The Post-War Liberal Consensus

Little more than a decade after Clifford Odets wrote "Waiting for Lefty", inciting workers to take to the streets to strike for their rights and protest war, the political climate in America had undergone a nearly complete transformation. Victory over the Axis Powers in WWII and a booming economy at home had generated new confidence in capitalism and in the belief that America possessed a special destiny among nations.  Liberals believed that American capitalism was a revolutionary force for social change at home and around the world. The leftists had been discredited. True, we had suffered through a terrible depression, but we had learned our lesson: the government needed to protect people's savings and provide Social Security for all, but huge jobs programs were not needed and redistribution of income was not necessary to end social conflict.

Instead, liberal economic theorists suggested that the peaks and valleys of the economic cycle could be smoothed out and steady economic growth guaranteed through government regulation of fiscal policy. There would be no more depressions; full employment could be achieved and sustained. Wages would rise with profits! Economic growth would eventually lift the working class into the middle class. Society could be perfected! The soldiers returning home from WWII need only re-dedicate themselves to the American way taught by Ben Franklin: work hard, act sensibly, be polite, speak well, be popular, and you too can make capitalism work for you. An endless line of sparkling Chevys would stream out of the city on brand new highways, and everyone would be headed to a home of their own in that new utopia-- the suburbs.

It was in this intellectual climate that Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman.