The 1960s brought a raft of cultural freedoms, from women's rights to new attitudes about drugs. But anyone dreaming of economic equality has been sorely disappointed; old-school free market ideas have only gotten stronger. Kurt Anderson has a theory to explain the divide: On both the cultural and economic fronts, "selfishness won," he writes in the New York Times. "For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant."
Throughout history, there have been times of hedonism—the Roaring Twenties, for instance—followed by economic troubles and "reassertions of moral disapproval" that restored a cultural balance, Andersen notes. But in the late 1960s, everything changed. "A kind of grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment." The youths could indulge themselves as they desired, while businesspeople were "unshackled" from regulatory, tax, and social burdens. "'Do your own thing' is not so different than 'every man for himself.'"