The Big Zero

Null, nothing

Paul Krugman’s article, published in The Straits Times, regarding the 2000s, gives quite a bit for thought. Paul Krugman is a famed American economist from Princeton who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2008 for his theories on trade and economic geography. I have always loved to read his articles in The Straits Times because they have always been very insightful and succintly written, and always hit the nail on the head. This article that I introduce here is no different, but it’s slightly different in tone from what he writes.

Usually, he adopts a rather neutral or slightly positive tone in his writings, even if they are regarding the economic crisis today (he studies economic crises, hence his expertise in commenting on them). But in this article he takes a rather pessimistic, negative view towards the decade that just passed us: the Noughties (2000s). He proposes calling it ‘The Big Zero’ because ‘nothing good happened’ and ‘none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true’.

And then he justifies with some general statistics based on America: almost zero job creation, private-sector employment decline, fall in median household income after adjustment for inflation, zero gains for houseowners, zero gains for stocks. Read the article for moredetails, but we all have seemed to come back to square 1, in 1999, or gotten worse off. So what’s with all that optimism about the economy?

By right things were supposed to go well. There was confidence in the financial system, expressed by Lawrence Summers in 1999. Summers is, by the way, the current administration’s top economist and in 1999 then deputy Treasury secretary. He believed then that America had ‘honest corporate accounting’, but this seemed to just vapourise if we look at this century. Even before the current financial meltdown, much earlier on there was Enron and WorldCom, two large and supposedly reliable firms that were exposed for dishonesty.

And then American politics does not seem to have a solution to the problem. The Democrats try to seek compromise in what they seek and their ideas are vehemently opposed by many as being too socialist, while the Republicans seem to believe that the solution to the problems caused by ‘tax cuts and deregulation’ is more ‘tax cuts and deregulation’.

Certainly not a very inspiring decade. But this restricts itself to America of course. I must say that for most other countries it was probably not this bad. If we take the example of China, to call this decade The Big Zero would be to forget its ascent onto the global arena as a superpower. So… the Americans have it bleak but the Asians are having it better.

1 Comment

  1. Well, perhaps true in the areas of politics and policy development but we can always console ourselves that science have taken big strides and living standards are almost definitely still improving all around the world.

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