When people think of the 1960s, some popular images that come to mind would be the March on Washington of 1963, the Beatles, anti-Vietnam War protesters, and the Black Panthers. In fact, CNN has compiled a website of photos with “60 Iconic Moments from the 1960s” and these images and more than 50 others can be seen there.
While these iconic moments are no doubt central to any reckoning with the 1960s, they do not tell the full story of the 1960s. In his book, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, Eric Hobsbawm has argued that the period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s can be described as a Golden Age because of the phenomenal economic growth of these years.
The history of the U.S. economy during the 1960s is less well-known than the popular drama of the era’s social, cultural, and political turmoil, but it was one of the catalysts for the events of the decade. During the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, the United States experienced over one hundred consecutive months of economic expansion, the largest sustained period of growth to that point in U.S. history. Commentators wondered if the phenomenal growth signaled the end of the business cycle. President Johnson declared “War on Poverty,” predicting that the general prosperity could raise living standards for all.
ProQuest History Vault’s module, American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate, includes primary source documents on the 1960s U.S. economy in the form of records of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Johnson. This collection documents many of the policy debates and government actions that contributed to the 1960s economic boom. Consisting of the files of the chief economic advisers to Kennedy and Johnson, the collection includes the behind-the-scenes discussions of the analysis and interpretation of economic data; the political, ideological, and mathematical reasoning behind policy recommendations; and the ways in which professional economists attempted to influence public opinion and government officials on the complexities the economy.
The 1960s CEA files in History Vault focus primarily on the two longest-serving chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) during the 1960s—Walter W. Heller (1961–1964) and Gardner Ackley (1964–1968, but a CEA member since 1962)—with less substantial, but still significant, material on CEA members Otto Eckstein (1964–1966) and Arthur M. Okun (1964–1969, including chair 1968–1969).
Council of Economic Advisers during the Johnson Administration covers virtually every important economic issue during the 1960s and reveals the thinking behind major policy decisions on a wide range of topics, from international trade and the balance of payments problem to labor-management relations and strikes in such key industries as automobiles and steel. Commentators discuss the economic impact of the Vietnam War, tax reform, anti-inflationary measures, wage and price guidelines, and much more.
The fantastic economic growth of the 1960s was followed by the inflation and economic stagnation of the 1970s. The unraveling of the economy in the 1970s caused the 1960s economic model to be brought into question. In the 1970s, the new CEA chair (and future head of the Federal Reserve Board) Alan Greenspan brought a different approach to trying to address the most vexing economic problems of the day. The records of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Ford Administration, when Alan Greenspan chaired the CEA, are also included in American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate, allowing researchers to use History Vault to trace the work of the Council of Economic Advisers into the mid-1970s.
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