December 31, 2009 by D Stack
It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.
– Paul Krugman, “The Big Zero“, The New York Times, December 27, 2009
Paul Krugman effectively argues in The New York Times that a good name for the decade we are leaving would be called “The Big Zero”. Economically, we’re actually worse off than we were at the beginning of the decade. A huge chunk of mortgages are underwater. The stock market, for all its recovery this year, is lower than it was in 1999. Unemployment is high. Joseph Palermo in The Huffington Post argues that zero is too generous a term for this decade. We’re worse off than we were in 1999. Forget about zero gains, we’ve gone backwards.
It was a decade where we saw the American economy tumble down not once but twice – after chasing the fantasies of the dot-com boom and the real-estate bubble. Both times people proclaimed the birth of a new era when the old rules didn’t apply. Both collapses involved people willfully engaging in deceptions to line their own pockets at the expense of ordinary people who lost their jobs in droves. I lost my job in the first tumble and had a paycut in the second. Regulations which might have prevented these downturns have been in the process of being dismantled since the 1980s. The real estate crash was an especially bitter legacy of the Reagan-era.
It was a decade when America’s shores no longer isolated it from the rest of the world. The scar on Battery Park remains to this day as the grave of thousands of people who were guilty of the crime of going to work. If there’s a hell, I can’t help but hope Osama bin Laden and his followers get a taste of it.
And this decade saw America betray its ideals in an effort to protect itself. A war in Iraq that was manufactured on a pretense of lies and borne by a volunteer military sent on countless return tours. The idea that we could lock away “bad” people indefinitely while we debate how far we can go before crossing over to torture. (Here’s a hint — if you are debating it, it is almost certainly torture.)
It’s a decade where the idea of insuring every American have a right to not die from curable conditions due to lack of money was compared to fascism. Where people decided it was a good idea to pray for the death of the American president. And while we are praying, let us not forget the clergy sex abuse scandal of the Catholic church which had been going on for decades but was finally dragged out into the light in 2002 by The Boston Globe.
Not that the rest of the world had a great time. Except, I suppose for China, which has something like a trillion dollar surplus. The Indian Ocean saw a tsunami killing hundreds of thousands. Other countries also were targets of terrorist. Countless cities such as (but sadly far from limited to) Madrid, Mumbai, London, Jerusalem, Belsan, Manila, Kashmir, Islamabad, Lima, and Jakarta experienced terror attacks. After swearing “never again” in the wake of the Holocaust, genocide is alive in well, especially if condemning it might stop oil from flowing.
I can think of more without trying, but I’m going to get myself depressed if I keep at it. Suffice it to say I don’t think this decade will be missed. And if we do look back on it fondly, that means things will have gotten even worse. I pray that is not the case. I hope when the teens end we’ll have seen a decade of caring about our fellow humans and our planet. That religion won’t be use as an excuse for hating anyone, whether for their political positions, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or religious beliefs. That we see real communities which balance providing opportunities for individuals while insuring that there is still a responsibility for the community as a whole, that no one slip through the cracks. That we’ll respect the human dignity of every person.
I don’t think we’ll ever see that society. But I hope we’ll take steps towards it in the next ten years. I don’t think we did over the past ten.