I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but I can remember when American-made decades were substantial. We were the world leader in decade manufacturing. Decades were themed, eventful, and coherent. We made: 1920s (The Roaring 20s), 1930s (The Depression), 1940s (War and Return), 1950s (Conformism), and 1960s (Sex, Drugs & Rock 'ên'ê Roll). Best of all, signature decades were long-lived. Eisenhower must have served five terms in the '50s. The subsequent decade lasted so long that one can now major in the 1960s at most colleges.
During these glory years, a group of elite partnerships controlled the decade-making industry. Staffed by Ivy League WASPS, they prided themselves on tradition, craftsmanship, and quality. Unfortunately, large corporations replaced them in the late '60s. Corporate decade makers became complacent during the 1970s, a decade with no clear narrative and bad casting (Nixon, Ford, Carter). It appeared that European and Asian decade makers had overtaken us.
America made a comeback in the 1980s with the Reagan revolution. However, we paid too a great price for this. To cut costs, American decade manufacturers abandoned popular music and, worse, began to shorten decades. The 1980s lasted only 8.5 years.
Manufactures soon realized that American consumers would accept decades shorter than 10 years. Rather than focusing on consistency and quality, they looked for immediate profits. When bloated management and expensive union contracts increased costs, they continued to shorten decades. Among manufactures, it became an article of faith that consumers did not care about the length of a decade. The '90s lasted only six years, five of which were devoted to O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky.
What do we have today? Shoddy, flimsy things. Decades no longer even have names. We don'êt know what to call 2000-2009. The oughts? The double O'ês? Whatever its name, it will be shortest decade on record. The period between January 1, 2000 and today has taken only 27 months. Even the French have longer decades. Had the '60s had been this short we would have missed the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Civil Right bills, "2001 A Space Odyssey," the Summer of Love, Portnoy'ês Complaint, Medicare, Woodstock, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," and the miracle Mets.
China, which maintains the traditional ten-year decade, has replaced America as the world'ês leading decade maker. In 2010 we will need to import decades made in China.
To not further aggravate our trade imbalance we must increase exports to China. The economic law of comparative advantage dictates that we export what we do best. What we now do best is political insanity. With the Great Leap Forward followed by the Cultural Revolution, China for years had no need to import political insanity. Beginning with Deng Xiaoping'ês reforms, production of Chinese political insanity plummeted. Today, their pent up demand for political insanity can be filled by importing Little Red Books of the thoughts of American radio and cable commentators.