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The middle class myth — a conversation with Marc Andreessen

New York Magazine recently published a really great conversation between Marc Andreessen and Kevin Rose. Marc cofounded Netscape way back when, and now runs a venture capital firm.

In addition to technology, the conversation touches on a bunch of different topics such as why it’s beneficial to be an optimist and why change can be difficult for people to accept.

But they also hit on a number of broader economic shifts, such as the replacement of labor by machines, and the rise and decline of industrial production in the US. Here’s a snippet on that latter point:

You’ve described the middle class of the 20th century as a myth.

There are two middle classes. There’s the historical middle class—which is the bourgeoisie—starting in the, like, 1600s. This was the businesspeople and the traders, the merchants, the butcher, the baker, the general-store manager, the guy who was going off to China to go get silk and bring it back. Businesspeople.

But in the 1940s something really significant happened, which is we bombed the rest of the industrialized world. And so the industrial base of Germany was obliterated. Japan was reduced to rubble. The rest of Continental Europe was bombed. England was bombed. The industrial base of the world was bombed. The one major industrial country that wasn’t bombed was the United States. So the United States became the monopoly producer of industrial goods.

The army bombed the American middle class into existence?

It was an accident of history. We had a window of opportunity which we took full advantage of. We had this window from basically 1945 to 1966, 1968, in which we were basically running unopposed. In that window, all kinds of wonderful things happened. One of the things that happened was the rise of this new idea of the middle class, which there was no historical precedent for, which was college-level wages for high-school-level education. As long as there’s no competition, it’s all well and good. The minute the Japanese show up, the minute the Germans show up, it just all falls apart.

Click here for the full conversation. It’s an interesting read.

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