September 19, 2005

Decline and Fall

DEAN ESMAY has jumpstarted an argument over the question of whether the United States is in decline. He argues in the negative on the matter, and disputes writers who had obliquely argued the question in the affirmative. Plus, as a tangential aside, Mr Esmay goes on to attack ancient Rome, and now everyone’s beating up on the Romans. As M. Tullius Cicero once put it, excitabat fluctus in simpulo.

Still, it is an interesting topic when one thinks of it, the decline and fall of nations. The small ones tend to get swallowed up in war and politics, the larger ones tend to burn out after their economies collapse. Sometimes, of course, it is a combination of both traumas. Sometimes it involves neither. All that said, though, I – like Mr Esmay – don’t see the United States going down the tubes anytime soon. Rather, I’d say we’re doing a hell of a lot better now than we were a quarter of a century ago.

In fact, I have concrete proof of this. Through a thorough analysis of political and social trends, economic data, and other indicators, I have conclusively determined that American life and society has improved considerably from our last overall “low point,” which we hit on July 12, 1979.

What? No, really. July 12, 1979.

OK, fine. I can see why some will question my designation of July 12, 1979, as the most recent low point in American political and economic history. After all, lots of bad things happened after July 12 that year. On July 19, for instance, the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua. On August 27, the IRA killed Mountbatten. On Sept. 7, Chrysler got a federal bailout, and on Christmas Eve, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Admittedly, lots of bad things had already happened prior to July 12 too. The Shah fell in Iran, there was another energy crisis, inflation was running at 11 pc, the Chinese invaded Vietnam and Three Mile Island went on the fritz. Heck, if that wasn’t enough, Skylab – that cheap lame-o excuse for a space station we had – fell out of orbit on July 11. Fortunately, though, the Government swiftly responded to all these problems and created the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Unfortunately, the “Dollar of the Future” reminded everyone about the 11 pc inflation.

But all this undoubtedly helps explain why people were so frickin’ angry back on July 12, 1979. And it was on July 12, 1979, when this happened:

Tom Hayden? You have a phone call. Thomas Hayden. Please pick up the red courtesy phone ...

DISCO INFERNO: Thousands of people rush the field at Comiskey Park in Chicago during the infamous Disco Sucks Riot of July 12, 1979. More than 50,000 disco-hating fans had descended on the baseball park to watch several thousand disco records get blown up. Sadly, violence and destruction soon erupted.

I mean, my God. Look at it. Thousands of people in pleather and corduroy and bad haircuts and gamey T-shirts trampling over the grounds of an iconic American institution, rebelling against the misery and pointlessness of their wretched lives -- lives so awful they couldn’t even count on steady supplies of gasoline. I mean, we’re talking maximum suckage here, folks – suckage so foul people my age have trouble comprehending how frickin’ awful it was. Pleather and gas lines and Carly Simon?

Yeeesh. All I knew back on July 12, 1979, was that the Kepple household had a lot in the way of Furniture of the Future. Also, we had a pretty grim-looking kitchen.

So why is the Disco Sucks Riot the “low point” in a low point year? Well, it was only after July 12 that one first began to see positive changes happening in American society; the groundwork, if you will, for a brighter future.

For instance, on Sept. 7, ESPN went on the air. And on Oct. 6, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and his fellow governors took the first steps to break the stagflation gripping America. A few months later, the Pittsburgh Steelers would go on to win Super Bowl XIV, their fourth victory in the “big game.”

Clearly, the future looked good. And just a little while later, America had its confidence back – knowing that International Communism would eventually be destroyed, and that the American way of life ruled. Then we got a call from Japan Inc. -- but that is a story for another time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 19, 2005 10:07 PM | TrackBack

Some may see this as our nation's low point, but me? I'd have to say that saving rock'n'roll from the horrors of inspid disco was probably the moment of rebellion when Americans decided, "enough BeeGees, bring us Bob Segar!"

I can only note that it was barely a year later that Ronald Reagan was elected. Coincidence? I think not!

Posted by: Dean Esmay at September 22, 2005 01:15 AM

Disco laid the groundwork for hip-hop, house, techno, trance, and downtempo music. Disco, like Jazz, was a uniquely American creation. No one could start a party and kick some tight grooves like us in the 70s. Yes, it is a low-point watching Americans destroy an American creation.


Posted by: T-Steel at September 22, 2005 09:32 AM

I do not see why the so-called Chrysler bailout is included in your evidence. Chrysler ran into a short-term loan restructuring problem after Renault screwed them on the leveraged buyout of AMC. Congress voted to co-sign the loan, but the fact is that Chrysler repaid the loan ahead of time using profits from their ongoing sucessful operations. The only cost to the taxpayers was a trivial amount of paperwork expense.

Posted by: triticale at September 23, 2005 07:58 PM

Chrysler's woes were a prime example of the industrial malaise which affected U.S. industry in the late Seventies. Plus, the Chrysler situation is an example which is familiar to pretty much everybody. I also don't think anyone ever thought it was a good thing.

So that's why I used it: as just one example out of many in my proof.

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at September 23, 2005 10:01 PM

1) Why is it the business of Congress to save private companies?
2) The supply of loanable funds is not infinite. Someone else did not get to borrow that money because Chrysler did. So that is at least one cost, of unknown magnitude.

Posted by: Gene Callahan at September 27, 2005 12:33 AM