United States

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Full Report: United States

Overview

1910-1914: The United States is a vast and rich country, with its territory largely organized and its institutions taking shape. In the late 1800s, foreign investment and massive flows of immigration have fueled infrastructure and industrial growth. Concerns about monopolies and "trusts" are well entrenched and growing, leading to establishment of key public institutions such as the Federal Reserve.

1915-1920: The U.S. remains neutral in the European war, but sympathies for the Allies grow, and the U.S. enters in 1917. The war brings temporary but substantial government intervention in the free-market economy, including regimentation and takeover of key industries such as railroads. At war's end, the U.S. hesitates to join the emerging world order, and retreats instead into isolationism and protectionism.

1921-1927: An era of "laissez-faire" capitalism under successive conservative presidents concerned with fiscal rigor sees boom times in the urban economy and the emergence and rise of large modern corporations. Protectionism in trade mirrors isolationism in foreign affairs, but U.S. investment spreads around the world. Farmers do not share in the good times, as agrarian recession turns to deep depression.

1928-1932: The stock market boom is revealed to be a bubble, fueled by increasing speculation and supporting unsustainable real estate and construction investments. The crash of 1929 brings down the banking system and destroys unprotected individual savings. Unemployment, food lines, and general despair tarnish the laissez-faire philosophy of previous years and threaten to discredit capitalism itself.

1933-1936: Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program is a massive, comprehensive transformation of American economy and society, executed at breakneck speed. The foundations of modern industrial regulation, financial markets, and social policy are all put into place. Shorter-term measures stabilize the economy, put millions of jobless to work, and deliver economic recovery through government intervention.

1937-1940: As the recovery takes hold, so too do the rumblings of war in Europe. Roosevelt's personal influence in U.S. politics is unmatched, but he begins to see opposition to his policies, particularly in the judiciary. Some New Deal programs are discontinued as the economy improves, but the fundamental framework of market regulation and social policy is widely accepted.

1941-1945: The U.S. fully enters World War II after the Pearl Harbor attack. The war economy sees strategic industries regimented and wage and price controls implemented. Roosevelt gains a third and then a fourth term in office. Exports boom. Forced Japanese internment mars the constitutional record. The use of atom bombs in securing Japan's defeat, followed by the partition of Europe, ushers in the Cold War.

1946-1952: Harry Truman embraces Keynesian policies to expand the economy through full employment. Wartime controls are gradually released as the economy stabilizes. Truman's social liberalism comes up against dissent in his own party, and a growing anticommunist, security-focused sentiment stoked by the Korean War and the onset of the Cold War. Republican general Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes president.

1953-1959: The Eisenhower years see a cautious form of Keynesianism employed, and steady but unspectacular economic growth. The anticommunist hysteria of the McCarthy hearings crests and fades, and the groundswell of civil rights protest grows across the South. Expanded homeownership, public housing, suburbanization, and highway programs transform the U.S. economy and geography in ways that endure today.

1960-1963: John F. Kennedy brings an uplifting sense of aspiration into public life, but his legislative impact falls short of the enthusiasm he raises. Squarely Keynesian policies use deficit spending to spark high employment and accelerate economic growth. The civil rights movement comes to the fore for mainstream America in 1963. The "Camelot" era ends abruptly and violently with Kennedy's assassination.

1964-1968: Lyndon Johnson's administration combats poverty, increases social opportunities, and entrenches civil rights. But the deepening Vietnam War and increasingly visible unrest in the South and the inner cities spark the rise of violent protest movements and a "counterculture." In a year marked by assassinations and upheavals, Johnson withdraws from the 1968 presidential race; Richard Nixon is elected.

1969-1974: Prosperity runs out of steam as inflation takes hold, soon to be compounded by the oil shock. Nixon's attempt at wage and price controls fails to tame inflation. Amid continuing social upheaval, the administration is caught in the Watergate scandal, which leads to Nixon's investigation, impeachment, and resignation. The Vietnam War winds down, but leaves profound scars.

1975-1980: The brief Ford administration is powerless to control inflation. Soon unemployment is rising as well, signaling the exhaustion of Keynesian policies. The Carter administration faces an energy crisis and mounting foreign policy challenges. The protracted hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Iran compounds the national malaise and undermines the presidency.

1981-1987: The "Reagan Revolution" brings tax cuts and reduction of government size through spending cuts and delegation of power to the states. Tight monetary policy tames inflation, and growth resumes. Although supply-side economics is not borne out, the shift to lower taxes and "fiscal discipline" will prove lasting. Reagan's charisma boosts national pride, but new social crises are mounting.

1988-1992: After a series of political and financial scandals, a recession takes hold, revealing new social inequalities and placing sharp focus on the skyrocketing federal deficit and national debt. Despite the end of the Cold War and the Gulf campaign, the George H.W. Bush administration stumbles on economic policy. A promise to focus on the economy helps propel Bill Clinton to the presidency.

1993-1999: Despite early missteps, Clinton scores a major achievement with rapid deficit reduction through spending cuts and tax increases. In the process, though, he loses his majority in Congress. But the economy booms, and the U.S. regains its luster. Rapid technology improvements and the explosion of the Internet transform economic life. The deficit is erased. But Clinton is tarnished by personal scandals.

2000-2001: George W. Bush wins a controversial election arbitrated by the Supreme Court. He rapidly passes tax cuts as the boom ends and recession sets in. The projected surplus shrivels. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks alter the political landscape in myriad ways and shake up economic policy. Defense spending is set to increase and "homeland security" becomes a new and all-encompassing concern.

2002: Between long-term tax cuts and sluggish growth, the budget reverts abruptly from surplus to high deficits. Fears of terrorism and looming conflict with Iraq overshadow political life. Relations with allies grow tense as the U.S. advances a national security doctrine that favors preemption of threats. Republicans win control of both the House and Senate. The economic recession continues.

2003: Ignoring U.N. Security Council opposition, the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq with British help. Polls show strong domestic support for the war despite large protests and growing criticism of Bush's domestic agenda. At war's end, major resources are committed to restoring Iraq politically and economically, while at home the domestic economy struggles. A nuclear standoff with North Korea continues.

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Political

1910-1912: With the populist Progressive movement peaking, former President Theodore Roosevelt opposes the laissez-faire policies of his successor, William Taft. The conflict splits the Republican Party, and Roosevelt runs for president on the "Bull Moose" ticket with Progressive support. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, a strenuous foe of monopolies, wins the presidency, and his party takes both legislative houses.

1913-1916: At home, President Wilson strengthens antitrust rules; overseas, as World War I erupts, he anchors the United States in neutrality. But the sinking of the "Lusitania" in 1915 strains the policy and sparks anti-German sentiment. The Progressive movement wanes after Theodore Roosevelt declines to run for president in 1916. Wilson gains reelection over Republican Supreme Court justice Charles Hughes.

1917-1920: Tensions with Germany reach a breaking point, and in April 1917 the United States enters the war, soon contributing to Allied successes. At war's end the country is torn between involvement in the League of Nations or a return to isolationism. In 1920 Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding calls for a "return to normalcy" and renewed isolation. He roundly defeats Democrat James Cox.

1921-1926: Harding dies in office in 1923; Vice President Calvin Coolidge finishes his term. Buoyed by the nation's prosperity, Coolidge is elected the next year over Democrat John Davis and Progressive leader Robert La Follette, a strong third on a populist, interventionist platform. But the victorious Republicans advocate minimal intervention, tax cuts, and continued nonparticipation in the League of Nations.

1927-1929: After Coolidge surprisingly declines to run again, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover leads the Republicans to victory over New York Governor Al Smith, a Catholic and opponent of Prohibition who fares poorly in the Democratic Southern states. Hoover extols "rugged individualism" and paints his opponents as foes of private enterprise, but the stock exchange crash shatters his standing.

1930-1932: As the economy lurches into depression, President Hoover soften his stance to support loans to businesses and public works funding. These measures fail to forestall panic; Hoover's credibility plummets. New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt wins the Democratic nomination promising a "new deal" and broad new regulation. He soundly defeats Hoover; the Democrats win large majorities in both houses.

1933-1934: President Roosevelt launches a legislative whirlwind that results in massive intervention in labor markets, housing, agriculture, transportation, and banking. This First New Deal stops the nation's panic, stabilizes the economy, and puts armies of the unemployed to work on large and small public projects. The programs are controversial and unprecedented, but opposition is splintered and weak.

1935-1937: The Second New Deal wave of legislation establishes Social Security and sets a lasting framework for social policy. Regulation continues to take shape, and public works programs are expanded. President Roosevelt is overwhelmingly reelected in 1936 over Republican Alfred Landon. But he endures a setback in 1937 when Southern Democrats join Republicans in opposing further reforms.

1938-1940: Republican opposition revives to make gains in midterm elections, but Roosevelt still dominates political life: In 1940 he defeats Wendell Wilkie to earn his third term of office. The political crisis in Europe spurs concerns about defense. As war erupts, the U.S. is neutral at first, but soon sends arms to Britain. Administrative reform in 1939 reorganizes and strengthens the executive branch.

1941-1944: Roosevelt promotes "Four Freedoms" -- freedom of speech and of religion, freedom from want and from fear. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor propels the U.S. into World War II. A range of government agencies spring up to monitor and direct the war effort. The 1944 election occurs as the Allies push Germany into defeat. Roosevelt defeats New York Governor Thomas Dewey to earn a fourth term of office.

1945-1948: Roosevelt dies in 1945; Harry Truman takes office. U.S. atomic bombs force Japan's surrender. Wartime agencies are abolished, defense reorganized. The Central Intelligence Agency is founded. In the '48 elections, Southern Democrats oppose Truman's civil rights initiatives and support South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond's rebel campaign. Even so, Truman beats Republican candidate Thomas Dewey.

1949-1952: The Korean and Cold Wars stoke anticommunism and Republican gains in Congress. The 22nd Amendment limits presidents to two terms. In 1952 Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wins the Republican presidential nomination in a fierce battle, while the Democrats draft Governor Adlai Stevenson, a cautious but eloquent liberal. Eisenhower sweeps the election on a conservative platform. He immediately visits Korea.

1953-1959: First the McCarthy anticommunist witch-hunt, then the start of the civil rights movement mark the first Eisenhower administration. He is handily reelected in 1956, again defeating Stevenson, but the Democrats retake both houses of Congress. Civil rights legislation and unrest in the South take center stage. In 1959 Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states.

1960-1962: Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, of a powerful Massachusetts political family, narrowly defeats Vice President Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. His youth and stirring rhetoric change the tone of national politics, but his legislative initiatives achieve little success. Cold War conflict plays out in newly communist Cuba with a failed U.S. intervention and a showdown over Soviet missiles.

1963-1964: Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, plunges the country into shock. Vice President Lyndon Johnson of Texas takes office and is soon campaigning for election in the 1964 race. Republicans nominate Barry Goldwater, an Arizona senator from the party's right wing. Johnson defeats Goldwater in a landslide; Democrats retain control of Congress.

1965-1966: Once elected, Johnson calls for a "Great Society" in which poverty is eradicated and welfare enhanced. A flurry of legislation sees the creation of Medicare and government intervention to improve schooling, housing, environmental quality, and civil rights. Republican gains in midterm elections slow but do not halt Johnson's momentum. The escalating Vietnam War, though, casts a dark shadow.

1967-1969: Opposition to the Vietnam War reaches a boiling point, and urban race riots and a youth protest movement erupt. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy plunge the 1968 election into turmoil. Facing dissent in his party, President Johnson withdraws from the race. Vice President Hubert Humphrey suffers a narrow defeat to Richard Nixon. Democrats retain both houses of Congress.

1970-1972: President Nixon calls for a "New American Revolution" but his policies hardly break from the past. He uses interventionist tools to wrestle inflation and signs major environmental laws. The Vietnam War carries on, as do violent, sometimes deadly protests. Nixon's centrist policies and the weakness of his Democratic opponent, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, earn him a landslide reelection.

1973-1974: Scandal rocks U.S. politics as the 1972 Watergate break-in to Democratic offices is conclusively tied to the Nixon campaign and to the president personally. A year of investigations and hearings, during which Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns in an unrelated scandal, results in impeachment proceedings against Nixon. He resigns in August 1974; replacement Vice President Gerald Ford takes office.

1975-1976: Ford's centrist administration is weakened by the Nixon legacy of and buffeted by inflation and the energy crisis. In the '76 primaries, he beats back a strong challenge from former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Little-known Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia emerges from the Democratic pack. His humble, outsider appeal refreshes voters weary of war and scandal, and he wins in a close election.

1977-1979: Keynesian measures and appeals for voluntary wage and price restraint prove ineffective in curbing stagflation and the energy crisis. Carter's forthright statement of a "crisis of confidence" fuels a sense of weak leadership. The Iranian revolution results in the siege of the U.S. embassy and a protracted hostage crisis, which will mar Carter's last year in office.

1980-1981: Carter fends off Senator Edward Kennedy's challenge for the 1980 Democratic bid. Republicans select Ronald Reagan, who surges to victory. The Reagan coalition gathers business interests with newly active groups: the Christian right, neo-conservatives, and working-class "Reagan Democrats." Once in office, Reagan signals a total rethinking of government, which he calls the problem, not the solution.

1982-1985: The Reagan revolution takes hold. Tight monetary policy beats back inflation. Massive tax cuts mean deficits will grow, but government spending is also slashed in most areas outside defense. Reagan advocates limited government and transfer of programs back to the states. His charismatic leadership earns him a landslide 1984 reelection over Walter Mondale, as Republicans also take the Senate.

1986-1988: Democrats retake the Senate in midterm elections. Scandals, growing inequalities, and a stock market plunge begin to darken the Reagan record, but the shift from interventionism is profound and will endure. In the 1988 presidential race, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis is nominated from a crowded Democratic field, only to suffer harsh defeat by Vice President George Bush.

1989-1992: The Bush administration sees American vindication overseas, with the fall of the Iron Curtain and quick victory in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. But the economy deteriorates, and the president appears out of touch. Centrist "New Democrat" Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas is the surprise 1992 Democratic leader. A political "natural," he defeats Bush and independent Ross Perot in a famous victory.

1993-1995: Despite a Democrat-controlled Congress, Clinton at first flounders. His ambitious health care reform fails. Republicans regroup around a "Contract with America" that promises reduced government; they triumph in contentious 1994 midterm elections. A tense budget showdown shuts down government offices, but Clinton gains poise and outflanks the Republicans by balancing the budget in a growing economy.

1996-1999: A resurgent Bill Clinton handily defeats Kansas Senator Robert Dole in the 1996 election. Clinton has proclaimed the "era of big government is over." The economic boom bolsters his popularity, but Republican control of Congress limits his powers. A 1998 sex scandal results in impeachment proceedings. He survives, but his legacy is tainted and his party unable to capitalize on his economic record.

2000-2001: The 2000 race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush is extremely close. Gore wins the popular vote, but Bush becomes president after the Supreme Court rules he has won in disputed Florida. Democrats gain control of the Senate when a Republican defects. The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon catapult the country into a "War on Terror."

2002: Bush's War on Terror widens into a campaign against Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. A showdown with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction begins to dominate the political landscape. Critics argue that Bush is using foreign threats to cover an aggressive conservative domestic agenda. After November 2002 midterm elections, Republicans control both houses of Congress.

2003: Claiming weapons of mass destruction as a threat, Bush gains support from a majority of U.S. citizens for war on Iraq. World anti-American sentiment grows, however, and amid postwar turmoil, Iraqi anti-U.S. attitudes persist. Bush limits the U.N.'s role in Iraq's occupation, but restarts Palestinian peace efforts and adds support to fight AIDS in Africa. Economic woes hamper his domestic agenda.

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Economic

1910-1916: The United States enjoys a vibrant capitalist economy and has benefited from several decades of global trade and investment flows. Monopolies and cartels are suspect. The Federal Reserve System is established in 1913. The next year, the Federal Trade Commission Act and Clayton Act strengthen the antitrust policy. The Ford Motor Company begins to reinvent industrial assembly.

1917-1919: World War I brings large-scale but temporary government intervention in the economy, enacted through federal legislation. The War Industries Board coordinates the production and prices of war materials and the purchase of supplies. In 1918 the railroads are brought under government management; they will return to private control by 1920. The war also spurs growth of the aluminum industry.

1920-1926: A business recession follows the war, but soon a construction boom takes hold, increasingly fueled by stock market speculation. Large corporations take shape, and industries that capture technological change expand rapidly. Automobiles and radios become widespread. But the renewed prosperity does not reach the farms: While the cities boom, agriculture slumps into depression.

1927-1929: The boom of the 1920s and apparent achievement of lasting prosperity puts industrialists on a pedestal, and seems to vindicate Coolidge and Hoover's laissez-faire policies. But the stock market bubble peaks and bursts on October 24, 1929, setting off a financial panic and destroying individual savings and the edifice of credit and debt. Similar crises follow overseas.

1930-1932: As businesses fail and unemployment soars, President Hoover establishes the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to channel loans to banks and railroads. Other measures make funds available for public works and seek to forestall foreclosures. Yet the depression worsens all through the election period.

1933-1934: Franklin Roosevelt's First New Deal measures stabilize the economy; they also establish oversight and finance agencies that are now seen as crucial to economic life, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Direct relief measures cause government spending to balloon. Farmers receive a range of subsidies and protections.

1935-1940: Laws on public utilities and labor practices complete the flurry of regulatory innovation. John Maynard Keynes's influence grows and is relayed to Washington by Harvard economists and other influential intellectuals, eventually eroding Roosevelt's doubts about deficit spending. Despite antitrust policies, an official report finds that industrial concentration has greatly increased.

1941-1944: As the U.S. enters the war, "preparedness" programs give way to a war economy, with the War Production Board and other agencies managing the production and distribution of key fuels and materials. The Office of Price Administration controls pricing, and basic commodities are rationed. The government takes temporary control of the railroads. The Lend-Lease program funds arms exports to the Allies.

1945-1948: President Truman's postwar economic program is squarely Keynesian, with deficit spending and plans for full employment. The minimum wage increases. As servicemen return and the Baby Boom begins, the government sponsors health and housing initiatives. Economic stabilization is a main concern, and wages and prices remain monitored by a government board. Rationing ends in 1947.

1949-1953: Wage and price stabilization continues until 1953. Successive expansions of Social Security increase benefits and broaden the range of recipients. Labor conflicts in the steel industry force government intervention and court rulings. In 1953 the U.S. becomes a net importer of oil for the first time.

1954-1960: The U.S. enjoys a steady economic expansion with occasional brief recessions. But it is growing more slowly than either Western Europe or the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower reforms the tax system and alters farm policy, introducing "flexible supports." The 1956 Highway Act launches funding and construction of the interstate highway system, with profound impact on commerce and transportation.

1961-1964: The Kennedy, and later Johnson, administrations favor accelerating economic growth on Keynesian principles, relying on deficit spending to do so. A period of prosperity sets in, with near-full employment and low inflation. In 1964 personal and corporate tax rates are reduced.

1965-1969: Prosperity crests in the late 1960s, and Keynesian economic policy starts to show strain as inflation steadily grows, pushing up wages and prices and decreasing competitiveness. Waves of skilled immigrants from Asia take positions in the technology sector. As Nixon takes office, a period of prosperity is ending, challenging the dominant Keynesian economic philosophy.

1970-1973: President Nixon contends with growing inflation. He experiments with wage and price controls, angering his conservative supporters. The controls are ineffective and are removed after Nixon's reelection. The closure of the gold window and double devaluation of the dollar seek to restore American competitiveness. But the 1973 oil shock only reawakens inflation and redoubles the crisis.

1974-1976: Inflation and the energy crisis drive up industrial costs, and unemployment begins to grow in tandem, resulting in "stagflation." The Democratic Congress employs Keynesian measures -- public spending on infrastructure and local projects to stimulate the economy -- but to little effect. The crisis weakens corporations, but also communities. Emergency federal loans avert a New York City bankruptcy.

1977-1980: Stagflation worsens; consumer and investor confidence plummet. Tax cuts are ineffective to awaken the economy, as are Carter's programs, which rely on voluntary wage and price restraint. Inflation surges; the Federal Reserve drives interest rates above 20 percent to remove money from circulation. Deregulation begins amid crisis as price and entry restrictions are removed for airlines and trucking.

1981-1984: Tight monetary policy provokes a recession but brings down inflation and calms the economy. Reagan reduces personal taxes by 25 percent and slashes capital gains and other taxes. Defense spending rises sharply; many social programs are cut or returned to state administration. Despite a round of tax increases in 1982, the Reagan measures result in a massive increase of the deficit and public debt.

1985-1989: Growth has resumed, but the productive impact of tax cuts falls short of the claims of Reagan's supply-side economists. Instead, the debt and deficit nearly triple from 1981 to 1988. The stock market tumbles in 1987, but no panic ensues. That year, the $1.75 billion Conrail stock sale is America's largest privatization. Leveraged buyouts and mergers alter the corporate landscape.

1990-1994: A recession darkens the economic mood, accenting growing inequalities. The deficit hits a record 5 percent of GDP in 1992. Voters punish President Bush for breaking his "no new taxes" promise. Fiscal conservatives advocate sharp spending cuts. Clinton embraces this program despite a divide among Democrats. Using budget cuts and limited tax increases, he makes deficit reduction his central priority.

1995-1998: The Clinton deficit-reduction program is a success. Spending cuts and higher tax receipts from a booming economy combine to wipe out the deficit by 1998, outstripping the most optimistic projections. A debate begins on how to employ the new surplus. Clinton supports husbanding the surplus to shore up Social Security. Republicans argue for a new round of tax cuts.

1999-2000: The "New Economy" peaks in 1999. Fueled by technological development, the rise of the Internet, and unremitting optimism about productivity improvements and a coming "long boom," it has resulted in thousands of start-up firms and created instant millionaires through stock sales. But the boom runs out in 2000, as the NASDAQ exchange tumbles and dot-com firms fold by the dozens.

2001: Once in office, President Bush swiftly passes tax cuts, including immediate rebate checks to all American workers. But a recession has begun, and within months the cuts have wiped out the projected budget surplus. In the wake of the World Trade Center attack consumer confidence dips. The airline industry is badly affected, leading to bankruptcies. A global economic slowdown takes hold.

2002-2003: As the economy worsens, the Treasury secretary and chief economic advisor are forced out. War with Iraq further slows the economy amid fluctuating oil prices and high unemployment. State and local governments, in deep fiscal crisis, see little or no federal assistance as the deficit soars. Bush pushes added tax cuts, however, proposing to cut most areas of government spending aside from defense.

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Social

1910-1912: Industrial growth has created vast opportunities for new labor, and immigration to the United States is at its zenith. In several years the number of new immigrants exceeds one million, the bulk of them from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Progressive movement, also at its peak, has spurred state-level rules on labor, including occupational safety and protection of children.

1913-1920: Labor standards advance at the federal level: The Department of Labor is established and child labor is controlled, a prelude to a ban. War strengthens the anti-alcohol movement, as beer is associated with Germany. The 18th Amendment to the constitution, enforcing Prohibition, is ratified in 1919. The following year, the 19th Amendment is passed, giving women the right to vote.

1921-1929: Prosperity occurs amid isolationism. The postwar recession drives unemployment up. In response, immigration quotas imposed in 1921 are tightened in 1924 and 1927 and privilege Northern Europeans. The racist Ku Klux Klan gains political influence; lynchings plague the South. Rural blacks begin to migrate north, where the Harlem Renaissance and rise of jazz illustrate diversity in city culture.

1930-1934: As the Depression deepens, somber food lines snake through American cities, and unemployment soars to record highs. With the stock market bubble evaporated and rural America in ever deeper crisis, the national spirit is broken. President Roosevelt goads Americans that there is "nothing to fear but fear itself" and begins regular radio broadcast "fireside chats."

1935: With the economy stabilized, the programs of the Second New Deal focus on workers and farmers. All told, the New Deal puts thousands of unemployed to work in infrastructure and conservation projects. Social security is established, and programs begin to clear slums and finance and build public housing.

1936-1939: The New Deal entrenches workers' rights, including the right to organize and collectively bargain. The 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act sets a minimum wage, maximum working hours, and forbids child labor. Although "Big Steel" accepts the unions, "Little Steel" fights them until Memorial Day 1937, when a protest at Republic Steel in Chicago sees activists killed and their cause highlighted.

1940-1945: War brings the compulsory draft along with women's auxiliaries and other mobilization measures. More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans are interned in remote camps between 1942 and 1945; Italian- and German-Americans, however, are spared this fate. The federal government quells coal strikes and urban racial riots. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ushers in the atomic age.

1946-1952: War's end and growth spark a demographic explosion: the Baby Boom. Planned developments around the Northeast such as Levittown remedy the housing shortage and launch America's suburbanization. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act curbs some labor rights and bans the closed shop. Truman pushes for civil rights laws and enforcement tools, banning discrimination in federal hiring and contracts and the military.

1953-1959: Housing policies increase home-ownership incentives and expand public housing projects. The civil rights movement gains momentum with the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1956 and the struggle to desegregate Southern schools. Martin Luther King Jr. and organizations like the NAACP and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) gain prominence. White opposition in the South is fierce.

1960-1963: President Kennedy stirs citizen pride ("Ask what you can do for your country") and ambitions, such as placing a man on the moon in 10 years. The government is sympathetic to the growing civil rights movement, as race conflict worsens in the South. At the 1963 March on Washington, King extols the dream of a prejudice-free society. Kennedy's murder sends the nation into shock.

1964-1966: President Johnson focuses on domestic affairs, calling for a War on Poverty and later, a Great Society. He passes a series of social policy reforms including health care programs and a range of anti-poverty measures. The 1964 Civil Rights Act is a landmark in achieving racial equality, but resistance in the South sparks continued violence, while unrest spreads to the Northern inner cities.

1967-1968: Antiwar, hippie, and racial movements all crest: 1967 sees the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco and race riots in Detroit and Newark, while 1968 brings with it the rise of the Black Panther Party, the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, and the chaos of the Democratic convention in Chicago. The social ferment will have a profound legacy; a "neo-conservative" movement develops against it.

1969-1972: Against a backdrop of continued antiwar and urban protests, NASA fulfills Kennedy's commitment with a successful human landing on the moon. Nixon passes the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and other social legislation. The Weather Underground and other fringe groups wage urban terrorism. Vietnam veterans return from the war in waves; many are deeply shocked and have trouble readapting.

1973-1976: With the Vietnam War winding down, the draft expires and the military becomes all-volunteer. After the 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision, battle lines are drawn over abortion as the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" movements form. In the climate of U.S.-USSR detente, American and Soviet astronauts conduct a joint mission: The stakes of the "space race" shift from political to scientific.

1977-1980: The effects of Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation, and the energy crisis all contribute to a "malaise" and a loss of confidence in government. Local movements spread to cut property taxes, sometimes jeopardizing school funding. Anti-nuclear activists call for a weapons freeze and oppose nuclear plants. The Iran hostage crisis completes the sense of a nation beleaguered.

1981-1984: Ronald Reagan's charisma and the tax cut and rollback of many government programs capture the public mood. In his reelection campaign Reagan speaks of "Morning in America." The religious right resurges. In many states abortion and death penalty battles grow fierce. Reagan's firm showdown with striking air traffic controllers signals a retreat in union strength.

1985-1989: Much of America enjoys the Reagan revolution, but poor and urban communities feel stress. Crack cocaine sweeps the cities; the "war on drugs" swells prison populations but does little to halt drugs' spread. Homelessness surges and spreads into the middle class. First observed in 1981, the AIDS epidemic takes hold in the general population.

1990-1994: Deadly race riots erupt in Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers in a brutality case involving African-American Rodney King; 50 people are killed. President Clinton's first year is marked by debate over health care reform, which ultimately fails, and by an uncomfortable compromise on the issue of gays in the military, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

1995-1999: Despite opposition among Democrats, Clinton pushes through major reform of the welfare system. Welfare recipients must accept transitional "workfare" positions that critics decry as unstable and exploitative. A wave of similar reforms is in progress at the state level. At the other end of the spectrum, the "new economy" boom mints instant millionaires in an orgy of technology-firm public offerings.

2000-2001: George W. Bush becomes president amid controversy, but his presidency is soon generally recognized as legitimate. The September 11, 2001, crisis strengthens national unity in the face of terrorist threats. A wave of patriotic fervor sweeps the country, with flags displayed at every turn. A sense of unease is palpable as Americans cope with airport delays and increased public security measures.

2002-2003: Unemployment rises while global tensions and war with Iraq breed fear of terror threats amid government exhortations to remain vigilant. Large segments of the public challenge the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, and antiwar demonstrations are held across the country. Economic woes force many states to slash social programs.

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Environmental

1910-1932: Public lands and their use or conservation have long been a concern in American life. Although national parks have existed since 1872, the National Park Service is established in 1916 to link and administer them. The 1928 Flood Control Act launches a vast program of levee construction in the Mississippi River Valley.

1933-1940: The New Deal brings conservation measures in part to employ idle workers: The Civilian Conservation Corps at its peak employs half a million people. The Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933, is an ambitious government plan to build large and small hydroelectric dams as well as manage flooding, erosion, and water resource use.

1941-1947: The use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki reveals the force of the atom bomb and its deadly environmental, as well as human, impact; the sense of a new, ominous era is profound. Concern with optimal management of federal land continues. The Bureau of Land Management is created in 1946; the 1947 Materials Act allows sale of natural resources without selling the land itself.

1948-1956: With the rise of homeownership and the development of suburbia, water quality becomes a prominent issue. The first Water Pollution Act is passed in 1948; several more will follow. The U.S. becomes a net importer of oil in 1953. The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allows private power companies to develop nuclear plants.

1957-1964: The Niagara Power Act allows the New York State Power Authority to build a dam at Niagara Falls. Air quality joins water quality on the list of major public concerns. The first Clean Air Act is passed in 1963. The Kennedy administration seeks to improve management of public lands through a policy of "retention and multiple use."

1965-1971: Environmental awareness grows in the public mind and as a topic of national policy. The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act enshrines this policy commitment and generalizes such practices as environmental impact assessments. Earth Day is celebrated for the first time in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency is set up that year, and a major Clean Air Act is passed.

1972-1978: The Environmental Pesticide Control Act is passed in 1972. When the oil shock hits in 1973, energy becomes a chief concern. Construction of the Alaska Pipeline is approved in 1973. Nixon's and Carter's energy programs call for conservation but emphasize domestic hydrocarbon development and use of coal. A 1978 act bans the killing of ocean mammals.

1979-1985: The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant leak in Pennsylvania sparks concern and distrust in nuclear technology; new nuclear plant development will soon cease. In 1980 the government creates the toxic waste Superfund, which pays for emergency cleanup while the government sues the polluters. Reagan's first interior secretary, James Watt, angers environmentalists with his plans for public land use.

1986-1992: Congress passes the Clean Water Act in 1987 over Reagan's veto. The market-based system of "emissions trading" is pioneered. It creates a market in tradable rights to emit a capped quantity of pollutants. In 1989 a massive oil spill from the Exxon "Valdez" tanker kills wildlife and spoils pristine territory in Alaska. It results in a billion-dollar settlement agreement.

1993-1999: The Clinton administration takes an active stand on environmental issues such as emissions reduction and public land management. Emissions trading is expanded from acid rain to sulfur dioxide; "ozone depleters" are targeted for phase-out. A series of rules improves public environmental information. But the strong economy results in high sales of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

2000-2003: The Bush administration slows environmental rulemaking. It opts out of the Kyoto climate-change treaty and demands that developing countries assume a greater share of greenhouse-gas reduction. It favors tax incentives for emissions reduction and signals policy changes on public land management. The Senate narrowly rejects a push for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

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Rule of Law

1910-1914: The distinctive American tradition of an active independent judiciary is well established, along with a more recent concern with industrial monopolies. In 1912 New Mexico and Arizona become the 47th and 48th states, and Alaska a territory. The next year, the 17th Amendment to the constitution comes into force, providing for the direct election of U.S. senators.

1915-1919: In the run-up to war, concerns veer toward defense and military "preparedness." The 1916 National Defense Act expands the army and creates the territorial National Guard. After the United States enters the war, an Espionage Act comes into force. In 1918 a broader Sedition Act is passed that will be used against socialists and antiwar activists. Fear of communism grows.

1920-1927: Constitutional amendments ban alcohol manufacture and sale and give women the right to vote. A "red scare" mounts; anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti are executed in Massachusetts despite protests that their trial was unfair. In 1924 Native Americans become full citizens. The same year, Harding administration scandals come to light; one involves fraud in management of oil reserves at Teapot Dome.

1928-1934: Organized crime has taken over the liquor business, a source of street lore but also one of wealth for violent syndicates. In 1931 gangster Al Capone of Chicago is finally jailed for tax evasion. Gang wealth shows both the impracticality of Prohibition and its economic cost, and contributes to its repeal. In 1933 newly inaugurated President Roosevelt escapes an assassination attempt in Miami.

1935-1939: Frustrated with frequent challenges to his laws, Roosevelt launches an attempt to reform the judiciary and, in particular, expand the membership of the Supreme Court. The plan is roundly criticized and rapidly fails. In his long tenure in office, however, Roosevelt appoints Felix Frankfurter and numerous other justices who will mark the court for decades.

1940-1945: Onset of war brings the Alien Registration Act and rules to root out "subversives." The mass internment of Japanese in remote camps contrasts with the freedom afforded German- and Italian-Americans. The CIA's predecessor the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) is formed in 1942. The House Un-American Activities Committee begins to accuse suspected subversives and communists.

1946-1952: Anticommunism spreads. Leaders of the Communist Party are put on trial. Senator Joseph McCarthy gains prominence with accusations of subversion among government employees. The Internal Security Act of 1950 is passed over President Truman's veto. That year, Puerto Rican nationalists attempt to assassinate Truman. One is killed; Truman later commutes the other's death sentence to life imprisonment.

1953-1956: The anticommunist witch-hunt culminates in the McCarthy congressional hearings in 1953-54, which end with the senator disavowed and reprimanded. But the accusations have ruined careers, with many in public service, universities, and the media blacklisted. Convicted traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed. The 1956 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott turns the spotlight on civil rights.

1957-1960: Resistance to school desegregation turns violent as Southern states are forced to implement the 1954 "Brown v. The Board of Education" Supreme Court decision. Eisenhower must send federal troops to Little Rock to uphold the law when the governor refuses admittance to nine black students. Civil Rights Acts are passed in 1957 and 1960, but many Southern whites and local political remain hostile.

1961-1964: Kennedy's assassination is blamed on Lee Harvey Oswald, who is in turn murdered while in custody. Doubts linger on whether Oswald acted alone. Northern "freedom riders," many white, flow south to support the civil rights movement, encountering violence and in some cases death. Martin Luther King supports nonviolence, but Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" doctrine gains acceptance.

1965-1968: President Johnson's Great Society program includes the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which scraps remaining voting obstacles for black voters, such as literacy tests. But violent resistance endures to civil rights. In early 1968 King and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy are assassinated. Violent dissent grows in the inner cities as an outgrowth of the "counterculture."

1969-1971: Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas resigns in an ethics scandal, and two successive Nixon nominees are defeated in confirmation hearings. Justice Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun join the court. In 1971 the classified "Pentagon Papers" are published despite legal injunctions. They reveal the secret roots of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

1972-1975: The Watergate break-in is quickly linked to the Nixon reelection campaign. Evidence soon emerges of a cover-up, setting in motion Washington's most severe scandal in memory. Nixon aides are indicted, and the president must resign. Meanwhile in 1973 Vice President Spiro Agnew has resigned in a separate scandal.

1976-1980: Watergate has discredited politicians and set new terms and precedents for accountability. CIA involvement in various covert or illegal acts around the world is revealed. President Carter pardons most Vietnam draft evaders. He and his brother are cleared of wrongdoing in a loans controversy.

1981-1985: An assassination attempt seriously wounds President Reagan; the gunman, John Hinckley, is later found insane and confined to a psychiatric hospital. The Equal Rights Amendment fails to secure ratification. Anti-American terrorism crests, particularly in the Middle East. More than 200 Marines are killed by a car bomb at their compound in Beirut, Lebanon.

1986-1989: William Rehnquist becomes Supreme Court Chief Justice; Antonin Scalia joins the bench. Another appointee, Robert Bork, is rejected in the Senate over his constitutional outlook. Attorney General Ed Meese resigns over ethics charges. The Iran-Contra affair, in which the U.S. covertly sold Iran arms to illegally fund Nicaraguan rebels, is investigated and leads to charges and resignations.

1990-1993: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark in equal treatment and access for the disabled in every area of life. Clarence Thomas joins the Supreme Court after bitter hearings over sexual harassment allegations. A Supreme Court case reaffirms the "Roe v. Wade" abortion rights decision. A bombing at New York's World Trade Center kills six; it is linked to dissident Islamists.

1994-1999: A series of controversies dog the Clinton administration, and the Republican Congress appoints special prosecutors to investigate. The gravest scandal involves the president's liaison with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton's denials prove false, and the matter escalates to impeachment proceedings. He survives, but his stature and legacy are tarnished.

2000: The election of George W. Bush hinges on results in the state of Florida, which are contested in state and federal courts. Partial recounts are ordered, but opinions differ on the standards to employ. The election is settled only after a month of controversy, when the U.S. Supreme Court finds in Bush's favor. In the process, a range of serious flaws to election procedures are uncovered.

2001: The September 11, 2001, attack by hijacked aircraft piloted by Islamist dissidents on New York and Washington kills almost 3,000 and summons the U.S. to improve public security. The ensuing antiterrorist campaign and Afghanistan war raise questions of imprisonment and trial procedures for suspected terrorists. Congress approves new measures to ensure "homeland security."

2002-2003: Concern with terrorism is pervasive. Anthrax-laced mail arrives at government offices. Surveillance and controls intensify at strategic locations and in daily life. A new Cabinet department of Homeland Security is set up, regrouping many existing agencies. Critics warn of threats to fundamental civil liberties as legislation like the Patriot Act expands the government's investigative powers.

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Trade Policy

1910-1916: The United States has profited from the flow of investment capital around the turn of the century. Vast British investments have helped fund the railroads. The approach to trade is liberal; reciprocity with Canada is agreed upon in 1910, but suspended in 1911 due to Canadian politics. Interstate commerce within the U.S. requires rules as well: The Federal Trade Commission is set up in 1914.

1917-1921: Wartime brings a law against "trading with the enemy." At war's end, allies and new nations owe the U.S. $10 billion. Despite European devastation, President Coolidge is reluctant to forgive debts, asking, "They hired the money, didn't they?" Trade tariffs are moderate, but exports slip in 1920 when the wartime boom ends.

1922-1933: Domestic recession and a return to isolationist foreign policy help spur a rise in protectionist tariffs that will last more than a decade. U.S. exports fluctuate, and Canada grows to become the lead trading partner. But American investment overseas mushrooms as U.S. corporations grow and New York becomes a world financial capital.

1934-1939: President Roosevelt begins to take down the edifice of protectionism. The 1934 Trade Agreements Act allows the president to make bilateral agreements with "most favored" countries to reduce tariffs by 50 percent. The U.S. Export-Import Bank is established, as a vehicle to boost American agricultural and manufacturing exports. It offers loans to fund purchases from U.S. firms.

1940-1945: The U.S.-Japan trade treaty expires as war tensions mount. The Lend-Lease program finances arms shipments to the European Allies. During the war, U.S. exports rise significantly. At war's end, the U.S. leads the development of a new global economic regime. One factor underlying the creation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is the aim of promoting world trade.

1946-1955: The modern trade system is born in 1947 with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which the U.S. joins and supports from the outset. Successive laws give the president greater autonomy to lower, and in some cases raise, tariffs. By 1951, the average U.S. trade tariff is a relatively low 15 percent.

1956-1963: U.S. trade rises sharply in both directions, while still showing a surplus every year. The increasing bulk of both imports and exports is manufactured goods. The 1962 Trade Expansion Act gives the president greater authority to cut tariffs than ever before. It also provides for compensation and reconversion measures for industries adversely affected by trade liberalization.

1964-1972: The U.S. is a leader in the "Kennedy Round" of GATT trade negotiations, in which 50 major trading countries agree to substantial tariff reductions. As the period of prosperity ends, the free-trade orientation is challenged. From August to December 1971, a 10 percent surcharge is levied on imports. A massive USSR purchase of subsidized wheat has the effect of pushing up domestic prices.

1973-1980: After the 1973 dollar devaluation, the trade balance becomes positive again. A new round of GATT negotiations begins against a backdrop of global slowdown. The 1978 Trade Act continues the pattern of increasing the president's power to negotiate trade agreements. A multilateral pact in 1979 reduces the U.S. average industrial tariff to 5.7 percent.

1981-1988: In the early 1980s, the rise in the dollar's value makes U.S. exports less competitive, and the trade balance sinks. Nevertheless, the U.S. remains an activist for reduced trade barriers. A 1988 trade bill entrenches this policy; the same year, a free-trade pact is signed with Canada.

1989-1993: The Bush administration promotes a North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. It is hotly debated, with strenuous objections from trade unions, environmentalists, and other activists. Once elected, Bill Clinton adds supplemental agreements on labor and the environment. He then bucks his party's opposition and, with Republican support, gets the agreement ratified.

1994-1999: With NAFTA in place, the U.S. seeks to advance trade talks worldwide. Seattle hosts the 1999 summit of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which replaces GATT. The meeting proves a flashpoint for a mobilized and increasingly influential anti-globalization movement. Against scenes of street violence, WTO delegates from rich and poor countries deadlock, and the meeting fails.

2000-2003: As the anti-globalization movement grows, trade talks become more complex. A 2000 summit calls for free trade throughout the Americas. The U.S. helps forge a compromise at the 2001 WTO global trade talks in Qatar. U.S. steel tariffs are an ongoing cause of contention with the EU, as are both sides' agricultural subsidies. The U.S. negotiates trade deals with Latin American and African countries.

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Money

1910-1921: A linchpin of the world economy is put in place with the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. Highly autonomous from the start, it is the sole issuer of currency and the benchmark bank lender. The same year, the 16th Amendment permitting federal income tax comes into force; the tax is first levied in 1918 under the wartime Revenue Act.

1922-1932: During the freewheeling capitalist boom of the 1920s, companies are born, and shares are issued and traded with relatively few restrictions. When the boom turns to speculative bubble and crashes in 1929, there are no safeguards to protect individual investments. The broad impact destroys the global market for capital, triggering a worldwide depression. Confidence in capitalism is shattered.

1933: Upon inauguration, Roosevelt stabilizes the economy by means of a four-day bank holiday and an embargo on gold and silver sales. The Glass-Steagall Act sets up the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect bank depositors, along with rules governing and separating banking functions. The U.S. abandons the gold standard, allowing the dollar to lose value and freeing gold reserves.

1934-1941: The Securities and Exchange Commission is set up to govern all trade in securities and to enforce new disclosure rules for publicly traded companies. A leading figure in its establishment is the lawyer James Landis, a "prophet of regulation." One SEC requirement, external auditing of traded firms, launches the modern accounting profession.

1942-1955: The 1944 Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire establishes the foundation of the postwar global economy, with the birth of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is designed to stabilize national currencies and assist in balance-of-payments emergencies. Gold flows into the U.S. as Europeans purchase dollar goods, until the British pound is devalued in 1949.

1956-1969: The U.S. dollar has become the global reference currency. At home, inflation remains low. The U.S. balance of payments becomes chronically negative, putting stress on the convertibility of dollars to gold as foreign governments accumulate dollars. In the late 1960s, inflation begins to creep up. It reaches 5 percent and puts pressure on wages to rise in tandem.

1970-1978: Nixon suspends the convertibility of the dollar into gold ("closing the gold window"). Long the world's reference currency, the dollar now loses value in currency markets, and the major countries agree to two dollar devaluations, in 1971 and 1973. The shakeup of the monetary system unshackles the dollar from gold. Their value will seesaw, as gold becomes the refuge when the dollar is seen as weak.

1979-1986: With inflation out of control, the Federal Reserve tightens credit to extreme levels, taking money out of circulation with interest rates above 20 percent. A recession results, but stability returns; the rate spike is, however, a factor in the developing-country debt crisis. The value of the dollar in currency markets travels from record lows to record highs, worsening the trade deficit.

1987-1992: A savings-and-loan industry crisis reveals the complexity of financial-sector regulation. Freed of some restrictions on interest rates and employment of deposits, a string of S&Ls head for bankruptcy, sparking panic in middle America and leaving taxpayers to cover a $300 billion bailout. A 25 percent drop in the Dow Jones index in October 1987 is absorbed without setting off a downward spiral.

1993-2001: America's successful deficit-reduction program and low inflation in the 1990s boom bring down long-term interest rates. Cheap credit encourages consumer spending, and Americans spend liberally. Savings are increasingly channeled into the stock market, and overseas through mutual funds. The emerging-market crisis of 1997-98 and subsequent U.S. stock market volatility temper these trends.

2002-2003: The collapse of Enron, WorldCom, and other corporations ignites fears over the security of employee pension funds and the integrity of corporate accounting. Bush administration plans for long-term tax cuts lead deficit and debt estimates to balloon, spawning political debate. The European common currency, the euro, rises in value and is a potential rival to the dollar as a world reference currency.

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Categories: Overview | Political | Economic | Social | Environmental | Rule of Law | Trade Policy | Money
Graphs: Growth | Income | Inflation | Unemployment | Well-being | Trade Volume | Trade (CAB) | Debt

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