The Progressive Era is regarded by many as a temporary social, economic, and political experiment. The Middle Class, and eventually governments themselves saw it as their responsibility to fix the problems brought about by massive industrialization and urbanization. This reading portrays some of the agendas of postwar America as continually forward thinking, and that “welfare capitalism” was seen as the avenue for businesses to support continued economic prosperity. The image of capitalists as the new source of progress was both convincing and appealing, as their “free will” seemed enough to propel them to employ many, pay good wages, keep costs low, and thus encourage spending. While this may have worked temporarily, it provided no protection to employees during the next inevitable economic slump. It also made it appear that the new enemies of progress were not the corrupt practices of business but rather the continued vice and inability to assimilate among the poorest immigrant classes and ethnic minorities. Perhaps this is why a candidate like Hoover was considered ‘normal’—not because he actually fit any previous standard, but he represented the old-stock Protestant American, and thus the best protector against the dangers of a “big-city” driven government.
Sounds convincing, right? In many ways it does, but to me, the paradox still seems unsettling. Why were Americans so quick to blame outsiders yet again for the limits to the American dream? Do you think Americans were duped by welfare capitalism, or was there some merit to this way of thinking? And finally, do you think these thoughts still occur today, when immigration reform is a recurring (and seemingly unsolvable) problem?