The Post-World War II American Renaissance Lightning Will Not Strike Twice

There have been quite a few stories comparing the post-WWII American economic "renaissance" with expectations that the same confluence of beneficial circumstances may repeat now, resulting in the same benign outcome. Many of these stories touch upon the key points debated in today's everyday politics: taxes, massive debt overhang, and the treatment of private business. Sadly, most of these stories are also just that: mythical representations of an idealized reality, which however have no analogy to what actually happened in the 1950s. In other words, none of the conditions that were in place in 1950 which allowed net US debt to decline from 80% of GDP to just 46% in one decade, are here now.

JPM's Michael Cembalest opines on how the US dug itself out of wartime debt levels after WWII.

I find that there is a lot of misreporting about how US debt levels were halved during the 1950’s. As shown in the table below, government spending was not cut sharply; there was no radical increase in tax collections, either from businesses or from households; and the Fed did not engineer negative long-term real interest rates to jumpstart growth. In addition to the competitive advantage the US had over recovering Axis Powers, the US of the 1950’s benefited from pro-business policies that resulted in over 4% annualized GDP growth throughout the decade. This approach is not in play now, raising questions about how the US will deal with 80% net debt to GDP for only the second time in its 200+ year history.


His conclusion:

1950’s time capsule: taxes were regarded as a greater cause for small business failures than tight money. Eisenhower championed legislation which eased tax burdens on small business and which culminated in a bill eliminating double-taxation (Subchapter S); he also eliminated wage and price controls. In the 1950’s, the private sector accounted for a post-war peak of 86% of all employment, a level not seen since.

Of course, much of the Keynesian miracle of 1950-1960 had to do with the "broken window" that was Europe, and specifically its rebuilding. Which means that one key variable that is missing is a continent full of destruction that just needed America's helping hand and some Brady Bonds, leading to America reaping a disproportionate share of the benefits. We are confident the American Military-Industrial complex is well aware of this and is already on top of things.