Feature

‘The Aughts’: The worst decade ever?

Will "the decade from hell" still feel that way 10 years from now?

“Good riddance to the Zeros!” said Mark Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The decade from hell,” as it has been aptly dubbed, brought us the horrific 9/11 attacks, the anthrax scare, Hurricane Katrina and its scandalously tragic aftermath, the stock market collapse, and two protracted and painful wars—all capped off with a debilitating, two-year recession and 10 percent unemployment. “It was easily one of the worst periods in recent American history, upwards of 3,600 days drenched in fear and bitter divisiveness.” The biggest losers were average American families, said Neil Irwin in The Washington Post. Middle-income households were earning less at the decade’s end, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999—the first decline in income over a decade since World War II. After decades of double-digit job growth, “the Aughts” saw zero net job creation. For American workers, this was “a lost decade.”

It wasn’t only millions of jobs that were lost, said Marc Cooper in the Los Angeles Times. We also lost “our guiding principles as a nation.” After the twin towers fell, “we were stampeded” into an unnecessary war “by an administration that cynically manipulated our deepest but unfounded fears.” Executive power was expanded in a manner that would make “Dick Nixon blush and Thomas Jefferson roll over in his grave,” and our global standing “was drowned in the CIA’s waterboard torture pits and in the horror dungeons of Abu Ghraib.” And let’s not forget how it all began—with the “charade” of an unelected, blatantly partisan Supreme Court picking our president.

Ah, that’s what these “overwrought” denunciations of the decade are truly about, said Jim Geraghty in National Review Online. For the Left, any decade largely defined by George W. Bush’s presidency must be a “nonstop cavalcade of disasters and misfortune.” But some historical perspective is in order. “Compared to the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the massive worldwide casualties of World War II and Holocaust of the 1940s, the Cold War tensions, Vietnam, domestic unrest and violence of the 1960s, etc., this decade was mild by almost every indicator.” And it’s not as if nothing good happened, said Reihan Salam in The DailyBeast.com. It was a decade of incredible technological innovation, with the Web, online social networks, texting, and tweeting providing mankind with “constant connectivity” and the foundation for a new, 21st-century economy.

Let’s also not forget that—whatever you may think of Barack Obama—this was the decade when America elected a black president, said Karen Heller in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Did anyone over 40 think we’d see this “thrilling” breakthrough happen in our lifetimes? The biggest breakthroughs, though, happened abroad, said Tyler Cowen in The New York Times. It was a “remarkably good” decade for the four most populous nations besides the U.S.—China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil—which all experienced huge economic advances, as hundreds of millions of people climbed from poverty into the middle class. In the short run, Americans lost jobs overseas, but in the long run, we will benefit from this fast-developing global economy, with more entrepreneurs building companies, more people engaged in creating green technologies, and more consumers buying. “It may not feel that way right now, but the last 10 years may go down in world history as a big success.”

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