A lot of the punditerazzi in print, broadcast and online news media have been trying to brand the decade that is about to close with something akin to the “Swinging Sixties,” “The Me Decade,” “The Roaring Twenties” or “The Gay Nineties.”
So far, the most accurate name has come from Paul Krugman in his column in yesterday’s New York Times. He calls the “Aughts” the “Decade of Zero”, as in zero growth in the stock market, in real estate prices, in the salary of the average worker and in the number of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq.
Krugman has a great point, and the fact that zero also refers to the number in the decade place of the years creates a very clever pun.
But I’m going to propose another moniker for the first 10 years of the 21st century: “The Decade of the Big Lie” or perhaps, “The Lying Decade.” (“The Lying Aughties” doesn’t sound quite right, but I’m open.)
What characterizes our decade more than the lies that elected officials, business leaders and other prominent people told us or that we as a society told each other?
Here is an off-the-cuff partial list of the many lies upon which our lives rested and in some cases depended in “The Lying Decade.” First, some very big lies our government told us:
- There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
- Iraq supported Al Qaeda
- Everything is under control in New Orleans (just after Katrina hit)
- We can achieve a victory in Iraq
- We can achieve a victory in Afghanistan.
Here are some lies that individuals and organizations told us that lodged themselves into the belief systems of many people:
- Waterboarding is not torture
- John Kerry was not a hero in Viet Nam (“the “Swift Boat” lie)
- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac forced bankers to make bad loans
- It’s Obama’s recession
- Global warming does not exist
- The “Tea Party” drew a million people to its Washington march
- Obama was not born in the U.S.A.
Let’s not forget frauds, which are collections of lies, including the 2000 voter fraud in Florida, Enron, Bernie Madoff and the other Ponzi schemers and the frauds of the pious politicians who turned out to be philanderers or engaged in the very behavior they were condemning.
Finally, here are some lies that it seemed most people believed and which motivated irrational actions by elected officials, businesses and individuals:
- The private sector always gets the job done better than the public sector: which doesn’t take into account the private sector’s very bad and expensive performance in wartime, during the Katrina emergency and in administering private jails.
- Technology companies have introduced a new era of endless gains in the stock market: which of course lead to the dot.com bust.
- Real estate values will keep going up so you can buy a house and flip it or keep taking out bigger loans so you can live higher on the hog: we know how this one turned out.
- Taxes are always a bad thing and we pay too many taxes in the United States: but our “to much” is lower than any other industrialized country and unfortunately not enough to pay for better schools, fixed highways, better and more mass transit, research into alternative technologies and other basic technologies and a guarantee of the basic rights that all people deserve in a wealthy society such as basic health care.
The sad thing is that so many institutions and individuals acted on these lies and by acting created our sad situation: fighting two unwinnable wars, a crumbling infrastructure, enormous unemployment and underemployment, a quarter of all homeowners owing more than the value of their homes.
The more I think about, the more I’m convinced that we are living in the great age of the big lie, but I really do like Krugman’s idea. I know, let’s merge the two and call this dying decade “The Lying Zeroes,” which has the benefit of also referring to a number of our leaders during the period.