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Changing the social hierarchy


The end of the Second World War (WW-II) in 1945 heralded the world into another era. The countries that faced a loss in property and soldiers had to pick themselves from the start. In the US, the Great Depression (1929-1939) brought the economy to a standstill. However, it was WW-II that kept some bolts and pieces of the economy running. Congress approved the Lend-Lease Act in 1941. It gave the-then US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, unlimited power to direct material aid including ammunition, tanks, airplanes, trucks, and food to the war effort in Europe without violating the nation’s official position of neutrality.
During 1943-44, the US manufacturing facilities – primarily the automobile industry – had produced enough ammunition and weapons that was more than the combined production of the enemies and the allies.
Following WW-II, a new wave of consumerism and product development was initiated. It was a time when the post-war boom was in process. US civilians and the soldiers who returned home from the battlefield had enough savings to begin from scratch. The perils of WW-II were gone and a new era heralded.
The Great Depression had increased unemployment to record heights in the US. At one point, it was at a staggering 25%. However, as the factories began assembling consumer goods following WW-II, the unemployment reduced to 1.2% in 1944. The United States’ military-focused economy was not ready to produce goods for the masses. This scenario was changed as the corporations saw consumer demands for all household appliances rise by ten folds.
Lizabeth Cohen in her book “A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America”, writes that ‘by 1945, Americans were saving an average of 21% of their personal disposable income. It was only 3% in the 1920s.’
After WW-II, Americans were willing to spend this disposable income to buy a house, car, home appliances, and every product that could make their life modern and easy. During this time the middle-class emerged as the largest population strata that wanted to avail all opportunities to purchase and consume goods. The advertising industry was projecting products that could uplift the life of this particular class. The US automobile industry and the construction businesses entered into a phase of boom. The sales of new cars quadrupled between 1945 and 1955, and by the end of the 1950s, nearly 75% of American households owned at least one car.
In the construction sector, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or the G.I. Bill, provided benefits to the returning soldiers from WW-II. It helped the soldiers buy homes. Real estate development companies such as Levitt & Sons among others, constructed residential communities with over 17,000 homes. With people buying homes, they had to buy appliances as well.
According to The Post World War II Boom: How America Got Into Gear at history.com, “Driven by growing consumer demand, as well as the continuing expansion of the military-industrial complex as the Cold War ramped up, the United States reached new heights of prosperity in the years after World War II. Gross national product (GNP), which measured all goods and services produced, skyrocketed to $300 billion by 1950, compared to just $200 billion in 1940. By 1960, it had topped $500 billion, firmly establishing the United States as the richest and most powerful nation in the world.”
The WW-II can be used as a case study to understand how societies, cities, and countries undergo an all-encompassing socio-economic change because of a global event. The Covid-19 pandemic has already changed how we studied, worked, and interacted. The socio-economic impact could be the arrival of mechanized robots and industrial automation based on artificial intelligence (AI) as people are compelled to live in isolation and are asked to maintain distance. It is yet to be seen what broader social and technological changes occur because of this pandemic.