I watched the movie Riding in Cars with Boys today. It is about a teenage girl in the early 1960s who gets pregnant out of wedlock at 15, marries the father, and ends up a single mother who is over attached to her son. What stuck with me is the stereotypical depiction of that time period. As I mentioned to my wife, it was a time period where the most run down parts of the inner city today, were relatively clean and safe. The story is familiar to any student of recent US history: Jim Crow gave the power of segregation to whites who banished blacks at will; the Civil Rights Act was passed and the blacks moved into the city while the whites continued segregation by other means and moved out in what is known as "white flight," creating suburban sprawl.
This does not explain the subsequent onset of urban decay. Many racist individuals would like to claim that blacks ran down the inner city because they did not have the character to maintain it. However, white flight did not occur all at once; but perhaps over a time span of 5-10 years, as previously white uptown neighborhoods started getting less and less white. By the time white flight had left its full footprint on urban living, the economic woes of the 1970s had hit. Oil shocks produced stagflation that increased inequality. This hit those on the lower end of the economic scale hardest, including minorities such as the blacks that had moved into the city. Left with only a fraction of the economic resources the previous white inhabitants had, they also were less able to maintain the same standard of living.
Stagflation not only depressed inner city minorities but also ended of the post-WWII economic golden age. Societal promises were broken, the New Deal wasn't working, inflation ripped through American society. So much so that by 1980 Ronald Reagan could get up and say that government was the problem--and America voted him in.
But we forget that the problem never was government. The New Deal worked. But it was based on the presence of a healthy, growing industrial economy that in turn depended on cheap energy. The oil shocks of the 1970s strangulated industrial economies worldwide for this reason.
We should've started down the road to an oil-free economy then. Instead, America wallowed in a glut of North Sea (and cheap Middle Eastern oil in the 1980s) and then Cantarell(Mexican) oil until 2005... and you know the rest. Our current economic "improvement" (such as it is) is attributable to shale oil (Bakken, etc.) which will run out by the end of the decade. The solution is not to drill, the solution is to transition our economies off of oil, then off of fossil fuels altogether. This is the big story--economic and social chaos from ongoing economic crises and expensive oil will hit harder than any effects of climate change and leave us utterly unable to deal with them. Any oil remaining should be used as a transition stock. The time is past for this. When the shale oil bonanza runs out (2016-2020) what then? What then? All of our modern society with its abundance and medicine and gadgets and human rights and science is supported by industrial processes that CAN'T BE PRESENTLY SUSTAINED WITHOUT RELATIVELY CHEAP OIL.