…as the decade in which we all grew older. This is about the only memory we will all share; the rest will depend on who watched what on video. Since the arts and political discourse, not to mention the educational system, are reduced by and large to entertainment, aimed chiefly to make people feel good, we have regressed toward the Middle Ages—that is, back to a radical division between a small educated class obsessed with ideology and a huge majority who are not only ignorant but have such a tenuous grip on reality that they believe the stars foretell their day and are bewitched by actresses who lecture about their experiences as prostitutes in ancient Egypt. All of which is bad news for shared memories of history. Perhaps the collapse of share prices and the promised economic downturn will be remembered as the beginning of a return to civilization. Less busy shopping, people may find time to think, read, locate America on the map, study history—amusements that cost very little.
In the meantime, some will remember the '80s for clean living inspired by AIDS; for Chernobyl, which demonstrated that it doesn't matter who drops the Bomb on whom, the wind will take it around to everybody; and for the Reagan-Gorbachev treaty, influenced by the growing realization that air currents are the ultimate deterrents.
Stephen Vizinczey is the author of In Praise of Older Women and Truth and Lies in Literature. A chapter from his novel An Innocent Millionaire appeared in the May 1987 REASON.
…for the paradoxical combination of the collapse of the socialist idea throughout the communist and Third worlds and even among Western intellectuals and the discrediting of free-market ideals in the West. In the '80s, the true historical function of the Chinese Marxist revolution became clear—destruction of the millennia-old feudal impediments to capitalist development. The decision in the Soviet Union genuinely to compete economically with the West and with the surging capitalist economies of the Far East forced radical economic liberalization and rehabilitation of the previously forgotten Russian economist Adamsky Smithovich. (Twenty years later, the Lenin Peace Prize was awarded posthumously to the great Russian atheist, materialist, and antifascist Ayn Rand.) And the last "Marxist" intellectual who maintained that Marx favored either a centrally planned economy or a forced egalitarianism was expelled from the American Society of Socialists.
In the '80s, due to the convincing rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, almost all Americans came to understand that free enterprise meant massive federal debt, payrolls, and taxes; social and economic stagnation; and the triumph of the aristocracy of pull. Believing in neither the old socialism nor the new free enterprise, the electorate turned increasingly to prayer—and overwhelmingly elected the ticket of Jackson and Robertson.
Eric Mack teaches philosophy at Tulane University.
…for the near-complete breakdown of civility and the libertarian impulse within the conservative movement. What had once been a genteel and thoughtful amalgam of traditionalist and libertarian elements became—in the hands of the manipulators surrounding the president and in the rhetoric and pamphleteering of the operators who took for granted their benediction from what they imagine is their God—a bitter and vicious thing. Conservatism, in power in the White House and at many of the significant agencies, demonstrated a sanctimoniousness and self-satisfied arrogance that resembled the behavior of liberalism rampant in earlier years.
Libertarianism demonstrated that as a political force it is to all extents meaningless except when somebody can bankroll a presidential or other race: such was the case in 1980. By 1984 the Libertarian Party ticket made about as much headway as the Vegetarian. As a confluence of ideas, libertarianism showed some energy in the '80s, though the American tendency to ride with the red-hot conservatives or the retrograde liberals or the primitive populists showed how insubstantially had libertarianism dented the public consciousness.
Ollie North and Eddie Murphy became '80s heroes, which just about says it all.
Contributing Editor David Brudnoy is a radio talk show host and film critic in Boston.
Before we had a chance to breathe a collective sigh of relief after a decade of polyester, discos, and unabashed promiscuity, the '80s lifestyle was upon us. The first hint of our future arrived in the Preppie Handbook—the hottest item to hit college campuses since marijuana. The book espoused a preference for pearls (real ones, of course) over plastic baubles, cotton (read pricey) over nylon, leather furniture over crushed velvet. Fully loaded Buicks gave way to back-to-basics Mercedes and BMWs. "They cost a little more, but it's the quality that counts." Yeah, right.
The tacky 70s gave birth to the beautiful '80s and, in turn, to a demand for high-quality goods—preferably the kind that appreciate in value. Framed posters of wildlife flooded thrift stores and yard sales, while the desire for high art you could cart home in the back of the Volvo helped the new art superstars flourish. To create the appropriate surroundings for our newly found taste, a new breed of architecture superstars designed everything right down to the teapot on our commercial ranges. Bye, bye, Lady Kenmore.
The '80s will certainly be remembered for this rebirth of materialism, and we will remember just how much it cost. But if you ever have doubts about whether it was all worth it, just pull out a snapshot of yourself from 1975 and remind yourself of the words of the immortal Billy (Nando's Place) Crystal: "It's better to look good than to feel good."
Laura Main is REASON's art director.
Tim W. Ferguson
…for sense and nonsense. Nearly the whole world grew to recognize that markets foster prosperity. Pockets of political or tyrannical resistance were circumscribed. Tax rates mostly fell. Yet in the same decade, the welfare state entrenched itself where enterprise has brought wealth. Amassed public debt acted as somewhat of a check on new social transfers but didn't threaten the core middle-class entitlements that weight down the West. Only economic calamity looms as a caller of that intergenerational loan, and thanks to wonders of trade and commerce that largely escaped establishment eyes, such a calamity may not be just around the corner.
Arms were ever more a preoccupation of the nation-states, although here again the fiscal cinch was felt. A dissolving of post–World War II arrangements seemed finally in order, but the question of will to contest Soviet Leninism was unresolved throughout much of the free world. Here at home, technology and expanded means made life inexorably better for most, though it became gruesomely worse for individuals (and their offspring) who had made unfortunate choices about personal conduct and family responsibilities. The decade leaves libertarians with a particular challenge to work with cultural conservatives to repair that rending of our society's fabric.
Tim W. Ferguson is editorial features editor for the Wall Street Journal.
…for the creation of the U.S. troy ounce gold bullion coin and the silver ounce coin. First, in the greatest sense of "remembered," the bullion coins will be unearthed by archaeologists thousands of years from now, and they will figure out what "MCMLXXXVI" means.
Second, politicized paper money systems are inherently unstable, and we have seen recently that floating international exchange rates disrupt both capital and goods markets, so there is a good chance a new world monetary system will evolve, based on a tangible monetary base. If this occurs, of course, the troy ounce gold bullion coins are most likely, in my opinion, to form the new monetary base—and the "units of account" will be troy ounces of gold. So the '80s will be remembered in the next century and thereafter as the beginning of the new international gold standard monetary system, transcending government-issued paper units.
Contributing Editor Joe Cobb is senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.
We don't know yet. When I came to the United States in the fall of 1962 "the '50s" were still heavily in progress. "The '60s" began, I would say, in 1965. "The '70s" began (let's say) with the fall of Saigon. In retrospect the '70s were a decade of increasing conservatism (election of Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan). I guess "the '80s" began in 1985, say with Reagan's second term. So far the decade has been characterized by a declining dollar and a renewed detente. Both, I suspect, will prove to be unreliable indicators. The events that in retrospect will define "the '80s" have not yet occurred and, on January 21, 1988, are not foreseeable. No doubt they will surprise us all.
Contributing Editor Tom Bethell is a media fellow at the Hoover Institution.
…for condoms…Just Say No…answering machines…aerobics, health clubs, triathalons, hard bodies, sweat…Oliver North…Safe Sex…yuppies…Madonna and Sean Penn…the Challenger exploding against a very blue sky…Tammy Bakker's eyelashes.…Mary Beth Whitehead, test tube babies, women giving birth to their own grandchildren…John Lennon's death…the first black Miss America and the first to quit…frozen yogurt…"getting the government off our backs"…cheap airline tickets…Steven Spielberg and George Lucas…Charles and Diana, Fergie and Andrew…Michael Jackson's Thriller…AIDS…"I Want Your Sex"…Cuisinarts, microwaves…Ivan Boesky…nouvelle food, Thai food, diner food, sushi, blackened everything…crack…VCRs, CDs, PCs…homosexuals, intravenous drug users, Haitians…Nutrasweet…Band Aid, Live Aid, USA for Africa…Libya, Grenada, Chernobyl…MTV…Talking Heads, Springsteen, U-2, rap…Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Cory Aquino…Esprit…the crash of '87…Gary Hart, Donna Rice…"The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," "Miami Vice," "Dynasty"…Rock Hudson…Men Who Won't Eat Quiche and the Women Who Love Them.
Assistant Managing Editor Lucy Braun likes lists.
…for being a time of private versus public interest for most Americans—a time of Reaganism, when rollbacks of programs such as AFDC, student loans, and funding for the handicapped coexisted with rollbacks of tax rates for corporations and wealthy individuals. It spawned yuppies, who, though few in number, were as important symbols of the times as hippies were of theirs.
College students listed making a lot of money as their primary goal. The energy for social change came not from the left but from the right. Yet even with an enormously popular president who was more hospitable than any recent president to the right wing's fundamentalist agenda, and with the power of televangelism, the progressive attitudinal changes of the '60s and early '70s were too entrenched to tolerate major changes in the laws affecting matters ranging from school prayer and gay rights to censorship and abortion. Moreover, due to the belated acknowledgment by the administration of the serious implications of AIDS, condoms finally came out of the closet.
As a sociopolitical decade, the '80s have ended. A reemphasis on public concerns and a more progressive political agenda will almost certainly follow.
Christie Hefner is president of Playboy Enterprises. An interview with her appeared in REASON's June 1986 issue.
David R. Henderson
…for dramatic reductions in the top marginal tax rates on personal income, not just in the United States but around the world. Ten years ago who would have dreamed that by 1988 the top rate here would have fallen from 70 to 28 percent? In 1971 I attended a conference at Columbia University that featured Milton Friedman. He was asked which government interventions he would like to see eliminated or reformed first. One was the income tax. Friedman said he would drop tax rates and make sure that the highest rate was no more than double the lowest. His wish came true: 28 is less than twice 15.
These low tax rates have a good shot at being permanent. Economists are concluding—and governments are slowly learning—that high rates reduce the tax base so much that they lead to lower revenues. And academic economists who write on optimal taxation, even those with a strong egalitarian bent, are concluding that the top rate should be somewhere between 20 and 40 percent.
Economics columnist David R. Henderson is a regular contributor to Fortune.
…for failure. The '80s were a typical Republican decade—benign, comfortable, and nonradical. They were pleasant years for most of us, with a popular two-term president who…er, presided over relative peace and prosperity, kept the social engineers at bay, and avoided wrenching social upheavals. For those reasons, the '80s seem misleadingly "good."
But Reagan's '80s, like Eisenhower's very similar '50s, will be seen in retrospect as a time of lost opportunity. Early in Reagan's first term, he might have repealed large portions of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society—as Margaret Thatcher rolled back socialism in Great Britain—but he didn't really try. (Similarly, Eisenhower might have been able to repeal the New Deal—but he didn't try either, leaving Social Security to fester through the decades.) Oh, Reagan said some fine things, and he managed to reduce our income taxes, but he could have done so much more had he dared.
America is a revolutionary country. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, commenting on Shays' Rebellion, said: "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.…[W]hat country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?…The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
The '80s were ripe for a genuine restoration of individual liberty, but Reagan blew it. And I guess we blew it too.
Contributing Editor Warren Salomon is an attorney and tax specialist in Miami.
…for the personal computer revolution. From an installed base of 365,000 in 1979, the number of personal computers in the United States—in homes, in schools, and in the workplace—soared to 15 million in 1988. By 1990, that number is expected to grow to more than 26 million.
It was during the '80s that we started to become a computer-literate society and truly entered the Information Age. The implications extend far, from how we speak to what we teach our children. Back in '79, I don't think I ever had a casual conversation that contained the words modem or megabyte. But recently, in a long-distance phone call to an old friend, we spent a good 10 minutes going over the relative virtues of the Apple Macintosh and the IBM PC, as if we were discussing the latest car models.
The personal computer has made some of our lives easier, some harder, and others just more confused in adjusting to the new ways. It has transformed our society unlike any invention since the television. With television, we became a nation of vidiots. We are now, irrevocably, a nation of hackers.
Former Managing Editor Eric Marti, who computerized REASON, is a student at Stanford Business School.
…for the greatest mirage in libertarian/conservative political history. Never have so many right-thinking men and women been promised so much and received so little. President Ronald Reagan, whatever his good intentions, did not, in the end, rise much above rhetoric. The less-(government)-is-more crowd who helped put him in office got to see little in the way of genuine privatization, decreased federal spending, or meaningful reduction in government manipulation of the economy.
His tough-on-communism supporters, who had thrilled to the sound of his "Evil Empire" theme, were to witness, with few exceptions, a shameful substitution of empty words for action—from his feeble response to the downing of the KAL airliner; to a human rights policy so hypocritical it permitted a Ukrainian seaman named Medvid to lose his desperate bid for freedom and be delivered to almost certain death, allowed the State Department to condone the massacre of Tibetan demonstrators by Red Chinese troops, and made excuses for the man in charge of ravaging Afghanistan; to the ultimate obscenity of his lovefest with the current head of a totalitarian regime that has no modern rivals in systematized persecution of dissenters, institutionalized slave labor, mass murder, and world conquest.
Erika Holzer is a novelist and lawyer who lives in Bedford, New York.
Stephen G. Barone
…demographically, as a milestone for the so-called baby boomers: the first decade during which their own generation almost entirely constituted the work force, as that of their parents had completely retired from it by 1990.
…politically, as a time during which libertarian ideas could no longer be pooh-poohed away by the self-ordained intelligentsia: although often disguised as conservatism, individualism no longer garnered big laughs at cocktail parties.
…economically, as the salad days for small investors: the first time during which the proletariat was able to participate in the financial markets in a big way, thanks largely to computer technology.
…musically, as the era during which rock & roll was liberated from the numbing excesses of '70s pop and disco: New Wave minimalism returned drums, bass, and synthesizers to the background tracks—where they belong.
…personally, as the decade during which I became less melancholy about choosing the social sciences instead of a more lucrative major: perhaps something involving animal mutilation or generally accepted accounting principles.
Stephen G. Barone is a children's psychologist and free-lance writer.
On the geopolitical stage, the decade will be fondly remembered as the beginning of the end for totalitarian communism, an ugly political leftover from a century that began in a mindless orgy of bloodshed and ignorance. For the first time, in Afghanistan, an indigenous people was able to resist and defeat a Communist invasion. And, again for the first time, a nation began to dismantle its own Communist system as a failed experiment: the implications of China's turn away from Communism in all but name can hardly be overstated, as the billion-strong people begin to take their place with the Asian economic powerhouses of Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
Secondly, the '80s will be remembered for an explosion of scientific knowledge and technology such as the world has never before seen, led by computerization, biotechnology, and advances in medicine that could hardly be imagined a mere decade before. This trend, coupled with the turn toward capitalism and freedom in the Far East, could set the stage for a 21st century more enlightened and progressive than any the human species has ever experienced.
Contributing Editor Timothy Condon is a tax attorney.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld
…as a time of growing pessimism and uncertainty. The election of Ronald Reagan held out the great promise of putting the American dream back on track after our traumatic defeat in Vietnam. But the left will not let America forget its defeat. We must never be permitted to believe that our effort to save South Vietnam from communism was in any way justified.
In addition, the AIDS plague, growing illiteracy, disintegrating education, huge deficits, high consumer debt, our problems in Central America, our military disaster in Beirut, terrorism, hostage taking, space accidents, the farm depression, spy scandals, and the drug problem have just about convinced Americans that they are no longer the architects of their own future.
If it hadn't been for breathtaking advances in technology produced by capitalism, by entrepreneurs, and by the spirit of innovation, there would have been nothing visible to offset the climate of negativism. But glittering shopping malls, high-tech cars, jet travel, and Disney World cannot make up for spiritual misery.
The '80s will also be remembered for the revival of fundamentalist religious faith, a return to biblical principles by many Americans, the growth of home schooling, and the emergence of a new Calvinist intelligentsia within the heterogeneous conservative mix. These trends promise to upset many applecarts and make the '90s intellectually exciting.
Contributing Editor Samuel L. Blumenfeld is author of The New Illiterates.
…for the growth and growing success of free-market institutions the world over. Hayek's Road to Serfdom (1944) stoked the fire and his Intellectuals and Socialism (1949) set the strategic agenda. Interalia, he enthused three people: Leonard Read, Antony Fisher, and F.A. "Baldy" Harper. Read started the Foundation for Economic Education (1946), Fisher the Institute of Economic Affairs (1957), and Harper the Institute for Humane Studies (1961). All three shared a deep concern for freedom; all took different tacks; all are heroes.
Read's FEE was the layman's high school for liberty. Fisher's IEA concentrated on Hayek's nonpejorative "secondhand dealers in ideas," such as teachers and journalists. And Harper's IHS set out to preserve and later expand the remnant of market scholars.
By the end of the '70s the success of IEA had led Fisher to become a full-time entrepreneur of pro-market think tanks. He today lists over 40 institutes in over 20 countries that he has helped through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.
Three main trends stand out in the '80s. First is a solid growth in those institutes already in existence. Second is a surge of new institutes at the national level in the United States and abroad. And third is a still-developing wave of regional or state-wide institutes.
Suddenly in the '80s it's fashionable and feasible to promote free markets.
John Blundell is executive vice president of the Institute for Humane Studies.
James Dale Davidson
If decades were neighborhoods, the '80s would be a place you wouldn't want your daughter to live, a low, mean cross between Disneyland and Port Said. It was a time of debt, deficits, and deceit—deceit of self and deceit of others. Politically, it was the decade of Ronald Reagan, Gary Hart, and the Continuing Resolution; religiously, the decade of Jim and Tammy Bakker; culturally, the decade of Steven Spielberg. Altogether, it was a decade of irresponsibility, amnesiac about the past and uncaring about the future.
The '80s offered the illusion of protracted adolescence for the predominant baby boom generation. As a group we flat-out refused to grow up. Everyone watched Spielberg movies about childish heroes in a childish world. We did not want to be reminded of adulthood by adult themes, so even the movies that came closest to speaking to those themes, like Breaking Away or Karate Kid, had to be disguised as stories about teenagers. Little wonder we refused to pay our bills. Bills and credit ratings are adult concerns.
The good news about the '80s is that the decade ended in 1987. This was merciful—the '20s dragged on until 1929.
The stock market crashed. The arms-for-hostages scandal exposed Reagan as an amiable old fool. Jim and Tammy were turned out of their PTL playland. Gary Hart's adolescent ideas, not to mention his lies and infidelities, were no longer a turn-on. Suddenly, in 1987, movies were made about adults. Fatal Attraction and Moonstruck told us that we were growing up, Broadcast News that we were waking once again to ideas.
Yet the '80s, like the Roaring '20s, will live better in recollection than they did in life, and they will seem more prosperous. A decade of false prosperity and false youth will seem high-spirited as we look back from the poorhouse. Casey Stengal gave us a phrase we remembered and repeated in the '80s: "It's not over till it's over." Now it's over.
Contributing Editor James Dale Davidson is chairman of the National Taxpayers Union and coauthor of Blood in the Streets.
…for the most serious efforts in this century to reduce the role of the state. Some of these efforts are still nascent, such as in the Soviet Union. Some were partial but more dramatic, such as in China and New Zealand. Some were broader but with limited success, such as in Britain, France, and the United States. These developments reflect the combined effects of a change in the ideological bounds and the accumulating evidence that government direction of the economy reduces both individual liberty and economic growth.
All of these developments, however, are vulnerable. Although Marxism has lost broad appeal, it is still the official credo in many nations. Freedom will continue to be threatened internally by innocent people who promote government "solutions" to most any perceived problem and appeal to others motivated by envy. A demonstrated record of government failure, as in education, will be used as a rationale to increase state control. Some problems that are the result of government programs, such as the rapid increase in the price of medical services, will be used as the rationale for new programs.
The future, however, will be different because of the developments of the '80s. Political history, like biological evolution, is path dependent. The '80s may be only a temporary pause in the relative growth of the state, or this decade could be a turning point in the direction of increased freedom. As always, historical change is the result of human action, not of some inexorable process for either good or evil.
William Niskanen is chairman of the Cato Institute.
Virginia I. Postrel
…for being better than the '70s—a lot better. Especially if you were a teenager in the '70s.
Assistant Editor Virginia I. Postrel doesn't consider herself a baby boomer.
In the '80s, AIDS provided the major ammunition for a smug religious counterrevolution, cutting a bloody swath through all civil liberties, not just sexual ones, as civil libertarians had to concentrate on a fight against calls for concentration camps. By vetoing bills to establish tax credits for AIDS research (as in 1987 in California), the right kept AIDS research firmly in the hands of government. Promising lines of research that would have saved tens of thousands of lives were delayed or squelched.
Citizens of the '80s were concerned only about money and threw their votes in with the religious right in the vain hope that their taxes would be lowered. As Sunday closing laws returned, as many counties banned liquor, and as local theater owners were arrested for reviving Carnal Knowledge, few saw that the cause was their failure to fight for civil liberties for "fags" and "druggies." Even most libertarians failed to speak out. Libertarian soft-pedaling of civil liberties allowed AIDS to help calcify political debate in the old liberal-conservative terms, thus helping finish the transition of the libertarian movement from obscurity to total eclipse.
Former REASON Spotlight columnist John Dentinger is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.
…for trade with Mars. The Reagan administration's strategy to increase the deficit to force down domestic spending had an unintended consequence. Congressmen, feeling the heat as the standard pork barrel projects got squeezed (or at least their expected rate of increase got squeezed), found a substitute. Highly publicized deficits in merchandise trade provided them a new growth industry in xenophobic pork. With fewer new federal dollars for hometown projects, congressmen learned to zap foreign competitors of hometown manufactured goods. The new pork barrel of the '80s has something for every district, from roses and sugar to textiles and computer chips. And with politicians all over the world looking to boost their case for hometown protectionism, the whole world taken together is running an amazing combined trade deficit in the '80s (some say around $100 billion a year). Either trade with Mars accounts for the difference or somebody has been cooking the books. So the '80s may be remembered for worldwide howling about worldwide trade deficits that together couldn't possibly be, but were anyway, and helped entrepreneurial politicians get reelected.
Greg Rehmke is the Reason Foundation's educational programs director.
…for the desperate entrenchment of those whose worldview was stamped by a New Deal media and whose testosterone level was verified in World War II, struggling against offspring who bought Playboy, smoked marijuana, broke the speed limit, opposed a war, abandoned slide rules, made heroes out of the rogue North and the rake Hart, and cheated on their taxes.
Young adults of the "Great" Depression are thoughtfully retiring or dying, though income taxes, an intrusive international reputation, bureaucracies, Social Security, and the debt they created and consigned to their children linger on, creating penury and contempt. Their experiment feeble and failing, they and their sycophants struggle to institutionalize their subliminal political/philosophical dictionary unto perpetuity in a vain but ineluctable grasp for historical immortality.
The decade saw real economic power fall into the bewildered hands of those inseminated by James Dean, carried by Bob Dylan, delivered by J.F.K., spanked by Ho Chi Minh, nursed by Sergeant Pepper, weaned by G. Gordon Liddy, and toilet-trained by Letterman and Spielberg. "In the Mood" was relegated to nostalgic camp and "Won't Get Fooled Again" elevated to classic status.
Former REASON Spotlight columnist Patrick Cox is a regular contributor to USA Today.
Manuel S. Klausner
…for a resurgence of skepticism about what government can do.
…for the major contribution of the Reagan presidency—appointment to the federal bench of numerous judges who understand economics and the need to protect individual rights, including property rights.
…internationally, for inauguration of the Gorbachev era, involving potentially massive internal reforms and steps to improve Soviet-American relations. And for another memorable aspect of the '80s—the Soviets' being effectively held to a stalemate by the freedom fighters in Afghanistan.
…for yuppies and dinks (double-income, no kids) and the baby boom entrepreneur, who came of age and helped signal the trend toward opposition to government intervention in economic activity and personal conduct.
…for the Kasparov-Karpov matches, with the emergence of Gary Kasparov as the best-known chess champion since Bobby Fischer.
…for the emergence of "foodies" and the chef as superstar, accompanied by a renewed focus on quality, freshness, and originality and by an increased popularity of ethnic cuisine ranging from Cajun to Caribbean to "California."
…for many excellent wine vintages and high-quality wine making in France, California, Australia, and Italy—1982 may be remembered as the vintage of the century for Bordeaux, and the 1985 red Burgundies will be difficult to surpass in the rest of this century.
…finally, for the growing importance of the Pacific Rim and the city of Los Angeles as a financial and business center…and for the Reason Foundation's move to Los Angeles in 1986 and the resultant expansion in Los Angeles of free-market ideas.
Senior Editor Manuel S. Klausner, a Los Angeles attorney, was one of the partners who published REASON from 1971 to 1978.
Yes, what will they be remembered for? History has not been kind to Republican eras of prosperity. The Roaring '20s are still seen as little more than a prelude to the Depression—an age of flapper frivolities and fatuous presidents. The '50s are The Silent Decade, when we were all terrified into conformity by The Bomb and a somnambulant President Eisenhower.
Few remember the '20s and '50s as periods of astonishing economic progress, when America leapt ahead of the world in prosperity. Liberal historians prefer the grim heroics of the '30s, the outlandish excesses of the '60s, or—failing all else—the countercultural triumphs of the Watergate '70s. And so it may seem almost foreordained that the '80s will eventually be written off as just another Republican interlude when "greed" and "passivity" temporarily triumphed over "morality" and "social consciousness."
Yet history retains the capacity to surprise, and 1988 may become what historian Lewis Namier called 1848, the "Year of Revolutions" in Europe—"the turning point at which history didn't turn." I suspect the Republicans will win the presidency in 1988 and it will suddenly become clear to everyone that, rather than being a fluke or an interlude, the '80s actually marked the beginning of a long historical period in which Americans finally gave up the collectivist fantasies of the early 20th century and became a mature, responsible, permanently growing nation.
Contributing Editor William Tucker is writing a book on the family.
…for confirming the cynics, who despair of the intractability of the polity. But there are some nuances of difference.
At the level of national defense, the decade has seen nuclear deterrence take a great battering—first from the freeze movement, later from the arms control movement, which now includes such improbables as Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, and Paul Nitze. Maybe Reagan will be remembered as the hardliner-gone-soft who began by describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and ended by saying they have changed. Carter began his presidency as a dove and, after Afghanistan, ended it a hawk. Reagan began as a hawk and, after meeting Gorbachev, is ending his term a dove. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative was one of the interesting ideas of the '80s but seems likely to remain that—an idea being researched.
The decade began with great hope for progress in economic deregulation and translating the intellectual ascendancy of free-marketeers into greater economic freedom. It ends with some small progress—in taxation, transportation, oil. But the interventionists are ominously strong in their pressures to reregulate airlines and railroads and are using Black Monday and Ivan Boesky to justify newly intrusive controls of capital markets. And hysteria over the trade deficit continues to propel destructive protectionist moves in Congress, despite high employment.
The end of the '80s may see a long overdue recession or a revival of inflation to double digits. And since there is probably a one-in-four chance that the depression doomsters are right about dangerously excessive debt, there's a possibility the '80s will be remembered for laying the ground for a 1935–45–style period of grand interventionism, a new New Deal.
Contributing Editor Peter Samuel is a Washington-based journalist.
…as the decade that gave us Ronald Reagan, safe sex, freedom fighters, market meltdowns, shot shuttles, people power, antiapartheid activists, supply siders, and Classic Coke.
Also between now and 1991, it is possible that the New Wave will recede, the New Age will die of old age, and New Ideas will become a thing of the past. We can only hope.
Editorial intern James Taranto is too young to remember the '60s and considers himself fortunate.
…for a revival of democracy and capitalism, for privatization, deregulation, and reduced tax penalties for increasing output and income. It has been very much the era of Thatcher and Reagan, with flattering emulation worldwide. There were deep, radical reductions of marginal tax rates in Colombia, Bolivia, Jamaica, Mauritius, Botswana, Ciskei, Indonesia, Israel, Singapore, the Philippines, Turkey, New Zealand, China, and (for a few years) even India. All of these economies, like those of the United States and the United Kingdom, soon outperformed their neighbors. By 1988 there were also timid gestures toward marginal tax relief in Sweden, Norway, Australia, France, Canada, and Japan, soon to be followed by Greece, Austria, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Will any of this be remembered? Not by the academic elite, who never understood what was going on, but by taxpayers in the affected countries. A backlash is likely, since there are powerful financial and political interests in reregulation, in protection of sleepy managers from foreign rivalry or domestic takeovers, and in a tax and welfare system that punishes success and rewards failure.
Contributing Editor Alan Reynolds is the chief economist for Polyconomics Inc.
What will be remembered about the '80s depends upon who does the remembering. For lawyers like me who make a living defending media interest as well as others who cherish a free and independent press, the '80s will not be recalled with fondness.
Juries delivered verdicts against the media whenever they got a chance. The media lost 89 percent of libel cases that went to trial, the more prominent of which included a multimillion-dollar judgment by a Las Vegas jury for hometown entertainer Wayne Newton against NBC and a similar verdict by a Chicago jury for a major tobacco company against the local CBS affiliate.
Judges joined in. After displaying an open hostility to the media while on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Antonin Scalia was elevated to the Supreme Court, which this year reversed long-standing precedent and held that high school newspapers are not entitled to protection of the First Amendment against government censorship.
Politicians were no better. When Rupert Murdoch's Boston Herald offended Massachusetts Senators Kennedy and Kerry, they conspired behind closed doors with liberal and conservative legislators from both parties to pass, without debate, a bill that required Murdoch to sell the paper or lose his Boston television station.
Defense of the media has always had more than its share of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. In the '80s the struggle continued without them.
Contributing Editor Michael McMenamin is a trial lawyer in Cleveland.
…as the epic when America overcame entropy and socialism succumbed to it. The United States used supply-side economics and high technology to launch a record economic boom despite a near depression among our trading partners in Europe and the Third World. While Europe followed big-government industrial policy for high technology and job preservation, it lost nearly 2 percent of its employment and fell ever farther behind in the key technologies of the information age. Shaking the tin cup of socialism at every global conclave, the Third World sounded its own death rattle. Meanwhile, U.S. and Asian capitalism converged in one thriving Pacific economy based on human liberty and creativity in the information age.
But who rescinded the Second Law? We did. The crowning symbol of this era of unleashed innovation and progress was the simultaneous invention of the desktop supercomputer and the high-temperature superconductor. Together with the rising yield of bioengineering, these breakthroughs promise at long last an eventual escape from dependence on raw materials and other territorial forms of wealth that suffer decay and exhaustion in a world of thermodynamic decline. The Second Law will fall before the capitalist law of reason: knowledge grows as it is used. Remember, you read it here first.
George Gilder is the author of Wealth and Poverty and, most recently, of Microcosm.
…for the failure of politics to solve human problems. President Jimmy Carter inaugurated the decade by demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the liberal welfare state; President Ronald Reagan concluded the decade with his conservative revolution in disarray.
…as the time when the public sector openly institutionalized envy and greed. Agricultural subsidies expanded five-fold as farmers shamelessly demanded more. Social Security became a sacred cow. And agencies like the Small Business Administration and Economic Development Administration, widely recognized as special interest groups, survived every attack.
…for the loss of communism's credibility. In Poland, a labor union and a church together challenged the state. China dismantled its farm collectives, the Soviet Union amended its laws to encourage foreign investment, and Vietnam loosened its rigid economic controls.
…for the atmosphere of hope abroad, as countries like the Philippines and Korea moved toward democracy and even the Soviet Union adopted policies of glasnost and perestroika. And for the feeling of despair at home, as such traditional values as honesty, monogamy, and charity declined, AIDS became an epidemic, the drug war was lost, and the secular world's answers became increasingly inadequate.
Contributing Editor Doug Bandow is a syndicated columnist and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
Jeopardy contestants, Trivial Pursuit devotees, and the learned may remember Gary Hart, Ivan Boesky, and Raisa Gorbachev some years hence. But for the rest of us, alas, the '80s—the newsworthy stuff of the '80s—will reduce to a couple of well-worn epithets. Ah, yes, the '80s—the era of yuppies and Black Monday on the stock market. After all, the '20s conjure up images of flappers and the other big crash; the '30s notoriously bring to mind the Depression, Hitler, and a notion that the New Deal came along about that time; the '50s is all Mom and apple pie punctuated by the Beatniks. The '60s was a very busy decade, so we remember fully four things about it—the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, student political hullabaloo, and hippies. And the '70s—well now, the '70s were pretty unremarkable, unless we count Watergate, inflation, and Billy Carter.
If what I remember about those earlier eras is any guide to how most of us will remember the '80s, then yuppies and the stock market crash seem like good candidates. But if we move away from the Big Stuff of the nightly news and People magazine, the '80s will come into clearer focus. I will remember the '80s for the birth of my daughter and for all the little trials, tribulations, and personal encounters that are what life is really all about. I mean, consider, for example, my grandma, now 95. She remembers her neighbor, Peach Seeds, in more detail than she recalls the death of President McKinley. While our particulars will vary, I suspect that is the sort of thing most of us will remember about the '80s.
Book Review Editor Lynn Scarlett is also the Reason Foundations research director.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "1968–1988–2008: The '80s Will Be Remembered...".