobs disappearing, as-well-as world trade imbalances. Globalization led to the disappearance of corporate taxes from home-government coffers; corporations re-imaged themselves as stateless multinationals unbeholden to the nations that birthed them.
As is now generally recognized, the center of world trade has moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific. China is at the beginning of a cycle that could last a millennium, while western civilization stands at the end of a cycle that is already 1,000 years old.