The Decade Challenge

Matt’s post from last week arguing that the Aughts (the decade about to end) was basically a dud sounds like an invitation for a challenge:  What has been the best decade (since 1940 when time began) and why?

19 Responses to The Decade Challenge

  1. Patrick says:

    The aughts would be great if it wasn’t for rising socialism and an expanding nanny state.

    We’ve got a powerful and personalized internet where you can get what you want when you want it. Cars have more horsepower today than at any decade in the past – and they still get 30 miles per gallon. LCD and Plasma high def televisions for under $1,000.

    Anything and everything is getting cheaper – well except for anything and everything that is heavily regulated by the government.

    That said, I’d vote for the 90s. Life was on the up and up. Socialism was dead. Capitalism was on the rise. Free trade was becoming politically popular. American sports cars finally peaked over 300 horsepower and the Japanese even came out with a sweet twin turbo RX-7 rotary powered sports coupe. Dodge went from making K-cars to Vipers with a Lamborghini built 8.3liter V10 engine that produced 500 horsepower of Italian-American muscles. The music was great and you could get Whoppers for 99 cents. 99 cents, 99 cents, 99 cents.

    The only downside of the 90s was the hippies. They made were fashionable for some reason in the 90s.

  2. Matthewladner says:

    I second the nomination of the 90s. Bring back the Republican Congress, Slick Willie and sweet gridlock!

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Rubbish. The 1980s started with Reagan and Thatcher proving that history did not always move leftward and driving all the right people absolutely stark raving bonkers, and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Goddess of Democracy. In pop culture we started with Empire Strikes Back, the Blues Brothers and Raiders of the Lost Ark, went on through Ghost Busters and Back to the Future, and ended with Tim Burton’s Batman. And those are just the summer movies!

  4. I’m with Greg. The 80s were the best. The 80s laid the foundation for the relatively good 90s, but by neglecting foreign problems and sowing the seeds of the housing bubble, the 90s gave us the Aughts.

  5. Brian says:

    I know this isn’t exactly the question, but all things considered, I’d rather exist in the present than any previous decade. The good things about the past endure. Now I can watch The Empire Strikes Back on a big LCD at home, you know?

  6. Greg Forster says:

    Good point, Brian – although as you indicate, that’s not the same question. The criterion we’re referencing is “which decade is the greatest?” rather than “when would you rather live?” And it takes more greatness to produce Empire than it does to produce DVD players and big-screen home theaters to watch it on.

    Not that we don’t value that sort of greatness too, as our annual Al Copeland Award shows!

    Still, even if we were to switch the question to “when would you rather live?” the point you’re making cuts both ways. People in the Aughts can continue to enjoy much of the goodness of the Eighties. But people in the Eighties didn’t have to put up with the badness of the Aughts! The ability to look back is a virtue of the present, but the inability to look forward is an equal and opposite virtue of the past.

  7. Ben says:

    I’m shocked — shocked! — that no one nominated the 70s. (*crickets chirping*)

    Seriously, I cast my vote for the 80s for the same reasons eloquently stated by Greg and Jay.

  8. greg, the link is broken. Can you redo?

  9. Alsadius says:

    40s – Worst war in human history. Um, no.
    50s – Irritating in many ways, but prosperous, basically peaceful, and good development.
    60s – Irritating in even more ways. The advent of good music does not make up for the advent of filthy hippies.
    70s – Good for culture(bar disco), utterly horrifying for politics, pretty meh for technology.
    80s – Good for politics, bad for culture, good for technology.
    90s – Pretty awesome all around. Even the socialists were capitalists in the 90s.
    00s – Sort of the dark counterpart to the 90s – even the capitalists were socialists(cf. George Bush and Stephen Harper nationalizing General Motors). Tech was still awesome, no great complaints about culture, but I’m generally opposed to economic implosions.

    Overall, I’d say 90s > 50s > 80s > 00s > 60s > 70s > 40s

  10. Greg Forster says:

    Very systematic! But I would take issue with a few things:

    1) I would place the advent of filthy hippies in the 50s with the appearance of beatniks. Hippies are just beatniks in tie-dye.

    2) I’m not sure how “basically peaceful” the 50s were, between the Korean War, the French escapade in Vietnam, the Warsaw massacre in 1956, and the ongoing low-level direct combat between American and Soviet forces in small, dark corners around the world (none of which was reported until decades later).

    3) You say “even the socialists were capitalists in the 90s” like it’s a good thing. But why do you think even the capitalists were socialists in the 00s? That’s exactly why. The socialists took over capitalism from the inside.

  11. Alsadius says:

    1) I guess it depends what you mean by “advent”. The beatniks were, so far as I am aware, not a particularly influential movement in the 50s, beyond the impressionism-and-ivory-towers set. The hippies were certainly influential in the 60s.

    2) True, the 50s were probably more violent than the 80s or 90s, though they were much less bad than the 60s or 70s, not within a mile of the 40s, and probably roughly on par with the 00s. Though really, Korea is the only one there worth mentioning – the others are the sort of thing that are always happening somewhere. Low-level combat and massacres are endemic in some parts of the world, whether it be Vietnam or Somalia.

    3) It was a good thing – my Liberal Prime Minister in the 90s(Chretien) was a better advocate of the free market and fiscal responsibility than the Conservative before or after him(Mulroney and Harper). He’s the only one since the post-WW2 drawdown to actually shrink the federal government even temporarily.

    As for “they took capitalism over from the inside”, that’s been happening for 160 years. Politics is weird, and lots of people you wouldn’t expect to do things do them. Who would ever have imagined that Otto von Bismarck would have been the one to create the welfare state, or that Richard Nixon would have been the one to recognize the legitimacy of the most violent Communist dictator in history? I’ve seen serious arguments that the New Deal was an honest attempt to save capitalism, which is bizarre in all manner of ways. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that intentions are all well and good, but it’s actions you have to judge. The domestic policy of the centre-left in the 90s was, on the whole, better than the centre-right has done at any point in the last 50 years. I’ve got to give credit for it.

  12. Greg Forster says:

    1) The hippies didn’t really become influential beyond their own (not very powerful) ranks until the 70s. And I don’t think the beatniks were ever influential in the ivory tower; neither were the hippies until the 70s.

    2) Right – I was really just responding to the word “peaceful.”

    3) So it doesn’t matter to our evaluations at all that the center-left in the 90s only embraced capitalism because it was a politically expedient way of advancing their ultimately anti-capitalist agenda? As long as they embraced it, they get credit, even if they only embraced it to destroy it? Wow, that strikes me as an amazingly self-defeating approach. I mean, I’m not defending the center-right of the 00s, which should hang its head in shame; I’m just arguing that the center-left of the 90s shouldn’t get credit for doing good things in the short term in order to advance a bad agenda in the long term.

  13. Alsadius says:

    1) Fair enough. Hard to put a definite point in time on it.

    2) I’m going to hide behind the “relatively” in the original.

    3) How bad was their long-term agenda, though? I’m only especially familiar with the Canadian and American examples, so I’ll go into them. In Canada, pretty much every major new entitlement package(the big one proposed in the 90s was high-speed internet) was bandied around for a bit and then quietly dropped. There was never very much in the way of freedom-destroying legislation(a gun registry, not much else), and on the flip side there were some good expansions of freedoms in fields like marijuana policy, gay rights, and the other social issues that the left is generally good for, along with a fairly effective compromise on media piracy that’s prevented most of the excess that the US has experienced with piracy cases. Their foreign policy was generally pretty anemic – botched peacekeeping missions and landmine bans were the high points – but it was anemic in fairly harmless fashion.

    In the US case, it’s a bit harder to draw a clear chain of causality, because of the divided government for most of the decade. HillaryCare would certainly have been ugly had it passed, and Clinton gets full demerits for that one. But pretty much everything after 1994 you have to argue over possession of. There were certainly some accomplishments – balanced budgets, most notably – but we’ll be arguing whether Gingrich or Clinton earned credit for that until people have forgotten who they were.

    Sadly, I don’t have as much of a memory for all the little infringements on freedom in the 90s that I do today – I wasn’t politically active then, so I’m filling in most of my knowledge from things I’ve picked up since, which tends to gloss over the little stuff. It’s possible that there were as many idiotic, anti-freedom laws passed then as there are now. Really, it’s depressingly likely. I’m pretty sure the British surveillance state started early in Blair’s first term, for example. He was less obnoxious about nationalizing things than his Labour predecessors in the 70s, but he was no friend of liberty, and I’m sure he’s the sort of fellow you have in mind when you’re talking about politicians who used the market as an excuse instead of as a plan.

    Chretien doesn’t deserve that, though – I don’t think he has enough principles to be trying to sneak them through us. He’s just another Liberal who cared most about not pissing anyone off too badly and winning elections. Clinton was somewhere in the middle, I think – he had a leftist vision, but it was genuinely more moderate than someone like Johnson’s, and he was genuinely willing to accept the market to some extent instead of solely trying to break it.

    I’m not really trying to defend people like Blair. His acceptance of markets in some fields doesn’t make up for his other totalitarian impulses. But most 90s politicians who swung to the right seem to have done so legitimately, not as a cover. It hardly turned us into someplace Ayn Rand would like to have called home, but there were real improvements. Just because they’ve largely been thrown away since doesn’t mean that doing so was their goal.

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