Robert Putnam '63
Bob Putnam '63
Val Smith: Good evening, friends, and welcome to tonight's program, Swarthmore in the Sixties: Comparing Memories. It is my great honor to introduce Robert Putnam, Swarthmore class of 1963, and Kevin Chu, Swarthmore class of 1972. Robert Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, having retired from active teaching in May 2018. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006, he received the Skytte Prize, the world's highest accolade for a political scientist. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Bob the National Humanities Medal, the nation's highest honor for contributions to the humanities for "deepening our understanding of community in America." And in 2018, the International Political Science Association awarded him the Karl Deutsch Award for cross disciplinary research. Bob has been awarded 16 honorary degrees, including one from the University of Oxford. He has just completed a study of broad 20th century American economic, social, political, and cultural trends entitled "The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again."
Joining Bob on stage tonight is Kevin Chu who will facilitate the discussion. Kevin received a BA in biology and music from Swarthmore in 1972, followed by an MS in zoology in 1980 from the University of Connecticut, and he received his PhD in biology from Boston University in 1988. Kevin is an expert in aquaculture, fisheries management, ocean planning, fish habitats, and marine mammals. Among many other career distinctions, he served as dean of the Sea Education Association, a nonprofit which operates study-abroad experiences focused on the ocean. He also was a staff member in foreign affairs for the house of representatives dealing with whaling issues. Kevin is currently serving on his reunion committee and as I understand it, he is leading tai chi in the mornings during this reunion weekend. So thank you for that, Kevin. Kevin and Bob, we are delighted to have you with us here tonight during this very special weekend. We're all looking forward to this session and the discussion that will follow. So please, everyone join me in welcoming Bob and Kevin to the stage.
Robert Putnam: Well, thank you, President Smith, for those warm remarks. It's a terrific treat for me to be back here in this very special place. Reunions are a strange mixture of observing things that never change and then observing the things that do change. You see one of your classmates and it's the same classmate you remember from 50 or 60 years ago, that same strange laugh or whatever. Yeah, that's it. But there's also change. You got to be careful how you say this, but Susan really looks great. And so there's this mixture. Same thing about an institution because institution like this, it's the same, but it changes. This auditorium is just a beautiful place and it didn't exist when we were here, but the crumb is always the crumb. It's the same mixture of stasis and change.
And people down us, the people who were last or first came to this institution, God, 50 or 60 years ago, most of us don't know what Swattie means, but you can tell as we move back up there, there's some people who do know what Swattie means. So I don't know how I feel about that bit of change actually. And a country is like that too. A country is a strange mixture of things that change and don't change. And what I'd like to do tonight... What Kevin and I both would like to do is to offer you a little bit of a picture of how America has changed over the last 125 years. And taking a macro view, it turns out that the '60s in that story plays an extremely important role as you'll see. So we're beginning. I'm going to try to lay out what was happening nationally. Now, looking back with the perspective of basically 125 years, we can see what made the '60s so remarkable for good, but also for bad.
And then Kevin is going to help lead a discussion among us and then eventually among everybody here about how the '60s looked to those of us who are living through them, and what we think now with the benefit of this wider, larger, longer look, how we feel about the changes that began to occur in a way unbeknownst to us at the time while we were here at Swarthmore. So if we could have the next slide. I'm going to begin. This part is just summarizing some data. Forgive me. I'm going to be really quick because data on my eyes glaze over when I see. Well, mine don't because I like data, but many people's eyes glaze over. And if you like numbers, this is your time. And I'm going to show you data from recent book called "The Upswing," which happens the data... The book is about actually a different topic, but the data make clear how special the '60s was.
So here's where we start. America today, and this is real and you will not be surprised. America today is in what my mom used to call a pickle. We are in the most polarized period in American history, I can show you some data about that, with the possible exception of the period between 1860 and 1865. So we're talking serious, serious polarization. And independently of that, but maybe it isn't independent, we are also in a period, probably the worst in American history, in which the gap between rich and poor, economic inequality, is worse than it's ever been. I'll show you some numbers in a second. And independently of that, it's a little harder to measure, but in terms of our connectedness with one another, our connections within our families, or in our communities, or within our neighbors, or with other people, those connections are weaker and more fragile now than they have been in at least 125 years.
And finally, this is a little harder to prove and I won't have time to show you all the data tonight, we're in a period in which our culture is more self-centered, more egocentric than it's been in a long, long time. And some of this you could tell the story I'm going to tell as if it were about ex-President Trump, but it isn't at all. Trump is a minor character in this because all of these trends that I'm going to be talking about began, increasing polarization, increasing inequality, increasing social fragmentation, and increasing self-centeredness, all of those began 30 or 40 years before Trump was on the political scene. So that's the big picture. And the question is, how did we get here? And I'm going to show you a couple of quick charts and because of the time, I'm not going to spend time defending exactly how we got these measures.
Although if you want to ask question about how do we get these particular numbers, I'd love to talk about that because that's what I do for a living, is to try to sort through numbers to see what pictures you can find in them. So let's have the next slide. And this slide shows the... All the slides have the same format. The vertical, sorry. The horizontal axis is time. So over here is the end of the 19th century, and then you walk along the graph and this shows America in the 1950s and America in the 1960s. And over here is America in the 2020s in most of the data sets and in 2020, because that's when we published the book, but the trends have actually continued uninterruptedly till now, till 2022. So the vertical axis is in this case, political comedy. That's just a highfalutin term for the opposite of polarization. And you think of it as the degree to which people cooperate across party lines. Can we work out a solution here on whatever it is, gun control or taxes or whatever?
And the vertical axis means that over here at the end of the 19th century, the Gilded Age, American politics then were tribal. People didn't cooperate politically, Congress people didn't cooperate politically, ordinary citizens belonged to one tribe or another. We were very polarized. But you can see in the beginning of the 20th century, that began to change and decade by decade, we became less and less polarized as a country and we reached the peak. Up there, you can see the single... There's one dot that's way above the others and that's the period of Eisenhower. Eisenhower was the least partisan president in American history. It's lovely to be able to talk to an audience in which most people will know who I'm talking about. And except for George Washington, Eisenhower was an extremely nonpartisan president, and that corresponds to the fact that was a period in American history when we were cooperating across party lines.
And he didn't cause that. He was simply a symbol of how our politics were. But then as you can see, beginning in the '60s, remember that, beginning in the '60s, we began to become a little less cooperative politically. We didn't change much. You can see the graph doesn't change very much, but the line begins to change and it changes more or less permanently and down in the '70s, down in the '80s, down in the '90s, down in the 2000s, down, down, down until now, over here at... I'm talking about right now and nobody in the room is surprised at this, we're unbelievably polarized. As I said earlier, in our history, the only time in which the numbers say we were as polarized as we are now was in 1861. So that's what polarization looks like. I'd love to tell you how we measured that, but just trust me for a moment. We had six or seven different serious measures. They all show the same graph.
Now let's have the next slide. And here we're returning to economic equality. This is various measures of the gap between rich and poor, income or wealth or social mobility. And again, the hard data started in 1914 because that's when the IRS was created. We begin to have really good IRS data, but you can see America in that period was very unequal. It was Gilded Age, huge gap between the folks on the upper east side of New York and the folks on the lower east side of New York. 10 miles apart, but living in completely different worlds economically. And you see that that began to change. There began to be... We were still pretty unequal in 1920 and during the '20s, we became even more unequal because there was a stock market boom and the rich folks did well and the poor folks didn't.
But basically, the trend begins to go up and what that means is we began to be... The gap between rich and poor in America... This is before the New Deal. The gap between rich and poor began to narrow and we began to become more equal before taxes or after taxes. Didn't matter how you measured it. We began to become more equal. You see, during the '30s and '40s and into the '60s, we were becoming more and more equal. You may think, "Well, how equal was that?" In that the peak, which was about 1960, America was economically more equal than Sweden. So we were like the equality capital of the world. It's hard to believe now that we were ever that equal as a country, but we felt comfortable that everybody ought to have a decent chance in life. But then you see that that began to fall a little bit in the '60s and the '70s and the '80s down, down, down, down. In 1910, it looked... I'm sorry.
In 2010, it looked like maybe we'd ended it because there were some tax rises from Obama. But then actually after that, it plunged even further, both because of Trump's economic policies and because of COVID, which of course further widened the gap. And so now, we're way back. It's just hard to imagine that this country 60 years ago was as equal to Sweden. Now we look like the Belgian Congo or something. It's just amazing that graph. Now let me go quickly to the third graph, which is a graph about... Next slide, please. This is a graph about social cohesion. It's what in my academic jargon I would call social capital. That is the connections between us. The degrees to which... The degree to which we're connected with our families and with our neighbors and with our community institutions, with our PTAs and yes, in bowling teams, which is where the... Have you heard the... There's this great book called "Bowling Alone" and it captures the fact that the degree to which we are connected with one another, you could see here year by year...
I really wish we had time to talk about the measures here because it's really neat, but you could see at the end of the 1890s because of the Industrial Revolution which had just happened, people were not connected. The older ways of connecting in rural towns, which is where we lived in the late 19th century, the older ways of connecting, quilting bees and barn raisings and so on, didn't cut it on the lower east side of New York. And we as a country, we lack connections with one another, but that began to change pretty quickly as you see around 1900. And again, same basic story. Year by year through the first half of the 20th century, every year more people joined, I don't know, parent/teacher organizations or more people got married actually and more people had kids and the things you would think are constants weren't constants. We were joining up a storm and especially in the two decades after World War II, and now we're talking about years that many people in the room here will remember that we were in school.
And that was a period in which America PTA membership in the '50s and into the '60s, every year more and more parents belonged to the PTAs and more and more bowlers went bowling in teams and so on. The rotary club and all these organizations that now seem a little old-fashioned, but at the time in the '50s and '60s, we were connected, connected, connected and we trusted one another. We had really interesting data, long-run trust. At that peak when you asked people in America, "Do you trust other people?" Just anybody else, "Do you trust other people?" Roughly 75% of Americans said, "Yes, I trust other people." You want to guess what that number is today? 15%. Huge change. I mean, these are not trivial, little changes, big changes. And so by now, again, after... What is that? 60 years basically, America is back as fragmented and nobody know... I mean, not exaggerating. Actually, if you look at the data, we just don't trust other people. We don't connect with other people. We don't know our neighbors and thinking that you know somebody really well on Zoom or Facebook or whatever, that doesn't really count.
I'm happy to spend more time talking about that, but this is a different subject. But believe me, the hard data shows we are really alone. And if you hear talk about the loneliness epidemic in America, that's not just a headline story. That's true and it comes right out of this chart. Now let's go to the last slide quickly. And here, the last slide is cultural solidarity. The degree to which this... I would love to tell you more about the data, because I'm really proud of the data that we've pulled together here. So if somebody wants to ask me, "How in the world did you measure cultural solidarity?" I'm your guy, but for now, I want to say this is a measure of the degree to which Americans have felt we're all in this together or we're not. And what you see is at the beginning of the 20th century, over here in 1890, most Americans were... It was a period of great self-centeredness in our literature, in our books and culture and so on. It was a period of great focus on the individual, but not on the community.
And then that shows the same basic chart and I won't go through all the details because it's blindingly obvious that this is the same pattern. Statisticians use a test. It's called interocular trauma test to see whether something's pretty big. Interocular trauma test. If it hits you between the eyes that there's something going on here. And if we have the next slide, when we put them all together, that's what you're seeing. The long and the short of it is America in the beginning and around 1900 and ending, or maybe not ending, about now have been through one enormous swing. The swing from an "I" society, we call it, in which people were politically obstreperous and didn't agree with other people and were only concerned about their own wellbeing and were content with large gaps between rich and poor and were focused, not on what we had in common, but on what separated us and all those things. That was the "I" period in our society and all those graphs and all the data, the thousands of data points underneath this graph show that we reached the peak as a country.
I've not said a word about Swarthmore yet, but you could if you look at that graph and ask, when were you 18? And you can see you were living in a very special America. None of us knew it. I was too. The people here in the front rows at least grew up in an America that was about as equal and about as cooperative politically, nonpartisan, and about as socially connected and about as altruistic as... That's the world in which we grew up and it was very unusual. We didn't know it. That's the world we grew up in. And as you can see, just while we were at Swarthmore, the worm turned. Now, it didn't change overnight. You can see it doesn't. We don't start one day we're Sweden and the next day we're the Belgian Congo or something, but the direction of change, first derivative, I think that's called, the direction of change changed really quite dramatically. Do you see it up there? We were Godman going this way and then we all got to Swarthmore and things went the other direction. I'm not naming names.
The book actually, it's a good book if you want to buy the book, it's so good, doesn't talk about that much. The book actually talks about the parallel between this period over here when we turned it around and the book asks, "Well, how did they do it?" Because that's where we are. We're now today in this section over here and the book says, "Well, maybe we can learn some lessons from them." But for this one-time only opportunity, I want to focus on what happened up there. Do you understand? And I hope you now see why I thought it would be fun to have a conversation among us about what was going on though none of us knew it and could have known it, what was going on nationally. Now let's talk a little bit about the '60s if we can. Next slide. The big picture for our discussion tonight is, first of all, that the "I-we-I" cycle, that's this thing, peaked and reversed in the 1960s.
The United States didn't change overnight, but the direction of change did, and the '60s became the hinge of the whole of the 20th century. Does this make sense so far? That it didn't change completely, but if you look at the century as a whole, clearly something happened there to cause this reversal. Now, there's been a lot of histories written about the decade of the '60s. In fact, the only decade that has more books written about it by American historians is the decade of the 1860s. Think about it. The 1960s is a big deal indeed as I show in the book. There are several books written only about each year. There's a book saying "1959: The Year That America Changed." And there's another book saying "1960: The Year That America Changed." And then there's another book about 1961 which says... You got it. They all have the same subtitle, "The Year America Changed." So it's a big deal and there's a lot of debate among historians about the '60s, but here are the things that they all agree on, almost all of them agree on.
First of all, the '60s occurred between 1964 and 1974. I don't know how many of you ever remembered a man named Chuck, Chuck Gilbert, who was a political science person when we were here. Chuck used to say most of the '60s actually happened in the '70s and it is true. Historians actually now call the '60s, the period between 1964 and 1974, and they all agreed that it was a major, major hinge point in American history comparable to the founding and the civil war. So if you look at American over the whole of our lifetimes, there's the founding and there's a civil war, and then there's the '60s. So it's a huge, big deal. Secondly, they make a key distinction. Todd Gitlin who sadly just died was the person who wrote most about the '60s and here is the title of his classic, is "Years of Hope, Days of Rage." What that reflected was the fact that the first half of the '60s, which was when... Raise your hand if you graduated from Swarthmore in the '60s. Raise your hand.
So the America we grew up in was mostly... We mostly grew up in the first half of the '60s. That's when we were in high school and so on or graduated and came to Swarthmore, and that's the happy years. Those were the years of hope that got... No, I'm not making this up. That's the way historians divided up. And raise your hand if you graduated from Swarthmore in the '70s. It's great to have all of you here. But you grew up, not your fault. You were just kids, but you grew up and came of age and graduated from Swarthmore in the bad half of the '60s or what Gitlin calls days of rage. And so this is not a lecture on the '60s and I'm almost over my time, but I'm going to be quick here. The fundamental shift that was happening while we were here, sort of in the years between when you guys were here and when these guys were here was a fundamental moral shift. I don't mean you could see it if you walked out on the street and saw it. That's not what I mean.
I mean, you can only see this if you rise up to a higher century-long level and look at lots and lots of data. There was a fundamental moral shift that happened at that point, tectonic shift from this "we" society that had been built, basically been built by our parents, the greatest generation, and toward... That was a "we" society, and then it became an "I" society after that. Let's go to the next slide and this is my last slide. I want you to understand that the '60s, if you're a specialist in history, then you know what I'm going to say. The '60s was not a single thing at all. And if you ask different people, they will say, "Oh, I think the '60s was Vietnam," or, "I think the '60s was the civil rights revolution," or, "I think the '60s was the pill and sexual freedom," or, "I think the '60s was," I don't know, "about the women's movement," or whatever. It was many different things.
But in the year that I graduated from Swarthmore, which was the year '62 to '63, that year, four big books were published by James Baldwin, Fire Next Time, Michael Harrington, classic book on poverty and inequality, Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, and Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Those were all written as highly critical of America, because we all knew that there was a lot to be critical about America in our environment, in our treatment of other races and, I mean, of non-white races and women and the environment and so on, poverty, but all of those people wrote with optimism. That was the first half of the '60s that we could fix these problems. They were angry, but they were optimistic. They think we could fix these problems and here's the sad fact. Those same four problems have hardly been addressed in the last 60 years. An "I" society is not a place in which you can solve collective problems. You see what I'm trying to say?
You may not agree with me. There may be libertarians who think it's great if we're all... But the data aren't that way. The data say it's hard to solve big collective problems if everybody's just out for themself. And that's the last slide I want to make, talks a little bit about how, if we go to the next slide. I got a little out of order myself. Can we go to the next slide? There. What was the '60s about? Some people say it began with the assassinations. Actually, that's what I think. I think the '60s began with the assassinations, but many other people have different views. It was student upheavals, the civil rights movement, the urban rights, Vietnam, women's movement, the drug epidemic, nihilistic violence like the Manson murders or whatever, and the pill and the decline of traditional origin and Nixon and Watergate and stagflation and oil embargoes, and even the transition from warm, cuddly folk music to hard rock. And Bob Dylan's famous... I'm sure you're all Dylan fans and you know Bob Dylan's performance at the... What was it? 1965 or '64 Newport Folk... Tell me, what year was that?
Robert Putnam: '65. That's what I thought. This is happening at the Newport Folk Festival and first half of it was Bob Dylan doing all these warm, cuddly stuff. And then he changes, drops the guitar and brings out this acoustic stuff. And the second half, he is a different Bob Dylan. And in the book, I'm proud to say I spent weeks, months, actually, learning about The Beatles in the '60s and so on. What I'm trying to say is the '60s was many different things. Don't think it was a single thing. Against that backdrop, Kevin, can you help lead us in a discussion of what the '60s seemed to us? That's not a joke. That's a discussion. Kevin Chu: Well, with that introduction, my role here is to facilitate a conversation among you all, because Bob realized that we have a really unique opportunity here. We have people who graduated in the early part of the '60s. We have people who graduated in, well, later part of the '60s meeting '70, '71, '72. So he was able to... Today, he laid out the case that the '60s were a dramatic decade which saw huge changes in all sorts of areas that appear to have led away from this sense of collegiality, of cooperation into this polarization and this distrust that we are now in, but he wasn't able to tell us why. He doesn't know why. No one really knows why, but we all lived through that '60s period. And collectively, we have the memories that could hopefully generate some ideas about what happened. Why did it happen?
Kevin Chu: So my role here, as I say, is really just to facilitate a conversation among all of you about what happened and why were the '60s so dramatic and why did so many changes take place. I think our goal though should be to try to identify what the issues were that allowed those changes, and then how do we use that information to dig ourselves out of this situation we're currently in? Because the social, the economic, the political dysfunction in our society is just overwhelming at least to me and I'm just deeply afraid of where this country is going. But if we can come up with some ideas that said, "These are ways in which we can start to regenerate that curve upwards towards more tolerance, more compliance, more care for each other," that would be a great thing. I don't know if we'll get there because this is a Swarthmore conversation. Who knows where it's going to go?
It's not going to be exactly like a Sharples dining room table conversation because there are just too many for that. What you're going to have to do to speak is raise your hand and someone will come to you with a microphone and then you can speak into the microphone. This is perhaps the first time in my life that I've actually had some control over a conversation at Swarthmore. I'm so excited. Yeah. So those of you in the class of '72 will understand why I say this because I was Mark Schoenberg's roommate for three years. Yeah. All right. But I thought we should probably start with a relatively straightforward question of what happened at Swarthmore between 1962 and 1972, our latest? What were the changes? And I've asked Suzanne Ford who is class of '70 to give us a short summary of the changes that she saw, because this class of 70 really saw the greatest changes of all of the classes here.
When folks of the '72 class came in, by February, we were releasing balloons and celebrating co-ed dorms coming up the next year. We didn't do any work on it. We didn't really have to do, but the class of '70 and only slightly lesser degree, '71, lived through those changes and fought for them. And so we'll ask Suzanne in a moment to just tell us what happened. But after that, I want to turn to the class of '62 and others in that 60th reunion cohort to say, how did you react to the changes that Suzanne is describing? How did you feel about the direction that Swarthmore was going? So Suzanne, you want... Where is Suzanne? Is she here? Yeah. Can we get a microphone to Suzanne over there? Yeah, this is just to give the groundwork. And maybe especially for those who came after all of us, the changes had already been made and it seemed like normal life.
Suzanne: This is really a personal reminiscence. I would say that when we came in '66, our experiences at the college was probably more like the class of '62, parietal hours, rules for women, no jeans in the dining hall, women had to wear skirts to dinner. And so I think that was very similar for us. Folk music. And I think there was a gradual shift. I don't know if people remember that Jefferson Airplane played Swarthmore in '67. I was working in the lunch, giving out food, and these people came from San Francisco and the ladies working there were like, "Who are these guys?" A year later, we were all looking like that. If I can also just... If you wouldn't mind, Dr. Putnam, regarding the folk festival, '65, there's a documentary about that folk festival where Dylan went electric and it made the news that people remember. And I saw that documentary and looking at it later, it's so innocent. Guys wearing white shirts, dark pants, crew cuts, girls wearing shirtwaists from shirtwaists, pedal pushers, and ponytails, and Joan Baez singing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody". Four years later, what was the documentary? Woodstock.
Robert Putnam: Right, exactly.
Suzanne: Think of the difference between... I mean, that to me is a trajectory right there.
Robert Putnam: Absolutely.
Suzanne: Somehow in the middle, things happened for us. Connected to James Baldwin, African American students staged an action in the admissions office. We suspended classes for weeks, around-the-clock discussions. And we began to see also I think the disparities in the rules and the behavior, what the rules said and what people were actually doing. Remember three feet on the floor, that movie that we all saw?
Robert Putnam: It was a movie for you? It was reality for me. I was a proctor. I was a proctor and I had to enforce the three-feet-on-the-floor rule.
Suzanne: The movie was to teach us freshmen what the rules were, and then we gradually stopped. And then we, I think... I don't know actually if it was Vietnam, the other thing I can say for my friends and me, that period of the '60s was an existential threat to every man, every guy at Swarthmore. Were you going to get drafted? What were you going to do? I think that also impacted us. Maybe it made us "I" because we had to be "I" to save ourselves. I don't know. I'm not a sociologist, but I would say that's my reminiscence. By the time we left, storms were co-ed, other... Some would say we threw the baby out with the bath water. Who knows? And then the classes that came after had to pick up the pieces or go on. I remember reading somewhere that somebody was disappointed that they missed the action years of Swarthmore. Try living through them.
Suzanne: I've said enough for me.
Kevin Chu: Yeah. Thank you so much, Suzanne. I want to get back at some point to the "throwing out the baby with the bath water" remark that you made, but I'd like to ask the folks in the class of 62, when you heard what changes Swarthmore was going through, what did you think? I mean, did you think in your mind, "Gosh, I wish I'd been born 10 years later"? Or did you think, "Oh my gosh, Sodom and Gomorrah, things are just crazy"? What were your reactions? Anybody want to comment? Yeah, over here.
Speaker 1: Just an observation. I felt growing up in the '50s and into the '60s that my ideals were reflected as a child of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was my ideal. That was my ideal. And in graduating in 1972, after expressing my ideals, I was accused by the vice president as being a nattering nabob of negativism, that somehow my ideals were converted to the country as negativism. That's just my observation.
Kevin Chu: Thanks. Reactions to that? Anyone?
Robert Putnam: There's somebody back here.
Kevin Chu: Oh yeah, I'm sorry. I should have worn my baseball hat. That would be easier.
Speaker 2: I just wondered whether you put up all these curves, whether it'd be useful to put a plus or a minus next to a specific change because some of the changes were positive. For example, barring football from the campus was a major change in many people's minds and in mine and it was very positive. It was a tough battle to do it. But just saying change, there was a huge amount of change, but couldn't it be refined into the lots of the changes I think were positive and lots of them were negative?
Robert Putnam: Can I respond to that in just a second?
Kevin Chu: Yes, please do.
Robert Putnam: Because I have a little feeling you're asking me that question. Remember, I'm talking about change with respect to four particular variables, not football and not just at Swarthmore. I'm talking about change from equality to inequality and I think that was bad. I personally think America would be better off now and was better off when we were more equal. Race is an important part of that and I'm happy to talk about race, but economically, I think a movement today toward more equality in America would be unequivocally a plus for me. I don't know about you, but it'd be a plus for me. A movement toward less polarization in America today would be unequivocally a plus for me. I mean, I'm political science, so I know that conflicts are important, but the degree of polarization that we have today seems to be unequivocally a negative.
I think the degree of self-centeredness that we have as a country versus altruism, which is what was more prevalent at the beginning of the '60s, I think worrying about other people is a good thing. I'm not ashamed. That's a good thing, I think. And finally, connecting with other people, trusting other people. I'd rather live in a trusting society than in a society which I can't trust anybody else and they don't trust me. Those are the variables that I'm happy to try to defend. And as a matter of fact, those are values that I personally learned at this school, equality and cooperation, listening to other people and being altruistic and so on. I'm not trying to say that all the changes that happened after that, like the disappearance of football. That's not the level at which I'm making those comments. But tell me, do you disagree with the value that I'm putting on those four big variables?
Speaker 2:I agree that [inaudible 00:42:40]-
Kevin Chu:Could you talk into the mic, please?
Robert Putnam:Talk in the mics, please.
Kip Davis:... to me, yes. Should I respond? Are you pointing to me?
Kip Davis: Yes. Okay. I think that in most regards, you and I agree that certain basic changes are very, very important and we are going downhill. I agree with that. But I think that for women and for blacks, despite all the police violence against blacks, the quality of life for the black people I know and as I look at them and for women, the changes have been to some degree, very positive, particularly for women, but also for blacks. Look at what's going on now. There are blacks in every advertisement. There are blacks all over the television. There are blacks all over the culture. And so that's a change that's going on at the same time as there's a lot of police brutality driving, well, black and so forth. Now football... Can I say one more thing?
Robert Putnam: Sure.
Kip Davis: May I or not? No.
Robert Putnam: Yeah, of course.
Kip Davis: Okay. I won't. I really won't. I'll take up too much time. I'm done. Thank you.
Kevin Chu:You're going to respond to him.
Robert Putnam: I think I should've said about, well, race, right, Chu?
Kevin Chu: Yeah.
Robert Putnam: So race is an important issue and I didn't talk about it, but there's a whole chapter in the book about race. And I want to show you a graph that looks just like the other graphs, but it's about racial equality. So can we get to that? That may be the next pack in this. Yeah. Okay. So this is a graph that looks just like all the others. The horizontal axis is the 20th century, the 20th to the beginning of the 21st century. That's this way. And the vertical axis here is black/white equality. That is the degree to which blacks and whites are equal with respect to very measurable things like life expectancy, infant mortality, income, property ownership, to some extent, even political participation. So up in this graph means blacks are more nearly equal and down means blacks are becoming less equal. Now, if you notice, I don't know if you can see, approximately equality, that is real equality between blacks and whites, is up there at the top. That's the 1.0. That's the ratio.
If we ever got to that, what that means in reality is infant mortality for black kids would be the same as for white kids, life expectancy, income, et cetera. These are hard numbers here and we never came... We have never come close in American history to equality. That's for sure true. But I want you to look at the trends toward or away from equality. And what I'm about to say is not controversial among black social science. I'm simply summarizing black social science and that'd need many black people to know most of the progress made in the 20th century toward equality between blacks and whites occurred before the civil rights revolution. Do you see what I'm trying to say? Here from 1900, there was a pause in the '20s, but then in the '30s, '40s and '50s and '60s up, every year, the gap between blacks and whites was becoming narrower and I can say just briefly why that is. This is why black people know that what I've just finished saying is true, because the main cause of that was the Great Migration.
That's when most blacks were moving from the south to the north, from Mississippi fields to Chicago. Chicago was not idyllic, but the difference between blacks and whites was much less in Chicago than it was in the Delta, a lot, and that's why they were moving. Blacks were voting with their feet during that first half of the century. There was a little bit of white help to that process of equalization, but equalization happened. And if you read Michelle Obama's biography, she describes exactly that process of her grandfather moving north and then her father working hard, and she then on the basis of that. It's not white charity. It's black hard work that accounts for that narrowing of the gap. But then look what happens. We have the civil rights revolution and white people are okay with that. In principle, white people... Here's why the Civil Rights Acts passed in the mid '60s because large numbers of whites said, "Yeah, okay. We lived through that."
Bull Connor changed a lot of white northerners views of race and that... But as soon as it happened, there was a backlash, white backlash. That's George Wallace. We lived through this. And so after the civil rights revolution happened, that half century of progress ended and there has been since the civil rights revolution essentially no progress toward equality. Listen to what I'm saying. The civil rights revolution was not the mark of a great movement forward for black equality. Because of white backlash, it stopped it. So more blacks... Sorry, fewer blacks owned their own home this year, fewer owned their own home this year than in 1965 at the time of the Fair Housing Act. So none of that stuff that we all passed and thought we were really great because we were working in Chester and so on, nationwide, those things did not happen. So the period of individualism, the period after the 1960s [inaudible 00:48:10]. Pardon?
Kevin Chu: Sorry. Okay. Keep going. Who is next? Yeah. Okay. Do you want to finish?
Suzanne:Let him finish his comment.
Robert Putnam:No, no. I just tried to describe what the facts show. These are not the only facts. Of course, there was racism. I'm not for a moment denying there was racism, but the period of progress was I think the period that I'm talking about, but you disagree. So tell me. I mean, I'm happy to hear.
Kip Davis:It's not that I disagreed all. I just wanted to... I'd raised my hand earlier. I'm Kip Davis. I'm from class of '75. So '68 happened when I was at a rather impressionable age. We'll just leave it at that. For me, what a lot of your graphs show is a great American myth that was a result of the end of Reconstruction, is that there was an America that was created that could be united because it excluded black people from the conversation or even from being considered at any point. And so you have a notion of a homogeneous society. There, everyone felt that they belonged as long as they were white. And as long as you could keep that myth going, you could have comedy, you could have political cooperation, you could have all those things.
But when you were doing that, you were ignoring the fact that 40% of the population of the state of Mississippi was denied the right to vote. So once you're in a situation where you have to deal with the fact that this universal myth you have created is a lie, things start to deteriorate. If you were a black student and you came to Swarthmore in the '70s, there was a parallel thought that you were arriving at a place that had a universal set of values that did not include you. And so once things get opened up, the whole security that is provided by being part of a homogeneous, universal society are destroyed. And we still, we Americans, still haven't been able to deal with the notion of the end of the white universal. And until America-
Robert Putnam:Are you trying to say the white university?
Kip Davis: The white universal-
Robert Putnam: Universal.
Kip Davis: ... where the universal is by default white. When people talked back in the day about a post-racial society, what that meant was everybody behaves like white people and white people because they are white, have a natural advantage because they're good at it and grew up in it. So that death of that universal is what we're still struggling with today, and it's what the cost we have to pay for from Reconstruction until the '60s where that lie was promoted at every level of American culture. That's my little thing.
Kevin Chu: So I think there's... Thank you for that. I think there's really deep truth in what you just said and I just have a question, which is, do you think all of those downward trends in terms of politics and economics and-
Robert Putnam:Cultural solidarity.
Kevin Chu: ... cultural solidarity, are those all an aspect of the white society being forced to reckon with people of color-
Robert Putnam: And not being willing to.
Kevin Chu: ... and at least having difficulty with that?
Kip Davis: That was the first and that was the lead to the death of the white universal, but you can call it the death of the white male universal. You can call it the inability of a society to deal with its diversity that's been there all along. And the fact that you still have a culture that elements want to bring it back to the old days where it's a white male-dominated culture, and that there are elements of this country that have real, real problems with acknowledging that they are one of many, that they do not have a special place, a dominant place in this country and in this culture, and that their point of view is an individual point of view and not a universal point of view, because just because you're white, that doesn't make it universal, just because you're male, that doesn't make it universal, just because you're straight, that doesn't make it universal. There are people that are still... a country that is still struggling with the acknowledgement of the value of people that are different from you.
Kevin Chu: Thank you for articulating that so well. There were several other hands raised right in that area. Yes. [inaudible 00:53:57] If not, there's a gentleman way in the back. There are two folks in the back. The folks in the back you have to come down here in order to speak, I think. Oh, okay. Yeah.
Speaker 3: My turn now? Okay. I just wanted... Looking back at my own experience and thinking about coming to this-
Robert Putnam: I'm sorry. Could you speak directly to the mic? Because I can't hear you very well with it.
Speaker 3: Can you hear me now? Okay. So this is what's been on my mind this weekend approaching the reunion. Both my experience at Swarthmore and my work in higher education, which has been the bulk of the last 50 years, I felt and I'd be really interested to hear for black students, for women students from our class, but the sense of economic peril and fearing for the insecurity of our futures, that we wouldn't find jobs, that we would be unemployed, that seems like every generation after has struggled with that more. We were pretty confident, the people I knew at Swarthmore, that we would get jobs somewhere. We'd be able to support ourselves.
And the question was really, what did we want to figure out that was most worth doing? Now, there's a different side dimension that comes up. How did we define success? So it was no longer surviving the threat of being homeless. What did success mean to Swarthmore students, to other students in higher education? And I have a feeling that there was something in that shift from me to us that did not translate into the way people thought about success deep in their consciousness, and that some of your data reflect that failing to shift having played itself out. And I'd just like to throw that question and to-
Kevin Chu:Thanks so much. This is great question. I think there's a gentleman standing up next to you who also wants the floor and then there's a gentleman down here. Tom, right next to you. And then can you get a mic microphone to...
Speaker 4: So this is thought-provoking session and my overriding memory, I should say I entered Swarthmore in 1961, graduated in 1965. Before I came here, there was the YouTube incident. I don't know if you remember that. The YouTube incident when Gary Powers was flying a spy plane and was shot down over the Soviet Union?
Speaker 4: And at first, Eisenhower denied it ever happened. And then later, it emerged that he was lying. That's just indicative of the things that we grew up with. We were governed, as you mentioned, by a lot of myths. And part of my growing up and coming to Swarthmore was having each of those myths be debunked or peeled away to reveal what emerged to be different truths. And in a way, that process underlies, I think, a lot of those more superficial changes like changes in dress, changes in music, all of those things that I think a lot of people lost faith, lost trust in the things that their parents had been telling them.
And my parents told me, I was telling someone this earlier, that black people were equal to whites in both treatment and nature. And then I came home my sophomore year to say that I had a black roommate. Well, I mean, that was just a... It led to emotional explosion or implosion, but that's the kind of thing that I wonder about and I don't know how to measure to break down myths or if there are any quantitative measures of that.
Kevin Chu: Yeah. Thank you.
Robert Putnam: Can I ask a question of you? That's a very thoughtful question. Do you think that the... Nobody's going to argue in favor of myths and certainly not at Swarthmore, but I wonder whether actually the net, net result of that collective disengagement in the end turned out positive. We saw the dark side of Eisenhower and racism and all the rest-
Speaker 4: I think-
Robert Putnam: ... but I can't get away from the fact that actually things have gotten worse.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I don't know.
Robert Putnam: Does anybody here want to argue that things have gotten better over the last 50 years in terms of... I mean, obviously they've gotten better in terms of the iPhones, but are we... I mean, it just seems to me, but maybe I'm alone in this audience, that America is not a better place than it was when we were here.
Kevin Chu:We have a bunch of people who now want to speak. There's a gentleman down here and then a woman in the back row, and then there's two folks here.
Speaker 5:How about a woman?
Robert Putnam:I was just going to say that. I'd like to...
Robert Putnam:There hasn't been a single woman speaking, so I'll give the mic up.
Kevin Chu:Well, perhaps the quickest way is to... Right. This woman right there.
Speaker 6: I entered in '67 and graduated in '71. And I think that being here with all of us, we saw that the authorities were wrong and we felt encouraged and heartened and we came together. It was fantastic, the things we did, marching in Philadelphia and all over. We felt like there was a group commonality we had. We were working for things together. But I think that we veered off when we suddenly... I mean, on a larger social level, not just Swarthmore, but overall, that we saw the government had been lying. We saw that the authorities were not right.
We felt the permission to follow our own thoughts and we fell away from the groups in [inaudible 01:00:49] late at night and doing things together for other people and started to think about how to protect our own welfare and worry about it. So we just moved from the people who were subjected to what the government was saying. We realized this is not right. We can figure it out ourselves, went through this commonality period where we worked together, and then veered into this, "We have the right to decide for ourselves," which took us into this narcissistic, "Let's earn the most money. Let's make sure we get the income," whether it was white or black or whoever, and we've lost that feeling of "we."
Kevin Chu: Yeah. Thank you. The gentleman right behind and then there's a woman in the back of the first row and then there's a woman down first row right here.
Speaker 7: Hi. Earl Haltman, '72. So I had a quick observation and then a question. A lot of what happened in the late '60s was a function of what was going on in society. For example, the takeover of the admissions office was a function to some extent of the fact that the Ivy Leagues that year started to admit a lot more black students. And so we had four in our class and that was precipitated. And there would be a question if Cambodia had happened in 1962, would the class of '62 and '63 been as happy and non-threatening in a way as they were relative to what happened in 1970? But the question is, and this was raised by the issue of going from the folk rock to the heavy rock, how is it that we were going to change the world and things were going to be all fuzzy, and then we ended up leading the "I" generation? And what is your thought on that?
Robert Putnam: I don't know what the answer to that question is.
Speaker 7: Oh, okay.
Robert Putnam: But I do think that's a legitimate question to ask. We thought we were going to make the world a better place. We worked hard to make it a better place, but it ended up not so good. That's my take on this, but I don't mean to be imposing. I'd love to know what other people feel, how they feel about that issue.
Speaker 7: This may be a little bit off the topic, but I'm a little bit interested in the idea that the media when we were here in the '60s and '70s was probably more cohesive and people like Walter Cronkite who you could believe in, whereas these days, honestly, I find everything suspect that I read or hear on television because you have to figure out where that person's coming from, who's funding them, and then how much weight do you put on what those facts are. And they are facts from this group here and they're in direct conflict to facts in this group. And I'm thinking that your cohesion era was when the media people seemed to be cohesive as well. And now we're in an area of polarity and I feel like the media is very polarized. And how much is that affecting us or... I don't know. It's just a thought.
Kevin Chu: Do you want say something on that? Do you want to say something to-
Robert Putnam: No, I'm trying to avoid being in the position of-
Kevin Chu: There's a gentleman in this second row that-
Robert Putnam: ... saying, "Yes, you're right," or, "No, you're wrong." I'm trying to learn.
Kevin Chu: Down here, next. Go ahead, sir.
Speaker 8: Yes. Hi. I would like to maybe broaden this a little bit and go a little bit later in history to maybe talk about some other factors that might have affected. When we were here and I'm '71 and there were some of us and we had some utopian professors talking about the post-work society. And in 1973, we had the Arab oil embargo, a period of inflation which we have echoes of right now. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution, another oil spike. And we had a period of inflation followed by Reagan, a big recession, and what you were talking about in your book, our kids, the de-industrialization of the heartland of America. And so, I mean, a lot of these... We really saw a lot of the decline of the industrial America and then later on, we saw globalization, jobs outsourced.
I mean, certainly those things really had huge impacts on some of this in promoting inequality, in promoting basically the extreme wealth of Wall Street, hedge funds, private equities, some of those. So can you talk a little bit about how those economic factors played into that? Because that's really beyond some of the political range that we've been talking about now.
Robert Putnam: I'm trying to pull back from the role of the authority figure here, but I will answer that question because it's one that we talk a lot about in the book. This is a quantitative study. We've got lots of data on lots of different things. And particularly, we've got data on economic change, economic inequality, politics and so on. It was therefore natural for us to think of leading indicators. What was the variable that turned first? Because that would give us a clue as to what the underlying causation was. And I and all of my colleagues on this research team were convinced before we did the research that we knew the answer that economics would be the leading variable and that everything else would follow. That is that there would be these economic changes and that would lead then to inequality changes and lead to social changes and so on. And if that were true, then we know that the right answer is we should fix the economics and everything else would follow.
The one thing that is unambiguous from this study is that economics is, if anything, a lagging variable. Think about what that means for just a second. It means that the economic changes were the result of other things happening in the system that led to policy changes and so on. I'm not asking you to believe me, but I'm trying to give you what my judgment is and you can look up in the book and you can see what we say. It looks to us from both the data and the narrative that somewhat surprisingly it's the cultural variable that leads, not lags. That is that the first thing on the upswing, we be... I'm talking about now the 1880s and 1890s. America at that time went through a moral reawakening. I'm not leaving aside the issue of the Reconstruction and so on. That's an important issue to raise these questions. But at the moment, I'm not talking about race.
I'm talking about how did they get from the Gilded Age to the period when they began to have income tax and more spending on poor people and more tax on rich people? How did we get there? It came from a moral change in the first instance. And conversely, if you look at the most recent period, it doesn't make Reagan a causal factor. It means the election of Reagan is the causal factor and that's because Americans chose a policy and a person and a practice that favored or at least was not so worried about inequality. And the same thing is true in more recent period. That is in my view, Trump is not an independent variable. I'm sorry I'm using that jargon. He got chosen by Americans. Well, I'm not talking about the details about who won in 2020. I'm talking about a preposterous economic set of policies was chosen by Americans.
And I don't think we can hide... Not chosen by me, but we can't hide from... So this is why... I'm trying to answer your question. This is why I think you have to ask both during the upswing and during the down period, why were those economic policies chosen? And it's easy to say, "Oh, it was the fat cats who made the decision," but elections were held and Reagan in favor of inequality ran against Fritz Mondale in favor of equality and the country spoke. And so I think I'll stop there. I think it was too easy for us when we began the research to think that economics is driving everything and we didn't think enough about how some more fundamental moral choices were being made by Americans.
Kevin Chu: So just when the conversation is really getting going, we're going to have to cut it off. We have time for two more speakers. You have two more days to talk about this, but not here. We have down here and then gentleman up.
Meredith Hunt: Sure. I'm Meredith Hunt. I graduated in 1970.
Robert Putnam: Where?
Meredith Hunt: Down here.
Kevin Chu: Right down, right in front.
Robert Putnam: Oh, hi.
Meredith Hunt: In front. Thanks. I'm responding to your comment about everything has gotten worse under all parameters, more or less. And as a woman, I'd have to say that's not true for me. That's a male perspective, maybe a white male perspective. And truly, I would not have had the opportunities had there not been shifts and changes in our society that made it possible for me to have it here. I look at my granddaughters. It's a very different world for them than I grew up with. There wasn't even a sport team that I could play on. My athletics here was water ballet and I was on the water ballet team. It wasn't even a competition thing.
And when I was in high school, there were no women's sports. So I didn't even have that sense of how to be a team player except in the debate team in high school. And so I guess I just want to weigh in on that and I'm sure there are other women here who have experienced the same thing. I'm not saying that those other parameters don't count and that I haven't been impacted by the damages to our society on those indicators. But for me personally and for many women that I know, this is a very different world for me as a woman. And even with the recent indications around abortion, there was still a great deal more freedom and choices for myself growing as a person in the last half century. So...
Robert Putnam: By the way, I happen to agree fully with what you just said. My daughter is living a better life than my classmates. Not living a better life, has more opportunities than my classmates here and my granddaughters have even more opportunity. I agree completely with that.
Kevin Chu: And sir, the last comment and then we'll-
Speaker 9: By the way, I'd also add that for black people. It's much better in different world. I mean, just look at my opportunities and my daughter's, but the question I wanted to get to is, first of all, in 1980, America didn't suddenly choose Reagan. I mean, there was a long-term process that was very intentional beginning in '64. And I think maybe your chart should see the '60s not as '64 to '74, but '64 to '80, because that was the culmination of a very intentional effort on the part of certain political... Yeah. I used to say that. More nuance now. On part of certain political forces, right wing political forces, to use the defeat of Goldwater to begin organizing to take control in certain respects.
Speaker 9: And in 1980, that came to a head with their success in electing someone who really represented in many ways that effort. So I guess I would suggest that maybe the '60s really ended in 1980. I mean, because if you look at the Carter era and even the Ford era, and even we hate to say this, but the Nixon era, the collective consciousness of America was much, much greater than it was beginning with Reagan in 1980.
Kevin Chu: Thank you. Thank you so much. Bob, do you have just a few last words?
Robert Putnam: No, I guess I would... I don't disagree as that is a historical fact. I guess the question that I'm left with is, and I accept the criticism that you made here on race and gender in particular. In the book, there's a whole chapter about race and gender and I won't try to summarize that again. I'm left with... It seems to me that our generation, not us personally. I'm sure everybody in this room was on the right side of all these battles, but our generation in America inherited a world that had gotten better. Wasn't a perfect place. I never claimed it was a perfect place, but it had gotten better, including for blacks and including for women, had gotten better and that's what we inherited.
And we were around for another 50 years, 60 years in which America's gotten worse. And so the question for me is the question that you asked, who's to blame for that? And I find it a little too easy to say somebody else did that. The interests did that or just some evil people did that. To me, that's a... I understand how people might feel that, that it's somebody else that did it, not me, but I think as a generation, we should reflect on what we might have done or not done that allow these sets of changes to occur. But I got exactly what I hoped for all this, a good Swarthmore conversation. I thank you all for that.
Kevin Chu:Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Bob.