Until fairly recently, the basis of all wealth was in some way related to labor. Someone somewhere either produced a product or performed a service. Then someone somewhere either bought the product or accepted the service. In between were various middlemen adding value, facilitating movement, or combining usage. It could be as simple as a quilt made sold to someone who wanted to keep warm. It could be as complex as cloth woven into upholstery, added to the construction of a stuffed frame, made into a couch transported across distance by a wholesaler to a furniture store retailer who hires a salesperson to sell to a decorator to sit in a home of an investment banker who had originally invested in the factory where the cloth was woven in the first place who used the profits to buy the couch.
The above is all pretty simplistic but until recently work and wealth were inextricably interwoven. As depicted in Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” all the hustle and bustle of commerce built enormous wealth that spanned a globe but was built on the back of someone’s labor. In turn labor always had to obey the laws of supply & demand. It was all well and good to sit at a huge board filled with cords and holes as hundreds of women connected the telephones of a nation to each other until they are all replaced by a little rectangle that speaks, takes messages, records images, and goes shopping with just a wave of the hand.
Coming out of WW II, huge swaths of the world were in shambles and the United States and the USSR were in the midst of the cold war broken up into theirs and our shuffling dictators. The third world was pretty much at the mercy of these arrangements even while Western Europe recovered fairly rapidly within ten years. Global population stood at about 2.5 billion and almost all of them were needed to perform the work of the world for the simple reason that jobs from unskilled labor to the most technical limits of developing technology were plentiful and serviced that recovering world.
As of 1960 global population had grown another half billion to 3.0. There was still plenty of room and a huge amount of work to be done by these new “Boomer” children born in the aftermath of WW II once they reached adulthood. They were about the last generation in the developed world to be born into families with more than two children and their parents had the tools to provide them with good health and an education far beyond anything every achieved before by the general population.
The advent of the pill and the feminist movement meant that women were more in control of their lives and didn’t want them permanently tied to hearth and home. The pill wasn’t the only medical innovation to hit in the 20 years after WWII. Prior to WW II, as long as you could get a child to adulthood, the chances were that they would live to be the traditional three score and ten. The only reason that the “average” age of death in previous generations looks lower is that so many children died young. My own grandmother gave birth to nine and through home remedies and luck had eight make it, losing only one at three years of age. The trick was to get them past the first ten years of life without succumbing to measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping-cough, polio, and the various flues that might become an epidemic or even pandemic at any time.
In another decade, vaccine after vaccine had arrived along with all the various antibiotics to fight the most dangerous infections. About the only thing left to kill human beings in large numbers was war and we had more than enough war to go around to be fought by these almost unreasonably blessed children. Even as horrific as war can be when it came to population and necessary work, neither it nor disease killed enough of them . In the realm of unintended consequences this was a whole lot of good that led to something very, very dangerous both for human beings and the globe as population hit 3.7 billion in 1970.
TO BE CONTINUED