Terry McAteer: What will this next American century look like?
The end of the American century is upon us. This is fact, not some form of “fake news.”
One hundred years ago this month, the United States emerged for the first time in its history as “the” world economic power, which it has since retained.
On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., church bells tolled, people danced in the streets and champagne flowed in all corners of the world as it celebrated the conclusion of what President Wilson noted as “the war to end all wars.”
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris on that day, which we now celebrate as Veterans Day, brought World War I to an end. This horrific war left 9 million soldiers dead along with 10 million civilians. European countrysides were ravaged with most countries economically bankrupt and starvation rampant.
From this rubble emerged the United States. We had lost only 126,000 men to the war effort as compared to the other combatants. Since none of the conflict occurred on our soil, America was quick to take the lead in recovery and selling our goods abroad. Our nation went into the war as a second rate power as our military numbered only 200,000; our soldiers practiced with toy wooden guns since the military had no budget for arming every soldier. The total budget of the U.S. government was $765 million and its major source of income was tariffs on goods. Following the war, the budget had grown to $2.9 billion and the use of the newly-passed income tax was in full swing.
More importantly, as President Calvin Coolidge noted, “the business of America is business.” American capitalism zoomed to the forefront of world economies. In 1914, the U.S. had shipped 18 million bushels of wheat abroad and by 1918 that number had grown to 98 million bushels. Since the war had stripped the farmer of available horses, following the war, the U.S. became the most mechanized agricultural giant in the world. We entered the reign as the breadbasket of the world of which we still maintain today.
We also became the industrial giant in those post war years. A good gauge of that strength would be General Motors, whose stock price in 1915 stood at 39. By November of 1918, the stock value would reach 500 — over a tenfold increase in three years. American industry and agriculture helped arm and feed our allies by producing goods; the U.S. government would then lend Britain and France the money to purchase these U.S. produced goods. The economic leadership that the U.S. developed during World War I continued throughout the 20th Century as we reduced tariffs and increased world trade by insuring freedom of commerce through a strong naval and military presence.
The question we face as Americans, as we enter our second hundred years, is will the dominance of American economic prowess continue? We have certainly become the technological hub of the world in the “Information Age” while our dominance in the industrial world has waned.
This article is not meant to be a divisive political rant as so many of the op-ed pieces have become. Instead, it hopes to provide the reader a chance to pause and reflect upon the fact that the world has only seen three economic revolutions: Agricultural, Industrial and Technological.
Amazingly, we have lived through two of the three during our short lifetimes — the America of our youth as an industrial powerhouse and the America of our adulthood — the American technological powerhouse. It begs the question: What will this next American century look like?
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As a historic sidebar to this story, it was a former Nevada County resident, Herbert Hoover, who is credited with saving over 20 million starving Europeans by administering the U.S. Government’s food relief program following World War I. It was his leadership following WWI that catapulted him into the Presidency 10 years later.
Hoover, 20 years earlier, following his graduation from Stanford in 1894, moved to Nevada City to seek employment.
The U.S. was in a deep recession and the only work to be found was at the Reward Mine (near Reward Street in Nevada City) and the Mayflower Mine (on Banner Mountain) working 70 hour weeks pushing ore carts. He finally secured a mining engineer position in Australia and the rest is history.
Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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