The Start of America’s Decline

IN HIS BRILLIANT and elegiac song, “American Tune,” released in 1973, Paul Simon lamented: “we’ve lived so well so long, still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on, I wonder what’s gone wrong.” Clearly, the song was informed by the turmoil of that era, including the Vietnam War, political assassinations, and Watergate. Probably the last thing on Simon’s mind was President Nixon’s 1971 decision to delink the dollar from gold. But if not the stuff to inspire song lyrics, that decision was in many ways every bit as fateful as the more violent events racking the United States.

A lot of data support the idea that 1971 marks a dividing line between America’s good times and the start of a long decline persisting ...

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