As the Aughts come to a close, Reason staffers make their pitches for the best and worst things in a decade that many are hoping to forget.
Radley Balko, Senior Editor:
Worst: September 11. For the sheer horrendousness of the attacks and what they represented, but also for the corresponding overreaction from the U.S. government and resulting collateral damage to...well, just about every other area of public policy.
Best: The continued growth, expansion, adaptation, and usefulness of the Internet. From bringing new transparency and accountability to government at all levels all over the world to facilitating instant commerce between people far removed from one another to immensely expanding an infinite range of consumer options to the liberation of information to a litany other benefits, it's hard to name another development in modern history that has done more to better the human condition.
Brian Doherty, Senior Editor:
Worst: Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This decade saw the U.S. launch and continue, with no end in realistic sight even as ends are promised, two wars of questionable (Afghanistan) or no (Iraq) relevance to the defense of the nation. These actions have murdered tens of thousands and wasted treasure we decidedly don't have to spare. To the extent that they have not been obvious, universally agreed upon disasters, which they have not, they unfortunately lay the groundwork for more such foolish and criminal uses of the U.S. military in the future.
Best: Global Explosion in The Middle Class. As nearly always in human history, the good news has to be found beyond the worlds of government and public policy. In a decade of grim expansion of state power and resource grabs, and further diminution of constitutional limits on that expansion, all persons of good will (except, I guess, for people who think human wealth equals planetary destruction) should cheer a trend summed up well by Jesse Walker here at Reason Online: an explosion of entrepreneurship and wealth that has brought the middle class to dominate more than half's the world population by 2006.
Nick Gillespie, Editor in Chief, Reason.com and Reason.tv:
Worst: The Return of Interventionism Whether Domestic, Foreign, or Interplanetary. After a relatively hands-off decade in the 1990s, government at all levels has rebounded as more powerful, repressive, and expensive than ever before. The 9/11 attacks did not need to lead to long-term occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis (largely if not completely created by government policies) did not need to lead to the feds running GM, etc. Yet this impulse is back in full force, and in defiance of the sentiment of the American people, a majority of whom oppose our wars, bailouts, and health care reform.
Best: The End of Mainstream Culture in America. At some point in the past decade, "the mainstream" disappeared from America, with nary a peep. This is partly a technological development (the Internets, among other inventions, allow us to make choices long denied us) but it's even more an attitudinal thing. Along every dimension of activity, whether we're talking music, sex, ideology, or food, there are more viable choices than ever before and, even more important, more comfort with the choices we and others make. Politicians will be the last to get the news (see above: The Return of Interventionism), but that's always the case. This experiential pluralism, a combination of mind-set, wealth, and technology, should be our great export to the world in the 21st century. As it spreads, it will also kick the props out from interventionism, which demands that everyone pay for everyone else's choices.
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Katherine Mangu-Ward, Senior Editor
Worst: The End of the End of History. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, and we were all supposed to sail off into the sunset on the U.S.S. Liberal Democracy. But then the Russian Bear woke up grumpy, 9/11 went down, Iran decided to it was in the mood for nukes, the word Islamofascism started appearing in newspapers. History resumed.
Best: Cell phones. A good innovation is one that makes life before it seem unimaginably difficult. In the dark days at the end of the 20th century, cell phones had more or less assumed their modern form, but most people still didn't own one. Ownership levels around the globe struggled to crack double digits, and even in the U.S. fewer than a third of adults owned a cell phone. Today, 87 percent of Americans have a mobile, and that figure rises to 94 percent under the age of 45. More than half the world's population now carries a phone in their pocket, and many developing nations have skipped over landline infrastructure entirely. At the dawning of a new decade, one question plagues us: How did people ever manage to meet for lunch in the '90s?