2019, 1999, 1928 Or 1825?

However, there is no question that economic policy was in 2019 embarked on a dangerous path. Worldwide interest rates were already set by fiat at rates far below their market-clearing levels, which had caused a debt and government deficit bloat that was clearly going to lead to trouble and impoverishment. The global population was already excessive and causing increasingly shrill calls for economic activity to be shut down to combat “climate change,” while global conflict levels were clearly rising. Then, there is culture: where in the world of 2019 do you find art, music, literature or film that will still be enjoyed even a century from now? With a shadowed economic record and a poor cultural record, 2019 seems unlikely to appear a global apogee.

1999 appears to have a better case. GDP per capita was only marginally less than in 2019, and global debt levels were much lower. Most important, the world appeared to be at peace; the Soviet Union and its satellites had imploded, China appeared friendly and the West had not yet embarked on its crazy futile crusade against Islamic terrorism. Economic policy too appeared better: while the “Washington Consensus” allowed for excessively large government, it was not yet obvious that its apparently benign pursuit of globalization had any significant downsides.

Only culturally was 1999 a desert-like 2019; the greatest work of literature from that period was probably “Harry Potter,” the music was equally as loathsome as in 2019, film had declined substantially from its 1930s-40s peak (though not as far as in 2019) and art was again undistinguished. Still, I fancy that 1999 beats 2019 by a small head and is thus the best contender from our lifetimes (though for Brits, 1989 may be preferable – Tony Blair and “Cool Britannia” were truly repulsive).

The third contender I have selected is 1928, although you could possibly argue for 1913 from that general period (and if you are German, you would certainly do so)! Like all dates before the post-World War II boom, this suffers from the fact that the world was substantially poorer in terms of GDP per capita and in terms of modern conveniences, the most important of which is medical technology. There were no antibiotics for example, so President Coolidge’s 16-year-old son Calvin Jr. died in 1924 of a blister from playing tennis that turned septic. On the other hand, global population at below 2 billion was much better under control – if it had stayed at that level, the environmental problems of 1970 onwards would never have occurred.

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(The Bear's Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of "sell" recommendations put ...

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