Time's 'Decade from Hell' Included 'Fiasco' in Iraq, a Poisonous New Media, and Deadly Tax Cuts

Time's cover story denouncing the Bush era (plus a year of Clinton and a year of Obama) as "The Decade from Hell" is overwrought. But Time's guru Andy Serwer tries to claim it's not:

Calling the 2000s "the worst" may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more.

This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation's entire history. Between the West's ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it's no wonder we feel as if we've been through a 10-year gauntlet.

Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it's in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.

Part of what ruined the decade was, of course, the "fiasco in Iraq," with no real acknowledgment that it's doing alright presently:

We waged war in Afghanistan that drags on and today is deadlier than ever. Then came our fiasco in Iraq. Don't forget the anthrax letters and later the Washington, D.C., snipers and the wave of Wall Street scandals highlighted by Enron and WorldCom.

Then came the obligatory focus on Hurricane Katrina, although Serwer had more blame for the Army Corps of Engineers than the media had at the time, laying all the blame on Bush:

Sometimes it was as if the gods themselves were conspiring against this decade. On Aug. 29, 2005, near the center point in the decade, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, killing more than 1,500 and causing $100 billion in damages. It was the largest natural disaster in our nation's history.

Blame "the gods"? What religion is Serwer professing in this paragraph? There's also blame for the New Media when it comes to who ruined the decade:

The rise of all manner of new media and the lack of barriers to criticism from the blogosphere seemed to intensify every scandal and left very few public figures unsullied. Sure, some amazingly great things happened this decade, from the stunning rise of China to Apple's dazzling array of new products to the feats of sprinter Usain Bolt to our nation rallying (at least temporarily) around its first African-American President. But all that seems more like counterpoint rather than the main act.

Rallying around Obama was an "amazingly great thing," but conservatives spoiled that trend. The overarching summary of the decade in economics is overwhelmingly depressing:

Were we Americans alone in our troubles? Hardly. The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed more than 200,000 people. And our financial meltdown quickly spread around the developed world. Yet from our lofty perch overlooking the 20th century — the American Century, TIME's co-founder once labeled it — the fall has been precipitous. Who among us is unscathed? Not many. Even if none of your family members died in combat, you had no money with Madoff and you own your house free and clear, you most likely still took a hit. To paraphrase the question Ronald Reagan posed years ago, Are you better off today than you were at the beginning of the decade? For most of us, the answer is a resounding no. Let us count the ways. For one thing, the stock market is down 26% since 2000, making this the worst decade for stocks. (Inflation-adjusted, it's even worse.) I remember Warren Buffett telling me at the beginning of the decade that there was no way the go-go returns of the 1990s were going to continue and that we had better get used to meager returns going forward. Buffett saw it coming.

For the average working stiff, it was a pretty lousy 10 years. The median household income in 2000 was $52,500. Last year (the most recent year available) it was $50,303. And given that the unemployment rate has climbed to 10.2%, income will almost certainly drop again this year. Low-income Americans fared even worse. In 2000, 11.3% of Americans were living below the poverty line. By 2008, that number had risen to 13.2%. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans without health insurance increased from 13.7% to 15.4%.

....Our economic narcissism was certainly the culprit in the devastation wrought by financial markets, which have subjected us to an increasingly frequent series of crashes, frauds and recessions. To a great degree, this was brought about by a lethal combination of irresponsible deregulation and accommodating monetary policies instituted by the Federal Reserve. Bankers and financial engineers had an unsupervised free-market free-for-all just as the increased complexity of financial products — e.g., derivatives — screamed out for greater regulation or at least supervision. Enron, for instance, was a bastard child of a deregulated utilities industry and a mind-bending financial alchemy.

Tax cuts were mentioned -- only as a way to get people killed when bridges collapse, like the one in Minneapolis:

How many other bridges, roads and dams are death traps–in–waiting? No one knows, but you can't help wondering if squeezed maintenance budgets are making our country less safe. A 2005 report card on American infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers (which gave mostly C's and D's) estimated that the U.S. needed to spend $1.6 trillion to bring our roads, highways, bridges and dams into good shape. Sure, the engineers are looking for work but know that the U.S. spends only 2.4% of its GDP on infrastructure, as opposed to 5% in Europe and 9% in China. Here again, why should a politician spend money today to fix something that won't collapse until tomorrow? Especially if he or she could get re-elected by cutting taxes instead.

Tim Graham's picture

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