What happened in the 70s?

Jyri posted an article on Facebook, Where Inequality Took Root: “In the mid-70’s, we traded in our post-World War II social contract for a new one, where ‘greed is good.'”  This amazing graph shows something big happened in the 1970s to prevent workers from sharing the gains of productivity in the workplace, but the question is, what?


Jyri conjectures that personal computing may have had something to do with the changes.However, I think that was a small part of the changes going on in the United States at the time. The bigger changes were social.

There was a great deal of change during the 70s in terms of womens’ rights, gay rights, civil rights and also, significantly, immigration. For example, after Hart-Celler was passed, the ethnic makeup of the U.S. changed dramatically, viz, this data from Wikipedia:

“Prior to 1965, the demographics of immigration stood as mostly Europeans; 68 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s came from Europe and Canada. However, in the years 1971–1991, immigrants from Hispanic and Latin American countries made 47.9 percent of immigrants (with Mexico accounting for 23.7 percent) and immigrants from Asia 35.2 percent. Not only did it change the ethnic makeup of immigration, but it also greatly increased the number of immigrants—immigration constituted 11 percent of the total U.S. population growth between 1960 and 1970, growing to 33 percent from 1970–80, and to 39 percent from 1980–90.”

My mother’s family immigrated from the Philippines to the United States when people from non-European countries were subjected to more stringent requirements than Europeans, and very few were allowed in. They believe they were admitted to the U.S., for example, because they had had a great deal of higher education, and graduate degrees from American universities.

The graph above can tell a thousand stories, and it is hard to point to any single factor. Personal computing may have changed the workplace dramatically, but I think it is likely that the social contract changed because the social construct changed. More women, more minorities, more foreign-born citizens were taking their places in American society and there was a growing sense of threat to entrenched power.

Women’s Eyebrow Fashions

Women in the courts of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) painted their eyebrows green; the standard of beauty was brows as delicately curved as the antennae of moths. Foreheads were powdered yellow with massicot, a lead oxide, for yellow was the color of vitality.


There are at least 24 hairstyles mentioned in the poetry, some a foot high, held together by lapis lazuli hairpins, clattering with pearls, with silk flowers and birds of gold perched on the top. As the empire was crumbling, the most popular styles had names such as “Deserting the Family” and “Uprooting the Grove”.


Yang Kuei-fei, the emperor Hsan Tsung’s beautiful courtesan whose machinations set off a civil war, kept a tiny jade fish in her mouth.

–Eliot Weinberger, Oranges and Peanuts for Sale


Ph.D program vs. Time-Life book

…I attended a political theory Ph.D. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Something happened there. One day I was reading a Time-Life book about the painter Goya. I forget who the king was at the time, but he was one of the few enlightened kings of Spain. In the capital, there was a lot of crime. Men wore these big capes and hats, which made for a great disguise. The king was mad about all the crime, so he made that outfit illegal, but then there was a riot because me were so attached to the capes and hats. So the king repealed the law. He found a new adviser and said, Look, youve got to stop all this thieving. The new guy said, Don’t worry, Your Majesty, I got it covered. And the next day, he made the cape and hat the uniform of the executioner, who worked out in the open every day. People stopped wearing them just like that. Nobody wanted to be identified with the executioner. And I thought, I’ve learned more in reading this one stupid page in this Time-Life book about Goya than I have in my Ph.D. program. So I quit.

– Walter Mosley, interviewed in The Paris Review.

TOI from this week (i.e. Things of Interest)

• At the Near Future Summit, one of the most astonishing presentations was by Osman Kibar, the founder and CEO of Samumed, a biotech firm, valued at $12 Billion, which proposes to reverse aging, restore eyesight, fix Alzheimer’s…the list goes on. It boggled the mind. My kneejerk reaction is that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But what if it were true, that we could make our cells re-regenerate? If we do eventually die, and Samumed releases all their magic, we’ll feel great up until death and look beautiful in our coffins.

• Fantastic talks here at #nfs2017.  I think we’ve found the new TED, and learned so many things. I knew that during Lincoln’s day the average person read as much in their lifetimes as is contained in the Sunday Edition of the New York Times, but I hadn’t known that in Medieval times people met only 150 people in their entire lives. We encounter that many people after an hour spent on the internet. Dunbar Fatigue.

• I was astonished by this image that David Gallo showed during his talk, which shows how much water there is on Earth–it’s really just a thin film on the surface. The much tinier dot is the amount of fresh water there is on Earth–not much, my friend, not much.

• Our friends took us for a lunch at Gjelina in Venice, where we ordered a round of vegetables (broccolini, Brussels sprouts, carrots), then the Duck Confit, which was divine, and then the butterscotch cream something for dessert. Recommended!

• Some lovely pastel-colored motion graphics with some facts about the internet, by Sander van Dijk


Anti-Psychiatry and Community Care

One thing that visitors from other countries–-we see a lot of Finns in our house––notice is that there are a lot of homeless people on our streets here in San Francisco, and that many of them are clearly mentally ill.

I was reading this article on Mute (whose tagline is the intriguing “WE GLADLY FEAST ON THOSE WHO WOULD SUBDUE US”) on the anti-psychiatry activities of an Italian psychiatrist in the 1960s, Franco Basaglia, and a book about him, The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care.

All of this led me to look up the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, and then to this Timeline of Deinstitutionalization and its Consequences–all which made made ever clearer that mental health care in this country has gone from abuse to neglect, that more people in need of care are on the streets or in jails rather than in hospitals, all of which is a terrible crime against already suffering people.

Basaglia: ‘It seems important that people know that beyond “health” and “illness” there are human beings and there are contradictions that we cannot master individually.’

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