While the rest of the industrialized world was in rubble, America was intact and open for business. So we did what no other nation in the history of the world would have done. We paid for the rebuilding of the defeated nations. It was our money that made it possible for friend and foe alike to return to industrialized status. Once they were up and running we continued to help them by allowing them to run trade surpluses with us. When they put up barriers to our products while providing government subsidies for their companies to export products to our shores, we put up no resistance. As one nation after another began to sell televisions, appliances and cars to us while refusing to buy our gadgets and vehicles, we simply shrugged. Our trade negotiators were willing to bend over backwards to help other nations achieve their objectives, thinking that we should be helping other nations to catch up to us. The resulting trade imbalance was slowly sucking our prosperity from us, but our government didn't notice. They were too busy bragging about how they had achieved a trade agreement.
In the late forties good jobs were easy to come by in this country. People came from all over the world to work here because we were the place to be. Our pre-eminent position as the only up and running manufacturer made us a little too sure of ourselves. Labor unions would make huge demands and American companies would give in to them without bothering to run the numbers by their own accounting departments. It didn't matter that the pension program was an actuarial nightmare. It wasn't important that the automatic cost of living adjustments could ruin the company. Rules protecting bad workers from being fired or even disciplined were unimportant. The production line had to keep running and a strike was unthinkable. Meanwhile in Japan companies took the advise of, oddly enough, American experts who taught them to reward excellent workers, get rid of bad workers and to tie employee pay to company profitability.
In Washington and in state capitals, politicians took advantage of our economic position by installing larger taxes than other nations place on their manufacturers. They furthered their political careers by imposing regulations on business to satisfy every special interest group with a beef. The result was a series of burdens on business that made many companies look beyond our shores for friendlier confines.
Politicians furthered damaged the nation by willfully ignoring the advent of illegal immigrants. As honest businessmen tried to comply with the law, dishonest men hired illegal aliens for a pittance, giving them a price advantage over the good guys. The honest companies were often forced to either go out of business, go overseas or turn dirty themselves and join the lawbreakers. The result of all three options was fewer jobs for Americans.
As jobs began to move to other nations, due to a combination of lower wages and benefits, less government regulation and increased competition from other nations recovering from the war or emerging from third world status, unions and government continued to act as if it was still okay to leech off of American businesses.
Only the businessmen could see that the gravy train was coming to an end, but when they reacted in the best interest of their shareholders, as they are required to do by law, they were dismissed as greedy, selfish and mean. Certainly, it could not be the fault of the eighty thousand dollar a year unskilled union member who refused to ever do anything beyond what the union contract required him to do. And it could not be the fault of politicians who placed millions of dollars of taxes on companies, then doubled the fun with regulations that required the company to spend millions more to comply. Only the guy who had to look at the numbers and make a decision bore responsibility.
World War II ended with a victory. But we treated that victory with a combination of guilt and arrogance that has lead us into a position where our former allies and enemies are now draining us dry of jobs through trade imbalances, lower wages and friendlier business climates. In retrospect, maybe we should have surrendered.