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Archive for May 21st, 2011

In a classic demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, it was the GI Bill that had been the engine driving change.  It’s hard for us as a nation to remember this, but at one point during the 1940s this country had nearly nineteen million young people in uniform, and by war’s end we had almost fourteen million Americans who were suddenly being mustered out of the service.  And they were all rushing into the weak economy of a country in debt.  The workplace that had been dominated by defense manufacturing during the war was, perforce, going to shrink, and there would be no work for the large majority of returning veterans.  Millions would swell the rolls of the unemployed, and the economy, unable to cope, would plummet again into a depression.  Neither the economic nor the political consequences of the situation could be risked, and something had to be done to delay or prevent certain catastrophe.
The Truman administration is often given credit for the GI Bill, but it was actually the idea of Warren H. Atherton, a California Republican and a consultant to President Roosevelt’s secretary of war.  His brilliant concept became the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, and it was the last bit of Roosevelt-era New Deal legislation.  The law enabled returning GIs to go to institutes and universities, thus keeping them occupied and off the unemployment rolls.  It wasn’t cheap, but the government could always print more money, and the negative effect of doing so was calculated to be far less deleterious than the alternative.
So what happened? The program had its desired effect.  Averted were the likelihood of millions of unemployed and the dire possibility that a nation that had won the war would be destroyed by the peace.  And there was another, unexpected and joyous result.  The American generation that had fought to save the world from fascism became the best-educated cohort in history, and when the veterans were graduated from school they fueled an economic boom never before experienced by any country in the world.
And the results were magnified further by another crucial provision of the GI Bill, one that granted low-interest, zero-down payment home loans for these veterans.  This enabled Americans to own their own homes, and suddenly millions of ex-servicemen’s families — families like ours —  were being propelled into a genuine middle class that was born during the early days of the automobile and grew to maturity in a great exodus from the traditional urban centers.
  —    Colonel Jack Jacobs
Medal of Honor recipient
From his book: “If Not Now, When?
[I would argue the slow but steady reduction and elimination of these benefits has also been one of the long term brakes on the greatness of American society and the economy.  Now, servicemen must pay a portion of their salary towards their future education benefits — as if risking one’s life and limbs in the service of one’s country is insufficient “payment”.  —  KMAB]
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There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours.  I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both.  Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.
  —   William Barclay “Bat” Masterson
(These were also Masterson’s last recorded words, which were in the bit of column found on the typewriter Masterson was using before he died while typing.  Bat Masterson died a sports columnist in New York City.)
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