Monday, December 21, 2009

The 2000s: A Lost Decade

The 2000s are coming to an end. My first reaction is “thank God!” I think historians will write about this time period as a lost decade of sorts.

That’s certainly true economically. The standard of living for the middle class didn’t change much. The growth we did have largely benefited investment bankers and bond traders. And much of that growth was built on bubbles: real estate and inflated consumer spending due to ever increasing amounts of debt. At least in the 1990s when we had the stock bubble, we got the internet out of it. What did we get this decade? Credit default swaps? Some of our smartest minds weren’t developing microwaves or computers as in decades past. Instead, they were figuring out how much they should pay for mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

I think that’s true of government and politics too. After 9/11, George W. Bush had a chance to rally the world around the US and encourage a new spirit of patriotism, self-sacrifice and bi-partisanship. Instead, we ended up with a costly war in Iraq that divided Americans along party lines. We had a record budget deficit even before the TARP bailouts and the stimulus package this year. None of this is to say that Bush is a bad man. He is plainly a decent one. He deserves credit for the generous aid he gave to Africa to fight HIV for example. But on net, I think his term will be judged a failure.

I can’t really think of anything to make this decade really memorable culturally either. The 1990s had the internet, impeachment, Michael Jordan, and Tupac. The 1980s saw the fall of communism and the rise of conservatism. The 1960s saw John F. Kennedy tell America to “ask now what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The 1940s saw America beat back fascism and become the world’s preeminent superpower. Come New Year ’s Day, I suspect that not only will many Americans not find this decade memorable, they’ll do their best to forget it ever happened.

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