Some decades are named by history: the Roaring '20s after World War I, the Threadbare '30s during the Great Depression, and the Fabulous '50s. This decade came in with a bang and is going out with a whimper. In these 10 years, we have gone from peace to war, from surplus to deficit, from prosperity to recession. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman calls it "The Big Zero," the decade "in which nothing good happened."
Well, maybe not nothing. This was the decade that gave us an African-American president, a historic event. But this was also the decade that left us with a sorry lexicon of code words starting with "9/11," the code word for a superpower besieged by suicidal fanatics.
There were other symbolic words and phrases: "weapons of mass destruction," as the pretext for invading Iraq; "waterboarding" and "Abu Ghraib" as shameful tokens of abusive behavior; "Katrina," a symbol of an inadequate response to a natural disaster; "foreclosure" and "underwater," denoting a housing economy in ruins; "bailout," denoting a transfusion to save Wall Street from ruin; and "stimulus," denoting an injection to revive an economy in crisis.
This decade will be remembered, too, for phrases like "public option," a reminder of the struggle to overhaul the health care system; and "swine flu," the global menace to health.
This decade didn't bequeath us a lot of rosy words. Thanks in part to President Obama, we heard a lot about "change" and "hope," but change and hope did not seem to be icons of this decade.
What's left to say? Well, we survived a bad decade, and the next one has to be better. Happy New Year.