Let the next crisis go to waste

Both Bush and Obama saw opportunity lurking behind every crisis. That's why we're in so many quagmires today.

According to popular usage, decades are 10-or-so-year chunks of zeitgeist, not strict spans of astronomical time. Calendar and culture are only loosely joined. The '50s didn't end until John F. Kennedy and Leave It to Beaver departed in 1963. It was curtains for the '80s when the Berlin Wall came down in '89, but the glorious '90s didn't commence for another three years when a grungified America began to smell teen spirit. No rigid rule governs these things; others will carve the decades at other joints. Take Kurt Andersen’s book Reset, which argues that the '80s began with the first of Reagan's tax cuts and lasted all the way until the 2008 market crash. Say what you will of Andersen's thesis, but the truth it embodies—that a decade is a cultural era, not an interval between dates—raises the unsettling possibility that the last lousy decade isn't done.

Barack Obama's election raised hopes high that a historic change in political leadership would mark a fresh start and leave the awful Aughts definitively behind. But instead of delivering change we could believe in, Obama rushed to act on the same foul maxim that made the first 10 years of the millennium so dreadful. "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," is how Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, put it.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
Will Wilkinson is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of Cato Unbound. He writes on topics ranging from Social Security reform, happiness and public policy, economic inequality, and the political implications of new research in psychology and economics. He is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and his writing has appeared in The Economist, Reason, Forbes, Slate, Policy, Prospect, and many other publications.