Don't Fear The 2010s!

Embrace the coming decade's new distractions and overblown worries.

Few decades have been as resolutely and relentlessly dismal as this past one, which is thankfully all over but the shouting (a note to calendaric purists who insist that the decade really runs from 2001 to 2010: You're part of the problem). Contested elections, international terrorism, more bubbles blown (and burst!) than on a Lawrence Welk special. Did we really survive the Y2K bug, avian flu and the unstoppable proliferation of saggy pants for this?

There was plenty serious that went wrong with "the Aughts" (one more indicator of a desultory decade: the period has produced no commonly shared nickname). It was one of the worst decades ever for stocks, the U.S. mired itself in two seemingly endless and intractable wars, total federal spending increased by more than 100% in real dollars, unemployment hit double digits and for the second time in 10 years, the government is poised to massively intervene in health care (and not just Medicare this time). Most troubling for long-term economic growth, and hence living standards, it is no longer clear where the public sector ends and the private sector begins. It's hard to escape the sinking feeling that the government-controlled General Motors may well be prototyping America's answer to the Lada.

Yet for all that trouble, we spent a lot of time and energy in the Aughts fighting phantom menaces, such as the ideas that vaccines cause autism in children, that ATM machines featuring a Spanish-language option posed a threat to national sovereignty and that rampant steroid use by players was turning off fans who attended Major League Baseball in record numbers. All of these oh-so-pressing issues received multiple congressional hearings when they should have been more properly rinsed away, like the hand-sanitizer gels that rose to ubiquity.

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As a sadly appropriate parting gift to this grim first decade of the 21st century, a period so debased that the Boston Red Sox managed to win not just one but two World Series, we can thank Nigerian would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for robbing us of our inalienable right to use a cramped bathroom at 30,000 feet. Indeed, we can only await Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's directive that all frequent fliers must now go commando as a condition of air travel.

While Mr. Abdulmutallab's underwear bomb thankfully did not explode en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, his botched attempt (and the heroic acts of passengers) has reignited one of the decade's most pervasive—and overblown—anxieties: that terrorist violence would become "the new normal," an everyday occurrence in the United States.

As Ohio State political scientist John Mueller has documented, such fears are as erroneous as they are deeply held. "The likelihood that a person living outside a war zone will perish at the hands of an international terrorist over an eighty-year period is about one in 80,000," wrote Mr. Mueller in the American Interest in 2008. "By comparison, an American's chance of dying in an auto accident over the same time interval is one in eighty." Well, rational analysis should never get in the way of strong feelings.

What will be the great hysterical fears of the coming decade? By definition, such worries need to be simultaneously undocumentable and just plausible enough to convince politicians, celebrities, civic do-gooders, captains of industry and media types that our very society hangs in the balance.

For a classic example, think back to the 1980s, when Tipper Gore, the wife of then-Sen. Al Gore, helped form the Parents Music Resource Center and addressed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding the pressing topic of sexual, violent and occult imagery in pop music. As Mrs. Gore wrote in her best-selling (and now hard-to-find) 1987 book "Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society," "By using satanic symbols on the concert stage, and album covers, such as those used by Ozzy Osbourne...certain heavy metal bands lure teenagers into what one expert has called 'the cult of the eighties.' Many kids experiment with the deadly satanic game, and get hooked."

It is probably only thanks to the intervention of the Gores that we managed as a country to wrestle free both of Beelzebub's and Ronnie James Dio's bony grasp. Which, it's worth adding, might have been preferable to that of Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner.

Here's a tour of the probable panics of the 2010s, some of which are already well under way.

China Is Both Making and Eating Our Lunch

Few things engender flop sweat faster among upper-class Americans than the idea that a lesser nation is on the fast track to economic domination. In the late 1980s, it was self-evident to those in the know that Japan's government-subsidized, super-hierarchical and tightly integrated mega-corporations were intrinsically superior to their American counterparts. A raft of best sellers like "Rising Sun" and movies such as "Gung Ho!" bid sayonara to the American Way. The fear collapsed in the '90s along with the Japanese economy, which has yet to pull out of a "lost decade" that's lasted nearly 20 years.

Look for a repeat of the same story, this time with China in the lead role. By keeping their currency low—they have pegged it to the dollar, after all—the Chinese have thrown "hundreds of thousands and maybe even more Americans...out of work," says Sen. Charles Schumer, who has called for a trade war. After a couple more quarters of weak or nonexistent growth, get ready for calls to banish dissent and individualism in business that will last right up to the moment that the Chinese government makes the wrong call. Which, if history is any guide, is already in the pipeline.

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  • ||

    Of all the things I fear, being overblown isn't high on the list.

  • The Art-P.O.G.||

    Possible threadwinner in the first comment? Highly irregular.

  • ||

    I concur.

  • Big John||

    P Brooks

    +1

  • FDR||

    Fear scares me.

  • Patrick||

    Saw this article in a nice spot in the WSJ- congrats. Enjoyable article.

  • Mike M.||

    Few decades have been as resolutely and relentlessly dismal as this past one.

    I predict that with the strong likelihood of nuclear proliferation, the looming insolvency of Medicare, and the possible eventual downfall of the dollar as the world's preferred currency, we'll eventually going to look back on the 2000s wistfully.

  • ||

    +1

    Don't forget the proliferation of biological warfare technologies.

  • ||

    MikeM -- I am with you....that said, you forgot to mention the domestic instability that will follow Lord O's unintended consequences. Cheers.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    Why Have the Kids Stopped Having Sex?

    One might parody Ayn Rand by saying, "Eros shrugged," or parody LaTour by saying, "People aren't still having sex and nothing seems to start them."

  • ||

    DRINK!

  • Seward||

    Funny article. There's always more money to be made off fear than encouragement, it seems, or at least easier money.

    Don't forget about Comrade Obama frogmarching us into the gulags. Go Galt!

  • ||

    Few decades have been as resolutely and relentlessly dismal as this past one.

    I can think of four in the last century:

    (1) The 1910s (WWII)
    (2) The 1930s (Great Depression, rise of fascism and communism)
    (3) The 1940s (WWII)
    (4) The 1970s (slaughter of millions in SE Asia, stagflation in the West, expansion of Communism).

  • historian||

    don't forget:

    1340s: peak of the Black Death in Europe

    1860s: more than 600,000 Americans perish in civil war

    2020s: machines on the brink of utterly destroying humanity only a generation after Judgment Day

  • Syd Henderson||

    1640s: Civil wars in England, Spain and France, 30 years war, war in China, Ibrahim the Mad running Ottoman Empire.

  • ||

    "In the late 1980s, it was self-evident to those in the know that Japan's government-subsidized, super-hierarchical and tightly integrated mega-corporations were intrinsically superior to their American counterparts. A raft of best sellers like "Rising Sun" and movies such as "Gung Ho!" bid sayonara to the American Way."

    Don't forget Die Hard. Takes place in a Japanese corporation's office building in LA.

  • ||

    When the great flyby occurs, the earth will tip on its axis; there will be big earthquakes, tidal bores, etc. The initial effects will result in many casualties, but the main problem is that commerce, power delivery, and water in many large cities across the world will be disrupted all at once, so that there is no more "they" to come and rescue "us".

    Imagine an area like Los Angeles, when the thousands of produce trucks stop running, not for days, or weeks, but months at a time, or even longer.

    Here are some quotes from the Virgin Mary to a visionary in S. America, along these lines:

    "Pay attention to the signs of God. The day will come when the earth loses its natural movement; the sun will become dark and nothing will be like it was before."........Humanity is on the brink of great catastrophies, and the moment of the great return has come."........

    When such things happened in the past, they weren't as bad, as the web of commerce simpler. Now it is so complex, we will take it all for granted, right up until the moment when it all disappears.

    Until then, watch the value of the dollar continue to erode. The only way the Government can pay back its debts is to devalue the currency so much, they will be able to pay the debt back with much cheaper dollars.

  • R||

    high-schoolers are actually scoring less

    tell me about it. and it's not just highschoolers. college and post-college too. the situation is dismal. can't we get some kind of stimulus package?

  • Zenmaster||

    Everybody is too busy "stimulus"ing their own "package."

  • bleephole||

    Slurp! Slurp!

  • Chad||

    Nick: You claim that college grads will make hundreds of thousands more due to their degree. Do you have any statistics that back this up that, critically, control for the student's background and abilities? I have never seen such data but would love to to so.

    It is patently obvious that the students who go to college are, on average, smarter, better educated, harder working, richer, and loaded with connections than those who don't. Of course they earn more, even ignoring the college factor. How much college adds on top of their numerous advantages is a question I would love to see answered.

  • ||

    Perhaps some entering college start off from richer families, but many start like me, with nothing. Yes, I am still pressed with massive debt because of it, over ten years later, but that was the cost of attending a private school where you learn more than a government subsidized school that focusses more on electives and liberal thinking.

    Yes, I am making much more $$ now. More than I could ever think about prior to finishing an undergraduate degree.

    This is a good article, though I truly believe that there are topics for honest worries coming up - like massive spending and expansion of government, including but not limited to, health care.

  • ||

    It is patently obvious that the students who go to college are, on average, smarter, better educated, harder working, richer, and loaded with connections than those who don't.

    Well, the "better educated" is tautological.

    And I suspect the "richer" is true overall, counting family wealth.

    But the "smarter" and "harder working"? Don't kid yourself.

  • Chad||

    No, I am talking about people entering college. The kids that enter college on average went to better schools, more summer camps, traveled more, etc and spent more time around educated adults and peers than do those who do not enter college.

    *You* have to be kidding about the last two, unless you are seriously claiming that people who are smarter and harder working are not better at entering college (or doing anything, for that matter) than those who are sutpid and lazy.

  • trollfodder||

    Everyone is entering college these days, but how many graduate with a degree?

  • ||

    i have to second r c deans questioning of smarter and harder working. perhaps those entering college are smarter and harder working in an academic setting, but most of the world is far different from an academic setting, and in my experience, the skillsets needed to succeed in each do not correspond strongly.

    chad,
    i agree with you about controlling for those variables when analyzing the benefits of college, but that is a hell of a tall order. not the least of the problems is that how would one count the connections one made while in college?

  • Emo||

    Formal education will become less and less relevant in an increasingly digital age. Meanwhile, prices are going up while value going down, occuring in some sort of market vacuum.

  • ||

    You forgot the internet. Media panic always requires new technology to sufficiently scare people: Web surfing causes sperm abnormalities, gonadal atrophy, and yet at the same time adultery! There's a whole generation of small-balled philanderers running around who don't need to wear condoms!

    Two other predictions: mainstream hysteria over 2012 will leave us all vastly more informed about Mayan astronomy and very hungover a few days before Christmas.

    Secondly the tea-partiers have not yet hit their media apex. I predict rampant gossip about a conservative ex-patriot segregationist movement (Paraguay seems the obvious choice).

  • ||

    Interesting points. Shows how short sighted public and private prognosticators are, especially as it realtes to China. From a demographic standpoint China will not achieve the miracle GDPs forecasted because by 2030 they will be top heavy with elderly citizens, similar to Japan and Western Europe. In other words China will grow old before it grows wealthy.

  • Randall Hoven||

    This "rational" analysis of terrorist threats is totally bogus. See my piece, Terrorism and Bathtubs: http://www.americanthinker.com.....htubs.html

    I subscribed to Reason for about 25 years. If it could re-invent itself as a truly rational, libertarian magazine, I might re-subscribe. But it leans left every time it senses itself sounding right. Stop trying so hard to be politically correct in that smug, cutesy way of oh-so-hip libertarians.

  • ||

    Don't make the mistake of understating and minimizing the problems of the 'aughts, because the teens are going to make most of those problems look like the 'good old days'.

  • TERYL||

    Conservatives/Liberal… right/wrong…. good/evil.
    They are now saying that there is no difference between liberals and conservatives. That it is just a shade of gray. I disagree:
    An aborted baby is dead, not somewhere in between. The mother may have said she has the right to take another person’s life, but she knows it is not true. Because she knew it was one of the most evil acts mankind can do, but did it anyway, it makes her evil and dammed. So, now, she wants to take everyone else to hell with her.
    For the government to take excessive money (more than 10 percent) at gunpoint from the working man and trade it to the slackers for their votes is evil. It will lead us all (both workers and slackers) to slavery. Freedom/slavery. This point is obvious.
    For the government to structure our armed forces so that they can no longer defend the country is not just wrong, it is evil. It would expose our women and children to all the evil people in the world. They know this but because they want one world government, they require that the USA just be one country among many.
    For the government to wreak the only system that works(capitalism) to help the common man and replace it with a system(socialism) that has failed everywhere it has been tried is not only wrong. It is evil.
    The one thing you should know about liberals is that they are wrong on everything .I don’t mean slightly wrong, they are clearly wrong to any thinking person. They do promise a free ride to the slackers but will only deliver them into slavery in the end, if they succeed. They know they are wrong on everything but do it anyway and that makes them evil. That innate evil will cause them to lose in the end but many good people will have to suffer getting there. So, it is in our all best interest to stop them as early as possible.
    It will never be possible to stamp out all evil; we can only strive to keep liberals under control to protect the babies, the home, the country and the world.
    Finally, liberals should be clearly labeled as evil so that when a young person approaching voting age make a choice, the line will be clear for them before they sell their soul for a promised free ride.
    It will be one free ride, out to the middle of a Mississippi cotton field on a 100 degree day in July. The nearest shade tree will be about a half of a mile away and the humidity will be 95% .They will be handed a hoe and told to chop cotton if they want any supper. At about six p. m. the wagon will take them back to their liberal master’s bunk house.

  • ||

    Exactly! Well said.

  • ||

    I would normally agree with the optimism of the author. However, with Obama and the Democrats in charge wreaking havok on the economy and engaging in an orgy of corruption, and a foreign police of apology and appeasement this could be a true period of disatrous decline for our nation. The 2010 elections will be critical!

  • ||

    You have got to grab our interest in the first paragraph.

  • ||

    Gillespie, wouldn't it have been simpler just to say, "let them eat cake?"

  • wfffreegr||

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