Before the 20th century America was a nation with a creed we did nothing to live up to. We treated women, blacks, gays, Jews, and many, many others as second class citizens. We failed to take advantage of their talents. Our economy suffered greatly for that. We also had no social safety net, none. When crops failed, when factories closed, people starved, women and children.
Barack Obama often says “my story would have been impossible any place else,” and that is one measure of the distance we have come. But it’s only one. There are millions of other examples, all around us. Immigrants like Elon Musk. Women like Janet Yellen. People with handicaps, both mental and physical. We recognize and reward talent, we import it an nurture it, in ways that we just didn’t 100 years ago.
What made all this possible happened in the 20th century. Technological change, sure. But also changes in our economy, in our system of government, in the laws and attitudes governing our relations with one another. The growth of our university systems, our highway systems, our communication systems, and our business systems all contributed.