Homer had had a pretty good run up to that time, from the end of World War II, during which American well-being was pretty well insulated from anything else in the world. It wasn't tariff barriers per se: it was just that every other important economy came out of the war in such a mess that we could pretty much do what we wanted. So unskilled "industrial union" worker could enjoy something like the same good fortune that historically shined on their better-protected brothers in the trades ((the AFL and the CIO had merged in the Eisenhower years). So Charles Wilson and Walter Reuther could make a nudge/wink deal on how much to charge and how to divvy up the swag and we all drove crap cars.
Homer's long, slow decline was masked by three factors:
- His wife went to work; family income stayed up,but on two incomes rather than one.
- He suffered "stealth losses" through the corruption of the benefits package, specifically the starvation or looting of his defined-benefit pension plan.
- He learned--or was taught--how to use his house as a piggy bank.
Three factors. And the fourth factor is--?