I’m thinking back almost 5 decades, and the only time I can recall people actually being optimistic about the economy or the future in general was a brief period in the mid to late 90s during the dot-com bubble. And even then, people thought that the world would come crashing to a halt shortly after December 31, 11:59pm.
[li]The 70s were largely characterized by “stagflation”, the oil crisis and terrorism.[/li][li]The 80s was full of recessions and banking scandals and everyone thought that either the Japanese would destroy us economically or we would end up in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.[/li][li]Even the first half of the 90s was filled with a general malaise, particularly if you were “Gen X” just entering the work force.[/li][li]The 2000s started off with the dot.com bursting, 9/11, Enron, Arthur Andersen, later Lehman, Bear Stearns, and the Great Recession.[/li][li]And the 2010s we have Donald Trump*, Brexit*, growing fears of “automation”, climate change and massive income inequality.[/li][/ul]
Like even my own personal work experience, there was maybe one company I worked at from 2004 to 2008 that actually felt like it was “booming”. Like we had more work than we knew what to do with, most of us got big raises, bonuses and promotions each year.
Most other jobs I’ve had, mostly I felt like half the company was sitting around with their thumbs up their ass waiting to get laid off.
Which are viewed as either the “cause of” or thing that will “save” us from economic ruin, depending on your politics.
There are always things to worry about, and some people who always worry. However having been more or less conscious of the world, from a US POV, since the 1960’s, I would say
-as per general conventional wisdom the ‘standard’ view in the US was confidence in the country and its future in the 1960’s, but being chipped away at increasingly seriously by the controversy over the Vietnam War, race relations and the rise of the counter culture.
-the 70’s were a time of general pessimism
-the 80’s and 90’s relatively more optimistic. Not the same unity of belief and optimism of pre-Vietnam, but increasingly better mood than the late 60’s and the 70’s
-2000’s and this decade back to more pessimism and more intense division.
And I think the two are fairly closely related. The feeling that there’s an ‘other’ (the ‘left’ or ‘right’) who does not share your basic values or even a good faith intention to make things better naturally leads to a more pessimistic view. I wouldn’t rule out an argument that the causality runs in the other direction to some extent: difficult problems exacerbate division. But I think it’s more division driving pessimism about problems (and being able to solve them) more than it is actual problems being worse and that that’s causing more division.
Early to mid nineties to 2000 was a golden age where everything was exciting and new, and any yahoo on the street could get millions of venture capital thrown at them by adding “…on the internet” to whatever hare-brained idea they had. Now THAT’S living!
2003 - 2007 was a time of growth and optimism across multiple industries, and businesses were booming and competing for hires. Of course, the crisis hit shortly after.
We’re getting to a place in the 2015-present time period that feel similar to the 2003-2007 period to me in terms of increasingly motivated and well-funded recruiters trying to poach people in my job family / industry.
So in sum, the best time for widespread economic optimism in the broader populace is the 3-7 years before a bubble bursts, and we may be in that few years right now.
If we are going to throw out anecdotes then I don’t relate to those at all.
Pretty much every company I have worked for has been optimistic, including after the credit crunch (which, as bad as it was, always looked like it was about to be over, although yes, few were actually hiring at that time).
Also, everywhere I have worked, most employees have to work their asses off just to (mostly) keep up with the work thrown their way. I haven’t worked anywhere with surplus staff.
So if you were to take your foot off the gas even a little, you would have a couple embarrassing weeks of bosses and colleagues getting angry at you before you’d finally get laid off.
I arrived in the US in 1987. Most people seemed very positive, even the “Crash of ‘87” barely was a speed bump. Then the Communist world started collapsing and there was more optimism. Easy victory in 1991 Gulf War. There was a recession between 1990-92 but it was short and mild. Even the class of 1991 (one year ahead of me) had no real issues getting jobs. By Spring 1992 it seemed the recovery was well under way. This economic good feelings continued unabated right through the 1990s.
Really the first sustained reversal was the dot com bubble burst followed by 9/11 attacks. It seemed we have never recovered fully from that. China’s rise, the loss of global economic preeminence, Islamic militantly around the world, effects of income inequality, inexorable rise in health care and
Or maybe life ends at 30, that’s just my personal feelings projected on the whole country?
November 20th, 1975 was a “don’t say it loud” day of optimism for a lot of my countryfolk. World economy had hit a really rough stump a couple of years prior but was getting better and el Generalísimo had finally been shut down: there was some wariness about what the new boss would be like, but simply in terms of probabilities it was unlikely that he’d be worse than the old boss… the following years were a rollercoaster, but within all those ups and downs there was in general a lot more optimism than not.
Basically, if you lived in Spain in the late 1970s and didn’t feel optimistic, you were depressed or a vocational grump.
Technically yes, although those memories made a lot more sense when I was old enough to understand them better.
The early 1960s were very optimistic. Superstition was to be banned, rational forward-looking sensible approaches would take over. Technology was a good thing. Silly bullshit like racism would be ushered offstage and everyone would have the opportunity to live like white people and think like white people. (Hey I said it was optimistic, I didn’t say there weren’t problems with the mindset). We Americans had good rules, good ways of doing government, and it was of course because of that that we’d climbed to the top and prevailed. And instead of being vindictive towards our former enemies we were embracing them and giving them the gospel of rational capitalist prosperity. We would prevail against those commie soviets just as we’d prevailed elsewhere and there would be a new era of peace and sensibility and equality and things would run according to practical rules. Science would continue to make things easier. Every generation, indeed every decade, had been progress from the one before and that was going to continue. Soon we’d conquer every disease, solve poverty permanently, end crime, bring a halt to any remaining ills of humankind and step forward into the light. And heading it all, our new president, John Kennedy!
There’s a reason that lots of folks of my parents’ generation became bitter and looked back on the 1950s (in particular) as a simpler better time and became conservative in a mean-spirited way. They were disappointed and disillusioned. But before that happened there were the optimistic times.
I’d say the nineties; specifically 1991 to 2001. The Soviet Union broke up and the Cold War ended. People could believe that we were entering an era of peace and democracy. The economy was doing well. Computers and the internet were becoming mainstream and seemed to promise a new technological revolution on the horizon. Even rock and roll seemed to be having a revival. Things weren’t perfect but there seemed to be a general movement towards things getting better.
My thought is the mid-to-late 90s, as well. It was an exceptionally extended period of economic growth, and I remember reading articles during those years in which economists seriously wondered if recessions were a thing of the past.
I have always been optimistic about our economic future. Generally, companies are working toward prosperity. Very seldom do you see companies purposefully working toward failure. Do failures occur? Yes, but that is not the norm. If you look at the historical trend of the S&P 500 it has been a steady growth trend: http://www.fedprimerate.com/s-and-p-500-index-history-chart.htm Have there been declines? Yes, but the trend is up and to the right. I see no reason that this trend over the long term will not continue.
I will remember the 50s and 60s as a time of real growth and general optimism. Then came the Viet Nam disaster. It is astonishing for this academic to remember getting unsolicited job offers. Nowadays, getting a tenure-track job is a real lottery with few winners.
I kind of feel like “having to work your ass off just to keep up” and not being able to “take your foot off the gas even a little” is a bit of an indicator of economic pessimism. Certainly there are companies like investment banks, big law firms and tech startups where people work like that. But they also have the expectation of higher compensation, greater prestige and what have you. But these days it seems like, more and more, regular companies are adopting that crazy work style.
Although, truth be told, I’d rather be too busy than sitting around for months on end with my thumb up my ass.
The late 60s. Sure they were full of riots, war, and pollution but us young folk were going to fix all of that. Everyone was going to adopt civil rights, Vietnam was going to be the war to end all (US) wars, and the environmental protection agency was just a few years away. We were going to the moon, the hippies were having fun, and even undergraduate STEM students could get research grants. At least that was what I was told when I got to college in 1971. Them were the good old days!
It kind of seems like they are oppositional in a way, but…
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and other general thawing of the Cold War, in my little corner of the gestalt as a teen, the threat of nuclear apocalypse which had always been biting subliminally at everyone’s nerves seemed to really dissolve, and for a while, the future seemed wide open. I hate to associate great hope with the end of a sense of doom, but there it is.
It sounds almost like a trope now, but Obama getting elected did, at the time, along with other associated prgores like marriage equality, feel like a breath of fresh air.
On the other hand, as much as I hated the wars which were supposedly a response to 9-11, I did get this sense of chatter all around that despite what other tragic aspects of water might come, people were thinking it was going to be a huge boon to the economy.
There was also I think, a sort of general “other shoe dropping” sense of relief when bin Laden was caught.