As dismal decade ends, maybe zero is too high a grade

Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventures of She...

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In his New York Times column earlier this week, Paul Krugman suggested that the decade ending at midnight tomorrow should be dubbed “The Big Zero.” Perhaps he’s being too kind.

The nameless 2000-znds, he points out, served up 10 years of economic paralysis.

“It was a decade of zero economic gains for the typical family,” Krugman writes.

Housing prices, adjusted for inflation? Basically where they were when the decade started, he notes.  The Dow?  About the same.  Job creation. About zero. “So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in economic progress,” Krugman writes.

But wait a second. When I opened today’s papers, I began to wonder if Krugman’s analysis is too generous. Two front page headlines reminded me that: (A)  A lot of people are much worse off than they were, and (B) many of the rest of us may soon be heading in the wrong direction again, too.

Besides, just what is a typical family anyway?  I kind of doubt it’s the mom with three kids played by Meryl Streep in “It’s Complicated,” the holiday season comedy hit about a woman, 10 years divorced, who finds herself in an affair with her ex-husband. From the looks of it, the house Streep’s conflicted character lives in is worth at least $5-mil, even in today’s economically battered California.  And that’s before the addition she’s planning.

Let’s just hope, for the sake of Krugman’s analysis, the typical family is not David Fagerstrom Sr’s either.  He’s real,  63, working three jobs and getting paid about a third of what he was when he was laid off early this year as a business operations analyst, today’s Boston Globe reports.

If, as is likely, that “typical family” falls somewhere in between, i’ll still bet  there’s a lot more David Fagerstroms around than Jane Adlers (the name of Streep’s character), even if Adler is funnier.

Writes The Globe’s Robert Gavin:  “As fast as jobs have disappeared over the past year, wage and salary income have fallen even faster, as many workers have had their pay cut, hours reduced, or like Fagerstrom, had to take part-time or low-paying jobs because they can’t find other work.”

Wages paid in Massachusetts, he reports, dropped 5 percent between the end of September 2008 and the end of September 2009.  And our unemployment and under-employment are slightly lower than the rest of the country. Sounds like we’re still in reverse to me.

Just in case you’re able to feel a bit smug reading this — stocks rebounding a bit, at least a raise for inflation under your belt in ’09 — don’t look now.  Because today’s New York Times is making noise about a “double-dip” recession as housing prices again grind to a halt.

Oh dear. Perhaps in the midst of all this good cheer (we’ll ignore the bad news of two wars and a new Al Qaeda threat), the only thing that makes sense is to spend more time in front of the silver screen.

There’s been a pretty good late rush of movies to beat the Oscar deadline.  And though some are rather serious, escapism, too, is on the loose.   Take Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” recast as a true techno-age guy, skilled not only at deduction but in fighting French giants and karate kids. And “It’s Complicated” offers not just plenty of laughs but a world in which the really tough decisions revolve around whom to sleep with and whether to get that eyebrow lift or not.

Ah a little retro ’90s feels soooo good.  And besides, maybe if we stay cloistered in the movies long enough, President Obama will realize remaining a cautious pragmatist in an era of crisis and utter non-cooperation by the Republican opposition is a really bad idea.

I don’t envy his choices in the year ahead. I do know we desperately need a leader. Maybe I’ll find one tonight at the movies.

About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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