A Low Dishonest Decade

January 4, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Whatever you call this decade we’ve just been through – the aughts, the noughties, etc. – you have to think that it was not a great one. How bad was it? The Washington Post ran this simple graph showing job growth in each of seven decades, beginning with the 1940s. It also notes the change in GDP and household net worth.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Thinking back on these years called to mind (my mind at least) the opening lines the Auden poem “September 1, 1939”:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade
As the title implies, Auden was writing on the occasion of Germany’s invasion of Poland,* but these opening lines seem apt for the Bush decade as well – and not just the economy.

Even with economics, many people will continue to believe that right-wing policies – tax cuts and deregulation – are good for the economy, regardless of evidence like that in the graph. Note that even the Reagan decade, the 1980s, finishes behind all but the Bush decade in job growth and GDP gains.

* The poem is probably Auden’s most famous work, and it was much quoted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (see the NY Times store here). But Auden himself had second thoughts about the poem soon after he wrote it. He tried to revise it, but gave up. “The whole poem, I realized, was infected with an incurable dishonesty—and must be scrapped.” He omitted it from his collected works and often refused to grant permission to reprint it.

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