Americans' Inexplicable Aversion to the 1990s

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 21 2013 10:20 AM

Americans' Inexplicable Aversion to the 1990s

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On Tuesday the Economist published the results of a fun poll asking people which decade they'd most like to return to. Inexplicably, the 1990s—objectively speaking the best decade—not only underperformed the overrated 1950s and 1960s but proved to be one of the overall least-popular choices.

People rate it only very slightly higher than the 1940s. Some salient facts about the 1940s: There was a big war. One participant in that war had an active policy of targeting enemy civilian population centers for wholesale destruction as a battlefield tactic. Initially they did this with large-scale bombing raids designed to set as many houses ablaze as possible. Eventually they developed nuclear weapons in order to massacre enemy civilians in a more pilot-intensive way. The country in question was allied with a vicious dictator whose political strategies included mass rape, large-scale civilian deportations, and the occasional deliberate engineering of famine conditions. And those were the good guys! We're all very happy they won!

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The 1990s, by contrast, were amazing. The Onion memorably commemorated the turn of the millennium with the slogan "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over." In terms of growth rates, the 1990s were much better than the 1980s or the 2000s and saw the only sustained wage growth we've seen in decades. Compared with the 1950s or 1960s, the rates aren't nearly as impressive, but the level of prosperity achieved in 1999 is far above 1959 or 1969 levels. In the 1990s, the worst that would happen to a cash-strapped low-wage worker is they'd have to take on extra shifts to make more money. No yearslong spells of joblessness and despair. It was the best of times, and it was also the best of times. Political debate was dominated by a dumb sex scandal rather than finger-pointing over disastrous wars, financial crises, and mass unemployment. Admittedly, a lot of men were wearing unattractive, ill-fitting suits, but beyond that it was a great time for everyone. Time to get with the program.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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