We’ve come to the end of a decade - yes, I start counting my decades by the ones and not the zeroes, which means that 1980 was the last year of the 70’s. I know it looks stupid on paper, but it is the proper way. My reference point would be the classic Onion Headline - “The Millennium Begins in 2001, Terrorists Note.”
In the grand tradition of rehashing old news and making sub-standard lists of events, arbitrary lists of the ‘best’ movies or music, reality television ‘stars’, or worst of all - consumer products - allow me the exercise of looking back with the rose colored glasses of time. I’d like to try to present the previous ten years as it might show up in a history book.
The Opulent O's
Previous eras of the American experience have been labeled, whether accurately or not, by the generations that followed. The eras of the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, or the Fabulous Fifties give an over reaching illusion of wealth and comfort afforded by all the citizenry. Careful study shows that there were major exceptions ranked by class status and race in each of these three examples, and the names themselves discount recessionary times, and any turmoil that existed. However, the tradition of remembrance for a grouping of ten years with a fantastical moniker has become an unfortunate reality of historical narrative when examining the history of America. The era that we are focusing on now is no exception -- the era which begins at the turn of the 21st Century to the new year of 2011 CE. This time has become known as the Opulent O’s.
To first explain the name of the era, the people of the time did not refer to the year in which they lived as the aughts, or oughts as proper English would dictate, or even the example of the generation that lived through the turn of the previous century, the 1900’s. The pronunciation of the year in which they lived predominantly was spoken as, “two thousand and...” followed by the number designate. Hence, why a few historians have refereed to the era as the ‘And’s’. The consensus by reputable sources and careful research has been to designate this time as the ‘Oh’s.’ The evidence in the historical record suggests that the people of the time would sometimes drop the ‘two thousand’ in speech and would simply state, “Oh six,” when giving a descriptor of a year; as an example.
The word Opulent has become to describe the era. The Latin derived definition in English are defined as 1. Having or indicating wealth, and also 2. Abundant or plentiful. Ignoring race or regional exceptions -- the word perfectly defines the era.
The primary fuel of the time was cheap and easily obtained petroleum drilled from the ground. The peak of use of gasoline and plastic derived from oil occurred in this era. The abundance of cheap oil and fuel allowed for cheap food sources. The importance of oil in the life cycle of plant to waste product must be studied to understand the mindset of the time. The availability and sheer amounts of cheap fuel created a cradle-to-grave manufacturing cycle from consumer goods to 4 ton single passenger vehicle with low fuel to kilometer use ratios -- which defines the zeitgeist. The most important aspect, in hindsight, to the lifestyle of the times was the amount of fuel used to create inexpensive food. The petroleum was used in the creation of fertilizer, and copious amounts were used in the entire process of seed to market, and market to aftermarket production.
Simplified, the oil or oil products would be used by the farmer from every aspect of his production -- from the multiple passes on a tractor (soil toiling, planting, chemical pesticide application, cultivation and a final till of the soil), to transport to industrial food processing off site (sometimes thousands of miles) from the farmland. Next, from the secondary processor which would create a chemical byproduct of the original agricultural product (Maize and soybeans being the most popular of the bases found in most supermarkets [see also ADM Corporation] would then transport and package the new product and ship by truck to market. Retail supermarkets [Safeway, Albertsons], “fast food” restaurants [McDonald’s, Chili’s] or superstore retail outlets [Costco, Wal-Mart] would then cater to the final end user, who more often than not, used a single passenger vehicle to transport the product home. Once the product was consumed, the end user simply disposed of the plastic packaging to preserve the food product, and the outer container -- typically another plastic or cardboard package which only served to encourage purchase. Once discarded the packaging materials were then transported by another gas powered truck or transport to take the used goods to be covered in a landfill. The concept of cradle to cradle manufacturing may have germinated in this era, but due to the nature and scale of the single-use economic cycle, it was counter productive or even suicidal for any industry to adopt a plan to reuse or recycle their resources or waste products.
Since fuel and food were inexpensive, the lifestyle of the typical American of the Opulent O’s were filled with store bought conveniences and electronic trinkets designed for obsolescence which encouraged constant replacement. Leveraged credit based upon elevated housing prices allowed consumers buying power. It was not uncommon for an American to have bought a home past their means, and taken credit based on that home’s perceived market value, called a home equity loan. These funds were then used to purchase more consumer goods -- and often with a credit card [MasterCard, Visa]. The economy was primarily based on the spending habits of the consumer. Even after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush urged Americans to go to the malls, and purchase houses and cars to get the economy engine moving again. The government created an environment of low interest rates and extremely easy credit in order to facilitate the consumer’s appetite.
Two major military engagements were initiated in response to the sensational terrorist attacks in America, under the banner of a “War on Terrorism.” The engagements in Afghanistan were aided by the Allied Western NATO nations, and the second invasion of Iraq resulted in the replacement of the government there, and a permanent American presence. History has shown, both of these costly involvements were to secure the oil fields, and an attempt to stabilize the region [see also Iran v America 1970-2020] -- thus insuring the flow of inexpensive oil to American business interests. Specifically those partners in Europe and China. Like the citizenry, these foreign entanglements were funded largely by credit. The U.S. had gone from a creditor nation to a debtor nation in 1988, but accelerated during the Bush and Obama Administrations.
Despite the trillions of dollars expended, the price of oil rose as industrial engines of India and China grew their GDP by 20% per year. Oil Prices rose in late 2006 because of simple supply and demand, plus speculation in the commodity markets. Soon, inflation of consumer products, fuel prices, and food began to outpace the threshold of business and consumer expendable incomes. Quickly, the slowdown of consumer spending toppled the preposterous derivative financial products of the time, wiped out the housing speculation and subsequent consumer credit bubble, and exposed widespread institutional Ponzi schemes, not dissimilar to the domino effect experienced at the end of the Roaring 1920’s.
Amazingly, the Six Corporate media companies either were misinformed or incapable of reporting the trends that were creating the problems that led to disaster, and instead reported only soft news (entertainment and sporting events which fed to their other advertising sponsored media concerns), or blatantly perpetuated partisan arguments to fill a 24 hour news cycle with surprisingly low or useless content to their audiences. The news of the day, even as late as 2010, was that of recovery and consumer confidence -- despite under reported or manipulated unemployment figures and a withering manufacturing base. Despite the ineffectual news climate, the government and other influential sources were inserting the word “unsustainable” into the collective vocabulary. At the end of the decade, even to the most optimistic, it seemed that the party was coming to a close. The start of a ‘new normal’ was discussed and contemplated.
Notable Starts: Enhanced government security, social media on networked devices, portable networked computing in communication devices, alternative energy, commercial exploration of space, TEA Party [Taxed Enough Already Party]
Influential Americans: George W. Bush (43rd President), Barack H. Obama (44th President), Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Warren Buffet, Alan Greenspan, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs, Sarah Palin.
Human Achievements: Completion of the Human Genome Project, Large Hadron Collider (Switzerland), 2nd Hubble Space Telescope repair by Human Astronauts, extra solar system planetoids discovered, water found on Mars and the Moon.
Notable Disasters: Terrorist Attacks on September 11th, 2001, Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans and Mississippi, Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Global Warming/Climate Change.