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The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 until 1972) were a time when young people around the world questioned the validity of formal institutions, whether these be schools, churches, businesses, governments, or marriage.  They rejected the norms and values of these institutions and of the society of which they were the foundation.  They decried sexism, racism, and middle-class values.  In turn, they stressed individual freedom, discovery, and bottom-up forms of social organization.  In some cases—more so outside the United States than inside it—people in the 60s also looked to socialist, Marxist, and anarchist forms of politics.

There is no doubt that the prosperity of the Wonder Years played a role in bringing on the Sixties.  The end of the 1950s saw the start of a massive economic boom and an equally massive expansion of the middle class in the United State and across much of the developed world.  Thanks to the prolific production of commodities and rising wages, many “working-class” people (in the sense that they had jobs typically associated with being working class) called themselves “middle-class” and were.

The Baby Boom (people born between 1946 and 1964) were coming of age in the Sixties.  Many of them had experienced historically privileged upbringings and looked forward to an historically unprecedented future.  They had the “luxury” of both living their present and planning for the future in terms that went beyond money and survival.  That is, until the Wonder Years began to wind down in the mid-1970s, the massive middle class went into a long decline, and the richer got ever richer and poverty greatly expanded.

The Sixties undermined faith and trust in institutions and put that faith and trust in individuality, experimentation, self-fashioning, and emergent forms of social interaction and organization.  The institutions under cultural attack in the Sixties did, however, try to respond and adapt.

Pope John XXIII held the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) from 1962 until The Church was early to respond to the cultural changes the Wonder Years were bringing on, thanks mainly to John XXIII.  Vatican II liberalized the Church to retain and attract people who had become disenchanted with its timeworn rituals (e.g., the Mass in Latin).  Colleges and universities became to liberalize, as well. They made room for more student choice in courses and expanded the curriculum to cover non-Western and non-white issues.

Perhaps, most significantly, businesses began reforms that looked like the beginning of a new capitalism.  The old industrial capitalism had been based on large, top-down corporations shaped like a pyramid with a few people at the top, many middle-managers, and even more workers at the bottom.  Workers were hired to work efficiently; middle-managers were hired to think and supervise; and the leaders at the top were hired to plan and dictate policies.

By the Sixties and early 1970s, cultural changes and growing international competition began to lead to a reorganization of business.  Many companies shed middle-mangers, gave workers more power to make decisions and think, and sought to be “lean”, flexible, and quick to respond now to on-going rapid national and global change. They also championed customer service and catering to the wishes, decisions, and desires of their customers, not just with standardization and commodities now, but with new experiences and products and services customized to different life-style niches.

Tom Peters was one of the best known of a new cadre of business writers that campaigned for the new approach.  The title of his 1992 best-selling book, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties, says a good deal about how these changes were both a response to 60s cultural changes and to the chaos that the 1980s and 1990s brought on as the Wonder Years ended.

This short transition period—which Colin Lankshear, Glynda Hull, and I called “the New Capitalism” (it was sometimes also called “fast capitalism”) in our 1996 book The New Work Order—was dead by the early 2000s, killed by stockholder capitalism and rapacious practices based on short-term gain, debt, and often what amounts to “legal crime”.  Workers and customers now took a decidedly second place.

What I have been describing here are three stages the Catholic Church and other institutions went through to get to their current situations.  The first stage was the Sixties and its assault on formal institutions.  This stage weakened faith and trust in institutions.  The second stage was reform attempts in the 1960s and 1970s meant to speak to the crisis of the Sixties.  The third stage was the full coming of casino capitalism.  In this stage the Church, and other institutions, greatly compounded the damage of the Sixties, and undid much of the good of its reforms, by “ruining its brand” thanks to the sexual abuse scandals.

Much the same thing happened to other institutions.  Businesses of all sorts and colleges and universities suffered a credibility gap in the Sixties, tried to reform, and then eventually ruined their own brands.  A grand example of ruining your brand is the bank Wells Fargo.  Wells Fargo has this to say on its corporate site about its history and former reputation:

The name Wells Fargo is forever linked with the image of a six-horse stagecoach thundering across the American West, loaded with gold. The full history, over more than 160 years, is rich in detail with great events in America’s history. From the Gold Rush to the early 20th Century, through prosperity, depression and war, Wells Fargo earned a reputation of trust due to its attention and loyalty to customers. https://www.wellsfargo.com/about/corporate/history/

However, an investigative report by the Los Angeles Times in 2013 showed that employees of Wells Fargo, under heavy coercive pressure from the bank’s managers, created as many as two million fake accounts (to charge customers fees of which they were unaware) to meet sales quota.  A bank—the very institution where people put their money to protect it—stole their own customers’ money.

Wells Fargo is sadly the norm here.  The number of previously revered brands that have ruined their brands through deceit and greed is saddening and impressive, including most other big banks, Sears, J. C. Penny, Volkswagen, Blackberry, BP (British Petroleum), Newscorp, Takata, and many more.

This brand ruining is part of the larger culture of our casino capitalism world in which the goal is money, power, or status, but not higher ends like salvation, knowledge, or resourcing society.  In turn, this culture ruined institutions’ attempts to respond to the Sixties.  It also seems to have overwhelmed any more positive response to that world casino than capitulation and greed.

 

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