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The 2000s: Decade in Review

January 5, 2010

Kevin Burke
The 2000s: Decade in Review

If you read the news, it may sound like as though the Oughts were the worst decades in -- well, decades. There's certainly some truth to that. The Dow is in the same place it was at the beginning of the decade. September 11 was the worst terrorist attack in history. We got involved in two endless, expensive, foreign wars, and illegally detained and tortured a number of people in Guantanamo Bay. The size and scope of the government increased massively under both President Bush and President Obama, and spending is growing at an unsustainable rate. But if you just read the headlines, you may be missing the picture. While governments may be screwing things up on an unprecedented level, entrepreneurs, innovators and economics are making everyone's lives better.

First, during this decade it became possible to reach almost anyone in the world instantaneously, and cheaply, through email and cell phones. I can write these words from my home in Alamo and you can read them wherever you are, for the price of an internet connection. The gap between celebrities and their fans is receding quickly. I believe we are only scratching the surface of potential applications for the internet. We are inventing and adapting new technologies at a breakneck pace.

Second, globalization is helping millions of people earn higher incomes and escape poverty, especially in Asia. Access to international markets have helped millions of Chinese workers earn more.  Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz's excellent new book From Poverty to Prosperityoutlines this in more detail. We are helping our own, too: Kling and Schulz point out, "Sixty years ago, a social studies teacher looking for a movie that would motivate students to sympathize with the plight of the unfortunate in America might have chosen The Grapes of Wrath. Today, it would be Supersize Me. All sorts of consumer goods, especially entertainment, have become extraordinarily cheap, making people's lives better. If you don't believe me, ask the homeless dude with the laptop.

As anyone who grew up playing SimCity knows, you can't make your town smart and healthy overnight - but play the game on fast-forward for thirty years and everyone's smart and living longer. Development is slow and boring.

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