NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prosperity Fuels Social Dissent

November 18, 1999

Crusaders for social change flourish in wealthy societies. Poor nations -- where people must scramble to earn their daily bread -- can't afford them. That is a paradox of which sociologists have long been aware.

Consider how the following periods of U.S. prosperity coincided with or fueled later protest movements:

  • The Gold Rush and railroad booms of the 1846-57 era gave rise to calls for the abolition of slavery and generated communal living experiments.
  • The Gilded Age from 1896 through 1907 ushered in the Progressive Era with its rejection of monopolies -- as well as the Prohibitionists who demanded the nation set down its cocktail glasses and beer mugs.
  • The Roaring Twenties, which witnessed consumer buying binges and the stock market boom, led to anti-immigration movements.
  • In the 1950s boom following World War II, civil rights movements began to grow and culminated in passage of new laws granting protections to blacks and other minorities.

Most recently, the economic progress of the 1960s ushered in the later rise of the anti-Vietnam War movement and various expressions of rebellious youth.

Contemporary observers are watching to see what new social demands will pop up in the next century, building upon the wealth generated by the information-age economy of the 1990s.

Source: Bob Davis, "As U.S. Economy Rises, So Do the Cries of Social Dissent," Wall Street Journal, November 18, 1999.


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